Inter Press Service » Civil Society http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 27 Sep 2016 20:52:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 The Right to Development at 30 Yearshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/the-right-to-development-at-30-years/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-right-to-development-at-30-years http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/the-right-to-development-at-30-years/#comments Fri, 23 Sep 2016 22:04:40 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147076 Martin Khor is the Executive Director of the South Centre, based in Geneva]]>

Martin Khor is the Executive Director of the South Centre, based in Geneva

By Martin Khor
GENEVA, Sep 23 2016 (IPS)

It’s had a very useful if sometimes controversial past and it will have great relevance for many more years ahead. That’s the sense one has about the Declaration on the Right to Development as it is commemorated 30 years after its adoption by the United Nations General Assembly in 1986.

Three decades ago, the Declaration “broke new ground in the struggle for greater freedom, equality and justice,” remarked the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, at a session of the Human Rights Council on 15 June, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Declaration.

The right to development has had great resonance among people all over the world, especially in developing countries. Even the term itself “the right to development” carries a great sense and weight of meaning and of hope.

In the past three decades it has been invoked numerous times in international negotiations. The right to development is a major component of the Rio Principles endorsed by the 1992 Earth Summit, and most recently it was included in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change of 2015.

It is fitting to recall some of the important elements of this right to development. It is human and people centered. It is an inalienable human right , where every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to and enjoy development in which all rights and freedoms can be fully realized . The human person is the central subject of development and should be the active participant and beneficiary of development.

It gives responsibility to each state to get its act together to take measures to get its people’s right to development fulfilled. But it also places great importance to the international arena, giving a responsibility to all countries to cooperate internationally and especially to assist the developing countries.

The right to development is also practical. The Declaration makes it a duty for governments to work towards the realisation of the right to development. It recognises that there are national and international obstacles to the realisation of this right and calls on all parties to eliminate these obstacles.

It is thus useful to identify some of the present key global issues that have relevance to the right to development, or that constitute obstacles to its realisation, and to take steps to address them.

Firstly is the crisis in the global economy. The economic sluggishness in developed countries has had adverse impact on developing economies, with lower commodity prices and falling export earnings affecting their economic and social development.. Many economies face the havoc of volatility in the inflow and outflow of funds, due to absence of controls over speculative capital, and fluctuations in their currency levels due to the lack of a global mechanism to stabilise currencies.

Several countries are facing or are on the brink of another external debt crisis. There is for them an absence of an international sovereign debt restructuring mechanism, and countries that undertake their own debt workout may well become victims of vulture funds.

All these problems make it difficult for developing countries to maintain their development momentum, and constitute obstacles to realising the right to development.

Second is the challenge of formulating and implementing appropriate development strategies. This includes getting policies right in boosting agricultural production, farmers’ incomes and food security; and climbing the ladder from labour intensive to higher technology industries and overcoming the middle-income trap. There is also the imperative to provide social services such as healthcare, education, water supply, lighting and transport, and developing financial and commercial services.

For many countries, development policy-making has been made more difficult due to premature liberalisation resulting from loan conditionality and trade and investment agreements which severely constrain their policy space. Policies used by other countries when they were developing may no longer be available due to conditionality or international agreements.

Recently, there has been a crisis of legitimacy over investment agreements that contain the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system, which enable foreign investors to take cases against host governments, taking advantage of imbalanced provisions and shortcomings in the arbitration system. The cases taken up not only cost countries a lot in monetary compensation payments but also put a chill on the formulation of policies and regulations. A review of these conditionalities and trade and investmemt agreements, taking account of their effects on the right to development, would be useful.

Thirdly, climate change has become an existential problem for the human race. It is an outstanding example of environmental constraints to development and the right to development.

In 2014 the Assestment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) revealed that the world has to limit its release of Greenhouse Gases to only release another 1,000 billion tonnes if there is to be a reasonable chance of avoiding global warming of 2 degree Celsius, and anything above that level would cause a devastating disaster. Global emissions are running at 50 billion tonnes a year. Within two decades the atmospheric space would be filled up. Therefore there is an imperative to cut global emissions as sharply and quickly as possible.

The Paris Agreement of December 2015 was a success in multilateral deal making. But it is not environmentally ambitious enough, nor did it generate any confidence that the commitment for transfers of finance and technology to developing countries will be met. There is a danger of that the burdens of adjustment will be passed on to the developing and poor countries. How to equitably share the costs of urgent environmental action which should also be economically feasible is the major climate change challenge that will impact seriously on the right to development.

Fourthly is another existential problem — the crisis of anti-microbial resistance and the dangers of a post-antibiotic age. Many diseases are becoming increasingly difficult to treat because bacteria have become more and more resistant to anti-microbials. Some strains of bacteria are now resistant to multiple antibiotics and a few have become pan resistant – resistant to all antibiotics. The WHO Director General has warned that every anitibiotic ever developed is at risk of becoming useless. She added that: “A post-antibiotic era means in effect an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

Actions are needed to reduce the over-use and wrong use of antibiotics including control over unethical marketing of drugs, control of the use of antibiotics in livestock, to educate the public and discover new antibiotics. The World Health Assembly (WHA) in 2015 adopted a global plan of action to address anti-microbial resistance but the challenge is in the implementation. Developing countries require funds to enforce the measures as well as technology such as microscopes and diagnostic tools; they also need to have access to existing and new antibiotics at affordable prices; and people worldwide need to be protected from anti-microbial resistance if life expectancy is to be maintained.

Finally there are major challenges in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs include very ambitious and idealistic goals and targets, but there are obstacles to fulfilling them.

For example, Goal 3 is “to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” One of the targets is to achieve universal health coverage, that no one should be denied treatment because they cannot afford it. But this will remain an unfulfilled noble aim unless governments address the controversial issue of how to finance public health measures..

The problem is compounded when medicines are priced beyond the reach of the poor and the middle class. The treatment for HIV AIDS became more widespread and affordable only when generics were made available at cheaper prices, for example $60 a patient a year today, compared to the prices of original drugs of $10,000, and millions of lives have been saved.

Some of the new medicines, for example for Hepatitis C and cancers, are unaffordable even in rich countries and thus not provided through their national health service. They will certainly be out of the reach of patients in developing countries unless generic versions are made available through the use of flexibilities in the global patent regime, such as the non-granting of patents and compulsory licenses.

The interconnecting issues of patents, over pricing of original drugs, and the need to make generic drugs more available, are relevant to the implementation of SDGs, universal health coverage, and the realisation of the right to health and the right to development.

The examples above of pressing global problems show there is a long way to go before we make progress on social and economic development, while protecting the environment. The principles and instruments associated with the Right to Development can shine a bright light on the way forward. The Declaration adopted 30 years ago continues to have great relevance, if only we make full use of it.

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Mexico City’s Expansion Creates Tension between Residents and Authoritieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/mexico-citys-expansion-creates-tension-between-residents-and-authorities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-citys-expansion-creates-tension-between-residents-and-authorities http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/mexico-citys-expansion-creates-tension-between-residents-and-authorities/#comments Fri, 23 Sep 2016 16:09:22 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147070 Construction work on the Chapultepec Intermodal Transfer Station, with the castle in the famous Chapultepec forest in the background. The recurrent complaint of Mexico City residents affected by public works in this city is the lack of consultation, transparency and information. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Construction work on the Chapultepec Intermodal Transfer Station, with the castle in the famous Chapultepec forest in the background. The recurrent complaint of Mexico City residents affected by public works in this city is the lack of consultation, transparency and information. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 23 2016 (IPS)

People living in neighborhoods affected by the expansion of urban construction suffer a “double displacement”, with changes in their habitat and the driving up of prices in the area, in a process in which “we are not taken into account,” said Natalia Lara, a member of an assembly of local residents in the south of Mexico City.

Lara, who is pursuing a master’s degree in public policies at the Latin American School of Social Sciences (Flacso), told IPS that in her neighborhood people are outraged because of the irrational way the construction has been carried out there.

The member of the assembly of local residents of Santa Úrsula Coapa, a lower middle-class neighborhood, complains that urban decision-makers build more houses and buildings but “don’t think about how to provide services. They make arbitrary land-use changes.”

Lara lives near the Mexico City asphalt plant owned by the city’s Ministry of Public Works, which has been operating since 1956 and has become asource of conflict between the residents of the southern neighbourhoods and the administration of leftist Mayor Miguel Mancera of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, which has governed the capital since 1997.“There is clearly a lack of planning and vision, the strategy of only carrying out projects with a strictly economic focus is affecting us.There is no interest in building spaces that help improve community life. We are becoming more isolated, people don’t take their kids to play in parks anymore, but go to shopping centers instead, the fabric of the community breaks down. These are serious problems.” -- Elias García

In mid-2014, Mancera’s government announced its intention to donate the asphalt plant’s land to Mexico City’s Investment Promotion Agency, which would build the Coyoacán Economic and Social Development Area there.

In response, local residents organised and formed, in September of that year, the Coordination of Assemblies of Pedregales, which brings together residents of five neighborhoods in the Coyoacánborough, one of the 16 boroughs into which Mexico City is divided.

But the transfer of ownership of the land took place in December 2014, to create a development area including the construction of an industrial park and residential and office tower blocks.

To appease local residents, Mancera proposed modifying the initial plan and turning the area into an ecological park, despite the fact that the soil is polluted and will take many years to recover.

Last May, the mayor announced the final closure of the asphalt plant and its reconversion into an environmental site, although the decree for the donation to the city investment promotion agency was never revoked, and there is no reconversion plan.

This conflict shows the struggles for the city, for how the public space is defined and used, one of the central topics to be addressed at the Oct. 17-20 third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador.

In the upcoming summit organised by U.N.-Habitat, member states will assume commitments with regard to the right to the city, how to finance the New Urban Agenda that will result from Quito, and sustainable urban development, among other issues.

Cities like the Mexican capital, home to 21 million people, are plagued with similar problems.

Elías García, president of the non-governmental Ecoactivistas, knows this well, having worked for three decades as an environmental activist in the borough of Iztacalco, in the east of the capital.

“There is clearly a lack of planning and vision, the strategy of only carrying out projects with a strictly economic focus is affecting us.There is no interest in building spaces that help improve community life. We are becoming more isolated, people don’t take their kids to play in parks anymore, but go to shopping centers instead, the fabric of the community breaks down. These are serious problems,” he told IPS.

The activist and other local residents have witnessed how in Iztacalco a concert hall, a race track for F1 international motor races, and more recently, a baseball stadium were built one after another.

In the process, some 3,000 trees were cut down and many green spaces and local sports fields disappeared.

The last measure taken was Macera’s 2015 decision to revoke the declaration of the Magdalena Mixhuca sports complex’s environmental value, which had protected the facilities for nine year, in order to build a baseball stadium in its place. Local residents filed an appeal for legal protection, but lost the suit last June.

Luisa Rodríguez, a researcher at the public Doctor José María Luís Mora Research Institute’s Interdisciplinary Center for Metropolitan Studies, told IPS that where people live determines their enjoyment of rights, such as to the city, a clean environment and housing.

“The exercise of citizenship is connected to the idea of the city. When a severely fragmented city is built, based on a model that only benefits the few, participation in social institutions like education and healthcare is only partial. Geographical location determines the exercise of those rights,” she said.

There are a number of open conflicts between organised local communities and the government of Mexico City. One high-profile flashpoint flared up in 2015 when the city government intended to build the Chapultepec Cultural Corridor in the west of the city, next to the woods of the same name, the biggest “green lung” that remains in this polluted megalopolis.

In a public consultation last December, the residents of the Cuauhtémoc borough, where Chapultepec is located, voted against the public-private project, which intended to build an elevated promenade for pedestrians, lined with shops, gardens and trees, above the traffic down below.

Instead, the city government is building an Intermodal Transfer Station (known as CETRAMs) at a cost of 300 million dollars, whose first stage is to be completed in 2018. Besides the transport hub, it will include a 50-floor hotel and a shopping center.

The Economic and Social Development Zones (ZODES), which originally were to be built in five areas in the capital, have apparently failed to improve the quality of urban life.

“In spite of the benefits these micro-cities are supposed to offer, the negative aspects of evicting the people currently living in these areas have not been assessed, and they run counter to the concepts of sustainability and strategic management that the government claims to support,” wrote city planner Daniela Jay in the specialised journal “Arquine”.

The last draft of the final declaration of Habitat III, agreed upon in July, makes no reference to the process of building a city based on inclusion and the active participation of citizens, although it does refer to exercising the right to the city and the importance of such participation.

Activists see both positives and negatives in the approach taken by Habitat III. The conference “will reinforce urban laws that focus on building cities, displacing the perspective of native people and local communities. There is no trend towards inclusion,” said Lara.

Activist García demanded that the local people be heard. “They have to listen to the people who are committed to protecting the environment,” he said.

According to Rodríguez, Habitat III offers an opportunity to address urban emergencies. “There are high expectations for governments to start focusing on building cities thinking about the inhabitants instead of the buildings,” she told IPS.

But with or without the conference, the battles for the city in urban centres like Mexico’s capital will continue.

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Argentina at Risk of an Educational System Serving the Markethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/argentina-at-risk-of-an-educational-system-serving-the-market/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-at-risk-of-an-educational-system-serving-the-market http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/argentina-at-risk-of-an-educational-system-serving-the-market/#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2016 03:37:36 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147007 “Hugging” the Ministry of Education in Buenos Aires, teachers and other education workers protest mass redundancies and other changes in a field that has been key until now with regard to inclusion policies. Credit: Guido Fontán/IPS

“Hugging” the Ministry of Education in Buenos Aires, teachers and other education workers protest mass redundancies and other changes in a field that has been key until now with regard to inclusion policies. Credit: Guido Fontán/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 21 2016 (IPS)

In Argentina, teachers, students and trade unionists are protesting against mass redundancies in education, which they say are part of a process of undermining public education and a move towards a new model based on market needs.

“An educational model is emerging that is no longer focused on social rights for the population as a whole but instead focuses on the creation of a socioeconomic model that follows the logic of the entrepreneur, a logic of the self-made person,” Myriam Feldfeber told IPS.

The expert on education from the University of Buenos Aires took part in a “hug” around the Ministry of Education in the Argentine capital on Aug. 31, held to protest a new wave of 200 layoffs, and setbacks with regard to “the construction of free, universal and egalitarian education.”“It is a matter of serious concern that some central positions in the Ministry of Education are being held by people who don’t come from the field of education - business executives and people who don’t have any experience in the public sector.” – Myriam Feldfeber

Most of the people laid off now were temporary or contract workers, and the dismissals came on top of another 1,100 who lost their jobs in education since centre-right Mauricio Macri became president on Dec. 10, 2015.

Since then, 10,662 civil servants have been fired from 23 ministries and government agencies.

“I worked in the Teacher Training Institute for over six years, in an area of policy implementation related to research development in teacher training institutes throughout the country,” Laura Pico told IPS.

“On Friday (Aug. 26) I received a call from an unknown number notifying me that I was being dismissed by the ministry and that on Monday I shouldn’t return to work,” she said.

The mass layoffs are part of a broader process of downsizing and the elimination of several education policies, many of them implemented during the administrations of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Fernández (2007-2015).

The State Employees’ Association (ATE) complains of an underutilization of the budget for education and the dismantling of areas of teachers’ training, human rights, adult education, statistics, children’s and youth choirs, among others.

We note with great concern that our dismissals – besides being a target of protests by our union – undermine educational policies and reflect a withdrawal of the state from the territories,” ATE delegate Lautaro Pedot told IPS.

Fernanda Saforcada, an expert on education and the academic director of the Buenos Aires-based Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), lamented the dismissals, which apart from being a human and social problem, “entail the loss of cumulative experience.”

“We are talking about technical teams that carried out an activity, have ties at work, networks that have been built up. All this represents a major loss. Expertise, history, knowledge and relations are lost,” she said.

This dismantling is more apparent in areas like the National Institute of Teachers’ Training and the National Institute of Technological Education, as well as in programmes on socio-educational matters, digital inclusion, human rights, comprehensive sex education, arts education, and education for young people and adults.

The learning process has been transformed in Argentina’s public schools by the Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality) programme, which provides a laptop to each student. This is one of the education projects affected by the changes introduced by the government of Mauricio Macri. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The learning process has been transformed in Argentina’s public schools by the Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality) programme, which provides a laptop to each student. This is one of the education projects affected by the changes introduced by the government of Mauricio Macri. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Other programmes that were reduced or eliminated include university scholarships, promotion of gender equality, and provision of computers to students with special needs or as an incentive to finish high school.

“I think that now the intention is to aim for an education system opposed to one of inclusion and of ensuring the right to education,” said Pico.

According to Feldfeber, who is also the coordinator of Red Estrado (Latin American Network of Studies on the Work of Teachers) and of CLACSO research groups, “what basically disappears is the idea of education as a right, on the public policy horizon.”

As an example of the strategy of inclusion that was being implemented, she mentioned the creation of 14 national universities, “especially in places where segments of the population traditionally excluded from the system are starting to have access to education,” which are now being called into question.

“It is a matter of serious concern that some central positions in the Ministry of Education are being held by people who don’t come from the field of education – business executives and people who don’t have any experience in the public sector,” Feldfeber stressed.

“One of the highest-ranking positions is held by a former Philip Morris CEO (Ezequiel Newbery, now assistant secretary for socio-educational programmes) who says he isn’t familiar with education, doesn’t understand what a socio-educational policy is, and that he comes to the ministry to bring order,” she told IPS.

“’Bringing order’ means what we are witnessing now: firing workers and dismantling teams,” she said.

The government argues that it is “modernising” the public administration and restructuring the ministries.

Education Minister Esteban Bulrich advocates an “educational revolution”, which he defines as “giving any Argentine, no matter where he was born, the possibility of having the same quality education.”

According to Bulrich, “inclusion by itself, without quality, is no good, it only goes halfway, inclusion by itself is a fraud, and to improve quality you have to begin with the real agents of change: teachers.”

“The idea is to provide (teachers) with more tools, in order for them to have a modern, 21st century perspective of the skills and abilities that the children in our educational system need to become autonomous beings,” he said in a ceremony in June.

Fernanda Saforcada said the private sector is being strengthened “in the context of a process of transforming the role of the state.”

“The state is taking on a new role in search of alliances with NGOs (non-governmental organisations), foundations and business sectors,” she said.

“Many of these NGOs are connected to business sectors, which shows how the public sphere has been undermined, giving a new content to educational management,” she told IPS.

“And when we refer to the private sector, beyond the public-private dichotomy, we’re talking about the interests of some sectors prevailing over the common good.”

ATE complained about an attempt to “privatise” programmes such as Connect Equality, aimed at promoting digital inclusion, inherited from the previous government, which this year “experienced the influx of international companies such as Microsoft and Google.”

The intention, ATE said, is to replace locally-produced open-source software, such as Huayra, with these commercial operational programmes in the laptops distributed free to students.

The Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2000-2015 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) highlighted progress made in the Argentine educational system in the last decade, following the goals established in the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000.

The report pointed out that public expenditure on education in this South American country was among the highest in Latin America, representing 6.26 per cent of GDP.

Moreover, 99.1 percent of Argentine children are in primary school, which makes it the country with the highest coverage in the region, along with Uruguay.

With regard to secondary school, the net enrolment ratio is one of the highest in Latin America: 89.06 per cent in 2012, although drop-out rates remain a cause for concern.

Argentina, with a population of 43 million, has also reduced the illiteracy rates from 2.6 to 1.9 percent of people older than 15.

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The Public Benefit Organisations Act Will Help Kenya’s March Towards the Sustainable Development Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/the-public-benefit-organisations-act-will-help-kenyas-march-towards-the-sustainable-development-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-public-benefit-organisations-act-will-help-kenyas-march-towards-the-sustainable-development-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/the-public-benefit-organisations-act-will-help-kenyas-march-towards-the-sustainable-development-goals/#comments Mon, 19 Sep 2016 09:55:18 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146978 Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator and the UNDP Resident Representative to Kenya. ]]> Willaim Ruto, Kenya's Deputy President said that, “This act will empower community based organizations to mobilize public opinion so as to shape development priorities as well as sharpen accountability mechanisms at all levels of government."

Willaim Ruto, Kenya's Deputy President said that, “This act will empower community based organizations to mobilize public opinion so as to shape development priorities as well as sharpen accountability mechanisms at all levels of government."

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 19 2016 (IPS)

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Kenya was launched on 14 September 2016, Representing President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Devolution and planning Mr Mwangi Kiunjuri, said Kenya was way ahead of implementing the SDGs through its Vision 2030, and the devolved system of Governance

Kenya now needs strategic and creative partnerships with civil society networks to raise public awareness and sustain momentum for the Goals’ diverse set of targets.

The SDG targets presents a challenge that is too big for any one government, and the coming into force of the Public Benefit Organisations Act (PBOs) therefore presents an opportunity to build broad partnerships with civil society groups, an acknowledged force for social justice, human rights and equity.

Stakeholders have now overcome the initial hurdles facing the Act when it was adopted in Parliament in 2013. These included suggestions for putting caps on funds for civil society organisations and other amendments that were considered overly restrictive.

There have been concerns that delays in implementing the Act would have led to an environment of control over civil society, more so in the lead-up to the 2017 elections when civil society is expected to complement the electoral management body’s voter education initiatives and advocate for free, fair and peaceful elections.

With the coming into operation of the Act on 9 September 2016, Kenya now has a legal framework, aligned with the Constitution of Kenya 2010, and that repeals the 1990 NGOs Coordination Act. This framework will, among other things, promote a vibrant civil society space in the country and stimulate continued local-level partnership for development, a key ingredient for the realization of the SDGs.

The decision by Cabinet secretary Mr Mwangi Kiunjuri to bring this Act into use, therefore, is a commendable step and a milestone decision which reaffirms the commitment of the Government of Kenya to its human rights obligations, notably freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly, consistent with the vision and values of the Kenyan Constitution.

County governments too stand to benefit as the Act presents an opportunity for Civil Society Organizations to engage with them towards realizing the constitutional promise of devolution and the SDG agenda at the sub-national level. This can only be realized if county governments embrace the new law and prioritize its operationalization at the county level by clearly factoring it in their development policies and plans.

The Government of Kenya and the UN collaboration on what is now a fully operational law has come a long way. After concrete engagements with the government for close to three years, a commitment to the operationalization of the PBO Act included in the Government roadmap that the UN supported following the Universal Periodic Review of Kenya in 2015.

The UN is ever ready to partner with the Government of Kenya and civil society including philanthropy to support a PBO implementation framework which is designed in an inclusive, credible and participatory manner and upholding human rights.

As the UN family, we believe that dynamic partnerships with civil society organizations are essential for generating public awareness and political support for human development priorities, as well as for implementing programmes. Civil society must be at the heart of any development response, and their participation can only give impetus to Kenya’s SDG campaign.

Discussing this on a flight to New York recently, with Kenya’s Deputy President Mr William Ruto, who also chairs the IBEC (Intergovernmental Budget and Economic Council) that brings together all levels of Government both at national and county level, he welcomed this development. He said, “This act will empower community based organizations to mobilize public opinion so as to shape development priorities as well as sharpen accountability mechanisms at all levels of government.”

The Act will also facilitate the implementation of Kenya’s strategy on Countering Violent Extremism. This is because civil society provide forums through which youth can engage and participate in the political, economic and social spheres, and it has been an important voice in urging that the protection of human rights be placed at the center of the security response.

The post-2015 development agenda will be most effective only if it results from inclusive and open multi-stakeholder participation.

This means that the vision for the Kenya we want must be informed by the perspectives of her people, especially those living in poverty who are served well by civil society and to ensure that “no one is left behind”.

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New Government Inherits Conflict over Peru’s Biggest Minehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/new-government-inherits-conflict-over-biggest-mine-in-peru/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-government-inherits-conflict-over-biggest-mine-in-peru http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/new-government-inherits-conflict-over-biggest-mine-in-peru/#comments Sat, 17 Sep 2016 01:37:38 +0000 Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146972 Members of the 16 rural families who refuse to abandon their homes in the village of Taquiruta until the company running the Las Bambas mine compensates them fairly for the loss of their animals, pens and houses. In the background can be seen the biggest mine in Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Members of the 16 rural families who refuse to abandon their homes in the village of Taquiruta until the company running the Las Bambas mine compensates them fairly for the loss of their animals, pens and houses. In the background can be seen the biggest mine in Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Aramis Castro and Milagros Salazar
LIMA/CHALLHUAHUACHO , Sep 17 2016 (IPS)

Of the 150 socioeconomic conflicts related to the extractive industries that Peru’s new government inherited, one of the highest-profile is the protest by the people living near the biggest mining project in the history of the country: Las Bambas.

The enormous open-pit copper mine in the district of Challhuahuacho, in the southern department of Apurímac, is operated by the Chinese-Australian company MMG Limited, controlled by China Minmetals Corporation, which invested more than 10 billion dollars in its first project in Latin America.

Peru, where mining is the backbone of the economy, is the third-largest copper producer in the world and the fifth-largest gold producer.

Las Bambas, which started operating in January, is projected to have an initial annual production of 400,000 tons of copper concentrate.

The conflict reached its peak in September 2015 when three people were killed and 29 wounded in a clash between local residents and the police. The former government of Ollanta Humala (2011-2016) assembled a working group to address local demands.

The working group’s first meeting since conservative President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski took office on Jul. 28 was held on Aug. 22.

“We don’t want conflicts. But if we give you the mine, we have to set conditions,” Daniel Olivera, a local farmer from the community of Ccayao, told IPS with regard to the neglected demands of people living around the mine, which has reserves of 7.2 million metric tons of copper, in addition to molybdenum and other minerals.

The working group was set up in February, to address four issues: human rights, environment, sustainable development with public investment, and corporate social responsibility.

The only concrete result achieved so far, according to the representatives of the Quechua communities surrounding the mine, was compensation for the families of the three people killed in the violent clash.

The last session took place Sep. 7-8, but it mainly dealt with technical aspects. The head of the Front for the Defence of the Interests of the Province of Cotatambas, Rodolfo Abarca, told IPS that he expects the next meetings, scheduled for October, to deal with “substantive issues”.

The mine’s three open pits and the processing facilities are located 4,000 metres above sea level in the Andes mountains, between the Cotabambas and Grau provinces in the Apurímac region.

The Front demands that an independent study be carried out in order to shed light on the origins of the conflict: the changes approved by the Ministry of Mines and Energy to the environmental impact assessment of the project, without consulting the local population, in spite of the potential impact on the water sources, soil and air.

The most controversial move was made in 2013 when the authorities allowed the transfer of the plant that separates molybdenum from copper, from Tintaya in the neighboring region of Cuzco, to Fuerabamba, in Cotatambas.

 Two girls with their mother on a street of Nueva Fuerabamba, the town where the relocated Quechua villagers were transferred because of the open-pit copper mine in Las Bambas, removed from their traditional way of life, in the department of Apurímac, in the Andean highlands of southern Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS


Two girls with their mother on a street of Nueva Fuerabamba, the town where the relocated Quechua villagers were transferred because of the open-pit copper mine in Las Bambas, removed from their traditional way of life, in the department of Apurímac, in the Andean highlands of southern Peru. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

The transfer meant new studies were necessary to measure the potential environmental impacts at the new site. But this step was disregarded in the supporting technical report, according to the environmental engineers who went through the more than 1,500 pages of project records with the team from the investigative journalism site Convoca.

While the Ministry of Mines and Energy and the mining company Las Bambas saw these changes as minor and involving insignificant impacts, the experts said they were significant modifications that required a closer analysis.

The supporting technical report is part of a simplification of requirements carried out by Humala’s government in 2013 through decree 054-2013-PCM, aimed at accelerating private investment in the country.

Among the simplifications was a new rule that the local population no longer has to be consulted before allowing changes in environmental impact studies, on the assumption that these changes only affect secondary components of the project or expansions for technological improvements.

Convoca’s journalists told IPS that the environmental engineers informed them that in the case of Las Bambas, the technical supporting report was used to rapidly justify changes, without having to conduct specific studies to prevent potential environmental impacts, and to avoid consulting local communities.

The technical supporting report also made it possible for the minerals to be transported by truck, instead of only through pipelines as in the past. As a result, the trucks have been throwing up clouds of dust since January, a problem that has further fuelled the local protests.

The company told Convoca via email that they use “sealed containers” and that they spray the roads with water before the trucks drive by.

With the removal of the requirement for pipelines went the hopes of people in the 20 farming communities and four small towns in four different districts, who expected to lease or sell the lands crossed by the pipelines that were projected in the initial environmental impact assessment.

The decision “hit us like a bucket of cold water… It’s very sad,” added Olivera, who is from a community where the pipelines were supposed to cross.

The environmental engineers argued that what should have been done was a study of the environmental impact caused by the transport of minerals by truck instead of through a pipeline.

They also said a health impact assessment was needed after the relocation of the filtration plant, “since besides copper, molybdenum is also processed and produced, which is harmful to human health,” causing liver failure and different types of arthritis.

The Ministry of Mines and Energy said by email that the relocation of “the molybdenum plant, as well as the filtration area and the concentrate storage facility,” only required a technical supporting report because the management plan approved for the plant was not modified.

Moreover, they said the area of influence of the project was reduced, and argued that a plan approved to recirculate the mining process water was an “improvement.”

The company said that before submitting their report, it “identified and evaluated the impacts that would be generated in each case,” and concluded that “they would not be significant.”

In his inaugural address, President Kuczynski said he would demand compliance with all environmental regulations and would respect the views of every citizen regarding a project’s environmental impact.

But the former vice minister of environmental management, José de Echave, pointed out to IPS that “there is no mechanism for public participation,” even when local residents are not opposed to a project.

According to the ombudsperson’s office there are 221 unresolved social conflicts in Peru, 150 (71 percent) of which are centered on territories where extractive projects are being carried out and have an environmental component.

De Echave said the government should create strategies to monitor social conflicts and deal with them through dialogue with government agencies.

Access to land is another issue behind the social conflict in Las Bambas.

There are 16 families in the village of Taquiruta, on the edge of the town of Fuerabamba, who live very close to the centre of operations of Las Bambas and refuse to leave their homes and parcels of land until the company provides them with fair compensation. The minerals are under the ground where their houses sit.

They are the only ones that until now have not left. Over the last two years, more than 400 families have been relocated to a new settlement, half an hour away from the community, named Nueva Fuerabamba (new Fuerabamba).

De Echave said the government should implement a land-use planning law to anticipate potential conflicts over access to natural resources.

With reporting by Alicia Tovar (Lima).

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Economic Growth in Bangladesh: Challenge and Change for Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/economic-growth-in-bangladesh-challenge-and-change-for-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=economic-growth-in-bangladesh-challenge-and-change-for-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/economic-growth-in-bangladesh-challenge-and-change-for-women/#comments Fri, 16 Sep 2016 12:10:25 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146955 In spite of the rising number of women entering the labour force in Bangladesh, gender disparities persist. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

In spite of the rising number of women entering the labour force in Bangladesh, gender disparities persist. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Sep 16 2016 (IPS)

A recent research study “Bangladesh: Looking Beyond Garments” conducted by the Asian Development Bank ADB has revealed that the positive economic turnaround in Bangladesh is largely due the rising presence of women in the workplace.

In a country where the ready-made garment sector has resulted in the employment of roughly 4 million nationals, new opportunities arise.

As the vast majority of the RMG sector is made up by women, the female dominance of this industry can be said to have lead to a new form of economic autonomy, particularly to those who are accustomed to living under the strict restrictions of a traditionally patriarchal society.

The economic “liberty” entices women from poorer backgrounds, eager to provide for their families and free themselves from the heavy chains of impoverishment.

However, many soon come to realise that the garment industry is riddled with contradictions and disappointments. Failure to comply with basic workers rights leads many women down an industrial path paved with false promises and the threat of exploitation.

In a desperate bid to secure employment, women readily subject themselves to harsh working conditions and informal employment in the hopes of one day availing of a fixed contract.

Many may question as to why the exploitation of vulnerable women in the workforce prevails in Bangladesh.

Is it the consequential result of ignorance? Has the hierarchical system of education failed working-class women?

Can lower class women realistically rise above the status of “underpaid laborer” in a country that predominantly regards them as worthless as a result of their gender and “pitiful” economic status?If the labour force participation for women was raised to the same rate as for men, the labour force of Bangladesh would be increased by 43%.

Does anyone truly believe that in a developing country like Bangladesh , poverty-stricken women and girls can alter their circumstances and become economically prosperous in their own right?

Will the perils of exploitation and corporate greed continue to hinder their personal and professional development?

The only thing certain now is that the exploited female workers of Bangladesh are in dire need of solutions.

The ADB “Looking Beyond Garments” report emphasises that in spite of the robust growth of women in the labour force, gender disparities persist. The findings also suggest that while there has been in a significant increase in employment in recent years, the impact left on the labourers has been a far cry from the life-altering opportunity they initially envisioned.

As unsafe working conditions, low earnings, and informal unemployment cease to discontinue in the fast paced, export-oriented garment sector, the ADB urges for a diversification of production.

The ADB believes the exploitation in the garment industry may be weakened if a demand rises for female laborers in the now male-dominated agricultural and manufacturing sectors.

In this way, women could avail of enhanced employment opportunities in workplaces that value their fundamental right to a decent wage and safe working conditions.

Although a high number of Bangladeshis perceive the new wave of female workers as a stepping stone to empowerment, many women are still tied down by the setbacks of “Purdah”, a religious and social practice which restricts their mobility in spite of the economic “independence” work may bring them.

Purdah is defined as the broad set of norms and regulations that advocate for the seclusion of women and enforce their exclusion from public places. The practice of Purdah also entails the segregation of the sexes in the workplace.

A study conducted in rural Bangladesh revealed that women who practiced Purdah spent 60% of their time engaged in household work, whereas men spent the majority of their time engaged in crop cultivation and wage labor.

Women were only granted access to labour in times of hardship, in the fields picking chillies and potatoes when demand for male labor was high.

There are two sides to the argument. On the one hand, employment outside of the home contributes positively to some measures of autonomy for women, on the other, entering the world of labour presents many risks to women in a country plagued by gender-based violence and harassment in all sectors of society, even the workplace.

A further challenge presents itself through the perceived female threat to masculinity. As tradition requires males to take on the status of “sole breadwinner” in the home, many men feel frustrated over the rapidly evolving economic status of women in Bangladesh.

In some cases, the possibility of domestic violence increases as unemployed men experience feelings of humiliation and self-hatred due to economic dependence on their wives or female relatives.

In Bangladesh, this issue is particularly critical as the base level of gender-based violence is extremely high by international standards.

Although many women have secured employment, encouraged by the economic necessity of their families, the setbacks of the age-old tradition of “Purdah” persist.

Oftentimes, women’s paid work is regarded as a temporary measure during a period of financial struggle. Even under these circumstances employment is widely considered as “undesirable” and unfit for a woman whose intrinsic occupation lies within the safe walls of her home.

In lower-class areas, many women who travel to work on a daily basis still require permission from their husbands or other male relatives to travel elsewhere.

In a survey conducted in an urban slum dwelling, 60% of married women who worked outside of their residential area said that they still needed spousal permission to visit a friend.

The problem of restricted mobility is still rampant in many rural areas of Bangladesh today with 44% of married women aged between 20-24 claiming they are not free to make their own decisions about visiting their relatives.

This is why many men fear the autonomy a growing economy can bring to the women of Bangladesh. In urban areas, the fervor for female empowerment has already spread at a steadfast rate. Women are no longer willing to accept the repression tied to traditions past.

A recent research study found that urban women engaged in formal work outside their residences had higher measures of independence, in terms of mobility and decision-making power within the household.

Women in urban areas have increased access to employment. A vast array of employment opportunities results in higher female labour force participation rates, increased accessibility to education and an active decision to marry and conceive children later.

In fact, education levels are drastically improving across the country and the future of Bangladesh’s next generation of empowered women shines bright.

What’s more, Bangladesh has easily reached the Millennium Development Goal of primary and secondary school gender equality: in 2011, there were 110 girls enrolled in primary and secondary schools for every 100 boys, a report by the World Bank confirmed.

As long as this positive trend in education advances and the government of Bangladesh continues to focus on the improvement of conditions for women in the working place, women from all socioeconomic backgrounds will be granted more and more access to information about their rights.

Eventually, the respect they deserve in the workplace will no longer be a privilege, but, a guaranteed right.

It is time we break the barriers blockading the male-dominated working world and recognise the positive contribution women will add to Bangladesh’s economy.

As the ADB “Looking Beyond Garments” report confirms “if the labour force participation for women was raised to the same rate as for men, the labour force of Bangladesh would be increased by 43%.”

With an increased desire for female empowerment coupled with the female-led government’s thirst for equality, soon, the majority of women will not be confined to menial household duties, rather, they will become the driving force behind Bangladesh’s growing economy.

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Global Citizenship Education Aims to Break Down Artificial Barriershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/global-citizenship-education-aims-to-break-down-artificial-barriers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-citizenship-education-aims-to-break-down-artificial-barriers http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/global-citizenship-education-aims-to-break-down-artificial-barriers/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2016 14:22:01 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146913 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/global-citizenship-education-aims-to-break-down-artificial-barriers/feed/ 0 Making African Palm Oil Production Sustainablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/making-african-palm-oil-production-sustainable/#comments Mon, 12 Sep 2016 17:11:02 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146883 A young peasant farmer transports his oil palm fruit harvest on a donkey cart. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A young peasant farmer transports his oil palm fruit harvest on a donkey cart. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA , Sep 12 2016 (IPS)

“In San Lorenzo they cut down the jungle to plant African oil palms. The only reason they didn’t expand more was that indigenous people managed to curb the spread,” Ecuadorean activist Santiago Levy said during the World Conservation Congress.

Levy, the head of the non-governmental Foundation for the Development of Community-based Development Alternatives in the Tropics (ALTROPICO) in the northern Ecuadorean province of Carchi, cited the impacts of the crop in that region near the border with Colombia, since the start of the last decade.

“Infrastructure is needed, as well as a great deal of water for processing, and wastewater that is generated leaks into the soil. I don’t see sustainable oil palm production as possible; it necessarily implies cutting down jungle to plant a monoculture crop,” he told IPS during the congress, which was held in Honolulu, the capital of the U.S. state of Hawaii, in the first 10 days of September.“There is a need to mobilise efforts in order to respond to all problems stemming from oil palm. We should go step by step. First, we have to stop deforestation and then address the intensification of seeding that takes place on degraded land.” – Arnold Sitompul

The expansion of the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) in that Latin American nation in recent years is similar to what has happened in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer.

The cooking oil extracted after the fruit of the oil palm is crushed is used in the food, cosmetics and agrofuel industries, and oil palm fever has infected several countries, leading to clashes over land, deforestation, labour disputes, water pollution, and even murders of local activists.

This legacy casts doubt on the mechanisms fomented by producer nations, the industry, environmental organisations and academics, aimed at achieving sustainable production of palm oil.

A new attempt was promoted by participants in the congress organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Hawaii.

One of the resolutions debated in-depth at the gathering involved the mitigation of the impacts on biodiversity of the expansion of oil palm plantations, and efforts to keep from encroaching on ecosystems as-yet untouched by the industry.

The motion urged the Switzerland-based IUCN, which has 1,200 governmental and non-governmental members, to assess the repercussions of the expansion of African palm plantations with regard to conservation of biodiversity, and to study and define best practices for the sector.

It also called for the creation of a working group to support governments and other actors in setting limits on which ecosystems can be used for the production of palm oil, and urged the members to adopt effective safeguards to protect indigenous peoples who have been victims of the expansion of the crop.

The Hawaii Commitments, the document containing 99 resolutions adopted by the congress, says “The need to provide food for people has resulted in the intensification and industrialisation of agriculture, including aquaculture, while traditionally farmed areas, biodiversity and natural ecosystems have been lost”.

This edition of the congress, which is held every four years by the IUCN and whose theme this year was “Planet at the Crossroads”, drew 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

The first step in the processing of the oil palm fruit, whose oil is in growing demand around the world, with an increasing impact on biodiversity. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The first step in the processing of the oil palm fruit, whose oil is in growing demand around the world, with an increasing impact on biodiversity. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Arnold Sitompul, WWF Indonesia conservation director, said the current model to certify sustainable production of palm oil has not worked, because deforestation and the loss of biological diversity persist.

“There is a need to mobilise efforts in order to respond to all problems stemming from oil palm,” he told IPS. “We should go step by step. First, we have to stop deforestation and then address the intensification of seeding that takes place on degraded land.”

The area planted in oil palm has grown eight-fold in his country since 1985. Since 2011, the Indonesian government has declared moratoriums on the issuance of permits for new plantations, although the activist said they have not been effective in curbing expansion of the crop.

There are some 200,000 sq km of African oil palm worldwide, and palm oil accounts for 23 percent of global demand for oils and fats.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 65.5 million tons of palm oil will be processed in 2016-2017, 10 percent more than in 2015.

In Indonesia, the world’s leading producer of palm oil, the area under cultivation amounts to 80,000 sq km, with annual production of 35 million tons. It is followed by Malaysia (56,000 sq km and 21 million tons) and Thailand (10,000 km and 2.3 million tons).

In Latin America, Colombia, the world’s fourth-largest producer, produces more than one million tons a year on 5,000 sq km. It is followed by Ecuador (560,000 tons on 2,800 sq km), Honduras (545,000 tons on 1,250 sq km, Brazil (340,000 tons on 1,500 sq km), and Guatemala (320,000 tons on 1,500 sq km).

“Sustainable palm oil certification hasn’t worked,” Antony Lynam, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society’s regional technical adviser for Asia, told IPS. “What is needed is to protect forests from oil palm expansion.”

“Certification cannot be a pretext for companies to hurt the environment. It can’t be used as greenwashing,” an environmentalist told IPS during the congress, on condition of anonymity.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which has brought together the different stakeholders since 2004, created a certification system.

A review of the complaints filed with the RSPO grievances mechanism would appear to confirm these conclusions about the production of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO), a complaints have increased since 2014.

Of the total 64 complaints, 40 percent refer to prior informed consent from indigenous people for growing the crop on their territories, 23 percent to conservation problems and 16 percent to pollution and burning of forest and jungle.

Indonesia heads the list, with 35 complaints, followed by Malaysia (13) and Colombia (two). The rest are grievances brought in Brazil, Cameroon, Costa Rica, France, Liberia and Peru.

When the RSPO complaints panel – made up of representatives of companies, banks and environmental organisations – met Jun. 30 in Malaysia it received complaints about violations of labour rights, freedom of movement of indigenous people, failed payments, and impacts on biodiversity.

The RSPO, which groups some 3,000 members from the seven sectors of the palm oil industry, has so far certified 11 million tons of palm oil produced on 22,100 sq km.

The organisation drafted a set of social and environmental criteria which companies must comply with in order to produce CSPO.

These principles include full traceability, compliance with local and international labour rights standards, respect for indigenous rights, preventing clearance of primary forests and other high conservation areas, and the use of clean agricultural practices.

Up to now, CSPO has come from Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Brazil and Colombia and only represents 17 percent of global production.

“It makes no sense to produce biofuels using food. Alternatives to oil crops must be found, with the aim of not hurting the environment,” said Levy.

Sitompul is optimistic. “It’s a good moment to improve the situation. Best practices can be fostered. Indonesia should address value added creation instead of only providing raw materials.

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When It Comes to Conservation, Size Mattershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/when-it-comes-to-conservation-size-matters/#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2016 22:58:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146835 A hall for the sharing of experiences and research among the 9,500 participants in the World Conservation Congress, which among other issues has discussed the benefits and challenges of small-scale conservation, during the sessions held the first 10 days in September in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A hall for the sharing of experiences and research among the 9,500 participants in the World Conservation Congress, which among other issues has discussed the benefits and challenges of small-scale conservation, during the sessions held the first 10 days in September in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA, Sep 7 2016 (IPS)

When the communities living in the Tatamá y Serranía de los Paraguas Natural National Park in the west of Colombia organised in 1996 to defend their land and preserve the ecosystem, they were fighting deforestation, soil degradation and poaching.

Twenty years later, local residents, farmers and community organisations have created four reserves, a brand of coffee and a community radio station, while making progress in conservation of this part of the Chocó-Darién conservation corridor along the border with Panama, although threats persist.

“One of the factors is sustaining the reserves in the long-term and generating benefits for local communities,” said César Franco, founder and director of the community environmental organisation Corporación Serraniagua.“One of the best solutions for conserving protected areas is working with the people on a small-scale. We have a strengthened, organised community that is economically sustainable. That shows it is better to invest in communities rather than just barging in with major infrastructure projects.” -- Grethel Aguilar

The ecologist told IPS that “everything is under threat,” especially from megaprojects, like gold mining and oil prospecting, the loss of secure tenure on community-owned land, and the encroachment of agribusiness plantations, “which destroy family systems.”

Serraniagua is a collective of owners of nature reserves, associations of agrecological farmers, rural women’s networks, and local environmental groups in an area of 2,500 sq km inhabited by some 40,000 people, including indigenous and black communities.

The work of Franco and his fellow activists earned them one of the 15 prizes awarded to “Hotspot Heroes” for their outstanding conservation efforts, by the U.S. Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) during the 2016 World Conservation Congress (WCC) held in Honolulu, Hawaii in the first 10 days of September.

The case of the Tatamá y Serranía de los Paraguas Natural National Park shows the importance of small-scale protection efforts that benefit the environment and local residents, in comparison to large-scale infrastructure works and their enormous impact on ecosystems.

Local action is one of the main themes at this year’s edition of the congress, which is held every four years, organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). On this occasion it is hosted by the U.S. state of Hawaii, and has drawn 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

The congress, whose theme this year is “Planet at the Crossroads”, will produce the Hawaii Commitments, 85 of which were approved by the Switzerland-based IUCN Members’ Assembly, which groups 1,200 governmental and non-governmental members, prior to the Honolulu gathering.

The debate in Honolulu is focused on 14 motions on controversial issues, like compensation for destruction of biodiversity, closing domestic markets for ivory trade, and improved standards for ecotourism.

Three of the resolutions address conservation and the impact of major infrastructure projects like highways, hydroelectric dams, ports, mines and oil drilling.

Grethel Aguilar, IUCN regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, stresses the advantages of small-scale conservation efforts as an alternative to megaprojects, during the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy/IPS

Grethel Aguilar, IUCN regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, stresses the advantages of small-scale conservation efforts as an alternative to megaprojects, during the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy/IPS

In the northwest Mexican state of Nayarit, Heidy Orozco, executive director of the non-governmental Nuiwari Centre for Social Development and Sustainability, emphasises the advantages of allowing the San Pedro River, the last free-flowing river in Mexico’s western Sierra Madre mountains, to remain dam-free.

“The area contains sacred places, mangroves and a biosphere reserve,” the activist, who lives near the river, told IPS in Honolulu. “It is still considered an area of biological and cultural wealth.”

Small farmers produce crops along the middle stretch of the river, while fishing communities make a living on the lower parts.

But the local ecosystem and agriculture, livestock and fisheries are under threat by the government CFE power utility’s plans to build the Las Cruces hydropower dam 65 km north of the city of Tepic, the capital of Nayarit.

The plant is to have an installed capacity of 240 MW and a 188-metre-high dam with a reservoir covering 5,349 hectares.

The Náyeri Indigenous Council and the Intercommunity Council of the San Pedro River, which emerged to fight construction of the dam, complain that it would hurt the Marismas Nacionales Biosphere Reserve, the most extensive mangrove forest system along Mexico’s Pacific coast.

They also complain that it would destroy 14 sacred sites and ceremonial centres of the Náyeri or Cora indigenous people, the Huichol or Wixáritari people, and the Tepehuán people.

In addition, it would flood the town of San Blasito.

The dam’s environmental impact study acknowledges that subsistence farming and small-scale livestock-raising would be lost in the area, but says it would be replaced by new opportunities for fishing in the reservoir.

In Bolivia, small-scale community conservation initiatives coexist dangerously with the construction of megaprojects.

For example, in a mine in the Natural Integrated Management Area of San Matías, in Bolivia’s Pantanal region in the department of Santa Cruz along the border with Brazil, only one hectare has been used over the last 10 years to mine ametrine, also known as bolivianite, a kind of quartz that is a mixture of amethyst and citrine.

This small-scale mine contrasts with the large-scale gold mining in the north of the country.

“Small-scale development is a solution. A number of lessons have been learned, such as the need for benefit-sharing, the creation of effective conservation mechanisms, and respect for laws and agreements that have been reached,” Carmen Miranda, Amazon region coordinator with the Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Community Conserved Areas and Territories (ICCA), told IPS.

In Guatemala, Q’eqchí communities near the Lachuá Lagoon National Park, in the northern department of Alta Verapaz, have restored the forest, grow organic cacao which benefits 150 farmers and their families, to be expanded to 500 this year, produce honey, and make sustainable use of the forest.

“One of the best solutions for conserving protected areas is working with the people on a small-scale. We have a strengthened, organised community that is economically sustainable. That shows it is better to invest in communities rather than just barging in with major infrastructure projects,” said Grethel Aguilar, the regional coordinator of the IUCN office for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Citing an example for IPS, she said that next January the IUCN would launch a project in the jungle in the south of Mexico and northern Guatemala and Belize, with close to nine million dollars in financing from the German Development Bank (KfW), to protect the forest and offer productive opportunities for local residents, who are mainly indigenous.

Franco said “we want to expand the areas under community management. Serraniagua proposes identifying key actions for conserving the forests, which protect the water sources of rural communities.”

Orozco, who is waging her battle a few hundred kilometres to the north, is not willing to accept any hydropower dam. “We will not benefit economically. We want development, public works that will take care of the water, but that don’t affect our culture and identity,” said the activist, whose network has brought several lawsuits against the Las Cruces dam.

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Without Indigenous People, Conservation Is a Halfway Measurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/without-indigenous-people-conservation-is-a-halfway-measure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=without-indigenous-people-conservation-is-a-halfway-measure http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/without-indigenous-people-conservation-is-a-halfway-measure/#comments Mon, 05 Sep 2016 19:18:47 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146793 Srewe Xerente, an indigenous man from Brazil, performs a ritual during a forum on ancestral rights at the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii, where native peoples are demanding greater participation in conservation policies. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Srewe Xerente, an indigenous man from Brazil, performs a ritual during a forum on ancestral rights at the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii, where native peoples are demanding greater participation in conservation policies. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, USA , Sep 5 2016 (IPS)

“You don’t convert your own house in a tourist site,” said Oussou Lio Appolinaire, an activist from Benin, wearing a traditional outfit in vivid yellows and greens. He was referring to opening up to tourists places that are sacred to indigenous people.

Appolinaire, who belongs to the Gun people in the West African country of Benin, heads the indigenous-led sustainable rural development NGO GRABE-Benin. He told IPS that “People suffer displacement from sacred sites. If we lose knowledge, we lose ourselves. The sacred is like life. Conservation is the respect of natural law, of every single element in nature.”“Conservation has been State-centered, despite the poor results. Indigenous people' rights to their lands are not adequately recognised or protected.” -- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

Thanks to the work of GRABE-Benin and other organisations, the government of Benin approved Interministerial Order No.0121 – the first law of its kind in Africa, which protects sacred forests, granting them legal recognition as protected areas that must be sustainably managed.

Benin has more than 2,900 sacred forests, only 90 of which have so far been formally protected.

Appolinaire’s demand for greater participation by indigenous groups in conservation is being voiced by indigenous representatives in the World Conservation Congress, running Sep.1-10 in Honolulu, the capital of the U.S. Pacific Ocean state of Hawaii.

This year’s edition of the congress, which is held every four years by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has drawn 9,500 participants from 192 countries, including delegates from governments, NGOs, and the scientific and business communities.

Indigenous representatives in Honolulu are focusing on problems related to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets – the 20 points contained in the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, adopted in 2010 by the states party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

An assessment carried out in May by the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) of the CBD expressed concern over the scant progress made with respect to capacity-building and participation regarding the biodiversity targets among indigenous and local communities.

Aichi Biodiversity Target 14 states that “By 2020, ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.”

Target 18 refers to respect for “traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and their customary use of biological resources.”

Target 11 is for “at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas,” to be conserved by 2020. But indigenous people are worried that this will run counter to respect for their rights in their traditional ancestral lands.

Indigenous leaders from every continent listen to the report by U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz during the Sep. 1-10 World Conservation Congress in Honolulu. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

Indigenous leaders from every continent listen to the report by U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz during the Sep. 1-10 World Conservation Congress in Honolulu. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

“We agree with conservation, but what needs to be discussed is conservation with rights, exercised by indigenous people,” said Julio Cusurichi, the president of the Peruvian NGO Native Federation of the Madre de Dios River and its Tributaries (FENAMAD) and representative of the Shipibo-Conibo community.

“The government has created natural areas in our territories and they are limiting our activities,” he told IPS. “It would seem that indigenous people are obstacles and have to be removed from our territories.”

In the southeastern department of Madre de Dios in Peru’s Amazon jungle region, 60 percent of the highly biodiverse territory is a natural protected area. It is also home to some 10,000 people belonging to seven of the country’s 54 indigenous groups.

One of the common problems is the tendency of governments to create protected areas in indigenous areas, without a proper consultation process.

The congress, whose theme this year is “Planet at the Crossroads”, will produce the Hawaii Commitments, 85 of which were approved by the Switzerland-based IUCN Members’ Assembly, made up of governments and NGOs, prior to the Honolulu gathering.

The debate in Honolulu is focused on 14 motions on controversial issues, like compensation for destruction of biodiversity, closing domestic markets for ivory trade, and improved standards for ecotourism. Of the 99 resolutions, only eight mention indigenous people.

“There is little participation in the implementation of conservation policies; just because an indigenous person heads up an office doesn’t mean indigenous people are participating,” complained Dolores Cabnal, a member of the Q’eqchí community who is director of policy advocacy in the Guatemalan NGO Ak’Tenamit Association.

Her NGO is active in the eastern Guatemalan department of Izabal, where there are three natural protected areas that are home to both indigenous and black communities. In these areas, local residents depend on agriculture and fishing, which leads to clashes with the authorities because the law on nature reserves makes these activities illegal.

Activists and experts agree that it will be difficult to reach the Aichi Biodiversity Targets without the involvement of native peoples.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz of the Kankanaey Igorot indigenous people of the Philippines, complained that states are ignoring the role of native people.

In visits to Brazil, Colombia, Finland, Guatemala, Honduras, Norway, Paraguay and Sweden, Tauli-Corpuz found violations of the rights to free, prior, and informed consultation, traditional lands, participation, natural resources, compensation for damage, and cultural rights.

“Conservation has been State-centered, despite the poor results. Indigenous people’ rights to their lands are not adequately recognised or protected,” the special rapporteur said during a meeting with indigenous people in Honolulu.

An estimated 50 percent of the world’s protected natural areas have been established on indigenous lands. The proportion is highest in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in countries like the Philippines, India and Nepal in Asia, and Botswana, Cameroon, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania in Africa.

“The problems of indigenous peoples are not only of one country, they’re global. We have to recognise indigenous law, we can’t change laws of nature,” said Appolinaire.

FENAMAD’s Cusurichi, winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, calls for co-management by governments and local communities. “We need secure land tenure and it must include resource management and food security,” he said.

In Guatemala, indigenous organisations plan to present a draft law in Congress for the regulation of their rights, natural protected areas, and extractive activities.

Cabnal said the government should study which peoples are in natural protected areas, why they are there and what they need, rather than trying to drive them out.”

The concerns expressed in Honolulu will also be presented at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD, to be hosted by Cancun, Mexico from Dec. 4-17.

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Big Oil and Activists Unite to Protect Endangered Whaleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/big-oil-and-activists-unite-to-protect-endangered-whales/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=big-oil-and-activists-unite-to-protect-endangered-whales http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/big-oil-and-activists-unite-to-protect-endangered-whales/#comments Mon, 05 Sep 2016 15:37:00 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146790 Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) breaching. Credit: Merrill Gosho, NOAA/public domain

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) breaching. Credit: Merrill Gosho, NOAA/public domain

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 5 2016 (IPS)

A rare case of intensive and decade-long collaboration between Big Oil, scientists and environmental activists has been hailed as a success story in protecting an endangered species of whale from extinction.

In the early 2000s, the western grey whale was thought to number about 115 off the island of Sakhalin in the Russian Far East where they would spend the ice-free summer months feeding before their winter migration. Sakhalin Energy, then majority-owned by Shell, announced plans to expand its oil and gas operations in those waters, kicking off a fierce campaign by NGOs, including WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and others.We started campaigning against this project but now we are part of it.” -- Wendy Elliott, a biologist and senior campaigner at WWF-International

Protests failed to halt Sakhalin Energy but the NGOs crucially succeeded in persuading international banks to place tough conditions on their loans to the company. This included working with an independent group of scientists for the duration of the loans and projects to mitigate the impact on the whales.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature – the world’s largest environmental association of governments and NGOs – convened and administered what became known as the Western Grey Whale Advisory Panel (WGWAP) made up of 13 independent scientists. That was in 2004. Ten years later and the grey whale population was estimated to have grown to 175.

This week, the IUCN, holding its World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, hailed the panel as a “fantastic example” of conservation and how business and environmentalists can work together. NGOs involved in the project agree.

“As an NGO it has been a journey. We started campaigning against this project but now we are part of it,” Wendy Elliott, a biologist and senior campaigner at WWF-International, told a news conference.

What could have become a catastrophe has been a success, she said, calling on other financial institutions to follow this model in imposing conditions when lending to projects that impact bio-diversity.

Stewart Maginnis, IUCN global director of the Nature-based Solutions Group that oversaw the panel, noted that 90 percent of the panel’s 539 recommendations to Sakhalin Energy had been implemented, superseded or were no longer applicable. Crucial proposals that were accepted included changing the route of a proposed pipeline and adopting recommendations for seismic surveys. However it also took another fierce campaign by NGOs in 2011 to persuade Sakhalin Energy not to start building a third platform.

During the panel’s work, monitoring of one female whale, named Varvara by the scientists, found she had migrated in November 2011 from Sakhalin Island across the Pacific to Alaska and all the way south to Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula – a journey of 10,880 km, the longest recorded one-way migration of any mammal.

Maginnis stressed that the critical element in the panel’s success was its freedom and independence to draw up conclusions that were transparent – a process that involved NGO observers attending its plenary meetings with the company.

Deric Quaile, manager of Environmentally Sensitive Areas in Shell, now a minority shareholder in Sakhalin Energy, called the process “fantastic” and an important part of Shell’s “journey” to improve its environmental performance.

“This panel has brought the right balance of knowledge, credibility and authority to advise in an environmentally challenging and sensitive area,” he said. “It shows business and conservation can work together.”

He said the panel experience since 2004 had helped bring about a “shift” in Shell’s approach to environmental issues. “There was a lot of mistrust and disbelief and it took a lot of time in Shell for engineers to realise that it was very useful and made good business sense. Good environmental management is a good business proposition.”

He acknowledged it had been a slow process for the company, but argued that Shell had made strides.

“Responsible environmental management is engrained in the DNA of our corporate culture,” he said.

Such a claim, however, has been hotly challenged.

Shell came under huge pressure from environmental groups before it announced last year it would abandon its Arctic oil operations, having sunk some 7 billion dollars in exploratory drilling. Its public statement blamed a tough regulatory environment by the U.S. but analysts said it was clear other factors were at play, including widespread public opposition and falling oil prices.

And last November, Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development accused Shell of making “blatantly false” claims to have cleaned up heavily polluted areas of the Niger Delta at four oil spill sites.

“By inadequately cleaning up the pollution from its pipelines and wells, Shell is leaving thousands of women, men and children exposed to contaminated land, water and air, in some cases for years or even decades,” Amnesty International said.

A similar panel to WGWAP and also administered by IUCN is working in the Niger Delta advising on oil spill clean-up operations, involving Shell.

Maginnis said the model of WGWAP was “effective and replicable for conflict resolution, to reconcile economic development and conservation.”

However, Elliott of WWF-International warned that in the case of Sakhalin the western grey whale population remained small and that “success is very fragile”.

“There is a situation jeopardising this success,” she said, accusing U.S. oil giant Exxon of putting the western grey whale at risk with its plans to build a pier in one of the Sakhalin island lagoons where the whales feed.

“The panel expressed extensive concerns over this development but they fell on deaf ears,” she said. Experts say the pier is not necessary and an alternative exists.

NGO observers found that Exxon was disregarding its own guidelines, for example by operating boats at speed at night with the danger of hitting whales, Elliott said. She called on Exxon to drop its objections and join the panel.

Exxon did not respond to a request for comment by IPS.

WWF, in an earlier report, quoted Exxon as saying its subsidiary’s plans met Russian environmental requirements, had been approved by the authorities and had all the necessary permits. Operations would start, Exxon said.

IPS asked Maginnis if there was a danger that such panels administered by IUCN could be seen as giving the green light for energy companies to operate in areas where environmentalists would argue that no drilling at all should take place.

Maginnis replied that the IUCN would not endorse such a scientific panel for extractive operations in World Heritage Sites, which he described as “No Go” areas for development. But, in other areas, if governments gave licences and banks gave loans, then the IUCN urged pragmatism.

“There are some clear cases where we would say ‘no’. But we must be pragmatic. Without the (western grey whale) panel, there would have been a continuous decline in population numbers,” he said.

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Yemen’s Children Deserve Betterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/yemens-children-deserve-better/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yemens-children-deserve-better http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/yemens-children-deserve-better/#comments Fri, 02 Sep 2016 13:06:51 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146756 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/yemens-children-deserve-better/feed/ 0 Rich Countries Should Take Development Goals Seriously Toohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/rich-countries-should-to-take-development-goals-seriously-too/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rich-countries-should-to-take-development-goals-seriously-too http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/rich-countries-should-to-take-development-goals-seriously-too/#comments Fri, 02 Sep 2016 06:04:39 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146752 The Sustainable Development Goals projected onto UN Headquarters. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

The Sustainable Development Goals projected onto UN Headquarters. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 2 2016 (IPS)

The UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals apply to all 193 UN member states, yet one year in some say that rich countries aren’t taking their critical role quite as seriously as they should be.

“What is an interesting, but also a scary observation, is (that the Sustainable Development agenda) is taken more seriously in developing countries than in many developed countries right now,” Mogens Lykketoft President of the UN General Assembly told IPS in a recent interview.

“The development agenda is not as it was expressed more or less in the Millennium Development Goals (which ended in 2015), about poor people in poor countries, it’s about all people in all countries,” said Lykketoft.

Lykketoft highlighted several ways that developed countries could contribute to addressing sustainable development, including through addressing climate change, tackling tax evasion and tax havens and improving official development assistance (ODA) (the official name for aid).

“We know that the loss in revenue from rich countries and rich people (taking) their profits from developing countries that loss is much larger than the ODA going the other way,” said Lykketoft.

“We have to strengthen very much the global cooperation against tax evasion and tax havens but we also have in this context to support many developing countries to develop those institutions that are able to cope with the large companies investing in their countries,” he said.

“Challenges such as climate change and inequality don’t observe national boundaries, they require collaboration at the global level. So the SDGs are for all countries to achieve,” Bonian Golmohammadi.

Lykketoft noted that such tax cooperation is currently coordinated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and that there is not consensus between the UN member states to change this.

Lykketoft also described how developed countries need to help developing countries to adapt to and survive climate change.

“A very big part of the transformation needed to have a sustainable future, to avoid climate catastrophes, is investment that has to take place in (the) most developed countries – in their way of using energy, saving energy, production methods and general consumption patterns,” he said.

IPS spoke with representatives from organisations working on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in both developed and developing countries, who all agreed that developed countries have an important role to play in achieving the global goals.

Joh​n Romano, Coordinator of the Transparency, Accountability & Participation (TAP) Network which is closely monitoring how UN member states measure and report on the SDGs, told IPS that it seems like some developed countries are not taking the SDGs as seriously as they should be.

“We saw some developed countries present their voluntary national reports with the claim that they have already achieved many SDGs and targets, and used this as a justification for a narrow focus on just a handful of SDGs as their priorities.”

“The SDGs are meant to be aspirational in nature, so the claim that a country has achieved certain goals or targets only 10 months in to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda is either a discouraging sign that Member States didn’t set their goals high enough, or that they are content with maintaining the status quo and not pushing their ambition to achieve transformative change.”

Kate Carroll. International Research & Policy Coordinator at ActionAid agreed with Romano’s observations. “In our work we are consistently seeing that developed countries have a lot more to do (to achieve) the SDGs.

“They’ve not only got a lot more to do in terms of ensuring that inequalities within their own countries are addressed but also the global ones, and I think climate change is a really good example because it’s such an inescapable part of any global partnership.”

“Looking at developed countries high historical and continued emissions, we’re seeing that then that they are really failing to do more to support developing countries to adapt to climate impacts.”

Other areas where developed countries could be doing more to address global inequality, include addressing preferential treatment in global trade and improving the quality of aid, said Carroll.

However Bonian Golmohammadi, Secretary-General of the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) which has members in over 100 countries, told IPS that the WFUNA has seen both developed and developing countries taking the SDGs seriously.

Golmohammadi agreed that all countries must be involved in order for the goals to be successful.

“Challenges such as climate change and inequality don’t observe national boundaries, they require collaboration at the global level. So the SDGs are for all countries to achieve,” said Golmohammadi.

Ana Marie Argilagos, senior advisor on Equitable Development at the Ford Foundation, also believes that developed countries are taking the SDGs seriously, particularly domestically.

She says that she has seen a lot of interest in the SDGs in the United States, noting that while Americans may use different terminology there is a lot for them to identify with in the goals.

“We just don’t use the word development, we call it community development, we call it economic development, we call it civil rights, we call it social justice,” she says.

“We took all these years, with all of these panels and all of these really smart people, and we had civil society, and they have developed for us a very compelling list of the most important priorities for our generation, so let’s use it,” she said.

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Honduras Still a Death Trap for Environmental Activists Six Months after Berta Cáceres’ Slayinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/honduras-still-a-death-trap-for-environmental-activists-six-months-after-berta-caceres-slaying/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=honduras-still-a-death-trap-for-environmental-activists-six-months-after-berta-caceres-slaying http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/honduras-still-a-death-trap-for-environmental-activists-six-months-after-berta-caceres-slaying/#comments Thu, 01 Sep 2016 14:23:21 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146746 Indigenous women during the March for the Water in Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala in April, 2016. Credit: Amnesty International / Anaïs Taracena.

Indigenous women during the March for the Water in Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala in April, 2016. Credit: Amnesty International / Anaïs Taracena.

By Erika Guevara-Rosas
LONDON, Sep 1 2016 (IPS)

Chills ran down Tomás Gómez Membreño’s spine when he first heard about the brutal murder of his renowned friend and ally, the Honduran Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres, six months ago this week.

A fellow environmental activist and second in command at the Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), Tomás feared he would be next.

Berta’s work was widely and globally acclaimed and had earned her international awards – if someone could violate the sanctuary of her home and shoot her dead, it was too frightening to contemplate what could happen to any of the country’s lesser-known human rights defenders.

Tomás also knew the hopes to have a proper investigation and to ensure the crimes against human rights defenders would not be repeated again were slim, in a country where authorities rarely condone attacks on activists.

Without land to grow food or clean water to drink, entire communities will simply be erased without a trace.

Tragically, he has a point.

Six months after two armed men walked into Berta’s home one evening and murdered her in cold blood, Honduras has become a no-go zone for anybody daring to protect natural resources such as land and water from powerful economic interests.

The numbers say it all.

According to a recent survey by Global Witness, Honduras and neighbouring Guatemala have the two highest rates of murders of environmental activists per capita.

An astounding 65% (122 out of 185) of the murders of human rights defenders working on issues related to land, territory or the environment registered across the world in 2015 were from Latin America. Eight took place in Honduras and 10 in Guatemala alone.

Berta’s killing marked a turning point for what was already a scandalous situation. But her tragic end was hardly surprising; it was a tragedy waiting to happen.

Months before her murder, she had reported a number of serious threats related to her outspoken opposition of the construction of the Agua Zarca dam in the community of Río Blanco, in north-western Honduras.

The local Lenca Indigenous community complains that they were not properly consulted over a plan that would threaten the flow of the Gualcarque River, which is sacred to them and provides them with food and drinking water. COPINH says that if built, it would force the community to relocate as life in the area would become virtually impossible.

But in resource-rich Honduras and Guatemala, it can be a deadly business to dare to defend natural resources that are highly valued in global commodity markets.

Both Central American countries have become ever-more attractive to powerful extractive industries, partly due to increasingly lax laws governing what companies can and cannot do. Meanwhile local communities are continuously squeezed out of the lands on which their survival depends.

The toxic cocktail of threats, bogus charges, smear campaigns, attacks, killings and crumbling judicial systems incapable of delivering justice has made the legitimate business of defending basic human rights a nearly impossible one.

Crimes against activists are rarely properly investigated, which perpetuate further violence. The authorities often blame their country’s weak institutions for the shocking injustice, but conveniently fail to ignore the fact that the absolute lack of political will to protect and support these activists is often what puts them in mortal danger in the first place.

After a great deal of international pressure, the Honduran government initiated an investigation into Berta’s murder and arrested five individuals – but the process is still marred with question marks over its fairness and impartiality. Meanwhile, members of COPINH and Berta’s lawyers continue to be threatened and harassed.

Tomás fears for what can happen to those linked to Berta. Other activists are so afraid they do not even dare to speak their names in public or discuss the threats they routinely face for protecting basic human rights.

But they say stopping their work is not an option. They are the last line of defence – no-one else will defend their communities and rights.

A country’s natural resources – as well as the people who bravely protect them – are among its most precious assets. This is not just for financial considerations. Without land to grow food or clean water to drink, entire communities will simply be erased without a trace.

The solutions to this profound crisis are not simple, but they cannot be ignored.

Investing time and resources in a much-needed overhaul of the Honduran and Guatemalan justice systems to ensure effective investigations into these crimes and putting in place proper protection for those at risk would go a long way to prevent the countries from losing more brave activists like Berta.

There is no time to waste.

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Obama Stresses Climate Change Urgency Ahead of IUCN Congresshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/obama-stresses-climate-change-urgency-ahead-of-iucn-congress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-stresses-climate-change-urgency-ahead-of-iucn-congress http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/obama-stresses-climate-change-urgency-ahead-of-iucn-congress/#comments Thu, 01 Sep 2016 12:41:33 +0000 Guy Dinmore http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146737 An oil palm seedling in a burned peat forest, Indonesia. Motions on the IUCN agenda include mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity. Photo courtesy of Wetlands International.

An oil palm seedling in a burned peat forest, Indonesia. Motions on the IUCN agenda include mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity. Photo courtesy of Wetlands International.

By Guy Dinmore
HONOLULU, Hawaii, Sep 1 2016 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama has stressed the urgency of tackling climate change in a speech to Pacific leaders in his home state of Hawaii.

“No nation, not even one as powerful as the U.S., is immune from a changing climate,” he told the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders at the University of Hawaii’s East-West Center on Wednesday evening.Debates and lobbying behind the scenes could be intense as governments and industries seek to protect their narrower interests from environmental pressure groups.

Obama said the sea was already “swallowing villages” in Alaska and glaciers were melting at an unprecedented pace.

Highlighting his administration’s efforts to combat climate change in its energy policies, the president added: “There is no conflict between a healthy economy and a healthy planet.”

The unusual threat posed to Hawaii this week by two approaching hurricanes underscored the president’s message as the island state also prepared to host the IUCN World Conservation Congress from Sep. 1 to 10. Over 8,300 delegates are expected to attend from more than 180 countries, including heads of state and government, U.N. agencies, NGOs and business leaders.

“Today, the U.S. is proud to host the IUCN Congress for the first time,” Obama said on Wednesday night.

His repeated warnings on climate change were ignored by the national media, however, with the networks firmly fixed on the race to elect his successor, focusing on statements made on immigration by Republican candidate Donald Trump in Mexico. Storm warnings just made the weather report.

The IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature – said Obama was not expected to attend Thursday’s opening ceremony in Honolulu.

Instead he was scheduled to visit Midway Atoll, making his first trip to the world’s largest marine sanctuary which he massively expanded by executive order last week. He then heads to China for G20 talks.

Obama more than quadrupled the size of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument to more than 582,000 square miles of land and sea in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The sanctuary was first established by former president George W. Bush, and IUCN organisers had hoped that their choice of Hawaii to host the World Conservation Congress, held every four years, would prompt Obama in his home state to seek to outdo his predecessor.

Their gamble paid off but the choice of remote Honolulu for the Congress has not been without controversy, with IUCN members expressing dismay at the message contained in the carbon footprint left by thousands of delegates jetting into the city over vast distances.

A small group of protesters also demanded that the U.S. remove its military bases from Hawaii.

The IUCN calls the Congress “the world’s largest and most inclusive environmental decision-making forum” which has the aim of defining the global path for nature conservation for years to come.

“The IUCN Congress will set the course for using nature-based solutions to help move millions out of poverty, creating a more sustainable economy and restoring a healthier relationship with our planet,” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim was quoted by IUCN as saying.

“We’re all in this together. It’s time to be bold. It’s time to take action. There’s no time to lose, so let’s make it count in Hawaii,” commented former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Held under the theme of ‘Planet at the crossroads’, the Congress sets out to emphasise that nature conservation and human progress are not a zero-sum game. “Credible and accessible choices exist that can promote general welfare while supporting and enhancing our planet’s natural assets,” according to the IUCN, which is made up of 1,300 member organisations.

It says key issues to be discussed include wildlife trafficking, ocean conservation, nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and private investment in conservation.

“Around 100 motions are expected to be adopted by this unique global environmental parliament of governments and NGOs, which will then become IUCN Resolutions or Recommendations calling third parties to take action,” the IUCN said.

Motions on the agenda include advancing conservation of biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction; mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity; the end of use of lead in ammunition; protection of primary and ancient forests and protecting biodiversity-rich areas from damaging industrial-scale activities and infrastructure development.

On Sep. 4 the Congress will also unveil the updated IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, said to be the most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of flora and fauna. An Ocean Warming report is to be launched on Sept 5.

Two European delegates, who asked not to be named, said debates and lobbying behind the scenes could be intense as governments and industries sought to protect their narrower interests from environmental pressure groups.

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Indigenous People Demand Shared Benefits from Forest Conservationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indigenous-people-demand-shared-benefits-from-forest-conservation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-people-demand-shared-benefits-from-forest-conservation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indigenous-people-demand-shared-benefits-from-forest-conservation/#comments Wed, 31 Aug 2016 01:25:18 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146726 Emberá leader Cándido Mezúa (holding the microphone) demands that indigenous people be taken into account in climate change mitigation actions and that they share the benefits from forest conservation, during the annual meeting of the international Governors' Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) in Guadalajara, Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy

Emberá leader Cándido Mezúa (holding the microphone) demands that indigenous people be taken into account in climate change mitigation actions and that they share the benefits from forest conservation, during the annual meeting of the international Governors' Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) in Guadalajara, Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy

By Emilio Godoy
GUADALAJARA, Mexico , Aug 31 2016 (IPS)

“Why don’t the authorities put themselves in our shoes?” asked Cándido Mezúa, an indigenous man from Panama, with respect to native peoples’ participation in conservation policies and the sharing of benefits from the protection of forests.

Mezúa, who belongs to the Emberá people and is a member of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, told IPS that “the state should recognise the benefit of this valuable mechanism for long-term sustainability, as a mitigation measure unique to indigenous peoples.”

But little progress has been made with regard to clearly defining the compensation, said the native leader, in an indigenous caucus held during the annual meeting of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF), which is being held Aug. 29 to Sep. 1 in Guadalajara, a city in west-central Mexico.

Mezúa’s demand will also be put forth in the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to take place Nov. 7-18 in Marrakesh, Morocco."(Indigenous organisations) promote our own sustainable development strategies that are brought into line with local, national and international standards and that stand out for the fact that native peoples’ knowledge and practices are at their core.” -- Edwin Vázquez

The idea is for it also to be taken into account on the agenda of the13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to be hosted by Cancun, Mexico from Dec. 4-17.

“The viewpoints of local organisations should be taken into account in the implementation of any activity in their territory,” said Edwin Vázquez, head of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA).

The activist told IPS that indigenous organisations “promote our own sustainable development strategies that are brought into line with local, national and international standards and that stand out for the fact that native peoples’ knowledge and practices are at their core.”

While indigenous organisations hammer out their positions with respect to the COP22 in Marrakesh and the CBD in Cancún, the statement they released in this Mexican city provides a glimpse of the proposals they will set forth.

The “Guiding Principles of Partnership Between Members of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF) and Indigenous Peoples and Traditional Communities” demands that the implementation of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) strategy must incorporate the “full and effective” participation of native peoples and local communities.

The declaration also states that “All initiatives, actions, projects and programmes led by the GCF that concern indigenous peoples and traditional communities must have the participation and direct involvement of local communities through a process of free, prior and informed consent.”

The measures must also “recognise and strengthen the territorial rights of indigenous peoples and local communities,” it adds.

Furthermore, they will promote financing and benefits-sharing mechanisms to be applied in the context of these initiatives and actions.

“Systems of binding social and environmental safeguards will be included,” to help indigenous and local communities face the risks posed by these policies.

The GCF can serve as a laboratory for the performance of the CDB and COP22, because the emphasis of governors focuses strongly on REDD+ plans.

Emberá huts in a clearing in a forest protected by this indigenous people in Panama, in their 4,400-sq-km territory. Native peoples want global climate change accords to recognise the key role they play in protecting forests, and demand to be included in benefits arising from their conservation efforts. Credit: Government of Panama

Emberá huts in a clearing in a forest protected by this indigenous people in Panama, in their 4,400-sq-km territory. Native peoples want global climate change accords to recognise the key role they play in protecting forests, and demand to be included in benefits arising from their conservation efforts. Credit: Government of Panama

REDD+ is a plan of action that finances national programmes in countries of the developing South, to combat deforestation, reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and foment access by participating countries to technical and financial support to these ends.

It forms part of the United Nations Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD Programme) and currently involves 64 countries.

The GCF, created in 2009, groups states and provinces: seven in Brazil, two in the Ivory Coast, one from Spain, two from the United States, six from Indonesia, five from Mexico and one from Peru.

Financed by various U.S. foundations and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, the GCF seeks to advance programmes designed to promote low-emissions rural development and REDD+.

It also works to link these efforts to emerging greenhouse gas (GHG) compliance regimes and other pay-for-performance plans.

More than 25 percent of the world’s tropical forests are in the states and provinces involved in GCF, including more than 75 percent of Brazil’s rainforest and more than half of Indonesia’s.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, storing the carbon in their trunks, branches and roots, which makes it essential to curb deforestation and avoid the release of carbon. In addition, trees play a key role in the water cycle through evaporation and precipitation.

“The conditions must exist for effective participation in the programme preparation stage,” Gustavo Sánchez, the president of the Mexican Network of Rural Forest Organisations, who is taking part in this week’s GCF debates, told IPS.

In their 2014 annual meeting in the northwestern Brazilian state of Acre, the governors assumed a commitment for their regions to reduce deforestation by 80 percent by 2020 through results-based international financing.

For example, Brazil’s GCF states would avoid the release of 3.6 million tons of GHG emissions a year.

From 2000 to 2010, CO2 emissions from deforestation totalled 45 million tons in Mexico.

To cut emissions, Mexico has adopted a zero deforestation goal for 2030. The five Mexican states in the GCF could reduce their CO2 emissions by 21 tons a year by 2020, around half of the total goal.

Peru has offered a 20 percent cut in its emissions, avoiding the release of 159 million tons by 2030 from land-use change and deforestation. The South American country could reduce emissions from deforestation between 42 and 63 million tons annually by that year.

The GCF manages a fund, created in 2013, aimed at guaranteeing and disbursing 50 million dollars a year, starting in 2020, for capacity-building and the execution of innovative projects.

But the GCF did not invite indigenous organisations to form partnerships until 2014.

The countries of Latin America have not yet shown mechanisms of how to use the emissions cuts to ensure results-based payments. But REDD+, criticised by many indigenous and community organisations, is still in diapers in the region, where only Costa Rica will soon start participating in the plan.

Mexico, for its part, is completing its REDD+ National Strategy consultation.

“We have always had traditional climate policies,” said Mezúa. “The GCF can come up with a more complete proposal, with partnerships between different jurisdictions.”

Sánchez said the goals would be met if the administrators of natural resources are included. “The reach will be restricted if we limit ourselves to REDD+ policies, which are still being designed. A mechanism that brings all efforts together is needed.”

Vázquez said it is “decisive” for the process to include “the establishment of safeguards, mechanisms for participation in decision-making and the implementation of action plans, and equal participation in the benefits.”

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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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