Inter Press ServiceCivil Society – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 16 Jan 2018 17:32:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.4 Pardon of Former Peruvian President Fujimori Deals Blow to Fight Against Gender Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/pardon-former-peruvian-president-fujimori-deals-blow-fight-gender-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pardon-former-peruvian-president-fujimori-deals-blow-fight-gender-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/pardon-former-peruvian-president-fujimori-deals-blow-fight-gender-violence/#respond Mon, 15 Jan 2018 19:15:25 +0000 Mariela Jara http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153871 The political crisis triggered in Peru by the presidential pardon of former president Alberto Fujimori granted on Christmas Eve casts a shadow of doubt over what actions will be taken to curb violence against women in this country, where 116 femicides were registered in 2017, and which ranks eighth with respect to gender-related murders in […]

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Peru ended 2017 with 116 victims of femicide and 223 women who survived this gender-based crime. Credit: Courtesy of Julia Vicuña

Peru ended 2017 with 116 victims of femicide and 223 women who survived this gender-based crime. Credit: Courtesy of Julia Vicuña

By Mariela Jara
LIMA, Jan 15 2018 (IPS)

The political crisis triggered in Peru by the presidential pardon of former president Alberto Fujimori granted on Christmas Eve casts a shadow of doubt over what actions will be taken to curb violence against women in this country, where 116 femicides were registered in 2017, and which ranks eighth with respect to gender-related murders in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“The pardon devalues the actions that the government may undertake to achieve a life without violence, because it has released one of the worst violators of the human rights of women,” said Liz Meléndez, director of the non-governmental Flora Tristán Women’s Centre.

Meléndez pointed out that in the 1990s, Fujimori was responsible for a public policy that forcibly sterilised more than 200,000 Andean indigenous peasant women, a crime for which he will not be investigated or penalised since he was granted a presidential pardon.

“This impunity is outrageous,” she said, since due to problems of access to justice, poverty and discrimination, it was only possible to put together a file of 2,074 cases.

The distrust towards the government’s actions was accentuated by the official designation of 2018 as the year of Dialogue and Reconciliation, a phrase coined by current President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to justify the pardon granted to the ex-convict, sentenced for corruption and human rights violations.

It rankled even more given that Decade of Equal Opportunities for Women and Men is beginning.

“The declaration of the Decade warns us that the gender focus will continue to be undermined, as happened throughout 2017, by the pressure of conservative groups, whose representatives are likely to be part of the next new cabinet; and we are worried that there may be setbacks in the fight against violence against women, despite the advances in legislation and regulations,” said Meléndez.

Peru is in fact, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women, one of the countries in the region with laws, plans and public policies against gender violence, specific legislation against femicide (gender-related murders), and new laws such as the elimination of prison benefits for those sentenced for rape, passed in 2017.

However, crime rates remain high.

Conference given by women’s collectives in Peru on Nov. 25, 2017 in the Flora Tristán Centre to announce the march for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The centre’s director Liz Meléndez is holding the microphone. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

Conference given by women’s collectives in Peru on Nov. 25, 2017 in the Flora Tristán Centre to announce the march for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The centre’s director Liz Meléndez is holding the microphone. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

According to statistics from the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations (MIMP), between 2009 and 2017, there were 2,275 cases of gender-based violence: 991 femicides and 1,275 attempts. In this country there is an average of 10 murders of women for gender reasons per month.

The MIMP reported that last year ended with 116 victims of femicide and 223 women survivors of this kind of crime. The majority of cases, 79 percent, occurred in urban areas.

In almost 80 percent of the cases, the aggressors were men with an intimate relationship with the victims, 90.4 percent of whom were adult women.

This places Peru in eighth place in terms of femicide in the region, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and in fourth place compared to the countries in the Southern Cone of South America.

In Peru, seven out of 10 women suffer physical, psychological or sexual abuse on a routine basis by their partners, according to the Demographic and Family Health Survey (ENDES 2016), despite the current legal and regulatory framework.

Precisely to call attention to the need to act more effectively in the face of this scourge, the Ombudsman’s Office, an autonomous government body, carried out a campaign in November and December to declare 2018 as the “Year of equality and non-violence against women.”

The proposal received broad support, the commissioner at the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Women’s Rights of that public body, Patricia Sarmiento, had told IPS before the government declared the Decade of Equal Opportunities for Women and Men.

Commissioner at the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Women’s Rights of the Peruvian Ombudsman's Office, Patricia Sarmiento. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

Commissioner at the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Women’s Rights of the Peruvian Ombudsman’s Office, Patricia Sarmiento. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

Sarmiento said her institution has contributed to preventing, punishing and eradicating violence against women and other members of the family carried out in the public or private sphere, under Law 30,364.

She was referring to the training of judges and police to eradicate the mistaken belief that they can apply a reconciliation mechanism in cases of violence against women committed by an intimate partner. “That is unacceptable,” she said.

“Unfortunately, this idea reaches the victims, so some believe that when they are insulted or pushed it is not an act of violence and can be subject to reconciliation, and that is what leads us to continue perpetuating this situation in the country,” Sarmiento added.

Another recommendation is to grant a budget allocation to the police for it to provide adequate protection measures for the victims. “The institution lacks sufficient logistics, staff and equipment, such as for example a georeferenced map to monitor the cases,” she said.

A 2015 report by the ombudsman’s office, based on the analysis of court records of cases of gender-based violence, reveals that in 30 percent of femicides, the victims had brought complaints against their aggressors for domestic violence.

“One of the cases was of a woman who had filed complaints four times and did not receive protection. That cannot keep happening,” said Sarmiento.

In February 2017, a similar case occurred in the central highlands region of Ayacucho, where lawyer Evelyn Corahua was murdered after reporting an attempted femicide, and requested protection measures.

“A sufficient budget is needed for proper enforcement of the law and for the implementation of policies to eradicate gender violence. Otherwise the law will only be dead letter,” Sarmiento warned.

Civil society organisations such as the Flora Tristán Centre are worried about the degree of political will that the new cabinet, named after Fujimori was granted his pardon, will have.

Melendez, the director of the organisation, said that in the face of the cruelty shown in cases of gender violence in 2017, the main challenge for this year must be to strengthen prevention.

“That would entail ensuring comprehensive sex education with a gender focus in the classroom, something that unfortunately with this government remains in question,” she said. “It is clear that the current crisis will impact the management of public policies and will affect the fight against violence against women.”

This view is shared by human rights activists and feminists through the social networks, as is the case of lawyer Patricia Carrillo, who participated in the marches against Fujimori’s pardon and in those promoted by women’s organisations for the right to live without violence. “They want to silence us but they will not succeed,” Carrillo said, in dialogue with IPS.

“Declaring the decade in this way, without taking into consideration what was proposed by the ombudsman’s office, undermines our demand for equality and non-discrimination based on gender,” she lamented. “We do not want equal opportunities in the same conditions of oppression as men, our space of struggle will continue on the streets,” she said.

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Philippines Most Dangerous Country in Southeast Asia for Journalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/philippines-dangerous-country-southeast-asia-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=philippines-dangerous-country-southeast-asia-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/philippines-dangerous-country-southeast-asia-journalists/#respond Wed, 10 Jan 2018 22:05:14 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153815 It’s not just suspected drug users and dealers at risk of targeted killing in the Philippines. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) reported last week that the Philippines is the most dangerous country in Southeast Asia for journalists. Globally, the island nation came sixth on the list of most murderous countries. Joaquin Brinoes, Rudy Alicaway, […]

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A police commando stands guard as forensics investigators unearth the victims of the Ampatuan massacre. Credit: InterAksyon file photo

A police commando stands guard as forensics investigators unearth the victims of the Ampatuan massacre. Credit: InterAksyon file photo

By Pascal Laureyn
MANILA, Jan 10 2018 (IPS)

It’s not just suspected drug users and dealers at risk of targeted killing in the Philippines. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) reported last week that the Philippines is the most dangerous country in Southeast Asia for journalists. Globally, the island nation came sixth on the list of most murderous countries.

Joaquin Brinoes, Rudy Alicaway, Leodoro Diaz and Crisenciano Ibon Lozada. These are new names to be added to a tragic roster of killed journalists. In August, a gunman shot columnist Crisenciano Ibon in the back and seriously wounded his driver. The police speculate the attack may have been in retaliation for his columns criticizing illegal gambling. He had received many death threats.

Broadcaster Rudy Alicaway and columnist Leodoro Diaz were attacked within two days time. They were both riding motorcycles when gunmen came up behind and shot them dead. Their murders are likely linked to their reports on political corruption, underground gambling and the drug trade. Journalist Joaquin Briones was killed the same way. He was known for his hard-hitting radio program.

There is a fifth killing, not included in the statistics of IFJ. In August, Michael Marasigan, a respected former newspaper editor, was shot dead in a Manila suburb. Rodrigo Duterte’s administration says it is doing all it can to apprehend those responsible. But so far, no arrests have been made.

President Duterte is a vocal critic of the press. Even before he took office, as president-elect, he sent a chilling message to the press corps: “Just because you’re a journalist, you’re not exempted from assassination if you are a son of a bitch,” he said at a press conference. “Free speech won’t save you, my dear.”

Need for independent reporting

The numbers of journalists being killed are dropping in recent years. But there is no room for complacency, says IFJ. Only a year ago, the Philippines was reported to be the second most dangerous country for journalists in the past 25 years. Only Iraq had more deaths. And in the Philippines, the IFJ warned, unprecedented numbers of journalists were jailed or forced to flee, self-censorship was widespread and impunity for the killings, harassment, attacks and threats against independent journalism was running at epidemic levels.

In September, Edito Mapayo, the editor-in-chief of Diaryo Balita, a local newspaper on the Mindanao island, was choked and punched by Surigao del Norte Vice Mayor Francisco Matugas Gonzales. And in August, a government official filed a libel case against ABS-CBN’s broadcast journalist Ted Failon and three members of his staff. They were looking into the “allegedly irregular purchase of secondhand motorcycles for Pope Francis’ visit to Manila in 2014”.

The country is in great need of independent journalists to report on human rights abuses, like the continuing war on drugs and the extended martial law in Mindanao. According to Human Rights Watch, the war on drugs has claimed 12,000 lives since president Rodrigo Duterte decided to purify his people from the evil of cheap drugs. Critics say he doesn’t let the law get in the way of his mission.

Last month, Congress approved Duterte’s request to extend martial law on the southern island of Mindanao until Dec. 31, 2018. UN special rapporteurs Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Cecilia Jimenez-Damary released a statement on Jan. 3 saying  that the Lumads, the non-Muslim indigenous people living on Mindanao, are suffering from the island’s ongoing militarisation.

“Thousands of Lumads have already been forcibly displaced by the conflict and have seen their houses and livelihoods destroyed,” the experts said in their statement. There were also reports indicating that military forces had killed local farmers in early December.

The restive island of Mindanao is also the location of the single deadliest event for journalists in history. The Maguindanao massacre is named after the town where mass graves where found in November 2009. A convoy was on route to file a candidacy for local elections when it was attacked. Fifty-eight people were killed, including at least 34 journalists.

‘End impunity’

“We welcome the reduction for the third year in a row in the loss of life suffered by journalists and media staff during 2017,” says IFJ President Philippe Leruth. “While this represents a downward trend, the levels of violence in journalism remain unacceptably high. We find it most disturbing that governments refuse to tackle the impunity for these crimes targeting journalists. Instead, the patterns don’t change in the most violent countries.”

While Mexico and India are extremely dangerous places for journalists, no region was spared the scourge of violence, including Western democracies. Investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia of Malta paid for her pursuit of the truth with her life. She was killed by a car bomb after she reported on government corruption, nepotism, patronage and allegations of money laundering.

“There is a safety crisis in journalism,” added IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger. “There is a desperate need for a new instrument that finally would make it possible to implement a numerous of existing resolutions on media protection. We urge the adoption of this new convention to sustain other ongoing efforts to further promote the safety of journalists.”

In anticipation of such a guarantee for the safety of journalists, a few brave Philippinos are working hard to maintain an independent press.

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Can Uganda Reduce Financial Exclusion to 5% in 5 Years?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/can-uganda-reduce-financial-exclusion-5-5-years/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-uganda-reduce-financial-exclusion-5-5-years http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/can-uganda-reduce-financial-exclusion-5-5-years/#respond Wed, 10 Jan 2018 19:06:11 +0000 Nathan Were http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153810 Nathan Were, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a global partnership of more than 30 leading organizations that seek to advance financial inclusion.

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A financially excluded smallholder farmer in northern Uganda opens the lock box where he keeps his savings. Credit: Allison Shelley for CGAP

By Nathan Were
WASHINGTON DC, Jan 10 2018 (IPS)

In October 2017, Uganda launched a new five-year National Financial Inclusion Strategy. The strategy seeks to reduce financial exclusion from 15 to 5 percent by 2022 by ensuring that all Ugandans have access to and use a broad range of quality and affordable financial services.

But what are some of Uganda’s key challenges, and how is the strategy supposed to achieve this ambitious goal?

Uganda has made a lot of progress in financial inclusion as a result of financial sector reforms that started in the 1990s, such as interest rate liberation, reductions in directed credit and legal and regulatory changes. These reforms have improved people’s access to financial services through banks, regulated microfinance institutions and mobile financial services providers (FSPs).

According to FinScope 2013, 54 percent of Ugandans are now formally financially included, while 32 percent use informal financial services like savings and credit cooperative organizations (SACCOs).

These are important gains, but Uganda still faces significant financial inclusion challenges. Here are a few of those challenges and some thoughts on how the new strategy aims to tackle them.

Reduce access barriers to financial services

According to the 2013 FinScope Survey, only 16 percent of Ugandans live within 1 km of a point of service for a bank. The situation is better when it comes to mobile money, as 54 percent of the population lives within 1 km of a point of service. Yet even when people make it to a bank branch or mobile money agent, there are other barriers to confront, particularly in rural areas.

These include know-your-customer (KYC) requirements, lack of liquidity at agents, GSM network coverage and high interest rates that can range from 22 to 25 percent per annum. Uganda’s new strategy takes aim at these challenges with an emphasis on making it easier for youth (ages 15 – 17) to open accounts.

KYC is especially difficult in Uganda, so it is nice to see that the strategy calls for an electronic payments gateway to facilitate digital KYC. In 2016, CGAP’s nationally representative smallholder household survey found that only 61 percent of smallholder families had a national ID. Current KYC rules also make it difficult for small businesses, many of which are unregistered, to become merchants, further limiting the growth of the digital financial services ecosystem. Digital KYC will enable FSPs to access businesses’ and individuals’ identity information.

The government’s recognition that a one-size-fits-all KYC requirement doesn’t work is a positive development and a promise that we might see tiered, custom KYC requirements for excluded segments.

Build up the digital infrastructure

Roughly 74 percent of Ugandans live in sparsely populated rural areas where FSPs do not have an incentive to build costly brick-and-mortar branches. The lack of competition in these areas means the rural poor often face limited access to financial services, high transaction fees, poor customer service and loss of money through fake financial institutions.

Uganda plans to address these gaps by supporting companies to provide low-cost, interoperable digital services. Interoperability will make payments easier and produce cost efficiencies for providers. Uganda will also encourage financial-sector players to design customer-friendly interfaces for products and services, such as USSD code menus in local languages.

The strategy’s focus on simple user interfaces and on educating customers throughout the customer journey will be key to increasing the use of digital financial services, especially given the low levels of digital literacy in Uganda. The focus on USSD is especially important given the low smartphone penetration. However, the issue of mobile money transaction fees needs to be addressed, as it remains one of the biggest barriers in mobile money use cases.

Deepen and broaden formal savings, investment and insurance use

According to Uganda’s National Social Security Fund, 11 million Ugandans (26 percent of the population) don’t have any form of social security. Insurance penetration is also low at just under 3 percent, and the ratio of domestic savings to GDP is only 13 percent. These challenges mean that many Ugandans have few ways to deal with financial shocks, such as poor harvests or family illnesses.

The new financial inclusion strategy proposes a host of strategies to tackle these challenges, from adopting a national policy on insurance and pension sector liberalization to strengthening rural financial intermediaries through regulation. SACCOs can become strong delivery mechanisms for reaching people in rural areas, but they face liquidity challenges, governance issues, low skills capacity, fraud and political interference. Limited innovation in products is also a major challenge. FSPs will need support to adopt more human-centered design approaches to design relevant products.

Increase the availability of agricultural credit

In Uganda’s mostly agricultural economy, micro, small and medium enterprises and smallholder families often struggle to get credit, which limits their ability to grow and create jobs. According to the Bank of Uganda’s state of the economy report 2016, credit flow to agriculture stands at a paltry 10 percent of total credit. Uganda’s strategy recognizes that agriculture is the engine for the economy.

To make credit more available in the sector, the strategy addresses a few key barriers such as credit reference bureaus’ limited coverage of smallholders, sparse rural access points, weak public awareness about the importance of credit history and challenges around communal property rights. Beyond addressing these issues, Uganda will need to find a way to tap into the vast amount of informal credit input data available at large agricultural buyers to further strengthen smallholders’ credit histories and position smallholders for easy access to credit and other financial services.

Empower and protect individuals with enhanced financial capability

Issues like low digital literacy and data protection are becoming more urgent as poor people make the leap from traditional to digital financial services. Uganda’s new strategy proposes a review of the national financial literacy strategy and FSPs’ consumer protection practices, as well as routine regulatory checks on providers.

Other measures include periodic demand-side needs studies and data sharing among FSPs to improve product development. Greater consumer literacy will empower customers to understand product terms and conditions and help them to make informed choices about financial products and services.

Will these measures get Uganda to its 5 percent goal?

Overall, Uganda’s new strategy clearly addresses the key financial inclusion challenges it faces. The strategy focuses on the most important financial inclusion enablers, such as progressive regulation, flexible and custom KYC, infrastructure to support scale at low cost and customer centricity. Considering these strengths and the progress Uganda has already made with recent financial sector reforms, cutting financial exclusion to 5 percent by 2022 is achievable.

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How Low-Income Bangladeshis Use Loanshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/low-income-bangladeshis-use-loans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=low-income-bangladeshis-use-loans http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/low-income-bangladeshis-use-loans/#comments Mon, 08 Jan 2018 17:07:55 +0000 Stuart Rutherford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153786 Stuart Rutherford, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a global partnership of more than 30 leading organizations that seek to advance financial inclusion.

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Stuart Rutherford, Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), a global partnership of more than 30 leading organizations that seek to advance financial inclusion.

By Stuart Rutherford
WASHINGTON DC, Jan 8 2018 (IPS)

Bangladeshis have a long tradition of borrowing from family, neighbors and other informal sources. Microfinance institutions (MFIs) have proliferated over the past three decades and offer a more formal loan service that has been taken up with enthusiasm, and today some 25 million Bangladeshis borrow from MFIs.

Rickshaw driver Ram Babu took MFI loans so that he’d have cash on hand to pay medical bills for his sick mother. Credit: Stuart Rutherford

But how are these MFI loans used? Do people take them for the same reasons they borrow from informal sources, or do they use MFI loans differently?

To help answer questions like these, the Hrishipara daily diaries project tracks all the daily money transactions of a group of poor respondents in central Bangladesh. For 40 of our diarists, we have data for more than two years.

We recorded them borrowing between them 954 times from both MFIs and informal sources, for a total value of 6.7 million Bangladesh taka (about PPP$210,000). Then we watched what happened next. Here are two key observations from the exercise.

Borrowers spend informal loans more swiftly

MFI loans are rarely less than $300 in value, whereas informal loans range from a few dollars up to several thousand. To make sure we compared like with like, we took 50 loans of each kind with a value of at least $300 and for which we have records of the borrower’s subsequent transactions.

Perhaps the most striking difference between MFI and informal loans is how soon they are used. Informal loans are spent quickly: Our data show a major expenditure of at least 80 percent of the value of the loan on the same day that an informal loan was taken in almost half the cases, and within one week in all but 18 percent of cases. Two-thirds of MFI loans, by contrast, show no clear corresponding expenditure in the week following receipt of the loan.

When were loan proceeds spent? (%)

Informal loans are used for a single purpose, while MFI loan use is more nuanced

To understand why informal loans are used faster, it helps to look at the uses to which the loans are put. Informal loans are most often used for a single purpose, like paying for a ceremony, setting up a business, buying land, dealing with an emergency or paying for work migration. Some MFI loans are taken for these purposes, of course, but they also have other uses. Here are some of them:
On-lending to others. Seven of the 50 MFI loans, but only one informal loan, were on-lent to others. MFIs usually disburse loans on an annual cycle, so borrowers may get a loan at a time when they have no immediate use for it, leading them to on-lend. It may take time to find a good borrower. The pressure MFI fieldworkers put on clients to accept loans may also lead borrowers to lend them out to others, for lack of other profitable uses for them. This was observed in two of the seven cases.

Repaying debt. Twelve of the MFI loans were used to repay other private or MFI debt, but only six informal loans were used that way (and then only in part). This is often because of the annual loan disbursement rhythm of MFIs. Clients borrow privately for some urgent need at the time it arises, and then, when they are next eligible for an MFI loan, they take it to “refinance” the private loan. MFI loans are cheaper than some private on-interest loans, and some borrowers find it easier to repay MFI loans week-by-week than to find a large lump sum to repay a private loan in full.

Held in reserve. We were surprised to find how often MFI loans are held at home (or in a shop) as a liquidity reserve, rather than spent. At least 18 of the 50 MFI loans were used in this way, as opposed to two informal loans. For example, Ram Babu is an extreme-poor rickshaw driver with three daughters, a wife and a sick mother to support. He kept taking MFI loans to ensure he would have cash on hand should his mother’s health take a turn for the worse. After his mother died, he stopped taking MFI loans. The MFI repayment schedule — small weekly amounts over many months — makes this behavior possible and may well encourage it. It imitates the “little and often” set-asides of regular savings accounts or of informal deposit-takers like the susu collectors of West Africa.

The MFI loan – a substitute for savings?

Informal loans are usually taken for a single purpose and used quickly. Some MFI loans are used in the same way, but MFI loans serve other purposes, like refinancing private debt and ensuring that cash reserves are always available. As such, they offer an expensive but attractive substitute for a savings regime.

Our findings show how Bangladeshis have learned to use MFI and informal loans in tandem, exploiting the best features of each. Far from consigning informal borrowing to the history books, formal innovations like MFI lending tend to strengthen informal practices.

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Argentine Soldiers Rest in Peace in the Malvinas/Falkland Islandshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/argentine-soldiers-died-malvinasfalkland-islands-rest-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentine-soldiers-died-malvinasfalkland-islands-rest-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/argentine-soldiers-died-malvinasfalkland-islands-rest-peace/#respond Thu, 04 Jan 2018 14:01:23 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153740 Julio Aro, a veteran of the 1982 Malvinas/Falklands war, returned to the islands in 2008. When he visited the Argentine Military Cemetery he found 121 tombs that read: “Argentine soldier only known by God”, and he resolved to return their identity to his fellow soldiers. Today he can say that, to a large extent, he […]

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Julio Aro in the Argentine Military Cemetery (or Darwin Cemetery), in Malvinas/Falkland Islands. The former combatant worked since 2008 with the aim of identifying the Argentine soldiers buried on the islands. Credit: Courtesy of Julio Aro

Julio Aro in the Argentine Military Cemetery (or Darwin Cemetery), in Malvinas/Falkland Islands. The former combatant worked since 2008 with the aim of identifying the Argentine soldiers buried on the islands. Credit: Courtesy of Julio Aro

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 4 2018 (IPS)

Julio Aro, a veteran of the 1982 Malvinas/Falklands war, returned to the islands in 2008. When he visited the Argentine Military Cemetery he found 121 tombs that read: “Argentine soldier only known by God”, and he resolved to return their identity to his fellow soldiers. Today he can say that, to a large extent, he has achieved his goal.

More than 35 years after the war between Argentina and Great Britain in the South Atlantic, 88 Argentine families are receiving news that those soldiers who never returned home – their sons, husbands, or brothers – were identified and are buried in the Darwin Cemetery.

“In some cases, the family members are given rings, crucifixes, gloves or other belongings that had been buried with the bodies. It’s very moving,” said Julio Aro in an interview with IPS.

“The families all react differently. Some are happy, some are sad… I met a father who still hoped his son would return from the islands. It has been 35 years of anguish because these people have been subjected to enormous cruelty,” he added.

The process of truth and reparations is expected to be concluded in March or April, when a ceremony will be held on the Malvinas/Falklands islands, with relatives of the fallen, where the names of the previously unidentified soldiers will be placed at each grave.

Increasingly weakened and up against the wall because of revelations of its human rights violations, the 1976-1983 Argentine military dictatorship invaded the Malvinas/Falkland Islands in 1982, in response to a long-standing nationalist aspiration shared even today by a large part of the population of this South American country: to recover the Islands occupied by Great Britain since 1833.

However, the British government of prime minister Margaret Thatcher reacted quickly sending troops to the South Atlantic, and in two months defeated Argentina, which suffered 649 casualties. Britain regained control of the islands, which aggravated the crisis facing the Argentine military government and paved the way for the country to return to democracy the following year.

The initiative to try to heal the wound that remained open for many families began in December 2016 with an agreement between Argentina and Great Britain, which gave rise to the so-called Humanitarian Project Plan (PPH).

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was entrusted to identify the Argentine soldiers buried in anonymous graves in the Malvinas/Falklands.

In June 2017, after a long period of interviews and collecting DNA samples from 107 relatives who had never recovered their loved ones, a team of 14 forensic experts from Argentina, Australia, Chile, Great Britain, Mexico and Spain disembarked in the Malvinas/Falklands.

Luis Fondebrider and Mercedes Doretti belong to the prestigious Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), who together with forensic experts from other countries managed to identify 88 Argentine soldiers buried in the Malvinas/Falklands islands, 35 years after the war. Credit: Daniel Gutman / IPS

Luis Fondebrider and Mercedes Doretti belong to the prestigious Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), who together with forensic experts from other countries managed to identify 88 Argentine soldiers buried in the Malvinas/Falklands islands, 35 years after the war. Credit: Daniel Gutman / IPS

For seven weeks, in the middle of the cold Southern hemisphere winter on the islands, the experts worked at the cemetery, exhuming 122 corpses (there were 121 graves, but one of them held two bodies), taking DNA samples at a morgue temporarily fitted out with hi-tech equipment, placing the remains in new coffins and burying them again in the same graves.

The genetic analysis of the samples and the comparison with the ones taken from the relatives were later carried out in the laboratory of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) in Córdoba, whose forensic experts participated in the whole process. In parallel, two other laboratories from Great Britain and Spain carried out a cross-comparison and confirmed the results.

The EAAF is a prestigious multidisciplinary team created in 1984 to identify the remains of victims of forced disappearance killed by Argentina’s military dictatorship.

Since then, the EAAF has been working in many countries around the world identifying remains of victims of human rights violations, supporting processes of truth, justice and reparation.

Forensic anthropologist Luis Fondebrider, director of the EAAF, explained to IPS that despite the time that had passed, the bodies in the Darwin cemetery were in relatively good condition due to the work carried out in 1982 by British colonel Geoffrey Cardozo.

“When the war ended, Cardozo spent six weeks gathering all the bodies of Argentine soldiers who were on the battlefield or in the cemetery of Puerto Argentino (Port Stanley, capital of the Malvinas/Falklands). Then he resolved to create a military cemetery, with geat dignity and respect for the fallen,” said Fondebrider.

Fondebrider said that each body, before being buried was wrapped together with its belongings in three bags by Cardozo, who also made a map with references to the cemetery and a report.

That map and report were safeguarded by Cardozo for decades. In 2008, the British officer gave it to former Argentine combatant Julio Aro, when he visited London invited by a group of local war veterans.

Aro was obsessed with the need to identify the Argentine soldiers buried in the Malvinas/Falklands, and Cardozo knew that the documents would be of great help.

“I had returned to the Malvinas more than 25 years after the war to find a bit of the person I had left there in 1982,” Aro said.

“And when I saw those tombs with that inscription, I could not stand it,” he recalled.

Aro then began knocking on doors, convinced that one day the families who had never heard again from their loved ones could obtain an answer.

In 2011, when everything seemed more difficult than ever, Gaby Cociffi, a journalist who had covered the war and got involved in the project, was given the email address of British rock star Roger Waters, who was on a world tour that attracted crowds and would be performing in Buenos Aires the following year.

Waters quickly became publicly involved in the cause and, when he was received at the Casa Rosada government house by the then Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, he raised the issue.

It was then that Fernández took the issue into her own hands, and on Apr. 2, 2012, on the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Malvinas/Falklands war, she announced that she had sent a letter to the ICRC, asking it to intercede with Great Britain to try to identify the Argentine soldiers.” Now, finally, their families can have peace.

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Uncertainty Surrounds Renegotiation of NAFTA and Its Consequences for Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/uncertainty-surrounds-renegotiation-nafta-consequences-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uncertainty-surrounds-renegotiation-nafta-consequences-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/uncertainty-surrounds-renegotiation-nafta-consequences-mexico/#comments Wed, 03 Jan 2018 16:32:20 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153721 The first few months of 2018 will be key to defining the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), whose renegotiation due to the insistence of U.S. President Donald Trump has Mexico on edge because of the potential economic and social consequences. After five rounds of ministerial negotiations, which began in August, the […]

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Religion: Between ‘Power’ and ‘Force’http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/religion-power-force/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=religion-power-force http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/religion-power-force/#comments Wed, 03 Jan 2018 07:53:29 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153716 Azza Karam, is Senior Advisor UNFPA; Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion

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Azza Karam. Credit: UN photo

By Azza Karam
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 3 2018 (IPS)

In 1994, Dr. David R. Hawkins wrote a book positing the difference between power and force (Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior – the latest revised version came out in 2014).

Basing his hypothesis on the science of kinetics, Dr. Hawkins made a case for how human consciousness – and the physical body – can tell the difference between power, which is positive, and force, which is not. An example of power over force is illustrated as Gandhi’s non-violent resistance to the force of British colonialism.

Power is slow, steady, and long lasting, whereas force is moving, fast, and tends to both create counter-force, and eventually exhaust itself. Dr. Hawkins’ argument, often labeled as ‘spiritual’, lays the groundwork for how faith, or belief, is a source of power, and, to coin a phrase, it’s all good.

Historically, from the first century’s Lucretius, to 16th Century Machiavelli, to 18th Century’s Voltaire and David Hume, through to modern day Richard Dawkins and others among the New Atheists, it has long been argued, in different ways, that religion —particularly as manifested through religious institutions — is, in Hawkins’ terms, more pertinent to the realm of ‘force’.

And yet, it is still largely towards these religious leaders, and religious institutions, that the international community (now increasingly shepherded by many governments) is looking, as a means to (re)solve a myriad of human development and humanitarian challenges.

These challenges include poverty, migration, environmental degradation, children’s rights, harmful social practices, ‘violent extremism’ (often narrowed down only to the religious variety), and even armed conflict. Religious leaders, and occasionally faith-based organizations, are posited as the panacea to all these, and more.

The notion of partnering with religious actors as one of the means to mobilise communities (socially, economically and even politically), to seek to (re)solve longstanding human development challenges, has evolved significantly inside the United Nations system over the last decade. But the intent of the outreach from largely secular institutions towards religious ones, has changed in the last couple of years.

The rationale for partnership, as argued by the diverse members of the United Nations Interagency Task Force on Partnership with Religious Actors for Sustainable Development (or the UN Task Force on Religion, for short) in 2009, was based on certain facts: that religious NGOs are part of the fabric of each civil society, and therefore bridging between the secular and religious civic space is key to strong advocacy and action for human rights (think the Civil Rights Movement in the USA); that religious institutions are the oldest and most long-standing mechanisms of social service provision (read development including health, education, sanitation, nutrition, etc.); and that some religious leaders are strong influencers (if not gatekeepers) of certain social norms – including especially some of the harmful social practices that hurt girls and women.

Thus, the UN Interagency Task Force developed guidelines for engagement with religious actors, based on a decade of learning, consultations and actual engagement among 17 diverse UN entities and almost 500 faith-based NGOs. These guidelines stipulate, among other aspects, engagement with those who are committed to all human rights. Thus, there is to be no room for cherry-picking, or so-called ‘strategic’ selectivity about which rights to honour, and which to conveniently turn a blind eye to.

When the specific religious actors who are committed to all human rights, are convened, even around one development or humanitarian issue, the ‘power’ in the convening space is palpable, and the discourse can – and does – move hearts and minds. This was evident as far back as 2005 when UNDP started convening Arab faith leaders around the spread of HIV.

Some of the very same religious leaders who held that HIV was a ‘just punishment for sexual promiscuity’, when confronted with the scientific realities of the spread of the disease, and its very human consequences on all ages and all social strata, signed on to a statement which remains one of the most ‘progressive’ (relatively speaking) in religious discourse of the time, and some went so far as to ask for forgiveness from those living with HIV among them.

The ‘power’ of religious actors who are systematically convened together for the human rights of all, at all times, was repeatedly witnessed over the course of several UN initiatives over the years, in different countries, and at the global level. Notably, UNFPA and UNICEF convened religious leaders with other human rights actors, to effect a social transformation as witnessed in a number of communities committed to stopping the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in several sub-Saharan African countries.

The latest event took place as 2017 wound to an end, in December, when the UN Office for the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, after two years of convening religious actors – using the UN systems vetted partners and it’s Guidelines — as gatekeepers against hate speech, responded to a request from some of the religious leaders themselves, to come together from several South Asian countries (including Myanmar, Thailand, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka).

Sharing respective experiences of protecting religious minorities and standing in solidarity with the rights of all, across religions and national boundaries, created a sense of shared purpose, and above all, of possibility, hope – and yes, of power. Not a minor achievement in a time of a great deal of general confusion and sense of instability around, and with, religion.

Can the same be said of convening religious actors who are prepared to uphold a particular set of rights, even at the expense of ignoring other rights, ostensibly for the ‘greater good’? Or are we then, very possibly, inadvertently mobilising the ‘force’ of religion?

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Moralist Upsurge in Brazil Revives Censorship of the Artshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/moralist-upsurge-brazil-revives-censorship-arts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=moralist-upsurge-brazil-revives-censorship-arts http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/moralist-upsurge-brazil-revives-censorship-arts/#comments Tue, 02 Jan 2018 15:34:35 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153706 It is not yet an official policy because censorship is not openly accepted by the current authorities, but de facto vetoes on artistic expressions are increasing due to moralistic pressures in Brazil. The offensive affects the artistic world in general, not just the shows or exhibitions that have been directly canceled in recent months. “This […]

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"Criança viada", by Bia Leite, attracted a wave of moralistic attacks on the grounds that it promotes pedophilia. But the author explains that it is a denouncement of violence against children, humiliated as "queers" (viada) if they do not behave as required by the dominant machista culture. Credit: Courtesy of QueerMuseu

"Criança viada", by Bia Leite, attracted a wave of moralistic attacks on the grounds that it promotes pedophilia. But the author explains that it is a denouncement of violence against children, humiliated as "queers" (viada) if they do not behave as required by the dominant machista culture. Credit: Courtesy of QueerMuseu

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 2 2018 (IPS)

It is not yet an official policy because censorship is not openly accepted by the current authorities, but de facto vetoes on artistic expressions are increasing due to moralistic pressures in Brazil.

The offensive affects the artistic world in general, not just the shows or exhibitions that have been directly canceled in recent months.

“This affects all our work, because it dissuades us from fear of reactions and the sponsors will now think ten thousand times before supporting a work of art,” said Nadia Bambirra, an actress, theater director and acting coach.

This exacerbates the problems facing the cultural sector, at a time that is already fraught with difficulties due to declining public funds and an economic crisis causing a decrease in spectators and audience as well as in private financial support, she told IPS."So, what lies ahead is devastating, rather than worrying," because "the world is facing a surge of conservatism, and Latin America is not immune to that phenomenon, as seen in Argentina and Brazil, which are confirming the return of winds that seemed to have faded in the past." -- Eric Nepomuceno

The wave of repression became dramatic since September, when the Santander Cultural Centre canceled the exhibition “QueerMuseu, Cartographies of Difference in Brazilian Art”, a month before it was to end, after accusations of promoting pedophilia and zoophilia and of blasphemy.

The exhibition, made up of 264 paintings, drawings, sculptures and other works by 85 Brazilian artists, was inaugurated on Aug.15 and was scheduled to close on Oct. 8 in Porto Alegre, capital of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.

A campaign on the social networks was driven mainly by the Free Brazil Movement (MBL), which takes radical positions against social rights, such as housing, even though they are enshrined in the constitution, while supporting extreme right candidates in politics.

The Santander Bank decided to cancel the show at its cultural centre because “it was considered offensive by some people and groups” who thought it was “disrespectful toward symbols and beliefs,” according to the bank’s “message to clients” to explain the measure.

Protests by artists, intellectuals and sexual diversity movements accused the Spanish bank of exercising censorship, by yielding to accusations against some works that have already been well-known for decades.

But the protests failed to prevent the exhibition from also being canceled in Rio de Janeiro, where it was set to open in October.

Mayor Marcelo Crivella, bishop of an evangelical Christian church, banned its exhibition at the Museum of Art, a municipal institution that partners with a private foundation, in response to the accusations aimed at the QueerMuseu in Porto Alegre.

“No more censorship!” protested filmmakers and actors at the Festival do Rio, an international film festival held Oct. 5-15. The mobilisation of artistic and cultural media failed to reverse the decision or, so far, to attain a new venue for the exhibition.

The work of art "Crossing Jesus Christ with the goddess Shiva", by Fernando Baril, aroused the ire of people who considered it blasphemous and disrespectful to religions, while the artist explained that it was a mixture of religious figures and objects that represent Western consumerism. Credit: Courtesy of QueerMuseu

The work of art “Crossing Jesus Christ with the goddess Shiva”, by Fernando Baril, aroused the ire of people who considered it blasphemous and disrespectful to religions, while the artist explained that it was a mixture of religious figures and objects that represent Western consumerism. Credit: Courtesy of QueerMuseu

The moralistic outbreak was fueled in the southern metropolis of São Paulo, where the Museum of Modern Art inaugurated its 35th Panorama of Brazilian Art with a performance by a naked artist.

A video showing a girl touching the hand and leg of a man who was lying down triggered a flood of protests, and allegations of pornography and pedophilia.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office is investigating whether there was a violation of Brazil’s Statute on Children and Adolescents by those who disseminated the video, exposing the girl and her mother who took her to the presentation allegedly inappropriate for children.

Actions of intolerance against freedom of artistic expression have proliferated in Brazil this year.

Dancer Maikon Kempinski was arrested for a few hours on Jul. 15 by the police in São Paulo for presenting a performance in which he removed his clothes. Two months later, a play was banned by the judicial authorities in Jundiaí, 60 kilometers from São Paulo, because Jesus Christ was played by a transsexual actress.

The theatre group was able to perform in nearby cities in the following days, drawing a large audience and intense applause, which shows that censorship is from isolated groups. But in late October the play was again banned in Salvador, capital of the northeastern state of Bahía.

The Rio de Janeiro city government, imbued with the evangelical bias of its mayor, continues to obstruct cultural activities, taking care not to fall into widespread, official bans.

“My boyfriend had his painting censored in the ‘short circuit’ visual arts exhibit on sexual diversity,” which could not be held on the scheduled dates in October, said Bruna Belém, a dancer and body arts researcher who is earning a Master’s Degree in Contemporary Art Studies.

The city government secretariat of culture prevented the exhibition in a municipal cultural centre, alleging

Besides, “eight works disappeared and were only returned two weeks later,” Belém told IPS, referring to suspicions of sabotage of the “October for Diversity” programme, which also included plays that were suspended.

"Scenes from the Interior II", painted 23 years ago by Adriana Varejão, one of Brazil’s most respected and award-winning artists, only now drew accusations of inciting zoophilia by critics who only divulged the part containing two people with a goat. The artist explained that she mixed different sexual practices associated withBrazil’s colonisation and slavery. Credit: Courtesy of QueerMuseu

“Scenes from the Interior II”, painted 23 years ago by Adriana Varejão, one of Brazil’s most respected and award-winning artists, only now drew accusations of inciting zoophilia by critics who only divulged the part containing two people with a goat. The artist explained that she mixed different sexual practices associated withBrazil’s colonisation and slavery. Credit: Courtesy of QueerMuseu

“The manipulative capacity” of the government, in this case the municipal government, “has been turned against freedom of expression,” lamented the dancer and activist. “The first ones attacked were the artists who work with their body, performances, photographic displays, theatre, dance,” she said.

To illustrate, she mentioned her dance instructor, who presented a performance that includes nudity in an event after the closure in the Rio de Janeiro Museum of Art. The audience was limited to their peers, excluding the outside spectators they had hoped to reach.

These subterfuges show that the current conservative authorities, especially in the municipalities of Brazil’s largest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, do not dare to directly ban artistic expressions after three decades of re-democratisation of the country, affirming freedom of expression.

“There is resistance,” Belém said.

In light of the “moral patrol”, the tendency is to limit the arts to musical shows and innocuous works of art, abandoning uncomfortable avant-garde pieces of art, Bambirra fears. “But in the midst of that neo-Nazi wave, something surprising, transformative, can emerge in the search for new spaces,” she said hopefully to IPS.

With the current government, headed by Michel Temer as president since May 2016, “the conservative wave was consolidated and extended to all institutions, especially the National Congress and sectors of the Judicial branch,” according to Eric Nepomuceno, a writer and former Secretary of Exchange and Special Projects of the Ministry of Culture.

Temer belongs to the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement party, but is considered a conservative in religious, social and gender issues. The 77-year-old politician is surviving corruption scandals with just three percent popular support, according to the latest polls.

His government depends on the parliamentary support of right-wing parties and specific alliances, such as that of ruralists (landowners) and evangelists who demand conservative measures and laws, such as flexibilisation of labour and environmental regulations, as well as the fight against slave-like labour.

To the episodes of censorship and extremist movements such as the MBL is added “Temer’s government’s contempt for culture, a kind of revenge on the fact that almost all artists and intellectuals reject him,” Nepomuceno told IPS.

“So, what lies ahead is devastating, rather than worrying,” because “the world is facing a surge of conservatism, and Latin America is not immune to that phenomenon, as seen in Argentina and Brazil, which are confirming the return of winds that seemed to have faded in the past,” he concluded.

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Central America Hashes Out Agenda for Sustainable Use of Waterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/central-america-hashes-agenda-sustainable-use-water/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-hashes-agenda-sustainable-use-water http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/central-america-hashes-agenda-sustainable-use-water/#respond Thu, 21 Dec 2017 22:02:35 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153673 The countries of Central America are striving to define a plan to promote the sustainable use of water, a crucial need in a region that is already suffering the impacts of climate change. This effort has materialised in Central America’s Water Agenda, the draft of which was agreed in November, in Tegucigalpa, by the governments […]

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A child fills his jug with water at a community tap in Los Pinos, in the municipality of Tacuba, in the western Salvadoran department of Ahuachapán. Access to piped water is still a problem in many rural communities in Central America. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

A child fills his jug with water at a community tap in Los Pinos, in the municipality of Tacuba, in the western Salvadoran department of Ahuachapán. Access to piped water is still a problem in many rural communities in Central America. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Dec 21 2017 (IPS)

The countries of Central America are striving to define a plan to promote the sustainable use of water, a crucial need in a region that is already suffering the impacts of climate change.

This effort has materialised in Central America’s Water Agenda, the draft of which was agreed in November, in Tegucigalpa, by the governments of Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, along with the Spanish-speaking Caribbean nation the Dominican Republic.

These countries form part of the Central American Integration System (SICA), the economic and political organisation of Central American countries, since December 1991, where they are working to address the issue of water with a regional and sustainable perspective."In the region there has been no political instrument to establish a common agenda on water issues, which is why this effort has been made: to generate a space for coordination among the environment ministers, who are responsible for the management of water.” -- Fabiola Tábora

The document is expected to be approved at a regional meeting to be held in February in Santo Domingo, according to Central American officials and experts interviewed by IPS.

“We saw that it was convenient for us to work on a plan, a sort of agenda, that would give expression to the issue of the integral management of the resource,” Salvador Nieto, executive director of the Central American Commission for Environment and Development (CCAD), told IPS.

This is the SICA agency made up of the environment ministers of the eight countries, focused on coordinating efforts to collectively preserve the region’s ecosystems.

And water is a vitally important issue for the 50.6 million Central Americans, especially farmers who have lost their crops due to a lack or excess of rainfall, as a result of climate change.

“All the studies recognise the vulnerability of the region, and point out that the most severe impacts of climate change for Central America will be because of the water issue,” Nieto added.

He said that although reports show that there will be intense storms, they also warn that in the medium term the main problem will be a shortage of water throughout the region.

In 2014, drought caused some 650 million dollars in losses in agriculture, hydroelectric power generation and drinking water, according to the study Situation of Water Resources in Central America: Towards Integrated Management, published in March by the Global Water Partnership (GWP).

However, the region has good water availability, because Central American countries use less than 10 percent of their available resources, points out the August edition of Entre-aguas, a report by the regional office of the GWP, an international network of organisations involved in the question of the management of water resources.

The problem, the report says, is the irregular temporal and geographical distribution of precipitation, and the scarce mechanisms of water storage and regulation.

That limits an optimal and efficient use of water, which leads to basins with problems of water scarcity in the dry season.

The GWP report adds that, due to the high climate variability associated with climate change, the concentration of rainfall in certain regions or in certain periods and droughts in others, affects the quantity and quality of water available.

Fabiola Tábora, the executive secretary of the Global Water Partnership (GWP) office in Central America, takes part in one of the preparatory meetings for the World Water Forum, which will be held in Brasilia in March 2018. Credit: GWP Central America

Fabiola Tábora, the executive secretary of the Global Water Partnership (GWP) office in Central America, takes part in one of the preparatory meetings for the World Water Forum, which will be held in Brasilia in March 2018. Credit: GWP Central America

In 2014, 17 percent of Central America’s total population, some 7.8 million people, did not have drinking water in their homes, according to the World Bank.

In this sense, the Agenda seeks to ensure water availability for present and future generations, but also to establish actions to face extreme climate events.

This situation in Central America, a region constantly affected by climate phenomena, convinced the political elites to take action not only in their countries, but at a regional level.

For example, droughts “generate more political will (in the governments of the region) to promote these instruments, and to reach agreements in presidential summits to draft a work agenda,” the executive secretary of the GWP for Central America, Fabiola Tábora, told IPS.

The GWP has been working with the CCAD to promote the strengthening of governance of water resources in Central America.

“In the region there has been no political instrument to establish a common agenda on water issues, which is why this effort has been made: to generate a space for coordination among the environment ministers, who are responsible for the management of water,” Tábora said, from the GWP regional office in Tegucigalpa.

The Agenda emerges from the effort to establish integrated management of water resources, one of the objectives contained in the CCAD Regional Environmental Framework Strategy, approved in February 2015 by the environment ministers of the region.

This integrated management, from which the Agenda arises, contemplates addressing key areas, such as the promotion of governance systems for the sustainable use of water, which involves actions, for example, to generate and share data and experiences regarding the problems involving water.

“The development of knowledge about water resources is through research, monitoring, or establishing measuring stations and sharing information, a recurrent need in all the countries of Central America,” José Miguel Zeledón, water director in Costa Rica’s Environment and Energy Ministry, told IPS.

He stressed that “we have to make progress in assessing the water situation, because our countries lack information, in order to know what water resources we have, what state they are in and how we can distribute them.”

Another strategic area is the development of instruments for the integrated management of international water bodies, which involves the promotion of a political dialogue at the highest level on protocols, agreements or successful model agreements on the subject.

“The implementation of the Agenda would bring benefits because many communities with water problems are in shared or transboundary basins, and that is why a main focus is to work on the question of international water bodies,” Silvia Larios, an expert on water in El Salvador’s Environment Ministry, told IPS.

Of the river basins in Central America, 23 are transboundary, covering approximately 191,449 square km (37 percent of the Central American territory), and the region has 18 transboundary aquifer systems, according to the GWP.

The GWP also emphasises the importance of promoting technology exchange, as there are communities that cannot be supplied with traditional systems, or cannot properly manage their wastewater, but will have to look for other technical options.

Larios stressed that the Agenda seeks both to reduce conflicts over the use of water resources and to guarantee availability. She also recognises access to water as a human right, to guarantee the supply to communities.

The GWP’s Tábora said that Central America has made progress in water coverage and infrastructure development, but that there is still a gap between rural and urban areas.

“Rural areas continue to be but on the back burner,” she said. Of Central America’s total population, 58 percent lives in urban areas, according to the GWP study.

Also, added Tábora, water quality has been neglected, both in cities and in rural areas.

Addressing the challenges related to water, she said, necessitates an understanding that solutions have inherent political actions, such as the enactment of water laws, given that the resource is linked to economic interests.

To set the Agenda into motion, its operational plan has yet to be implemented, alliances have to be built with various organisations and its funding must be organised and managed by the regional cooperation mechanisms.

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Using Data to Combat Prejudice Against Immigrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/using-data-combat-prejudice-immigrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=using-data-combat-prejudice-immigrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/using-data-combat-prejudice-immigrants/#respond Sat, 16 Dec 2017 00:31:53 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153583 What are the contributions of migrants to trade, to the economy of their countries of destination and origin? This is an angle that is generally ignored in the international debate on the subject, which usually focuses more on issues such as the incidence of foreigners in crime or unemployment. In order to discuss these and […]

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Participants in the first Forum on Migration,Trade and the Global Economy held in the old Immigrants’ Hotel in Buenos Aires, where the Argentine government used to accommodate the thousands of Europeans arriving to the country in the 19th century and the early 20th century, a symbol of the positive reception that migrants once enjoyed. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Participants in the first Forum on Migration,Trade and the Global Economy held in the old Immigrants’ Hotel in Buenos Aires, where the Argentine government used to accommodate the thousands of Europeans arriving to the country in the 19th century and the early 20th century, a symbol of the positive reception that migrants once enjoyed. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Dec 16 2017 (IPS)

What are the contributions of migrants to trade, to the economy of their countries of destination and origin? This is an angle that is generally ignored in the international debate on the subject, which usually focuses more on issues such as the incidence of foreigners in crime or unemployment.

In order to discuss these and other questions, international experts met in Buenos Aires on on Thursday, Dec. 14, at the first Forum on Migration, Trade and the Global Economy.

Not coincidentally, but to highlight the links between both topics, the event was held a day after the end of the 11th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), also held in the Argentine capital.

“Migration is treated today in the world almost as a police matter. We stress the need to address the issue a different way, analysing the favourable economic outlook, especially in international trade,” said Aníbal Jozami, president of the Foro del Sur Foundation."Migration is a complex social and economic phenomenon, so you have to be very sophisticated in how you speak about migration to people. It's very difficult to explain that maybe those people are unemployed today, but in the future they will be bringing positive skills and knowledge to society." -- Marina Manke

This Argentine non-governmental organisation, which promotes diversity, organised the event together with the Geneva-based International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

There are some 244 million migrants in the world today – around three percent of the total population – according to figures provided by Diego Beltrand, the IOM regional director for South America.

The number of migrants grew by an estimated 300 percent over the last 50 years. Different kinds of evidence of their economic contribution, something that is usually ignored, were presented at the forum.

This lack of knowledge about the positive impact of migration is the reason why, Beltrand said, “freedom of trade has been widely recognised around the world, but not freedom of movement for people.”

According to a study presented by the IOM during the forum, migrants contribute nearly 10 percent of the world’s GDP and are especially helpful to their countries of origin at times of economic crisis through remittances, which exceed 15 percent of national GDP in countries such as El Salvador and Honduras.

The IOM also estimates that migrants generate six trillion dollars worldwide. Meanwhile, the remittances they send to their countries of origin reach 15 billion dollars per year, according to Resedijo Onyekachi Wambú, from the African Foundation for Development.

Another prejudice challenged was that most immigrants aspire to very basic jobs. Stefano Breschi, a professor at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, revealed that in the last two decades, high-skilled migration grew by 130 percent against an increase of just 40 percent for the low-skilled.

Why then do politicians from all destination countries of the world try to win votes by promising more restrictions against foreigners, against all empirical evidence?

For Marina Manke, head of the IOM’s Labour Mobility and Human Development Division, “Migration is a complex social and economic phenomenon, so you have to be very sophisticated in how you speak about migration to people. It’s very difficult to explain that maybe those people are unemployed today, but in the future they will be bringing positive skills and knowledge to society.”

Manke is a Russian woman married to a German man. She emigrated to Germany, which she visits every weekend as she now works in the Swiss city of Geneva.

“My family in Germany see a large number of migrants in Berlin and it worries them. We need to be patient. Maybe there is a negative impact in the short term but over long periods migration is a broadly positive phenomenon,” she told IPS.

The event was held in the old Buenos Aires Immigrants’ Hotel, a building near the port which has been turned into a museum. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Argentine government gave free accommodation there to families who had just arrived after long sea journeys.

Argentina is a country whose founders set their sights on attracting immigrants. The National Constitution, written in 1853, promises equal opportunities “for all men of the world who want to live on Argentine soil.”

Thus, between 1881 and 1914 more than four million foreigners arrived, who represented more than a quarter of the population in 1895, as can be read in the museum. The majority of these immigrants were from Italy, Spain and other European countries.

Today things have changed, and Europe is the destination sought by millions of immigrants as it tries to close its borders.

“The major problem in Europe is that we find that the data is not reflected in the public discourse. If you look for information, you generally find a neutral or positive picture of migration’s role in the labour market and economy,” said Martin Kahanec, professor of public policy at the Central European University in Budapest.

“In the debates related to Brexit in the UK, for instance, the narratives that migrants take our jobs or abuse our welfare were not supported by the data,” the Slovak expert told IPS.

“Although economic arguments are used in the debate, what really drives this debate is fear.”

Europe is the main destination for migrants from Africa, the continent that exports the most people. Every year, between 15 and 20 million young Africans join the labour market and a high proportion cannot find a job and are impelled to leave their country, according to figures provided during the forum, setting out on journeys where death can prevent them from reaching their destination.

South America, on the other hand, received praise for its recent immigration policies.

Since 2009, efforts were made to strengthen the regional integration process with freedom of movement agreements for citizens of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay.

This made it possible for more than two and a half million citizens from other countries in Latin America to obtain residency permits, according to data from the IOM Regional Office for South America, based in Buenos Aires.

In the case of Argentina, the National Director of Migrations, Horacio García, said that since 2012, more than 1,350,000 residence permits have been granted.

García, however, warned that it is necessary for the State to get involved in the integration of immigrants into the labour market, a topic that today is being neglected.

“It is necessary to identify those regions of the country where there are job opportunities, so so they can contribute to development, their skills are used and the pressure is taken off urban areas,” he said.

Like other countries in the region, Argentina recently received large numbers of immigrants from Venezuela who are fleeing the economic, political and social crisis in that country.

Argentine sociologist Lelio Mármora, who specialises in migration questions, estimated that in the last year and a half alone, some 40,000 Venezuelans have settled in Argentina.

However, openness towards immigrants is not common in the world. Mármora was one of those who most emphatically condemned the “difference between the freedom that exists for the movement of goods and for the movement of people.”

“Everyone applauded the fall of the Berlin Wall and today we have about 20,000 kilometers of walls and fences that prevent people from passing from one place to another,” he complained.

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Civil Society Meeting Calls for Solidarity, Radical Change to Deal with Global Criseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/civil-society-meeting-calls-solidarity-radical-change-deal-global-crises/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-meeting-calls-solidarity-radical-change-deal-global-crises http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/civil-society-meeting-calls-solidarity-radical-change-deal-global-crises/#respond Fri, 15 Dec 2017 17:52:01 +0000 Amy Taylor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153581 Amy Taylor is Chief Networks Officer for global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.

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Amy Taylor is Chief Networks Officer for global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.

By Amy Taylor
SUVA, Fiji, Dec 15 2017 (IPS)

Our strategies have failed us. We can no longer respond to the crises facing us in the same way. We have to be more radical, more creative — together — to build the future we want.

This was one of the resounding messages to emerge from a key global gathering of more than 700 leading thinkers, influencers and doers from more than 100 countries in Suva, Fiji in early December.

Organised by global civil society alliance, CIVICUS and the Pacific Islands Associations of Non-governmental Organisations (PIANGO) and including a diverse set of events by more than 40 partner organisations, International Civil Society Week 2017 brought to the world stage critical issues from the Pacific region such as the reality of climate change for small island states. This, whilst delegates made personal connections that we hope will translate into global solidarity.

We heard repeatedly about the transformational power of connecting across regions and thematic areas of work. Many said that the experience had changed them; they had a new understanding of the struggles of our brothers and sisters in the Pacific Islands. In short, we achieved what we set out to do.

But ICSW, organised under the theme, “Our Planet. Our Struggles. Our Future”, also brought home the gravity of our responsibility to act on this knowledge, to address the urgent, inter-related challenges threatening our planet and our humanity before it is too late.

The conversations that took place within the “Our Planet” programme track took us beyond the usual discourse on the Paris Climate Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We heard about how an economic system built on greed and exploitation is creating unequal societies, perpetuating climate change and threatening livelihoods, food security and political stability.

But these are abstract concepts. It was the emotional and passionate accounts from Pacific Islanders whose homes, traditions, cultures and very identities are under threat that brought home the real and urgent nature of the challenge. Climate change is not some futuristic scenario depicted in a sci-fi film, it is happening right now with devastating consequences.

The “Our Struggles” programme track explored the extent of the global crisis of democracy and clampdown on people’s rights. We learned that more than half the world’s people live in countries where it is very difficult to exercise the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly. This alarming and growing trend is limiting civil society participation and progress on social justice struggles from rising inequality to women’s rights.

Moreover civil society efforts to create peaceful societies are being threatened. President Trump’s recent announcement that the United States now considers Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital (disregarding international law) was made the same day that International Civil Society Week partners hosted an event on illegal settlements and land rights in Palestine.

The bright sparks of hope during the week were found in the “Our Future” track, which considered how we can innovate and support new leaders. We were reminded of the importance of giving young people the space and trust they need to drive this change.

We learned how to develop ‘sharing economies’ that build a sense of community where distrust prevails. We heard about the divestment campaign from fossil fuels that challenges the economic system propping up the extractive industry. Perhaps most importantly, we reconfirmed the need to build solidarity across diverse movements, mobilisations and initiatives.

It’s time to do things differently, to take on challenges collectively and in a holistic way. And if there’s one thing we hope ICSW 2017 delegates take home with them, it’s the willingness to stand together and take bold actions.

One concrete initiative that exemplifies this aspiration is the Declaration on Climate-Induced Displacement that was launched during the CIVICUS World Assembly on the final day of the conference. The Declaration was drafted by a cohort of global and Pacific Island organisations representing civil society, development actors, human rights defenders, faith-based organisations, environmental activists and progressive governments.

The intention is to build an influential, global movement in support of the inclusion of climate-induced displacement in the global compact for migration to be adopted by the United Nations General Assembly next year. If we succeed, it is because together, we are stronger.


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world met in Suva, Fiji, 4 December through 8 December for International Civil Society Week.

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Civil Society Activists Speak Out– Despite Threatshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/civil-society-activists-speak-despite-threats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-activists-speak-despite-threats http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/civil-society-activists-speak-despite-threats/#respond Fri, 15 Dec 2017 13:49:12 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153575 They are young, smart and willing to take the rough road. Victor, Jubilanté and Khaled are independent fighters who speak out with a force that could possibly change the appearances of their countries, and beyond. These ‘sparks of hope’ were awarded with the Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards for their contributions to civil society. Nigeria, […]

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Victor Ugo dedicates the award he won to all Nigerians coping with mental illness. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

By Pascal Laureyn
SUVA, Fiji, Dec 15 2017 (IPS)

They are young, smart and willing to take the rough road. Victor, Jubilanté and Khaled are independent fighters who speak out with a force that could possibly change the appearances of their countries, and beyond.

These ‘sparks of hope’ were awarded with the Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards for their contributions to civil society. Nigeria, Guyana and Egypt already heard about them, the award will make their endeavors known internationally—and it’s high time to hear these inspiring voices.

Creating awareness for mental health in Nigeria. Motivating young creatives in Guyana to speak out using digital media. Defending human rights and freedom of speech in Egypt. These are some of the missions they have dedicated their lives to. Victor Ugo, Jubilanté Cutting and Khaled al-Balshy received the yearly award in Fiji last week.

The Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards seeks to promote individuals and organizations for their excellence and bravery in creating social change. “They inspire compassion and empathy at a time of growing fear, xenophobia, and hate speech,” says Graça Machel, the former First Lady of South Africa.

During the International Civil Society Week (ICSW)— highlighting a conference organized by CIVICUS in Fiji’s capital Suva – the winners had the opportunity to capture a large audience eager to learn about their projects. The interest was overwhelming and often left them exhausted after the daily rounds of interviews and panel discussions. The fourth winner of the prestigious prize – the philanthropic Guerrila Foundation of Germany – was not present in Fiji.

Every year, CIVICUS – a civil society organizations alliance – brings the ICSW to another location to “promote and defend a more just and sustainable future.” Fiji hosted the 2017 event, highlighting the potential and problems of the Pacific.

Victor Ugo (Nigeria) – Best organization of civil society

Victor has the confident stride of a young man with proven achievements while walking from venue to venue at the conference in Suva. He shows no trace of the depression he once suffered from. He was diagnosed with the condition almost 4 years ago. And he was lucky, he got treatment. Most Nigerians who have psychiatric ailments never get help.

Victor Ugo patiently answers questions of interested journalists: “The award makes us more desirable.” Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

“Mental healthcare is none existent in Nigeria,” explains Victor. “There is no knowledge. Not just illiterate people, but also university professors think that mental illnesses are caused by evil ghosts. Patients get punished for their disease.”

As a consequence of the stigma, mental health facilities are really poor. “There are only 200 psychiatrists in Nigeria, a country of 186 million people,” an exasperated Victor says. “And many of them go into banking because they can’t find a job.”

After his depression the young doctor founded the Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI). Two years later, it has become Nigeria’s largest mental health organization. MANI combats the stigma, creates awareness and promotes services for mental health. “Most people don’t know the symptoms and that it can be treated.”

Therefor MANI encourages conversation on social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube are platforms used for online campaigns on depression, bipolar disorders or bullying. “We explain how a depression feels like. We make people talk about it,” says Victor. Patients share their experience, family and friends can ask for help. “We try to find people who want to talk about it. We call them our ‘champions of mental health’.”

Media sometimes spread misconceptions about mental health or ignore it completely. “We correct the media so that it is understood that it’s about diseases,” the young man explains. “Suicide, for example. We teach the press how to report on suicides without encouraging it.”

MANI is also creating an online platform to link doctors to patients, like Uber does with drivers and passengers. When a patient asks for help, a therapist in the area is alerted. They can make an appointment after they agree on the price. The platform will be launched next year.

“Today, in villages, patients are still being flogged and chained because of traditional beliefs,” Victor sighs. The taboo needs to be broken. “The less stigma, the more people will ask for help. That will create a market that can encourage more students to become a psychiatrist,” says the hopeful award winner. He dedicates the award to all Nigerians coping with mental illness. “The award makes us more desirable. Everybody wants to join.”

Jubilanté Cutting (Guyana) – Youth Activist Award

At just 19, Jubilanté Cutting founded the Guyana Animation Network (GAN) to help empower young people with skills in digital media and animation. During the conference in Fiji, she was not only promoting the business model of GAN but also trying to inspire. When the stylishly dressed young woman engages in discussions on civil society, she easily impresses people with her enthusiasm and motivational calls to action.

Jubilanté Cutting: “We help children to think out of the box, to learn something about themselves and express themselves.” Credit: Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

“I got the spark when I was 17, at a workshop on art, technology and animation in Trinidad and Tobago. There I met many talented people who were pushing out Caribbean style media products. It was an explosion of talent, it made my creative juices flowing. Although I noticed quickly that I’m not very talented as an animator. But I do have a talent for networking, I decided to focus on that and help to develop Guyana’s digital and creative industries,” Jubilanté concludes.

Two years later, the young law student created GAN. In its first year GAN has reached than 3,500 people through summer camps, events, talks in schools and social media. The main purpose is to change a way of thinking. “Art is still seen as a hobby, not as a professional career,” says Jubilanté who taps her fingernails on the table out of frustration.

“But digital creatives can have a profitable career. If we could attach a price on creativity, many people would already be millionaires. We have to embrace creativity as more than just fun and teach people how to monetize it.”

And no better way to learn new skills and creative mind sets than to start at a young age. “Children are an important target for us,” Jubilanté points out. “Our society is ignoring the young ones. I use every forum I get to emphasize this. Children are born in the digital age. We have to learn them to use that technology in a responsible way. That’s why our organization opens its doors to children, because we acknowledge how transformational they are,” says the young woman.

Jubilanté tells enthusiastically what happened at one of her workshops. When teaching software to create digital graphics, the children aged 6 and 7 were quicker than the older ones to grasp the complicated tool. “Children are unafraid to learn, that’s critical for creative development. But books only teach them things in a structured way. We help children to think out of the box, to motivate them to learn something about themselves and express themselves.”

It took Jubilanté and her team of co-workers and volunteers a year to get the attention of the government. “We need more infrastructure, training and equipment to break the barriers for development. The Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Award won us the recognition of the government and it draws attention to Guyana and the whole Caribbean. Now people know that something is happening there with digital media.

At her 21, Jubilanté is already a force that drives things forward on sheer will power. GAN is only one year old, but she is thinking big. “I want to spread the Caribbean culture. Everyone already loves Bob Marley and Rhianna. I will make them love Caribbean animation and promote our own artists.”

Khaled al-Balshy (Egypt) – Individual Activist Award

Khaled al-Balshy is a prominent human rights defender and journalist fighting to protect free speech. In Egypt, that is no easy job. The government has increasingly cracked down on the press and has become one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists. In a nation where media are under constant attack, Khaled is struggling to defend freedom of the press.

The journalist is gifted with the calmness necessary to face hardship. Khaled knows all too well how an Egyptian cell looks like. He has a suspended 1 year sentence for harboring journalists wanted for expressing critical views. His news website al-Bedaiah is blocked. He was accused for “insulting the police” on social media. The courts have 10 pending cases against him. These are just a few of the harassments he has grown accustomed to.

“The situation in Egypt is one of the worst in the world. More than 12 journalists have been murdered in the last three years. More than 20 are in prison, some without clear accusations. Many others are being stopped from writing and publishing,” Khaled explains for the umpteenth time. He gives many interviews at the conference in Fiji, always with the same energy and indignation.

Known to be an ardent defender of press freedom, Khaled leads numerous initiatives for the detained and disappeared journalists. “I write about their cases. I visit their families. We organize meetings and we create groups that helps lawyers with the legal process.” Sometimes that leads to success. “When a journalist is released, we are happy. But only for a few minutes. Sometimes they have spent years in prison without a clear accusation.”

“This absurd dictatorship is feels threatened, why else would they imprison us?” Khaled continues. “They are afraid of us. When we write, we make a change. If we just tell the truth all the time, that change will come. We did this with Mubarak, we can do it again with al-Sisi,” says Khaled. “The only way to protect freedom of expression is to exercise it and to denounce the violations against it.”

“When I knew I won the Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Award, I was sad for 3 days. I’m getting an award, while people are spending years in prison. My son convinced me that this award is for everyone, for the people I’m fighting for. It’s a message to the imprisoned journalists that their voices can break through prison walls.” The Tunisian translator wipes tears off her face when she repeats his words in English. Her country had a successful uprising, the one in Egypt has failed.

But Khaled has hope. He will continue to fight. “I want to make that change for my son, he is making me do this.”


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world met in Suva, Fiji, December 4 through December 8 for International Civil Society Week..

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Shedding Diplomacy, Roberto Savio Speaks about Fear as a Tool to Gain Powerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/shedding-diplomacy-roberto-savio-speaks-fear-tool-gain-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shedding-diplomacy-roberto-savio-speaks-fear-tool-gain-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/shedding-diplomacy-roberto-savio-speaks-fear-tool-gain-power/#respond Thu, 14 Dec 2017 11:17:39 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153533 This op-ed by Roberto Savio, IPS founder and President Emeritus is adapted from a statement he made as a panelist on Migration and Human Solidarity, A Challenge and an Opportunity for Europe and the MENA region held on 14 December at the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue.

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This op-ed by Roberto Savio, IPS founder and President Emeritus is adapted from a statement he made as a panelist on Migration and Human Solidarity, A Challenge and an Opportunity for Europe and the MENA region held on 14 December at the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

At the outset my thanks to Dr Hanif Hassan Ali Al Kassim, and Ambassador Idriss Jazairy who lead the Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue for organizing this panel discussion at a critical moment in history. The Centre, is one of the few actors for peace and cooperation between the Arab world and Europe. As a representative of global civil society, I think it will be more meaningful if I speak without the constraints of diplomacy, and I make frank and unfettered reflections.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The misuse of religion, of populism and xenophobia, is a sad reality, which is not clearly addressed any longer, but met with hypocrisy and not outright denunciation. Only now the British are realizing that they voted for Brexit, on the basis of a campaign of lies. But nobody has taken on publicly Johnson or Farage, the leaders of Brexit, after Great Britain accepted to pay, as one of the many costs of divorce, at least 45 billion Euro, instead of saving 20 billion Euro, as claimed by the ‘brexiters’. And there are only a few analysis on why political behaviour is more and more a sheer calculation, without any concern for truth or the good of the country.

President Trump could be a good case study on the relations between politics and populism. Just a few days ago the United States has declared that they are withdrawing from the UN Global Compact on Migration. This has nothing to do with the interest or the identity of United States, which has built itself as a country of immigrants. It has to do with the fact that this decision is popular with a part of American population, which is voting for President Trump, like the evangelicals. I have here to show the message they are circulating, after the declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This is what it is said in the Bible. If we recreate the world described in the bible, Jesus will make his second coming to earth, and only the just will be rewarded. And therefore they think that Trump brings the world closer to the return of Christ, and therefore he acts for the good of their beliefs. Evangelicals are close to thirty million, and they strongly believe that when the second coming of Jesus will happen, he will recognize only them as the believers who are on the right path. Trump is not an evangelical, and he has shown little interest in religion. But, like each of his actions, he is coherent with his views during the campaign, which brought together all the dissatisfied people catapulting him into the White House. Everything he does, is not in the interest of the world or of the United States. He is just focused on keeping the support of his electors – those who do not come from big towns, academia, media and the Silicon Valley. They come mainly from impoverished and uninformed white electors, who feel left out from the benefits of globalization. They believe those benefits went to the elite, to the big towns and to the few winners, and believe that there is an international plot to humiliate the United States. So, climate change for them and Trump is a Chinese hoax ! During the first year, Trump can well have a shocking approval rating of 32%, the lowest in history for a President of United States. But 92% of his voters would re-elect him. And as only 50% of Americans vote, he can conveniently ignore general public opinion.

It is not the place here to go deeper into American political trends. But Trump is a perfect example to see why a large number of Europeans, or even countries like Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic, are ignoring the decisions of the European Union on migrants, and why populism, xenophobia and nationalism are on the rise everywhere.

Fear has become the tool to get to power.

Historians agree that two main engines of change in history, are greed and fear.

Well, we have been trained, since the collapse of communism, to look to greed as a positive value. Markets (no man or ideas), was the new paradigm. States were an obstacle to a free market. Globalization, it was famously said, would lift all boats, and benefit everybody. In fact, markets without rules was self-destructive, and not all boats were lifted, but only yachts, the bigger the better. The rich became richer, and the poor poorer. The process is so speedy, that ten years ago the richest 528 people had the same wealth of 2.3 billion people. This year, they have become 8, and this number is likely to shrink soon. All statistics are clear, and globalization based on free market is losing some of its shine.

But meanwhile we have lost many codes of communication. In the political debate there is no more reference to social justice, solidarity, participation, equity, the values in the modern constitutions, on which we built international relations. Now the codes are competition, success, profit and individual achievement. During my lectures at schools, I am dismayed to see a materialistic generation, who do not care to vote, to change the world. And the distance between citizens and political institutions is increasing every day. The only voices reminding us of justice and solidarity, and are voices from religious leaders: Pope Bergoglio, the Dalai Lama, Bishop Tutu, and the Grand Mufti Muhammad Hussein, just to name the most prominent. And with media who are now also based on market as the only criteria, those voices are becoming weaker.

After a generation of greed, we are now in a generation of fear. We should notice that, before the great economic crisis of 2009 (provoked by greed: banks have paid until now 280 billion dollars of penalties and fines), xenophobe and populist parties were always minorities (with exception of Le Pen in France). The crisis created fear and uncertainties, and then immigration started to rise, especially after the invasion of Libya in 2001 and Iraq in 2013.We are now in the seventh year of the Syrian drama, which displaced 45% of the population. Merkel is now paying a price for her acceptance of Syrian refugees, and it is interesting to note that two thirds of the votes to Alternative Fur Deutschland, the populist and xenophobe party, comes from former East Germany, that has few refugees but an income, which is nearly 25% lower. Fear, again, has been the engine for change of German history.

Europe was direct lyresponsible for these migrations. A famous cartoonist El Roto from El Pais, has made a cartoon showing bombs flying in the air, and migrant’s boats coming from the sea. “We send them bombs, and they send us migrants”. But there is no recognition of this. Those who escape from hunger and war are now depicted as invaders. Countries who until few years ago, like the Nordic ones, were considered synonymous with civic virtues, and who spent a considerable budget for international cooperation, are now erecting walls and barbed wire. Greed and fear have been so successfully exploited by the new nationalist, populist and xenophobe parties, that now they keep growing at every election, from Austria to the Netherlands, from Czech Republic to Great Britain (where they created Brexit ), and then Germany, and in a few months, Italy. The three horses of apocalypse, which in the thirties were the basis for the Second Wold War: nationalism, populism and xenophobia, are back with growing popular support, and politicians openly riding them.

But what is shocking is that we have now a new element of division: religion, which is widely used against immigrants and should instead unite us. Religion has always been used to get power and legitimacy. Common people never started the wars of religion in Europe but by princes and kings. A few years ago we did commemorate the expulsion first of the Jews, and then of the Moors, from Spain, where they lived in harmony and peace with the Christians, forming a civilization of the three cultures. And a few weeks ago, there was a great march in Warsaw, ignored by the media, with 40.000 people, many coming from all over Europe and the United States. They marched in the name of God, crying death to the Jews and Muslim.

But while Protestant, Catholic, Muslim and Jew religious leaders engage in a positive dialogue for peace and cooperation, a number of self-proclaimed defenders of the faith, are bringing fear, misery and death. And it should be clear that we have no clash of religions. It is a clash of those who use religion for power and legitimacy. And they ride an unrealistic historical dream. To return to a world, which is gone, where mines will reopen, the country will go back to its former glory: a world, that dreams not of a better future, but of a better past. Africa is going to double its population, with 80% of its population under 35 years; while in Europe it will be just 20%. There is no hope for Europe to be viable in a global economy and in a competitive world, without substantial immigration. Yet, to speak about that in the political debate, is now a kiss of death.

In conclusion, I must stress that we face a sad reality, which cannot be ignored any longer, even if it is not politically correct. Ideals have always been used to gain support, even from those who did not believe them. And historians teach us that in modern times humankind has fallen into three traps: In the name of God, to divide and not to dialogue; in the name of the nation, often to rally support and bring citizens to wars; and now, in name of the profit. I think it is time to make new alliances, and launch a great powerful campaign of awareness on the false prophets, with mobilizations of media, civil society and legitimate politicians, to educate citizens that immigration must be regulated, as it is a necessity, with which Europe must live.

We must establish policies, and even after Trumps leaves the global Compact, like he left the Paris Agreement on climate change, he will remain an isolated voice, while citizens will strive for a better world, with no fears, based on common values. We must take an unpopular but vital action for education and participation. It will be unpopular and difficult we know. But if we do not take this road, human beings, who are the only ‘animals’ who do not learn from past mistakes, will again go through blood, misery and destruction.

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A Voice of Inspirationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/a-voice-of-inspiration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-voice-of-inspiration http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/a-voice-of-inspiration/#respond Wed, 13 Dec 2017 15:12:30 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153476 The lights are switched off and the dirty dishes are being cleaned. But on their way home, the participants of the International Civil Society Week (ICSW) still have a lot to chew on. Last week they collected new ideas and insights on civil society during the week long global event. For the first time ICSW was hosted in the Pacific, to focus on some of the world’s most vulnerable islands.

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By Pascal Laureyn
SUVA, Fiji, Dec 13 2017 (IPS)

More than 700 activists gathered in Suva, Fiji’s capital, to explore the latest trends – from climate change to human rights, from innovation to social justice. Anything that can help empower and mobilise citizens. The lively debates in panel discussions, workshops and lectures made the event look like a carnival of creative new ideas and tested knowledge.

The Innovation Lab brought together human rights defenders to share their tools, tactics and strategies. Oxfam addressed the long term problems that the 300 nuclear tests in the Pacific had caused. And the Public Interest Registry taught participants how to inspire donors to give and supporters to take action.

A lot of attention went to activist stars like Kumi Naidoo (Greenpeace, CIVICUS, …), Helen Clark (former prime minister of New Zealand) and José Ramos-Horta (former president of Timor-Leste). The youthful and charming winners of the ‘Nelson Mandela – Graca Machel Innovation Awards’ won many hearts when the annual prize was handed out.

Special focus on the Pacific

For the first time this global event was hosted in the Pacific. The conference focussed on the plight of small islands affected by rising sea levels and more frequent and extreme weather.

“The peoples of the Pacific, like those in other small island states, have to tackle the devastating impacts of climate change alongside other development challenges,” says Danny Sriskandarajah, secretary general of CIVICUS.

CIVICUS, an alliance for citizen participation, organized the conference in cooperation with PIANGO, the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisation.

Fiji has taken a leading role in the Pacific to address climate change. The republic has already presided over the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 23) in Bonn and co-hosted the UN Oceans Conference in New York earlier this year. It collaborates closely with other Pacific states and territories.

Brianna Fruean, a 19 year old student from Samoa, is one of the Pacific Climate Warriors, a cooperation between 12 island nations. “My grandfather liked to take me to the markets to look at the rich variety of fish. But the corals are devastated due to climate change. If you go to the fish markets now it’s not so plentiful anymore. That’s how my passion for climate change began.”

“It is critical that every person on this planet recognizes the importance of what is going on in the Pacific,” says Danny Sriskandarajah. “Everybody must act. Whether it is change in their consumption behavior or putting pressure on their local and national authorities.”

Many inspirational voices

Speaking at the closing event, Joanna Kerr – the Canadian head of Greenpeace – said that the problem of climate change will require enormous civil society mobilisation to address. “The problem is so huge it can be hard to stay optimistic. But the hope and resilience of the Pacific gives us hope.” She applauded the ordinary Pacific peoples’ appreciation for climate change.

Another inspirational voice of hope was that of Victor Ugo, a Nigerian doctor. He came to ICSW to collect his ‘Nelson Mandela – Graca Machel Innovation Award’ for his work on developing awareness on mental health in Nigeria. He experienced several eye-openers at the conference.

“I’m eager to go home and try out all the things that I’ve learned here in Fiji. I want to help people with mental illnesses to speak out so they can achieve something in their communities. There is still an awful lot of work to do in Nigeria on mental health. But challenges are not restrictions,” Ugo said.

If conferences are about motivating people to keep on going forward, then ICSW has done its job.


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific and small island states who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world met in Suva, Fiji from 4-8 December for International Civil Society Week.

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The Journey to Oslohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/the-journey-to-oslo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-journey-to-oslo http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/the-journey-to-oslo/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 16:14:33 +0000 Christian Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153496 Christian Ciobanu is the senior associate, Global Security Institute.

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ICAN Meeting with the President of the Norwegian Parliament, Mr Olemic Thommessen.
(From left to Right) President of the Norwegian Parliament, Mr Olemic Thommessen, Ms Beatrice Fihn (ICAN), Ms. Grethe Östern (Norwegian People’s Aid), Mr Akira Kawasaki (Peace Boat), and Ms Susi Snyder (PAX). Credit: Christian Ciobanu

By Christian Ciobanu
OSLO, Dec 12 2017 (IPS)

On December 10 in Oslo, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. ICAN started as a grassroots campaign in 2007. Its aim was to shift the paradigm of discussion about nuclear weapons from security and deterrence to the environmental and humanitarian effects of nuclear explosions. As the prize demonstrates, ICAN has succeeded brilliantly. But, as ICAN acknowledges, this is still only the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons.

A key development was the holding of three governmental conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in Norway, Mexico, and Austria. At every turn, the nuclear weapon states and their allies would claim the humanitarian narrative was reckless and dangerous. IAN remained unwavering in its message: Nuclear weapons must be banned.

By the conference in Mexico, held in early 2014, ICAN was calling for the commencement of negotiations on establishing an international legally binding instrument to ban nuclear weapons. After all, land mines, chemicals and biological weapons were banned through their respective instruments, and then global norms were established against their use.

The negotiations for the ban treaty concluded in July 2017. 122 states voted to adopt the treaty. It opened for signature on September 20 and more than 50 states have signed it. It will enter into force when ratified by 50 states, probably in the next one to three years.

At the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, the Nobel Committee Chair Berit Reiss-Andersen praised ICAN and condemned the use and threat of nuclear weapons on humanitarian, moral and legal grounds.

Speaking at the ceremony, ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn stated that it is insanity to allow ourselves to be ruled by these weapons. Many critics of this movement suggest that we are the irrational ones, the idealists with no grounding in reality. That nuclear-armed states will never give up their weapons.

But we represent the only rational choice. We represent those who refuse to accept nuclear weapons as a fixture in our world, those who refuse to have their fates bound up in a few lines of launch code.

She further asserted “It’s an affront to democracy to be ruled by these weapons. But they are just weapons. They are just tools. And just as they were created by geopolitical context, they can just as easily be destroyed by placing them in a humanitarian context.”

Fihn further addressed the nuclear umbrella states, including Norway, in her closing remarks. She stated:

To the nations who believe they are sheltered under the umbrella of nuclear weapons, will you be complicit in your own destruction and the destruction of others in your name?

To all nations: choose the end of nuclear weapons over the end of us!

This is the choice that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons represents. Join this Treaty.

Following Fihn’s speech, Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, recounted her harrowing survival of the atomic blast that annihilated her school. She heard a voice in the distance, which told her to keep pushing towards the light.

She explained that “Our light now is the ban treaty. To all in this hall and all listening around the world, I repeat those words that I heard called to me in the ruins of Hiroshima: “Don’t give up! Keep pushing! See the light? Crawl towards it.”

Indeed, the new light and hope is the ban treaty. This treaty must enter into force and it is time for all nations to sign it. All responsible leaders will sign this treaty and history will judge harshly those who reject it as highlighted.

Since humanity now has the choice to either accept nuclear annihilation or ban nuclear weapons, it is vital for all states to sign and ratify the treaty. For the time being, it seems unlikely that nuclear-armed states will join the treaty. As to nuclear umbrella states, the situation is fluid. Such states, including Norway, boycotted the negotiations, with the exception of the Netherlands. In fact, in late March, the Secretary of State of Norway, Marit Berger Røsland, mentioned that “Norway and our allies have an aim for a world without nuclear weapons, but as long as others have nuclear weapons, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.”

However, the Norwegian parliament is set to take a vote on convening an inquiry in which parliamentarians, with the engagement of civil society, will examine the consequences of signing and not signing the ban treaty. Furthermore, both the Prime Minister, President, and Chair of the Committee on Defense and Security met with representatives of the ICAN in Parliament.

At the press event with the President of Norway, Ms. Grethe Östern, Head of the Norwegian People’s Aid’s Nuclear Disarmament Project, said that it is absolutely vital for the Norwegian parliament to engage in discussions about the utility and the risks related to nuclear deterrence.

Building upon Östern’s statement, Ms. Susi Snyder of ICAN and Pax explained that parliaments in Switzerland, Sweden, and Italy have passed resolutions in which they have instructed their respective governments to explore the ratification of the ban treaty. Snyder concluded her remarks by stating that the parliamentarians will have to think about the consequences of not joining the treaty. They must think about the following question: Are you willing to then be complicit in using nuclear weapons?

We now have the choice to live a world free of nuclear weapons. It is time for the people everywhere to discuss this momentous choice.

Thank you ICAN, for changing the status quo in the nuclear disarmament field.

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Global Initiative to Relieve Pressure on Mountainshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/global-initiative-relieve-pressure-mountains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-initiative-relieve-pressure-mountains http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/global-initiative-relieve-pressure-mountains/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 10:16:51 +0000 Becky Heeley http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153478 International Mountain Day and the Mountain Partnership’s 15th anniversary coincided on December 11, kicking off a three-day Mountain Partnership Global Meeting at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome. An initiative of Italy, Switzerland, the UN Environment Programme and FAO, the Mountain Partnership is committed to increasing […]

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Mountains are home to 13 percent of the world’s population. Credit: FAO/Edson Vandeira

By Becky Heeley
ROME, Dec 12 2017 (IPS)

International Mountain Day and the Mountain Partnership’s 15th anniversary coincided on December 11, kicking off a three-day Mountain Partnership Global Meeting at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome.

An initiative of Italy, Switzerland, the UN Environment Programme and FAO, the Mountain Partnership is committed to increasing mountain conservation awareness and rebuilding development and international policies. Along with the Paris climate agreement, the 2013 Agenda for Sustainable Development emphasizes that noone should be left behind.

“Our world needs all our pieces and that includes mountains,” shared Andrew Taber passionately, Executive Director of the Mountain Institute and Chair of the Mountain Partnership Steering Committee.

Sixty countries and 200 civil society organizations pledged to relieve climate, hunger, and migration pressures on mountain ecosystems and communities.

“Yes, mountains are under pressure. Yes, mountains still don’t play the role they need to in their countries, but we must get out of this defensive attitude,” contributed Dominique Kohli, Assistant Director-General of the Federal Office for Agriculture of Switzerland.

This attempt to encourage positivity directed at a global audience was explained further by Thomas Hofer, Coordinator of the Mountain Partnership Secretariat, “The mountain agenda is a global agenda. Each mountain region has its specific vulnerability. There is no overall recipe to address vulnerability, so it needs to be done based on the specific situation. Vulnerability has also to do, ultimately, with political attention to mountains.”

With 1 billion people living in mountains and over half the world’s population dependent on mountains for water, food, and clean energy, the pressures mountains are facing reach across regions. Massive environmental shifts brought on by climate change, natural disasters, and land degradation threaten the abundance of fresh water and other goods cultivated in mountains.

The Himalayas are hugely affected by climate change explained Hofer, “For example, in the Himalayan area, the most prominent concern is climate change. The increase in temperature is 2-3 degrees, or even 3-4 degrees, which is much more than the global average. Glaciers in the mountains are retreating.”

Climate change reduces rainfall. In Kenya, mountain communities face water shortages and difficulties growing food. Kenya has overcome these vulnerabilities by utilizing the Partnership’s Adaptation for Food Security and Ecosystem Resilience in Africa project, which promotes collecting rainwater on roofs and building irrigation systems. Now, male and female farmers store water and can grow food for personal consumption as well as for profit.

Hunger is another major issue faced by mountain people. In Colombia, FAO helped combat hunger by implementing the framework for the Biocarebe Connections project, which along with other initiatives, increased food security through forest restoration programmes.

FAO has successfully worked with Nepal to overcome forest degradation, “Over the last twenty or twenty-five years, Nepal has become a champion in terms of community forestry and handing over the responsibility of forest management to communities has led to a strong improvement of mountain forests which is linked to institutionalization of this by the government,” said Hofer.

Governments recognizing and adopting Mountian Partnership initiatives is crucial to globally combating the myriad of problems mountains face.

As the vulnerability of mountain ecosystems increases, so does migration. Many mountain men migrate to already stressed urban areas to find work leaving behind women and families.

“One and a half million young Nepali men work in the Gulf region. It has a big impact on the livelihoods and social situation of women. Women have to deal with everything; the family, the farm, elderly people,” emphasized Hofer.

To alleviate the burden on mountain women and as incentive, community investment in countries like Nepal and specifically Tajikistan, where almost 30% of the glaciers have melted, the Climate Resilience Financing Facility (CLIMADAPT) gives loans to farmers, households, and entrepreneurs who adopt measures to reduce climate change.

Despite the complex climate, hunger, and migration pressures, “Mountain communities and mountain people are very resilient,” states Hofer.

Even though mountain people are strong and have generations of knowledge that allows them to adapt to climate variances and survive, current hardships are exceeding normal levels.

“It is not that mountain communities now are starting to ask for help, they implement their indigenous strategies to deal with variability, but because of the lack of attention and lack of voice in terms of decision making, when the changes are really strong compared to what they are used to, they get to a certain limit,” explained Hofer.

Mountain people need a platform to speak from within their communities and countries. To relieve the immense pressure on mountain ecosystems and people, which is undoubtedly a global problem, mountain communities must be heard so governments can take united interdisciplinary actions.

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Pakistan Gets Its First One-Stop Shop for Women Fighting Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/pakistan-gets-first-one-stop-shop-women-fighting-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-gets-first-one-stop-shop-women-fighting-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/pakistan-gets-first-one-stop-shop-women-fighting-violence/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 14:48:58 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153431 Sliced noses, broken ribs, fractured fingers, slashed arms, bruised and bloodied faces with teeth missing and eyes swollen… Sana Jawed, 30, has been witnessing these brutalities for over a decade. “You can never get over the physical and psychological mutilation that scores of women go through every day in our society,” says Jawed, who is […]

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Station House Officer Nazima Mushtaq speaking to a survivor at the VAWC. Photo courtesy of VAWC

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Dec 10 2017 (IPS)

Sliced noses, broken ribs, fractured fingers, slashed arms, bruised and bloodied faces with teeth missing and eyes swollen… Sana Jawed, 30, has been witnessing these brutalities for over a decade.

“You can never get over the physical and psychological mutilation that scores of women go through every day in our society,” says Jawed, who is currently managing the new state-of-the-art all-women Violence Against Women Centre (VAWC) in Multan, in Southern Punjab. Before this she was working in the Punjab government’s social welfare department and managing shelters for women across the province."We provide a fully functional police station, medical facility, forensic lab and legal aid as well as post trauma rehabilitation, all under one roof." --Sana Jawed

A 2011 Thomson Reuters Foundation expert poll found Pakistan to be among the three most dangerous countries for women, where they faced a barrage of violence from rape to murders in the name of honour. The other two were Afghanistan and Democratic Republic of Congo. On the gender equality index of the Global Gender Gap, Pakistan scored dismally, coming second lowest (143 out of 144). On a more recent Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security‘s Women, Peace, and Security Index, Pakistan was ranked 4th among the worst countries for women to live in.

The VAWC has been set up in an agricultural belt which is particularly dangerous for the Pakistani woman, who are treated worse than cattle. It is the same region infamous for the Mukhtaran Mai gang rape case that shook the world and where after nine years of relentless pursuit for justice by Mai, five of the six accused were acquitted.

“In some villages, until just a few years ago, women were not allowed to wear any footwear. That meant they wouldn’t be able to walk with ease  around the village. If that happened, it would mean they would become more confident and not remain mere doormats. They would eventually find a tongue…and men certainly didn’t want that happening,” said Jawed.

Women, she said, are used as bargaining chips to settle family feuds, living in constant fear of being forced to marry, wedded in exchange, or punished for having spurned a marriage proposal. Even when married, she may find no peace or respect in her husband’s home where she may be punished at the slightest of provocation.

“Women have come to us with severe burns on their face, with scalding tea thrown at them,” said Jawed.

But all this is about to change and men will have to mend their brutal ways or face serious repercussions.

In what can only be termed as groundbreaking, the Punjab government has come up with a law to protect women. But unlike laws that have come with great fanfare and been forgotten just as quickly, this one comes complete with a mechanism for strict adherence to implementation.

The Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act (VAWA) passed in 2016 covers sexual, domestic, physical, economic, cyber, or psychological abuse.

To breathe life into the act, the Punjab government has set up what it calls a “one-stop shop” VAWC in Multan.

It began functioning in March this year with the aim of providing legal, medical and psychological counselling to survivors.

Salman Sufi with the fashion designer Diane Van Furstenberg. Photo courtesy of Vital Voices

“It was a conscious decision to open the first centre in Multan because women are the most vulnerable and meted with the most violent attacks there,” said Salman Sufi, the director general of the Punjab Chief Minister’s think-tank, the Strategic Reform Unit who drafted the law and who conceived of this centre.

“In the first six months since we opened the centre, we received over 1,000 cases from Multan district alone,” said Sufi. The number of violence-related cases is far more. Overall, in Punjab, according to data gathered by the Aurat Foundation, in 2017, of the 5,979 reported cases of violence, 178 were of women killed in the name of honour, 1,086 were raped/gang-raped and 1,626 were kidnapped.

“Even these over 1,000 cases are the tip of the iceberg,” said Sufi who was recently honoured with the Voices of Solidarity Award 2017 by Vital Voices Global Partnership, an organisation under the chairmanship of Hillary Clinton, in his pursuit to end VAW.

By March 2018, three more centres will start operating in other big cities of Punjab including Lahore, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi. “The idea is to eventually have one centre in each of the province’s 36 districts,” said Sufi.

Jawed explained that the VAWC aims to eliminate the lengthy process of registering a complaint about violence. “We provide a fully functional police station, medical facility, forensic lab and legal aid as well as post trauma rehabilitation, all under one roof.” In addition, there is a toll-free 24-hour help line where women can register any complaint of violence immediately.

“This is excellent and this will encourage more women to come and record their complaints,” said Sheraz Ahmed, programme officer at War Against Rape, a Karachi-based non-governmental organisation. Currently, the method in which sexual violence cases are handled in Pakistan at police stations and government health facilities is highly problematic, he said.

“This centre is ideal so that they do not need to go running from one place to another to get assistance, treatment, investigation and shelter,” said Maliha Zia, associate director at Legal Aid Society, adding: “If effectively run, it would cause a lesser degree of humiliation to the survivors.”

For the past ten years, WAR has noticed a discrepancy in the data it gathers from Karachi’s three public sector hospitals, which oscillates between 340 to 380 cases per year, and the complaints registered at the city’s police stations that come to not more than 110 in a given year. “That is because the woman or her family retracts either due to family pressure or the trauma that they have to go through before the case reaches the court,” he said.

“From the time a survivor enters the police station where she’s eyed and questioned by not less than four to five police officers and asked to repeat her story that many times, to the time she goes through medical investigation, valuable evidence is lost,” explained Ahmed. He said for a city of over 20 million, Karachi has only two female medico-legal officers (MLOs) and if the woman comes to the hospital after their duty hours, the delay may cause loss of solid evidence. The same sorry situation, he said, was found all over Pakistan, which has 14 female MLOs and the same misogynistic mindset at police stations.

Back in 2016, when the law for the protection of women was presented to the parliament, it was met with much ire from the  religio-political parties as well as members of the legal fraternity who termed it “un-Islamic”. Many found it an affront to a male ego in this patriarchal country and insisted it would lead to breaking up families.

“We addressed each and everyone’s concerns but not a single clause was amended to appease anyone,” said Sufi, who found the furor caused by the law “exciting” and pointed to the fact that they were doing “something radical”.

The law seems to have everything covered — a monetary order ensures a woman’s earnings are safe and another order sees to it that the woman is not kicked out of the home by her husband or the family.

And yet, despite there being a series of “good legislations” that have been promulgated in recent past, Zohra Yusuf, a council member of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, says violence against women continues because of “weak enforcement” of those laws.

But more than laws that provide “potential tools for survivors”, Zia said until attitudes and bias inherent not only in society, but also within our institutions, change, VAW will continue. “There is social impunity and lack of recognition of many practices as VAW.”

To which Yusuf added: “Coupled with that is the misogyny that the administration and justice systems suffers from.”

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“Banging on the Door” – Women Fight for a Voice and Space in Civil Societyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society/#respond Sat, 09 Dec 2017 14:51:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153427 The space for civil society organizations is shrinking around the world, with particular impacts on women activists and human rights defenders who face additional barriers due to their gender or sexual orientation. Civil society organizations (CSOs) and activists from around the world convened in Fiji over the last week to tackle some of the world’s […]

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Women activists demanding a fair share of power. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Women activists demanding a fair share of power. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 9 2017 (IPS)

The space for civil society organizations is shrinking around the world, with particular impacts on women activists and human rights defenders who face additional barriers due to their gender or sexual orientation.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) and activists from around the world convened in Fiji over the last week to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges.Two years before she was murdered, indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres said that it was her gender as much as her work that threatened her life.

Participants attended workshops and donned shirts saying “activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet” and “we will never give up on our beautiful planet.”

Among the challenges discussed is the rise in populism which has lead to restrictions in rights to expression and public assembly and thus actions taken by CSOs.

According to civil society alliance CIVICUS, only 2 of every 100 people live in a country with decent protections for civil society.

From Venezuela to Russia, state actors have put significant pressure on CSOs, preventing them from accessing foreign funding and registrations due to their role in defending human rights.

“When there is little or no support from government, the activist is in danger of discrimination and abuse by police and other authorities,” Pacific Women Advisory Board member Savina Nongebatu told IPS.

Human rights defenders (HRDs) have been increasingly subject to intimidation, harassment, and are at times killed for the work they do around the world.

Last year was the deadliest year ever recorded for HRDs with almost 300 killed across 25 countries, 49 percent of whom were defending land, indigenous, and environmental rights.

In addition to threats they face for their work, women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are frequently targeted because of their gender or sexual orientation, experiencing attacks that are traditionally perpetrated against women including rape, defamation campaigns, and acid attacks.

In August 2016, Turkish activist Hande Kader was brutally raped and murdered for her outspoken work in lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender (LBGT) rights.

Human rights later Bertha de Leon was subject to a sexualized smear campaign as photos circulated suggesting she had a sexual relationship with a judge who ruled favorably in a case in which she was involved in El Salvador.

Indian tribal rights activist Soni Sori who has been an outspoken critic of police violence towards her community was attacked with a chemical substance in February 2016.

Two years before she was murdered, indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres said that it was her gender as much as her work that threatened her life.

“We are women who are reclaiming our right to the sovereignty of our bodies and thoughts and political beliefs, to our cultural and spiritual rights—of course the aggression is much greater,” she said.

Analysts have found that the trend of closing civic space and restrictons to civil society often go hand in hand with the intensification of a fundamentalist discouse on national identity and traditional patricarchal values.

Such threats and actions work to silence WHRDs, limiting their resources and capacity to do work in already restricted civic spaces.

“When we have defenders with limited resources and capacity, the possibility of not being heard or consulted is high,” Nongebatu said.

“The ability to work and build partnerships rests squarely on the few women activists who may have learnt to work smarter from lessons learnt in their journey,” she added.

Such threats and restrictions do not stay isolated within borders, but are often brought over to international fora like the UN.

During International Civil Society Week (ICSW) in Fiji, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former UN Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark noted UN’s continuous struggle to include civil society voices, reminding participants that the UN Charter begins with the words “We the peoples.”

“It doesn’t say we the countries or we the member states,” she said, adding that barriers to civil society participation often comes from member states.

“Not all member states like civil society very much…you just have to keep banging on the door and force it to respond,” Clark said.

LGBT rights have been particularly long contested at the UN. In 2016, Russia with the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) banned 11 LGBT organizations from attending a UN High-Level meeting on Ending AIDS.

And it was only recently that women were formally recognized for their role in climate action during the UN Climate Change Conference in Germany, kickstarting a process to integrate gender equality and human rights into climate action.

Nongebatu also told IPS of the “North and South divide” where larger civil society organizations take up more resources and space and urged for them to ensure that all women who work in human rights are consulted.

She also called on the UN to be inclusive of those in the Pacific Islands who often are unable to make the long journey to New York.

Despite the numerous challenges, Nongebatu remained motivated and asked women activists to stay determined.

“Intersection of all issues is inevitable!…The work we do is never done! Don’t give up! We need to keep fighting!”


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific and small island states who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world met in Suva, Fiji from 4-8 December for International Civil Society Week.

 

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Debate on Glyphosate Use Comes to a Head in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/debate-glyphosate-use-comes-head-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=debate-glyphosate-use-comes-head-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/debate-glyphosate-use-comes-head-argentina/#comments Fri, 08 Dec 2017 20:20:09 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153423 In and around the city of Rosario, where most of Argentina’s soybean processing plants are concentrated, a local law banned the use of glyphosate, the most widely-used herbicide in Argentina. But two weeks later, producers managed to exert enough pressure to obtain a promise that the ban would be overturned. This episode, which took place […]

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Academics discuss the impacts on health and the environment of the use of glyphosate in Argentine agriculture, during a Dec. 6 conference at the University of Buenos Aires. Concern about this topic is now on the country’s public agenda. Credit: Daniel Gutman / IPS

Academics discuss the impacts on health and the environment of the use of glyphosate in Argentine agriculture, during a Dec. 6 conference at the University of Buenos Aires. Concern about this topic is now on the country’s public agenda. Credit: Daniel Gutman / IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Dec 8 2017 (IPS)

In and around the city of Rosario, where most of Argentina’s soybean processing plants are concentrated, a local law banned the use of glyphosate, the most widely-used herbicide in Argentina. But two weeks later, producers managed to exert enough pressure to obtain a promise that the ban would be overturned.

This episode, which took place in November, reflects the strong economic interests at stake and the growing controversy surrounding the use of agrochemicals and their impact on people’s health and the environment.

“Agriculture in Argentine has undergone major changes in recent decades and consolidated its agroindustrial model, strongly based on soy, which displaced wheat and corn,” explained Emilio Satorre, professor and researcher at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) department of agronomy.

“The sown area climbed from 15 to 36 million hectares, 60 to 65 percent of which are covered with genetically modified (GM) soy, while the use of phytosanitary products increased threefold. This system generated great wealth for the country, but of course it produces greater risks,” he told IPS.

For Satorre, “society is increasingly exacting… and the environment and health have become a central focus.”

Glyphosate accounts for over half of the agrochemicals used, since the government authorised in 1996 commercial sales of GM soybean resistant to that herbicide, which was then produced exclusively by Monsanto, the US biotech giant with a large subsidiary in this South American country.

Along with direct seeding or no-till systems, which avoid soil tillage and mitigate erosion, glyphosate and GM soy form the foundation on which the phenomenal expansion of agriculture has been based in this country of 44 million people, where the agro-livestock sector represents about 13 percent of GDP.

This growth took place at the expense of the loss of millions of hectares of natural pastures in La Pampa, one of the world’s most fertile regions in the centre of the country, and of native forests in the Chaco, the northern subtropical plain shared with Bolivia and Paraguay.

Large-scale soy production expanded so much that it reached the edge of many urban areas.

One of them is Córdoba, the second-biggest city in the country, located in the central region. There, a group of women have put Ituzaingó – a working-class neighborhood – on the national map since 2002.

It was when they mobilised to protest about a large number of cases of cancer and malformations, which they blamed on the spraying of soy crops that grew up to a few metres from their homes.

The Mothers of Ituzaingó, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Córdoba, the second-biggest city in Argentina, have taken their fight against agrochemicals, because of its impact on the health of their community, to the emblematic Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. Credit: Courtesy of Mothers of Ituzaingó

The Mothers of Ituzaingó, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Córdoba, the second-biggest city in Argentina, have taken their fight against agrochemicals, because of its impact on the health of their community, to the emblematic Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. Credit: Courtesy of Mothers of Ituzaingó

With their struggle, the Mothers of Ituzaingó obtained a judicial ruling that banned fumigations closer than 500 metres from their houses, as well as the criminal conviction of an agricultural producer and a fumigator.

They became a beacon of hope for many social movements in the country.

“I started when my daughter, who was three years old, was diagnosed with leukemia. Today thanks to God she is alive and they haven’t sprayed here anymore since 2008, but we were poisoned for years and people are still getting sick,” said Norma Herrera, a homemaker who has five children and two grandchildren.

“It was a very hard struggle at the beginning. Over the years the facts have proved us right, but we were never able to get professionals to scientifically establish the connection between the spraying and the health problems,” Herrera told IPS.

Thanks to the social movement of which the Mothers of Ituzaingó were pioneers, a decision was reached Nov. 16 by the city council in Rosario to ban glyphosate.

The provision placed emphasis on a study carried out by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialised cancer agency of the World Health Organisation, which declared the herbicide a “probable carcinogen” two years ago.

The decision took agricultural producers by surprise. At the time they seemed more worried about the uncertainty over whether the European Union would or would not renew the licence for the use of glyphosate, which was to expire on Dec. 15.

A negative decision would cause a severe economic impact for Argentina, the sector’s business chambers warned.

But on Nov. 27 the EU agreed in Brussels to renew the licence for the herbicide for five years, with the votes of 18 countries against nine and one abstention.

In 2016, Argentina’s agricultural exports totaled 24 billion dollars, equivalent to 46 percent of the country’s total exports, while soy meal, cornmeal and soy oil accounted for the main sales abroad.

Three days after the EU’s decision, the heads of rural entities went to Rosario’s city hall and convinced the same city councilors who had banned glyphosate that there was no “scientific evidence” warranting such a decision.

A few hours later, several city councilors said they had not discussed the issue with the necessary depth.

As a result, although the provision is not yet in force because it was not signed by the city government, a new municipal bill was drafted, which authorises spraying with the herbicide with certain precautions, and is set to be discussed this month.

“We consider it deplorable that the councilors have reversed the commendable decision to protect the health and environment of the population of Rosario, yielding to pressure from the soy lobby and showing who truly governs” said a group of more than 10 environmental and social organisations.of the region in a press release.

For Lilian Correa, head of Health and Environment at the UBA school of medicine, “the next generation of Argentinians must put on the table the cost-benefit equation of the current productive model. Today, the impact on health and the environment is not measured.”

Correa warned about the prevailing apathy in Argentina regarding the regulation and handling of toxic agrochemicals, citing the case of endosulfan, an insecticide banned in 2011 by the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.

“When that happened, Argentina set a two-year deadline to sell off stocks of endosulfan. That was done to benefit a company, in an unethical and illegal manner,” Correa said during a Dec. 5 conference at the UBA agronomy department

In 2011, a four-year-old boy died in Corrientes, in the northeast of the country, poisoned when endosulfan was sprayed on tomato crops less than 50 metres from his house.

In December 2016, the owner of the tomato plantation in question became the first person tried in Argentina for homicide through the use of agrochemicals.

However, the court considered that no negligence could be proven in the use of the substance, which at that time was permitted, and acquitted him.

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New ‘Anti-Hate Law’ Threatens Freedoms in Venezuelahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/new-anti-hate-law-threatens-freedoms-venezuela/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-anti-hate-law-threatens-freedoms-venezuela http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/new-anti-hate-law-threatens-freedoms-venezuela/#respond Wed, 06 Dec 2017 20:51:47 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153371 Hate speech in the media or social networks in Venezuela is now punishable with prison sentences of up to 20 years, according to a new law issued by the government-controlled National Constituent Assembly (ANC). “A laudable objective, such as preventing hate speech that can lead to crimes and other damages, creates new crimes of opinion […]

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By a show of hands, Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly passed on Nov. 8 the new law against hate, which represents a threat to freedom of expression according to organisations that work to defend free speech. Credit: Zurimar Campos / AVN

By a show of hands, Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly passed on Nov. 8 the new law against hate, which represents a threat to freedom of expression according to organisations that work to defend free speech. Credit: Zurimar Campos / AVN

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Dec 6 2017 (IPS)

Hate speech in the media or social networks in Venezuela is now punishable with prison sentences of up to 20 years, according to a new law issued by the government-controlled National Constituent Assembly (ANC).

“A laudable objective, such as preventing hate speech that can lead to crimes and other damages, creates new crimes of opinion and is aimed at controlling content and freedom of expression,” Marianela Balbi, executive director of the Venezuelan chapter of the Lima-based Press and Society Institute (IPyS), told IPS.

The “Constitutional Law against hatred, for peaceful coexistence and tolerance” was approved by the ANC, which is made up exclusively of supporters of the government of Nicolás Maduro. The ANC was elected on Jul. 30, in elections boycotted by the opposition. It is not recognised by many governments, while the single-chamber National Assembly, where the opposition is in the majority, rejects it as unconstitutional.

“We do not call it a law because laws, in accordance with domestic and international human rights law, are made by parliaments – in this country, the National Assembly – to allow debate and participation, which in this case did not happen,” Carlos Correa, of the non-governmental organisation Espacio Público, dedicated to freedom of expression and information, told IPS.

It was President Maduro, in power since 2013 and political heir of the late leader of the Bolivarian revolution, Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), who requested the approval of the law against hatred.

“The time has come, through a broad political process of awareness-raising, to punish the crimes of hate and intolerance, in all their forms of expression, and to put an end to them definitively,” Maduro said when presenting the bill in August.

Tips for context
* Before the law was passed, 14 people were imprisoned in the last three years, some for several months under ongoing judicial proceedings, for sending messages via Twitter, investigated as accessories to crimes committed in the context of opposition demonstrations, human rights organisations point out.

* The Press Workers’ Union reports that in 2010, 49 media outlets were closed in the country, including 46 radio stations. Espacio Público counts 148 closures of media outlets during the governments of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro.

* Espacio Público registers a record number of 887 violations of freedom of expression in the period Jan.-Sept. 2017, 259 percent more than in 2016. The list covers hundreds of intimidations, attacks and threats to press workers, especially in the context of demonstrations, as well as 83 administrative restrictions on media and 157 cases of censorship.

* The Internet connection speed in Venezuela is 1.9 megabytes per second, comparted to a regional average of 4.7, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

* The International Telecommunications Union records a decrease in the population's access to Internet, from 61.9 to 60 percent between 2015 and 2016, and a decrease in mobile phone coverage from 102 to 87 percent between 2012 and 2016.

Former minister of Foreign Affairs and president of the ANC, Delcy Rodríguez, said that a comparative study was carried out with similar laws in Germany and Ecuador, and that in addition to establishing penalties, the Venezuelan law incorporated provisions to promote education in favour of tolerance.

In July, Germany passed a law that orders service providers such as YouTube or Twitter to remove content considered criminal within 24 hours.

In Ecuador, former president Rafael Correa (2007-2017) proposed a “law that regulates acts of hatred and discrimination in social networks,” with possible sanctions against service providers, but the legislature shelved the bill after Lenin Moreno became president in May.

The 25-article law passed by the ANC does not define what it means by “hate”. According to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language hatred is “antipathy and aversion to something or a person to whom one wishes ill.”

“It is serious that this law puts in the hands of a few officials the assessment of what is or is not a hate crime, because the legal instrument lacks a definition,” Alberto Arteaga, former dean of the Central University of Venezuela’s law school, told IPS.

The rapporteur for freedom of expression in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Uruguayan Edison Lanza, warned that “the law against hatred in Venezuela could severely hinder the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and generate a strong intimidation effect incompatible with a democratic society.”

Lanza lamented the establishment of “exorbitant criminal sanctions and powers to censor traditional media and the Internet, that run counter to international standards on freedom of expression.” In his opinion, “the last free space in Venezuela, the social networks, will be censored.”

The law aims to prevent and repress all expressions that “promote war or incite hatred of national, racial, ethnic, religious, political, social, ideological, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and any other nature that constitutes incitement to discrimination, intolerance or violence. ”

Political organisations will have to reform their statutes to expel any members who spread expressions of hatred. The penalty for not following this rule will be the cancellation of the registration of the party considered to have infringed the law.

Any print or audiovisual media outlets that emit messages punishable by law will be subject to fines, closure or termination of their concession, independently of the penalties that may fall individually on those responsible.

Administrators of social networks and online media outlets must withdraw messages that contravene the law within a maximum period of six hours, or they will be sanctioned.

The penalty for spreading messages that instigate hatred, war, discrimination or intolerance can range from 10 to 20 years in prison.

The sanctions will be imposed by courts and by the state National Telecommunications Commission.

In addition, the law creates a Commission for the Promotion and Guarantee of Peaceful Coexistence, which will dictate the measures that the authorities and official agencies and citizens must follow to fulfill the objectives of the law and avoid impunity.

The new 15-member Commission, appointed by the ANC itself, will be made up of representatives of that body, the executive branch, the other branches of government, excluding parliament, and three social organisations that promote coexistence.

Balbi argued that the new law “establishes a very dangerous discretionality, which is unnecessary to protect aspects such as security or the good repute of people, because they already are covered by the Constitution, other laws and international treaties that Venezuela has signed.”

The National Assembly rejected “the supposed law”, because it was produced by a body that it sees as not having the authority to create laws, and because “it constitutes a gross attempt to criminalise and sanction political dissidence, putting at risk plurality, freedom of expression and the right to information.”

But the decisions by the parliament elected in December 2015 are systematically blocked and ignored by the Supreme Court of Justice, the executive branch and other Venezuelan authorities.

Correa said the new law “is aimed towards building a logic of fear. It seeks censorship and self-censorship. It tries to get into people’s feelings, something characteristic of not only authoritarian but of totalitarian regimes.”
The new law, which entered into force on Nov. 8, has not yet been applied to any institution or person.

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