Inter Press Service » Civil Society http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 13 Feb 2016 08:49:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Radio rage in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/radio-rage-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=radio-rage-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/radio-rage-in-india/#comments Sat, 13 Feb 2016 07:45:59 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143875 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/radio-rage-in-india/feed/ 0 Women’s Empowerment in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/womens-empowerment-in-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-empowerment-in-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/womens-empowerment-in-bangladesh/#comments Fri, 12 Feb 2016 07:09:27 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143865 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/womens-empowerment-in-bangladesh/feed/ 0 Rise of Middle Class Undermined in East Europe & Central Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/rise-of-middle-class-undermined-in-east-europe-central-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rise-of-middle-class-undermined-in-east-europe-central-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/rise-of-middle-class-undermined-in-east-europe-central-asia/#comments Thu, 11 Feb 2016 11:36:41 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143860 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 11 2016 (IPS)

The UN’s post-2015 development agenda, which was adopted by world leaders at a summit meeting last September, includes a highly ambitious goal: the eradication of extreme poverty by the year 2030.

The decline in poverty, as reflected in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which ended last December, had one positive fallout: the rise of a new middle class graduating largely from the ranks of the poor.

But a new study by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) points out that the decline in poverty and the rise of the middle class are being undermined by several factors, including falling commodity prices and shrinking remittances – specifically in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The middle class in the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia swelled from about 33 million people in 2001 to 90 million in 2013, according to the latest available figures.

“In many ways, the story in this region is different from what is happening in other parts of the world. The share of people living on $10 and $50 dollars per day has actually increased in most of these countries”,(as against a poverty line of less than 1.25 dollar a day), said Cihan Sultanoğlu, the Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Over that same period, the number of people in the region living in poverty fell from at least 46 million in 2001 to about 5.0 million in 2013.

“But the region’s advances are under threat and the focus needs to be on improving its prospects for sustainable development”, she added.

With collapsing commodity prices, shrinking remittances and slow economic growth in Europe, the Russian Federation and much of the rest of the region, income-and-employment generating opportunities are disappearing, she said.

Sultanoglu told IPS: “The question really is: what impact inequality can have in reducing poverty. In this region, low or falling inequalities are central to prospects for poverty reduction, inclusive growth, and sustainable development.”

Addressing the UN Commission for Social Development (CSD) early this week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “Experience has shown that thriving economy is not enough to eradicate poverty and promote shared prosperity. Economies must be put at the service of people, through effective integrated social policies.”

“The widening gap between the rich and poor is marginalizing and alienating the most vulnerable in society,” he warned.

Ben Slay, Chief Economist, UNDP Eastern Europe and Central Asia, told IPS: “The middle class is unlikely to grow much in 2016 or 2017 because of the difficult overall growth environment.”

The UNDP study points out that the share of workers in vulnerable employment in Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan is already estimated at close to 50 percent, while many different groups are excluded.

Vinicius Pinheiro, Director of the UN Office of the International Labour Organization (ILO) told the CSD Monday that the number of unemployed people had increased in 2015 by more than 0.7 million, reaching 197.1 million globally: a one million increase over 2014 and more than 27 million before the pre-crisis levels.

According to UNDP, inequalities and exclusion are at the heart of the newly-inaugurated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

And the UN’s 193 member states have committed themselves to eradicating poverty, fighting inequalities, building peaceful, inclusive, and resilient societies, and securing the future of the planet and the well-being of future generations.

Almost 1.5 billion people live in poverty according to UNDP’s Multidimensional Poverty Index, and almost 800 million are vulnerable to slipping back into poverty. Eighty per cent of the world’s elderly lack basic social protection, making them a particularly vulnerable group.

“The challenge is not just to lift people out of poverty – it is to ensure that their escape is permanent,” says UNDP Administrator Helen Clark.

That is difficult, if there is no social protection, and where societies are vulnerable to relapses into conflict and to huge setbacks from natural disasters, she added.

“As dynamic emerging economies and stable societies move ahead, increasingly we will see extreme poverty co-located with zones of conflict and high disaster risk exposure, and where there is poor governance and little rule of law.”

It will therefore be idle rhetoric to talk about poverty eradication, said Clark, if the context in which it exists isn’t addressed.

“At UNDP, we look forward to the post-2015 global agenda taking on this challenges. We equally look forward to playing our full part in building the more inclusive, peaceful, and resilient societies which can advance human development.”

The battle against poverty is also being thwarted by military conflicts and the growing humanitarian crises.

The secretary-general told the CSD: “We are living in a world of turmoil and trouble.” He said there may be fewer wars between countries, but there is more insecurity.

“Inequality remains too high, affecting poverty reduction efforts and social cohesion in both developed and developing countries.”

He said too many people continue to face exclusion and are unable to realize their full potential. Too few economies have attained inclusive and sustainable growth and are unable to promote true social progress.

“People are frustrated. They are working harder and falling behind. Too often, instead of decisions, they see deadlock. And they wonder: are leaders even listening?”, Ban asked.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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UN Chief Focuses on World’s First Humanitarian Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/un-chief-focuses-on-worlds-first-humanitarian-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-chief-focuses-on-worlds-first-humanitarian-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/un-chief-focuses-on-worlds-first-humanitarian-summit/#comments Wed, 10 Feb 2016 20:01:50 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143855 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 10 2016 (IPS)

As the global humanitarian crisis continues to devastate civilian lives in conflict zones, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to the international community to ensure “no-one in conflict, no-one in chronic poverty, and no-one living with the risk of natural hazards and rising sea levels, is left behind.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) briefs the General Assembly on his report for the World Humanitarian Summit, which is to take place on 23-24 May in Istanbul, Turkey. Also pictured (from left, front row): Stephen O'Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; Mogens Lykketoft, President of the seventieth session of the General Assembly; and Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management. Credit: UN PHOTO/Rick Bajornas

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) briefs the General Assembly on his report for the World Humanitarian Summit, which is to take place on 23-24 May in Istanbul, Turkey. Also pictured (from left, front row): Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; Mogens Lykketoft, President of the seventieth session of the General Assembly; and Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management. Credit: UN PHOTO/Rick Bajornas

Speaking to delegates during the launch of a new report, he said the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit is “the moment for us to come together to renew our commitment to humanity.”

The report, “One Humanity: Shared responsibility“, was released Tuesday three months ahead of the summit meeting of world leaders scheduled to take place in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 23-24.

The United Nations says it needs more than 20 billion dollars to feed and care for over 60 million people who are either displaced internally or who have fled their home countries becoming refugees virtually overnight.
And there are about 40 countries – out of the 193 UN member states – which are engulfed in “high-level, medium-level and low-level crises and violence,” according to Ban

“Given the current crises in our global political economy, along with climate change”, Ban warned, violent extremism, terrorism, transnational crime and persistent brutal conflicts are devastating the lives of millions of people and destabilizing entire regions.

“Today’s complex challenges cross borders and surpass the capacity of any single country or institution to cope,” the Secretary-General said.

“We need to restore trust in our global world order and in the capacities of our national and regional institutions to confront these challenges effectively.”

According to a senior U.N. official, who provided a background briefing last week, the report contains a personal plea from the Secretary-General to “restore humanity”, while guaranteeing dignity and safety to all people, in accordance with the U.N. Universal Declaration of Rights and the 2030 Agenda.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) with Mogens Lykketoft, President of the seventieth session of the General Assembly, at the meeting where the Secretary-General briefed the Assembly on his report for the World Humanitarian Summit. Credit: UN PHOTO/Rick Bajornas

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) with Mogens Lykketoft, President of the seventieth session of the General Assembly, at the meeting where the Secretary-General briefed the Assembly on his report for the World Humanitarian Summit. Credit: UN PHOTO/Rick Bajornas

As part of Ban’s five-year plan, the WHS will appeal to the international community to come together to re-discover “global unity and solidarity” and end human suffering and inequality, according to the official.

“Funding figures for humanitarians have totally mushroomed up to over 600 percent of what we required ten years ago… and almost 80 percent of humanitarian staff, but also peace-keepers, and staff of special political missions are now deployed in these protracted situations” the U.N. official remarked, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, along with civil society, showed their positive response to Ban’s initiative.

Oxfam’s Humanitarian Representative, Charlotte Stemmer, said: “The humanitarian system is overwhelmed with the amount of rising needs in a world racked by crises. […] (World leaders) should not pay lip service to this, as concrete action is urgently needed. The World Humanitarian Summit’s greatest legacy would be a real commitment to change this.”

According to the new report, “the international community is increasing its response to crises while struggling to find sustainable political and security solutions to end them.”

In 2014, the economic and financial cost of conflicts was estimated to be around 14.3 trillion dollars (13.4 percent of the global economy).

The five core shared responsibilities are: One, political leadership to prevent and end conflicts. Rather than investing in humanitarian assistance, the international community should prioritize political solutions, unity, and create peaceful societies.

Two, enforcing and abiding to international laws in order to protect civilians, respect human rights, restrict the use and transfer of certain arms and ammunition, halt bombings and strengthen the global justice system.

Three, “leaving no one behind” — which is also the central theme of the U.N.’s 2030 Development agenda – and reaching out to the poorest and the most vulnerable men, women and children in war-torn areas or in case of natural disasters. It also includes the protection of women and girls and focuses on the right to education for all.

Data from the report highlights that in 2014, conflicts and violence forced around 42.500 people to flee their homes daily. This resulted in 60 million internally displaced peoples, refugees and asylum-seekers by the first half of 2015.

About half of the world’s refugee children are missing out on primary education and three quarters do not have access to secondary education, according to a UN report.

Four, changing people’s lives. Currently, nearly 1.4 billion people live in fragile situations, and figures are estimated to grow up to 1.9 billion by 2030, says the report.

Therefore, it is fundamental to develop coordinated actions to anticipate crises, reinforce local institutions and governments, build community resilience, and invest in data and risk analysis.

Five, investing in humanity. Ban highlighted the concept of “grand bargain” urging donors and national authorities to change their mindset “from funding to financing” local actors and local institutions, while increasing cost-efficiency and transparency.

Organised by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Relief (OCHA) the WHS summit offers for the first time the opportunity to reflect on a new humanitarian aid framework – explained Ban.

The summit also aims at bringing together the international community –- civil society, world leaders, private sector, peace-builders representatives, peace-keepers, and NGOs — to design new policies and set new strategies for humanitarian assistance and relief in affected countries.

In a preface to the report, Ban wrote: “I ask global leaders to come to the World Humanitarian Summit prepared to assume their responsibilities for a new era of international relations; one in which safeguarding humanity and promoting human progress drives our decision-making and collective actions.”

(End)

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Rural Youth Can Be Tomorrow’s Entrepreneurshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/rural-youth-can-be-tomorrows-entrepreneurs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-youth-can-be-tomorrows-entrepreneurs http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/rural-youth-can-be-tomorrows-entrepreneurs/#comments Tue, 09 Feb 2016 10:36:27 +0000 Nteranya Sanginga http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143835 Nteranya Sanginga is the Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture ]]>

Nteranya Sanginga is the Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture

By Nteranya Sanginga
Ibadan, Nigeria, Feb 9 2016 (IPS)

Bolstering widespread prosperity in Africa is a key necessity if the world is to achieve its commitments to eradicate poverty and hunger by 2030.

Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Courtesy of IITA

Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Courtesy of IITA

The sheer numbers indicate the scale of the challenge, and also strong hints as to the path to pursue.

The continent’s population has doubled in three decades, and while urbanization has moved at a blistering pace, it has not offset the number of people living in rural areas. Agricultural productivity has in fact increased faster than the global average, but not fast enough to resolve the paradox of the continent with a majority of the world’s unfarmed arable land remaining a net importer of food.

Those are the facts. And they highlight some basic principles: Africa has huge potential, but progress must include the rural and agricultural sectors. Smallholders contribute around 80 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s food supply, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and these are the critical enterprises that must be tapped to produce incomes, jobs and opportunities.

Much work is being done by governments and international organizations to shore up food security, through social protection and targeted agricultural development programs.

What we at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture think is essential is that people themselves have to be enabled to truly leverage their own and their continent’s potential.

While there is absolutely a role for public policies and large private-sector initiatives to make this happen, individual empowerment is also essential.

On the surface, that is obvious. While our core mandate is to be the lead research partner facilitating agricultural solutions for hunger and poverty in the tropics, our core vision is based on the idea that the connecting links for the broad array of initiatives around the land, not always perfectly coordinated, are entrepreneurs.

Family farmers are far and away the world’s largest investors in agriculture. Likewise, bottom-up business activity is the most efficient way to maximize efficiency.

That is why IITA is investing heavily in spreading our Business Incubation Platform, a model closely linked to our Youth Agripreneurs programs and aimed at accelerating the rollout of a series of useful services to be offered along the value chain. Our approach is particularly geared to fostering productive and profitable opportunities for youth, especially rural youth.

Not all youth, after all, can permanently migrate to cities; and if they were to do so, the countryside would suffer from an ageing work force.

Let me emphasize that the goal here is to make money, not just spend it! I jest, but only to hammer home the point that real sustainability requires viable networks that can carry research ideas to positive fruition.

Consider NoduMax, one of our Business Incubation Platform’s star developments. This is a legume inoculant for soybeans that allows them to access more nitrogen from the air – which ultimately also improves soil fertility – and thus lead to up to 450 kilograms of additional yield per hectare. It’s easy to use and affordable.

The technology was developed in our Business Incubation Platform in Ibadan. Now the time is ripe to produce it in larger quantities and for sales networks to spread the word. All of this is a form of sustainably intensifying agricultural production and creating greater food security, and its driving force does not involve touching a till or needing to own new land.

We’re also developing aflasafe strains to combat the aflatoxins that are such a scourge to major staple crops across Africa. Aflasafe is a natural biological control product developed by IITA and partners to fight aflatoxin contamination. Again, we incubate its development, but it can easily be transferred to the private sector and scaled up in multiple sites, meaning more jobs in construction, manufacturing and as laboratory analysts.

Both products also of course increase the food supply – through yields or reduction of losses – and thus catalyze further commercial opportunities.

Projects in the works include an innovative fish-pond system and food-processing activities for our mandate crops: cassava, soybean, cowpea, yam, plantain and banana.

Operating our business incubation platform also means individuals naturally network, meeting partners, potential funders and others useful to an array of enterprises, which may range from innovative risk-sharing or credit-supply services to the discovery and establishment of new markets for both inputs and specialty crops. These “externalities” are intrinsic to the whole idea that agriculture is not an ancestral destiny for the poor but an exciting frontier that can be conquered by Africa’s burgeoning demographic group: Youth.

While policy makers have a lot of work to do to create enabling environments for smallholder farmer families to prosper, those environments must also be populated, and that is what we are trying to do.

(End)

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Microcephaly Revives Battle for Legal Abortion in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/microcephaly-revives-battle-for-legal-abortion-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=microcephaly-revives-battle-for-legal-abortion-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/microcephaly-revives-battle-for-legal-abortion-in-brazil/#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2016 23:16:47 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143829 “Abortion shouldn’t be a crime” reads a sign held in one of the numerous demonstrations held in Brazil to demand the legalisation of abortion. Credit: Courtesy of Distintas Latitudes

“Abortion shouldn’t be a crime” reads a sign held in one of the numerous demonstrations held in Brazil to demand the legalisation of abortion. Credit: Courtesy of Distintas Latitudes

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 8 2016 (IPS)

The Zika virus epidemic and a rise in the number of cases of microcephaly in newborns have revived the debate on legalising abortion in Brazil. However, the timing is difficult as conservative and religious groups are growing in strength, especially in parliament.

“We are issuing a call to society to hold a rational, generous debate towards a review of the law that criminalises abortion,” lawyer Silvia Pimentel told IPS.

Pimentel, one of the 23 independent experts who oversee compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), defends the right to abortion in cases of “severe and irreversible birth defects”.

In Brazil, a 1940 law makes abortion illegal with two exceptions: when it is necessary to save the mother’s life or if the pregnancy is the result of rape.

A third exception, in cases of anencephalic fetuses -which have no brain – was legalised in 2012 as the result of a Supreme Court ruling based on the fact that they cannot survive outside the womb.

“This is different – microcephaly is not like anencephaly, in terms of surviving outside the womb; for the anencephalic fetus, the uterus serves as an intensive care unit; many even die before they are born,” said Clair Castilhos, executive secretary of the National Feminist Network for Health and Sexual and Reproductive Rights.

Microcephalic children, who are born with abnormally small heads, often have some degree of mental retardation, but they can survive.

“In these cases, we should discuss a woman’s right to decide whether to continue with the pregnancy, once she and her partner have been informed that their child could be born with serious difficulties,” said Castilhos, a pharmacist and biochemist who specialises in public health.

If the Supreme Court rules in favour of the right to abortion in cases of microcephaly, as women’s rights activists are seeking, “it would be a fourth exception,” she said.

“Although it wouldn’t be what we’re working for, which is the right for all women to decide whether to continue with a pregnancy, in any circumstances, rather than have an abortion as a ‘permissible crime’ in some cases,” she said in an interview with IPS.

But the approval of this “fourth exception” is unlikely.

Those opposed to making abortion legal, led by religious groups, argue that it violates the most basic of human rights, the right to life. They even protested the decriminalisation of abortion in cases of anencephalic fetuses, arguing that life begins at conception.

In their campaign over the social networks, they are now arguing that abortion of microcephalic fetuses amounts to “eugenics” or selective breeding, and compare those who defend the right to abortion in these cases to Nazis.

But Débora Diniz, a researcher at the Anis Bioethics Institute and the University of Brasilia, has argued in interviews and opinion pieces that eugenics occurs when the state intervenes in decision-making in an authoritarian manner, exercising control over women’s pregnancies, and not when the idea is for women to be free to make their own family planning decisions.

The Bom Jardim neighbourhood in Fortaleza, one of the big cities in Northeast Brazil, the region hit hardest by the Zika virus. The lack of sanitation and huge garbage dumps on the banks of rivers and stagnant water in containers everywhere offer ideal breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika virus, dengue fever and the chikungunya virus. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Bom Jardim neighbourhood in Fortaleza, one of the big cities in Northeast Brazil, the region hit hardest by the Zika virus. The lack of sanitation and huge garbage dumps on the banks of rivers and stagnant water in containers everywhere offer ideal breeding grounds for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika virus, dengue fever and the chikungunya virus. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Diniz forms part of a group of legal experts, feminists and other activists who plan to turn to the Supreme Court for a ruling on abortion in the case of microcephaly, in a repeat of the process they followed in the case of anencephaly, which began in 2004 and finally led to a verdict in 2012.

On Feb. 5, U.N. high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urged Latin American governments to boost access to “reproductive health services,” including emergency contraception and abortion, given the spread of Zika virus in several countries of the region.

Between October – when the outbreak of microcephaly was identified as possibly linked to the Zika virus – and Jan. 30, there were 404 proven cases of microcephaly in newborns in Brazil. Another 3,670 cases are still being studied.

There have also been 76 infant deaths due to small brain size or central nervous system problems since October, but only five cases were confirmed as Zika-related while 56 are still under investigation.

Seventeen children were born with brain malformations proven to be linked to a mother’s infection with the Zika virus during pregnancy.

Zika virus, like dengue fever and the chikungunya virus, are spread by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito.

The main symptoms of Zika virus disease are a low fever, an itchy skin rash, joint pain, and red, inflamed eyes. The symptoms, which are generally mild, last from three to seven days, and most people don’t even know they have had the disease, which makes it difficult to assess the actual number of cases.

The government does not even have estimates of the number of victims of the epidemic, and only recently gave instructions for mandatory reporting of the disease.

There were 1,649,008 cases of dengue registered by the Health Ministry in 2015, with 863 deaths, 82.5 percent more than in 2014. This virus is more widespread and more lethal, but it does not seem to have caused such alarm among Brazilians as Zika virus.

Microcephaly, which is only a threat in the case of pregnant women, has had a much bigger public impact.

Its link to Zika was established by Brazilian researchers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said a causal relationship between the virus and microcephaly has not yet been fully established.

Nevertheless, on Feb. 1 it declared the Zika virus and its suspected link to birth defects an international public health emergency.

In Brazil, only when unborn babies began to be affected was a decision reached to combat the spread of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. In late January, the government launched a campaign that mobilised 220,000 military troops and thousands of health ministry and other public employees, as well as the public at large.

Brazil will have “a generation of people who have been impaired” if the mosquito is not eliminated, said Health Minister Marcelo Castro, who has been criticised for making contradictory statements about the epidemic.

But a leading national voice on bioethics, Volnei Garrafa, complained to IPS that the government wants to hold society responsible for fighing the Aedes aegypti mosquito, without assuming its own responsibility for the lack of adequate sanitation and the “garbage and stagnant water everywhere,” which generate perfect breeding grounds for the mosquito.

He said that in the renewed debate on the right to abortion, it would be important to have a bioethics council, such as the ones that operate in Europe and in a few countries of Latin America, where abortion remains illegal except in Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico City, or under extremely limited circumstances (fetal malformation, rape, risk to the mother’s life) in most other countries.

Garrafa said that with the current composition of the national Congress, where evangelical and Catholic groups have a strong influence, the approval of measures moving – even gradually – in the direction of the legalisation of abortion is nearly impossible.

“Congress is no longer ‘national’, it is an inquisition tribunal, where religious beliefs prevail,” said Castilhos.

Proposals in parliament, rather than being aimed at easing abortion law, seek to restrict the right to legal abortion in cases of rape, creating humiliating requirements for the victims that make it practically impossible for them to obtain an abortion.

“The Supreme Court has been forced to fill the legislative vacuum, at the risk of eroding democracy through the mixing up of the branches of the state, with the judiciary legislating instead of parliament,” said Garrafa.

In the past few decades, the Supreme Court has handed down rulings on complex issues such as biosafety and stem cell research, where experts in jointly evaluating biological and ethical questions would help overcome or mitigate controversies, said Garrafa, the founder of several Brazilian and Latin American bioethics institutions.

In the current political context, the Supreme Court represents the hope for progress on sexual and reproductive rights, Pimentel, Castilhos and Garrafa all told IPS.

Against this backdrop, the outbreak of microcephaly is traumatic, but it also represents an opportunity for debate on abortion and the need for universal access to sanitation, they added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Dying for the News: Media Call for Help from Gov’t and Public against Attackshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/dying-for-the-news-media-call-for-help-from-govt-and-public-against-attacks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dying-for-the-news-media-call-for-help-from-govt-and-public-against-attacks http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/dying-for-the-news-media-call-for-help-from-govt-and-public-against-attacks/#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2016 07:03:06 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143821 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/dying-for-the-news-media-call-for-help-from-govt-and-public-against-attacks/feed/ 0 Women of Haitian Descent Bear the Brunt of Dominican Migration Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/women-of-haitian-descent-bear-the-brunt-of-dominican-migration-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-of-haitian-descent-bear-the-brunt-of-dominican-migration-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/women-of-haitian-descent-bear-the-brunt-of-dominican-migration-policy/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 02:49:07 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143793 Two women selling fruit, grains and vegetables in the Little Haiti street market in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. They allowed their picture to be taken but preferred not to talk about their situation. Fear is part of daily life for Haitian immigrants in this country. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Two women selling fruit, grains and vegetables in the Little Haiti street market in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. They allowed their picture to be taken but preferred not to talk about their situation. Fear is part of daily life for Haitian immigrants in this country. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

By Ivet González
SANTO DOMINGO, Feb 5 2016 (IPS)

A middle-aged woman arranges bouquets of yellow roses in a street market in Little Haiti, a slum neighbourhood in the capital of the Dominican Republic. “I don’t want to talk, don’t take photos,” she tells IPS, standing next to a little girl who appears to be her daughter.

Other vendors at the stalls in the street market, all of them black women, also refuse to talk. “They’re afraid because they think they’ll be deported,” one woman whispers, as she stirs a pot of soup on a wood fire on the sidewalk.

That fear was heightened by the last wave of deportations, which formed part of the complicated migration relations between this country and Haiti – the poorest country in the Americas, with a black population – which share the island of Hispaniola.

According to official figures, the Dominican Republic’s migration authorities deported 15,754 undocumented Haitian immigrants from August 2015 to January 2016, while 113,320, including 23,286 minors, voluntarily returned home.

“This process has a greater impact on women because when a son or a daughter is denied their Dominican identity, the mothers are directly responsible for failing to legalise their status,” said Lilian Dolis, head of the Dominican-Haitian Women’s Movement (MUDHA), a local NGO.

“If the mother is undocumented then the validity of her children’s documents is questioned,” she told IPS.

“And in the case of Haitian immigrant women, it’s not enough to marry a Dominican man even though the constitution grants them their husband’s nationality,” said Dolis, whose movement emerged in 1983. “That right is often violated.”

The latest migration crisis broke out in 2013 when a Constitutional Court ruling set new requirements for acquiring Dominican citizenship.

The aspect that caused an international outcry was the fact that the verdict retroactively denied Dominican nationality to anyone born after 1929 who did not have at least one parent of Dominican blood, even if their births were recorded in the civil registry.

This affected not only the children of immigrants, but their grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.

Tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent were left in legal limbo or without any nationality, international human rights groups like Human Rights Watch complained.

In response to the international outrage, the Dominican government passed a special law on naturalisation that set a limited period – May 2014 to February 2015 – for people born to undocumented foreign parents between 1929 and 2007 to apply for citizenship.

Antonia Abreu, one of the few street vendors who agreed to talk to IPS about the harsh reality faced by Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic, at her street stall where she sells flowers in the Little Haiti neighbourhood in Santo Domingo. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Antonia Abreu, one of the few street vendors who agreed to talk to IPS about the harsh reality faced by Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic, at her street stall where she sells flowers in the Little Haiti neighbourhood in Santo Domingo. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

But only 8,755 people managed to register under this law.

At the same time, the authorities implemented a national plan for foreigners to regularise their status, from June 2014 to June 2015.

Under this plan, 288,466 undocumented immigrants, mainly of Haitian descent, applied for residency and work permits. But only about 10,000 met all the requirements, and only a few hundred were granted permits.

Since August, the police have been carrying out continuous raids, and undocumented immigrants are taken to camps along the border, to be deported to Haiti.

“Most Haitian women work outside the home; very few can afford to be homemakers,” said Antonia Abreu, a Haitian-Dominican woman who has sold floral arrangements for parties, gifts and funerals in the Little Haiti market for 40 years.

Abreu, known by her nickname “the Spider”, said “women sell clothes or food, they apply hair extensions, they’re domestic employees and some are sex workers. Many are ‘paleteras’ (street vendors selling candy and cigarettes) who suffer from police abuse – the police take their carts and merchandise when they don’t have documents.”

“Those who work as decent people have integrated in society and contribute to the country,” she told IPS.

Among the unique mix of smells – of spices, open sewers, traditional foods and garbage – many women barely eke out a living in this Haitian neighbourhood market, selling flowers, prepared foods, fruit and vegetables, clothing, household goods and second-hand appliances.

The small neighbourhood, which is close to a busy commercial street and in the middle of the Colonial City, Santo Domingo’s main tourist attraction, has been neglected by the municipal authorities, unlike its thriving neighbours.

No one knows exactly how many people live in Little Haiti, which is a slum but is virtually free of crime, according to both local residents and outsiders.

Most of the people buying at the market stalls in the neighbourhood are Haitian immigrants, who work in what are described by international rights groups as semi-slavery conditions.

The street market is also frequented by non-Haitian Dominicans with low incomes, in this country of 10.6 million people, where 36 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to World Bank figures from 2014.

A Haitian immigrant in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón in the Dominican Republic, where she works as a ‘bracera’ or migrant worker in agriculture. Haitian women who work on plantations in this country are invisible in the statistics as well as in programmes that provide support to rural migrants, activists complain. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

A Haitian immigrant in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón in the Dominican Republic, where she works as a ‘bracera’ or migrant worker in agriculture. Haitian women who work on plantations in this country are invisible in the statistics as well as in programmes that provide support to rural migrants, activists complain. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

“Undocumented immigrants can’t work, study or have a public life,” Dolis said. “They go directly into domestic service or work in the informal sector. And even if they have documents, Haitian-Dominican women are always excluded from social programmes.”

In this country with a deeply sexist culture, women of Haitian descent are victims of exclusion due to a cocktail of xenophobia, racism and gender discrimination, different experts and studies say.

“They are made invisible,” said Dolis. “We don’t even know how many Haitian-Dominican women there are. The census data is not reliable in terms of the Dominican population of Haitian descent, and the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) survey is out-of-date.”

The activist was referring to the last available population figures gathered by the National Survey on Immigrants carried out in 2012 by the National Statistics Office with UNFPA support.

At the time, the survey estimated the number of immigrants in the Dominican Republic at 560,000, including 458,000 born in Haiti.

The lack of up-to-date statistics hinders the work of Mudha, which defends the rights of Haitian-Dominican women in four provinces and five municipalities, with an emphasis on sexual and reproductive rights.

The movement is led by a group of 19 women and has 62 local organisers carrying out activities in urban and rural communities, which have reached more than 6,000 women.

Mudha says the Dominican authorities have never recognised the rights of women of Haitian descent. “They’ve always talked about immigration of ‘braceros’ (migrant workers), but never ‘braceras’ – that is, the women who come with their husbands, or come as migrant workers themselves,” Dolis said.

Since the mid-19th century Haitians have worked as braceros in the sugarcane industry, the main engine of the Dominican economy for centuries. But today, they are also employed in large numbers in the construction industry, commerce, manufacturing and hotels.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Cameron at large: Want Not to Become a Terrorist? Speak Fluent English!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/cameron-at-large-want-not-to-become-a-terrorist-speak-fluent-english/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cameron-at-large-want-not-to-become-a-terrorist-speak-fluent-english http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/cameron-at-large-want-not-to-become-a-terrorist-speak-fluent-english/#comments Thu, 04 Feb 2016 11:57:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143783 A plaque targeting Prime Minister David Cameron, as demonstrators protest in Oxford Street, London, 26 March 2011.  Credit: Mark Ramsay | Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/neutronboy/5562337245/ | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

A plaque targeting Prime Minister David Cameron, as demonstrators protest in Oxford Street, London, 26 March 2011. Credit: Mark Ramsay | Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/neutronboy/5562337245/ | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

By Baher Kamal
Cairo, Feb 4 2016 (IPS)

“Do you speak English fluently? No? Then you risk to become a terrorist!.” IPS posed this dilemma to some young Muslim women living in Cairo, while explaining that this appears to be UK prime minister David Cameron’s formula to judge the level of Muslim women’s risk to fall, passively, into the horrific trap of extremism.

Here you have some answers: “He must be kidding, I can’t believe that…,” says Egyptian university student Fatima S.M.

“This is just insulting! What does language have to do with such a risk?,” responds Fakhira H. from Pakistan who is married to an Egyptian engineer.

“This pure colonialism, Cameron still dreams of the British Empire,” reacts Nigerian Afunu K. who works at an export-import company in Cairo.

“Oh my God! We knew that Muslim women are victims of constant stigmatisation everywhere, in particular in Western countries… But I never expected it to be at this level,” said Tunisian translator Halima M.

Of course this is not at all about any scientific survey-just an indicative example of how Muslim women from different countries and backgrounds see Cameron’s recent surprising statement: Muslim women who fail to learn English to a high enough standard could face deportation from the UK, the prime minister said on 18 January.

Cameron suggested that poor English skills can leave people “more susceptible” to the messages of groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (DAESH).

“After two and a half years they should be improving their English and we will be testing them,” the UK prime minister stated. “We will bring this in October and it will apply to people who have come in on a spousal visa recently and they will be tested.”

Cameron’s comments came as his Conservative government launched a $28.5 million language fund for Muslim women in the United Kingdom as part of a drive to “build community integration.”

Current British immigration rules require that spouses be able to speak English before they arrive in the UK to live with their partners. “…They would face further tests after two and a half years in the UK, said Cameron, before threatening them: “You can’t guarantee you will be able to stay if you are not improving your language.”

The number of Muslim living in the UK is estimated to be around 2.7 million out of Britain’s total population of 64 million.

The British government estimates that around 190,000 Muslim women (about 22% of the total) living in the UK speak little or no English.

“… If you are not able to speak English, not able to integrate, you may find, therefore, you have challenges understanding what your identity is, and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message,” the UK prime minister affirmed.

Cameron further explained that a lack of language skills could make Muslims in the U.K. more vulnerable to the message of extremist groups. “I am not saying there is some sort of causal connection between not speaking English and becoming an extremist, of course not,” he said.

Significantly, Cameron’s cabinet did not ratify last summer the so-called Istanbul Convention, a pan-European convention establishing minimum standards for governments to meet when tackling violence against women. The UK had signed up on this Convention three and a half years ago. The Convention entered into force eighteen months ago.

The UK prime ministers’ statements came under fire in his own country.

This is about a “dog-whistle politics at its best,” said the UK Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.

Cameron’s idea is “lazy and misguided”… a “stereotyping of British Muslim communities,” reacted Sayeeda Warsi, former Conservative Party co-chair. “I think it is lazy and sloppy when we start making policies based on stereotypes which do badly stigmatise communities.”

Andy Burnham, the Home Affairs spokesman for the Labour Party shadow cabinet, accused Cameron of a “clumsy and simplistic approach” that is “unfairly stigmatising a whole community.”

“Disgraceful stereotyping,” said Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the UK-based Ramadhan Foundation.

These are only a few selected reactions of a number of figures who have the chance for their voices to be heard.

But imagine you are a Muslim woman and live in the United Kingdom. Like any other woman, you already face many daily hurdles in this world of flagrant gender inequality.

Then recall that these challenges are augmented by the fact that you are a foreigner. Your religion in this case puts additional heavy stigmatisation weight in your mind and on your shoulders.

What would you think?

(End)

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Media Come Together to Discuss Safety of Journalists, Fight Against Impunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/media-come-together-to-discuss-safety-of-journalists-fight-against-impunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=media-come-together-to-discuss-safety-of-journalists-fight-against-impunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/media-come-together-to-discuss-safety-of-journalists-fight-against-impunity/#comments Wed, 03 Feb 2016 06:33:10 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143766 By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Feb 3 2016 (IPS)

Amid continuing attacks on journalists, media representatives from around the world will meet in the French capital this week to discuss how to reinforce the safety of those working in the sector.

Organized and hosted by the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, this “unprecedented” meeting between media executives and the agency’s members states on Feb. 5 is an attempt to “improve the safety of journalists and tackle impunity for crimes against media professionals”, UNESCO said.

Journalism is one of the deadliest professions in the world. Credit AD Mckenzie/IPS

Journalism is one of the deadliest professions in the world. Credit AD Mckenzie/IPS

“As everyone knows, the problem has been increasing over the past five years of killing of journalists in different parts of the world, and the UN system as a whole has become more concerned about this in parallel,” said Guy Berger, director of UNESCO’s Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development.

He told IPS that the UN has been putting “a lot of effort” into trying to get more action against these killings and that UNESCO has been working to create greater cooperation among various groups concerned with journalists’ safety.

But Berger said that the conference wanted to focus on what media organizations themselves could do “to step forward” and bring attention to the matter.

The day-long meeting – titled “News organizations standing up for the safety of media professionals” – will “foster dialogue on security issues with a view to reducing the high number of casualties in the profession”, UNESCO said.

The number of media workers killed around the world totaled 112 last year, according to the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), whose president Jim Boumelha will speak at the conference.

The IFJ, which represents some 600,000 members globally, said that among the deaths, at least 109 journalists and media staff died in “targeted killings, bomb attacks and cross-fire incidents”. This number marks a slight decrease from 2014 when 118 media personnel were killed.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a group that defends freedom of expression, said in its report that the deaths were “largely attributable to deliberate violence against journalists” and demonstrates the failure of initiatives to protect media personnel.

The slayings included those of cartoonists working for the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. Following those attacks, UNESCO organized a conference then as well, under the heading “Journalism after Charlie”.

In the year since, many other media workers have lost their lives, in both countries at peace and those experiencing civil war.

Calling on the UN to appoint a special representative for the safety of journalists, RSF’s Director General Christophe Deloire says that the creation of a specific mechanism for enforcing international law on the protection of journalists is “absolutely essential”.

Deloire will present a safety guide for journalists at the conference, in association with UNESCO. This is part of the aim to “share good practices on a wide range of measures including safety protocols in newsrooms … and innovative protective measures for reporting from dangerous areas”, according to the UN agency.

Some 200 media owners, executives and practitioners from public, private and community media are expected to attend the conference, UNESCO said.

“The diversity of media represented, in terms of geography, size and type of threat encountered, is unprecedented and should contribute to the conference’s ability to raise awareness of and improve preparedness for the full range of dangers the media face worldwide,” the agency added.

Berger will moderate the first session, while debates in the second will be led by Christiane Amanpour, chief international correspondent for the broadcaster CNN and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Freedom of Expression and Journalism.

Diana Foley, founder and president of the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, is also scheduled to be among the speakers. The institution honours the work of American journalist James Foley, her son, who was abducted while covering the Syrian war and brutally killed by his captors in 2014.

One of the conference’s high-level sessions will focus on “ending impunity together” and will comprise “dialogue” between the media industry and UNESCO member states, according to the programme.

UNESCO says it has been advocating and implementing measures to improve the safety of journalists and to end impunity for crimes against media workers. The agency’s Director-General issues press releases to condemn the killing of journalists and media workers, for instance.

In addition, UNESCO publishes a biennial report that takes stock of governments’ replies to the organization’s request for information about “actions taken to pursue the perpetrators of these crimes”.

In its 2015 report, “World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development”, UNESCO noted that some member countries were not submitting requested updates on investigations into attacks against the media. However, the response rate had still risen to 42 percent (24 out of 57 countries) from 22 percent in 2014.

One of the issues not on the agenda at the conference is the number of UNESCO member states that imprison journalists or attempt to suppress freedom of expression. Experts acknowledge that this is also a topic that needs addressing, but some say that a distinction between the issues needs to be made.

“You can have freedom of the press and journalists are not safe,” Berger told IPS. “And in other places, you can have a lack of freedom of the press, and journalists are safe, even if they face consequences under laws that may be out of line with international standards.”

He said that governments have “the primary responsibility to protect everybody and to protect their rights,” but that not all governments live up to this task.

“That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t,” he added. “If you sign up to these international declarations, you actually have to match your words with your actions.”

The public, too, could be more aware of the challenges that media workers face and support the calls for safety and protection.

“Nobody wants to be out of line with public opinion, and the stronger public opinion is, the more governments actually see that it’s important to act,” Berger said. “Governments need journalists, even if they don’t like them, and they need them to be safe.”

(End)

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UN Hails Myanmar’s Historic New Parliamenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/un-hails-myanmars-historic-new-parliament/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-hails-myanmars-historic-new-parliament http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/un-hails-myanmars-historic-new-parliament/#comments Tue, 02 Feb 2016 21:23:47 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143762 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 2 2016 (IPS)

When U.Thant of Burma (now Myanmar) was elected UN Secretary-General back in November 1962, he was the first Asian to hold that post after Trygve Lie of Norway and Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden.

The appointment was also a historic moment for Asia, which waited for 45 long years for the second Asian to hold that position: Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, the current UN Secretary-General, who was elected in January 2007.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar in November 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar in November 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

An equally important event took place in Myanmar last November when it held nation-wide elections, the first after decades of military rule, which were hailed by the United Nations as “a significant achievement in Myanmar’s democratic transition.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was forced to spend nearly 15 years under house arrest by a military government, emerged the leader of the largest political party: the National League for Democracy (NLDP) party.

On Tuesday, Myanmar’s first freely-elected parliament in decades met in the capital of Naypyidaw — and at least over 110 of the NLDP’s 390 members in the new parliament are former political prisoners.

But constitutionally, Aung San Suu Kyi, is barred from holding the post of President, despite the NLD’s parliamentary majority, primarily because her children who were born in UK are treated as foreigners. Her late husband was a British scholar.

Asked about the historic opening of parliament, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said: “It’s another extremely important step in the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.”

Dr Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told IPS the gradual transition to democracy in Myanmar must be welcomed.

But the transition has to occur through a measured process, he said.

“Myanmar has not enjoyed a UK style (or an Indian style) democracy for a long time. It will take a while for a successful transition to be consolidated.’

“We know from recent experience that a Western style democracy cannot be superimposed on a country inexperienced in democracy. It is to be remembered that its territorial integrity will be a priority for Myanmar while divisive ethnic tensions will need to be carefully managed as it slowly absorbs the new political experience,” said Kohona.

Ban said the United Nations “has long been involved in Myanmar’s transition after more than 50 years of military rule”, appointing a Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the issue.

In 2007, he set up the “Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Myanmar,” a consultative forum of 14 countries to assist him in his efforts to spur change in the South-East Asian nation.

Over the years, he has welcomed the release of political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself. In 2010 he voiced concern over the decision to dissolve 10 political parties, including the NLD, ahead of the previous elections that November.

The United States, which imposed rigid economic and military sanctions on Myanmar for lack of a democratically elected government, for its treatment of political prisoners and its human rights violations, has begun easing some of these restrictions.

Since 2012, the US has provided over $500 million in support of Myanmar’s reform process, including implementation of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and efforts to increase the participation of civil society and women in the peace process.

At a press conference in the Naypyitaw last month, US Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the US welcomes the positive statements from President Thein Sein and from the leadership of the military congratulating the NLD and pledging to respect the result of the elections.

It is also encouraging that Aung San Suu Kyi has met with President Thein Sein and Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing to discuss the upcoming political transition.

“We know there are still many challenges ahead,” Blinken said.

“Broad-based economic growth must be nurtured and it must be sustained. The national reconciliation process must continue.”

He also said that remaining political prisoners must be released and human rights protected for all, no matter their ethnicity or religion.

Reforms need to continue until an elected civilian government is truly sovereign and all the country’s institutions answer to the people.

“The United States will work in close partnership with the new government to support its efforts to achieve these goals,” he declared.

He said the US has also discussed Myanmar’s economic challenges, including the incoming government’s focus on improving conditions for those who live and work off the land.

“The United States will continue to promote responsible investment by our companies in Myanmar, which we believe is strengthening new local businesses and industries and building human capital, not just extracting resources.”

“We talked about the peace process and political dialogue between the government and ethnic nationalities. The United States will do whatever the stakeholders in this historic effort believe will be helpful to aid in its success. Meanwhile, we urge an end to offensive military operations and unfettered humanitarian access to civilians in need,” he added.

The US is particularly concerned about discrimination and violence experienced by ethnic and religious minorities, including the Rohingya population in Rakhine State.

Ban said he is regretfully aware that a large number of voters from minority communities, in particular the Rohingya, were denied the right to vote and some were disqualified as candidates,” the statement noted.

Encouraged by the statements of political and military leaders and other relevant actors, as Myanmar begins the process of forming its next government, the UN chief has urged all national stakeholders to maintain a calm atmosphere and uphold human rights and the rule of law.

“There is much hard work that remains ahead on Myanmar’s democratic journey and towards making future elections truly inclusive,” he said, underscoring that the people and leaders of Myanmar have it within their power to come together to build a better future for their country, “a future where peace and development take firm root on the foundations of inclusivity, respect and tolerance, where the human rights of all are protected regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or gender, and where no one is marginalized, vulnerable, and discriminated against.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Women’s Rights First — African Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/womens-rights-first-african-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-rights-first-african-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/womens-rights-first-african-summit/#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2016 15:33:37 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143743 Mahawa Kaba Wheeler during a press conference in Addis Ababa. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Mahawa Kaba Wheeler during a press conference in Addis Ababa. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

By Baher Kamal
CAIRO, Feb 1 2016 (IPS)

Despite the enormous challenges facing Africa now, the leaders of its 1.2 billion plus inhabitants have decided to spotlight the issue of Human Rights With a Particular Focus on the Rights of Women in their 26th summit held in Addis Ababa on 21-31 January this year. Why?

In an interview to IPS, Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, Director of Women, Gender and Development at the African Union Commission (AUC), explains that time has come to act to alleviate the multitude of barriers to gender equality: “These include, among others, economic exclusion and financial systems that perpetuate the discrimination of women; limited participation in political and public life; lack of access to education and retention of girls in schools; gender-based violence, harmful cultural practices, and exclusion of women from peace tables either as lead mediators or part of negotiating teams of conflicting parties,” she argued.

The African Union believes that removing these barriers that impede women from fully enjoying their human rights can empower the continent, she added. Asked about women’s social, economic and political role in the continent, the Director of Women, Gender and Development says that Africa is at a turning point emerging as “one of the fastest growing developing regions in the world, registering economic growth levels ranging from 2 per cent-11 per cent.”

“Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in business, agriculture, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid work at home. But they also remain disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation,” explained the Director.

Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, Director of Women, Gender and Development at the African Union Commission. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, Director of Women, Gender and Development at the African Union Commission. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Women’s socio-economic disadvantages are reflected in pervasive violence, gender inequalities in earned income, property ownership, access to services including health and education as well as time use. To date, women in Africa, like women elsewhere, have not been included as full, equal and effective stakeholders in processes that determine and impact on their lives, Kaba Wheeler said.

“For example, women continue to have less access to education than men; they have less employment and advancement opportunities; their role and contribution to national and continental development processes are not always recognised nor fully rewarded; and they continue to be conspicuously absent from crucial decision-making positions,” she elaborated.

Kaba Wheeler also explained that the focus on these rights is an opportunity for the AU to take stock of how far it has come in addressing some of the impediments to women’s full enjoyment of their human rights.

This is also meant “to assess the extent of implementation of its gender and women’s rights instruments, consolidate the gains already made over the years and consider future priority areas of action to accelerate the effective and efficient implementation of commitments made on gender equality and women’s empowerment, ” she stated.

Kaba Wheeler recalls that the theme for the 26th African Union Summit in January 2016 derives from the declaration of 2016 as the “African Year of Human Rights, with a Particular Focus on the Rights of Women,” as this year marks “important milestones” in the continental and global women’s agenda for gender equality and women empowerment.

Among others, continentally, it is the 30th anniversary of the coming into force of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights in 1986 and the beginning of the second phase of the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020.

“Globally, 2016 commemorates 36 years since the adoption of The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), described as the international bill of rights for women, and the 21st anniversary of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which is the key global policy on gender equality.”

Regarding the main reasons why African women still face such huge hurdles, Kaba Wheeler cited a number of factors that create barriers between the present condition and gender equality in Africa: “Key amongst those is that African culture is largely patriarchal. Because of this, family control and decision-making powers belong to males. Since decision-making powers belong to males, the ability to make policy as well as the power to influence social norms also belongs to males.”

Consequently, she adds, “the male policy makers often maintain a firm grip on the traditional, gender-specific roles. This creates a sort of self-serving cycle, from which Africa is not yet free. Not unlike the women in many western states, the traditional role of women in Africa is that of the home-maker.”

As for women’s political participation in Africa, Kaba Wheeler explained to IPS that a huge progress has been made in the participation of women in politics since the transformation of the Organization of African Unity to the African Union.

In fact, she says, 15 African states rank in the top 37 amongst world classification for women’s participation in national parliaments with more than 30 per cent: Rwanda (63.8 per cent) , Seychelles (43.8 per cent), Senegal (42.7 per cent), South Africa (42 per cent), Namibia (41 per cent), Mozambique (39.6 per cent), Ethiopia (38.8 per cent), Angola (36.8 per cent ), Burundi (36.4 per cent ), Uganda (35 per cent) , Algeria (31 per cent) , Zimbabwe (31.5 per cent), Cameroon (31.3 per cent), Sudan (30.5 per cent ) and Tunisia (31.3 per cent).

But while Rwanda is the world leader in women’s parliamentary representation, it is lagging behind when it comes to women in executive positions. It is overtaken by Cape Verde, which has the highest number of women occupying ministerial positions in Africa. Out of 17 government ministers in Cape Verde, 9 are women, amounting to 52.9 per cent representation, Kaba Wheeler adds.

“It should also be noted that out of 54 African Heads of State and Government, three are women – the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; the President of Mauritius, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, and the Interim President of the Central Africa Republic, Catherine Samba Panza.”

In this regard, Kaba Wheeler explains that the AU envisions a 50 per cent representation of women in decision-making and member states are expected to use that as the yardstick. On that note, the AU adopted the gender parity principle at its first summit in 2001.

“To date, the AU is the only multilateral body that has maintained gender parity at its topmost decision-making level. In addition to the chairperson of the AUC, there are five women and five male commissioners and efforts are made to allow for the gender parity principle to percolate other AU organs and institutions such as the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights as well as the African Court- where women are in the majority, ” according to Ms Wheeler.

The AU recognises that, with women being half of the African population, achievement of gender parity would create a ripple effect through many sectors of society as more women would be inspired to aim for leadership positions.

“Not only would having women in leadership positions lead to a better quality of life for women themselves, but also for their families in general and children in particular. There can be no true democracy in a country where women are underrepresented in decision making positions,” she emphasised.

But while acknowledging the great strides that have been achieved in women’s political participation, women still continue to experience significant discrimination related to their participation in public and political life.

In some AU member states, she adds, national legislation and constitutions adversely affect women’s participation in public and political life by limiting their participation through exclusionary or discriminatory clauses.

“In Africa, structural impediments to gender equality are embedded within the constitutional texts, containing provisions that specifically subjugate constitutional equality to religious principles or exclude family and customary law from constitutional non-discrimination.”

Although many of the same constitutions articulate a commitment to gender equality, the exclusion of personal or customary law from constitutional protection can severely undermine that commitment to equality, because many issues that commonly affect women are located within the legal spheres regulated by these customary and personal legal systems, Kaba Wheeler underlined.

Asked to further develop on the situation of African women whose role is key in the field of food production, agriculture and food security, Kaba Wheeler explains that their contribution does not match the benefits they derive from the sector in general and little investment is directed to benefit them.

“While African women produce more than 60 per cent of agriculture, constitutes over 50 per cent of the rural population and remain the main custodians of food security, there is very little investment in their lot to yield commensurate results, tap their resources and help them unleash their potential.”

Although they spend 80 per cent of their time either in agricultural production and auxiliary process including informal sector business, their contribution to food production, family care and welfare activities as well as in the informal sector is not captured in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and unaccounted for in the Statistics of National Accounts, says Kaba Wheeler.

“In addition to women not owning land, they have no access to agricultural infrastructure including land rights, modern farming technology, farm inputs, credit, extension services and training. Majority of them have no access to physical infrastructure also because they are based in rural areas with no access to good roads, water, electricity among others.”

In that regard, she adds, even when they produce agricultural crops, they lack access to markets and loose most of their outputs between the farm and the market through wastage, or sell their produce to middle men at a throw away price due to the high transportation costs.

“Because of the majority of women do not own land, they produce the bulk of the agricultural produce as tenants on the land they still have no land rights on the land and also no inheritance rights.”

Access to land for women remains one of the critical impediments to women’s economic, social and political empowerment in Africa.

According to the Seventh Report of the AUC Chairperson on the Implementation of the AU-SDGEA (Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa), African women own roughly 1 per cent of the land, despite farming and producing most of the food from the land.

Dual application of laws-customary and civil/common laws, conflict of various laws, as well as inadequate harmonisation of family laws- in relationship to marriages and inheritance, land rights, and property laws is a major issue across Africa, Kaba Wheeler explains.

On the other hand, the lack of equal opportunity in education, particularly higher education is responsible for the low levels of women in the job market, including in the formal agricultural sector… Most of the women in the job market occupy low cadre job which earn little income compared to their male counterparts, says Ms Wheeler.

As a result, women have no disposable income and are not able to accumulate any savings and generate investible income. Majority of them are therefore, predominantly in the agricultural sector where they are predominantly involved in producing food for the family and the meagre income they generate from selling surplus food does not lift them from poverty. Women constitute the majority of people in our continent who live below US $1 a day.

Regarding women’s health, Kaba Wheeler explains that in Africa, gender related challenges manifest themselves in various ways including with unacceptably high maternal, new born and child morbidity and mortality: “Maternal health status is indeed a key indicator not only of the status of women but also of the health status (and well being) of society as a whole. The 2012 Status Report on Maternal New born and Child Health of the AU Commission noted that globally, more than half a million women die each year due to pregnancy and childbirth related causes. ”

Some specific data: 99 per cent of these deaths were identified to occur in developing countries, of which 50 per cent occur in Africa (specifically outside the North African region). For every death, at least another 20 women suffer illnesses or injuries related to childbirth or pregnancy.

“The lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth in Africa (excluding North Africa) is 1 in 22 women, compared with about 1 in 8,000 women in the developed world. Furthermore evidence abounds that 80 per cent of those deaths could be prevented by simple, low-cost and quality interventions.”

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Hydropower at Front and Centre of Energy Debate in Chile, Once Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/hydropower-at-front-and-centre-of-energy-debate-in-chile-once-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hydropower-at-front-and-centre-of-energy-debate-in-chile-once-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/hydropower-at-front-and-centre-of-energy-debate-in-chile-once-again/#comments Wed, 27 Jan 2016 00:09:26 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143702 General Carrera Lake, the second-largest in South America, in the Aysén region in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness, a place of abundant water resources.  Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

General Carrera Lake, the second-largest in South America, in the Aysén region in Chile’s southern Patagonia wilderness, a place of abundant water resources. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jan 27 2016 (IPS)

The Chilean government’s approval of a hydroelectric dam in the Patagonia wilderness has rekindled the debate on the sustainability and efficiency of large-scale hydropower plants and whether they contribute to building a cleaner energy mix.

“Hydroelectricity can be clean and viable, but we believe every kind of energy should be developed on a human scale, and must be in accordance with the size and potential of local communities,” Claudia Torres, spokeswoman for the Patagonia Without Dams movement, told IPS.

She added that “there are different reasons that socioenvironmental movements like ours are opposed to mega-dams: because of the mega-impacts, and because of the way this energy is used – to meet the needs of the big mining corporations that are causing an environmental catastrophe in the north of the country.”

The movements fighting the construction of large dams in the southern Patagonian region of Aysén suffered a major defeat on Jan. 18, when the plan for the 640 MW Cuervo dam was approved.

This South American nation of 17.6 million people has a total installed capacity of 20,203 MW of electricity. The interconnected Central and Norte Grande power grids account for 78.38 percent and 20.98 percent of the country’s electric power, respectively.

Of Chile’s total energy supply, 58.4 percent is generated by diesel fuel, coal and natural gas. The country is seeking to drastically reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels, to cut costs and to meet its climate change commitments.

Large-scale hydropower provides 20 percent of the country’s electricity, while 13.5 percent comes from unconventional renewable sources like wind and solar power, mini-dams and biomass.

Chile has enormous potential in unconventional renewable sources. In 2014, the government of Michelle Bachelet adopted a new energy agenda that set a target for 70 percent of Chile’s electric power to come from renewables by 2050.

In terms of water resources, Chile has 6,500 km of coastline, 11,452 square km of lakes, and innumerable rivers.

Aysén, in the extreme south of the country, has abundant water resources – fast-flowing rivers, numerous lakes, and distinctive lagoons. General Carrera Lake, the second-largest in South America after Bolivia’s Titicaca, is found in that region.

To generate hydroelectricity, the authorities and investors have their eyes on the wild rivers of Patagonia, a remote, untamed, unspoiled and sparsely populated wilderness area at the far southern tip of Chile.

But vast segments of civil society reject large hydropower dams, which they consider obsolete and a threat to the environment and to local communities.

However, Professor Matías Peredo, an expert on hydropower at the University of Santiago de Chile, says that thanks to the country’s abundant water resources, hydroelectricity is “one of the energy sources with the greatest potential for development.”

“It’s always good to diversify the energy mix, and well-managed hydroelectricity is quite sustainable,” he told IPS.

The expert argued that a properly managed hydropower dam “is better from an environmental and social point of view than a string of small dams that together provide the same number of MW of electric power.”

Ensuring that a hydroelectricity plant is well-managed means avoiding major fluctuations, Peredo said.

“Hydropower generation in Chile depends on demand and the plant’s load capacity….In other words, the plant can only operate with prior authorisation from the Superintendencia de Electricidad y Combustibles (the country’s power regulator), and depending on the availability of water,” he said.

“This combination means the hydroelectric plant operates on and off, thus generating large fluctuations in flow, which is a major stress for the ecosystem,” he said.

The law to reform the energy industry and foment unconventional renewable sources includes in this category hydropower dams of up to 20 MW – in other words, mini-dams.

Environmental organisations like Ecosistemas maintain that large hydroelectric dams have extremely negative social and environmental impacts.

These include the flooding of large areas of land, which destroys flora and fauna, and the modification of rivers, which causes bioecological damage.

And the negative social impacts of large dams are proportional to the multiple environmental impacts, displacing millions of people: between 40 and 80 million people were forcibly evicted for the construction of large dams worldwide between 1945 and 2000, according to the World Commission on Dams (WCD).

“It is important to diversify the energy mix, for local use, with good support, clean energy sources, and considerably fewer impacts, while strengthening consumption and development in the territories,” said Torres, the Patagonia Without Dams activist, from Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region.

“Decentralised power generation is key” to moving forward in terms of clean, sustainable energy, she said, adding that the people of Aysén are seeking to expand the use if wind, solar and tidal power in the region.

Peredo agreed that the decentralisation of power generation is of strategic importance.

“Distributed generation (power generation at the point of consumption) must without a doubt be discussed in this country. It makes a lot of sense for electricity to be produced locally,” he said.

In 2014 the Patagonia Without Dams movement won a major victory when the government cancelled the HidroAysén project, which would have built five large hydropower dams on wilderness rivers in Aysén to generate a combined total of 2,700 MW of energy.

But now the movement was dealt a blow, with the approval by a special Committee of Ministers of the construction of the Cuervo dam – a decision that can only be blocked by a court decision.

The project, developed by Energía Austral, a joint venture between the Swiss firm Glencore and Australia’s Origin Energy, would be built at the headwaters of the Cuervo River, some 45 km from the city of Puerto Aysén, the second-largest city in the region after Coyhaique, for a total investment of 733 million dollars.

Energía Austral is studying the possibility of a submarine power cable and an aerial submarine power line, to connect to the central grids.

The controversy over the plant has heated up because it would be built in the Liquiñe-Ofqui geological fault zone, an area of active volcanoes.

“It poses an imminent risk to the local population,” Torres warned.

Peredo said “the project was poorly designed from the start, and will not be managed well.”

“They failed to take into consideration important aspects, such as the connection of the Yulton and Meullín rivers at some point, which could have disastrous consequences for the ecosystem,” he said.

Opponents of the dam say they will go to the courts and apply social and political pressure, in a year of municipal elections.

“We have one single aim: to keep any dams from being built in Patagonia, and that’s what’s going to happen,” Torres said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Activists Accuse India of Violating UN Convention on Child Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/activists-accuse-india-of-violating-un-convention-on-child-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=activists-accuse-india-of-violating-un-convention-on-child-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/activists-accuse-india-of-violating-un-convention-on-child-rights/#comments Tue, 26 Jan 2016 07:03:28 +0000 K. S. Harikrishnan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143697 A view of government juvenile home at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. Rights activists allege that most of the children homes in India do not have adequate physical facilities to rehabilitate and reform delinquent children. Credit: K.S.Harikrishnan/IPS

A view of government juvenile home at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. Rights activists allege that most of the children homes in India do not have adequate physical facilities to rehabilitate and reform delinquent children. Credit: K.S.Harikrishnan/IPS

By K. S. Harikrishnan
NEW DELHI, Jan 26 2016 (IPS)

Civil rights groups and child welfare activists have strongly protested against the enactment of a new Juvenile Justice Act by the Indian parliament, lowering the age of a legally defined juvenile for trial from 18 to 16- years old in heinous crimes cases.

Human rights activists and people working for child welfare say reducing the age would be against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which India ratified in 1992.

According to the existing law in India, formed in 2000, the accused under the age of 18 cannot be given any penalty higher than three years, nor be tried as an adult and sent to an adult jail. The new law also treats all children under the age of 18 similarly, except for one difference. It states that any one between 16 and 18 who commits a heinous offence may be tried as an adult.

The ongoing heated debates and protests started against the backdrop of the higher appeal courts’ permission to release one of the main accused in the high profile 2012 Delhi gang-rape case. The boy was a juvenile, from a reform home at the end of his three-year remand period.

The case relates to a horrific incident on 16 December 2012, when a 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern was beaten and gang raped in a moving private transport bus in which she was travelling with a male friend at night.

Dr. Pushkar Raj, well-known human rights leader and former General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, said that the move of the government to pass tougher laws on juveniles was ill-conceived and would not achieve the intended purpose of reducing crimes amongst juveniles.

“Though juvenile crime has slightly risen in India in last few years, it stands half as compared to US and Australia. While in India it hovers under 1500 per 100,000 of juvenile population, in the US and Australia it is well above 3000 per 100,000,” he told IPS.

The National Crime Records Bureau data says that there has been an increase in crimes committed by juveniles, especially by those in the 16 to 18 age group during the period 2003 to 2013.

The data shows that the percentage of juvenile crimes has increased from one per cent in 2003 to 1.2 per cent in 2013. During the same period, 16-18 year olds accused of crimes as a percentage of all juveniles accused of crimes increased from 54 per cent to 66 per cent.

Experts, however, say that the new law would go against the global commitment of India to child rights.

Shoba Koshy, Chairperson, Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, told IPS that whatever may be the logic behind the lowering of age, it is not acceptable as seen from a child rights perspective. She expressed the apprehension that the new law would be counterproductive until and unless correct remedial measures are taken.

“We have committed ourselves both nationally and internationally to protect child rights up to the age of 18 years.
Therefore, the new amended law is not suitable to this norm. Even if you reduce the age to 16 and then a 15-year old commits a similar crime, would you again reduce the age,” she asked.

“There are several unattended issues concerning children which need to be looked into. We should help our children to grow up to be good individuals by providing systems that will give them the care and protection they deserve in their childhood and by imparting proper education and moral values. The government should allocate more funds for strengthening infrastructure facility to develop reformative and rehabilitative mechanisms under the Juvenile Justice Law, “she said.

The National Human Rights Commission also disagreed with the government move and sent its disagreement in writing to the government.

Media reported that the rights panel opined that every boy at 16 years would be treated as juvenile. “If he is sent to jail, there is no likelihood of any reformation and he will come out a hardened criminal. “

However, participating in the debate in Parliament, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said that under the new law any juvenile aged between 16 and 18 years will stay in an institution meant for housing adolescent offenders till the age of 21 years, whatever the sentence.

A study report in 2013 on ‘Factors Underlying Juvenile Delinquency and Positive Youth Development Programs’, prepared by Kavita Sahney of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Institute of Technology at Rourkela in Odisha, revealed that offences committed by delinquents were primarily due to the combination of various individual and environmental variables, individual risk factors of the delinquents, negligence and ignorance of the parents, peer influence, poor socio-economic status, family pressure and lack of proper socialization.

A section of women activists and members of parliament believe that the new law neither gives safety to women from crimes against them nor gives protection to the children involved in such cases.

Dr. T.N. Seema, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and parliament member in the Upper House, expressed deep anguish over the “encroachment” by the government on the rights of children.

“Most of the juvenile homes in the country do not have a good atmosphere and enough physical facilities to reside delinquent children. In such a situation, how can we reform juveniles?” she told IPS.

T. P. Lakshmi, an activist at Nagarkovil in Tamil Nadu, said that the government succumbed to the “pressure tactics” of a section of women’s groups “taking mileage from the Delhi rape case.” “It is unfortunate that one or two rape cases determine the fate of all the boys accused in juvenile cases in the country,” she said.

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Mexico Creates First and Second-class Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/mexico-creates-first-and-second-class-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-creates-first-and-second-class-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/mexico-creates-first-and-second-class-migrants/#comments Mon, 25 Jan 2016 23:00:27 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143693 A group of Central American migrants walking along a trail in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala, at the start of their long journey across Mexico on their way to the United States. Credit: Courtesy Médecins Sans Frontières – Mexico

A group of Central American migrants walking along a trail in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala, at the start of their long journey across Mexico on their way to the United States. Credit: Courtesy Médecins Sans Frontières – Mexico

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 25 2016 (IPS)

The Mexican government’s decision to grant humanitarian visas to Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica contrasts sharply with the poor treatment received by the tens of thousands of Central American migrants who face myriad risks as they make their way through this country on their long journey to the United States, social organisations and activists complain.

Although migrant rights activists put the greatest blame on the United States, complaining that Cuban immigrants are given privileged treatment across the border, they also accuse Mexico of fomenting the differences.

Washington “promotes the irregular migration of Cubans,” activist Danilo Rivera told IPS from Guatemala City. “They have double standards, and Mexico plays into their interests. It contradicts the goal of achieving orderly, safe migration flows.”

“Mexico isn’t coherent, because it’s a country that produces migrants itself,” said Rivera, with the Guatemala-based Central American Institute for Social Studies and Development (INCEDES).

INCEDES belongs to the Regional Network of Civil Organisations for Migration (RROCM), which studies these issues and works with governments on immigration policies.

The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, known as the “wet foot-dry foot policy”, grants Cuban immigrants U.S. residency one year and a day after they reach the country, regardless of whether their entry was legal or illegal.

Mexican Migrants in the U.S.

Tens of thousands of undocumented Mexican migrants also head to the United States. The Mexican authorities bitterly complain about the poor treatment this country’s citizens are given across the border, while they provide similar treatment to Central American immigrants here, human rights activists argue.

In a study published Jan. 20, the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) reported that the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States fell to 10.9 million in 2014, from 12 million in 2008.

Six million of the undocumented immigrants in the country are from Mexico. But CMS Executive Director Donald Kerwin said the Mexican-born undocumented population was about 600,000 smaller in 2014 than in 2010.

The report also said that between 1980 and 2014, the population of Mexican-born legal residents grew faster than the number of undocumented Mexicans.

The previously little-known route taken by Cubans from Ecuador to the United States drew international attention in November, when nearly 8,000 Cubans found themselves stuck at Costa Rica’s border with Nicaragua, after the government in Managua refused to let them in the country.

A solution to the crisis was negotiated and the governments of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico agreed to put an initial group of 180 of the migrants on a charter flight from Costa Rica to Guatemala – thus avoiding Nicaragua – as part of a pilot plan that got underway on Jan. 12.

The next day, the 139 men and 41 women were taken by bus to the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, on the border with Guatemala.

With the special humanitarian visas issued by the Mexican government’s National Migration Institute (INM), the Cubans were able to cross the country on their own, without being stopped by the migration authorities.

After the success of the test flight, the four governments involved in the negotiations agreed in a meeting in Guatemala to carry out more flights, after Feb. 4.

The possibility of issuing humanitarian visas is provided for in Mexico’s 2011 National Migration Law. The permits can be granted for a duration of 72 hours to 30 days, in cases where migrants are victims of a natural catastrophe, face danger in their country of origin, or require special treatment due to health problems.

In November, the last month for which official data is available, Mexico granted 1,084 humanitarian visas: 524 to Hondurans, 370 to Salvadorans, 146 to Guatemalans, 43 to Nicaraguans, and one to a Costa Rican.

That same month, the authorities in Mexico detained 73,710 Guatemalans, 53,648 Hondurans, 31,997 Salvadorans and 1,427 Nicaraguans, and deported 64,844 Guatemalans, 47,779 Hondurans, 27,481 Salvadorans and 1,188 Nicaraguans.

An estimated 500,000 undocumented migrants from Central America cross Mexico every year in their attempt to cross the 3,185-km border separating Mexico from the United States, according to estimates from organisations that work with migrants.

“No one cares about Central Americans migrants; they’re rejects from poor, violence-stricken countries,” Catholic priest Pedro Pantoja told IPS.

“Political negotiations, and a state of servitude to the United States, were behind the way the Cuban migrants issue was handled. The Cubans have everything in their favour; the Central Americans have nothing,” said Pantoja, the director of the Belén Posada del Migrante migrants’ shelter in Saltillo, the capital of the northeast Mexican state of Coahuila, which borders the United States.

The activist also complained about the “unequal response” by the Central American governments, which showed solidarity with the Cuban migrants while being “so insensitive, distant and utilitarian” towards migrants from Central America itself.

On their way across Mexico, Central American migrants face the risk of arbitrary arrest, extortion, theft, assault, rape, kidnapping and murder, at the hands of youth gangs and people trafficking networks, as well as corrupt police and other agents of the state.

Defenders of migrant rights have asked Mexico to issue humanitarian visas to minimise these risks.

And in an August report, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants also urged the government to issue humanitarian permits.

“We have called for a stop to the deportations. Mexico needs to make progress towards protecting migrants in transit, using safe-conduct passes to keep them from going through dangerous areas and to help them to avoid criminal groups. But the United States does not want the border area to become the impact zone,” Rivera said.

Activists blame the Southern Border Plan, implemented since August 2014 by the Mexican government with U.S. support, for the offensive against undocumented immigrants. The plan included the installation of 12 naval bases on rivers in the area, and three security cordons using electronic sensors and other security measures to the north of Mexico’s southern border.

So far, the United States has provided 15 million dollars in equipment and assistance, and an additional 75 million dollars in aid are in the pipeline.

The flow of Cubans without visas through Central America and Mexico to the United States is not likely to let up, even though in December the Ecuadorean government once again began to require a letter of invitation and other requisites to enter the country, after giving Cubans free access since 2014.

In September, the Costa Rican government reported that it had detained 12,000 undocumented Cubans in the previous 12 months.

Migrant rights activists plan to demand a response from Mexico regarding its double standards towards immigrants.

“We are not going to sit still. We’re going to demand that the INM (National Migration Institute) be held to account,” said Pantoja, a member of the INM’s Citizen Council, made up of representatives of civil society and academia.

Immigrant rights organisations will meet Jan. 25-28 in Chiapas and the neighbouring state of Tabasco to study the phenomenon and monitor migration flows and the performance of the local authorities.

They will also question the INM during the Citizen Council’s March session.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The State We’re In: Ending Sexism in Nationality Lawshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/the-state-were-in-ending-sexism-in-nationality-laws-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-state-were-in-ending-sexism-in-nationality-laws-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/the-state-were-in-ending-sexism-in-nationality-laws-2/#comments Mon, 25 Jan 2016 08:35:02 +0000 Antonia Kirkland http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143683

Antonia Kirkland, Programme Manager, Discrimination in Law, at Equality Now

By Antonia Kirkland
NEW YORK, Jan 25 2016 (IPS)

Everyone has the right to be born with a nationality – safe, fearless and free – and secure in their human right to equally transfer, acquire, change or retain it. There is no reason why over 50 countries should still have sexist nationality and citizenship laws, which largely discriminate against women, potentially putting them and their families in danger and denying them the rights, benefits and services that everyone should enjoy.

A new global report by Equality Now demands that these laws, which discriminate on the basis of sex, should be urgently revised in line with international legal obligations. Although commitments have been repeatedly made by governments around the world to work towards repealing such discriminatory laws, many have yet to translate their promises into action.

Despite the reluctance to do this by many countries, momentum is gathering at the global level to fix sexist nationality laws. This includes a target in the post-2015 sustainable agenda for eliminating discriminatory laws, adopted by the UN, and the setting up of the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, a coalition with a steering committee made up of UNHCR, the Women’s Refugee Commission, the Equal Rights Trust, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion and Equality Now.

At the national level, a number of countries have either removed, or taken steps to address, discriminatory provisions within their nationality laws since 2013. Senegal, Austria, Jordan, Vanuatu, Suriname, Niger and Denmark have all made amendments – or at least taken steps towards legal reform in some way.

We hope that this will create a ripple effect for neighboring countries. Others such as the Bahamas and Togo have indicated that change may happen soon, and we hope they, and all countries with remaining discriminatory laws, will pick up the pace of reform in 2016.

Sexist nationality laws reinforce harmful gender stereotypes. Once married, a woman loses her independent identity if she loses her nationality of origin; a child “belongs” to a father rather than a mother if only the father can give the child citizenship. Other negative outcomes for women and their families include lack of access to education, social and medical services and even increased risk of child marriage.

Nour was born in Lebanon and married off at 15 to a relative in Egypt, to avoid the difficulties of being an adult in Lebanon without Lebanese nationality, while in Jordan, Maysar, a Jordanian woman, was refused by the officer in charge, who suggested that she should not have married a non-national.

Maysar would now prefer that her daughters marry Jordanians, to ensure that they do not endure what she did. Her husband works illegally in the construction sector, as he cannot afford the fees necessary for his work permit.

In a case study provided by our partner, Nina, a Malaysian woman, married Brian from the US. They had a daughter, Julia, but moved back to her home country. Due to Brian’s short-term immigration status, he found it impossible to find a job. After three years of frustration and considerable expense, Nina finally obtained Malaysian citizenship for her daughter. Had Nina been a man, the process would have been automatic.

Losing her nationality of origin can leave a woman especially vulnerable, if her marriage ends due to divorce, or the death of her husband – particularly if her children have their father’s nationality. Even if a woman is able to subsequently claim back her nationality, delays and other hurdles in regaining citizenship can cause her considerable trauma, anxiety and other hardship.

Having committed to do so on many occasions, all governments should immediately turn words into deeds and finally prioritize the amendment of all sexist nationality laws. This will help them comply with both their international legal obligations, as well as their own national obligations to ensure equal access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

National legislation should be revised so that women and men can equally extend citizenship to each other and to their children, whether their children are born in or out of marriage, at home or abroad. It should also be revised so women and men can acquire, keep or change their own nationality in the same way.

This will send a clear signal that everyone is valued equally, in a fairer society, where everyone can reach their full potential. Getting these laws working for women and girls will mean a safer and more prosperous society. Nationality laws can be unnecessarily complex, but removing discrimination between men and women is not a complicated concept – and working together, this is something that can be achieved in a very short time, if governments truly care about girls and women

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Africa, Only If It Bleeds It Leads?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/africa-only-if-it-bleeds-it-leads/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-only-if-it-bleeds-it-leads http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/africa-only-if-it-bleeds-it-leads/#comments Wed, 20 Jan 2016 18:03:17 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143646 Seven Top Challenges Facing African Women.  Credit: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Seven Top Challenges Facing African Women. Credit: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

By Baher Kamal
Cairo, Egypt, Jan 20 2016 (IPS)

Africa is clearly one of the most negatively impacted regions in the world, not helped by the increasing trend of the mainstream media to focus on tragic news, following a self-imposed rule: “if it bleeds it leads”.

Famine; hunger; malnutrition; indebtedness; piracy; wars; massacres; tribal fights; terrorist attacks; Boko Haram; Al Qaeda Maghreb; IS; western military interventions; corruption; human rights abuses, and repeated operations of humanitarian assistance, among others, are pure adrenalin for most media outlets.

Africa also jumps to the top of the headers when it comes to announcing massive oil purchases by China. Western politicians and media tend to denounce the lack of human rights in the Asian giant.

Regardless of what and why, the very fact is that this continent seems sentenced to be the source of negative news.

Not that all these facts are entirely false—Africa has indeed been the scene for a lot of “bad news”.

Meanwhile, a number of experts, analysts and activists attempt to systematically remind us of the deep roots laying beneath most African dramas.

This is the case of centuries-long colonialism; slavery; massive depletion of natural resources by voracious multinational corporations; big sales of western weapons to parties in conflicts; extensive land grabbing and the heavy impact of climate change caused far away from Africa by industrialised states, just to mention some.

Yet, their voices have never received the attention they deserve. And when they have this attention, it was temporary and did not produce any effective action to help put an end to all the problems.

Against this backdrop, the African continent has been moving ahead in spite of the recent strong falls seen in international markets of its main sources of income, such as oil, commodities and minerals.

An Agenda 2063 for Africa

When in 2013 the leaders of 54 African countries adopted Agenda 2063 to achieve socio-economic transformation of the continent in half a century, they probably did not expect that the market value of some key resources would fall so sharply in a very short period of time.

Nevertheless, this vast continent extending over 30,221.000 km2, home to 1,2 billion people speaking up to 2,000 different native languages, is taking several steps to move forward.

For instance, the theme of the 26th Summit of heads of African states (Addis Ababa, January 21-31, 2016) is human rights with a particular focus on the Rights of Women.

In fact, African women face seven major challenges: economic exclusion; financial systems that perpetuate their discrimination; limited participation in political and public life; lack of access to education and poor retention of girls in schools; gender-based violence; harmful cultural practices, and exclusion of women from peace tables, among others.

The Addis Ababa based African Union Commission (AUC) underlines that “Agenda 2063 is a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years. It builds on, and seeks to accelerate the implementation of past and existing continental initiatives for growth and sustainable development.”

Top Aspirations

Seven top African Aspirations shape Agenda 2063. These aspirations “reflect our desire for shared prosperity and well-being, for unity and integration, for a continent of free citizens and expanded horizons, where the full potential of women and youth, boys and girls are realized, and with freedom from fear, disease and want,” AUC underlines.

The aspirations as defined by the AUC are:

Aspiration 1: A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.

“We are determined to eradicate poverty in one generation and build shared prosperity through social and economic transformation of the continent.”

Aspiration 2
: An integrated continent, politically united, based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance.

Since 1963, the quest for African Unity has been inspired by the spirit of Pan Africanism, focusing on liberation, and political and economic independence. It is motivated by development based on self-reliance and self-determination of African people, with democratic and people-centred governance.

Aspiration 3: An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.

Africa shall have a universal culture of good governance, democratic values, gender equality, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.

Aspiration 4
: A peaceful and secure Africa.

Mechanisms for peaceful prevention and resolution of conflicts will be functional at all levels. As a first step, dialogue-centred conflict prevention and resolution will be actively promoted in such a way that by 2020 all guns will be silent. A culture of peace and tolerance shall be nurtured in Africa’s children and youth through peace education.

Aspiration 5: An Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics.

Pan-Africanism and the common history, destiny, identity, heritage, respect for religious diversity and consciousness of African people’s and diaspora’s will be entrenched.

Aspiration 6: An Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children.

“All the citizens of Africa will be actively involved in decision making in all aspects. Africa shall be an inclusive continent where no child, woman or man will be left behind or excluded, on the basis of gender, political affiliation, religion, ethnic affiliation, locality, age or other factors”

Aspiration 7: Africa as a strong, united and influential global player and partner.

“Africa shall be a strong, united, resilient, peaceful and influential global player and partner with a significant role in world affairs. We affirm the importance of African unity and solidarity in the face of continued external interference including, attempts to divide the continent and undue pressures and sanctions on some countries.”

Whether the continent will manage to achieve all these objectives or not is something that belongs to the future. The point is that the aspirations of a whole, huge continent have never made the main headlines in western mainstream media.

(End)

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New Year, New Fight Against Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/new-year-new-fight-against-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-year-new-fight-against-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/new-year-new-fight-against-inequality/#comments Wed, 20 Jan 2016 14:15:09 +0000 Jenny Ricks http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143640

Jenny Ricks is Head of Inequality Initiative, ActionAid International

By Jenny Ricks
DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 20 2016 (IPS)

With New Year’s resolutions already fading fast for most people, attention turns to what 2016 will really hold. And so it is for those wanting to tackle the world’s biggest problems.

This week in Davos politicians and business leaders meet at the World Economic Forum, where inequality is once again on the agenda. By common consensus we are living through an inequality crisis, with the gap between the richest and the rest at levels not seen for a century. So what will be different in 2016?

Well, inequality is already recognised as socially and economic harmful by a whole range of influential people such as the Pope, and institutions like the IMF and OECD. We have no shortage of acknowledgement of at least part of the problem. And all countries have pledged to tackle it through the Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) and the Climate Accord agreed in Paris in December.

But the problem is far from being resolved. The stark reality in contrast to those commitments is that inequality isn’t being tackled and the status quo approaches that exacerbate inequality are still being followed by the countries and institutions that claim to be tackling it.

So what to do? The challenge now is to go from acknowledging the problem to fixing it. To do that we need three things: a shift in polices, a shift in power, and a shift in mind set and ideas about how change will happen.

Civil society is clear on the contradiction between rhetoric and the reality, as are poor people themselves facing the brunt of these inequalities that ActionAid works with around the world. They are not waiting for world leaders to change their ways, they are busy tackling inequality from its roots and creating a new reality.

Today, leaders from a range of environment, women’s rights, human rights, faith based and development groups and trade unions will spell out what it will really take to tackle inequality and commit to stepping up the fight. This is exciting news.

Why does this agenda matter to such a diverse range of groups? As the joint statement says: “Struggles for a better world are all threatened by the inequality crisis. Workers across the world are seeing their wages and conditions eroded as inequality increases. The rights of women are systematically worse in situations of greater economic inequality.”

The vast majority of the world’s richest people are men; those in the most precarious and poorly paid work are women. Young people are facing a crisis of unemployment. Other groups such as migrants, ethnic minorities, LGBTQI people, people with disability and indigenous people continue to be pushed to the margins, suffering systematic discrimination. The struggle to realise the human rights of the majority are continually undercut in the face of such disparities of wealth and power.

Extreme inequality is also frequently linked to rising restrictions on civic space and democratic rights as political and economic elites collude to protect their interests. The right to peaceful protest and the ability of citizens to challenge the prevailing economic discourse is being curtailed almost everywhere, for elites know that extreme inequality and participatory democracy cannot co-exist for long.

Even the future of our planet is dependent on ending this great divide, with the carbon consumption of the 1% as much as 175 times that of the poorest.”

Though it is going to be a difficult road, we know that change to forge a new economic system that puts people and the planet first will only be created by a people powered movement. 2016 is not a year of high profile summits and commitments. It’s a year of building power from below, of building a movement in many countries amongst these constituencies and others including social movements and young people.

There is reason for hope and experience to build on. We know this is possible because of what we see in our work with communities around the world, because of some positive current examples and past periods of reducing inequality in countries such as Brazil, and because people have won great struggles before. This new struggle against inequality has started in earnest.

(End)

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CoP 21: The Start of a Long Journeyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/cop-21-the-start-of-a-long-journey/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cop-21-the-start-of-a-long-journey http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/cop-21-the-start-of-a-long-journey/#comments Thu, 14 Jan 2016 14:58:45 +0000 Rajendra Kumar Pachauri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143593

Dr. Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, is the Director General of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), and Former Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2002-2015

By Rajendra Kumar Pachauri
NEW DELHI, Jan 14 2016 (IPS)

The agreement reached in December, 2015 at the 21st Conference of the Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a major step forward in dealing with the challenge of climate change. The very fact that almost every country in the world signed off on this agreement is a major achievement, credit for which must go in substantial measure to the Government of France and its leadership. However, in scientific terms, while this agreement certainly brings all the Parties together in moving ahead, in itself the commitments that have been made under the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) are quite inadequate for limiting temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century relative to pre-industrial levels.

Rajendra Kumar Pachauri

Rajendra Kumar Pachauri

Any agreement on climate change has to take into account the scientific assessment of the impacts that the world may face and the risks that it would have to bear if adequate efforts are not made to mitigate the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Scientific assessment is also necessary on the level of mitigation that would limit risks from consequential impacts to acceptable levels. The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has come up with a clear assessment of where the world is going if it moves along business as usual. The AR5 clearly states that without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st Century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts globally. Adaptation and mitigation are complementary strategies for reducing and managing the risks of climate change. Correspondingly, substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades can reduce climate risks in the 21st Century and beyond, increase prospects for effective adaptation, reduce the costs and challenges of mitigation in the longer term and contribute to climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development.

In the AR5, five Reasons For Concern (RFCs) aggregate climate change risks and illustrate the implications of warming and of adaptation limits for people, economies and ecosystems across sectors and regions. The five RFCs are associated with: (1) Unique and threatened systems, (2) Extreme weather events, (3) Distribution of impacts, (4) Global aggregate impacts, and (5) Large scale singular events. These RFCs grow directly in proportion to the extent of warming projected for different scenarios.

Substantial cuts in GHG emissions over the next few decades can substantially reduce risks of climate change by limiting warming in the second half of the 21st century and beyond. Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Limiting risks across RFCs would imply a limit for cumulative emissions of CO2. Such a limit would require that global net emissions of CO2 eventually decrease to zero and would constrain annual emissions over the next few decades. But some risks from climate damages are unavoidable, even with mitigation and adaptation. This results from the fact that there is inertia in the system whereby the increased concentration of GHGs in the earth’s atmosphere will create impacts which are now inevitable.

The Paris agreement is an extremely significant step taken by the global community, but to deal effectively with the challenge ahead, a much higher level of ambition would be required by all the countries of the world than is currently embodied in the INDCs. A review of the INDCs is due to take place only in 2018 and 2023. This may be too late, because a higher level of ambition will need to be demonstrated urgently, if the world is to reduce emissions significantly before 2030. Delaying additional mitigation to 2030 will substantially increase the challenges associated with limited warming over the 21st century to below 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels. And, if the global community is serious about evaluating the impacts of climate change within a limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, then stringent mitigation actions will have to be taken much earlier than 2030. If early action is not taken, then a much more rapid scale up of low carbon energy over the period 2030 to 2050 would become necessary with a larger reliance on carbon dioxide removal in the long term and higher transitional and long term economic impacts.

In essence, Paris has to be seen as the beginning of a journey. If the world is to minimize the risks from the impacts of climate change adequately, then the public in each country must demand a far more ambitious set of mitigation measures than embedded in the Paris agreement. That clearly is the challenge that the world is facing, and the global community must take in hand urgently the task of informing the public on the scientific facts related to climate change as a follow up to Paris. Then only would we get adequate action for risks being limited to acceptable levels.

(End)

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Syria: Minding the Minds IIhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/syria-minding-the-minds-ii/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syria-minding-the-minds-ii http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/syria-minding-the-minds-ii/#comments Tue, 12 Jan 2016 19:03:04 +0000 Johan Galtung http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143563 Johan Galtung is professor of peace studies, founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives’]]>

Johan Galtung is professor of peace studies, founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives

By Johan Galtung
OSLO, Jan 12 2016 (IPS)

Baher Kamal, in … And All of a Sudden Syria!: “The “big five,” the United Nations veto powers, have just agreed United Nations Resolution 2254 of 18-12-2015, time to end the Syrian five-year long human tragedy; they waited until 300,000 innocent civilians were killed and 4.5 million humans lost as refugees and homeless at home, hundreds of field testing of state-of-the-art drones made, and daily U.S., British, French and Russian bombing carried out.” No Chinese bombing.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

One term in the resolution, road map, already spells failure. There is another reason: missing issues. But something can be done. Roads twist, turn and may be far from straight. Traveling a road is a linear, one step or mile-stone after another, process, by the map. The West loves linearity; as causal chains, (falling dominoes,) from a root cause; as deductive chains from axioms; as ranks from high to low.

However, is that not how the world is, moving in time, causes-effects, axioms-consequences, rank, power, over others? Are roads not rather useful? They are. Is there an alternative to a road map? There is.

One step after the other in time is diachronic. An alternative would be synchronic; at the same time. Let us call it a cake map.

A cake is served, cut in slices, each party takes a slice, waits till all are served to start together. By the road map, first come first served first to eat. Or, highest rank eats first, down the line. The cake map stands for togetherness, simultaneity, shared experience. Not necessarily good: it was also used by the West to carve up Africa.

The cake is an issue; the slices are aspects. How it is defined, how it is cut, who are invited is essential. Basic to the cake map is equality among parties and slices: all get theirs at the same time.

For the Syria issue the Resolution lists the aspects on the road:
• 25 January 2016 (in two weeks) as the target date to begin talks;
• immediately all parties stop attacking civilians;
• within one month: options for a ceasefire monitoring mechanism;
• within 6 months “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance”;
• within 18 months “free and fair elections–by the new constitution”.

Kamal mentions many actors and crucial problems with this agenda. The focus here is on the linearity: ceasefire-governance-constitution-free and fair elections. Why stop attacking civilians who can become or are combatants? Why should actors agree to a ceasefire before their rights are guaranteed in a constitution? Why non-sectarian “governance” in a sectarian country? Each step presupposes the next. The “peace process” can be blocked, at any point, by any one party. Like a road.

Proposal: On 25 January, appoint four representative commissions– one for each of the four aspects–with mechanisms of dialogue for all six pairs and plenaries. Then report on all aspects on the agenda.

Back to the cake, “Syria.” Does “Syria” exist? Once much of the Middle East, the name was used for the French “mandate” carved out of the vast Ottoman Empire from 1516 to 1916 when ended by Sykes-Picot. A commission on the Ottoman period, exploring millets for minorities, is indispensable. So is a commission on the Sykes-Picot trauma, also with Turkey as a member; hopefully with UK-France-Russia apologizing.

We have seen it before. The US was a major party to the conflict and the UN conference manager 2013-14. There are now more parties: Jordan has identified up to 160 terrorist groups (Kamal), probably not counting state terrorists. And today the UN is the conference manager.

This column at the time (27 Jan 2014) identified seven Syria conflicts:
1 Minority/majority, democracy/dictatorship, Assad/not Assad in Syria;
2 Sunni/Shia all over, also with “Sunni Islamic State Iraq-Syria ISIS”;
3 Syrians/minorities “like Turks and Kurds, Maronites and Christians”;
4 Syria/”those who, like USA and Israel, prefer Syria fragmented”;
5 Syria/Turkey with “neo-Ottoman expansionist policies”;
6 USA-UK-France/Russia-China “determined to avoid another Libya”;
7 Violent perpetrators of all kinds/killed-bereaved-potential victims.

All seven are still there. They have become more violent, like the second, between Saudi Arabia–also financing IS–and Iran. But the resolution focuses on the first and the last. All parties mentioned should be invited or at least consulted publicly. Last time Iran was excluded, defined as the bad one; this time IS(IS), today called Daesh.

A process excluding major process parties is doomed in advance.

However, imagine that the cake is defined as, “the conflict formation in and around Syria”; that the slices are the seven conflicts indicated with one commission for each; that around the table are the actors mentioned, some grouped together. The Resolution aspects are on their agendas; with commissions on the Ottoman Empire and Sykes-Picot.

What can we expect, what can we reasonably hope for, as visions?

“Mandate”, “colony”: there is some reality to Syria (and to Iraq). The borders are hopeless and should be respected, but not for a unitary state. For something looser, a (con)federation. Basic building-blocs would be provinces from Ottoman times, millets for smaller minorities, and cantons for the strip of Kurds along the Turkish border. The constitution could define a national assembly with two chambers: one territorial for the provinces, and one non-territorial for nations and faiths with some cultural veto in matters concerning themselves.

There is also the Swiss model with the assembly being based on territorially defined cantons, and the cabinet on nations-faiths: of 7 members 3 speak German, 1 Rheto-roman, 2 French and 1 Italian (4 Protestant and 3 Catholic?). Not impossible for Syria. With the Kurds as some kind of Liechtenstein (that is where con-federation enters).

In addition to parallel NGO fora. There is much to articulate.

Assad or not? If he is excluded as punishment for violence, there are many to be excluded. A conference only for victims, and China?

Better see it as human tragedy-stupidity, and build something new.

The violent parties will not get what they want. The victims can be accommodated peacefully in this looser Syria. Moreover, the perpetrators should fund reconstruction proportionate to the violence they wrought in the past four years. As quickly as humanly possible.

Syria offered a poor choice between a minority dictatorship with tolerance and a majority dictatorship–democracy–without. Violence flourished, attracting old suspects for proxy wars. “Bomb Syria” was the panacea, after “bomb Libya”. What a shame. Bring it to an end.

*Johan Galtung’s editorial originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 11 January 2016: TRANSCEND Media Service – TMS: Syria (Minding the Minds II)

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