Inter Press Service » Civil Society http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 26 Aug 2016 14:04:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 Mexico, a Democracy Where People Disappear at the Hands of the Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/mexico-a-democracy-where-people-disappear-at-the-hands-of-the-state/#comments Fri, 26 Aug 2016 14:04:01 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146690 One of numerous protests by relatives of victims of forced disappearance, who come to Mexico City to demand that the government search for their relatives and solve the cases. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

One of numerous protests by relatives of victims of forced disappearance, who come to Mexico City to demand that the government search for their relatives and solve the cases. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Aug 26 2016 (IPS)

“Go and tell my dad that they’re holding me here,” Maximiliano Gordillo Martínez told his travelling companion on May 7 at the migration station in Chablé, in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco. It was the last time he was ever seen, and his parents have had no news of him since.

Gordillo, 19, and his friend had left their village in the southern state of Chiapas to look for work in the tourist city of Playa del Carmen, in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo. It was a 1,000-km journey by road from their indigenous community in the second-poorest state in the country.

But halfway there, they were stopped by National Migration Institute agents, who detained Maximiliano because they thought he was Guatemalan, even though the young man, who belongs to the Tzeltal indigenous people, handed them his identification which showed he is a Mexican citizen.“One single forced or politically motivated disappearance in any country should throw into doubt whether a state of law effectively exists. It’s impossible to talk about democracy if there are victims of forced disappearance.” -- Héctor Cerezo

When his friend tried to intervene, he was threatened by the agents, who said they would accuse him of being a trafficker of migrants. The young man, whose name was not made public, was terrified and fled. When he reached his village he told Arturo Gordillo, Maximiliano’s father, what had happened.

It’s been over three months and the parents of Max, as his family calls him, have not stopped looking for him. On Monday, Aug. 22 they came to Mexico City, with the support of human rights organisations, to report the forced disappearance of the eldest of their five children.

He had never before been so far from Tzinil, a Tzeltal community in the municipality of Socoltenango where four out of 10 local inhabitants live in extreme poverty while the other six are merely poor, according to official figures.

“The disappearance of my son has been very hard for us,” Arturo Gordillo, the father, told IPS in halting English. “I have to report it because it’s too painful and I don’t want it to happen to another parent, to be humiliated and hurt this way by the government.”

“The Institute ignores people, their heart is hard,” he said, referring to Mexico’s migration authorities. At his side, his wife Antonia Martínez wept.

The case of Maximiliano Gordillo is just one of 150 people from Chiapas who have gone missing along routes used by migrants in Mexico, the spokesman for the organisation Mesoamerican Voices, Enrique Vidal, told IPS.

They are added to thousands of Central American migrants who have vanished in Mexico in the past decade. According to organisations working on behalf of migrants, many of the victims were handed over by the police and other government agents to criminal groups to be extorted or used as slave labour.

Antonia Martínez, devastated by the forced disappearance of her son, Maximiliano Gordillo, 19, while his uncle Natalio Gordillo went over details of the case with IPS. His parents and other relatives came to Mexico City from the faraway village of Tzinil, of the Tzeltal indigenous community, to ask the government to give back the young man, who they have heard nothing about since May 7. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Antonia Martínez, devastated by the forced disappearance of her son, Maximiliano Gordillo, 19, while his uncle Natalio Gordillo went over details of the case with IPS. His parents and other relatives came to Mexico City from the faraway village of Tzinil, of the Tzeltal indigenous community, to ask the government to give back the young man, who they have heard nothing about since May 7. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The only official data available giving a glimpse of the extent of the problem is a report by the National Human Rights Commission, which documented 21,000 kidnappings of migrants in 2011 alone.

But the problem does not only affect migrants. In Mexico, forced disappearances are “widespread and systematic,” according to the report Undeniable Atrocities: Confronting Crimes against Humanity in Mexico, released by the international Open Society Justice Initiative and five independent Mexican human rights organisations.

The study documents serious human rights violations committed in Mexico from 2006 to 2015 and says they must be considered crimes against humanity, due to their systematic and widespread nature against the civilian population.

The disappearances are perpetrated by military, federal and state authorities – a practice that is hard to understand in a democracy, local and international human rights activists say.

“One single forced or politically motivated disappearance in any country should throw into doubt whether a state of law effectively exists. It’s impossible to talk about democracy if there are victims of forced disappearance,” said Héctor Cerezo of the Cerezo Committee.

The Cerezo Committee is the leading Mexican organisation in the documentation of politically motivated or other forced disappearances.

On Wednesday, Aug. 24 it presented its report “Defending human rights in Mexico: the normalisation of political repression”, which documents 11 cases of forced disappearance of human rights defenders between June 2015 and May 2016.

“Expanding the use of forced disappearance also serves as a mechanism of social control and modification of migration routes, a mechanism of forced recruitment of young people and women, and a mechanism of forced displacement used in specific regions against the entire population,” the report says.

Cerezo told IPS that in Mexico, forced disappearance “evolved from a mechanism of political repression to a state policy aimed at generating terror.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged Mexico in March to acknowledge the gravity of the human rights crisis it is facing.

Signs with the images of victims of forced disappearance are becoming a common sight in Mexico, like this one in a church in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Credit:  Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Signs with the images of victims of forced disappearance are becoming a common sight in Mexico, like this one in a church in Iguala in the southwestern state of Guerrero. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The report presented by the IACHR after its visit to Mexico in 2015 denounced “alarming” numbers of involuntary and enforced disappearances, with involvement by state agents, as well as high rates of extrajudicial executions, torture, citizen insecurity, lack of access to justice, and impunity.

The Mexican government has repeatedly rejected criticism by international organisations. But its denial of the magnitude of the problem has had few repercussions.

The activists who spoke to IPS stressed that on Aug. 30, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the international community has an opportunity to draw attention to the crisis in Mexico and to hold the government accountable for systematically disappearing members of certain groups of civilians, as documented by human rights groups.

But not everything is bad news with respect to the phenomenon of forced disappearance, which runs counter to democracy in this Latin American country of 122 million people which is free of internal armed conflict.

This year, relatives of the disappeared won two important legal battles. One of them is a mandate for the army to open up its installations for the search for two members of the Revolutionary Popular Army who went missing in the southern state of Oaxaca, although the sentence has not been enforced.

Meanwhile, no progress has been made towards passing a draft law on forced disappearance under debate in Congress.

“The last draft does not live up to international standards on forced disappearance nor to the needs of the victims’ families, who do not have the resources to effectively take legal action with regard to the disappearance of their loved ones. There is no real access to justice or reparations, and there are no guarantees of it not being repeated,” said Cerezo.

In the most recent case made public, that of Maximiliano Gordillo, the federal government special prosecutor’s office for the search for disappeared persons has refused to ask its office in Tabasco to investigate.

For its part, the National Human Rights Commission issued precautionary measures, but has avoided releasing a more compelling recommendation. The National Migration Institute, for its part, denies that it detained the young man, but refuses to hand over the list of agents, video footage and registries of entries and exists from the migration station where he was last seen.

Aug. 22 was Gordillo’s 19th birthday. “We feel so sad he’s not with us. We had a very sad birthday, a birthday filled with pain,” said his father, before announcing that starting on Thursday, Aug. 25 signs would be put up in more than 60 municipalities of Chiapas, to help in the search for him.

As the days go by without any progress in the investigations, Gordillo goes from organisation to organisation, with one request: “If you, sisters and brothers, can talk to the government, ask them to give back our son, because they have him, they took him.”

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Tracing War Missing Still a Dangerous Quest in Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/tracing-war-missing-still-a-dangerous-quest-in-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tracing-war-missing-still-a-dangerous-quest-in-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/tracing-war-missing-still-a-dangerous-quest-in-sri-lanka/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2016 15:51:46 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146673 The Sri Lankan government has acknowledged that there could be as many as 65,000 people missing following three decades of civil war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The Sri Lankan government has acknowledged that there could be as many as 65,000 people missing following three decades of civil war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MANNAR, Aug 24 2016 (IPS)

As Sri Lanka readies to begin the grim task of searching for thousands of war missing, those doing the tracing on the ground say that they still face intimidation and threats while doing their work.

The government will set up the Office for Missing Persons (OMP) by October following its ratification in parliament earlier this month. The office, the first of its kind, is expected to coordinate a nationwide tracing programme."We don’t even have an identification card that says we are doing this kind of work." -- Ravi Kumar, Volunteer Tracing Coordinator in the Northern Mannar District

However, officers with the Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRC), which currently has an operational tracing programme, tell IPS that it is still difficult to trace those who went missing during combat, especially if they are linked to any armed group.

“It is a big problem,” said one SLRC official who was detained by the military for over three hours when he made contact with the family of a missing person whose relatives in India had sent in a tracing request.

“The family in India did not know, I did not know, that he was a high-ranking member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The moment I went to his house to seek information, the military was outside,” said the official, who declined to be named. He was later interrogated about why he was seeking such information and who he was working for.

The official told IPS that as there was no national programme endorsed by the government to trace war missing, security personnel were unlikely to allow such work, especially in the former conflict zone in the North East, where there is a large security presence since the war’s end in May 2009.

However, the Secretariat for Coordination of Reconciliation Mechanism and Office for National Unity and Reconciliation both said that once the envisaged OMP is set up, the government was likely to push ahead with a tracing programme. The draft bill for the office includes provisions for witness and victim protection.

War-related missing has been a contentious issue since Sri Lanka’s war ended seven years ago. A Presidential Commission on the Missing sitting since 2013 has so far recorded over 20,000 complaints, including those of 5,000 missing members from government forces.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has so far recorded over 16,000 complaints on missing persons since 1989. The 2011 Report of the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka said that over 40,000 had gone missing.

In 2015, a study by a the University Teachers for Human Rights from the University of Jaffna in the North said that they suspected that the missing figure could be over 90,000 comparing available population figures.

After years of resistance, in 2014 the then Mahinda Rajapaksa government gave the ICRC permission to conduct the first ever island-wide survey of the needs of the families of the missing. The report was released in July and concluded, “the Assessment revealed that the highest priority for the families is to know the fate and whereabouts of their missing relative(s), including circumstantial information related to the disappearance.”

ICRC officials said that it was playing an advisory role to the government on setting up the tracing mechanism. “The government of Sri Lanka received favourably a proposal by the ICRC to assist the process of setting up a mechanism to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people and to comprehensively address the needs of their families, by sharing its experience from other contexts and its technical expertise on aspects related to the issue of missing people and their families,” ICRC spokesperson Sarasi Wijeratne said.

The SLRC in fact has an ongoing tracing programme active in all 25 districts dating back over three decades. “Right now most of the tracing work is related to those who have been separated due to migration,” Kamal Yatawera, the head of the tracing unit said. It has altogether traced over 12,000 missing persons, the bulk separated due to migration or natural disasters.

However, the SLRC is currently not engaged in tracing war related missing unless notified by family members, which happens rarely. “But we do look for people who have been separated or missing due to the conflict, especially those who fled to India,” said Ravi Kumar, Volunteer Tracing Coordinator in the Northern Mannar District. He has traced four such cases out of the 10 that had been referred to him since last December.

He added that tracing work would be easier if there was a government-backed programme. “Now we don’t even have an identification card that says we are doing this kind of work. If there was government sanction, then we can reach out to the public machinery, now we are left to go from house to house, asking people.”

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females - either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females – either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

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Concern over Profit-Oriented Approach to Biodiversity in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 23:16:28 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146641 An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

In July 2015, the Mexican government granted a U.S. corporation permission for the use of genetic material obtained in Mexican territory for commercial and non-commercial purposes, in one of the cases that has fuelled concern in Latin America about the profit-oriented approach to biodiversity.

The agreement, which is catalogued with the identifier number Absch-Ircc-Mx-207343-2, was approved by the National Seeds Inspection and Certification Service and benefits the U.S. company Bion2 Inc, about which very little is known.

Prior, informed consent from the organisation or individual who holds right of access to the material was purportedly secured. But the file conceals the identity of this rights-holder and of the genetic material that was obtained, because the information is confidential.

This is an example of confidentiality practices that give rise to concern about the proper enforcement of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, signed in that Japanese city in 2010 and in effect since 2014.

The protocol, a supplementary agreement to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, in force since 1993, seeks to strengthen the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the protocol has been ratified by Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

The protocol stipulates that each party state must adopt measures to ensure access to traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources in the possession of indigenous and local communities.

That will be done, it states, through the prior informed consent and the approval and participation of these groups, and the establishment of mutually agreed conditions.

“The expectations of indigenous people are not well-covered by the protocol,” Lily Rodríguez, a researcher with the Institute for Food and Resource Economics at Germany’s Bonn University, told IPS.

She stressed that the protocol is “the opportunity to recognise traditional knowledge as part of each nation’s heritage and to establish mechanisms to respect their decisions with regard to whether or not they want to share their knowledge.”

Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with the greatest biodiversity in the world, as it is home to several mega-diverse countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

The questions covered by the Nagoya Protocol will form part of the debate at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held December 4-17 in Cancun, Mexico.

Indigenous groups and civil society organisations complain that the protocol recognises intellectual property rights for so-called bioprospectors, research centres or companies hunting for biological information to capitalise on.

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Furthermore, the sharing of eventual monetary and non-monetary benefits for indigenous peoples and communities is based on “mutually agreed terms” reached in contracts with companies and researchers, which can put native people at a disadvantage.

In Guatemala, civil society organisations and indigenous groups have fought their country’s inclusion in the Nagoya Protocol, which it signed in 2014.

In June, a provisional Constitutional Court ruling suspended the protocol in Guatemala.

“We are opposed because it was approved without the necessary number of votes in Congress; indigenous people were not consulted; and it gives permission for experimentation with and the transfer and consumption of transgenics,” said Rolando Lemus, the head of the Guatemalan umbrella group National Network for the Defence of Food Sovereignty.

The activist, whose NGO emerged in 2004 and which groups some 60 local organisations, told IPS, from the Guatemalan department of Chimaltenango, that the use of biodiversity is part of the culture and daily life of indigenous people, whose worldview “does not allow profiting from ancestral know-how.”

Guatemala had accepted three requests for research using the medicinal plant b’aqche’ (Eupatorium semialatum), cedar and mahogany. The request for the first, used against stomach problems like worms, was in the process of being studied, and the other two were approved in October 2015 for research by the private University del Valle of Guatemala.

As a subsidiary to the Biodiversity Convention, the protocol also covers activities carried out since last decade, regulated by national laws, in different countries of Latin America, which are discussed in a regional study published in 2014.

Brazil, for example, has granted at least 1,000 permits for non-commercial research since 2003 and 90 for commercial research since 2000.

Between 2000 and 2005, Bolivia granted 10 genetic resources access contracts, out of 60 requests filed. Several of them involved quinoa and other Andes highlands crops.

Two of them were for commercial uses. But since new laws were passed in Bolivia in 2010, ecosystems and the processes that sustain them cannot be treated as commodities and cannot become private property. The legislation amounts to a curb on the country’s adherence to the protocol.

In Colombia there are permits to collect samples and to send material abroad. Since 2003, that South American country has granted 90 contracts, out of 199 requests, and has signed a contract for commercial research.

Although Costa Rica has not approved permits for access to traditional knowledge or genetic resources in indigenous territories, it has issued 301 permits for basic research and access to genetic resources and 49 for bioprospecting and access to genetic resources since 2004.

Bioprospecting involves the systematic search for, classification of, and research into new elements in genetic material with economic value. The role of the protocol is to ensure that this does not deprive the original guardians of their knowledge and eventual benefits.

Ecuador has received 19 requests since 2011 and in 2013 it negotiated a commercial contract.

For its part, Mexico has authorised 4,238 permits for scientific collection since 1996, and only a small percentage of requests have been denied.

Peru, meanwhile, requires a contract for every kind of access. Since 2009, it has authorised 10 contracts, out of more than 30 requests, and 180 permits for research into biological resources.

Ecuador is a good example in the region of the plunder of genetic material, as officials in that country complain.

The “First report on biopiracy in Ecuador”, released in June by the Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, stated that Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States have improperly exploited their biological wealth.

Of 128 identified patents, companies from the U.S. hold 35, from Germany 33, from the Netherlands 17, from Australia 15 and the rest are held by firms in a number of countries.

“It all depends on how the governments of each country protect indigenous people, in accordance with their own legal frameworks,” said Rodríguez.

“If the legislation says that they will only negotiate prior consent, including clauses on mutually agreed conditions – if they aren’t in a position to negotiate, it would be good if the government supported them so the negotiations would be more equitable and favourable for native peoples,” she argued.

Lemus is confident that the suspension in Guatemala will remain in place. “We are thinking of other actions to engage in. People must have mechanisms to protect themselves from intellectual property claims and genetic contamination,” he said.

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Breaking the Silence on Gender-Blind Transporthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/breaking-the-silence-on-gender-blind-transport/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-the-silence-on-gender-blind-transport http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/breaking-the-silence-on-gender-blind-transport/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 18:34:58 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146634 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/breaking-the-silence-on-gender-blind-transport/feed/ 0 The UN Must be at the Forefront of the fight for Civic Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-un-must-be-at-the-forefront-of-the-fight-for-civic-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-un-must-be-at-the-forefront-of-the-fight-for-civic-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-un-must-be-at-the-forefront-of-the-fight-for-civic-rights/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 02:14:24 +0000 Burkhard Gnärig http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146628 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-un-must-be-at-the-forefront-of-the-fight-for-civic-rights/feed/ 0 133 Organisations Nominate Syria’s White Helmets for Nobel Peace Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 11:34:27 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146605 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize/feed/ 2 Peruvians Say “No!” to Violence Against Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/peruvians-say-no-to-violence-against-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peruvians-say-no-to-violence-against-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/peruvians-say-no-to-violence-against-women/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 14:13:15 +0000 Aramis Castro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146561 A group of demonstrators with black crosses, symbolising the victims of femicide in Peru and other countries of Latin America, march down a street in the centre of Lima during an Aug. 13 march against gender violence. Credit: Noemí Melgarejo/IPS

A group of demonstrators with black crosses, symbolising the victims of femicide in Peru and other countries of Latin America, march down a street in the centre of Lima during an Aug. 13 march against gender violence. Credit: Noemí Melgarejo/IPS

By Aramis Castro
LIMA, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Peruvians took to the streets en masse to reject violence against women, in what was seen as a major new step in awareness-raising in the country that ranks third in the world in terms of domestic sexual violence.

The Saturday Aug. 13 march in Lima and simultaneous protests held in nearly a dozen other cities and towns around the country, includingCuzco, Arequipa and Libertad,was a reaction tolenient court sentences handed down in cases of femicide – defined as the violent and deliberate killing of a woman – rape and domestic violence.

The case that sparked the demonstrations was that of Arlette Contreras, who was beaten in July 2015 by her then boyfriendin the southern city of Ayacucho, Adriano Pozo, in an attack that was caught on hotel cameras.“We want justice; we want the attackers, rapists and murderers to go to jail. We want the state to offer us, the victims, safety.” -- Arlette Contreras

Despite the evidence – the footage of the attack – Pozo, the son of a local politician, was merely given a one-year suspended sentence for rape and attempted femicide, because of “mitigating factors”: the fact that he was drunk and jealous. When a higher court upheld the sentence in July, the prosecutor described the decision as “outrageous”.

“We want justice; we want the attackers, rapists and murderers to go to jail. We want the state to offer us, the victims, safety,” Contreras told IPS during the march to the palace of justice in Lima, which was headed by victims and their families.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Peru is in second place in Latin America in terms of gender-based killings, and in a multi-country study on sexual intimate partner violence, it ranked third.

“Enough!”, “The judiciary, a national disgrace”, “You touch one of us, you touch us all”were some of the chants repeated during the march, in which some 100,000 people took part according to the organisers of the protest, which emerged over the social networks and was not affiliated with any political party or movement, although President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and members of his government participated.

Entire families took part, especially the relatives of victims of femicide, who carried signs with photos and the names of the women who have beenkilled and their attackers.

“My daughter was killed, but they only gave her murderer six months of preventive detention,” said Isabel Laines, carrying a sign with a photo of her daughter. She told IPS she had come from the southern department of Ica, over four hours away by bus, to join the protest in Lima.

Other participants in the march were families and victims of forced sterilizations carried out under the government of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000). In 2002, a parliamentary investigation commission estimated that more than 346,000 women were sterilised against their will between 1993 and 2000.

In late June, the public prosecutor’s office ruled that Fujimori and his three health ministers were not responsible for the state policy of mass forced sterilisations, and recommended that individual doctors be charged instead.

The ruling enraged those demanding justice and reparations for the thousands of victims of forced sterilization, who are mainly poor, indigenous women.

Over the social networks, the sense of outrage grew as victims told their stories and discovered others who had undergone similar experiences, under the hashtags #YoNoMeCallo (I won’t keep quiet) and #NiUnaMenos (Not one less – a reference to the victims of femicide).

“After seeing the video of Arlette (Contreras), and the indignation when her attacker went free, a group of us organised over Facebook and we started a chat,” one of the organisers of the march and the group Ni UnaMenos, Natalia Iguíñiz, told IPS.

In the first half of this year alone, there were 54 femicides and 118 attempted femicides in Peru, according to the Women’s Ministry. The statistics also indicate that on average 16 people are raped every day in this country.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynskitook part in the march against gender violence in Peru, where 54 femicides and 118 attempted femicides were committed in the first half of 2016 alone. Credit: Presidency of Peru

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynskitook part in the march against gender violence in Peru, where 54 femicides and 118 attempted femicides were committed in the first half of 2016 alone. Credit: Presidency of Peru

Between 2009 and 2015, 795 women were the victims of gender-based killings, 60 percent of them between the ages of 18 and 34.

Women’s rights organisations complain that up to now, Peruvian society has been tolerant of gender violence, and they say opinion polls reflect this.

In a survey carried out by the polling company Ipsos in Lima before the march, 41 percent of the women interviewed said Peru was not safe at all for women and 74 percent said they lived in a sexist society.

Meanwhile, 53 percent of men and women surveyed believed, for example, that if a woman wears a mini-skirt it is her fault if she is harassed in public areas, and 76 percent believe a man should be forgiven if he beats his wife for being unfaithful.

Since Kuczynski took office on Jul. 28, the issue of gender violence has been put on the public agenda and different political leaders have called for measures to be taken, such as gender-sensitive training for judicial officers and police, to strengthen enforcement of laws in cases of violence against women.

“The problem of gender violence is that the silence absorbs the blows and it’s not easy for people to report,” said the president before participating in the march along with several ministers, legislators and other authorities.

Iguíñiz said the march represented the start of a new way of tackling the phenomenon of violence against women in Peru, and added that the momentum of the citizen mobilisation would be kept up, with further demonstrations and other activities.

“Thousands of people are organising. We’re a small group that proposes a few basic things, but there are a lot of groups working culturally, in their neighbourhoods, in thousands of actions that are being taken at a national level: districts, vocational institutes, different associations,” she said.

In her view, the call for people to get involved “has had such a strong response because it is so broad.”

The movement Ni Una Menoshas organised previous demonstrations against violence against women in other Latin American countries, like Argentina, where a mass protest was held in the capital in June 2015.

“We are in coordination with people involved in the group in other countries,” said Iguíñiz.“We’re going to create a platform for petitions but we’re planning to do it at a regional level, in all of the countries of Latin America.”

The private Facebook group “Ni UnaMenos: movilización ya” (Not one less: mobilisation now), which started organising the march in July, now has some 60,000 members, and was the main coordinator of the demonstrations, although conventional media outlets and human rights groups later got involved as well.

In addition, hundreds of women who have suffered abuse, sexual attacks or harassment at work began to tell their stories online, in an ongoing process.

Peruvians abroad held activities in support of the march in cities like Barcelona, Geneva, London, Madrid and Washington.

With reporting by Alicia Tovar and Jaime Vargas in Lima

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The Counter Narrative to Terror and Violence is Already Among Ushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-counter-narrative-to-terror-and-violence-is-already-among-us/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-counter-narrative-to-terror-and-violence-is-already-among-us http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-counter-narrative-to-terror-and-violence-is-already-among-us/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 05:13:43 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146552 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-counter-narrative-to-terror-and-violence-is-already-among-us/feed/ 0 Women’s Inclusion in Sports Competes in Rio Gameshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/womens-inclusion-in-sports-competes-in-rio-games/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-inclusion-in-sports-competes-in-rio-games http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/womens-inclusion-in-sports-competes-in-rio-games/#comments Fri, 12 Aug 2016 07:14:20 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146523 Kaillana de Oliveira Donato, 14, plays basketball in the Olympic Villa in Mangueira, a poor neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, and participates in U.N. Women’s “One Win Leads to Another” programme. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Kaillana de Oliveira Donato, 14, plays basketball in the Olympic Villa in Mangueira, a poor neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, and participates in U.N. Women’s “One Win Leads to Another” programme. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 12 2016 (IPS)

At the age of 14, Kaillana de Oliveira of Brazil knows she won’t be as tall as most professional basketball players, because of family genetics. But she is not letting that get in the way of her dream of standing out in the sport.

“I’m point guard, and you don’t have to be so tall for that position,” Oliveira, a student at the Olympic Villa – a multi-purpose sports complex – in the poor Rio de Janeiro neighbourhood of Mangueira, told IPS.

That public sports facility produced three of the players on Brazil’s women’s national basketball team, which is competing in the Aug. 5-22 Rio 2016 Olympics.

Oliveira trains at least four days a week, “for three hours, sometimes more.” She gets up at 5 AM to attend a school in a distant neighbourhood, which offered her a scholarship as a promising young athlete. She is disciplined and is in bed by 9 PM.

Oliveira has participated in many tournaments for girls. “Basketball is a fast, dynamic contact sport,” she said. That’s why she chose it five years ago, from the various sports she tried in a complex near the Mangueira “favela” or shantytown, where she lives.

Her family supported her choice, but she faces prejudice among her classmates. “They say it’s for lesbians,” she said.

“I want to be a good player; if I don’t make it, I’ll be a lawyer,” Oliveira told IPS in a conversation on the basketball court where she trains.

She participates in the programme “One Win Leads to Another”, an initiative of U.N. Women and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) aimed at empowering girls through sports, as a legacy of the first Olympic Games to be held in South America.

The programme, based on the Dutch NGO Women Win, includes weekly workshops on issues like self-esteem, leadership, sexual rights, violence and financial planning, as well as sports activities.

It began in Rio de Janeiro and until 2017 will function as a pilot project, with the goal of boosting the autonomy and self-confidence of 2,500 girls between the ages of 10 and 18, as well as 300 adolescent mothers who have dropped out of school.

The activities are held in 16 multi-sports complexes called Olympic Villas that the city government has set up in poor neighbourhoods.

The programme will later be adapted to local conditions and expanded to other cities around Brazil and Latin America.

Kaillana de Oliveira Donato, Marcelly de Mendonça and Adrielle da Silva are active in the U.N. Women’s and International Olympic Committee’s “One Win Leads to Another” programme, standing next to Juliana Azevedo, a vice president in Procter & Gamble, another partner in the initiative, during the presentation of the programme in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Kaillana de Oliveira Donato, Marcelly de Mendonça and Adrielle da Silva are active in the U.N. Women’s and International Olympic Committee’s “One Win Leads to Another” programme, standing next to Juliana Azevedo, a vice president in Procter & Gamble, another partner in the initiative, during the presentation of the programme in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Women Win, a U.N. Women partner, developed the original programme, which has already been implemented in 25 countries.

A survey found that of 217,000 participants, the proportion of girls who saw themselves as leaders increased from 46 to 89 percent, and the proportion of those who know how to avoid getting pregnant or catching a sexually transmitted disease rose threefold, to 79 and 77 percent, respectively.

The initiative also seeks to expand access among teenage girls to the benefits of sports. Around the world, 49 percent of girls quit practicing sports when they hit puberty – six times the proportion for boys, which aggravates gender inequality, according to U.N. Women.

“The power of sport should never be underestimated. It can change lives, through increasing girls’ and young women’s beliefs in their own abilities, encouraging them to take initiative and aim high,” U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said at the Aug. 6 presentation of “One Win Leads to Another” in Rio de Janeiro.

One of the big challenges the programme has taken on “is leveling the playing field for men and women,” the representative of U.N. Women in Brazil, Nadine Gasman, told IPS. “In the Rio Olympic games, women make up 46 percent of the competitors, and there are no sports that do not include women, but the difference in resources is appalling.”

“Ten national Olympic committees include no women, and very few are on the International Olympic Committee,” which means they have less of an influence on sports, she said. “Women are also less visible on TV sports channels, where the broadcasting of men’s sports wins 10 to one, with the exception of the Olympics.”

The history of the Olympic Games reflects women’s struggle for inclusion. Women were absent from the first modern-era edition, in 1896 in Athens. In the next Games, in Paris in 1900, the only women’s sports were tennis and golf, and women made up just 2.2 percent of the total number of participants – 22 out of 997.

The proportion only climbed above 10 percent after 1952, growing to 44.2 percent in 2012, after women’s boxing was finally accepted as an Olympic sport.

But inequality persists. The funds earmarked by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) for the national teams that participated in the men’s 2014 World Cup, also hosted by Brazil, were 40 times greater than the amount that went to the 2015 Women’s World Cup, Gasman pointed out.

Teenage basketball players training in an Olympic Villa, one of the sports complexes created by the Rio de Janeiro city government, in the “favela” or shantytown of Mangueira, close to the installations where the Olympic Games are being held. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Teenage basketball players training in an Olympic Villa, one of the sports complexes created by the Rio de Janeiro city government, in the “favela” or shantytown of Mangueira, close to the installations where the Olympic Games are being held. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The women’s winning team’s prize was smaller than the amount that went to the team that came in last in the FIFA World Cup, reflecting the discrimination still suffered by women athletes, she added.

But in the Olympics, the imbalance is being reduced more quickly. In 1995 the Women in Sport Commission was created in the IOC, to advise the executive board and president on how to expand women’s participation in decision-making and how to develop and implement the IOC women and sports policy.

Since 2004, women have served as vice president of the IOC, and since March this year, at least one-third of the members of the IOC working groups are women.

But cultural and social prejudice continues to hinder progress towards gender equality in the practice and administration of sports.

Adolescence is a critical period of physical changes and peer pressure. That is why it is essential to intervene at that time, as “One Win Leads to Another” does, “to keep girls in sports, which helps them prepare for life at the same time,” said Gasman.

In Brazil, the rate at which girls drop out of sports at puberty is lower than the international average reported by U.N. Women and the IOC, but it is still worrisome.

A survey carried out by the Ministry of Sports in 2013 found that 34.8 percent of girls quit sports before the age of 15, compared to 19.3 percent of boys.

But this is not true in Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic Villa sports complexes. “We have more girls than boys, and they stay throughout adolescence. But they prefer ballet, jazz or rhythmic gymnastics,” said Norma Marinho, a social assistant at the Miécimo da Silva Sports Centre in Campo Grande, a huge working class neighborhood west of Rio de Janeiro.

The idea that certain sports are for boys keeps girls away from track and field and many other disciplines. “They crowd into ballet classes, even if the teacher is a man,” said Marilda Veloso, who teaches handball at the sports complex, where 13,000 students and other people are active in 28 different sports.

Factors that lead girls to drop out are “embarrassment about their bodies, household chores, and prejudices,” although fewer are quitting these days, Veloso, who has worked at the sports centre for 30 years, told IPS.

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Native Plants Boost Local Diets in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/native-plants-boost-local-diets-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=native-plants-boost-local-diets-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/native-plants-boost-local-diets-in-el-salvador/#comments Tue, 09 Aug 2016 18:04:19 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146483 Juana Morales is cooking pupusas – thick tortillas with different kinds of fillings. Hers, however, are not made with corn tortillas, but with ojushte, a highly nutritional seed whose consumption is being promoted in the small town of San Isidro in western El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Juana Morales is cooking pupusas – thick tortillas with different kinds of fillings. Hers, however, are not made with corn tortillas, but with ojushte, a highly nutritional seed whose consumption is being promoted in the small town of San Isidro in western El Salvador. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN ISIDRO, El Salvador, Aug 9 2016 (IPS)

Juana Morales is cooking one of the most popular dishes in El Salvador: pupusas, corn tortillas with different fillings. But hers are unique: they are not made with the traditional corn tortillas, but use Maya nuts, a highly nutritional seed that has fallen out of use but whose consumption is being encouraged in rural communities.

“I cook something with ojushte almost every day – pupusas, tamales (seasoned meat packed in cornmeal dough and wrapped and steamed in corn husks) orlittle cakes; it’s an excellent food,” the 65-year-old Salvadoran woman told IPS, standing in her kitchen in San Isidro, a small town of 3,000 people in the municipality of Izalco in the western department of Sonsonate.

Pupusas are made with thick tortillas and filled with beans, cheese, vegetables or pork.“In the communities there are families who don’t have enough to eat, malnourished children, poorly-fed adults, and we can’t just sit back and do nothing.” -- Ana Morales

Juana Morales has easy access to ojushte (Brosimum alicastrum) because her daughter Ana Morales is the leading local advocate of the nutritional properties of the seed in San Isidro, thanks to the work carried out by a local organisation.

Maná Ojushte is a women’s collective that emerged in San Isidro and began to promote the Maya nut tree and its seeds in 2010, an initiative that received a major boost in 2014 when it began to receive support from the Initiative Fund for the Americas El Salvador (FIAES), a U.S.-Salvadoran environmental conservation organisation.

The seeds of the Ojushte or Maya nut tree are beginning to be used in San Isidro and other communities in this Central American nation as an alternative source of nutrients for rural families, as part of projects designed to fight the impacts of climate change.

Still rare, the tree is found in the Salvadoran countryside, and in pre-Hispanic times it formed an important part of the diet of indigenous peoples throughout Central America and Mexico, said Ana Morales, the head of Maná Ojushte.

The seeds, she explained, contain high levels of protein, iron, zinc, vitamins, folic acid, calcium, fiber and tryptophan, an amino acid, which makes them an excellent addition to the family diet.

“It’s compared to soy, but it has the advantage of being gluten-free and low in fat,” Ana Morales told IPS.

Support from FIAES forms part of the conservation plans for the Apaneca Lamatepec Biosphere Reserve, which covers more than 132,000 hectares in 23 municipalities in the western Salvadoran departments of Ahuachapán, Santa Ana and Sonsonate.

“With the work in the reserve, we have tried to link cultural aspects with the health and nutrition of local communities, and revive consumption of this seed, which was part of our ancestral heritage,” FIAES territorial coordinator Silvia Flores told IPS.

Maná Ojushte, run by a core group of 10 women, sells Maya nuts, toasted, ground and packaged in quarter and half kilo bags.

The ground toasted seeds can be used to make beverages or can be added to any dish, like rice or soup, as a nutritional complement. They can also be used to make dough, for tamales, bread or tortillas. And the cooked nuts themselves can be added to raw dishes.

Some 20 families harvest the seeds from farms around the community where trees have been found. They sell them to the group for 20 to 50 cents of a dollar per half kilo, depending on whether the seed is brought in with or without the shell.

Ana Morales, head of Maná Ojushte, in the area where the Maya nuts are dried and shelled, to be ground and sold, in San Isidro in the municipality of Izalco in the western Salvadoran department of Sonsonate. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Ana Morales, head of Maná Ojushte, in the area where the Maya nuts are dried and shelled, to be ground and sold, in San Isidro in the municipality of Izalco in the western Salvadoran department of Sonsonate. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Each family, Ana Morales explained, gathers some 150 kilos per season, between January and June. This represents an additional source of income at a time when work is scarce in the countryside and climate change is jeopardising staple food crops like corn and beans.

“The arrangement is that I buy the nuts from them, but they have to include them in their diet,” she said.

Maná Ojushte sells 70 percent of what it produces and the remaining 30 percent is distributed free to the community, for meals in the local school, to the elderly and to pregnant women.

The ultimate aim is to teach families about the benefits of the Maya nut, and help them understand that there is a highly nutritional, easily accessible food source in their community.

“In the communities there are families who don’t have enough to eat, malnourished children, poorly-fed adults, and we can’t just sit back and do nothing,” said Morales.

In 2014, 14 percent of children five and under suffered from chronic malnutrition, according to that year’s National Health Survey, which provides the latest available statistics. That is higher than the Latin American average, which stood at 11.6 percent in 2015, according to the World Health Organisation.

“My family and I love Maya nuts,” Iris Gutiérrez, a 49-year-old local resident, told IPS. “I learned to make little cakes and soup, or I just serve the nuts boiled, with salt and lemon, like a salad.”

Gutiérrez buys buns and sells them in the village. But her aim, she said, is to learn to make bread with ojushte flour and sell it.

“One day that dream will come true,” she said.

She added that she goes to farms around the village to harvest the nuts and adds them to her family’s diet, collecting firewood along the way to cook them.

“If we gather two pounds (nearly one kilo), we add them to corn and the tortillas are more nutritious and our food stretches farther,” said Gutiérrez, a mother of two and the head of her household of six people, which also includes other relatives.

Similar initiatives

Meanwhile, in the municipalities of Candelaria de la Frontera and Texistepeque, in the eastern department of Santa Ana, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is backing a similar effort, but involving a spice called chaya, rather than ojushte.

Chaya (Cnidoscolus chayamansa), a bush native to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, was also used by the ancient Mayans in the pre-Columbian era.

As in the case of ojushte, the promotion of chaya emerged as part of environmental conservation plans aimed at combating the impacts of climate change.

“Local communities had to look for a nutritional alternative that would improve the diet but would also be resistant to climate change, and we found that chaya is one of the most beneficial plants,” Rosemarie Rivas, a specialist in nutrition at the FAO office in El Salvador, told IPS.

Besides chaya bushes, FAO has distributed 26,000 fruit trees, as well as 8,000 moringa trees (Moringa oleifera), also known as the drumstrick or horseradish tree, whose leaves are also highly nutritious.

Another part of the project will be the creation of 250 family gardens to boost local food production capacity.

Efforts to encourage consumption of ojushte, chaya, moringa and other locally grown plants can make a difference when it comes to lowering malnutrition rates in rural areas, Rivas said.

She stressed, however, that boosting nutrition is not only about eating healthy foods, but involves other variables as well, such as the population’s overall health, which is influenced, for example, by factors such as the availability of sanitation and clean water.

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Pan African Parliament Endorses Ban on FGMhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/pan-african-parliament-endorses-ban-on-fgm/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pan-african-parliament-endorses-ban-on-fgm http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/pan-african-parliament-endorses-ban-on-fgm/#comments Sat, 06 Aug 2016 18:14:05 +0000 Desmond Latham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146419 Female genital mutilation (FGM) traditional surgeon in Kapchorwa, Uganda speaking to a reporter. The women in this area are being trained by the civil society organisation REACH in how to educate people to stop the practice. Credit: Joshua Kyalimpa/IPS

Female genital mutilation (FGM) traditional surgeon in Kapchorwa, Uganda speaking to a reporter. The women in this area are being trained by the civil society organisation REACH in how to educate people to stop the practice. Credit: Joshua Kyalimpa/IPS

By Desmond Latham
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 6 2016 (IPS)

After years of wrangling and debates among African leaders, the movement to end female genital mutilation (FGM) is gaining real momentum, with a new action plan signed this week by Pan African Parliament (PAP) representatives and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) to end FGM as well as underage marriage.

The UNFPA has already trained over 100,000 health workers to deal specifically with aiding victims of FGM, while tens of thousands of traditional leaders have also signed pledges against the practice.

The agreement followed a PAP Women’s Caucus meeting with UNFPA representatives in Johannesburg on July 29-30.

Kicking off the meeting, PAP President Roger Dang said, “PAP is determined to help and be part of stakeholders to come up with solutions to this practice. This is in line with the mandate of PAP to defend and promote gender balance and people living with disability.”

The PAP is the legislative organ of the African Union, and has up to 250 members representing the 50 AU Member States.

In some African countries, girls as young as eleven and twelve are forced to marry much older men. This has led to an increase in serious health problems, including cervical cancer and a host of social problems.

UNFPA East and Southern Africa Deputy Regional Director Justine Coulson said if the current trend continues, the number of girls under 15 who had babies would rise by a million – from two to three million.

“If we do nothing, in the next decade over 14 million girls under 18 years will be married every year,” she said.

There are believed to be at least seven million child brides in Southern Africa alone. While underage marriage and childbirth is a major health risk, the Pan African Parliament UNFPA workshop also heard how FGM had led to an increased likelihood girls and women would be exposed to sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

The cause of this can be traced back to contaminated cutting instruments, hemorrhages requiring blood transfusions, and injurious sexual intercourse causing vaginal tearing and lesions.

Globally, an estimated 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM. In Africa, FGM is practiced in at least 26 of 43 African countries, with prevalence rates ranging from 98 percent in Somalia to 5 percent in Zaire.

The buy-in of African political leadership is crucial if this latest move is to succeed, with up to 140 million women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa who’ve been forced to submit to the practice of cutting their genitals. The aim is to influence people on the ground as well as effect legislation banning the practice.

The procedure intentionally alters or injures a girl or woman’s organs for non-medical reasons. There are no health benefits in the process and it can cause severe bleeding, problems urinating, cysts, infections and a host of childbirth complications.

There are four types of genital mutilation. Type 1 is a clitoridectomy which is where the clitoris is cut out. Type 2 is known as excision which is the totally removal of the clitoris and inner folds of the vulva. Type 3 is infibulation, which is the tightening of a a vaginal opening while, Type 4 is all other harmful procedures which includes piercing, cauterising, scraping and stitching the vagina.

The PAP also agreed to work with the UNFPA in seeking to overturn the practice of marrying off children under the age of sixteen.

In June, the UNFPA worked with Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum representatives at a meeting in Swaziland which voted through a Model Law on eradicating child marriage.

Coulson said moves such as these seen in SADC are beginning to show tangible results.

“Girls and women of Africa need your support to end female genital mutilation. We need to act now. All it requires is our engagement, passion and dedication to uphold the human rights of women and girls,” she told attendees at the workshop.

Now the PAP has setup a working group which will oversee the moves towards a similar law. The areas of priority include laws and legislation, engaging the community, mobilising resources, advocacy and implementing the plan at regional and national levels.

Dang also called on men to step up and join the fight against FGM, saying, “We have double responsibility to defend girls against this human rights violation.”

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“Non-lethal” Pellet Guns Maim Hundreds in Kashmiri Protestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/non-lethal-pellet-guns-maim-hundreds-in-kashmiri-protests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=non-lethal-pellet-guns-maim-hundreds-in-kashmiri-protests http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/non-lethal-pellet-guns-maim-hundreds-in-kashmiri-protests/#comments Fri, 05 Aug 2016 13:55:16 +0000 Umar Shah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146407 X-ray of a pellet victim injured during the current protests in Kashmir. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

X-ray of a pellet victim injured during the current protests in Kashmir. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

By Umar Shah
SRINAGAR, Aug 5 2016 (IPS)

Hospitals in Kashmir’s summer capital are packed to capacity these days, their wards overflowing with pellet gun victims injured during violent clashes with government forces.

Sixteen-year-old Kaisar Ahmad Mir has been in hospital since July 9. As X-ray films dangle near his bed, Kaisar stares with haggard eyes at each passerby. Doctors had to amputate three fingers on his right hand after pellets were fired at him from close range during one of the demonstrations.“After the autopsy was done, there were 360 pellets found in [my brother's] body.” -- Shakeel Ahmad

“I felt some electric current when the pellets hit my right hand. Then the blood started oozing out, followed by intense pain,” Mir told IPS.

Deadly clashes between protestors and government forces engulfed this Himalayan region –  India’s only Muslim majority state – on July 8, a day when the army gunned down militant leader Burhan Wani during a three-hour gun battle in the remote south Kashmir region of the state.

The government quickly instituted a curfew across the Kashmir valley, severing internet and phone service. But people defied government restrictions and came out in hordes to protest in cities, towns and remote hamlets of the state. Since July 8, 52 protesters have been killed and more than 2,500 injured, around 600 of them due to pellets. Many of the victims are children.

Aaqib Mir, Kaisar Mir’s younger brother, told IPS that Kaisar was preparing for his class 10 exams this year.  “My brother is now crippled for life,” Aaqib said.

Eleven-year-old Umer Nazir received more than 12 pellets in his face that damaged his both eyes. He was shot during anti-government protests in the Indian state of Kashmir. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

Eleven-year-old Umar Nazir received more than 12 pellets in his face that damaged his both eyes. He was shot during anti-government protests in the Indian state of Kashmir. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

The pellets are loaded with lead and once fired they disperse widely and in huge numbers. Pellets penetrate the skin and soft tissues, with eyes especially vulnerable to severe, irreversible damage.

Pellets were introduced in Kashmir as a “non-lethal” alternative to bullets after security forces killed nearly 200 people during demonstrations against Indian rule from 2008 to 2010.The state government’s reasoning was that when fired from a distance, shotgun pellets disperse and inflict only minor injuries.

During this summer’s protests, pellets were extensively used against the protesters, injuring hundreds. According to figures issued by Kashmir’s SHMS hospital, out of 164 cases of severe pellet injuries, 106 surgeries were performed in which five people lost one eye completely.

Among those who lost their eyesight due to pellets is 11-year-old Umar Nazir. Umar received more than 12 pellets in his face that damaged both eyes. As he lost vision in his right eye, doctors attending him have told his family that Umar’s left eye is also deteriorating due to a severe injury to the optic nerve.

Human rights groups criticize the heavy-handed approach to dealing with the protest demonstrations, and contest the government’s claims that pellet guns are “non-lethal”.

Riyaz Ahmad Shah, 21, was killed on Aug. 2 after being hit by pellets.  An ATM security guard, Shah was returning home when, according to his family, state forces fired pellets at him from close range, killing him on the spot.

“After the autopsy was done, there were 360 pellets found in his body,” said Shakeel Ahmad, Riyaz Shah’s brother.

According to Al Jazeera, at least nine people have been killed in the region since pellet guns were introduced in 2010.

“Pellets are not being used against rioters in other parts of the country, but here in Kashmir they are being used quite openly without any remorse from the government,” said human rights activist Khurram Parvez, who is also a program coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society.

To protest against the use of pellets, the coalition has created posters with text written in braille to make the world aware of the suffering in Kashmir. “When you don’t see eye to eye with the brutal occupation in Kashmir, this is how they make you see their point,” reads a campaign poster.

Sajad Ahmad, a doctor treating pellet victims in Kashmir, said he had never seen such a “brutal use of force upon people in the past.” He added that while pellets may not kill most victims, they can still be left disabled for life.

“We have done hundreds of surgeries since July 8 and there are children who were crippled and can no longer work or earn,” Ahmad said.

Since July 8, 2016, 52 protesters have been killed in Kashmir and more than 2,500 injured, around 600 of them due to pellets fired by security forces.  Many of the victims are children. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

Since July 8, 2016, 52 protesters have been killed in Kashmir and more than 2,500 injured, around 600 of them due to pellets fired by security forces. Many of the victims are children. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

On Aug. 5, Amnesty International issued a statement asking the Jammu and Kashmir government to stop using pellet guns.

“Pellet guns are inherently inaccurate and indiscriminate, and have no place in law enforcement,” Zahoor Wani, a senior campaigner with Amnesty International India, said in a statement issued in New Delhi.

“Amnesty International India calls on the Jammu and Kashmir government to immediately stop the use of pellet guns in policing protests. They cannot ensure well-targeted shots and risk causing serious injury, including to bystanders or other protesters not engaging in violence. These risks are almost impossible to control.”

Kashmir’s High Court has issued notices to the state government and the national government of India seeking a response over litigation demanding a ban on pellet guns used by security personnel to deal with protests in Kashmir.

The state government says it is working to find alternatives to the pellet guns to quell the violent protests.

“We disapprove of it… but we will have to persist with this necessary evil till we find a non-lethal alternative,” J&K government spokesperson Nayeem Akhtar said.

Many people in Kashmir want an end to Indian rule and either full independence or a merger with Pakistan, which also claims the territory.

At least 50,000 have died in an insurgency that began in 1987. Over the years, anti-government rallies have occurred frequently, raising tensions between security forces and civilians, which have led to accusations of police heavy-handedness in trying to impose order.

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Right to Education Still Elusive for Native People in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/right-to-education-still-elusive-for-native-people-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=right-to-education-still-elusive-for-native-people-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/right-to-education-still-elusive-for-native-people-in-latin-america/#comments Thu, 04 Aug 2016 23:40:34 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146399 Indigenous schoolchildren standing in front of the Miskhamayu school in an isolated part of Bolivia’s Andes highlands. Many students walk 12 km or more every day, along steep roads and trails from their remote villages, to get to school. Credit: Marisabel Bellido/IPS

Indigenous schoolchildren standing in front of the Miskhamayu school in an isolated part of Bolivia’s Andes highlands. Many students walk 12 km or more every day, along steep roads and trails from their remote villages, to get to school. Credit: Marisabel Bellido/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Aug 4 2016 (IPS)

Education, the most powerful instrument in the struggle against exclusion and discrimination, is still elusive for indigenous people in Latin America who remain the most disadvantaged segment of the population despite their wide presence in the region.

Recognition of the growing need to provide greater access to quality education for indigenous people, which respects cultural differences and local native traditions, is still far from translating into real, long-term public policies, the mayor of the Chilean municipality of Tirúa, Adolfo Millabur, told IPS.

In Chile, for example, “everyone expresses a willingness, but this isn’t put into practice,” said Millabur, whose municipality, 685 km south of Santiago, is located in the region of La Araucanía, home to nearly half of the Mapuche population, the country’s largest indigenous community.

Millabur grew up in the town of El Malo, 35 km from Tirúa. He and his eight siblings would get up every weekday at 5:00 AM and walk 30 km to school, in the town of Antiquina. After a couple of hours in class, they would all set out on the long trek back home.

He doesn’t remember how he learned to read and says he had no idea how to sign a check when he became Chile’s first Mapuche mayor in 1996, at the age of 28.

The right to education is the theme of this year’s Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, celebrated Aug. 9.

Access to culturally appropriate education that recognises diversity and indigenous values and specific needs, including the necessity for native people to learn their mother tongue, is considered key to combating their vulnerability and exclusion.

According to figures from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 8.3 percent of the population of Latin America – 45 million of a total of 605 million people – is indigenous.

Of Bolivia’s population of 10.6 million people, 62 percent identify themselves as belonging to an indigenous community, making it the Latin American country with the largest proportion of native people, followed by Guatemala, where 41 percent of the population of 16 million identify themselves as indigenous.

Next in line is Peru, where 24 percent of the population is indigenous, and Mexico, where the proportion is 15 percent.

These are the official statistics, based on the way people self-identify in the census.

According to the 2014 study “Indigenous Peoples of Latin America”, published in Spanish by ECLAC, there are 826 distinct native groups in the region.

Two Juruna children at the school in the indigenous villaje of Paquiçamba, on the banks of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Two Juruna children at the school in the indigenous villaje of Paquiçamba, on the banks of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

At one extreme is Brazil, with indigenous people making up just 0.5 percent (900,000 people) of the population of 200 million, divided in 305 different groups, followed by Colombia (102 groups), Peru (85) and Mexico (78). At the other extreme are Costa Rica and Panama (nine indigenous peoples each), El Salvador (three) and Uruguay (two).

The Quechua, Nahua, Aymara, Maya Yucateco, Maya K’iche’ and Mapuche are the largest native groups in the region, according to the study.

Despite their large presence and strong influence in the region, the native peoples of Latin America still represent one of the most disadvantaged population groups, the ECLAC report says.

Indigenous people have not only suffered the systematic loss of their territory, with severe consequences for their well-being and way of life, but they are also the population group facing the highest poverty levels and the most marked inequality.

In this scenario, the right to education is essential to the full enjoyment of human and collective rights, and is a powerful tool in the battle to eradicate exclusion and discrimination.

“Indigenous peoples are among the big absentees from educational policies and curriculums,” said Loreto Jara, a researcher on educational policy with the Chile NGO Educación 2020.

“They are absent as historical subjects in the curriculums themselves, but also as social actors in the participatory processes involved in designing the curriculums,” she told IPS.

While progress has been made in recent years with regard to education for Latin America’s indigenous peoples, it is a mistake to see all of the processes as similar ”just because it is easier to work in a scenario of similarity than to address diversity,” she said.

She said education for any native group “has a different dynamic than that of our school system,” which means it is necessary to incorporate, for example, intercultural teachers in schools.

Jara cited the experience of Colombia, where there are “many different ethnic groups, which vary greatly among themselves, smaller groups, which speak specific dialects and are involved in a struggle to recuperate their territory and keep their cultures alive.”

She said that in Colombia, “indigenous cultures are gaining more recognition and understanding in rural areas…and rural schools are doing a great deal to revitalise indigenous languages.”

These efforts, also aimed at stemming the migration of young people from rural areas to large cities, are seen in some parts of Mexico as well, she added.

In the Chilean region of La Araucanía, there are 845 schools that teach Mapudungun, the language of the Mapuche people, up to fourth grade of primary school.

Of these, 300 receive direct support from the Education Ministry and the rest rely on private funding, said María Díaz Coliñir, supervisor of the government’s Bilingual Intercultural Education programme.

Under Chilean law, all schools with more than 20 percent indigenous students must have bilingual intercultural education programmes that teach Mapudungun, Quechua, Aymara or Rapa Nui, depending on the region.

Although the programme does not guarantee that children learn their native languages, it does bolster their sense of identity. “A great deal of progress has been made in helping Mapuche children have a stronger sense of who they are, and strengthening their self-esteem,” Díaz Coliñir told IPS.

Jara concurred that efforts like these would have positive results for all indigenous groups in the region. “The assertion of their rights is based on language, because it represents their world view. Beneath indigenous languages lies the cultural wealth of each native group,” she said.

She said addressing the need to bring greater visibility to native peoples as social actors, teaching their history and their link to the broader history of this country, is one of the pending tasks in the area of education.

“Today people are demanding to participate in decision-making in many areas, and indigenous people are among the social actors who must be given the most attention,” Díaz Coliñir said.

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The Next UN Secretary General Should Be a Woman – and Must Be a Feministhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-next-un-secretary-general-should-be-a-woman-and-must-be-a-feminist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-next-un-secretary-general-should-be-a-woman-and-must-be-a-feminist http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-next-un-secretary-general-should-be-a-woman-and-must-be-a-feminist/#comments Wed, 03 Aug 2016 21:35:25 +0000 Winnie Byanyima http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146388 Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

By Winnie Byanyima
Oxford, UNITED KINGDOM, Aug 3 2016 (IPS)

The process for arguably the top political job on the planet is well underway.  And the time is right for a woman and a feminist to take the helm.

The United Nations (UN) Security Council is continuing its consideration of candidates for the next UN Secretary-General, with the next “straw poll” due to take place on Friday August 5th.

Backed by public debates and online campaigns, this selection process for the Secretary-General has been the most transparent and accessible yet – driven in part by tireless efforts from civil society.

But the decision to appoint essentially rests with the Security Council’s five permanent members in what has been, since 1946, a remarkably secretive selection procedure, one which has given us three Europeans, two Africans, two Asians and one Latin American – all men – in 70 years.

This process has never produced a female secretary general.

In 2006 the Secretary-General selection process included only one woman in seven candidates. This time round, half the current candidates are women. There is no shortage of talent. Yet the initial signs are not promising. The Security Council’s first straw poll on July 21st saw only one woman among the top five.

The absurd male monopoly on the UN’s top job must come to an end. The next Secretary-General must be both a woman and a feminist, with the determination and leadership to promote women’s rights and gender equality.

The long selection process ahead must reverse this. The absurd male monopoly on the UN’s top job must come to an end. The next Secretary-General must be both a woman and a feminist, with the determination and leadership to promote women’s rights and gender equality.

Growing up as an activist under an oppressive dictatorship in Uganda, the UN was a friend to those of us who fought our way to freedom, as it was for the millions that joined decolonization struggles in the African continent. Today, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Climate Agreement agreed in 2015 are testament to the UN’s global role and reach, and a legacy of Ban Ki-moon’s outstanding leadership.

Yet the UN is failing to meet its founding tenets to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and uphold human rights for those who are powerless. For the UN’s new leader, reversing this sounds near-impossible amidst protracted conflicts, a lack of respect for international humanitarian law and a massive global displacement crisis.

Fulfilling the pledge to “leave no one behind is perhaps the biggest political challenge. The new Secretary-General must grapple with the spiralling crisis of extreme economic inequality that keeps people poor, undermines economic growth and threatens the health of democracies. And a low carbon pathway will not happen without strong UN leadership to drive drastic reductions from the richest in our societies, whose lifestyles are responsible for the majority of them.

Choosing a woman goes far beyond symbolism and political correctness. The discrimination of women and girls goes to the core of any and all analyses of the world’s economic, political and environmental problems.

A feminist woman Secretary-General will, by definition and action, ensure gender equality is put at the heart of peace, security and development. In doing so, she will truly champion the UN’s core values of human rights, equality and justice.

Such an appointment – far too long in coming – would fulfil promises given by world leaders 21 years ago at the historic UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing to nominate more women to senior posts in the UN. In the past decade, women have filled less than a quarter of senior roles at the organization, according to UN Women. Shockingly, as recently as last year women made up less than 17 percent of Under- and Assistant Secretary-General appointments.  

A new feminist UN Secretary General will ensure that more women serve as heads of UN agencies, peacekeeping missions, diplomatic envoys, and senior mediators who collectively can strengthen the global peace and security agenda. Without women’s equal access to positions of decision-making power and a clear process to get there, gender equality, global security and peace will never be realized.

And it will take a woman feminist Secretary-General to advance the bold, comprehensive women’s human rights agenda in intergovernmental fora that is needed to address the multiple and intertwined challenges facing us in the 21st century. Only a woman feminist Secretary-General can ensure financial support reaches women’s rights movements – proven to have made progress on addressing the challenges of violence against women and girls, climate change, conflict and economic inequality. They can ensure that feminist and civil society movements are not just observers in policymaking, but active and equal participants.

She should, too, boost international efforts to empower women economically – thus strengthening national economies and prosperity for all – and tackling the harmful social norms that trap women in poverty and powerlessness.

The new Secretary-General must also reimagine the role of the UN in a world radically different to the one it was set up to serve and be bold in leading its reform.

The UN must be made more inclusive, accountable, democratic, effective, and reflective of a world in which political and economic power has shifted. And the UN must be able to protect its unique role as a genuinely multilateral institution that acts in the interests of all people and all countries. Integrity must not be undermined by the influence of private sector actors and their money.

The Security Council, particularly the five permanent members, must choose change and progress over continuity. They must have the foresight to ensure they listen to the voices of the public and select the Secretary-General that the world and the UN needs today: a woman and a feminist.

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UN Spotlight for Dark Shadow over Civil Society Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-spotlight-for-dark-shadow-over-civil-society-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-spotlight-for-dark-shadow-over-civil-society-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-spotlight-for-dark-shadow-over-civil-society-rights/#comments Wed, 03 Aug 2016 05:28:00 +0000 Tor Hodenfield http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146372 Tor Hodenfield works on the Policy and Research Team at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance - @Tor_Hodenfield]]> Indigenous rights protestors bundled away from COP 16 climate change negotiations in Cancun by police. Credit: Nastasya Tay/IPS

Indigenous rights protestors bundled away from COP 16 climate change negotiations in Cancun by police. Credit: Nastasya Tay/IPS

By Tor Hodenfield
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 3 2016 (IPS)

With more and more governments narrowing space for dissent and activism, the UN has emerged as a key platform to air concerns about acute rights violations and develop protections for civil society and other vulnerable groups.

The core freedoms that enable civil society to conduct its work are under threat across the world. A report recently released by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, documented serious violations of the freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly in 109 countries. Individual activists and journalists are also increasingly being targeted to prevent them from exercising their legitimate rights and undertaking their vital work. In 2015, Global witness documented the killing of three environmental activists per week – while the Committee to Protect Journalists identified 199 journalists who were behind bars at the end of 2015.

Worryingly, restrictions on the exercise of civil society freedoms are being experienced in democracies as well as authoritarian states. In the US, Black Lives Matter demonstrators are facing serious challenges to their right to protest peacefully both from overzealous law enforcement agents as well as from divisive right wing politicians. In South Korea, security forces have violently repressed popular protests and judicially harassed civil society and union leaders advocating for greater transparency of the government’s ongoing investigation of the 2014 Sewol Ferry disaster. On July 4th, the President of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU), Han Sang-gyun, was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in organizing the protests.

Ethiopia’s totalitarian state apparatus has brutally suppressed grievances about access to land, adequate health services and education in the Oromia region, precipitating mass protests since November 2015. Over 400 protestors, including scores of children have been killed in one of the most egregious crackdowns on the right to protest in Sub-Saharan Africa in the 21st century. In Bahrain, the absolute monarchy continues to imprison human rights defenders, revoke the citizenship of outspoken critics and prevent activists from attending UN human rights conferences.

Due to the narrowing of political space in many countries around the world, there are fewer and fewer avenues available to individuals and groups to express their grievances at home. This makes the United Nations (UN) an important arena to highlight the importance of rights and to articulate international human rights standards.

The UN Human Rights Council, the UN’s preeminent human rights body, which recently concluded its 32nd Session in Geneva, took a number of critical steps to address restrictions on human rights and expand protections for civil society and other vulnerable groups. Notably, over the course of this three-week session, the UN decided to appoint the first-ever independent expert to monitor sexual orientation and gender identity rights, renewed the appointment of a similar expert to report on violations of the rights to freedom of assembly and association, and adopted a landmark resolution on the key principles necessary to protect and promote the work of civil society.

Last month at UN headquarters in New York, civil society, businesses and governments met to discuss the implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals. The 17 universal goals provide an important platform for civil society to frame their government’s development and policies for the next 15 years and mitigates against many government’s reluctance to engage with civil society at the national level. The design of the goals has been lauded for its unprecedented levels of public participation and the recognition that civil society must be a co-partner in the delivery of international development agreements.

However, despite the admirable steps taken by the UN to address civic space restrictions and create a safe and enabling environment for NGOs to engage on important human rights issues, states are replicating repressive tactics to undermine the access and potency of civil society at the UN. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a civil society organisation mandated to document violations against press freedom, was recently granted consultative status with the UN’s Economic and Social Council, which allows NGOs to formally address UN bodies and processes, only after a decision to block them for the fourth year running was overturned. In another worrying attempt to suppress civil society participation at the UN, weeks earlier dozens of member states blocked over 20 LGBTI advocacy groups from attending the UN Global Aids Summit.

While the UN has emerged as an increasingly vital nexus to ensure that civic society grievances are considered, concerted efforts among the UN, States and civil society need to be made to ensure that decisions and norms the UN develops reach the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. The UN, and its allies in civil society, must work together to help demystify the work of the UN and ensure that countries across the world are domesticating and delivering on these important human rights initiatives.

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Small Win for NGOs as UN Members Try to Exclude Critical Voiceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/small-win-for-ngos-as-un-members-try-to-exclude-critical-voices/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=small-win-for-ngos-as-un-members-try-to-exclude-critical-voices http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/small-win-for-ngos-as-un-members-try-to-exclude-critical-voices/#comments Mon, 01 Aug 2016 12:08:28 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146330 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/small-win-for-ngos-as-un-members-try-to-exclude-critical-voices/feed/ 0 Colombia Includes Gender Focus for a Stable, Lasting Peacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/colombia-includes-gender-focus-for-a-stable-lasting-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=colombia-includes-gender-focus-for-a-stable-lasting-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/colombia-includes-gender-focus-for-a-stable-lasting-peace/#comments Fri, 29 Jul 2016 09:41:50 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146295 Representatives of the gender subcommittee to Colombia’s peace talks alongside the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura (centre-left) and U.N.-Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, during the Jul. 23 presentation of the preliminary results of the novel initiative, in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Karina Terán/U.N.-Women

Representatives of the gender subcommittee to Colombia’s peace talks alongside the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura (centre-left) and U.N.-Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, during the Jul. 23 presentation of the preliminary results of the novel initiative, in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Karina Terán/U.N.-Women

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Jul 29 2016 (IPS)

The novel inclusion of a gender perspective in the peace talks that led to a historic ceasefire between the Colombian government and left-wing guerrillas is a landmark and an inspiration for efforts to solve other armed conflicts in the world, according to the director of U.N.-Women in Colombia, Belén Sanz.

In statements to IPS, Sanz described as “innovative and pioneering” the incorporation of a gender subcommittee in the negotiations between the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which began in November 2012 in the Cuban capital and ended in late June with a definitive ceasefire.

She said the large proportion of women who spoke with the negotiating teams, in regional and national forums, and during visits by victims and gender experts to Havana showed the growing openness on both sides to the inclusion of gender proposals in the final accord and the mechanisms for its implementation.

The results of the work by the subcommittee, made up of representatives of both sides, were presented in Havana during a special ceremony on Jul. 23, exactly one month after the ceasefire was signed, putting an end to over a half century of armed conflict.

Taking part in the ceremony were U.N.-Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka; the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura; and Sanz, whose office has worked closely with the subcommittee.

Other participants were María Paulina Riveros, the Colombian government’s delegate to the subcommittee, and Victoria Sandino, the FARC’s representative, along with the rest of the members of the subcommittee, the delegates to the peace talks, and representatives of the countries that served as guarantors to the peace process.

The results of the subcommittee´s work, presented on that occasion, include the incorporation of a gender perspective and the human rights of women in each section of the agreement, starting with guarantees for land access and tenure for women in rural areas.

Other points agreed on were women’s participation in decision-making to help ensure the implementation of a lasting, stable peace; prevention and protection measures for a life free of violence; guarantees of access to truth and justice and measures against impunity; and recognition of the specific and different ways the conflict affected women, often in a disproportionate manner.

“These are some examples that can be illustrative and inspiring for other peace processes around the world,” Sanz said from Bogotá, after her return to the Colombian capital.

Victoria Sandino, a FARC commander, who headed the guerrillas’ representatives to the gender subcommittee in the peace talks with the Colombian government (second-left, wearing red headscarf), poses with members of civil society during the signing of the definitive ceasefire on Jun. 23 in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Victoria Sandino, a FARC commander, who headed the guerrillas’ representatives to the gender subcommittee in the peace talks with the Colombian government (second-left, wearing red headscarf), poses with members of civil society during the signing of the definitive ceasefire on Jun. 23 in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In her view, “these strides forward represent milestones in the promotion of women’s rights and the transformation of gender inequality during the construction of and transition to peace, which could be exported to other places in the world and adapted to their particular conditions and contexts.”

The introduction of a gender focus also includes the search for ensuring conditions for people of different sexual orientations to have equal access to the benefits of living in a country free of armed conflict.

“For women and people with different sexual identities to be able to enjoy a country at peace is not only a basic human rights question: without their participation in the construction of peace and, as a result, without their enjoying the benefits of peace, peace and stability themselves are threatened,” said Sanz.

She cited a study commissioned in 2015 by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 15 years after the approval of Security Council Resolution 1325, designed to promote the participation of women in peace processes.

The report showed that women’s participation increases by 20 percent the probability that a peace agreement will last at least 20 years, and by 35 percent the chance that it will last 15 years.

“So if women don’t participate in peace-building processes, not only as ‘beneficiaries’ but as drivers of change and political actors, it’s hard to talk about a stable, lasting peace,” said Sanz.

Erika Paola Jaimes, a survivor of Colombia’s armed conflict, holds a sign about peace during a trip to Havana to participate in the peace talks between the government and the FARC rebels, which led to a peace deal signed Jun. 23 in the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Erika Paola Jaimes, a survivor of Colombia’s armed conflict, holds a sign about peace during a trip to Havana to participate in the peace talks between the government and the FARC rebels, which led to a ceasefire signed Jun. 23 in the Cuban capital. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The U.N. study also shows the risks faced by women in the post-peace deal stages.

According to the report, women in areas affected by the conflict have fewer economic opportunities and suffer the emotional and physical scars of the conflict, without support or recognition – besides often facing routine violence in their homes and communities and shouldering the burden of unpaid care for children and the elderly and household tasks.

In a broader sense, “the structures of inequality remain in place and measures are needed to dismantle them, as well as a commitment by society as a whole,” said Sanz, who described a transition process like the one that Colombia is facing as “a key opportunity” to transform women’s status in society.

She said the continued work of the gender subcommittee is “crucial”, as well as that of women’s organisations, with the support of international aid, in order to incorporate provisions in the agreements to enable these situations of inequality to gradually be transformed, with a view to the period following the signing and implementation of the accords.

The inclusion of gender provisions in peace agreements “opens a window of opportunity for the transformation of existing structures of inequality and can also be an opportunity for other peace processes, during the signing of the agreements and the stage of implementation,” said the head of U.N.-Women.

According to estimates, women account for over 40 percent of the members of the FARC, whose exact numbers are not publicly known.

Overall, women represent slightly over half of the general population of 48 million. However, Colombia is one of the countries in Latin America with the lowest levels of female representation in politics.

In 2015, women represented only 14 percent of town councilors, 17 percent of the members of the lower house of Congress, 10 percent of mayors and nine percent of governors. These figures are still far below the parity that would do justice to the proportion of women in society, states a U.N.-Women report.

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Urban Land – a Key Building Block to Full Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/urban-land-a-key-building-block-to-full-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=urban-land-a-key-building-block-to-full-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/urban-land-a-key-building-block-to-full-rights/#comments Thu, 28 Jul 2016 15:58:01 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146287 A street in Hornos, a low-income neighbourhood on the west side of Greater Buenos Aires, where local residents are waiting to receive the deeds to their property, as the key to access to other rights and public services that will provide them with a dignified urban life. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A street in Hornos, a low-income neighbourhood on the west side of Greater Buenos Aires, where local residents are waiting to receive the deeds to their property, as the key to access to other rights and public services that will provide them with a dignified urban life. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
MORENO, Argentina, Jul 28 2016 (IPS)

Now that the wind no longer blows her roof off and her house belongs to her, Cristina López feels safe in the shantytown where she lives on the outskirts of the Argentine capital. But she and her neighbours still need to win respect for many more rights they have been denied.

She is not complaining because her situation was much more difficult before she and her teenage son moved four years ago to Hornos, a newly emerging neighbourhood in the municipality of Moreno, to the west of Buenos Aires.

She paid rent until the municipal authorities granted her a plot of land where she built a makeshift home. “Since I built it by myself it wasn´t stable, and a storm tore the roof off,” López told IPS. After that, she and her son stayed at the homes of various friends and neighbours.

Her new house was built with the help of Techo (Roof), a non-governmental organisation that promotes decent housing in urban slums and shantytowns throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, with a collaborative effort by local residents and volunteers.“The market for land is an imperfect market that reproduces inequalities in access to land because it is in the hands of a small minority focused on generating profits and not on the common good.” - Juan Pablo Duhalde

In Hornos, home to 200 families, and the adjacent neighbourhood of Los Cedros, where 1,200 families live, Techo Argentina has built 225 small one-family units. Simple and low-cost, they are put together in just two days, with the aim of resolving housing emergencies.

But for the 59-year-old López, who does odd jobs to support herself and her 15-year-old son, the little prefab house has meant the difference between indigence and a dignified life.

“It was a total change. Nothing compares to this. You realise that when you have a house, you start to change your way of life, because you know it’s your own, and although I don’t have the ‘papers’ for this land yet, the house is mine. No one will take it from me,” she said.

The papers she mentioned are the property deed that she is to be issued by the municipal authorities who granted her the plot of land; not having received them yet makes her nervous.

“There´s always some shrewd person who will show up and claim the land is theirs. Until the municipality says ‘this belongs to you’, we won´t feel completely secure,” she said.

López added that in order to stop being a “second-class citizen”, she also needs utilities: running water, sewerage and electricity with a meter “so it isn’t cut off all the time.”

Furthermore, Hornos, 42 km from the capital and over 20 from the county seat, means she is far away from everything. “We have no school or health clinic nearby, no paved roads, and ambulances won´t come here – we need everything,” she said.

Land and inequality

“It is acknowledged that rights are violated in many areas, and slums are the main expression of inequality and the violation of rights,” Techo Argentina regions director, Francisco Susmel, told IPS.

“Without secure ownership they have no guarantee that they won’t be evicted, and that they can go ahead and improve their homes and their surroundings,” he said, adding that it also undermines their right to access to public services.

Among the issues found by a 2013 survey carried out by Techo Argentina in 1,834 slums home to a total of 432,800 families in the biggest cities in the country was the right to land – a problem common to shantytowns around Latin America.

The report says that 64 percent of land in these informal settlements is prone to flooding, 41 percent is located less than 10 metres away from a river or canal, and 25 percent is less than 10 metres away from a garbage dump.

“Land is a factor that conditions inequality because today it is in the hands of a select group of people and isn´t available to the rest of the population,” sociologist Juan Pablo Duhalde, director of Techo International´s social research centre, told IPS.

According to Paola Bagnera, author of the book “The right to the city in the production of urban land”, published by the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), land is one of the key factors of inequality in the exercise of the right to the city.

“When we´re talking about urban land, we are referring to the basic foundation of the city…where the streets and blocks are laid out, and which requires the presence of grids (water, power and sewage, etc),” Bagnera, an architect who is an expert in urban planning and urban poverty at Argentina’s National University of the Litoral, told IPS.

“The value of land is directly related to location (near or far), provision (or absence) of services and infrastructure, and environmental characteristics (which lead to varying levels of exposure to risk),” she added.

For example, the construction of developments like gated communities in suburban areas in Argentina in the 1990s drove up prices of land on the outskirts of cities that until then was inhabited by the poor and was worth very little.

This has become one of the decisive elements in the habitat of low-income segments of the population in large cities, as they are pushed farther and farther to the outskirts or packed more and more densely into existing slums in the cities themselves, Bagnera said.

She pointed, for example, to slums that grow “upwards” in large cities like Buenos Aires, and to soaring property sale and rental prices in those areas.

“With regard to Latin America, to conditions in the slums, when the market makes decisions about the distribution of land, we are governing ourselves in an inefficient manner with no proper view to the future,” said Duhalde.

The expert said the right to access to urban land should be one of the central issues of debate at the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), to be held in the capital of Ecuador in October, which is to give rise to a New Urban Agenda.

“The market for land is an imperfect market that reproduces inequalities in access to land because it is in the hands of a small minority focused on generating profits and not on the common good,” said Duhalde.

“A variety of institutions are needed, in the government, the social sector, academia, different interest groups, to be part of the equitable distribution of resources, in this case land, which we must remember has a social function. It is not merchandise.”

Bagnera proposes increasing the value of urban land through the incorporation of infrastructure and improvements.

“That means the generation of community organisation processes through housing cooperatives, groups or social organisations that undertake their own processes of urbanisation and provision of infrastructure on collectively-acquired areas of land,” she said.

“And fundamentally with the participation of the state, promoting inclusive policies of access to services, and contributing to the generation of public-private urban planning arrangements,” she said.

These policies “tend to reduce the costs of infrastructure, providing public land, or based on the production of urban land by the state itself,” she added.

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No Medals for Sanitation at Rio Olympicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/no-medals-for-sanitation-at-rio-olympics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-medals-for-sanitation-at-rio-olympics http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/no-medals-for-sanitation-at-rio-olympics/#comments Wed, 27 Jul 2016 19:24:11 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146273 Raw sewage stains in Jacarepaguá lagoon alongside the Olympic Park, where the Olympic Games are to be held August 5-21 in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Foul mud was to be dredged from the lagoon but this was not carried out because of funding cuts. Credit: Courtesy of Mario Moscatelli

Raw sewage stains in Jacarepaguá lagoon alongside the Olympic Park, where the Olympic Games are to be held August 5-21 in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Foul mud was to be dredged from the lagoon but this was not carried out because of funding cuts. Credit: Courtesy of Mario Moscatelli

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jul 27 2016 (IPS)

The biggest frustration at the Olympic Games, to be inaugurated in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro on August 5, is the failure to meet environmental sanitation targets and promises in the city’s beaches, rivers, lakes and lagoons.

The opportunity to give a decisive push to the clean up of Rio’s emblematic Guanabara bay and its lagoons has been lost. The drive against waterborne pollution was part of the proposal which won the city the right to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.

This failure may hardly register in the awareness of residents and visitors, given the higher visibility of the urban transport projects and the revitalisation of Rio’s central district.

What happened confirms the national tradition of giving sanitation low priority on the government agenda. So far only half the Brazilian population has access to piped water, and only a small proportion of transported water is treated.

“The environment pays no taxes and neither does it vote, therefore it does not command the attention of our political leaders nor of society as a whole,” complained biologist Mario Moscatelli, a well known water issues activist in Rio de Janeiro.

The Olympic Park, which is at the heart of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, was built on the west side of the city on the shores of Jacarepaguá lagoon, yet not even this body of water has been adequately treated. Filthy water from rivers and streams continues to flow into it all the time, Moscatelli told IPS.

Most of the foreign Olympic athletes and spectators from abroad will arrive in Rio at Antonio Carlos Jobim international airport, also known as Galeão. Planes touch down here on the edge of one of the most polluted parts of Guanabara bay, although visitors may not realise it.

The airport , on the western tip of Ilha do Governador (Governador Island), which was home to 212,754 people in 2010 according to the official census, is close to canals  taking untreated effluent and rubbish from millions of people living on the mainland, brought by rivers that are little more than open sewers.

Fundão canal can be glimpsed from the southbound highway towards the city centre. It is full of raw sewage and bad smells in spite of recent dredging, because it is still connected to the polluted Cunha canal.

Sergio Souza dos Santos stands on the jetty built by Tubiacanga fisherfolk to get their boats out into Guanabara bay, in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Silting now makes it impossible to bring their boats close inshore, where decades ago there was a beautiful beach. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Sergio Souza dos Santos stands on the jetty built by Tubiacanga fisherfolk to get their boats out into Guanabara bay, in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. Silting now makes it impossible to bring their boats close inshore, where decades ago there was a beautiful beach. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Five rivers converge in the Cunha canal after crossing densely populated areas including several “favelas” (shanty towns) and industrial zones.

North of Galeao airport, the fishing village of Tubiacanga illustrates the ecological disaster in Guanabara bay, which has a surface area of 412 square kilometres and stretches from Copacabana beach in the west to Itaipu (Niterói) in the east.

At the narrowest point in the channel between Ilha do Governador and the adjacent mainland city of Duque de Caxias, “there used to be a depth of seven or eight metres; but now at low tide you can walk along with the water only chest-high,” 66-year-old Souza, who has lived in Tubiacanga for two-thirds of his life, told IPS.

Landfills, silting by rivers and rubbish tipping have all reduced the depth of the bay, he said.

“Tubiacanga is at a meeting point of dirty water from tides rising at the bay entrance, from several canals including Fundão, and from rivers. Sediments and rubbish pile up in front of our village,” where the white sandy beach has become a quagmire and rubbish dump over the past few decades, Souza complained.

Guanabara bay receives 90 tonnes daily of rubbish and 18,000 litres per second of untreated waste water, mainly via the 55 rivers and canals that flow into it, according to Sergio Ricardo de Lima, an ecologist and founder of the Bahia Viva (Living Bay) movement.

Rio’s Olympic bid announced a target of cleaning up 80 percent of the effluents reaching the bay. The actual proportion achieved was 55 percent, Sports Minister Leonardo Picciani said at a press conference with foreign journalists on July 7.

“I only believe in what I see: out of the 55 rivers in the basin, 49 have become lifeless sewers,” said Moscatelli, voicing the scepticism of environmentalists.

The 80 percent target was not realistic; completely decontaminating the bay would require 25 to 30 years and sanitation investments equivalent to six billion dollars, André Correa, environment secretary for the state of Rio de Janeiro, admitted on July 20 at the inauguration of an “eco barrier” on the river Merití, one of the polluting waterways.

Once this was a white sandy beach close to the fishing village of Tubiacanga, in Guanabara bay, near Rio de Janeiro international airport. The city’s population contributes to pollution and silting in this emblematic Brazilian bay. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Once this was a white sandy beach close to the fishing village of Tubiacanga, in Guanabara bay, near Rio de Janeiro international airport. The city’s population contributes to pollution and silting in this emblematic Brazilian bay. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The barriers are floating interconnected booms that are an emergency measure to ensure that aquatic Olympic sports can take place in some parts in the bay. Trash scooping vessels or “eco boats”  collect the floating debris that accumulates against them and send it for recycling.

Seventeen eco barriers have been promised, but these will be woefully inadequate, and in any case they should be anchored where floating garbage is most concentrated, like Tubiacanga, not close to the Guanabara bay entrance where water sports will be held, Lima complained.

The barrier in the Merití river is suitably placed, in Lima’s view, but it is “palliative action only.” The real solution is to promote selective garbage collection at source, that is, in households, shops and industries, and recycle as much solid waste as possible, as stipulated by a 2010 law.

“At present only one percent of the garbage produced in the Rio de Janeiro Metropolitan Region (which has a population of 12 million) is recycled,” Lima said.

Cleaning up Guanabara bay is a longstanding ambition. It was the goal of a project begun in 1995 that has already cost the equivalent of three billion dollars at the current exchange rate, but that has not prevented environmental deterioration of local beaches and water resources.

Eight wastewater treatment stations were built or expanded to improve water quality. However, they have always operated well below capacity, because the main drains needed to collect wastewater and deliver it to the treatment stations have never been built, according to Lima.

Pollution of the bay is exacerbated by oil spills. There is a refinery and petrochemical hub on the banks of the lagoon in Duque de Caxias; in addition, all along the Tubiacanga waterfront the bay is increasingly crisscrossed by pipes carrying crude oil, refinery subproducts and natural gas.

The effects of a large oil spill in January 2000 are still felt today. It had a direct impact on Tubiacanga and on the fish catch.

“We fisherfolk are the ones who suffer most from the consequences of pollution, and who best know the bay; but we are not listened to, we are penned in and threatened with extinction,” said Souza dos Santos, who is encouraging his four sons to take up trades other than fishing.

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El Salvador Faces Dilemma over the Prosecution of War Criminalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/el-salvador-faces-dilemma-over-the-prosecution-of-war-criminals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=el-salvador-faces-dilemma-over-the-prosecution-of-war-criminals http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/el-salvador-faces-dilemma-over-the-prosecution-of-war-criminals/#comments Sat, 23 Jul 2016 20:12:45 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146188 Residents of La Hacienda, in the central department of La Paz in El Salvador, are holding pictures of the four American nuns murdered in 1980 by members of the National Guard, as they attend the commemorations held to mark 35 years of the crime, in December 2015, at the site where it was perpetrated. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Residents of La Hacienda, in the central department of La Paz in El Salvador, are holding pictures of the four American nuns murdered in 1980 by members of the National Guard, as they attend the commemorations held to mark 35 years of the crime, in December 2015, at the site where it was perpetrated. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Jul 23 2016 (IPS)

The ruling of the highest court to repeal the amnesty law places El Salvador in the dilemma of deciding whether the country should prosecute those who committed serious violations to human rights during the civil war.

It also evidences that, more than two decades after the end of the conflict in 1992, reconciliation is proving elusive in this Central American country with 6.3 million inhabitants.

At the heart of the matter is the pressing need to bring justice to the victims of war crimes while, on the other hand, it implies a huge as well as difficult task, since it will entail opening cases that are more than two decades old, involving evidence that has been tampered or lost, if at all available, and witnesses who have already died.“We do not want them to be jailed for a long period of time, we want perpetrators to tell us why they killed them, given that they knew they were civilians...And we want them to apologize, we want someone to be held accountable for these deaths”-- Engracia Echeverría.

Those who oppose opening such cases highlight the precarious condition of the judiciary, which has important inadequacies and is cluttered with a plethora of unsentenced cases.

“I believe Salvadorans as a whole, the population and the political forces are not in favour of this (initiating prosecution), they have turned the page”, pointed out left-wing analyst Salvador Samayoa, one of the signatory parties of the Peace Agreements that put an end to 12 years of civil war.

The 12 years of conflict left a toll of 70,000 casualties and more than 8,000 people missing.

Samayoa added that right now El Salvador has too many problems and should not waste its energy on problems pertaining to the past.

For human rights organizations, finding the truth, serving justice and providing redress prevail over the present circumstances and needs.

“Human rights violators can no longer hide behind the amnesty law, so they should be investigated once and for all”, said Miguel Montenegro, director of the El Salvador Commission of Human Rights, a non-governmental organization, told IPS.

The Supreme Court of Justice, in what is deemed to be a historical ruling, on 13 July ruled that the General Amnesty Act for the Consolidation of, passed in 1993, is unconstitutional, thus opening the door to prosecuting those accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the conflict.

In its ruling, the Court considered that Articles 2 and 144 of said amnesty law are unconstitutional on the grounds that they violate the rights of the victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity to resort to justice and seek redress.

It further ruled that said crimes are not subject to the statute of limitations and can be tried regardless of the date on which they were perpetrated.

“We have been waiting for this for many years; without this ruling no justice could have been done”, told IPS activist Engracia Echeverría, from the Madeleine Lagadec Center for the Promotion of Defence of Human Rights.

This organization is named after the French nun who was raped and murdered by government troops in April 1989, when they attacked a hospital belonging to the guerrilla group Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN).

The activist stressed that, even though it is true that a lot of information relevant to the cases has been lost, some data can still be obtained by the investigators in the District Attorney’s General Office in charge of criminal prosecution, in case some people wish to instigate an investigation.

The law has been strongly criticized by human rights organizations within and outside the country, since its enactment in March 1993.

Its critics have claimed that it promoted impunity by protecting Army and guerrilla members who committed human rights crimes during the conflict.

However, its advocates have been both retired and active Army members, as well as right-wing politicians and businessmen in the country, since it precisely prevented justice being served to these officers –who are seen as responsible for frustrating the victory of the FMLN.

“All the crimes committed were motivated by an attack by the guerrilla”, claimed retired general Humberto Corado, former Defence Minister between 1993 and 1995.

The now repealed act was passed only five days after the Truth Commission, mandated by the United Nations to investigate human rights abuses during the civil war, had published its report with 32 specific cases, 20 of which were perpetrated by the Army and 12 by insurgents.

Among those cases were the murders of archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in March 1980; four American nuns in December of the same year, and hundreds of peasants who were shot in several massacres, like those which took place in El Mozote in December 1981 and in Sumpul in May 1980.

Also, six Jesuit priests and a woman and her daughter were murdered in November 1989, a case already being investigated by a Spanish court.

The Truth Commission has also pointed to some FMLN commanders, holding them accountable for the death of several mayors who were targeted for being considered part of the government’s counter-insurgent strategy.

Some of those insurgents are now government officials, as is the case with director of Civil Protection Jorge Meléndez.

Before taking office in 2009, the FMLN, now turned into a political party, strongly criticized the amnesty law and advocated in favour of its repeal, on the grounds that it promoted impunity.

But, after winning the presidential elections that year with Mauricio Funes, it changed its stance and no longer favoured the repeal of the law. Since 2014, the country has been governed by former FMLN commander Salvador Sánchez Cerén.

In fact, the governing party has deemed the repeal as “reckless”, with the President stating on July 15 that Court magistrates “were not considering the effects it could have on the already fragile coexistence” and urging to take the ruling “with responsibility and maturity while taking into account the best interests of the country”.

After the law was ruled unconstitutional, the media were saturated with opinions and analyses on the subject, most of them pointing out the risk of the country being destabilized and on the verge of chaos due to the countless number of lawsuits that could pile up in the courts dealing with war cases.

“To those people who fiercely claim that magistrates have turned the country into a hell we must respond that hell is what the victims and their families have gone –and continue to go- through”, reads the release written on July 15 by the officials of the José Simeón Cañas Central American University, where the murdered Jesuits lived and worked in 1989.

Furthermore, the release states that most of the victims demand to be listened to, in order to find out the truth and be able to put a face on those they need to forgive.

In fact, at the heart of the debate lies the idea of restorative justice as a mechanism to find out the truth and heal the victims’ wounds, without necessarily implying taking perpetrators to jail.

“We do not want them to be jailed for a long period of time, we want perpetrators to tell us why they killed them, given that they knew they were civilians”, stressed Echeverría.

“And we want them to apologize, we want someone to be held accountable for these deaths”, she added.

In the case of Montenegro, himself a victim of illegal arrest and tortures in 1986, he said that it is necessary to investigate those who committed war crimes in order to find out the truth but, even more importantly, as a way for the country to find the most suitable mechanisms to forgive and provide redress”.

However, general Corado said that restorative justice was “hypocritical, its only aim being to seek revenge”.

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