Inter Press Service » Active Citizens http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 24 May 2015 16:24:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Failure of Review Conference Brings World Close to Nuclear Cataclysm, Warn Activistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/failure-of-review-conference-brings-world-close-to-nuclear-cataclysm-warn-activists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=failure-of-review-conference-brings-world-close-to-nuclear-cataclysm-warn-activists http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/failure-of-review-conference-brings-world-close-to-nuclear-cataclysm-warn-activists/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 20:55:31 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140789 United States Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on April 27. The United States, along with the UK, and Canada, rejected the draft agreement. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

United States Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) on April 27. The United States, along with the UK, and Canada, rejected the draft agreement. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 23 2015 (IPS)

After nearly four weeks of negotiations, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference ended in a predictable outcome: a text overwhelmingly reflecting the views and interests of the nuclear-armed states and some of their nuclear-dependent allies.

“The process to develop the draft Review Conference outcome document was anti-democratic and nontransparent,” Ray Acheson, director, Reaching Critical Will, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), told IPS.“This Review Conference has demonstrated beyond any doubt that continuing to rely on the nuclear-armed states or their nuclear-dependent allies for leadership or action is futile." -- Ray Acheson

She said it contained no meaningful progress on nuclear disarmament and even rolled back some previous commitments.

But, according to several diplomats, there was one country that emerged victorious: Israel, the only nuclear-armed Middle Eastern nation, which has never fully supported a long outstanding proposal for an international conference for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

As the Review Conference dragged towards midnight Friday, there were three countries – the United States, UK, and Canada (whose current government has been described as “more pro-Israel than Israel itself”) – that said they cannot accept the draft agreement, contained in the Final Document, on convening of the proposed conference by March 1, 2016.

As Acheson put it: “It is perhaps ironic, then, that three of these states prevented the adoption of this outcome document on behalf of Israel, a country with nuclear weapons, that is not even party to the NPT.”

The Review Conference president’s claim that the NPT belongs to all its states parties has never rung more hollow, she added.

Joseph Gerson, disarmament coordinator at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) told IPS the United States was primarily responsible, as in the 2005 review conference, for the failure of this year’s critically important NPT Review Conference.

“The United States and Israel, that is, even if Israel is one of the very few nations that has yet to sign onto the NPT,” he pointed out.

Rather than blame Israel, he said, the U.S., Britain and Canada are blaming the victim, charging that Egypt wrecked the conference with its demands that the Review Conference’s final declaration reiterate the call for creation of a Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone.

But, the tail was once again wagging the dog, said Gerson, who is also the AFSC’s director of Peace and Economic Security Programme.

He said that Reuters news agency reported on Thursday, the day prior to the conclusion of the NPT Review Conference, that the United States sent “a senior U.S. official” to Israel “to discuss the possibility of a compromise” on the draft text of the Review Conference’s final document.

“Israeli apparently refused, and (U.S. President) Barack Obama’s ostensible commitments to a nuclear weapons-free world melted in the face of Israeli intransigence,” said Gerson.

John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, told IPS the problem with NPT Review Conference commitments on disarmament made over the last 20 years is not so much that they have not been strong enough. Rather the problem is that they have not been implemented by the NPT nuclear weapon states.

Coming into the 2015 Review Conference, he said, many non-nuclear weapon states were focused on mechanisms and processes to ensure implementation.

In this vein, the draft, but not adopted Final Document, recommended that the General Assembly establish an open-ended working group to “identify and elaborate” effective disarmament measures, including legal agreements for the achievement and maintenance of a nuclear weapons free world.

Regardless of the lack of an NPT outcome, this initiative can and should be pushed at the next General Assembly session on disarmament and international security, this coming fall, said Burroughs, who is also executive director of the U.N. Office of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA).

Acheson told IPS that 107 states— the majority of the world’s countries (and of NPT states parties)—have endorsed a Humanitarian Pledge, committing to fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.

The outcome from the 2015 NPT Review Conference is the Humanitarian Pledge, she added.

The states endorsing the Pledge now and after this Conference must use it as the basis for a new process to develop a legally-binding instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons.

“This process should begin without delay, even without the participation of the nuclear-armed states. The 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has already been identified as the appropriate milestone for this process to commence.”

Acheson also said a treaty banning nuclear weapons remains the most feasible course of action for states committed to disarmament.

“This Review Conference has demonstrated beyond any doubt that continuing to rely on the nuclear-armed states or their nuclear-dependent allies for leadership or action is futile,” she said.

This context requires determined action to stigmatise, prohibit, and eliminate nuclear weapons.

“Those who reject nuclear weapons must have the courage of their convictions to move ahead without the nuclear-armed states, to take back ground from the violent few who purport to run the world, and build a new reality of human security and global justice,” Acheson declared.

Gerson told IPS the greater tragedy is that the failure of the Review Conference further undermines the credibility of the NPT, increasing the dangers of nuclear weapons proliferation and doing nothing to stanch new nuclear arms races as the nuclear powers “modernize” their nuclear arsenals and delivery systems for the 21st century continues apace.

He said the failure of the Review Conference increases the dangers of nuclear catastrophe and the likelihood of nuclear winter.

The U.S. veto illustrates the central importance of breaking the silos of single issue popular movements if the people’s power needed to move governments – especially the United States – is to be built.

Had there been more unity between the U.S. nuclear disarmament movement and forces pressing for a just Israeli-Palestinian peace in recent decades, the outcome of the Review Conference could have been different, noted Gerson.

“If we are to prevail, nuclear disarmament movements must make common cause with movements for peace, justice and environmental sustainability.”

Despite commitments made in 1995, when the NPT was indefinitely extended and in subsequent Review Conferences, and reiterated in the 2000 and 2010 Review Conference final documents to work for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, Obama was unwilling to say “No” to Israel and “Yes” to an important step to reducing the dangers of nuclear war, said Gerson.

“As we have been reminded by the Conferences on the Human Consequences of Nuclear War held in Norway, Mexico and Austria, between the nuclear threats made by all of the nuclear powers and their histories of nuclear weapons accidents and miscalculations, that we are alive today is more a function of luck than of policy decisions.”

The failure of Review Conference is thus much more than a lost opportunity, it brings us closer to nuclear cataclysms, he declared.

Burroughs told IPS debate in the Review Conference revealed deep divisions over whether the nuclear weapon states have met their commitments to de-alert, reduce, and eliminate their arsenals and whether modernisation of nuclear arsenals is compatible with achieving disarmament.

The nuclear weapon states stonewalled on these matters.

If the nuclear weapons states displayed a business as usual attitude, the approach of non-nuclear weapon states was characterised by a sense of urgency, illustrated by the fact that by the end of the Conference over 100 states had signed the “Humanitarian Pledge” put forward by Austria.

It commits signatories to efforts to “stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons in light of their unacceptable humanitarian consequences”.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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School Gardens Combat Hunger in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/school-gardens-combat-hunger-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=school-gardens-combat-hunger-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/school-gardens-combat-hunger-in-argentina/#comments Sat, 23 May 2015 07:31:40 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140778 Rita Darrechon, the principal at the La Divina Pastora rural school, talks to a group of schoolchildren about the garden where they are growing food for their school meals. Credit: Fundación General Alvarado

Rita Darrechon, the principal at the La Divina Pastora rural school, talks to a group of schoolchildren about the garden where they are growing food for their school meals. Credit: Fundación General Alvarado

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 23 2015 (IPS)

In Argentina, where millions of families have unmet dietary needs despite the country’s vast expanse of fertile land, the Huerta Niño project promotes organic gardens in rural primary schools, to teach children healthy eating habits and show them that they can grow their own food to fight hunger.

Of the 105 students who board Monday through Friday at the La Divina Pastora rural school in Mar del Sur in the municipality of General Alvarado, 80 percent come from poor families.

“Ten percent have nutritional deficiencies, from their first year of life, even from the period of breastfeeding or even the pregnancy itself. We see calcium deficiency, which can lead to cavities and affects growth,” the school principal, Rita Darrechon, told Tierramérica.

The privately run public school, located 500 km southwest of the capital, serves children between the ages of six and 14, and a few older children who have repeated grades.

The children live in rural or semi-urban areas in the eastern province of Buenos Aires. But most of them were raised without any farming culture or knowledge about or tools for agriculture.

“In places that were historically farming areas, kids do not know what to do with the land,” the general coordinator of the Huerta Niño Foundation, Bárbara Kuss, told Tierramérica. “They don’t know that if they’re hungry, the seeds in their hand can feed them.”

The aim of the non-profit institution founded in 1999 by businessman Federico Lobert is to help reduce hunger among students in rural schools.

The initiative first began to take shape when Lobert, during a trip as a young man, heard a rural schoolteacher say “the kids couldn’t study because they hadn’t eaten anything except orange tree leaves to calm their stomachaches.”

He described this as a “sad paradox” in a country “that produces so much food for millions of people around the world.”

The gardens benefit 20,000 children in 270 rural schools in low-income areas, like La Divina Pastora. The vegetables and fruit they grow are eaten by the students in the school lunchroom.

“It seems like a really good opportunity to promote, together, a healthy diet, using natural resources that are within their reach,” said Darrechon.

A boy leans against bags of onions at a farm in the town of Arraga in the northwest province of Santiago del Estero, one of the poorest parts of the country, where the main economic activity is agriculture. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A boy leans against bags of onions at a farm in the town of Arraga in the northwest province of Santiago del Estero, one of the poorest parts of the country, where the main economic activity is agriculture. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

According to the National Survey on Nutrition and Health, 35 percent of children in Argentina live in households with “unmet basic needs”. Of that proportion, only 53 percent receive food assistance from different social programmes.

The regions with the highest percentages of children living below the poverty line are the northeast (77 percent) and the northwest (75.7 percent).

Children with serious malnutrition are more vulnerable to falling ill, and they suffer from stunted growth, with lifelong consequences, Kuss said.

Huerta Niño seeks to address these nutritional deficiencies, under the slogan “it’s not about giving people food, but about teaching them to produce their own.”

The foundation’s involvement in each school lasts approximately a year, but the impact, Kuss said, “lasts a lifetime.”

The first step is putting up a fence around a half-hectare plot of land.

“We teach them why they have to keep the fence in good repair, why it can be bad for our health if dogs or other animals get into the garden; they are taught that manure is a fertiliser but that dog feces aren’t,” she added.

Meetings are held with the students, parents and teachers to determine what is needed, depending on the climate, the quality of the soil, and the access to water.

The next step is to prepare the soil, and the students are taught how to plant and harvest, and they learn the complete cycle in both planting seasons – autumn-winter and spring-summer.

“We explain what to do step by step, because it’s really nice when the tomatoes turn red and the lettuce sprouts, but what do you do later with the lettuce? Do you just pick the leaves? Or do you pull it up by the roots? Do you plant again or do you wait till the next season?” Kuss said.

Huerta Niño has backing from the Education Ministry and receives technical support and seeds from Pro Huerta, an agroecological community programme run by the government’s National Agricultural Technology Institute.

With donations from individuals, companies and organisations, it spends some 4,500 dollars on each school garden, providing tools adapted to children, agricultural supplies and inputs, and special expenses for windmills or specific irrigation systems.

According to Kuss, community participation is essential for the project to be sustainable.

“A garden needs attention. If you don’t control the pests, you don’t irrigate, you don’t weed, you don’t rotate the crops, it dies,” she said.

“That would be a failure for the kids, which is the last thing they need, with the problems they already have,” she stressed.

The initiative promotes agroecological practices that use organic fertilisers and pesticides. For example, aromatic flowers are planted to ward off insects.

Chemical pesticides are not used, although surrounding fields are often sprayed.

“We teach them that the tomato that grows in their garden might not be as big as the ones in the supermarket, but it will be red and tasty,” Kuss said.

The garden forms part of the educational curriculum: from math (measuring the borders of the garden) to natural sciences and reading and writing (using instructional booklets).

“It’s like an open-air laboratory. Learning through hands-on experience is much easier than learning by reading a book,” Darrechon said.

Sometimes the students make their own gardens in their homes or communities, and some former students of La Divina Pastora have gone on to secondary school studies in agriculture.

The initiative also teaches healthy eating habits – but not without running into certain difficulties.

“The radishes were so nice and red, but when the kids bit into them they would throw them away,” Darrechon said. “We had to disguise them or process other vegetables like chard in tarts or pies, mixed with ground beef to hide the taste, because they come from a culture of junk food or meat and potatoes.”

In schools in poor outlying semi-urban areas in Buenos Aires, some gardens have also helped combat violence and school dropout “by keeping kids in school with something interesting that keeps them off the streets,” said Kuss.

The representative in Argentina of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Valdir Welte, told Tierramérica that school gardens are playing an “extremely important” role in improving diets and eating habits and fighting hunger.

He also said they are “an educational tool that strengthens the learning process and foments values such as solidarity, cooperation and collective work.”

“Children don’t only need to eat well; they must also learn about a healthy diet and learn how to grow their own food in case they need to,” said Welte.

He also said gardens “can be educational and training spaces for the entire community, where heads of households acquire the necessary skills for producing their own foods.”

Kuss said these benefits from the gardens are as tangible as the fruit and vegetables produced.

“We don’t only give them food,” she said. “We’re offering them different values they can touch with their hands. Helping them, and telling them: you can do it.”

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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Bougainville: Former War-Torn Territory Still Wary of Mininghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/bougainville-former-war-torn-territory-still-wary-of-mining/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 19:28:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140773 Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Gutted mine machinery and infrastructure are scattered across the site of the Panguna mine in the mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, May 22 2015 (IPS)

From Arawa, once the capital city of Bougainville, an autonomous region in eastern Papua New Guinea in the southwest Pacific Ocean, a long, winding road leads high up into the Crown Prince Ranges in the centre of the island through impenetrable rainforest.

Over a ridge, the verdant canopy gives way to a landscape of gouged earth and, in the centre, a gaping crater, six kilometres long, is surrounded by the relics of gutted trucks and mine machinery rusting away into dust under the South Pacific sun.

“The crisis was a fight for all people who are oppressed in the world. During the crisis the people fought for what is right; the right of the land." -- Greg Doraa, a Panguna district chief
The place still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines, built with the aim of extracting the approximately one billion tonnes of ore that lay beneath the fertile land.

Operated by Bougainville Copper Limited, a subsidiary of Conzinc Rio Tinto of Australia, the Panguna mine generated about two billion dollars in revenues from 1972-1989. But the majority owners, Rio Tinto (53.58 percent) and the Papua New Guinea government (19.06 percent), received the bulk of the profits, while indigenous landowners were denied any substantive rights under the mining agreement.

Local communities watched as villages were forcibly displaced, customary land became unrecognisable under tonnes of waste rock, and the local Jaba River became contaminated with mine tailings, choking the waters and poisoning the fish.

Inequality widened as mine jobs enriched a small minority; of an estimated population in the 1980s of 150,000, about 1,300 were employed in the mine’s operating workforce.

When, in 1989, a demand for compensation of 10 billion kina (3.7 billion dollars) was refused, landowners mobilised and brought the corporate venture to a standstill by targeting its power supply and critical installations with explosives.

A civil war between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and the Papua New Guinea Defence Forces ensued until a ceasefire brought an end to the fighting in 1997 – but not before the death toll reached an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people, representing approximately 13 percent of the population at the time.

“The crisis was a fight for all people who are oppressed in the world. During the crisis the people fought for what is right; the right of the land,” Greg Doraa, a Panguna district chief, recounted.

Now, although the region of 300,000 people has secured a degree of autonomy from Papua New Guinea, the spectre of mining is still present, and with a general election underway, options for economic development are hotly debated.

For the political elite, only mining can generate the large revenues needed to fulfil political ambitions as a referendum on independence from PNG, to be held by 2020, approaches.

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

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

But for many landowners and farming communities, a far more sustainable option would be to develop the region’s rich agricultural and eco-tourism potential.

Last year the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) President John Momis stated that production in the region’s two main industries, cocoa and small-scale gold mining, mostly alluvial gold panning, was valued at about 150 million kina (55.7 million dollars).

This has boosted local incomes, but not government revenue due to the absence of taxation.

“Even if a turnover tax of 10 percent could be efficiently applied to these industries, it would produce only a small fraction of the government revenue required to support genuine autonomy,” Momis stated.

But according to Chris Baria, a local commentator on Bougainville affairs who was in Panguna at the time of the crisis, “due to the widely held perception in the government that mining is a quick and easy way out of cash shortage problems, there has been a lack of real focus on the agricultural and manufacturing sectors.”

“Bougainville has rich soil for growing crops, which can be sold as raw products or value-added to fetch good prices on the global market. Bougainville is also a potential tourist destination if the infrastructure is developed to cater for it.”

Last year the drawdown of mining powers from PNG to the autonomous region was completed with the passing of a transitional mining bill.

But at the grassroots many fear that a return to large-scale mining will lead to similar forms of inequity. Economic exclusion, which saw 94 percent of the estimated two billion dollars in revenue going to shareholders and the PNG government and 1.4 percent to local landowners, was a key factor that galvanised the Nasioi people to take up arms 25 years ago.

Rusting infrastructure in Central Bougainville still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Rusting infrastructure in Central Bougainville still resonates with the spirit of the indigenous Nasioi people who waged an armed struggle between 1989 and 1997, following an uprising to shut down one of the world’s largest open-cut copper mines. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

“Current development trends will only benefit the educated elite and politicians who have access to opportunities through employment and commissions paid by the resource developers to come in and extract the resources,” Baria claims, “[while] ordinary people become mere spectators to all that is happening in their midst.”

Since the 2001 peace agreement, reconstruction has been slow, with the Autonomous Bougainville Government still financially dependent on the government of Papua New Guinea and international donors.

In some places, for example, roads and bridges have been repaired, airports opened, and police resources improved. But there is also incomplete disarmament, poor rural access to basic services and high rates of domestic and sexual violence exacerbated by largely untreated post-conflict trauma.

The province has just 10 doctors serving more than a quarter of a million people, less than one percent of people are connected to electricity and life expectancy is just 59 years.

Less than five percent of the population has access to sanitation, reports World Vision, and one third of children are not in school, in addition to a “lost generation” of youth who missed out on education during the conflict years.

Thus economic development must also serve long-term peace, experts say.

Delwin Ketsian, president of the Bougainville Women in Agriculture development organisation, told IPS, “Eighty percent of Bougainville women do not support the reopening of the mine. Bougainville is a matrilineal [society], our land is our resource and we [want] to toil our own land, instead of foreigners coming in to destroy it.” In North and Central Bougainville, women are the traditional landowners.

A recent study of 82 people living in the mine-affected area showed strong support for the development of horticulture, animal farming, fisheries and fish farming.

“The government should support farmers to go into vegetable farming, cocoa, copra, spices and fishing, then proceed to downstream processing which we women believe will boost the economy of Bougainville, thus also improving our livelihoods and earning sustainable incomes,” Ketsian said.

Prior to mining operations, communities in the Panguna area practised subsistence and small-holder agriculture, with families planting crops like taro and breadfruit trees, and fishing in the river. But the mine destroyed the soil and water, so that traditional crops no longer grow as they used to, according to local residents.

Before the civil war, cocoa was the mainstay of up to 77 percent of rural families with those in the mine-affected area earning on average 807 kina (299 dollars) per year, higher than mine compensation payments of 500 kina (185 dollars) per annum.

While the conflict decimated production from 12,903 tons in 1988 to 2,619 tons in 1996, it had rebounded about 48 percent by 2006. Still the sector’s growth has been constrained by poor transportation, training and market access, the cocoa pod borer pest, which has impacted harvests in the region’s north since 2009, and the substantial control of trade and export by companies located in other provinces, such as nearby East New Britain.

Kofi Nouveau, the World Bank’s senior agriculture economist believes that investment in the cocoa industry should focus on farmer training, planting of new high performing pest resistant plants and improving the overall product quality.

Baria also said that education should focus on developing people’s self-reliance.

“We have creative and talented people in Bougainville […] but the system of education we have teaches people to work for other people. We should adopt education and training that enables a person to create opportunity and not dependency,” he advocated.

After a new government is announced in June, the people of Bougainville face critical decisions about their future during the next five years. But if development justice is vital for a peaceful and sustainable future, then history should urge caution about economic dependence on mineral resources.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read other articles in the series here.

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Opinion: Voice of Civil Society Muffled in Post-2015 Negotiations for Better Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-voice-of-civil-society-muffled-in-post-2015-negotiations-for-better-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-voice-of-civil-society-muffled-in-post-2015-negotiations-for-better-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-voice-of-civil-society-muffled-in-post-2015-negotiations-for-better-future/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 12:27:14 +0000 Esmee Russell http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140761 A young Sudanese boy carries water home for his family in a plastic container. Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

A young Sudanese boy carries water home for his family in a plastic container. Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

By Esmee Russell
LONDON, May 22 2015 (IPS)

In September, the United Nations will agree on new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will set development priorities for the next 15 years. The draft goals that have been developed are ambitious – they seek to end poverty and ensure no one is left behind.

Until now, civil society has been engaged in discussions over goals and targets; through national consultations and U.N. hearings. As End Water Poverty (EWP), a global civil society coalition of over 280 organisations worldwide, we campaigned for a post-2015 world where we see the end of inherent systemic inequalities and the full realisation of the human right to water and sanitation.A participatory approach is essential as it leads to effective and sustainable interventions based on the real needs of communities.

Through these opportunities, Member States heard our call; that water and sanitation is a fundamental aspect of all development and a key priority to address in order to improve our future. Together as a united civil society, we achieved securing a dedicated water and sanitation goal – goal 6 – and welcome this progressive advancement.

However, there is still much work to be done. The only way to make this goal an achievable global reality is to have effective, inclusive indicators that can be monitored. This critical need has not been met.

To date, the discussions around indicators have been led by technical experts behind closed doors, without input from other stakeholders. The voice of civil society has not been heard.

This is despite the United Nations stating the setting of the post-2015 agenda will be fully inclusive of all stakeholders. The time to act is now. Civil society have to stand united to call for a positive future; one that prioritises improving the lives of those most in need.

EWP is calling to ensure that space is created for civil society to be an important contributor in these processes, particularly in the critical stage of developing indicators.

A participatory approach is essential as it leads to effective and sustainable interventions based on the real needs of communities.

We must hold the U.N. accountable to fulfil its promise that the next development framework will be fully inclusive, as so far, the indicator process is reneging on that promise. Being asked to meetings is not enough; civil society’s participation cannot be tokenistic inclusion.

We are also calling for specific and necessary changes to the draft indicators, to ensure that they are sufficient to truly measure governments’ delivery on their commitments.

Civil society have serious concerns about the current drafts tabled, as they are insufficient to truly measure whether people have access to safe, affordable and equitable water and sanitation.

These draft indicators do not go far enough to ensure the full implementation of the human right to water and sanitation.

This is why EWP member Freshwater Action Network- Mexico (FAN-Mex) will be attending the upcoming informal interactive hearings on the post-2015 development framework held by the U.N. General Assembly from May 26 to 27.

We need to ensure that these processes are fully inclusive of civil society’s voice and that our future agenda is based on a human rights approach; that no one is left behind, and that ending poverty and tacking inherent systemic inequalities are of fundamental priority for our future.

The global crisis of water and sanitation is not caused by scarcity or population size. It is a political crisis, of unequal and unfair distribution determined by money, power and influence. This needs to change.

The two day hearings ahead will see representatives of civil society, major groups and the private sector offered a critical opportunity for deeper engagement in the post-2015 development agenda.

We have to use this opportunity to call for the change we need, to reprioritise the importance of improved access to water and sanitation.

We feel that particularly for goal 6, additional indicators are required which will monitor access to safe and equitable water and sanitation in schools and health centres, and that civil society is involved in the monitoring of the indicators.

For us, it is most critical that indicators will need to be disaggregated. This is to ensure that disparities and inequalities in progress are made visible, to prevent the poorest and most marginalised from being left behind.

EWP will be highlighting that the current draft indicators will not direct government action towards those who need it the most, the vulnerable and marginalised. Therefore, if left as is, they will simply replicate some of the failures of the MDGs.

To reinforce this call and amplify our voice, simultaneously next week EWP members, alongside other civil society representatives, will be attending AfricaSan 4 in Senegal, a cross-continental meeting to assess levels of access to sanitation.

“Governments must work harder to meet their obligations on water and sanitation and improve people’s lives. Africa in particular has a very poor track record in ensuring sufficient access to sanitation; this needs to change to address major inequalities,” Samson Shivaji CEO at Kenya Water and Sanitation CSOs Network (KEWASNET), an EWP member stated.

Civil society must have a voice in setting our future and call to prioritise sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene. We must ensure the human right to water and sanitation is realised for all. There is an urgency to prioritise improving people’s lives, with no one left behind, and the time is now.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: New World Information Order, Internet and the Global South – Part Ihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-new-world-information-order-internet-and-the-global-south-part-i/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-new-world-information-order-internet-and-the-global-south-part-i http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-new-world-information-order-internet-and-the-global-south-part-i/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 19:10:44 +0000 Branislav Gosovic http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140746 Children surf the net in a remote island community in the Philippines where fishing is the main source of income. Credit: eKindling/Lubang Tourism.

Children surf the net in a remote island community in the Philippines where fishing is the main source of income. Credit: eKindling/Lubang Tourism.

By Branislav Gosovic
VILLAGE TUDOROVICI, Montenegro, May 21 2015 (IPS)

More than four decades ago, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) launched the concept of a New International Information Order (NIIO).

Its initiative led to the establishment of an independent commission within the fold of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which produced a report, published in 1980, on a New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO).Incomprehensible to the general public and not suitable for consideration in multilateral policy forums, the Internet governance deliberations have largely been under control of the world superpower and its cyber mega-corporations from Silicon Valley.

The report, titled “One World, Many Voices,” is usually referred to as the MacBride Report after its chairman.

The very idea of venturing to criticise and challenge the existing global media, namely the information and communication hegemony of the West, touched a raw political nerve, apparently a much more sensitive one than that irked by the developing countries’ New International Economic Order (NIEO) proposals.

A determined, no-punches-spared counteroffensive was launched by the Anglo-American tandem, which silenced UNESCO, effectively banning the MacBride Report and excluding the concept of NWICO from the international discourse and U.N. agenda.

The neo-liberal globalisation and neo-con geopolitics tide was on the rise and reigning supreme on the world scene.

The common front of the South was wavering and unsure vis-à-vis the well orchestrated challenge from the North and its multilateral arsenal deployed via the Bretton Woods and WTO troika – and, indeed, via the global media it controlled.

On the defensive and in retreat, with individual countries and their leaders targeted, pressured and tamed, the Global South lowered its profile and, facing stonewalling developed countries, it effectively shelved much of its 1960s/1970s agenda, including its quest for NIIO.

A decade ago, at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the developing countries did not have the collective will and were not prepared and organised to raise and press these broader issues.

They focused on the “digital divide”, as their key concern, which, although important, was not politically sensitive and did not represent a challenge to the existing global information order.

The rise and evolution of the Internet found the South ill-prepared to deal in a comprehensive manner with its implications, challenges and opportunities that it presented, not only for the developing countries individually and collectively, but also for the world order – economic, information and political – and for humankind in general.

The U.N. was marginalised and not allowed in depth to analyse and in an integrated, cross-sectoral and sustained way to deal with the Internet, and as a result did not provide a focus and platform that could have prompted and assisted the Global South in building and evolving its own case and vision.

The Internet-related debates and analyses have largely been focused on and limited to highly specialised and technical, often esoteric, acronym-dominated questions of its governance, which, though of vital importance, has helped to conceal or bypass many fundamental concerns.

Incomprehensible to the general public and not suitable for consideration in multilateral policy forums, the Internet governance deliberations have largely been under control of the world superpower and its cyber mega corporations from Silicon Valley, and the US-centric nature of the Internet has been defended tenaciously and preserved.

The WSIS+10 Review will be taking place shortly. There is an apparent attempt by the West – assisted by its transnational corporations (TNCs) dominating and providing key services on the Internet – to minimise the political importance and limit substantive outputs of this event.

The Group of 77 (G77) and NAM have to focus not only on the non-implementation of the Tunis agenda, but also to work out their position concerning the basic, underlying issues, including the linkages between the Internet and the international development agenda, and, more broadly, the Internet’s relevance to the international economic and political order and world peace.

There is the risk that WSIS+10 Review may turn out to be a missed opportunity for the South, and yet another encounter forced to remain within the parameters drawn and preferred by the traditional, well-entrenched masters of the global information and communication order.

Waiting one more decade for the next WSIS+20 Review may not be a recommended approach given the global economic and geo-political trends.

This relative circumspection of the Global South regarding the nature and future of the Internet is compensated in part by the voices coming from some sectors of the civil society that dare stray beyond what is allowed and permissible under the reigning global paradigm.

Thus, for example, the workshop “Organizing an Internet Social Forum”, held at the 2015 World Social Forum (WSF) in Tunis, articulated an alternative vision of an Internet and its directions for the future radically different from the current dogma.

And, an international conference on the Internet as a Global Public Resource was recently hosted by government of Malta and DiploFoundation.

“Global public resource” is a term akin to “global public goods”. The latter is a concept first launched by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) but expurgated from its work and the U.N. discourse during the recent period, probably seen as unsuitable and a threat to the ideological purity of the privatisation gospel, a move to accommodate the political predilections of dominant elites and the current doctrinaire aversion to anything “public”.

To move the global debate and multilateral negotiations in a desired direction largely depends on the developing countries as a collectivity, the Global South.

These countries need to grasp the gravity of the systemic issues involved, on par and indeed in some ways more important than those of the traditional international economic, financial, political and social agendas.

The moment is ripe for them to brush up on the original NAM NIIO initiative and the Report of the McBride Commission on NWICO, and consider their relevance in the age of the Internet.

They should work on an alternative vision of the Internet, its functions and governance, which should evolve into the backbone of a future global information and communication order needed in a multipolar world of the 21st century.

Currently, the Internet remains a prisoner of the dominant neo-liberal paradigm and its mantras forced upon the planet by the Western powers and in the service of their global, geopolitical and corporate interests. It needs to be liberated from these shackles.

Debate and study that view the Internet from humankind’s point of view need to be launched. This will require the Global South to do its homework in depth and fully on the implications and potential roles of the Internet, in order to prepare its platform and press for the initiating of all-inclusive multilateral negotiations and debate.

The BRICS countries together possess the necessary expertise, experience and power to provide the leadership and motor force for mobilising the Global South’s collective stand and action on the Internet.

With the high likelihood that the core countries of the West will react negatively, pressure individual developing countries (as appears to have been the case with Brazil, which has lowered its traditionally forceful public stance on Internet issues), and that obstacles within the U.N. system will persist, doing something concrete independently, via South-South cooperation will be required, and indeed is the only way out of the current impasse.

Here many options exist, including creating supporting institutions and expert bodies and organising regular deliberations, at both technical and political levels.

Bridges should be built with the progressive civil society and possibly with some like-minded countries in the North that are not too happy with the existing system.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Climate Change: Some Companies Reject ‘Business as Usual’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/climate-change-some-companies-reject-business-as-usual/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-some-companies-reject-business-as-usual http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/climate-change-some-companies-reject-business-as-usual/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 16:06:33 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140742 Demonstrators protesting at the Business & Climate Summit in Paris, May 20. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Demonstrators protesting at the Business & Climate Summit in Paris, May 20. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, May 21 2015 (IPS)

When it comes to climate change, business as usual is simply “not an option”.

That was the view of Eldar Saetre, CEO of Norwegian multinational Statoil, as international industry leaders met in Paris for a two-day Business & Climate Summit, six months ahead of the next United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21 ) that will also be held in the French capital.

Subtitled “Working together to build a better economy”, the May 20-21 summit brought together some 2,000 representatives of some of the world’s largest retail and energy concerns, including  companies that NGOs have criticized as being among the worst environmental offenders.

At the end, business leaders proclaimed that they wanted “a global climate deal that achieves net zero emissions” and that they wanted to see this happen at COP 21.

Throughout the conference, participants stressed that businesses will have to change, not only to protect the environment, but for their own survival. “Taking climate action simply makes good business sense. However, business solutions on climate are not being scaled up fast enough,” declared the summit organizers.

They pledged to lead the “global transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient economy.”

Saetre, for example, said his company wanted to achieve “low-carbon oil and gas production” and that it had embarked on renewables in the form of offshore wind energy. But he said that fossil fuels would still be needed in the future, alongside the various forms of renewable energy.

Acknowledging the widespread scepticism about multinational companies’ commitment, business leaders said that they could not “go it alone”, and called for support from governments as well as consumers.

Mike Barry, Director of Sustainable Business at British retailer Marks & Spencer, told IPS in an interview that global commitment was important in the drive to transform industry to have more environmentally friendly practices.

“Collective action can bring about real change,” he said. “We’re here today because we believe that climate change is happening and it’s going to have a significant impact on our business in the future and our success.

“Our customers would expect us to take the lead on this, and we want governments to take this seriously as well in the run-up to COP 21 [the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to be held in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11].”

He said that Marks & Spencer and other companies in a network called the Consumer Goods Forum wanted to “stand shoulder to shoulder with government to say ‘this matters and we’re here to help’.”

But government consensus on how to address climate change has proved difficult, and even French President Francois Hollande, who opened the summit, conceded that it would require a miracle for a real agreement to be reached at COP 21.

“We must have a consensus. It’s already not easy in our own countries, so with 196 countries, a miracle is needed,” he said at the Business & Climate Summit, expressing the conviction, however, that agreement will be reached through negotiation and “responsibility”.

Hollande and other officials said the involvement of businesses was essential, and France, with its huge oil and electricity companies, evidently has a big role to play.

However, demonstrators outside the summit, held at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), slammed big business.

“These multinationals (and the banks that finance their activities) are in fact directly at the origin of climate change,” read a statement from organisations including Les Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth, France) and the civil disobedience group J.E.D.I. for Climate.

Saying that it was ironic to have fossil-fuel companies represented at the summit, the groups asked: “Can one imagine for a second that the tobacco industry would be associated with policies to combat smoking aimed at ending the production of cigarettes? No, that would be the best way to ensure that the world continued to chain-smoke.”

The protesters added that if Hollande and his ministers wanted to show a real commitment to the environment, they should make it clear that “the climate is not a business”.

“The fight against climate change is not the business of fossil-fuel multinationals: they belong to our past,” the groups said in a joint release, handed out on the street.

At the summit, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that businesses should not be “demonised” and she called for collaboration rather than confrontation.

“We all start with a carbon footprint,” she said. “It is not a question of demonising anyone but realizing that we’re all here … This is not about confrontation. This is about collaboration. If you’re thinking about confrontation, forget it. Because we’re not going to get there.”

The summit – co-hosted by Entreprises Pour l’Environnement, an association of some 40 French and large international companies, and UN Global Compact France, a policy initiative for businesses – also addressed the vulnerability of island states in the face of climate change.

Tony de Brum, the Marshall Islands’ Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that island states in the Pacific and elsewhere had an interest in keeping pressure on carbon emitters because their populations’ survival was at stake.

Angel Gurría, Secretary General of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), also highlighted the threat to vulnerable countries, saying that for them, climate change is not about protecting the environment for future generations, but “it’s about how long the water will take to overcome the land.”

Gurría said that greater reductions in carbon emissions were required than has so far been proposed by states, and he stressed that countries over time needed to “develop a pathway to net zero emissions globally” by the second half of the century.

“Governments at COP 21 need to send a clear directional signal that will drive action for decades to come,” he said. “We are on a collision course with nature, and unless we seize this opportunity, we face an increasing risk of severe, pervasive and irreversible climate impact.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Pakistan’s Streets Kids Drop the Begging Bowl, Opt for Pencils Insteadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pakistans-streets-kids-drop-the-begging-bowl-opt-for-pencils-instead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-streets-kids-drop-the-begging-bowl-opt-for-pencils-instead http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/pakistans-streets-kids-drop-the-begging-bowl-opt-for-pencils-instead/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 15:45:53 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140739 In Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of school-aged children live and work on the streets, earning a few rupees each day to help support their destitute families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

In Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of school-aged children live and work on the streets, earning a few rupees each day to help support their destitute families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, May 21 2015 (IPS)

Khalil Ahmed’s life story sounds like it could have come straight out of the plot of a Bollywood flick, but it didn’t. And that makes it all the more inspiring.

Residents of the sleepy town of Gambat, 500 km from the Pakistani port city of Karachi, where Ahmed was an all too familiar face, may not recognise the 12-year-old today.

“I didn’t like what I was doing. I didn’t want to be seen as a beggar. It hurt when people hurled abuses, or said nasty things.” -- Khalil Ahmed, a Pakistani street kid turned star student
Wearing a clean, pressed uniform and polished shoes, his hair oiled and neatly combed, and his fingernails immaculately trimmed, he is a far cry from the scrawny, dirty, bedraggled young boy of eight who, just four years ago, could be seen clutching his grandmother’s hand, pleading for alms from passersby.

Sometimes he would even beg outside the Behram Rustomji Campus – the school where he is now enrolled as a pupil.

Currently in the fourth grade, his teachers say he is one of the brightest kids in his class of 20 students, 13 of whom are girls.

Located in Pipri village, where over 95 percent of the roughly 1,000 households earn their living by begging on the streets, this humble institution has given Ahmed a rare chance to receive an education, in a country where 42 percent of the population aged 10 years and older is illiterate.

In this remote village, 45 km away from Sukkur city, the third largest in the Sindh Province, Ahmed and scores of other children like him are moving gradually away from the begging bowl and closer to pencils and schoolbooks, implements far more suited to young children with any hope of a decent future.

Rampant illiteracy

Civil Society Cannot Substitute State Action

With a recent Oxfam study revealing that 82 percent of the richest children in Pakistan attend school while 50 percent of the poorest do not, it is plain that a kind of ‘educational apartheid’ exists in this South Asian country.

Indeed, Pakistan’s slow progress towards the U.N.’s Education for All (EFA) initiative has skewed figures for the entire region: a 2015 study by the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that over 40 percent of all out-of-school adolescents globally live in South Asia, with Pakistan alone accounting for one-half of that figure.

While lauding the efforts of independent civil society groups to change this terrible reality, experts here nevertheless insist that nothing short of massive government intervention can turn the tide.

According to Mosharraf Zaidi, who heads Alif Ailaan, a campaign that strives to put education at the forefront of public discourse in Pakistan, despite “heroic efforts that consistently produce remarkable stories […], the sum is not equaling or exceeding the parts.”

“The state keeps failing children,” he told IPS, “and keeps failing those making an effort for the children.” Until the government fulfils its duty of providing an enabling environment, “even the brightest lights will not shine to their full potential.”

To his mind the government’s entire schooling system needs to be overhauled.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a prominent educationist, goes a step further. While agreeing that those who complete 10th grade have a far higher chance of succeeding in life than those without basic literacy, he believes this is “only one step towards closing the enormous gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.”

To him, securing a decent life often depends on factors “unconnected to learning and competence”, such as pre-existing family wealth and property, connections to powerful individuals or groups in society, ethnicity, sect, religion and gender.

This daunting catalogue in many ways represents a to-do list for the government, revealing the social, political and economic issues it must tackle in order to create a more equal Pakistan.
The school is run by a non-profit organisation called The Citizens Foundation (TCF), created in 1995 by a group of ordinary citizens who were appalled at the dismal state of Pakistan’s education system.

True to its pledge, TCF today runs 1,060 ‘purpose-built’ schools all across the country dedicated to serving the most marginalised communities and to removing class barriers that hinder opportunities for the poor, who comprise 22 percent of this country’s population of 180 million people.

Prior to enrolling at the Behram Rustomji Campus, Ahmed was both the product and the image of the vast inequalities that plague Pakistani society, hindering its efforts to reach the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), whose deadline expires later this year.

Poverty and illiteracy are among the most severe challenges to Pakistan’s development, and although some progress has been made to level the playing field and give all citizens a fighting chance, huge gaps still need to be closed.

For instance, according to the Pakistan Education for All 2015 Review Report, published in collaboration with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), an estimated 6.7 million children are currently out of school, the majority (62 percent) of whom are girls.

Of the roughly 21.4 million primary-school-aged children currently enrolled in schools, only 66 percent will survive until the fifth grade, the UNESCO report predicts, while 33.2 percent will drop out before completing the primary level.

The situation is worse for street children, who in order to help their destitute families make ends meet, are forced to wander for hours eliciting spare change.

The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) believes there are about 1.5 million children living and working on Pakistan’s streets.

Few will ever see the inside of a school, or find decent work. Most are simply condemned to a life of poverty among the ranks of the 22 million people here who earn less than 1.25 dollars a day, according to the World Bank.

Experts are agreed that absent a decent education, children born to low-income families are far less likely to climb the socio-economic ladder.

Tackling inequality in the classroom

Luckily, TCF schools are helping to turn this tide by offering a “pay as you can” option for families who cannot afford school fees.

“Our minimum fee is ten rupees (about 0.09 dollars) per month, and the rationale for this is that people value a service that has some monetary cost attached to it,” Ayesha Khatib, content manager at TCF’s marketing department, explained to IPS, adding that the average monthly expense borne by a family amounts to no more than 30 rupees (0.29 dollars).

While this amount is not negligible to those living on the brink of starvation, to kids like Ahmed it is a small price to pay for the world of opportunity it allows.

“I didn’t like what I was doing,” he confessed to IPS. “I didn’t want to be seen as a beggar. It hurt when people hurled abuses, or said nasty things.”

With Ahmed now spending most of his time studying, his mother has joined his father on the streets to make up for lost income. Between them they earn a few dollars a day, money that generally goes immediately on buying food for the family.

And they are not alone in their woes.

Rabail Abbas Phulpoto, the school’s 25-year-old principal, told IPS that 85 percent of her students come from families who beg for a living and were thus reluctant to lose their breadwinners to the blackboard.

“I started engaging with the community about three years ago,” Phulpoto explained. “There was resistance at first but after eight months of persistent dialogue, I found [parents] relenting. A few sent their boys, but not their girls, and I found out that even those kids were continuing to beg after school.”

Millions of school-aged children in Pakistan drop out before completing primary education. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Millions of school-aged children in Pakistan drop out before completing primary education. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Today, 235 of the 350 students in the school are former street children. “The importance of education has finally sunk in,” she said, “and each [child’s] story is more inspiring than the last.”

None of them has reverted back to begging. Those who are required to contribute to the family kitty do odd jobs like working at corner stores for a few hours after school, the principal said.

Ahmed, for instance, worked for a mobile phone company for a while. Now he has learnt how to fix phones, and wants to use his education to become a computer engineer when he grows up.

Perhaps most importantly, the social barriers between the well-off students and their less fortunate peers are slowly breaking down. Whereas once the more privileged kids had avoided even sitting next to children from beggar families, now there is more fluidity, and more understanding, Phulpoto said.

Baela Raza Jamil, director of programmes at the Centre for Education and Consciousness (Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi, or ITA) and coordinator of the South Asia Forum For Education Development (SAFED), referred to this initiative as transformative, both for the children and their families.

“I am sure each day they bring home newfangled ideas […],” she told IPS. “They are learning to do everyday mathematics, so they can help parents keep daily accounts.”

She hopes eventually discussions on earning options beyond beggary will ensue.

For children like Ahmed, that change has already come.

“I wish I’d grow up fast,” he told IPS, “so that my parents don’t have to work at all.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Bangladesh’s Persecuted Indigenous Peoplehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-bangladeshs-persecuted-indigenous-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-bangladeshs-persecuted-indigenous-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-bangladeshs-persecuted-indigenous-people/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 21:25:20 +0000 Julia Bleckner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140687

Julia Bleckner is a Senior Associate in the Asia division at Human Rights Watch.

By Julia Bleckner
NEW YORK, May 18 2015 (IPS)

The August 2014 killing of Timir Baran Chakma, an indigenous Jumma activist, allegedly in Bangladeshi military custody, was protested by his supporters. His death, and the failure of justice, like the plight of his people across the Chittagong Hills region, received little international notice.

Photo courtesy of Julia Bleckner

Photo courtesy of Julia Bleckner

Representatives of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission came to New York this month to shed light on the dire situation in the border region between India and Burma. Describing the ongoing crisis to the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, they expressed one clear and simple ask: to finally implement the terms of a peace accord established almost two decades ago between the government and local armed groups.

One member of the community told the U.N. that the Bangladesh government has taken “repressive measures and deployed heavy military,” adding that instead of ensuring their protection, the military presence “has only aggravated human rights violations.”

In Muslim-majority Bangladesh, the indigenous groups—who mostly practice Theraveda Buddhism and speak local dialects of Tibeto-Burman languages—have a long endured displacement and suffering. In the late 1970s, then-president Ziaur Rehman instituted a government-run “population transfer programme” in which the government provided cash and in-kind incentives to members of the country’s majority Bengali community to move to the Chittagong Hills area, displacing the local population.

From 1977, the military moved into the region in response to the rise of local armed groups opposed to the “settlers” and the imposition of Bengali identity and language.The army’s failure to protect the Jumma from settlers, and in some cases aiding in attacks on indigenous families, has been well documented.

In the years following, there were credible reports of soldiers subjecting the indigenous civilians to abuses including forced evictions, destruction of property, arbitrary arrests, torture, and killings. According to one source, more than 2,000 indigenous women were raped during the conflict from 1971-1994. The security forces were implicated in many cases of sexual violence.

The 1997 peace accord aimed to bring an end to this violence and officially recognised the distinct ethnicity and relative autonomy of the tribes and indigenous people of the Chittagong Hills region.

However, 17 years later, the terms of the peace accord still have not been implemented. Instead, the Jumma face increasing levels of violence from Bengali setters, with no effective response from the state.

Members of the CHT Commission, a group of activists monitoring the implementation of the 1997 peace accord, told Human Rights Watch that the settlers have attacked indigenous homes, shops, and places of worship—in some cases with the complicity of security forces. There are reports of clashes between the two communities.

The situation is so tense that even some members of the CHT Commission were attacked by a group of settlers in July 2014. The perpetrators are yet to be identified and prosecuted.

The peace accord specifically called for the demilitarisation of the Chittagong Hills area. But nearly two decades later, the region remains under military occupation. The army’s failure to protect the Jumma from settlers, and in some cases aiding in attacks on indigenous families, has been well documented.

Successive Bangladeshi governments have failed to deliver the autonomy promised by the peace accord, representatives of the CHT Commission said. Instead the central government has directly appointed representatives to the hill district councils without holding elections as mandated by the peace accord.

With the tacit agreement of the military, Bengali settlers from the majority community have moved into the Chittagong Hills, in some cases displacing the Jumma from their land without compensation or redress.

The Kapaeeng Foundation, a foundation focused on rights of the indigenous people of Bangladesh, has reported that at least 51 women and girls suffered sexual violence inflicted by Bengali settlers and the military in 2014, while there have already been 10 cases as of May 2015.

Earlier this year a group of Bengali settlers gang raped a Bagdi woman and her daughter, according to the Foundation. The perpetrators are seldom prosecuted. In some instances, survivors—such as the Bagdi women—who file cases at the local police station have faced threats from the alleged perpetrators if they do not withdraw their case.

In an effort to block international attention to the plight of the Jumma, in January, the Bangladesh Home Ministry introduced a discriminatory directive which, among other things, increased military checkpoints and forbade both foreigners and nationals from meeting with indigenous people without the presence of government representatives.

In May, under national public pressure, the Home ministry withdrew the restrictions. But in practice, the government continues to restrict access by requiring foreigners to inform the Home Ministry prior to any visit.

The Jumma people have waited far too long to be heard. It’s time we listen. Implementing the Chittagong Hills peace accord would be an important first step.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Development Threatens Antigua’s Protected Guiana Islandhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/development-threatens-antiguas-protected-guiana-island/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=development-threatens-antiguas-protected-guiana-island http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/development-threatens-antiguas-protected-guiana-island/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 12:11:17 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140683 Mangroves being cleared on Antigua's Guiana Island to make way for the construction of a road. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Mangroves being cleared on Antigua's Guiana Island to make way for the construction of a road. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
GUIANA ISLAND, Antigua, May 18 2015 (IPS)

In June 2014, Gaston Browne led his Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party to a resounding victory at the polls with a pledge to transform the country into an economic powerhouse in the Caribbean.

In their first 100 days in office, Prime Minister Browne’s Cabinet approved a number of private investment projects valued in excess of three billion dollars."We want to see the prosperity of Antigua and Barbuda but what... are we willing to give up to have a few more jobs?" -- Tahambay Smith

The largest is the Yida Investment Group, Guiana Island Project which will see the development of the largest free trade zone in the country, an off-shore financial centre, a five-star luxury resort, internationally branded villa communities, a casino and gaming complex, a multi-purpose conference centre, a 27-hole golf course, a marina and landing facilities, commercial, retail, sports and other auxillary facilities.

Headquartered in western Beijing, Yida International Investment Group was founded in 2011.

But Yida’s clearing of mangroves on Guiana Island to start the proposed development has raised the ire of local environmentalists who have launched an online petition calling on Prime Minister Browne not to allow the Chinese developers to break laws and to conserve the Marine Protected Areas.

“Climate change is going to change a lot of things that we know and understand about our environment and unless we are mitigating these outcomes it is just wasting time and effort to have something built and then 20 years down the line it would not be viable,” President of the Environment Awareness Group (EAG), Tahambay Smith told IPS.

“Climate change is upon us. What if 10 years from now the development is rendered non-viable because climate change has led to rising sea levels or something?” he said.

“First of all you are talking about a place that is naturally protected because anyone that’s familiar with that area knows that you have a natural reef buffer zone that basically protects us from the raging Atlantic,” he added.

Guiana Island, located off the northeast coast of Antigua between the Parham Peninsula and Crump Island, is the fourth largest island of Antigua and Barbuda. It is a refuge for the Fallow Deer, Antigua’s national animal.

Smith said building a marina in the area would also result in the destruction of reefs and removal of sea grass beds, adding that a few jobs and some investment dollars do no equate to the importance of preserving the environment for future generations.

“Yes we’re all clamouring for jobs and we want to see the prosperity of Antigua and Barbuda but to what detriment and to what extent are we willing to give up to have a few more jobs? The value of mangroves to us as human beings is well documented by scientists. They provide nesting grounds and a breeding ground for fishes, lobsters, crustaceans and many others that aren’t really tied to the Antiguan shores,” Smith said.

“You might have nursing grounds here that affect St. Kitts, St, Maarten, Guadeloupe – the closer islands. It may extend beyond those islands but if you do something here in Antigua and you destroy these things, then that could affect our neighbours. It is not a matter of us just looking about our affairs or just looking for our own interest. It’s a network; these things are interconnected.”

Ruth Spencer, who serves as National Focal Point for the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-Small Grants Programme (SGP) in Antigua and Barbuda, agrees with Smith.

“Our God-given marine ecosystems designed to protect our fragile economies must be protected,” she told IPS.

“How will we adapt to the impacts of climate change if these systems are threatened? The protection of our marine ecosystems is our natural adaptation strategy. Once destroyed, how will be build resilience?”

Eli Fuller is the President of the Antigua Conservation Society (ACS), the group spearheading the petition which outlines that Guiana Island falls within an area protected by the nation’s Fisheries Act and also falls within the North East Marine Management Area (NEMMA), which was designated a Marine Protected Area in 2005.

“There isn’t much on a small island that isn’t related to climate change these days and even more when you are speaking about a massive development all taking place at sea level within an extremely important area designated by law as a Marine Protected Area and zoned as an area for conservation,” Fuller told IPS.

President of the Antigua Conservation Society Eli Fuller says mangrove habitats help to limit the effects of coastal erosion seen more commonly with climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

President of the Antigua Conservation Society Eli Fuller says mangrove habitats help to limit the effects of coastal erosion seen more commonly with climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“Mangrove habitats help limit the effect of coastal erosion seen more commonly with climate change. Additionally, climate change possibly will see stronger storms, longer droughts and more severe floods. Mangrove habitats help filter sediments that run off from dry dusty landcapes whenever there’s a heavy rainfall or flood,” Fuller said.

“Filtering sediment helps save many ecosystems like corals and grassy beds which get damaged when they are covered in silt or sediment. Speaking of marine eco systems, there are so many things that are negatively affecting them because of climate change. Coral bleaching often happens due to effects of climate change and with weakened coral reefs and other marine ecosystems, careful protection is essential,” he added.

But Prime Minister Browne said those who have raised concerns about the mangroves have taken a fundamentalist position.

“I want to make it abundantly clear that individuals, especially small minority groups with their fundamentalist ideals, those cannot take precedence to the overall good of the country,” Browne said.

He added that, “some fauna may have to be destroyed” as government proceeds with various developments.

“My government does not need to be schooled in the protection of the environment,” Browne added.

Fuller maintains that Prime Minister Browne was the man to petition in large numbers so that he could see that it wasn’t a “fundamentalist” minority that was very concerned with this particular development.

“He has to know that people will hold him accountable for breaches in the laws which are there to protect Marine Protected Areas,” he said.

“The ACS sees a situation where our prime minister acknowledges this groundswell of support for sustainable development and more specifically for making sure that developers adhere to environmental protection laws.

“We think he will meet with us and other NGO groups to hear our concerns and to work together with us and hopefully the developers to ensure that the development is guided in accordance with the law and with modern best practices,” Fuller said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Edinburgh University Bows to Fossil Fuel Industryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-edinburgh-university-bows-to-fossil-fuel-industry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-edinburgh-university-bows-to-fossil-fuel-industry http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-edinburgh-university-bows-to-fossil-fuel-industry/#comments Sun, 17 May 2015 18:28:41 +0000 Kirsty Haigh, Eric Lai, and Ellen Young http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140674 Edinburgh Castle, symbol of the Scottish capital, whose university has just decided not to disinvest in fossil fuels. Photo credit: Kim Traynor/CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Edinburgh Castle, symbol of the Scottish capital, whose university has just decided not to disinvest in fossil fuels. Photo credit: Kim Traynor/CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Kirsty Haigh, Eric Lai, and Ellen Young
EDINBURGH, May 17 2015 (IPS)

The University of Edinburgh has taken the decision to not divest from fossil fuels, bowing to the short-term economic interests of departments funded by the fossil fuel industry, with little to no acknowledgement of the long-term repercussions of these investments.

The decision, which was announced on May 12, exemplifies the influence that vested interests have gained over academic institutions in the United Kingdom.“Our university has decided to take a reactionary approach to climate change, failing to make any statement of commitment to the staff and students who have been demanding divestment from fossil fuel companies for the past three years”

Collectively, U.K. universities invest over eight billion dollars in fossil fuels, more than 3,000 dollars for every student. The University of Edinburgh has the country’s third largest university endowment, after Oxford and Cambridge, totalling 457 million dollars, of which approximately 14 million is invested in fossil fuel companies, including Total, Shell and BHP Billiton.

Our university has decided to take a reactionary approach to climate change, failing to make any statement of commitment to the staff and students who have been demanding divestment from fossil fuel companies for the past three years.

Announcing it decision, the university said: ”The university will withdraw from investment in these [fossil fuel consuming and extracting] companies if: realistic alternative sources of energy are available and the companies involved are not investing in technologies that help address the effects of carbon emissions and climate change.”

However, given the fossil fuel industry’s continued destruction of the planet, the university’s approach leaves far too much to the imagination and indeed allows for the potential to not divest from harmful industries at all.

We are going to find our existence completely altered – and in a way that we do not want – if   we do not stop extracting and burning fossil fuels, and we know the big fossil fuel companies have no intention of stopping.

Climate change not only poses a massive economic threat but also presents the world’s biggest global health hazard – and its effects are hitting the poorest parts of the world hardest. The University of Edinburgh is fundamentally failing to acknowledge the part it is playing in funding climate chaos.

Our university claims to be a “world leader in addressing global challenges including … climate change” but if the university had any desire to take the moral lead, it would have divested. Divestment would have seen Edinburgh join a global movement of universities and numerous other forward-thinking organisations in divorcing itself from the tightening grip of the fossil fuel industry.

The University of Edinburgh came down firmly on the side of departments funded by the industry which have been scaremongering throughout the process

Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have revealed, for example, that the university’s Geosciences Department has received funding from a range of fossil fuel companies over the past 10 years, including BP, Shell and ConocoPhillips, as well as grants and gifts of money from Total and Cairn Energy.

Sixty-five students in the university’s School of Engineering have already signed an open letter to the Head of the School, Prof Hugh McCann, angered by his public opposition to fossil fuel divestment.

Their letter states: “The School of Engineering has and will continue to have a pivotal role in the university’s future. It is after all engineers who will be on the frontlines of the transition to a low carbon society.

“By basing its argument against divestment on engineering students’ chances of employment in one dead-end industry, the school appears to be failing to prepare its students for careers in the rapidly changing energy markets of the 21st century, whilst neglecting the faculty’s broader responsibility to the student body as a whole. As a consequence, they gamble employment against our common future.”

Divesting is a way of taking on and dismantling the big fossil fuel companies and the power they hold over our society and governments. We rightly condemn companies that do not pay their taxes or who exploit their workers, and so we must do this to the companies who are threatening our very existence.

Divestment is also about creating more democratic institutions where those who are part of universities can have a say in how their money is spent and invested. The university’s announcement has shown that we still have a long way to go in creating transparent, democratic and ethical institutions. It brings into question the validity of the university’s decision-making process.

For the past three years, students, staff and alumni have supported full divestment – yet the University of Edinburgh has ignored their calls. The consultation run by the university found staff, students and the public in favour of ethical investment. A year later we still have zero commitment to change.

A process which began with promise has been allowed to descend into a complete breakdown in communication between students and the university. Serious questions need to be asked about why the decision was taken in favour of the views from the university’s Department of Geosciences, which freely admits its vested interested in maintaining the status quo for financial reasons.

The University of Edinburgh needs to invest in alternatives to dirty and unhealthy energy sources. These alternatives will create new jobs, so that when the fossil fuel industry ceases to exist there is something to replace it and our students are trained to work in it.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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Murders of Gays Raise the Question of Hate Crimes in Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/murders-of-gays-raise-the-question-of-hate-crimes-in-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=murders-of-gays-raise-the-question-of-hate-crimes-in-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/murders-of-gays-raise-the-question-of-hate-crimes-in-cuba/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 16:16:45 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140666 “Homosexuality Isn’t a Danger; Homophobia Is” reads a sign held by an activist from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community during a demonstration in the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“Homosexuality Isn’t a Danger; Homophobia Is” reads a sign held by an activist from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community during a demonstration in the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, May 16 2015 (IPS)

During the events surrounding the eighth annual celebration of the Day Against Homophobia in Cuba, it emerged that a young transsexual had recently been killed in the city of Pinar del Río near the western tip of this Caribbean island nation.

While efforts to combat discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals (LGBT) are stepped up in Cuba, this segment of the population remains vulnerable to harassment and violence – and even death.

The Apr. 26 murder of Yosvani Muñoz, 24, which is under investigation, as the legal advice office of the National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX) confirmed to IPS, raised questions about a sensitive and little-known issue in Cuba: hate crimes.

IPS asked experts and members of the LBGT community about the causes of killings of “men who have sex with men” (MSM), of which no official statistics have been published, but which have been reported periodically since 2013 by word of mouth, or in blogs or alternative media outlets.

Hate crimes include verbal abuse, threats, physical assaults and homicides motivated by prejudice based on questions like sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnic group or religion.

“We are fighting hate crimes together with the Interior Ministry (which the police answers to),” CENESEX director Mariela Castro said in exclusive comments to IPS. Castro is the most visible face of the national campaign in favour of freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“A thorough expert analysis is needed to determine what kind of killing it was because not all crimes involving LGBT persons as victims are motivated by hatred,” Castro, a sexologist, explained during the May 5-16 events surrounding the Day Against Homophobia.

With a big Cuban flag and smaller rainbow flags representing gay pride, LGBT persons participate in one of the events in Havana surrounding the eighth annual celebration of the Day Against Homophobia in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

With a big Cuban flag and smaller rainbow flags representing gay pride, LGBT persons participate in one of the events in Havana surrounding the eighth annual celebration of the Day Against Homophobia in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In Havana and the eastern province of Las Tunas, this year’s activities, focused on the right to work, had the support for the first time of Cuba’s trade union federation Central de Trabajadores de Cuba and the blessing of protestant pastors for more than 30 gay and lesbian couples.

The activities involved a festive conga line and demonstration with signs and banners, video clips, and debates on the rights of LGBT persons to information, freedom of thought, access to justice, personal safety, and violence-free lives.

The situation in Latin America

In Latin America only Uruguay specifically mentions hate crimes in its legislation, while Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico have laws against discrimination that take into account aggravating circumstances in certain crimes, and some Brazilian states have anti-discrimination clauses in their local constitutions.

Because of the lack of official figures, non-governmental organisations compile information that is not systematised.

The Centre for AIDS Education and Prevention in Nicaragua documented some 300 hate crimes against the LGBT population, especially trans women, in Central America from 2009 to 2013. In Mexico and Brazil the number of crimes targeting this population group is high.

In Cuba, the Ibero-American and African Masculinity Network is the only organisation that has published the results of investigations, without explaining the methods used to compile the information. It reported that in 2013 it heard about “more than 40 murders of homosexuals” killed in the same circumstances as the cultural figures Velázquez and Díaz.

They preceded the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which is observed on May 17 because on that date in 1990, the World Health Organisation (WHO) general assembly removed homosexuality from the global body’s list of mental disorders.

Castro said “theft and common crime are more frequent aspects in murders of homosexuals, according to the data presented to us by the DGICO (criminal investigation bureau),” which receives advice from and collaborates with CENESEX.

“There might be a hate crime murder once in a while, but they are very few,” she said.

The sexologist added, however, that “the number of hate crimes is not completely clear because of the lack of a specialised institution dedicated to classifying them….and this classification is important because the old term ‘crime of passion’ hides gender violence, violence between men, and violence between couples.”

Violent crime is generally surrounded by silence in this island nation of 11.2 million people, and killings of LGBT individuals are no exception. The 1987 penal code does not specifically recognise hate crimes, or sexual orientation and gender identity as aggravating circumstances in murders.

The law provides for sentences of 15 to 30 years in cases of homicide, and the death penalty is still on the books, although it has not been applied since 2003.

“MSM are at greater risk of being killed than women,” Castro said, citing the results of DGICO investigations regarding a category of men that includes gays, bisexuals and transsexuals.

“Part of the gay population does not perceive the danger when they irresponsibly choose sexual partners, without information,” she said. “They seek out young men who work as prostitutes, some of whom are criminals and try to rob them, and even kill when they defend themselves.”

Along with its work raising awareness to prevent HIV/AIDS, CENESEX warns of other risks posed by irresponsible sexual practices in gay meeting and recreational places or community social networks.

Oneida Paz, a 59-year-old manager, has not heard of murders or rapes of lesbians, a population group she belongs to. “Violence among women can exist, but it’s not common,” she said. “I do have friends who have been injured, because they were married to men who beat them when they got into a relationship with another woman.”

CENESEX said the number of murders of MSM in 2013 and 2014 was high. At that time the issue came to the forefront because of the deaths of two high-profile openly gay cultural figures, who died in strange circumstances, according to activists.

The local media, which is entirely state-owned, gave ample coverage to the violent deaths of choreographer Alfredo Velázquez, 44, in September 2013 in the eastern city of Guantánamo, and theatre director Tony Díaz, 69, found dead in his Havana home in January 2014. But they only mentioned their careers in the arts.

“I haven’t seen statistics and I’m no expert, but the murders I know about were ruthless. We’re killed for some reason, like theft or vengeance, but also because we’re gay,” said Leonel Bárzaga, a 33-year-old chemical engineer who told IPS about the murder of his friend Marcel Rodríguez.

Rodríguez, a 28-year-old gay professional, was stabbed 12 times on Jan. 6 in his central Havana home. “The police haven’t shared the results of their investigation yet,” said Bárzaga, who preferred not to discuss the specific motives for the murder.

Veterinarian Manuel Hernández, 41, said “I haven’t heard of murders of gays. But verbal attacks are definitely common in small towns, and in the workplace there’s a lot of discrimination,” above all in the rural town where he lives, Quivicán, 45 km south of Havana.

“It wouldn’t be crazy to talk about ‘hate crimes’ against LGBT persons in Cuba,” said Jorge Carrasco, a journalist who investigated gay gathering places in the capital in 2013. “That’s a term used by the Cuban police, in fact, and it’s not a product of paranoia. But I know as little about them as any other Cuban.”

Based on his interviews conducted in lonely outlying parts of the city, like the Playa del Chivo, a beach frequented by MSM to talk, arrange meetings and have sex with strangers, Carrasco explained by email that “many criminals go to those places to steal, and there have been murders. That’s why the police patrol them.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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“Swachh Bharat” (Clean India) Requires a Mindset Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/swachh-bharat-clean-india-requires-a-mindset-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=swachh-bharat-clean-india-requires-a-mindset-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/swachh-bharat-clean-india-requires-a-mindset-change/#comments Sat, 16 May 2015 16:02:53 +0000 Prerna Sodhi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140665 CLEAN-India is an environmental assessment, awareness, action, and advocacy programme that promotes behavioural change among young city dwellers in India. As part of the programme, a group of female students learns about the importance of clean water. Credit: Development Alternatives

CLEAN-India is an environmental assessment, awareness, action, and advocacy programme that promotes behavioural change among young city dwellers in India. As part of the programme, a group of female students learns about the importance of clean water. Credit: Development Alternatives

By Prerna Sodhi
NEW DELHI, May 16 2015 (IPS)

“Swachh Bharat”, or Clean India, is a slogan that most Indians today associate with the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his first nation-wide campaign launched soon after taking office in 2014.

The call has definitely awakened popular consciousness on cleanliness but whether citizens follow it or not is another matter. In fact, it is commonplace to find people calling out “Swachh Bharat” as they toss garbage onto the street.

However, while the campaign may not have brought about the change it was aimed to usher in, a dialogue has started and it is a watershed moment for all those working in this area to capitalise on its momentum.The call for “Swachh Bharat”, or Clean India, has definitely awakened popular consciousness on cleanliness but whether citizens follow it or not is another matter

The idea of cleaning India up is not new, and neither is the term “Swachh Bharat” which has been used by many in the past and has now been “patented” by Modi. For decades, there has been concern with instilling an awareness of the need for cleanliness among citizens, many of whom even defecate in the open.

The current initiative by the government may address the issue of cleanliness at citizens’ level, but activists in the field of sustainable development argue that it should also cover issues related to water, energy and sewage disposal cleanliness.

Access to clean water is one of the main problems that the country faces. According to a report by UNICEF (the U.N. Children’s Agency) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), every year around 37.7 million Indians are affected by waterborne diseases, 1.5 million children die of diarrhoea alone and 73 million working days are lost due to waterborne diseases.

The problem does not appear to lie in the lack of availability of water treatment methods, but rather in the unwillingness of people to adopt these methods.

“From the field, we observed that the lack of adoption of water purification techniques is not due to low awareness levels and it was not even illiteracy, as is often assumed,” said Kavneet Kaur, field manager for Development Alternatives (DA), a social enterprise set up in 1982 to tackle the serious impact of climate change on society and the environment.

“There was an evident lack of effort and prioritisation of safety among people to undertake one or more options consistently that made drinking water safe,” she added.

Most slum dwellers, for example, “opted for methods that did not cost their pocket a penny. Those who did have access to cheaper methods of treatment, like chlorination and solar water disinfection (SODIS), avoided adopting these methods because they were time consuming.”

For the last 30 years, DA, which works primarily in Bundelkhand in central India, has been addressing the behaviour change necessary for people to adopt water treatment methods.

According to Dr K. Vijaya Lakshmi, DA Vice President, out of the three interrelated components of water, sanitation and hygiene, “hygiene behaviour has been shown to have the biggest impact on community health.”

However, she notes, “despite its merit as the most cost effective public health intervention, ironically there was no global target to improve hygiene during the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) era. It has become evident that the MDG framework has fallen short of addressing quality, sustainability and equity issues.”

To date, DA has reached out to 50,000 households and 26 schools through intensive advocacy campaigns in urban villages, offering training on how to adopt safe water treatment methods such as SODIS, boiling, chlorination and sieving, despite meeting strong resistance from the local population.

For example, storing water in a PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottle exposed to sunlight can kill up to 99 percent of the bacteria in the water, an “innovation” that uses nothing but natural ultraviolet (UV) light to provide safe drinking water for consumption. Water can also be purified by sieving boiled water.

Apart from advocating the adoption of these simple water purification methods, DA has also come up with innovations like the Jal-TARA Water Filter, which removes arsenic, pathogenic bacteria and excess iron from contaminated water, TARA Aqua+ (a sodium hypochlorite solution for purifying water), and TARA Aquacheck Vial, a device that tests for the presence of pathogenic bacteria.

Nevertheless, these innovations are not destined to go very far unless there is a major change in the mindset of the Indian people, and this extends to the “Swachh Bharat” campaign, not just in terms of clean water but also of a cleaner environment.

This idea has also been the driving force behind a youth-led social media campaign known as CLEAN-India ‘The City I Want’, launched by SA and now covering ten Indian cities – Mirzapur, Mohali, Vadodara, Alwar, Ambala, Bharatpur, Indore, Nashik, Mussoorie and Rishikesh.

CLEAN-India (where CLEAN stands for Community Led Environment Action Network) is an environmental assessment, awareness, action and advocacy programme that promotes behavioural change among young city dwellers. It has so far mobilised 28 NGOs, 300 schools, 800 teachers and over one million students.

The campaign is flanked by a number of other citizens’ groups such as resident welfare associations, parent forums, local business associations and clubs, which are actively participating in activities for environmental improvement.

“Going forward, it is crucial that civil society organisation practitioners interface with academic institutions in evidence gathering and inform policy-makers and investors in order to create enabling conditions where scalable innovation can flourish,” says Lakshmi.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Indonesia Still a Long Way from Closing the Wealth Gaphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/indonesia-still-a-long-way-from-closing-the-wealth-gap/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indonesia-still-a-long-way-from-closing-the-wealth-gap http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/indonesia-still-a-long-way-from-closing-the-wealth-gap/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 23:30:43 +0000 Sandra Siagian http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140617 Indonesia has one of the highest rates of income inequality in Southeast Asia, according to the World Bank. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

Indonesia has one of the highest rates of income inequality in Southeast Asia, according to the World Bank. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

By Sandra Siagian
JAKARTA, May 13 2015 (IPS)

Every afternoon, Wahyu sets up his wooden food cart by the side of a busy road in Central Jakarta to sell sweet buns, known as ‘bakpao’, to people passing by. In a good month, the street vendor can make around 800,000 rupiah, which amounts to roughly 62 dollars.

Across the road from where Wahyu hawks his wares stands one of the many malls that dot Indonesia’s capital city, home to 9.6 million people, filled with high-end designer labels like Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci.

"We [...] need the government to take a welfare approach to make sure that our low-income workers are protected." -- Said Iqbal, chairman of the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI)
Despite Wahyu’s position literally opposite the entrance to the plaza, it’s unlikely he will ever step foot inside it, let alone shop there.

Indonesia’s wealth gap has widened over the years, with the nation’s Central Statistics Agency (BPS) revealing that the country’s Gini index – a ratio measuring wealth distribution on a scale of 0-1 – increased from approximately 0.36 in 2012 to 0.41 in 2014.

While some are making their fortunes in this Southeast Asian nation of 250 million people, scores are languishing in destitution.

An estimated 28 million people live below the poverty line, and half of all households are grouped at or below the poverty line, set at 292,951 rupiah (24.4 dollars) per month, according to the World Bank.

When Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo came into office last October, he pledged to work towards minimising the country’s income inequality.

At the same time, the president, who is fondly known as Jokowi, emphasised that he was keen to boost the investment appeal of the world’s fourth most populous country, a plan that has some trade unions on edge, fearing the impact of unchecked foreign investment on a vulnerable workforce.

“We agree with the government’s plan to invite investors as we need investment for economic growth in the country. We support him,” explains Said Iqbal, the chairman of the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI).

“But we also need the government to take a welfare approach to make sure that our low-income workers are protected,” he tells IPS.

The nation’s average minimum wage is around 1.5 million rupiah, the equivalent of 115 dollars, according to data from BPS.

Each province or district sets their own minimum wage in line with the amount needed for workers to achieve a decent standard of living. The current rate for the capital city is 2.7 million rupiah per month, about 206 dollars, a figure that labour unions argue is not in line with the rising costs of basic needs.

“Thailand has a minimum wage equivalent to 3.2 million rupiah (244 dollars), Philippines at an equivalent of 3.6 million rupiah (274 dollars) and in Malaysia it’s more than three million rupiah (228 dollars),” explains Iqbal, who joined thousands of workers in Jakarta this past May Day to demand higher wages.

“We [labour unions] have met with Jokowi and we welcome his vision. But we haven’t seen any action; we need him to implement policies. We need to see wages increased to reflect the increase in oil prices and consumer goods.”

As pointed out in a January 2015 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), one in three regular employees – or 33.6 percent of the total workforce engaged in full-time work – receives a low wage.

While low wages in some emerging economies can symbolise a workforce about to move into a higher income bracket, “for many Indonesian workers low-wage employment tends to be the norm, rather than a springboard,” the ILO found.

The report also found that 45.9 percent of regular wage employees were “receiving wages below the lowest wage that is permissible by law in August 2014.”

Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), tells IPS that Indonesia is not doing enough to tackle the country’s rising inequality or its growing informal economy – two things she says pose economic and social risks.

“The unions here have fought the low-wage culture for many years […]; it is still not a wage on which people can live with dignity against rising costs for basic needs,” Burrow, who was in Jakarta for the May Day celebrations, explains.

“Likewise, social protection is still not deep enough and is not universal.”

According to the World Bank, employment growth has been slower than population growth, while “public services remain inadequate by middle-income standards.”

Health and infrastructure indicators are also poor, and the country is a ways off from achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the United Nation’s poverty-reduction blueprint that is set to expire at the end of the year.

For instance, the country continues to be plagued by high infant and maternal mortality ratios, with 228 infant deaths and 190 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births.

Meanwhile, only 68 percent of the population has access to improved sanitation facilities, far short of the MDG target of 86 percent.

With 153.2 million people – or 62 percent of the total population – living in rural areas without easy access to medical, educational and financial institutions, experts say there is an urgent need for the country to devise schemes that will allow a more equitable sharing of wealth among its people.

While some analysts say Indonesia’s low wages act as a magnet for investment, business insiders disagree.

“The business community is aware that low wages are no longer the attraction they used to be,” says Keith Loveard, a senior risk analyst with Concord Consulting in Jakarta, adding that increased inequity over the past decade has seen the bottom 50 percent of the population make very few gains.

The government could reverse this tide by tackling bureaucratic bottlenecks in various sectors.

According to Loveard, “Indonesia’s logistics costs make up more than a quarter of production costs and the only way companies can deal with that is to squeeze workers. So realistically, until you lower logistics costs with better infrastructure and cut the red tape, it’s very difficult to do business in areas such as manufacturing that create lots of jobs.”

Indonesia’s manufacturing sector is the second largest contributor, after the service sector, to regular wage employment and a strong factor for economic and employment growth in the country, according to the ILO.

Organisations like the World Bank, which estimate that Indonesia has one of the fastest rising rates of income inequality in the Southeast Asian region, say that unless the country adopts social protection programmes for the poorest people, and invests in infrastructure that will enhance their productive capacity, Indonesia will find itself losing social, political and political cohesion in the years to come.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Campaign to End Sexual Violence Targets Civilian Peacekeepers Firsthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/campaign-to-end-sexual-violence-targets-civilian-peacekeepers-first/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=campaign-to-end-sexual-violence-targets-civilian-peacekeepers-first http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/campaign-to-end-sexual-violence-targets-civilian-peacekeepers-first/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 20:25:21 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140614 Different jurisdictions and immunities apply to civilian and military personnel, made more obscure by a lack of transparency and detail in the U.N.’s reporting of abuse cases. Photo: UN Photo/Pasqual Gorriz

Different jurisdictions and immunities apply to civilian and military personnel, made more obscure by a lack of transparency and detail in the U.N.’s reporting of abuse cases. Photo: UN Photo/Pasqual Gorriz

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, May 13 2015 (IPS)

“We can really argue as much as we want but if we put ourselves in the skin of victims, we just have to do something to stop this.”

This was Graça Machel’s appeal at the launch of Code Blue, the campaign to end impunity for sexual violence by United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping personnel Wednesday.“Each country will act according to what it thinks is appropriate and more often than not rather than a full-fledged investigation you simply see a plane arriving and a bunch of people being put on a plane and disappearing." -- Lt. General Roméo Dallaire

Machel, a renowned human rights advocate, spoke of her own dismay when researching the landmark U.N. study ‘The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children’.

“We came across, eye to eye, women and girls who had been abused by U.N. peacekeeping personnel – it was shocking to us,” Machel said.

Peacekeeping is about more than military peace but also about bringing peace in people themselves, Machel said.

Her sentiments were shared by a panel of international leaders, including Lt. General Roméo Dallaire, Force Commander for the U.N. mission during the Rwandan genocide; Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary General; Theo Sowa, CEO of the African Women’s Development Fund; and Paula Donovan Co-director of AIDS-Free World, the organisation spearheading Code Blue.

The panel implored the United Nations and world leaders to act, and called for a truly independent Commission of Inquiry, with unobstructed access to U.N. records and correspondence, and full subpoena power.

Mahel called for the response to cut through the complex technicalities that raised many questions from the media present at the launch.

The problem is truly complex, with different jurisdictions and immunities applying to civilian and military personnel, made more obscure by a lack of transparency and detail in the U.N.’s reporting of cases.

One issue discussed at the forum was Code Blue’s decision to first focus on civilian personnel. The founders of Code Blue argued that this is an important first step to addressing the overall problem.

IPS spoke with Dr Roisin Burke, author of the book ‘Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by U.N. Military Contingents,’ who said that while she agreed that the “jurisdictional vacuum” surrounding civilian personnel needed to be addressed, she also hoped that Code Blue would equally tackle sexual abuse and sexual exploitation by both military and civilian personnel.

“The vast majority of U.N. operations, 70-80 percent of the people who are deployed are military, so you’ve got hundreds of thousands of military personnel deployed across the world,” Burke said.

“Per person, it’s happening more with civilian personnel, the problem is that doesn’t mean that in terms of numbers that it’s happening more.”

The panel also discussed the problems among military personnel, which Code Blue plans to address after first tackling the problem of bureaucratic delays around immunities impairing investigations into civilian personnel.

Lt. General Dallaire also discussed the problems associated with investigating allegations against military personnel who continue to fall under the jurisdiction of their home country.

“Each country will act according to what it thinks is appropriate and more often than not rather than a full-fledged investigation you simply see a plane arriving and a bunch of people being put on a plane and disappearing,” said Dallaire.

“There is far too much centralisation and taking away the ability of those in the field to be able to do the investigation in a timely fashion,” he said.

The panel disagreed with the idea that troop contributing countries will be less likely to send troops if their troops risk prosecution for sexual abuse.

“I come from Bangladesh, the largest troop contributing country. Bangladesh will welcome very much setting the standards high,” Chowdhury said.

Dallaire also agreed that this argument did not hold up and that it was holding the U.N. to ransom.

The first problem Code Blue plans to address though is immunity for civilian personnel. Donovan said that it was often not possible to substantiate allegations against civilian peacekeepers because bureaucracy gets in the way.

“The first step that kicks off the bureaucracy is immunity,” she said.

Immunity is not meant to cover sexual exploitation and abuse because personnel are only covered by immunity during their normal functions as a U.N. staff member. However, Donovan said that there are significant delays because each individual case has to be reviewed by the secretary-general before immunity can be waived. During this time evidence is eroded and witnesses disappear, making a successful investigation almost impossible.

Chowdhury told IPS he believed the U.N. should no longer hide behind legal difficulties and should take the moral high ground in these situations. He added that addressing sexual exploitation and abuse was important if the U.N. was serious about involving more women in peacekeeping operations.

An internal expert report leaked by AIDS-Free World earlier this year said that there is considerable under-reporting of these cases.

Sowa spoke passionately, saying it was heartbreaking this issue had to be discussed, “when the U.N. becomes the protector of predators instead of the prosecutor of predators, that destroys me because I believe in the U.N.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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NGOs Urge Post-2015 Declaration Include Water, Sanitation as Basic Human Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ngos-urge-post-2015-declaration-include-water-sanitation-as-basic-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ngos-urge-post-2015-declaration-include-water-sanitation-as-basic-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ngos-urge-post-2015-declaration-include-water-sanitation-as-basic-human-rights/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 15:22:43 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140611 Water is supplied by the military in Old Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

Water is supplied by the military in Old Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: UN Photo/Kibae Park

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 13 2015 (IPS)

Virtually every major international conference concludes with a “programme of action” (PoA) – described in U.N. jargon as “an outcome document” – preceded by a political declaration where 193 member states religiously pledge to honour their commitments.

But over 620 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), a hefty coalition of mostly international water activists, are complaining that a proposed political declaration for the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda is set to marginalise water and sanitation.“Any development agenda is contingent upon the availability of freshwater resources, and as the world battles an increasingly severe crisis in freshwater scarcity, the competition for access is already causing conflicts around the world." -- Meera Karunananthan

The development agenda, along with a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is expected to be adopted at a summit meeting of world leaders Sep. 25-27 in New York.

Meera Karunananthan, international water campaigner for the Blue Planet Project, told IPS that with more than 600 NGOs worldwide urging member states to revise the proposed political declaration, it is clear that water remains a very critical issue for billions of people around the world.

“Any development agenda is contingent upon the availability of freshwater resources, and as the world battles an increasingly severe crisis in freshwater scarcity, the competition for access is already causing conflicts around the world,” she said.

The NGO coalition includes WaterAid, Food and Water Watch, Council of Canadians, Global Water Institute, Earth Law Alliance, Indigenous Rights Centre, Right 2 Water, Church World Service, Mining Working Group, End Water Poverty and Blue Planet Project.

Lucy Prioli of WaterAid told IPS with over 2.5 billion people living without basic sanitation and hundreds of millions more without access to water, it is critical that the human right to both water and sanitation is “placed front and centre in the post-2015 Declaration.”

“The international community will never achieve its ambition of ending world hunger unless it also tackles under-nutrition, which is caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation,” she said.

The 193-member U.N. General Assembly recognised water and sanitation as a basic human right back in 2010.

Yet, 40 percent of the world’s population lacks access to adequate sanitation and a quarter of the population lacks access to clean drinking water.

In a 2012 joint report, U.S. intelligence agencies portrayed a grim scenario for the foreseeable future: ethnic conflicts, regional tensions, political instability and even mass killings.

During the next 10 years, however, “many countries important to the United States will almost certainly experience water problems – shortages, poor water quality, or floods – that will contribute to the risk of instability and state failure, and increased regional tensions,” stated a National Intelligence Estimate.

Karunanthan said the U.N.s proposed post-2015 economic agenda, which includes a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), must not be blind to these predicted conflicts.

It must instead be proactive and safeguard water for the environment and the essential needs of people by explicitly recognising the human right to water and sanitation, she said.

“If we are to avoid the mistakes of the past which led to the staggering failure of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to meet its targets regarding sanitation, then it is important for the SDGs to be firmly rooted in a human rights -based framework,” she added.

The coalition says it wants to ensure the needs of people and the environment are prioritised in any water resource management strategy promoted within the SDGs.

“The post-2015 development agenda presents an important opportunity to fulfill the commitments made by member states in 2010,” the NGOs say.

The NGO demand builds on the consistent and urgent advocacy done by civil society throughout the post-2015 process regarding the importance of inclusion of the human right to water and sanitation (HRTWS).

The Declaration will be a document of political aspirations overarching the post-2015 development agenda, including the SDGs.

A draft of the document is anticipated to be released by the end of this month.

U.N. Member States have stressed the need for an agenda that is “just, equitable, transformative, and people-centered”.

Global water justice groups argue that inclusion of the HRTWS in the post-2015 Declaration is vital to realising this goal.

The proposed SDGs include 17 goals with 169 targets covering a broad range of sustainable development issues, including ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable, combating climate change, sustainable management of water and sanitation, and protecting oceans and forests.

The 17 proposed goals, which are currently being fine-tuned, are:

Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere; Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages; Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all.

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all; Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation; Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries.

Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels and Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Popular Nigerian Author Calls on Americans to ‘Reject Silence’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/popular-nigerian-author-calls-on-americans-to-reject-silence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=popular-nigerian-author-calls-on-americans-to-reject-silence http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/popular-nigerian-author-calls-on-americans-to-reject-silence/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 18:35:19 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140603 Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Credit: Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center

Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Credit: Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, May 12 2015 (IPS)

Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, co-curator of a spectacular World Voices week with over 100 African writers, closed the May 4-10 event with an admonition.

Referencing “codes of silence” that govern American life, Adichi urged her audience at the Great Hall of the Cooper Union University in New York City “to reject silence.”

“There is a general tendency in the United States to define problems of censorship as essentially foreign problems,” she was quoted to say by reporter Nicole Lee, writing for the Guardian UK publication.

Americans like to be comfortable and this comfort has brought a “dangerous silencing” into American public conversation, Adichie observed. “The fear of causing offense, the fear of ruffling the careful layers of comfort, becomes a fetish,” she said. As such, the goal of many public conversations in the United States “is not truth … [it] is comfort”.

According to Adichie, social media is a contemporary “tool of silencing”. The Twitter campaign to Bring Back Our Girls focused on the abduction of 200 girls in Nigeria, for example, and it appeared as if Boko Haram only targeted girls.

While that image recalled the actions of the Taliban in denying rights to women and girls, in fact, the terrorist group kidnapped almost as many young boys, making them into child soldiers. Boko Haram, she reminded the audience, is opposed to Western-style education for both girls and boys.

“It is censorship to force a story to fit into something that already pre-exists,” she said.

Breaking silences, Adichie cautioned, is not always welcomed. “I have often been told that I cannot speak on certain issues because I am young, and female or, to use the disparaging ‘Nigerian speak,’ because I am a ‘small girl’ … I have also been told that I should not speak because I am a fiction writer … But I am as much a citizen as I am a writer.”

It was as a citizen and writer that Adichie spoke out against the recent criminalisation of homosexuality in her home country, a law that not only put the safety of many innocent civilians at risk, but also many of her friends, as the Guardian writer pointed out.

Chimamanda Adichie has been called “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors attracting a new generation of readers to African literature”. The author of Purple Hibiscus,” a coming-of-age novel set in post-colonial Nigeria, and two more critically-acclaimed novels, “Half of a Yellow Sun” (2006) and “Americanah” (2013), as well as a collection of short stories, she won a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2008.

The country’s elections in March have made Adichie more optimistic about Nigeria’s prospects. “It was proof that democracy…is making progress,” she says.

The event was hosted by the Freedom to Write group PEN American Center.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Press Freedom Groups Denounce NSA Spying on AJ Bureau Chiefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/press-freedom-groups-denounce-nsa-spying-on-aj-bureau-chief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=press-freedom-groups-denounce-nsa-spying-on-aj-bureau-chief http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/press-freedom-groups-denounce-nsa-spying-on-aj-bureau-chief/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 18:14:45 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140601 A slide dated June 2012 from a National Security Agency PowerPoint presentation bears Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan’s photo, name, and a terror watch list identification number, and labels him a “member of Al-Qa’ida” as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. It also notes that he “works for Al Jazeera.” Courtesy of the Intercept

A slide dated June 2012 from a National Security Agency PowerPoint presentation bears Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan’s photo, name, and a terror watch list identification number, and labels him a “member of Al-Qa’ida” as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. It also notes that he “works for Al Jazeera.” Courtesy of the Intercept

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, May 12 2015 (IPS)

Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan doesn’t deny that he’s had contact with terrorist groups. In fact, it would have been rather difficult to do his job otherwise.

But the fact that Zaidan is a respected investigative journalist and the Islamabad bureau chief for Al Jazeera didn’t seem to faze the U.S. National Security Agency, which not only spied on him, but went as far as to brand him a likely member of Al Qaeda and put him on a watch list.“This is the reality under which we live. Government agencies are relatively autonomous and attempts to control them are ludicrous." -- Bob Dietz of CPJ

The revelations emerged late last week as part of the thousands of classified documents leaked by former NSA employee Edward Snowden.

“Given that Pakistan has been consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, the news of Zaidan’s surveillance further adds to the fear, restricting press freedom,” said Furhan Hussain, manager of the Digital Rights and Freedom of Expression programme at Bytes for All, a Pakistani human rights group.

“Equally alarming, in this case, is the fact that by compromising the information of respected journalists, such spying also weakens the safety of their sources and media networks,” he told IPS. “Zaidan’s communications intercept took place through the invasive gathering and analysis of his metadata, a technique which has been frequently responsible for drone-led non-transparent persecution of hundreds of people.

“While it is often claimed that the state of Pakistan has failed to effectively protest against these violations, it may also be important to raise questions about the possible role of the state in facilitating the NSA to access vast amounts of data of those residing within its borders, in the context of its third-party SIGINT partnership.”

Other press freedom groups said the case was just one more in a long-running pattern of civil liberties abuses.

“Given the flood of disclosures over the past two years about the NSA’s vast range of mass and intrusive surveillance techniques and targets, it is unsurprising, but nevertheless shocking, that the intelligence agency thought it appropriate to use its capabilities to spy on an eminent journalist,” Carly Nyst, Legal Director of Privacy International, told IPS.

“This case is illustrative of the grave dangers of allowing security services to exercise immense powers in the absence of proper scrutiny. By placing members of the media, who themselves play an essential accountability role, particularly in areas of conflict, under surveillance, the NSA has undermined the very values it is charged with promoting – security, democracy, and free flow of information.

“Without democratic accountability, spy agencies will continue to sacrifice civil liberties in the name of strategic gain, without sparing a thought to the critical journalistic freedom caught in the cross hairs,” she added.

It’s not the first time the NSA has targeted Al Jazeera. Based on leaked documents, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported in 2009 that it had hacked into the news agency’s internal communication system.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, NSA whistleblower Russell Tice claimed in 2009 that in fact, the agency makes it a point to target journalists and news agencies.

Zaidan was targeted under the ominously titled SKYNET programme, which monitors bulk call records and searches the metadata for particular patterns.

“It’s this kind of big, sweeping data gathering that worries us the most,” Bob Dietz, Asia programme coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, told IPS.

“If someone were to track my behavior and all the people I’ve come into contact with over the last 20 years, I imagine I would come up on some sort of chart ranking very high,” he said wryly.

Dietz doesn’t expect the situation to change anytime soon, regardless of who occupies the White House.

“This is the reality under which we live. Government agencies are relatively autonomous and attempts to control them are ludicrous…whether or not there are laws protecting us,” he said.

Thomas Hughes, executive director of the London-based ARTICLE 19, said his group is deeply concerned by the Zaidan spying revelations.

“According to statements from Al Jazeera and colleagues from other networks, Zaidan is a journalist of longstanding professional reputation. Surveillance of journalists has a serious chilling effect on freedom of expression, impeding the crucial role journalists play in uncovering wrongdoing and holding governments to account for their actions,” he told IPS.

“Compromising the confidentially of sources also seriously undermines the ability of journalists to perform their work and potentially endangers the wellbeing and safety of those sources.”

Indeed, as noted by the Intercept, which broke the allegations, Zaidan’s reporting focused on the Taliban and Al Qaeda, including several high-profile interviews with senior Al Qaeda leaders.

In strenuously denying the allegations, he patiently explained, “For us to be able to inform the world, we have to be able to freely contact relevant figures in the public discourse, speak with people on the ground, and gather critical information.

“Any hint of government surveillance that hinders this process is a violation of press freedom and harms the public’s right to know,” he wrote in a response to the Intercept. “To assert that myself, or any journalist, has any affiliation with any group on account of their contact book, phone call logs, or sources is an absurd distortion of the truth and a complete violation of the profession of journalism.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The Definition of ‘Rape’ Cannot Change with a Marriage Certificatehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-definition-of-rape-cannot-change-with-a-marriage-certificate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-definition-of-rape-cannot-change-with-a-marriage-certificate http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-definition-of-rape-cannot-change-with-a-marriage-certificate/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 17:40:24 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140594 A couple performs a ritual at an Indian wedding. Experts say that every year, thousands of women experience marital rape, which is yet to be decriminalised in India. Credit: Naveen Kadam/CC-BY-2.0

A couple performs a ritual at an Indian wedding. Experts say that every year, thousands of women experience marital rape, which is yet to be decriminalised in India. Credit: Naveen Kadam/CC-BY-2.0

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, May 12 2015 (IPS)

“I was brutally raped thrice by my husband. He kept me under surveillance in his Dubai house while I suffered from severe malnutrition and depression. When I tried to flee from this hellhole, he confiscated my passport, deprived me of money and beat me up,” recalls Anna Marie Lopes, 28, a rape survivor who after six years of torture, finally managed to board a flight to New Delhi from the United Arab Emirates in 2012.

Today, Lopes works at a non-profit in India’s capital, New Delhi, and is slowly picking up the shards of her life. “Life’s tough when you have to start from scratch after such a traumatic experience with no support even from your parents. But I had no other choice,” Lopes tells IPS.

"Is the government saying that it is acceptable for men to rape their wives? Or does it believe that marriage is a licence for sexual violence on the pretext that this constitutes upholding Indian culture and values?” -- Amitabh Kumar, the Centre for Social Research
Her story is different from that of thousands of Indian women only in that it has a somewhat happy ending. For too many others who are victims of marital rape, escape is not an option, keeping them trapped in relationships that often leave them broken.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that over 40 percent of married women in India between 15 and 49 years of age have been beaten, raped or forced to engage in sexual intercourse with their spouses.

In 2011, a study released by the International Center for Research on Women, a Washington-based non-profit, said one in every five Indian men surveyed admitted to forcing their wives into sex.

Only one in four abused women has ever sought help, the survey stated, adding women are much less likely to seek help for sexual violence than for physical violence. When violated, women typically approach family members rather than the police.

Given this ominous and entrenched social reality, the present government’s reluctance to criminalise marital rape on the grounds that marriage is “sacred” in India has fuelled an intense debate.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary said in a statement to the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of the Indian parliament) last week that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, could not be “suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors, including level of education, illiteracy, poverty […] religious beliefs [and the] mindset of the society.”

Human rights campaigners are up in arms about this statement, claiming that in addition to it affirming the country’s patriarchal mindset, it besmirches India’s reputation as a liberal and equitable democracy.

“Is the government saying that it is acceptable for men to rape their wives? Or does it believe that marriage is a licence for sexual violence on the pretext that this constitutes upholding Indian culture and values?” asked Amitabh Kumar of the Centre for Social Research, a Delhi-based think tank.

“A rape is a rape, and […] infringes upon the victim’s fundamental rights,” Kumar told IPS.

Currently, marital rape, defined as forceful sexual intercourse by a husband without the consent of his wife – leading to the latter being physically and sexually battered – is governed by Section 375 of India’s Penal Code.

The law expressly states that forced sexual intercourse by a man with his wife, provided the latter is not under 15 years of age, does not constitute rape.

Though the Domestic Violence Act passed in 2005 recognises sexual abuse in a marital relationship, legal eagles say it offers only civil recourse, which cannot lead to a jail term for the abusive spouse.

Following the gang rape of a young medical student in New Delhi in December 2012, the groundswell of public angst in India led the then-ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to set up a commission tasked with reforming the country’s anti-rape laws.

 

Anna Marie Lopes, 28, is a survivor of marital rape who now works at a local non-profit in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Anna Marie Lopes, 28, is a survivor of marital rape who now works at a local non-profit in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The three-member Justice Verma Committee recommended that sexual violence between spouses be considered rape and be punishable as a criminal offence.

However the government, which at the time was helmed by the Congress Party, dismissed the committee’s suggestion by arguing that such a move would wreck the Indian institution of marriage.

“If marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress,” said a report by lawmakers submitted to parliament in 2013. The government eventually cleared a new sexual assault law, one that did not criminalise marital rape.

Experts say the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government is toeing a similarly conservative line to its predecessor.

BJP Spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi stated last week, “We will give prominence to our institutions,” suggesting that the government has little intention of acting on the recommendations of the Verma Committee, or demands from civil society.

In January this year, the Supreme Court rejected a woman victim’s petition to declare marital rape a criminal offence, arguing that nationwide legislation couldn’t be tweaked for one person.

Even now, the legal community is splintered over the merits and demerits of criminalising marital rape.

While senior criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani and former Supreme Court Justice K T Thomas have publicly endorsed the government’s viewpoint that the law must not be changed, others beg to differ.

“The institution of marriage is an integral part of Indian culture. But this has not stopped us from bringing in the anti-dowry law or domestic violence legislation,” New Delhi-based human rights lawyer Soumya Bhaumik told IPS.

“If a husband can be tried for murdering his wife, why can’t he be tried for raping her? The entire concept of consent or definition of rape does not change with a marriage certificate.”

Bhaumik also referred to documented cases of husbands or even wives forcing themselves upon their spouses, leading to not just physical but mental and emotional trauma as well.

“The current Domestic Violence Act treats such episodes as civil cases. This means that erring spouses are issued restraining orders or the aggrieved party is given a protection order. However, there is no provision for putting the guilty party behind bars,” he stated.

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has recommended that India make it criminal for a man to rape his wife.

Marital rape has already been criminalised in the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada, most European nations, Malaysia, Turkey and Bolivia.

This places India in a tiny global minority – along with China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia – which refuses to criminalise this form of assault.

Some experts feel that the Indian government’s reservations over the issue may stem from fears about a communal or religious backlash. The Hindu Marriage Act 1955 states that it is a wife’s foremost duty to have sex with her husband.

This entrenched attitude, as well as a lack of economic independence, acts as a barrier for women who might otherwise come forward to report the crime.

“Most women don’t come forward to complain about such rapes as they fear that jail for the breadwinner will spell doom for family and kids,” Winnie Singh, executive director of Maitri, a Delhi-based non-profit that works for the rehabilitation of underprivileged women, told IPS.

“According to our research, conviction has been less than one percent in such cases.”

Singh also blames a cumbersome legal process that puts the onus on the woman to prove that a rape has occurred, something that few women are willing to take on given low conviction rates.

According to a report by Aashish Gupta of the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (RICE), despite an increase in reporting among survivors following the passage of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, rape continues to remain under-reported.

Only about six of every 100 acts of sexual violence committed by men other than husbands actually get reported, reveals Gupta’s report.

Experts like Singh feel that in such a scenario, sensitisation and mass education are vital to bringing about awareness and ensuring justice for the victims.

“Stepping up rehabilitation efforts as well as large-scale visual campaigns by the government and human rights organisations involving all stakeholders are the only ways to safeguard women from this heinous crime,” she stressed.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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NGOs Urge Commission of Inquiry to Probe Sexual Abuse in U.N. Peacekeepinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ngos-urge-commission-of-inquiry-to-probe-sexual-abuse-in-u-n-peacekeeping/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ngos-urge-commission-of-inquiry-to-probe-sexual-abuse-in-u-n-peacekeeping http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/ngos-urge-commission-of-inquiry-to-probe-sexual-abuse-in-u-n-peacekeeping/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 17:31:54 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140599 Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, addresses a press conference on the investigation into alleged sexual abuse of children in the Central African Republic by foreign military troops during the French military intervention in that country on May 8, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, addresses a press conference on the investigation into alleged sexual abuse of children in the Central African Republic by foreign military troops during the French military intervention in that country on May 8, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 12 2015 (IPS)

A rising tide of sexual abuse in U.N. peacekeeping operations has triggered the launch of a high-level campaign to end the continued attacks on women and children and an urgent call for the creation of an independent commission of inquiry.

The latest “horrible” sexual attacks have been attributed to French peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic (CAR) although U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said they were “not under the command and control of the United Nations.”"The truth is startling and simple: No new mechanisms, no new methods of operation, no new policies can ever work in practice to prevent or punish sex abusers on staff who commit sexual offenses at present, because the U.N. bureaucracy responsible for implementing changes is completely dysfunctional." -- Paula Donovan

“We do hope that anyone who engaged in the atrocious activities involving children in the Central African Republic face justice and are prosecuted,” he told reporters last week.

Paula Donovan, co-director at AIDS-Free World, who helped break the story of a long-suppressed report on sexual abuse in CAR, told IPS: “From confusion and ineptitude on the ground, to cover-ups at the highest levels of the U.N. in New York, Member States must subject U.N. peacekeeping to a rigorous, entirely independent commission of inquiry with complete access to documents and staff.”

Until that happens, any new polices or procedures will fail, just as the current policies and procedures do, in their implementation, said Donovan, a former executive officer at the U.N. Children’s agency UNICEF and regional advisor, East and Southern Africa.

Last year, there were more than 50 cases of sexual abuse at the hands of U.N.-supported field personnel, although the actual number is said to be far higher.

But the existence of diplomatic immunity is said to allow perpetrators to go unpunished and avoid legal constraints.

A longstanding proposal, going to back to 2008, for an international convention to punish those accused of sex crimes in U.N. operations overseas never got off the ground.

But against the backdrop of the current campaign, called Code Blue, the proposal may be revived, even though it could be shot down by developing countries who provide most of the soldiers in the 16 peacekeeping operations currently under way, with an estimated total of 106,595 military personnel and 17,000 civilian staff.

The largest contributors of peacekeepers include Bangladesh (9,307 troops), Pakistan (8,163), India (8,112), Ethiopia (7,864) and Rwanda (5,575), according to the latest U.N. figures.

Asked whether an international convention will deal more effectively with sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. staff, police and experts on mission (who are currently covered by the 1946 Convention on Privileges and Immunities), a sceptical Donovan told IPS “jurisdictional issues are incredibly complex in peacekeeping operations.”

“But the truth is startling and simple: No new mechanisms, no new methods of operation, no new policies can ever work in practice to prevent or punish sex abusers on staff who commit sexual offenses at present, because the U.N. bureaucracy responsible for implementing changes is completely dysfunctional,” she declared.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, international coordinator, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, a programme partner of the International Civil society Action Network, told IPS the proposed convention is long overdue.

“If not now, when?” she asked. “It’s time to close the accountability gap. We have addressed this point in our recent international security sector workshop.”

She said: “I am hopeful about this convention and we will advocate for its adoption and ratification. We, in civil society, are always hopeful—as that is one of our sources of strength amidst growing conservatism among governments and as a result, repression of civil society.

“At the same time, we are also realistic as we have our ears close to the ground. We know what is happening. The information we receive is not filtered—unlike what U.N. headquarters and government missions receive.”

So, realistically speaking, she had doubts that troop contributing countries (TCCs) will actually support such a convention—except maybe the European countries and Canada.

However, these are not the biggest troop contributing countries. The biggest TCCs are in the developing world, she pointed out.

“We should do active lobbying with the big TCCs and show them that the convention will be useful to them—it can serve as a guide for Member States to monitor their troops; and in investigating and prosecuting troops who have committed crimes,” she added.

A 2008 report of the ‘Ad Hoc Committee on Criminal Accountability of U.N. Officials and Experts on Mission’ said “some delegations reiterated the view that it was premature to discuss the possibility of negotiating an international convention on the topic, as had been proposed by the Group of Legal Experts, and as had been subsequently supported by the Secretariat in its note.”

It was argued, the report said, that it was necessary to understand the actual impediments to prosecution, before embarking on the negotiation of a convention.

Some delegations expressed support, in principle, for a convention requiring member states to exercise jurisdiction over their nationals participating in U.N. operations.

The report further added: “It was noted that while bilateral agreements existed in the area, they provided incomplete coverage and did not usually address judicial cooperation between States and the United Nations.”

Cabrera-Balleza told IPS the TCCs should also put themselves in the shoes of the recipient countries. Don’t they want to see accountability if crimes are committed against their own people?

“I am also hoping that this convention would include mandatory training on U.N. Security Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, 1820 and supporting resolutions on women, peace and security (WPS). The TCCs should be mandated to train their troops prior to deployment and debrief using the WPS resolutions as guide after deployment.”

She said the United Nations also has a Conduct and Discipline Unit under the Department of Field Support that maintains global oversight of the state of discipline in peacekeeping operations and special political missions.

“However, I once had a discussion with a Conduct and Discipline Officer in a peacekeeping mission and we asked him if they are integrating UNSCR 1325 in their training and he had no clue what I was taking about,” she said.

The U.N. is committed to a zero- tolerance policy against sexual exploitation and abuse but its Member States are not. The convention will bring some coherence, she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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IACHR Tackles Violence Against Native Peoples in Costa Ricahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/iachr-addresses-violence-against-native-peoples-in-costa-rica/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iachr-addresses-violence-against-native-peoples-in-costa-rica http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/iachr-addresses-violence-against-native-peoples-in-costa-rica/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 23:24:31 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140563 Members of the Bribri indigenous community during a February meeting with deputy minister of the presidency Ana Gabriel Zuñiga in the community of Salitre in southeastern Costa Rica, held to inform them of the government’s proposals for combating the violence they suffer at the hands of landowners who invade and occupy their land. Credit: Courtesy of the office of the Costa Rican president

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, May 11 2015 (IPS)

After years of violence against two indigenous groups in Costa Rica, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) demanded that the government adopt measures by May 15 to protect the life and physical integrity of the members of the two communities.

The IACHR granted precautionary measures in favour of the Bribri community living in the 11,700-hectare Salitre indigenous territory, who have been fighting for years to reclaim land that has been illegally occupied by landowners.

“The law gives us the right to defend our claim to our territory, and one of the things it allows us to do is take back the land that is in the hands of non-indigenous people who are not living on it,” the leader of the community, Roxana Figueroa, told IPS.

Besides seeking to protect the community of Salitre, the resolution is aimed at safeguarding the Teribe or Bröran community in Térraba, also in the southeast. Around 85 percent of the Teribe community’s land is occupied by non-indigenous people, which violates their collective title to their ancestral territory.

Salitre, Térraba and the other 22 indigenous territories established in this Central American nation all share the same problem: the occupation of their land by non-indigenous landowners, in violation of international conventions and local legislation.

Costa Rica’s indigenous law, in effect since 1977, declared native territories inalienable, indivisible, non-transferable and exclusive to the indigenous communities living there.

Non-indigenous people “have come here to exploit nature and have occupied our lands or acquired them through fraudulent means from indigenous people,” said Figueroa, who spoke to IPS from a farm that the Bribri people managed to reclaim from a group of outsiders who had invaded it.

Figueroa, 36, says that while the level of violence has gone down in the community, “it’s still there, looming. They have identified those of us who took part in recovering this land, and they know who are participating in the struggle.”

There are very real reasons to be afraid. The violent incidents documented by the IACHR include a Jan. 5, 2013 machete attack on three unarmed indigenous men. One was also tortured with a hot iron rod; another was shot; and the third man nearly lost two fingers.

A Costa Rican indigenous family runs to take shelter in the community of Cedror in the indigenous territory of Salitre on Jul. 6, 2014, fearing an attack by landowners who occupied their land after setting fire to their homes and belongings the day before. Credit: David Bolaños/IPS

A Costa Rican indigenous family runs to take shelter in the community of Cedror in the indigenous territory of Salitre on Jul. 6, 2014, fearing an attack by landowners who occupied their land after setting fire to their homes and belongings the day before. Credit: David Bolaños/IPS

In one of the latest incidents, a group of non-indigenous men sowed terror in Salitre, where they burnt down a house before fleeing – a common modus operandi of the thugs.

The precautionary measures granted by the IACHR came in response to complaints filed since 2012 by two lawyers with the Forest Peoples Programme, an international organisation that works with forest peoples in South America, Africa, and Asia, to help them secure their rights.

It represents a crucial step in order for the case to eventually to make it to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in the Costa Rican capital, San José.

The Court and the Washington-based IACHR are the Organisation of American States (OAS) human rights system.

The IACHR resolution, issued Apr. 30, stressed that the situation is grave and urgent, and that the damage caused is irreparable. It gives the Costa Rican government 15 days to deliver a report on the implementation of the measures it called for.

Besides demanding guarantees for the lives and personal integrity of the members of the Bribri and Teribe communities, the IACHR ordered the government to reach agreement on the measures with the beneficiaries and their representatives, and to investigate the violent incidents.

“This is a preliminary stage that would precede an eventual trial; the IACHR issues precautionary measures while it decides whether the case has merits to be taken to the Inter-American Court,” Professor Rubén Chacón, a lawyer who is an expert on indigenous law at the University of Costa Rica, explained to IPS.

According to Chacón, either the resolution will have a real impact on domestic policies, or the status quo will remain unchanged, and “if the Court asks, the state will respond that the country has an efficient judicial system.”

In his view, the violence against indigenous people has waned, but the authorities are failing to take advantage of this period of relative calm to tackle the roots of the problem.

However Chacón, who represents Sergio Rojas, one of the leaders of the indigenous peoples’ effort to recover their ancestral territory, acknowledged that things have changed. “If it weren’t for the willingness that the government is currently showing to some extent, the threats would be worse now than they were two years ago,” said Chacón.

The IACHR precautionary measures have come on top of international calls for a solution to the violence plaguing the indigenous people in Salitre, Térraba and other communities in Costa Rica, where 2.6 percent of the population of 4.5 million are indigenous people.

During a July 2014 visit to the country, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon met with 36 leaders of different indigenous peoples, who described the hardships they suffer due to the authorities’ failure to enforce the laws that protect them and to take a hand in the matter.

In March 2012, then U.N. special rapporteur for the rights of indigenous peoples James Anaya visited the country, and Térraba in particular, drawing attention to the violence against Costa Rica’s indigenous communities.

According to Chacón, the visit played a crucial role because “in his report, Anaya outlined the extent of the confrontation between indigenous and non-indigenous people and the threats” in Térraba and Salitre.

The government of Luis Guillermo Solís has taken up the challenge of solving the conflict over land in Salitre and assigned the president’s deputy minister of political affairs, Ana Gabriel Zúñiga, as an intermediary in the conflict in Salitre.

Zúñiga told IPS that the government sees the IACHR’s precautionary measures as an endorsement of the work done since Solis took office in May 2014, which has included the launch of talks with the indigenous communities in the south of the country.

“They pointed out the positive things we have been working on,” said the deputy minister, who added that “the conflict has dragged on because the integral solution required is structural and has to counteract 30 years of institutional inertia.”

Although the IACHR specifically mentioned the violent incidents of the second half of 2014, Zuñiga argued that they were the result of a long-seated problem that cannot be solved in a few months.

“The conflict that broke out in July is due to a historical problem that has not been resolved. When we assess the situation, the most serious events occurred in 2012, like the branding with a hot iron rod,” she said.

The roughly 100,000 indigenous people in Costa Rica belong to the Bruca, Ngäbe, Brirbi, Cabécar, Maleku, Chorotega, Térraba and Teribe ethnic groups, according to the 2011 census, living in 24 indigenous territories scattered around the country, covering a total of nearly 350,000 hectares – around seven percent of the national territory.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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