Inter Press Service » Civil Society http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 29 Jul 2016 18:43:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 Colombia Includes Gender Focus for a Stable, Lasting Peacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/colombia-includes-gender-focus-for-a-stable-lasting-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=colombia-includes-gender-focus-for-a-stable-lasting-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/colombia-includes-gender-focus-for-a-stable-lasting-peace/#comments Fri, 29 Jul 2016 09:41:50 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146295 Representatives of the gender subcommittee to Colombia’s peace talks alongside the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura (centre-left) and U.N.-Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, during the Jul. 23 presentation of the preliminary results of the novel initiative, in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Karina Terán/U.N.-Women

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

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Jul 29 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Land and inequality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fast-track Development Threatens to Leave Indigenous Peoples Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/fast-track-development-threatens-to-leave-indigenous-peoples-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fast-track-development-threatens-to-leave-indigenous-peoples-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/fast-track-development-threatens-to-leave-indigenous-peoples-behind/#comments Mon, 18 Jul 2016 20:26:39 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146115 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/fast-track-development-threatens-to-leave-indigenous-peoples-behind/feed/ 0 What can Development Banks do to Protect Human Rights?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/what-can-development-banks-do-to-protect-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-can-development-banks-do-to-protect-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/what-can-development-banks-do-to-protect-human-rights/#comments Sun, 17 Jul 2016 01:39:09 +0000 Phillip Kaeding http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146090 Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Phillip Kaeding
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 17 2016 (IPS)

In a petition signed by 150 NGOs, the Coalition for Human Rights in Development have called for development banks to make sure that human rights are respected by their beneficiaries.

Multilateral development banks like the World Bank or the European Investment Bank (EIB) often work with governments and corporations planning mega projects in developing countries. For example, Dutch, Finnish and Central American banks had all funded the Agua Zarca dam in Honduras, the same dam environmental activist Berta Cáceres, was murdered for protesting against.

Organizations like Human Rights Watch and Oxfam say that the financiers also bear responsibilities when local peoples’ rights are abused to help facilitate projects. The petitioners want the development banks to stand up for human rights in the regions where they fund projects.

The new petition states that “Global Witness identified 2015 as the worst year on record for killings of land and environmental defenders, with 185 killings across 16 countries.”

The prominent case of Berta Cáceres is no exception. Soleyana Gebremichael, Ethiopian blogger talked about the situation in her home country at a press conference on Thursday:

“For the last 10 years, the civil society space had been shrinking. Ethiopia enacted two laws in 2009: The first one is the civil society proclamation and the second one was the anti-terrorism proclamation. The civil society proclamation… basically limits the activities of civil society organisations by limiting their resources.”

Gebremichael, who received the International Press Freedom Award with her co-bloggers from Zone 9 in 2015, said that the development banks should work together with civil society organizations on the issues, as a way to work with governments without pressuring them directly.

Often, the banks argue that they do what they can,said Jessica Evans, senior international financial institutions advocate at Human Rights Watch.

“In the case of Uzbekistan, we have been told by World Bank officials that they have behind those doors raised concerns with the government of Uzbekistan about the attacks against the independent human rights defenders that are monitoring forced labor and other human rights abuses linked to the agriculture sector. This had no impact whatsoever,” she said.

How does such a constellation emerge? Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at Civicus, blames entanglements between politics and the economy:

“States are increasingly outsourcing their responsibilities… This leads to an increased avenue to corruption due to collusion among elites. Civil society organizations, when they try to expose these corrupt links between elites, are attacked.”

“What we are seeing is that the multilateral development banks are continuing on business as usual rather than working with the human rights defenders themselves to put pressure on governments and others that are attacking them.” -- Jessica Evans, HRW.

The development banks, Tiwana argues, support growth-oriented development programs as in Ethiopia and therefore ignore other issues. He sees a neoliberal paradigm at the bottom of the problem.

More than the historical and political causes, the practical solution is what international NGOs are now interested in. The petition addressing all major multilateral development banks suggests seven steps:

First, the banks “should systematically analyze the environment for freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, and the realization of other human rights critical for development. Once they have undertaken this analysis they should build it into their country development strategies,” said Evans.

Then, the Coalition emphasizes, policies to increase accountability and secure human rights considerations in every project must be implemented.

The agenda is quite ambitious. But according to Tiwana, it is essential to target the links between financial institutions and governments together with local civil society organizations.

“Development banks often work with large state-entities and state-entities often enable the participation of several private actors, some of them could be linked to very influential people.”

“So the public has a very important role to play in ensuring that the deals that are made… have gone through the constitutional and lawful discourse. And that’s why civil society is extremely important to shine a spotlight on these contracts and on these activities,” he says.

In many ways, the issued statement appeals to the conscience of Western bank managers and policy-makers. New conflict is likely to occur with multilateral banks from the East like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) entering the big stage of development financing. The AIIB is also addressed in the petition.

Months ago, Amnesty International and others pointed out that human rights standards are not the AIIB’s priority. A race to the bottom regarding human rights in development projects is a huge danger in the eyes of the Coalition for Human Rights in Development.

There is a “broader pattern which is emerging as the result of multilateral development banks failing to prioritize public participation in the work that they do and refusing to meaningfully work to prevent reprisals,” says Evans.

“What we are seeing is that the multilateral development banks are continuing on business as usual rather than working with the human rights defenders themselves to put pressure on governments and others that are attacking them.”

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Women Empowerment Holds the Key for Global Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/women-empowerment-holds-the-key-for-global-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-empowerment-holds-the-key-for-global-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/women-empowerment-holds-the-key-for-global-development/#comments Fri, 15 Jul 2016 20:32:35 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146086 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/women-empowerment-holds-the-key-for-global-development/feed/ 0 Indigenous Villages in Honduras Overcome Hunger at Schoolshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/indigenous-villages-in-honduras-overcome-hunger-at-schools/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-villages-in-honduras-overcome-hunger-at-schools http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/indigenous-villages-in-honduras-overcome-hunger-at-schools/#comments Fri, 15 Jul 2016 16:14:53 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146074 Students at the “República de Venezuela” School in the indigenous Lenca village of Coloaca in western Honduras, where they have a vegetable garden to grow produce and at the same time learn about the importance of a healthy and nutritious diet. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Students at the “República de Venezuela” School in the indigenous Lenca village of Coloaca in western Honduras, where they have a vegetable garden to grow produce and at the same time learn about the importance of a healthy and nutritious diet. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
COALACA, Honduras, Jul 15 2016 (IPS)

Barely 11 years old and in the sixth grade of primary school, this student dreams of becoming a farmer in order to produce food so that the children in his community never have to go hungry. Josué Orlando Torres of the indigenous Lenca people lives in a remote corner of the west of Honduras.

He is part of a success story in this village of Coalaca, population 750, in the municipality of Las Flores in the department (province) of Lempira.

Five years ago a Sustainable School Feeding Programme (PAES) was launched in this area. It has improved local children’s nutritional status and enjoys plenty of local, governmental and international participation.

Torres is proud of his school, named for the Republic of Venezuela, where 107 students are supported by their three teachers in their work in a “teaching vegetable garden”. They grow peas and beans, fruit and vegetables that are used daily in their school meals.

Torres told IPS that he did not used to like green vegetables, but now “I’ve started to like them, and I love the fresh salads and green juices.”

Josué Orlando Torres, an 11-year-old student, dreams of becoming a farmer to ensure that children like himself have access to free high-quality food at this school in the indigenous community of Coloaca, where a sustainable school programme is beginning to overcome chronic malnutrition. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Josué Orlando Torres, an 11-year-old student, dreams of becoming a farmer to ensure that children like himself have access to free high-quality food at this school in the indigenous community of Coloaca, where a sustainable school programme is beginning to overcome chronic malnutrition. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“Here they taught us what is good for us to eat, and also to plant produce so that there will always be food for us. We have a vegetable garden in which we all plant coriander, radishes, cucumbers, cassava (yucca), squash (pumpkin), mustard and cress, lettuce, carrots and other nutritious foods,” he said while indicating each plant in the school garden.

When he grows up, Torres does not want to be a doctor, engineer or fireman like other children of his age. He wants to be “a good farmer to grow food to help my community, help kids like me to be well-fed and not to fall asleep in class because they had not eaten and were ill,” as happened before, he said.

The 48 schools scattered throughout Las Flores municipality, together with other schools in Lempira province, especially those located within what is called the dry corridor of Honduras, characterised by poverty and the onslaughts of climate change, are part of a series of sustainable pilot projects being promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and PAES is one of these.

The purpose of these sustainable school projects is to improve the nutritional status of students and at the same time give direct support to small farmers, by means of a comprehensive approach and effective local-local, local-regional and central government-international aid  interactions.

As a result of this effort in indigenous Lenca communities and Ladino (mixed indigenous-white or mestizo) communities such as Coalaca, La Cañada, Belén and Lepaera (all of them in Lempira province), schoolchildren and teachers alike have said goodbye to fizzy drinks and sweets, and undertaken a radical change in their food habits.

Parents, teachers, students, each community and municipal government, three national Secretariats (Ministries) and FAO have joined forces so that these remote Honduran regions may see off the problems of famine and malnutrition that once were rife here.

A family production chain was developed to supply the schools with food for their students, who average over 100 at each educational centre, complementing the school vegetable gardens.

Every Monday, small farmers bring their produce to a central distribution centre, and municipal vehicles distribute it to the schools.

View of Belén, a town that is the head of a rural municipality of the same name amid the mountains of western Honduras, in the department (province) of Lempira, where a programme rooted in local schools is improving nutrition among remote indigenous communities. Credit: Courtesy of Thelma Mejía

View of Belén, a town that is the head of a rural municipality of the same name amid the mountains of western Honduras, in the department (province) of Lempira, where a programme rooted in local schools is improving nutrition among remote indigenous communities. Credit: Courtesy of Thelma Mejía

Erlín Omar Perdomo, from the village of La Cañada in Belén municipality, told IPS: “When FAO first started to organise us we never thought things would go as far as they did, our initial concern was to stave off the hunger there was around here and help our children to be better nourished.”

“But as the project developed, they trained us to become food providers as well. Today this community is supplying 13 schools in Belén with fresh, high-quality produce,” the community leader said with satisfaction.

They organised themselves as savings micro-cooperatives to which members pay small subscriptions and which finance projects or businesses at lowinterest rates and without the need for collateral, as required by banks, or for payment of abusive interest rates, as charged by intermediaries known as “coyotes”.

“We never dreamed the project would reach the size it is today. FAO sent us to Brazil to see for ourselves how food was being supplied to schools by the families of students, but, here we are and this is our story,” said the 36-year-old Perdomo.

“We all participate, we generate income and bring development to our communities, to the extent that now the drop-out rate is practically nil, and our women have also joined the project. They organise themselves in groups to attend the school every week to cook our children’s food,” he said.

Rubenia Cortes, a mother and volunteer cook at the school in the remote village of La Cañada in the department (province) of Lempira, in western Honduras. They cook in a kitchen that was built by parents and teachers at the school. Credit: Courtesy of Thelma Mejía

Rubenia Cortes, a mother and volunteer cook at the school in the remote village of La Cañada in the department (province) of Lempira, in western Honduras. They cook in a kitchen that was built by parents and teachers at the school. Credit: Courtesy of Thelma Mejía

A 2012 report by the World Food Programmme (WFP) indicated that in Central America, Honduras had the second worst child malnutrition levels, after Guatemala. According to the WFP, one in four children suffers from chronic malnutrition, with the worst problems seen in the south and west of the country.

But in Coalaca, La Cañada and other nearby villages and small towns, the situation has begun to be reverted in the past five years. The FAO project is based on the creation of a new nutritional culture; an expert advises and educates local families in eating a healthy and balanced diet.

“We don’t put salt and pepper on our food any more. We have replaced them with aromatic herbs. FAO trained us, teaching us what nutrients were to be found in each vegetable, fruit or pulse, and in what quantities,” said Rubenia Cortes.

“Look, our children now have beautiful skin, not dull like before,” she explained proudly to IPS. Cortes is a cook at the Claudio Barrera school in La Cañada, population 700, part of Belén municipality where there are 32 PAES centres.

Cortes and the other women are all heads of households who do voluntary work to prepare food at the school. “Before, we would sell our oranges and buy fizzy drinks or sweets, but now we do not; it is better to make orange juice for all of us to drink,” she said as an example.

From Monday to Friday, students at the PAES schools have a highly nutritious meal which they eat mid-morning.

The change is remarkable, according to Edwin Cortes, the head teacher of the La Cañada school. “The children no longer fall asleep in class. I used to ask them, ‘Did you understand the lesson?’ But what could they answer? They had come to school on an empty stomach. How could they learn anything?” he exclaimed.

In the view of María Julia Cárdenas, the FAO representative in Honduras, the most valuable thing about this project is that “we can leave the project, but it will not die, because everyone has appropriated it.”

“It is highly sustainable, and models like this one overcome frontiers and barriers, because everyone is united in a common purpose, that of feeding the children,” she told IPS after giving a delegation of experts and Central American Parliamentarians a guided tour of the untold stories that arise in this part of the dry corridor of Honduras.

There are 1.4 million children in primary and basic secondary schooling in Honduras, out of a total population of 8.7 million people. Seven ethnic groups live alongside each other in the country, of which the largest is the Lenca people, a group of just over 400,000 people.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/ Translated by Valerie Dee

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Teachers and Students: Tip of Iceberg of Mexico’s Human Rights Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/teachers-and-students-tip-of-iceberg-of-mexicos-human-rights-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=teachers-and-students-tip-of-iceberg-of-mexicos-human-rights-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/teachers-and-students-tip-of-iceberg-of-mexicos-human-rights-crisis/#comments Thu, 14 Jul 2016 19:07:01 +0000 Ines M Pousadela http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146063 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/teachers-and-students-tip-of-iceberg-of-mexicos-human-rights-crisis/feed/ 0 Civil Society Organizations Worried About Declining Involvementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/civil-society-organizations-worried-about-declining-involvement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-organizations-worried-about-declining-involvement http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/civil-society-organizations-worried-about-declining-involvement/#comments Thu, 14 Jul 2016 02:48:29 +0000 Phillip Kaeding http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146044 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/civil-society-organizations-worried-about-declining-involvement/feed/ 0 Fighting Violence Against Children as a Global Problemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/fighting-violence-against-children-as-a-global-problem/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-violence-against-children-as-a-global-problem http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/fighting-violence-against-children-as-a-global-problem/#comments Wed, 13 Jul 2016 04:06:02 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146020 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/fighting-violence-against-children-as-a-global-problem/feed/ 1 What Does it Really Mean to “Leave No One Behind”? http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/what-does-it-really-mean-to-leave-no-one-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-does-it-really-mean-to-leave-no-one-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/what-does-it-really-mean-to-leave-no-one-behind/#comments Wed, 13 Jul 2016 03:33:30 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146017 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/what-does-it-really-mean-to-leave-no-one-behind/feed/ 0 Latin American Development Depends On Investing In Teenage Girlshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/latin-american-development-depends-on-investing-in-teenage-girls/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-american-development-depends-on-investing-in-teenage-girls http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/latin-american-development-depends-on-investing-in-teenage-girls/#comments Mon, 11 Jul 2016 15:23:23 +0000 Estrella Gutiérrez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145995 Two Mexican teenage girls at their school. Investing in education for teenage girls in Latin America is regarded as the way forward for them to become future drivers of sustainable develpment in their societies. Credit: UNFPA LAC

Two Mexican teenage girls at their school. Investing in education for teenage girls in Latin America is regarded as the way forward for them to become future drivers of sustainable develpment in their societies. Credit: UNFPA LAC

By Estrella Gutiérrez
CARACAS, Jul 11 2016 (IPS)

Latin America’s teenage girls are a crucial force for change and for promoting sustainable development, if the region invests in their rights and the correction of unequal opportunities, according to Luiza Carvalho, the regional head of UN Women.

“An empowered adolescent will know her rights and will stand up for them; she has tools for success and is a driving froce for positive change in her community,” Carvalho told IPS in an interview from the regional headquarters of UN Women in Panama City.

Adolescent girls and boys will have a leading role in their societies when the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development has been completed, she said. One of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is gender equality. Investing in today’s girls will have “a great transformative impact in future,” she said. “Investing in education and protection against violence are important tools for fulfilling the potential of teenage girls and young women,as wellas for promoting gender equality” -- Luiza Carvalho.

The world today has a higher proportion of its population aged between 10 and 24 years old than ever before, with 1.8 billion young people out of a  total population of 7.3 billion. Roughly 20 percent of this age group live in LatinAmerica and the Caribbean, Carvalho said.

According to data given to IPS by the regional office of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 57million of the region’s 634 million people are girls aged between 10 and 19, living mainly in cities.

The theme for this year’s World Population Day, celebrated July 11, is “Investing in Teenage Girls”, on the premise that transforming their present situation to guarantee their right to equality will not only eliminate barriers to their individual potential but will also be decisive for the sustainable development of their countries.

Women Deliver, an international organisation, has calculated the benefits of this investment in financial terms. For every additional 10 percent of girls in school, national GDP rises by an average of three percent; for every extra year of primary schooling a girl has completed, her expected salary as an adult grows by between 10 and 20 percent.

This is fundamental because, as Carvalho pointed out, “lack of economic empowerment, together with generalised gender discrimination and the reinforcemet of traditional stereotypes, negatively affects the capability of women in Latin America and the Caribbean to participate on an equal footing in all aspects of public and private life.”

Luiza Carvalho, regional director of UN Women for Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: UN Women LAC

Luiza Carvalho, regional director of UN Women for Latin America and the Caribbean. Credit: UN Women LAC

That is why “investing in education and protection against violence are important tools for fulfilling the potential of teenage girls and young women,as well as for promoting gender equality,” she said.

Teenage women, she said, “are an especially vulnerable group who face special social, economic and political barriers.” Their empowerment in the region may come up against difficulties such as unwanted pregnancy, forced early marriage or union, gender violence and limited access to education and reproductive health services.”

As an example of these obstacles, the regional director of UN Women said that a Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) study of women aged 15-49 years in 12 countries of the region “reported that for a substantial proportion of these women, their first sexual encounter had been unwanted or coerced.”

Carvalho stressed that “early marriage or union imposed on girls is a major concern in the region, and it significantly affects the exercise of adolescent girls’ rights developing their full potential.”

“It is a form of violence that denies them their childhood, interrupts their education, limits their social development, curtails their opportunities, exposes them to the risk of premature pregnancy at too young an age, or unwanted pregnancy and its possible complications, and increases their risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, including HIV (human immuno-deficiency virus),” she said.

It also increases the girls’ exposure to “becoming victims of violence and abuse,” Carvalho said.

In Carvalho’s view it is very positive that all the countries inthe region have established minimum ages for marriage in their laws, but on the other hand, the laws fix different minimum ages for boys and for girls, and in certain cases such as pregnancy or motherhood, girls may legally marry before they reach the minimum age.

In Latin America, far from diminishing, teenage pregnancies have increased in recent years, due to cultural acceptance of early sexual initiation. As a result, the region ranks second in the world for adolescent birth rates, with an average of 76 live births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 years, second only to sub-Saharan Africa.

Furthermore, 30 percent of Latin American teenage girls do not have access to the contraceptive care services they need, according to UNFPA. Sexual and reproductive health face especially high barriers in this region because of patriarchal,culture, the weight of conservative sectors and the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church.

In Latin America, indigenous teenage girls, together with their rural counterparts, are the group most discriminated against in terms of opportunities and access to education. Credit: Rajesh Krishnan/UN Women

In Latin America, indigenous teenage girls, together with their rural counterparts, are the group most discriminated against in terms of opportunities and access to education. Credit: Rajesh Krishnan/UN Women

In contrast, the region has a good record on education. Over 90 percent of its countries have policies to promote equal access by teenagers to education. Ninety percent of teenage girls have finished their primary school education, although only 78 percent go on to secondary school, according to UNFPA.

The greatest educational access barriers are faced by rural and indigenous teenage girls, who have difficulties for physical access to some education centres. In the case of indigenous and Afro-descendant girls, this is added to inappropriate curricula or the absence of educational materials in their native languages (mother tongues). 

Carvalho highlighted as a positive element that education laws, especially those that have been reformed recently, “have begun to recognise the importance of establishing legal provisions that promote and disseminate human rights, peaceful coexistence and sex education.”

However, she regretted that “direct connections with prevention of violence against women and girls are still incipient.”

In her view, the school curriculum plays an essential role. Including contents and materials “related to human rights and the rights of women and girls, non-violent conflict resolution, co-responsibility and basic education about sexual and reproductive health,” will potentiate more non-violent societies, inside and outside of the classroom, she said.

Carvalho quoted a 2015 study carried out in 13 Latin American countries by UN Women and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which concluded that education systems are failing to prevent violence against girls.

“This is something that must be improved, because it is in the first few years of early childhood that egalitarian role modelling between girls and boys can occur and lay the foundations of the prevention of violence, discrimination, and inequality in all its forms,” she emphasised.

Carvalho said changes should start with something as simple as it is frequently forgotten: “Girls, teenagers and women are rights-holders and entitled to their rights.”

If girls are given “equal access to education, health care, sexual and reproductive education, decent jobs, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes, sustainable economies would be promoted and societies, and humanity as a whole, would benefit,” she concluded. 

Edited by Verónica Firme. Translated by Valerie Dee.

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Girls in Rural Bangladesh Take Back Their Futureshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/girls-in-rural-bangladesh-take-back-their-futures/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=girls-in-rural-bangladesh-take-back-their-futures http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/girls-in-rural-bangladesh-take-back-their-futures/#comments Sat, 09 Jul 2016 12:08:12 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145984 A group of girls attend a Shonglap session in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. The peer leader (left) is discussing adolescent legal rights. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A group of girls attend a Shonglap session in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. The peer leader (left) is discussing adolescent legal rights. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
BHOLA, Bangladesh, Jul 9 2016 (IPS)

Four years ago, Farzana Aktar Ruma, now 18, was almost married off without her consent.

Her parents had settled on someone they considered a reasonably wealthy young man with a good family background, and did not want to miss the opportunity to wed their eldest daughter.

Farzana’s father, Mohammad Yusuf Ali, told IPS, “I thought it was a blessing when the proposal came to me from a family friend who said that the talented groom-to-be has his own business and ready home in the heart of a busy district town in Barisal, not far from where we live.”

No one defies Yusuf, an influential man in Char Nurul Amin village in Bhola, an island district in coastal Bangladesh, where most people depend on agriculture and fishing to make a living.

So, without consulting his daughter, Yusuf promised her as a bride and asked the family to prepare for the wedding."The power of knowledge is the key to success." -- Priyanka Rani Das, who quit school in 2012 due to extreme poverty but has since re-enrolled.

Farzana was only 14 years old and did not want to get married, but she didn’t know where to turn. Then Selina Aktar, who lives nearby, offered to help.

Aktar told IPS, “It was not surprising, but I was [still] shocked at how parents readily accept such marriage proposals without considering the age of their daughters.”

On the eve of the wedding, Aktar arranged a meeting with Farzana’s parents and asked them to call it off and let her stay in high school until she graduated.

Aktar is the facilitator of a seven-member Community Legal Services (CLS) organisation that advises students, parents and others on legal rights, including rights of adolescents.

“After several hours of discussions, we were able to convince Farzana’s parents that an educated girl was more precious than a girl thought to be a burden for her family at her early age,” Aktar said.

Abul Kaiser, a legal aid adviser with COAST, a leading NGO operating in the coastal regions of Bangladesh for more than three decades now, and whose work focuses mostly on social inequalities, told IPS, “The society is cursed with myths and most parents still biased on such medieval beliefs favour early marriage. A girl soon after her puberty is considered a burden to the family and parents look for opportunities to get rid her as soon as possible for so-called ‘protection’ of their daughters.”

To challenge the traditional beliefs that still haunt many communities in this modern age, COAST promotes informal learning through various programmes which they believe make a positive impact.

Executive Director Rezaul Karim Chowdhury told IPS, “The society needs to be empowered with information on the rights of such adolescent girls, and that is what we are facilitating. Most parents who may not have had opportunities of going to schools are expected to behave this way but our approach is to change this mindset so that a sense of acceptance exists.”

At Radio Meghna in south Bhola, Bangladesh, teenaged girls broadcast a programme aimed at preventing early marriage and staying in school. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

At Radio Meghna in south Bhola, Bangladesh, teenaged girls broadcast a programme aimed at preventing early marriage and staying in school. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

 

Radio Meghna, a community radio with limited broadcast frequency operating since February 2015 in south Bhola’s Char Fassion, has been at the forefront of such advocacy programmes.

The station broadcasts targeted programmes focused on dispelling myths through informal learning programmes.

Fatema Aktar Champa, a producer at the radio station, told IPS, “We have a large audience and so we take the opportunity to educate adolescents and also their parents on merits and demerits of early marriage. On various occasions we invite experts almost every day to talk about reproductive health, adolescents’ legal rights, need for education and the values, social injustices and many more allied issues linked to challenges of adolescents.”

Unlike other community radio stations, Radio Meghna is completely run by a team of about 20 adolescent girls.

Khadiza Banu, one of the producers, told IPS, “There is a general feeling that the radio team at Meghna has a wide range of acceptance in the society. On many occasions we broadcast programmes just to build trust on parents’ decisions to prevent early marriage and allow continuing education.”

Education is key to development, and girl’s education is especially important since it is undermined by patriarchal cultural norms.

In Cox’s Bazar district, COAST has taken a different approach to empowering adolescent girls to demand their rights and offering livelihood opportunities.

Despite traditional beliefs that devalue girls’ education, especially in poor, rural areas, adolescent girls in many regions of Bangladesh are getting help from a programme called Shonglap – dialogue that calls for capacity building and developing occupational skills for marginalised groups in society.

Priyanka Rani Das, who quit school in 2012 due to extreme poverty, has joined Shonglap in South Delpara of Khurushkul in coastal Cox’s Bazar district.

Part of a group of 35 adolescent girls, Das, who lost her father in 2009, has been playing a leading role among the girls who meet six days a week in the Shonglap session held at a rented thatched home in a suburb of Delpara.

Shy and soft-spoken, Das told IPS, “I had to drop out of school because I was required to work as a domestic worker and support my family of six.”

A neighbour, Jahanara Begum, who had been attending informal classes at a Shonglap session nearby, convinced Das that completing her education would help her earn a much better living in the long run.

Das told IPS, “I realized that girls are behind and neglected in the man-dominated society because of our lack of knowledge. So I left the job and joined Shonglap where they have demonstrated that the power of knowledge is the key to success.”

Das is one of about 3,000 teenagers in Cox’s Bazaar who returned to school after taking basic refresher classes and life skills training like sewing, repairing electronic goods, rearing domestic animals, running small tea shops, pottery, wood works and other activities that generate income.

Jahangir Alam, programme manager of the Shonglap Programme of COAST that runs the programme in Cox’s Bazar told IPS, “Those who graduate are also supported with interest-free loans to start a business – and so far over 1,600 such girls are regular earning members supporting their families.”

Ruksana Aktar, peer leader of the group in Delpara, said, “Shonglap is basically a platform for less privileged adolescent girls to unite and gather strength through common dialogues. Such chemistry for 12 months gives them the moral strength to regain lost hopes.”

Mosammet Deena Islam, 17, comes from a family of cobblers and had never been to school. Islam always dreamt of pursuing an education but poverty prevented her from going to school, even though schooling is free in Bangladesh.

She joined Shonglap in Delpara and after a few months in the group, she enrolled in a state-run school where she now attends grade 9 classes.

Rashed K Chowdhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), Bangladesh’s leading think-tank advocating for children’s education told IPS, “Educational exclusion for girls is a major problem, especially in socio-cultural context in Bangladesh. Girls are still married early despite stringent laws against such punishable acts.

“Adolescent girls are encouraged to stay home after puberty to ensure ‘security’ and the most common reason is girls are used as earning members to supplement family income.”

Chowdhury said, “I believe such an approach of building opportunities for youth entrepreneurship to poor girls (for income generating activities) who wish to continue education, can considerably change their lives.”

Shonglap, spread over 33 districts in Bangladesh through a network of over 4,600 such groups, aims to give voices to these neglected girls and enable them to negotiate their own rights for life.

The Shonglap programme is being implemented by COAST and other NGOs with funding from Stromme Foundation of Norway.

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Talking Openly – The Way to Prevent Teenage Pregnancyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/talking-openly-the-way-to-prevent-teenage-pregnancy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=talking-openly-the-way-to-prevent-teenage-pregnancy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/talking-openly-the-way-to-prevent-teenage-pregnancy/#comments Fri, 08 Jul 2016 18:39:09 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145981 A teenage mother and her toddler in Bonpland, a rural municipality in the northern province of Misiones in Argentina. Latin America has the second highest regional rate of early pregnancies in the world, after sub-Saharan Africa. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A teenage mother and her toddler in Bonpland, a rural municipality in the northern province of Misiones in Argentina. Latin America has the second highest regional rate of early pregnancies in the world, after sub-Saharan Africa. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 8 2016 (IPS)

In plain and simple language, an Argentine video aimed at teenagers explains how to get sexual pleasure while being careful. Its freedom from taboos is very necessary in Latin American countries where one in five girls becomes a mother by the time she is 19 years old.

“For good sex to happen, both partners have to want it and this is as much about being sure they want it, as about being in the mood or ‘hot’ with desire,” said psychologist Cecilia Saia who made the video “Let’s talk About Sex” (Hablemos de sexo), aimed at adolescents and preadolescents and posted on social networks.

The video was produced by Fundación para Estudio e Investigación de la Mujer (FEIM – Foundation for Women’s Studies and Research) as part of a Take the Non-Pregnancy Test campaign. It was also distributed to teenagers so they “would be able to take free and informed decisions about becoming mothers and fathers.” “Keeping children in the education system or bringing them back into it would be effective interventions to prevent teenage pregnancy. In the same way, creating conditions within the education system to ensure that pregnant teenagers or adolescent mothers can continue their education, would be another intervention with a positive impact” - Alma Virginia Camacho-Hübner.

During the campaign, teenagers of both sexes were given boxes similar in appearance to pregnancy test kits, containing information about teenage pregnancy and the myths surrounding how it is caused, as well as condoms and instructions on how to use them, Mabel Bianco, the president of FEIM, told IPS.

The campaign was broadcast on YouTube and other social networks, with candid messages in the language used by adolescents. “This meant we could reach a large numbers of 14-to-18-year-olds, an age group that such campaigns usually find hard to reach,” she said.

According to FEIM, in Argentina 300 babies a day, or 15 percent of the total, are born to mothers aged under 19.

“This percentage has shown a sustained increase over the last 10 to 15 years, and the proportion of births to girls under 15 years of age has also risen,” Bianco said.

Argentina exemplifies what is happening in the rest of Latin America, which is the world region with the second highest teenage fertility rate, after sub-Saharan Africa. The national rate in Argentina is 76 live births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 years, according to United Nations’ demographic statistics.

In order to call attention to this problem and to the general need to promote the equal development of women, Investing in Teenage Girls is the theme of this year’s World Population Day, to be celebrated July 11.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) states that one in five women in the Southern Cone of South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay) will become a teenage mother, in an area where over 1.2 million babies a year are born to adolescents.

“Early pregnancy and motherhood can bring about health complications for mother and baby, as well as negative impacts over the course of the lives of adolescents,” says a UNFPA report about fertility and teenage motherhood in the Southern Cone.

The report says that “when pregnancy is unplanned, it is a clear indication of the infringement of teenagers’ sexual and reproductive rights and hence of their human rights.”

Alma Virginia Camacho-Hübner, UNFPA sexual and reproductive health adviser for Latin America and the Caribbean, told IPS that teenage pregnancy has implications for individual patients, such as maternal morbidity and mortality associated with the risks involved with unsafe abortions, among other factors.

Prematurity rates and low birthweights are also several-fold higher, especially among mothers younger than 15.

For health services, the costs of prenatal care, childbirth, postnatal care and care of the newborn are far higher than the cost of interventions to prevent pregnancy and promote health education.

“For society as a whole, from a strictly economic point of view, in countries that enjoy a demographic dividend, early motherhood represents an accelerated loss of that demographic dividend,” Camacho-Hübner said from the UNFPA regional headquarters in Panama City.

This is because “instead of increasing economic productivity by having a larger economically active proportion of the population, a rise in early motherhood causes a rapid rise in the dependency ratio, that is the proportion of the population that is not economically active and requires support from family or society,”she said.

The Southern Cone study found that dropping out of school usually preceded getting pregnant.

“Therefore, keeping children in the education system or bringing them back into it would be effective interventions to prevent teenage pregnancy. In the same way, creating conditions within the education system to ensure that pregnant teenagers or adolescent mothers can continue their education, would be another intervention with a positive impact,” Camacho-Hübner said.

In her view, teen pregnancy and motherhood are an issue of inequality which mainly affects women in lower socio-economic strata.

“It is teenagers from the poorest families and with the least education, living in underprivileged geographical regions, that are most prone to becoming adolescent mothers,” she said.

“Becoming mothers at an early age reinforces conditioning and the inequalities in the process by which teenagers who are, and who are not, mothers, effect the transition into adulthood,” she said.

“The main consequence of pregnancy is the interruption of schooling, although in many cases they have already dropped out by the time they become pregnant. But they do not go back to school afterwards because they have to look after the baby,” Bianco said.

“This makes for a poorer future, as these girls will have access to lower-paid jobs and will be able to contribute less to the country’s development. On the personal level, they will have to postpone their adolescence, they cannot go out with friends, go dancing and other typical teen activities,” she said.

Federico Tobar, another UNFPA regional adviser, said that “in addition to strengthening health, education and social services, there must be investment to promote demand, with interventions to motivate young people to build a sustained life project.”

“This involves incorporating economic incentives as well as symbolic remuneration, and also concrete childcare support for teenage mothers so that they can finish school and avoid repeated childbearing, which is frequently seen in these countries,” he told IPS.

Among other positive experiences, Tobar mentioned the Uruguayan initiative “Jóvenes en red” (Young People’s Network) which includes returning to school and work, and promotion of sexual and reproductive health.

“I believe it is important to invest in the education of teenage women, including comprehensive sex education and the capacity to decide whether or not they wish to have children. It is not a question of eliminating all pregnancy in adolescence, but of making it a conscious choice rather than an accident,” Bianco said. 

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez. Translated by Valerie Dee.

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Crisis of the Lefthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/crisis-of-the-left/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=crisis-of-the-left http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/07/crisis-of-the-left/#comments Tue, 05 Jul 2016 20:20:11 +0000 Umair Javed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145941 By Umair Javed
Jul 5 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Over the last few years, quite a few countries have witnessed the rise of social movements against inequality, xenophobia, and fiscal austerity. The most notable of these are the Occupy movement and Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the US, Syriza and Podemos in continental Europe, and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the Momentum campaign in Britain’s Labour party.

humairy_Amongst those opposing the established political order, some are insurgent movements within an existing party structure, like Corbyn and Sanders, while others are new parties cobbled together by grassroots activists, rookie politicians, and disgruntled progressives from existing organisations. At their heart is the assertion that contemporary centre-left and social democratic parties have failed to address fundamental problems of inequality, social stagnation, and working class despair in their societies. In quite a few instances, there is the added allegation (often true) that established parties and their leaderships are vehicles for elite interests, and represent no divergence from conservative politics.

The success rate of the ‘new left’, as it is often called, is patchy. Sanders had a remarkable run but fell short of the presidential nomination. Corbyn’s popularity amongst activists is strong but his position as head of the Labour party is under extreme pressure from elected MPs and the party establishment. Syriza’s anti-austerity agenda stands diluted after confronting the realities of an entangled economy and a rigid EU leadership. Podemos and its allied progressive groups seemed strong but only managed third place in recently concluded general elections in Spain.

Whichever way one looks at the new left, it is impossible to deny that mainstream progressive politics is facing a crisis of legitimacy.

Their success or failure notwithstanding, these movements and campaigns are part of a political reality because of a confluence of factors. Most wealth and income data shows rising inequality across much of the developed (and parts of the developing) world.

While poverty may have gone down, and those classified as ‘poor’ are objectively much better off today than at other points in the past, both the actual gap within society and perceptions of deprivation are rising. The ensuing anger and despair amongst those less fortunate shows that existing, pro-market government policy is partly (if not wholly) unsuccessful in addressing a key problem. This anger and despair is thus largely directed towards the political mainstream.

Secondly, the profession of mainstream politics is both highly exclusive, in terms of who can be a politician and who can’t, and heavily contingent on private funding. The first condition means mainstream politicians are now increasingly a separate ‘political class’, reliant on elite social networks and far removed from society and the constituents they claim to represent.

The second factor afflicts all corners of the world as party financing, campaign funding, and the general cost of being in politics makes it far more responsive to wealth than to deprivation. Therefore, a new generation of activists is keen on challenging this status quo.

Thirdly, over the past decade the internet and higher education institutions have become hubs for alternative ideas of liberal varieties. This has given rise to a new liberal middle-class segment that broadly ascribes to notions of cosmopolitanism, identity politics, social democracy, and environmental sustainability. East and West Coast liberals in the US and their counterparts in London and other metropolitan cities thus serve as core constituents for new progressive social movements.

Whichever way one looks at the new left, it is impossible to deny that mainstream progressive politics is facing a crisis of legitimacy and capability. Parties elected on social democratic platforms, such as Dilma Rouseff’s PT in Brazil, find themselves caught between their patronage-based reality on one hand and their lofty ideas of redistribution and welfare on the other.

The Blairite Labour party in the UK, long reliant on the liberal middle-class and working-class vote, is caught between a commitment to cosmopolitanism and neoliberalism versus a rising tide of anger against globalisation and cultural change. As a result, conservative and racially charged forces, such as Le Pen, Trump, and the ‘leave’ camp in the Brexit referendum, have positioned themselves as the ‘real representatives’ of the disenfranchised.

The final outcome is a fracturing of politics into many pieces. You have the new social movements that are successful in attracting some support but are alien in language and form to large swathes of the underprivileged. Both Sanders’ lack of resonance in the Deep South and the ‘remain’ camp’s loss in working-class towns in England capture this reality.

On the other hand, you have established ‘moderates’ who are trying to hold together a coalition of elites and the disadvantaged by promising something for everyone. Hillary Clinton and the Blairite camp in Labour represent this reformist tendency, which is splitting at the seams and is increasingly vulnerable to populist outsiders.

Writing presciently in the early 20th century, Italian activist and philosopher Antonio Gramsci looked at turmoil in his country and remarked: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

There is no doubt that the old consensus of social democracy, established by mainstream centre-left and liberal parties, is dying. Globalisation, the wholesale adoption of neoliberalism, and an onslaught from conservative forces has made long-term survival impossible. There is also little doubt that its supposed replacement, the new progressive order represented by new social movements and leaders like Sanders and Corbyn, is not yet born. They may be likeable and popular amongst the ideologically committed, but their organisational base is weak and the system of inequality they’re confronting is designed to keep them irrelevant.

In this period of vacuum, we are left with the morbid symptoms of populist right-wing rage, xenophobia and cultural backlash. And barring some remarkable organising efforts and creative thinking amongst progressive forces, it seems the morbidity will persist for the foreseeable future.

The writer is a freelance columnist. umairjaved@lumsalumni.pk
Twitter: @umairjav

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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North and South Face Off Over “Right to the City”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/north-and-south-face-off-over-right-to-the-city/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=north-and-south-face-off-over-right-to-the-city http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/north-and-south-face-off-over-right-to-the-city/#comments Thu, 30 Jun 2016 20:38:59 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145893 Panama City, one of the fastest growing metropolises in Latin America. The Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) will be held in Quito in October and will adopt the New Urban Agenda. Credit: Emilo Godoy/IPS

Panama City, one of the fastest growing metropolises in Latin America. The Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) will be held in Quito in October and will adopt the New Urban Agenda. Credit: Emilo Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jun 30 2016 (IPS)

The declaration that will be presented for approval at the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in October has again sparked conflict between the opposing positions taken by the industrial North and the developing South.

The aim of the conference, to be held in Quito, Ecuador from October 17-20,  is to reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable urban development with a “New Urban Agenda,” the outcome strategy of Habitat III.

Developing countries want the declaration to include the right to the city, financing for  the New Urban Agenda that will be agreed at the meeting, and restructuring of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) to implement the agreed commitments. “Long term goals must be put in place that will generate management indicators that can be measured by governments and civil society. Experience related to the social production of habitat should be taken into account, (like that of) people living in informal settlements who have built cities with their capabilities and skills.” - Juan Duhalde

Another bloc, headed by the United States, Japan and the countries of the European Union, is striving to minimise these issues.

In the view of representatives of civil society organisations, these issues should be incorporated into the “Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements for All,” the draft of which is currently being debated by member states in a several rounds of preparatory meetings.

Juan Duhalde, head of the Social Research Centre at Un Techo para mi País (A Roof for my Country), a Santiago-based international non governmental organisation, told IPS that these are “key” issues and must be included as part of the discussion and be reflected in a concrete action plan.

“They are the general guidelines that will inform national public policies. The only way forward is for these commitments to be translated into long term agreements for the future. Right now discussions are mainly political and may fall short when it comes to bringing about the progress that is required,” said Duhalde.

The Chilean researcher stressed that “the right to the city goes hand in hand with achieving a paradigm shift away from the present situation, which is biased in favour of profitability for an elite rather than collective welfare for all.”

Stark North-South differences were plainly to be seen at the first round of informal intergovernmental talks held May 16-20 in New York. They will continue to fuel the debate at further informal sessions, the first of which will last three days and is due to end on Friday, July 1.

In the run-up to Habitat III, to be hosted by Quito in October, Ecuador and France are co-chairing the preliminary negotiations. The Philippines and Mexico are acting as co- facilitators.

Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Mexico lead a bloc promoting the right to the city. Together with defined mechanisms to follow up the declaration, funding for the New Urban Agenda and implementation measures, the right to the city is major irritant at the talks. Among implementation measures is the creation of a fund to strengthen capabilities in developing countries.

The right to the city, a term coined by French philosopher Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991) in his 1968 book of the same title, refers to a number of simultaneously exercised rights of urban dwellers, such as the rights to food and housing, migration, health and education, a healthy environment, public spaces, political participation and non discrimination.

Household possessions dumped on the pavement: a family was evicted from the historic centre of Mexico City. The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) will address the right to the city and the problems faced by people living in informal settlements. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

Household possessions dumped on the pavement: a family was evicted from the historic centre of Mexico City. The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) will address the right to the city and the problems faced by people living in informal settlements. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

Lorena Zárate, head of the non governmental Habitat International Coalition (HIC) which has regional headquarters in Mexico City, advocates the inclusion of social production of habitat in the declaration. However, it is not explicitly mentioned in the draft declaration.

“We want it to be included, as otherwise it would mean turning a blind eye to half or one-third of what has been constructed in the world. But there is little room to negotiate new additions, because they are afraid of acknowledgeing them, and consensuses have to be built,” said the Argentine-born Zárate, who is participating in the New York meetings.

The concept recognises all those processes that lead to the creation of habitable spaces, urban components and housing, carried out as the initiatives of self-builders and other not-for-profit social agents.

The most recent version of the draft declaration, dated June 18, bases its vision “on the concept of “cities for all” recognises that in some some countries this is “understood as the Right to the City, seeking to ensure that all inhabitants, of present and future generations, are able to inhabit, use, and produce just, inclusive, accessible and sustainable cities, which exist as a common good essential to quality of life.”

States party to the declaration emphasise “the need to carry out the follow-up and review of the New Urban Agenda in order to ensure its effective and timely implementation and progressive impact, as well as its inclusiveness, legitimacy and accountability.”

Moreover they stress the importance of strengthening the Agenda and its monitoring process, and invite the U.N. General Assembly to “guarantee stable, adequate and reliable financial resources, and enhance the capability of developing nations” for designing, planning and implementing and sustainably managing urban and other settlements.

They also request that UN-Habitat prepare a periodic progress report on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, to provide quantitative and qualitative analysis of the progress achieved.

The process of report preparation should incorporate the views of national, sub-national and local governments, as well as the United Nations System, including regional commissions, stakeholders from multilateral organizations, civil society, the private sector, communities, and other groups and non-state actors, the draft declaration says.

A building being renovated in Havana, Cuba. Developing countries want the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development to provide the necessary funding to promote the New Urban Agenda, to be adopted by UN-Habitat. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

A building being renovated in Havana, Cuba. Developing countries want the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development to provide the necessary funding to promote the New Urban Agenda, to be adopted by UN-Habitat. Credit: Courtesy of Emilio Godoy

The outline of the draft declaration report has section headings on sustainable and inclusive urban prosperity and opportunities for all; sustainable urban development for social inclusion and the eradication of poverty; environmentally sound and resilient urban development; planning and managing urban spatial development; means of implementation and review.

“It’s (like) a soap opera saga. Right now we are trying to contribute ideas to strengthen the proposal for the right to the city. In the draft, this issue is diluted out; we do not want it to be further diluted,” a Latin American official participating in the negotiations told IPS.

“The United States and China do not want the text to contain references to human rights,” the official added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It is expected that the draft declaration will be finalised at the meeting of the Habitat III preparatory committee (PrepCom3) to be held July 25-27 in Indonesia, and be presented for approval by U.N. member states at the full Habitat III conference in Quito.

To avoid a repetition of the sequels to the 1976 Vancouver Habitat I conference and the 1996 Habitat II conference in Istanbul, which were not evaluated afterwards, Duhalde and Zárate both wish to see a comprehensive review and follow-up programme established.

“Long term goals must be included and management indicators must be created that can be measured by governments and social actors. The experience in social production of habitat acquired by people living in informal settlements who have built cities with their capabilities and skills must be taken into account,” said Duhalde.

“We are keen to see the generation of evidence and promotion of research into real problems on the ground, in order to generate practical solutions,” he said.

In Zárate’s view, progress cannot be made in debating a new agenda without having evaluated fulfillment of the previous programme goals.

“There must be a means of discerning what is new and what is still ongoing, what has been successfully done and what has not been achieved, why some things were done and why some were not, and what actors have been involved. There have never been clear mechanisms for review monitoring nor for prioritisation,” she said.

“We are adamant that this should not happen again. But they are not going to include goals or indicators, and there is not much clarity about review and monitoring mechanisms,” she said.

The Latin American official consulted by IPS downplayed the likely achievements of the summit. “Habitat III will only be a reference point. There will be no major changes overnight after October 21. National governments will do whatever they intend to do, with their own resources, their own political and social forces, and their own governance,” he predicted.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez. Translated by Valerie Dee.

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Post-War Truth and Justice Still Elusive in Bougainvillehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/post-war-truth-and-justice-still-elusive-in-bougainville/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=post-war-truth-and-justice-still-elusive-in-bougainville http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/post-war-truth-and-justice-still-elusive-in-bougainville/#comments Thu, 30 Jun 2016 13:24:25 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145886 Buildings gutted and scarred by the Bougainville civil war are still visible in the main central town of Arawa. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Buildings gutted and scarred by the Bougainville civil war are still visible in the main central town of Arawa. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
ARAWA, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, Jun 30 2016 (IPS)

Almost every family in the islands of Bougainville, an autonomous region of about 300,000 people in the Pacific Island state of Papua New Guinea, has a story to tell of death and suffering during the decade long civil war (1989-1998), known as ‘the Crisis.’

Yet fifteen years after the 2001 peace agreement, there is no accurate information about the scale of atrocities which occurred to inform ongoing peace and reconciliation efforts being supported by the government and international donors. Now members of civil society and grassroots communities are concerned that lack of truth telling and transitional justice is hindering durable reconciliation.

“I believe there should be a truth telling program here and I think the timing is right,” Helen Hakena, Director of the Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency, a local non-government organisation, told IPS.

“It is nearly twenty years [since the conflict] and some people have moved on with their lives, while there are others who have just cut off all sense of belonging because they are still hurting.”

Bernard Unabali, Catholic Bishop of Bougainville, concurs. “Truth is absolutely necessary, there is no doubt it is an absolutely necessary thing for peace and justice,” he declared.“People have been accused of killing others during the Crisis and that has carried on in the form of recent killings." -- Rosemary Dekaung

In these tropical rainforest covered islands it is estimated that around 20,000 people, or 10 percent of the population at the time, lost their lives and 60,000 were displaced as the Papua New Guinean military and armed revolutionary groups fought for territorial control. The conflict erupted in 1989 after indigenous landowners, outraged at loss of customary land, environmental devastation and socioeconomic inequality associated with the Rio Tinto majority-owned Panguna copper mine in Central Bougainville, launched a successful campaign to shut it down.

“There is a lot to be done on truth telling. When we talk about the Crisis-related problems our ideas are all mangled together and we are just talking on the surface, not really uprooting what is beneath, what really happened,” said Barbara Tanne, Executive Officer of the Bougainville Women’s Federation in the capital, Buka.

Judicial and non-judicial forms of truth and justice are widely perceived by experts as essential for post-war reconciliation. The wisdom is that if a violent past is left unaddressed, trauma, social divisions and mistrust will remain and fester into further forms of conflict.

Failure to address wartime abuses in Bougainville is considered a factor in resurgent payback and sorcery-related violence, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reports. A study of 1,743 people in Bougainville published last year by the UNDP revealed that one in five men had engaged in sorcery-related violence, while one in two men and one in four women had been witnesses.

Rosemary Dekaung believes that recent witchcraft killings in her rural community of Domakungwida, Central Bougainville, have their origins in the Crisis.

“People have been accused of killing others during the Crisis and that has carried on in the form of recent killings,” she said.

Stephanie Elizah, the Bougainville Government’s Acting Director of Peace, said that transitional justice is a sensitive topic with the ex-combatants due to the partial amnesty period which was agreed to apply only to the period of 1988 to 1995. However, she admits that many reconciliations taking place are not addressing the extent of grievances.

“From feedback from communities that have gone through reconciliation we know that it has not truly addressed a lot of the issues that individuals have….the victims, the perpetrators, those who have been involved in some form of injustice to the next human being; some of them have been allowed to just go and be forgotten,” Elizah said.

International law endorses the rights of any person who has suffered atrocities to know the truth of events, to know the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives and see justice done.

In 2014 the Bougainville Government introduced a new missing persons policy, which aims to assist families locate and retrieve the remains of loved ones who disappeared during the Crisis, but excludes compensation or bringing perpetrators to justice.

It is yet to be implemented with three years to go before Bougainville plans a referendum on Independence in 2019.

“A truth commission must be established so people can tell the truth before they make their choice for the political future of Bougainville. Because when we decide our choice, problems associated with the conflict must be addressed,” Alex Amon Jr, President of the Suir Youth Federation, North Bougainville, declared.

Hakena believes there are repercussions if transitional justice doesn’t occur.

“It is happening now. Elderly people are passing on their negative experiences to their sons, who have not experienced that, and who will continue to hate the perpetrator’s family. Years later some of these kids will not know why they hate those people and there will be repercussions,” she elaborated.

The government is planning a review of its peace and security framework this year during which there will be an opportunity to explore people’s views on transitional justice, Elizah said.

The benefits of establishing a truth commission include a state-endorsed public platform for everyone to have their stories heard, give testimony of human rights abuses for possible further investigation and for recommendations to be made on legal and institutional reforms.

At the grassroots, people also point to the immense potential of implementing more widely customary processes of truth telling that have been used for generations.

“We do have traditional ceremonies where everybody comes together, the perpetrators and the victims and all others who are affected and they will thrash and throw out everything. That is very much like a truth commission, where, in the end, they say this is what we did,” Rosemary Moses at the Bougainville Women’s Federation in Arawa said.

Unabali agreed that durable peace should be built first on traditional truth telling mechanisms, which had widespread legitimacy in the minds of individuals and communities, even if a truth commission was also considered.

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Why I Started SMART ALEC – Lobbying for the Public Goodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/why-i-started-smart-alec-lobbying-for-the-public-good/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-i-started-smart-alec-lobbying-for-the-public-good http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/why-i-started-smart-alec-lobbying-for-the-public-good/#comments Tue, 28 Jun 2016 18:19:24 +0000 Matthew Charles Cardinale http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145854 Protest outside the ALEC Headquarters in Washington DC March 29, 2012. Against ALEC, the NRA, and "Stand Your Ground" laws. Credit: LaDawna Howard/cc by 2.0

Protest outside the ALEC Headquarters in Washington DC March 29, 2012. Against ALEC, the NRA, and "Stand Your Ground" laws. Credit: LaDawna Howard/cc by 2.0

By Matthew Charles Cardinale
PORTLAND, Oregon, Jun 28 2016 (IPS)

For many years, as a reporter, including for IPS, I wrote about the dominance of a giant, corporate-funded lobbying organization called ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), on public policy in the United States.

In recent years, public uproar about the influence of ALEC resulted in campaigns for major corporations to divest from ALEC.  Several major corporations did pull out, although the wealthy Koch brothers and many corporations still provide ALEC with millions of dollars every year.

ALEC takes some of the most regressive, harmful ideas and puts them into the form of draft laws, or model bills, for Republican-led State Legislatures to adopt – one after another, after another.

Whether laws to make it harder to vote, or to privatize education and privatize prisons, or require U.S. families receiving food assistance to take drug tests, ALEC has provided the templates for one U.S. state after another to replicate these ideas into law.

Well, in 2013, I began to study law at Gonzaga University, and in 2014, I wrote a Model Bill for something called Affordable Housing Impact Statements.

Specifically, the bill requires cities and counties to prepare an “Impact Statement” every time they consider any decision that would have an impact on the amount of affordable housing in that city or county.

This Model Ordinance took an idea that had been successful in two cities–San Diego, California; and Austin, Texas–and added some new features, including a Scorecard to keep track of how many housing units would be added or subtracted at each income level.

I worked with the City of Atlanta, Georgia, which adopted it in November 2015, and am now working with four other cities–New Orleans, Louisiana; Los Angeles, California; Albany, New York; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–which are also considering it.

With the rapid success of the model bill in so many cities, it occurred to me that this was the work of a progressive alternative to ALEC – and wouldn’t it be funny if we called it SMART ALEC?

It is supposed to be a “smart” alternative to ALEC.  [In the U.S., the term “smart aleck” refers comically to someone who behaves as if they know everything – so the name SMART ALEC has a double meaning that amuses people.]

SMART ALEC stands for State and Municipal Action for Results Today / Agenda for Legislative Empowerment and Collaboration.

So, in March 2016, I created the new nonprofit organization, and am serving as CEO.  The Board of Directors now includes Dr. Dwanda Farmer, one of the nation’s few PhDs in Community Development; Barbara Payne, former director of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation; and Christian Seppa, an activist.

Not only do we intend to promote progressive policies around the environment and affordable housing–basically the opposite of what ALEC promotes–we intend to do it in a way that is completely transparent and participatory.

We want to take back “lobbying” as a positive word.

In the United States, where vast concentration of wealth and corporate power has caused the average citizen to feel disempowered, as if they cannot make a difference in democracy, the word “lobbyist” has become a synonym for “devil.”

But we cannot let them have this word!  Just because corporations have become so adept at pushing their regressive, conservative proposals using the democratic process, so must we citizens become adept as doing the same.

SMART ALEC’s goal is to empower low-income, homeless, and marginalized people to make a meaningful difference in shaping, and advocating for, policy solutions.

The urgency of our environmental crises and affordable housing crises require that we work quickly to take the best solutions at the local levels of cities and states, and quickly replicate them.

Every day we are looking at the solutions being produced by civil society from all regions of the country; and we are inspired also by the bold solutions being pursued by our fellow “smart alecks” on every continent.

There is great experimentation happening, but we cannot experiment forever – so, let’s copy; paste; repeat.

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

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Civil Society Under Serious Attackhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-under-serious-attack http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 22:51:25 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145847 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-under-serious-attack/feed/ 0