Inter Press Service » Civil Society http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 27 Jul 2015 20:10:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.6 Key Constituencies Call for Inclusion in Nepal’s Draft Constitutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/key-constituencies-call-for-inclusion-in-nepals-draft-constitution/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 14:21:15 +0000 Post Bahadur Basnet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141757 Women activists who say they played a key role in the country’s democratic turn in 2006 are up in arms over a new draft constitution that threatens to deepen gender inequality. Credit: Post Bahadur Basnet

Women activists who say they played a key role in the country’s democratic turn in 2006 are up in arms over a new draft constitution that threatens to deepen gender inequality. Credit: Post Bahadur Basnet

By Post Bahadur Basnet
KATHMANDU, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

Ending a years-long political deadlock, Nepal’s major political parties inked a 16-point agreement last June to pave the way for the Constituent Assembly (CA) to write a new constitution.

It marked the first time since the end of the Maoist insurgency and regime change in 2006 that the parties had reached such an important agreement on constitution drafting.

“We want powerful, autonomous provinces. If the federal government retains most of the powers, there is no meaning of federating the country. That’s why we cannot accept this draft." -- Anil Kumar Jha, a leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) that champions the rights of the Madheshi ethnic group
The CA prepared a preliminary draft based on the 16-point deal, and is currently seeking public feedback on the draft.

But numerous identity groups have challenged the draft, which was prepared by those parties that hold roughly 90 percent of seats in the 601-member CA.

The groups say the draft fails to address their demands of identity and inclusion.

A series of public hearings on the draft last week triggered violent protests in some parts of the country and many groups even burnt its copies.

With opposition groups taking to the streets, the major parties are likely to face a tough time in promulgating the constitution by mid-August.

There are four constituencies – ethnic groups, women, Dalits, and Hindu nationalists – that have put up stiff resistance to the CA move to promulgate a new constitution without bringing them onboard.

The draft states that the country would be federated by the parliament as per the recommendation of a soon-to-be-formed panel of experts.

But activists who have been vociferously demanding federalism say this is a major flaw in the draft.

“The draft defers the issue of federalism, violating the interim constitution. They are deferring the issue because they are reluctant to federate the country,” says Anil Kumar Jha, a leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) that champions the rights of the Madheshi ethnic group from the country’s southern plains.

They say that political parties, dominated by Hindu high-caste males, are not interested in federalism and sharing powers with ethnic groups.

“We want powerful, autonomous provinces. If the federal government retains most of the powers, there is no meaning of federating the country. That’s why we cannot accept this draft,” Jha says.

Activists from the major ethnic groups want the CA to federate the country along ethnic lines. But such a move is not that easy as Nepal is home to more than 125 ethnic groups and most of the regions have mixed populations.

The major parties are deferring the issue in the hope that the passion for ethnic federalism will subside slowly and will enable them to work out a compromise formula for federalism.

Some of the ethnic groups have been marginalised since the formation of the Nepali state in the late 18th century and they see their liberation through the formation of autonomous provinces in their traditional homelands.

The Nepali state promoted the Nepali language, Hinduism and hill culture as an assimilation policy during the state formation process, which led to the domination of Hindu caste people.

For example, hill high-caste people, who make up 30.5 percent of the population, occupy 61.5 percent of jobs in the national bureaucracy, according to the Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index prepared by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the state-run Tribhuvan University in Nepal.

Nepal adopted an inclusion policy after the regime change in 2006, but the ethnic groups want autonomy with the right to self-determination to promote their language, culture and economic rights.

Women activists, on the other hand, are opposed to the draft on the basis that the citizenship provisions contained therein are discriminatory and fail to honor them as ‘equal citizens’.

The draft states that ‘citizenship by birth’ will be granted only to those people whose fathers and mothers are Nepali citizens.

It means women have to establish the identity of the fathers of their children. Activists say single mothers will suffer form this provision. The children of single mothers will not be eligible for citizenship by descent unless the fathers accept them as their children.

Similarly, children born of Nepali mothers and foreign fathers will not get citizenship by birth unless the father is also a Nepali citizen by the time the children reach the legal age for citizenship (16 years).

So the activists want to change the provision into ‘father or mother’.

“It’s against the universal democratic norms. It [the draft] plans to make women dependent on males for citizenship of their children,” says Sapana Malla Pradhan, a women’s rights activist and lawyer.

In Nepal there are a significant number of people brought up by single mothers who have been struggling hard to get citizenship because the fathers have been out of contact or don’t acknowledge paternity.

“The provision is against the mandate of the people’s movement that led to regime change in 2006. Women participated in the movement enthusiastically because they wanted to become equal citizens,” Pradhan adds.

Women make up over half of the country’s population of 27.8 million people. The female literacy rate stands at 57.4 percent only, compared to 75 percent for men.

Less than 25 percent of women own land, according to the Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index. Far fewer women work for Nepal’s civil service than men – only one in seven bureaucrats is female.

Although parents would prefer to send all of their children to private schools, what often happens is that boys are sent to English-medium private schools while girls are sent to Nepali medium state schools.

Women’s political participation is very low. The interim constitution of Nepal ensures 33 percent representation for women in the national bureaucracy and legislatures, but the numbers are still grim. The good news is that the news draft has given continuity to this provision.

Similarly, Dalit activists say the new draft curtails their representation in the federal and provincial legislatures, among other things.

“The previous CA had agreed to give three percent [of proportional representation] and five percent extra seats to Dalits in federal and provincial legislatures respectively – in addition to their proportional representation in these bodies – as compensation for the centuries-old discriminatory state practices against Dalits. So we are against the draft,” says Min Bishwakarma, a CA member from the Dalit community.

A total of 43.63 percent of hill Dalits, who make up 8.7 percent of the total population, are below the poverty line, according to the National Living Standard Survey conducted in 2011.

Similarly 38.16 percent of Dalits in the southern plains, who make up 5.6 percent of the population, are below the poverty line. According to the survey, Dalit land holdings are small, and landlessness among Dalits is extreme – 36.7 Dalits in the hills and 41.4 percent Dalits in the plans are landless.

The most serious challenge to the draft however comes from the fourth largest party, the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), which espouses the ideology of Hindu nationalism.

The first CA, which was elected in 2008, was dissolved four years later as none of the parties garnered the required two-thirds majority to draft a constitution.

The major political parties had reached a tentative agreement to promulgate a constitution by mid-August. But the task won’t be easy. They will have to face challenges not only from different identity groups, many of them historically marginalised, but also from the rising tide of Hindu nationalism.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Developing Nations Set to Challenge Rich Ahead of SDG Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-developing-nations-set-to-challenge-rich-ahead-of-sdg-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-developing-nations-set-to-challenge-rich-ahead-of-sdg-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-developing-nations-set-to-challenge-rich-ahead-of-sdg-summit/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 14:18:12 +0000 Soren Ambrose http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141756

Soren Ambrose is Head of Policy, Advocacy & Research at ActionAid International

By Soren Ambrose
NEW YORK, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

The final round of negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals – the successor to the Millennium Development Goals, due to be inaugurated in September at the U.N. General Assembly – is now underway in New York.

Courtesy of Soren Ambrose/ActionAid

Courtesy of Soren Ambrose/ActionAid

The United Nations and many member governments want to conclude the debates by the end of July, so that there will not be open debate during the SDG Summit. But reports indicate that the atmosphere in the room is one of seething distrust.

That’s because of what happened during the Financing for Development (FfD) conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last month.

The developing countries – those grouped together in the “G77,” which 50 years after its founding actually has 134 members – were pushing a proposal for a universal intergovernmental organisation, within the U.N., which would have as its mandate reform and maintenance of the international tax system.

While this proposal would not have immediately remedied any of the myriad ways that corporations dodge taxes in developing countries, it would be a decisive change to the system that has allowed such activities to flourish.

To the extent that there are international rules, or standards and guidelines, on taxation now, they are proposed and elaborated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD), a club of 34 of the world’s richest countries. Every once in a while they make a show of consulting those other 134 countries, but those others never actually get a vote.Ultimately it’s the pressure of the people which will force their governments to be responsible. The movement to stand up to those who have hijacked our power is building.

In the new proposed way of making decisions on international tax rules, every country would have an equal voice and equal vote. This fight matters is because developing countries are confronting the need to change how the rules are made, and who makes the rules.

Until they manage that, they will always, at best, be running to stay in place. Changing who makes the rules is a necessary, although not sufficient condition, for creating permanent change.

Taxation is vital because wealthy companies and individuals get and stay rich by using a portion of their considerable resources to hire lawyers and accountants to guide them in dodging the taxes they should be paying in the countries where they excavate, grow, or purchase their raw materials, assemble their products, and make an increasing proportion of their sales.

If they don’t have such staff in-house, they can hire the services of big accounting firms for whom this is the most lucrative activity.

Most big companies manipulate “tax treaties” between countries and tax havens like Switzerland, Mauritius, and the Cayman Islands to create legal fictions that exempt them from paying most of the taxes they owe.

What they do is usually not technically illegal, because of the impossibility of keeping up with the tactics of the armies of experts dedicated to avoiding taxes. But neither is it quite ethical.

This deprives countries of the revenue – to the tune of at least 100 billion dollars every year – that they need to fund development, and ensures the perpetuation of the concentration of wealth in the hands of a very few. That wealth translates to power – a veritable global plutocracy.

The OECD, to be fair, has made some moves to clamp down on the most egregious forms of tax avoidance, including their “base erosion and profit shifting” (BEPS) process begun in 2013.

The corporate lawyers and accountants were a little nervous about BEPS, but with the process winding up, it appears that any reforms it demands will not be manageable. The promises at the outset of the process to include developing countries never amounted to much.

The FfD process in the U.N. was, of course, universal. The U.N. and national governments usually like to have the “outcome document” finalised before a summit meeting. The prospect of a messy negotiation with thousands of advocates just outside the door makes them nervous.

But after months of negotiations in New York and a series of missed deadlines, the big debate over the tax body was not resolved. The ministers would go to Addis facing open negotiations.

Bolstered by the support of hundreds of civil society groups, the G77 governments – a group that has to accommodate the interests of very disparate countries – held together. Three BRICS countries – South Africa as the chair of the G77, along with India and Brazil – were vocal actors on the side of the developing countries, something they can’t always be relied on to do as they ascend the global power ladder.

With negotiators starting to meet before the formal start of the meetings on July 13, there were several days filled with ever-shifting rumours. But on the evening of July 15, the eve of the scheduled end of the conference, the announcement came: there would be an outcome document little changed from the unsatisfactory draft they brought from New York.

Promises were made to expand the resources and prestige of the existing U.N. Committee of Tax Experts, but nothing more. No universal membership, and no mandate for reform.

The G77 held out to the end. But the rich countries, led by the United States with the steady support of the European Union, Canada, Japan, and Australia, refused to give up the regime of loopholes and havens and double-dealing that adds up to billions in lost revenue every year.

Make no mistake, ordinary people in rich countries also lose out as corporations dodge taxes. But with their territories serving as the leading facilitators of tax avoidance in the world, their governments showed they want the present system to endure.

The current global hyper-capitalism now puts no constraints on capital. Unlimited profits, unlimited wealth, and unlimited power have been accruing to the finance industry and the wealthy corporations and individuals it serves for over 40 years.

The rich countries’ politicians not only put up with it, they tout the “private sector” as the panacea for development in poor countries, with nearly no evidence to support them.

And at home, they cut public services and impose austerity, explaining that government just can’t afford to serve the people. Their priority has been corporations’ and investors’ bottomless appetite for profit and power.

As my colleague Ben Phillips has written about the FfD, it’s actually good news that the rich countries had to put an ugly stop to the negotiations, with barely a face-saving compromise to point to. Usually they manage to find a way to assign the blame to someone else.

Forcing them to show their hand is valuable; it’s clear that those making the rules are far more identified with a powerful few than with the public they claim to serve.

The next step is at the SDG Summit at the end of September, at the time of the annual U.N. General Assembly meetings. There we will learn whether and to what extent the developing countries will stand up to those who have monopolised power for so long. If they do, we may be on the road to reversing parts of the system that perpetuates the status quo.

Whatever happens, we aren’t going anywhere. Civil Society won’t change this global dynamic by attending these conferences, or through polite lobbying. We will have to endure many more meetings, and more setbacks.

But ultimately it’s the pressure of the people which will force their governments to be responsible. The movement to stand up to those who have hijacked our power is building.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Leads Youth Battling Intolerance, Racism and Extremismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-leads-youth-battling-intolerance-racism-and-extremism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-leads-youth-battling-intolerance-racism-and-extremism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-leads-youth-battling-intolerance-racism-and-extremism/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 13:06:39 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141754 Gabriela Rivadeneira, President of the National Assembly of Ecuador, addresses the 2015 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum on the theme, “Youth Engagement in the Transition from the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals: What will it take?” Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Gabriela Rivadeneira, President of the National Assembly of Ecuador, addresses the 2015 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum on the theme, “Youth Engagement in the Transition from the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals: What will it take?” Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

When the 21-year-old Crown Prince of Jordan, Al Hussein bin Abdullah II, presided over a Security Council meeting last April, he was described as the youngest ever to chair one of the U.N.’s most powerful political bodies armed with powers to wage wars and declare peace.

The seat was temporarily his because Jordan held the rotating monthly presidency of the 15-member Security Council in April."Another Diversity Contest could be a possibility as indeed could many other initiatives that work the same way - summoning creative and constructive conscience to achieve very specific results.” -- Ramu Damodaran

“I told him (the Crown Prince) we are living in the twenty-first century and you are leading the world in the twenty-first century,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, following the meeting, which focused on the role of youth in countering violent extremism and promoting peace.

This is a very powerful era for youth, Ban said, and there is a very important role for educators to teach them what would be significant to become a global citizen, to become a leader in the future.

As the United Nations spearheads a major effort to end hate and extremism worldwide, it is turning to the world’s younger generation to lead the battle against intolerance, including homophobia, racism, gender-based discrimination and xenophobia.

The U.N. Academic Impact (UNAI), which was launched in 2010 and is playing a key role in countering extremism at the grassroots level, is described as an initiative that aligns institutions of higher education with the United Nations in realising the universally accepted principles in human rights, literacy, sustainability and conflict resolution.

Currently, about 30 international networks of universities and other institutes of higher learn have endorsed UNAI – encouraging nearly a 1,000 individual institutions to join the grassroots campaign.

Ramu Damodaran, chief of the U.N. Academic Impact (UNAI) Secretariat in the Outreach Division of the Department of Public Information (DPI), told IPS: “We have worked with educational institutions and other members of civil society for more than 11 years now in a seminar series titled ‘Unlearning Intolerance’.”

Last month, the UNAI collaborated with United Colours of Benetton’s “UnHate Foundation” (making sure it would not be misconstrued as a “UN Hate Foundation”) for a Diversity Contest to “showcase the engagement of young people around the world, and the innovation, energy and commitment they bring to personally-crafted solutions that address some of the world’s most pressing issues,” said Damodaran, who is also Deputy Director for Partnerships and Public Engagement.

When the U.N. Academic Impact was devised some six years ago, it was clear this should become one of its core principles, he added.

And “when the UnHate Foundation approached us with this initiative,” Damodaran told IPS, “we leapt at the opportunity since the project goes beyond talking or debating about the vital issues of diversity and respect, to actually funding specific projects – and as many as 10 of them – which further this goal.”

What is more, he said, every aspect is managed by students and young faculty – visualising a project, estimating its scope and costs and then, if it is selected, managing its successful execution.

The contest drew more than 100 entries from 31 countries worldwide with innovative ideas and solutions for tackling a wide range of issues, primarily intolerance, racism and extremism.

A panel of judges picked 10 winners who received 20,000 Euros each donated by United Colors of Benetton based in Italy.

Asked if it will be an annual event, he said: “We look forward to continued opportunities to work with the UnHate Foundation – another Diversity Contest could be a possibility as indeed could many other initiatives that work the same way, summoning creative and constructive conscience to achieve very specific results.”

The United Nations says the contest was noteworthy for several reasons.

First, rather than asking “amateurs” to simply write about world problems, this contest took a proactive approach and invited solutions and, even more ambitiously, gave them truly significant financial resources to carry out their solutions.

“This is real empowerment of civil society, and of youth, to change the world, as many of the winners rightly acknowledged in their reactions to winning the award,” said the United Nations in a statement released here.

The range of intolerance addressed was truly impressive, ranging from the empowerment and education of women, to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights, indigenous rights, and proposals to confront intolerance among major religions and conflicts between ethnic groups.

The 10 winners came from a wide range of nations: Burundi, Canada, China, Germany, India, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa and the United States.

The proposed projects are expected to facilitate secondary and tertiary educations for indigenous women in southern India; promote harmony and knowledge of each other’s faith among Christians, Hindus and Muslims in Pakistan; challenge prejudice and discrimination faced by LGBT peoples in India and Mexico; provide a safe space for women in China to discuss difficult issues; work to resolve conflicts over water in order to decrease ethnic conflict in Burundi; encourage greater acceptance of migrant populations in South Africa; promote acceptance of marginalised groups in Mexico; promote greater employment opportunities for Muslim women in Germany; document the voices of Mexican immigrants to the United States and portray the day to day lives and aspirations of Palestinians from diverse backgrounds.

Meanwhile, the secretary-general has identified several other UNAI initiatives that help the United Nations.

Ban said researchers from the University of Edinburgh were part of a team that addressed the origins of the Ebola virus that caused last year’s deadly outbreak.

The Dr. B.N. College of Architecture for Women in India is working with partners in Tanzania on sustainable housing.

Al-Farabi Kazakh National University is finding new models for renewable energy.

JF Oberlin University in Japan launched the UNAI’s youth branch called ASPIRE — Action by Students to Promote Innovation and Reform through Education.

And the Education Above All Foundation in Qatar, chaired by Sheikha Mozah, is defending the right of children to continue learning in danger zones.

In South Korea, Handong Global University continues its Global Entrepreneurship Training programmes to help young people create jobs, not just seek them.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Obama Walks Fine Line in Kenya on LGBTI Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/obama-walks-fine-line-in-kenya-on-lgbti-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-walks-fine-line-in-kenya-on-lgbti-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/obama-walks-fine-line-in-kenya-on-lgbti-rights/#comments Sat, 25 Jul 2015 19:42:09 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141752 Presidents Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta wave to delegates at the Opening Plenary at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, in Nairobi, Kenya on July 25, 2015. Credit: U.S. Embassy Nairobi

Presidents Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta wave to delegates at the Opening Plenary at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, in Nairobi, Kenya on July 25, 2015. Credit: U.S. Embassy Nairobi

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 25 2015 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke in Nairobi at the end of a two-day visit Saturday, focusing on Kenya’s economy and the fight against terrorism, but also briefly touching on gay rights and discrimination.

“When you start treating people differently not because of any harm they are doing to anybody, but because they are different, that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode, and bad things happen,” Obama said at a joint press conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta."You can't encourage change by staying silent." -- Charles Radcliffe

But LGBTI Kenyans are not in agreement about whether Obama’s presence will help or hurt their struggle, according to the Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Jessica Stern.

“The difference of views is a sign of the strength and diversity of the Kenyan LGBTI movement, but there’s no question that this is a potential minefield, and ultimately, those who stand to get hurt most are regular Kenyans,” she told IPS.

Some have argued that the U.S. president speaking out on LGBTQ human rights in Kenya was counterproductive in the past, and has made the people of Kenya, where same-sex relations are punishable by up to 14 years in prison, more homophobic and unsupportive of the LGBTQ community.

Anti-gay organisations like the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum claim that they gained more support due to President Obama’s comments in 2013, along with some American policies, likely because the protection of LGBTQ communities is widely viewed as an American value being imposed on African society.

After Obama’s comments Saturday, President Kenyatta stated that in Kenya, it is “very difficult to impose” gay rights because the culture is different from the United States, and the societies do not accept it – which makes it a “non-issue” to the government of Kenya.

“There’s been a deliberate attempt to portray homosexuality as a Western import, which it isn’t,” the U.N. adviser on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, Charles Radcliffe, told IPS. “The only Western imports in this context are the homophobic laws used to punish and silence gay people,” these laws mostly originating from 19th century British colonialism.

By speaking on LGBTQ human rights abuses, Obama is “imposing human values, not Western ones,” says Radcliffe. “It’s possible to respect tradition, while at the same time insisting that everyone — gay people included — deserve to be protected from prejudice, violence, and unfair punishment and discrimination.”

Radcliffe said he believes Obama and other leaders should speak out, as it will “open people’s eyes to the existence of gay Kenyans and the legitimacy of their claim to respect and recognition.”

Radcliffe advises prominent individuals to take their lead from members of the local LGBT community – who are best placed to advise on what interventions are likely to help, and which ones risk making things more difficult.

“LGBT activists are too often isolated in their own countries; they need the support of fellow human rights activists, women’s rights activists and others campaigning for social justice. Public opinion tends to change when individual members of the public get to know LGBT individuals and realise they are people too. The government should hasten that process, not obstruct it. ”

Radcliffe notes that “you can’t encourage change by staying silent.”

According to Stern, “LGBTI Kenyans have been fighting their own heroic struggle for years, but the extremists have seized upon this opportunity to undermine their credibility as Kenyans.  All Kenyans, gay and straight, lose when there’s this kind of media spin doctoring.”

Stern urged leaders like Obama and the media not to undermine an opportunity to address a spectrum of human rights abuses Kenyans are living with. Instead, she says there should be a focus on concerns which are being left by the wayside, such as the lack of police accountability, abuse by government security forces, abuse of Somali and Muslim communities, and a crackdown on NGOs, among many others.

“If the mechanisms for government accountability are weak, human rights of all stripes will suffer,” says Stern. “Kenyan activists of all stripes, including those working on LGBTI rights, are protesting corruption in government.  They’ve continued calling for accountability for violence in 2007/2008 after elections.

“They’re defending people who’ve been arbitrarily arrested and charged, such as two men in Kwale County being tried under the ‘unnatural offenses law’. They’ve documented hundreds of extrajudicial killings by police in recent years, and they’ve called for police guilty of violence and theft to be disciplined and prosecuted.”

According to Human Rights Watch, Kenya continues to be plagued by corruption at all levels of government with limited accountability.

For example, although both presidents Kenyatta and Ruto campaigned for elected office on pledges to continue their cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has charged both presidents with crimes against humanity in the past, their campaigns later painted the ICC as a tool of Western imperialism, and encouraged other African leaders to undermine the ICC.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Multilingualism Opens Doors to the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/multilingualism-opens-doors-to-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=multilingualism-opens-doors-to-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/multilingualism-opens-doors-to-the-world/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 19:59:22 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141749 Many students submitted the essay in their third or fourth language, one participant even in his seventh language. Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/cc by 2.0

Many students submitted the essay in their third or fourth language, one participant even in his seventh language. Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/cc by 2.0

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

On Friday, 67 student essay winners from 42 different countries convened at the United Nations General Assembly to present their essays at the Many Languages, One World Global Youth Forum.

The students were selected as winners of the Many Languages, One World International Essay Contest among a pool of over 1,250 participants.

Participating students were required to write a 2,000-word essay on a topic related to the post-2015 development agenda in any of the official U.N. languages, Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish – the condition being that the language chosen was not the participant’s first language or primary language of instruction during pre-university study.

Many students submitted the essay in their third or fourth language, one participant even in his seventh language.

The idea behind the contest, organised by the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) and ELS Educational Services, is to pay tribute to the impact and value of multilingualism and promote dialogue and debate with and among young people on the post-2015 development agenda.

“Multilingualism is a basic free condition for global citizenship because it enables citizens to understand the perspectives of other people in their languages as well as in their own. It is the only way to truly communicate with other people and reach a common understanding which is the basis for dialogue, debate, argumentation and reaching compromise,” Mark W. Harris, President and CEO of ELS Educational Services, said in his opening remarks.

Addressing the student winners of the contest, Hossein Maleki, Rapporteur of the U.N. General Assembly Committee on Information and First Counsellor in the Permanent Mission of Iran to the U.N., added: “As winners of this contest on multilingualism, you embody key values of the United Nations. Implicit in the concept of multilingualism is respect for the plurality of civilisations and the necessity of dialogue between them.”

“When we reach to people in a language that is not our own, the whole world opens up to us.”

For the presentation of their essays, the students were divided up into six groups, according to the U.N. language in which they submitted their essay.

Each language group covered a different topic related to the post-2015 development framework, ranging from education, health, sustainable economic growth, inclusiveness and justice to water management and sanitation as well as nutrition and food security.

Among the numerous ideas and recommendations put forth by the students, emphasis was placed on the increased use of technology as a tool to reach rural areas, the value of scholarships and academic contests to encourage student performance and achievement, the added-value of healthy and sustainable lifestyles, including fair and just working conditions and the way individual consumer decisions can ultimately make a difference.

 Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Faith Leaders Issue Global “Call to Conscience” on Climatehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/faith-leaders-issue-global-call-to-conscience-on-climate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=faith-leaders-issue-global-call-to-conscience-on-climate http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/faith-leaders-issue-global-call-to-conscience-on-climate/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 08:36:34 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141742 Patricia Gualinga (right), a representative of the Serayaku community in the Amazonic part of Ecuador, told the Summit of Conscience for the Climate in Paris: “We’re here because we want the voices of indigenous people to be heard”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Patricia Gualinga (right), a representative of the Serayaku community in the Amazonic part of Ecuador, told the Summit of Conscience for the Climate in Paris: “We’re here because we want the voices of indigenous people to be heard”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

“We received a garden as our home, and we must not turn it into a wilderness for our children.”

These words by Cardinal Peter Turkson summed up the appeal launched by dozens of religious leaders and “moral” thinkers at the Summit of Conscience for the Climate, a one-day gathering in Paris earlier this week aimed at mobilising action ahead of the next United Nations climate change conference (COP 21) scheduled to take place in the French capital in just over four months.

“The single biggest obstacle to changing course [over climate change] is our minds and hearts” – Cardinal Peter Turkson, an adviser for Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change
“Our prayerful wish is that governments will be as committed at COP 21 as we are here,” said Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and one of the advisers for Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, released in June.

With the theme of “Why Do I Care”, the Summit of Conscience drew participants from around the globe, representing the world’s major religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism – and other faiths and movements.

Government representatives also joined activists from environmental groups, indigenous communities and the arts sector to call for an end to the world’s “throw-away consumerist culture” and the “disastrous indifference to the environment”, as Turkson put it.

“The single biggest obstacle to changing course is our minds and hearts,” he said, after pointing out that “climate change is being borne by those who have contributed least to it”.

The summit was used to highlight an international “Call to Conscience for the climate” and to launch a new organisation called ‘Green Faith in Action’, aimed at raising awareness about environmental and sustainable development issues among adherents of different religions.

Participants drew up a letter that will be delivered to the 195 state parties at COP 21, signed by summit speakers including Prince Albert II of Monaco; Sheikh Khaled Bentounès, Sufi Master of the Alawiya in Algeria; Rajwant Singh, director of an international network called Eco Sikh; and Nigel Savage, president of the Jewish environmental organisation Hazon.

Voicing the concerns of religious groups and faith leaders, the letter is equally a reflection of the challenges faced by indigenous communities, who made their voices heard in Paris, describing attacks on their territories and way of life by the petroleum industry, for example.

“We’re not some kind of folkloric tradition, we’re living beings,” said Valdelice Veron, spokesperson of the Guarani-Kaoiwa people of Brazil, who delivered her speech in traditional dress.

She and other indigenous delegates spoke of their culture also being decimated by the practice of mono-cropping, where large soybean plantations are causing ecological damage.

“We’re here because we want the voices of indigenous people to be heard,” Patricia Gualinga, a representative of the Serayaku community in the Amazonic part of Ecuador, told IPS.

“We share all the concerns about the climate and we too are being affected in many different ways,” she said.

Ségolène Royal, the French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy who spoke near the end of the summit, said the participants’ appeal was “first and foremost, an appeal for action”.

“Climate change should be considered as an opportunity – for business, technology, [and other sectors],” Royal said. “We need to pave the way together.”

Three participants at the Summit of Conscience for the Climate stand  together for a photo. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Three participants at the Summit of Conscience for the Climate stand together for a photo. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

For Samantha Smith, leader of the “Global Climate and Energy Initiative” at green group WWF, the Summit of Conscience reflected a “really big and unprecedented social mobilisation” of civil society, which she hopes will continue beyond COP 21.

“When I read the latest climate science report, it keeps me awake at night. But when I see the mobilisation and the strength of the conviction, I’m optimistic,” Smith said in an interview on the sidelines of the summit.

“Now is not the time to focus on where we disagree. Now is the time to work together,” she added.

But not everyone is invited to the same table – the alliances do not necessarily extend to companies in the fossil fuel industry, said Smith.

“When I say that we need to be united, it doesn’t mean that we need to be united with the fossil fuel industry,” Smith told IPS. “That is an industry which has contributed vastly to the problem and so far is not showing a very substantial contribution to the solution.”

The business sector, including oil producers, held their own conference in May, titled the Business & Climate Summit. At that event, which also took place in Paris, around 2,000 representatives of some of the world’s largest companies declared that they wanted “a global climate deal that achieves net zero emissions” and that they wished to see this achieved at COP 21.

Then at the beginning of July, hundreds of local authority representatives, civil society members and other “non-state actors” took part in the World Summit on Climate & Territories in Lyon, France.

There, participants pledged to take on the “challenge” of keeping global temperatures below a 2 degree Celsius increase “by aligning their daily local and regional actions with the decarbonisation of the world economy scenario”.

The scientific community also held their meeting on climate this month at the Paris headquarters of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

At most of these conferences, French president François Hollande has been a keynote speaker, reiterating his message that the stakes are high and that governments need to show commitment to reach a legally binding, global accord at COP 21, which will take place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.

“We need everyone’s commitment to reach this accord,” Hollande said at the Summit of Conscience. “We need the heads of state and government … local actors, businesses. But we also need the citizens of the world.”

Even as he delivered his speech, another conference on the climate was taking place – at the Vatican, with the mayors of about 60 cities meeting with Pope Francis to formulate a pledge on combating greenhouse gas emissions.

Mayors from around the world will meet again, in Paris during COP 21, through an initiative organised by the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, and by Michael Bloomberg, U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change and former mayor of New York. Billed as the Climate Summit for Local Leaders, this meeting will be held Dec. 4 and should bring together 1,000 mayors.

A question that some observers have been asking, however, is how does one cut through all the grandiose and repetitive speeches at these incessant “summits” and get to real, sustainable action?

Nicolas Hulot, the “Special Envoy of the French President for the Protection of the Planet” and the main organiser of the Summit of Conscience, said he has faced similar queries.

“I’ve been asked ‘what is this going to be useful for’,” he said. “But a light has emerged today, and I hope it will light us up.”

Hulot sought to encourage indigenous groups and others who had travelled from South America, Africa and other regions to Paris for the event, promising them continued support.

“Don’t you doubt the fact that we’re all involved, and we’ll never give in to despair,” he said. “We want to make sure that everybody hears your message because we heard it.”

Edited by Phil Harris

The writer can be followed on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

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Governments Playing Political Ping-Pong with China’s Uyghurshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/governments-playing-political-ping-pong-with-chinas-uyghurs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=governments-playing-political-ping-pong-with-chinas-uyghurs http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/governments-playing-political-ping-pong-with-chinas-uyghurs/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 16:07:00 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141726 Uyghurs, a minority Muslim group in China, say they have faced years of oppression under Chinese rule. Credit: Gustavo Jeronimo/CC-BY-2.0

Uyghurs, a minority Muslim group in China, say they have faced years of oppression under Chinese rule. Credit: Gustavo Jeronimo/CC-BY-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

Two reports released in quick succession by the international rights group Human Rights Watch have highlighted the plight of China’s minority Uyghur population and shed light on their continuing struggle to find a safe haven elsewhere in the region.

“The international community needs to take a firm stand to guarantee the rights of Uyghur refugees." -- Alim A. Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association
The international watchdog released a statement on Jul. 10 condemning the Thai government for returning 100 Uyghur immigrants to China, claiming that they will face persecution in country.

The Uyghurs have struggled against the control of the Chinese central government for decades, with many of its activists exiled or imprisoned.

Another HRW report released on Jul. 13 revealed the Chinese government’s restrictions on international travel for religious minorities, including the Uyghurs, for “religious study and pilgrimage.”

A fast-track passport application system made available 12 years ago excluded the Uyghurs and other minorities, the report said.

“Chinese authorities should move swiftly to dismantle this blatantly discriminatory passport system,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at HRW in the Jul. 10 statement.

“The restrictions also violate freedom of belief by denying or limiting religious minorities’ ability to participate in pilgrimages outside China,” she added.

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a press statement on Jul. 9 that condemned Thailand for returning the Uyghurs to China. The deportations have sparked protests in front of the Chinese embassy and Thailand’s honorary consulate in Turkey.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is located in western China, more than 3,000 km from the capital Beijing. Also known as East Turkestan, the region is home to ethnic groups that have Turkish descent and speak Turkic languages.

According to the Uyghur American Association, there are over 15 million Uyghurs in the region. Uyghurs are traditionally Muslims.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is located in western China, more than 3,000 km from Beijing. Also known as East Turkestan, the region is home to ethnic groups of Turkish descent that speak Turkic languages. Credit: futureatlas.com/CC-BY-2.0

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is located in western China, more than 3,000 km from Beijing. Also known as East Turkestan, the region is home to ethnic groups of Turkish descent that speak Turkic languages. Credit: futureatlas.com/CC-BY-2.0

Alim A. Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association based in Washington, D.C., said in a statement that the forcible return of Uyghur refugees was a violation of their safety.

“The international community needs to take a firm stand to guarantee the rights of Uyghur refugees,” he said. “As more Uyghurs flee China’s heavy-handed repression in East Turkestan, and Beijing continues to pressure for their return, concerned governments and multilateral agencies must not permit China to disregard international human rights norms.”

In addition to the restrictions imposed on travel for pilgrimage activities, Uyghurs in China are also reported to face various restrictions that prohibit them from observing the religious fast during the holy month of Ramadan, one of the important months for Islamic countries and communities around the world.

According to the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress and several news sites, local Chinese governmental departments published statements on the websites warning students, state employees and party members from fasting, attending religious activities or entering mosques.

The Xinjiang legislature passed a regulation in January that banned the wearing of the burqa, a headscarf donned by Muslim women.

“This is not a new restriction,” Greg Fay, project manager at the Washington, D.C. based Uyghur Human Rights Association, told IPS. “The restrictions have been getting stricter in the past two years.”

Uyghurs have had an uneasy relationship with Beijing ever since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

A spate of violent attacks in the past year resulted in the government’s vow to “fight against separatism, religious extremism and terrorism” during a yearlong, anti-terror crackdown. Arrests doubled in 2014 since the government announced the crackdown, amounting to 27,164 cases.

In March 2014, a knife attack in Kunming, 2,677 km from Beijing, left 30 people dead. Two months later, a bomb was set off in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, which killed 31 people. In July, an attack on police stations, government offices and vehicles in Xinjiang left at least 50 people dead.

Officials blamed Xinjiang separatists for the attacks. Earlier in 2009, a riot in Urumqi killed nearly 140 people and the government shut off Internet access in the province for months.

“My interpretation of what is happening now is the government has put out a policy of opposing extremism,” Sean Roberts, associate professor at George Washington University, told IPS in an interview. “I think for a lot of local level officials they are just identifying Islam as extremism.”

Seytoff said in an opinion piece in Al Jazeera published in June 2014 that even though the Uyghurs occupy an autonomous region, most Han officials, the majority ethnic group in China, still hold political and economic power in the region.

“China ruthlessly suppressed any sign of Uyghur unrest and transferred millions of loyal Chinese settlers into East Turkestan, providing them with jobs, housing, bank loans and economic opportunities denied to Uyghurs,” he said.

“The Uyghur population in East Turkestan, which was nearly 90 percent [of the area’s total population] in 1949, is now only 45 percent, while the Chinese population grew disproportionately due to state-sponsored mass settlement from around six percent in 1953 to the current 40 percent.”

Protestors wave the Uyghur flag outside the White House, demanding rights for the minority population in China. Credit: Malcolm Brown/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Protestors wave the Uyghur flag outside the White House, demanding rights for the minority population in China. Credit: Malcolm Brown/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Many Uyghurs attempt to flee persecution to Turkey and neighboring Asian countries. Turkey has hosted over 1,000 Uyghur refugees since 1949, but neighboring countries such as Cambodia and Thailand have returned a number of Uyghurs to China.

A New York Times article in Dec. 2009 revealed that Cambodia returned 20 Uyghurs who applied for asylum in 2009—and signed an economic cooperation deal with China two days later.

The Chinese deny any form of oppression of the Uyghurs and insist that Cambodia’s act of repatriation was legal.

Other Chinese state news agencies have claimed that, far from prohibiting the celebration of Ramadan, the government has supported locals in their worship by proving food and ensuring peace.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Addis Outcome Will Impact Heavily on Post-2015 Agenda – Part 2http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-addis-outcome-will-impact-heavily-on-post-2015-agenda-part-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-addis-outcome-will-impact-heavily-on-post-2015-agenda-part-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-addis-outcome-will-impact-heavily-on-post-2015-agenda-part-2/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 13:00:31 +0000 Bhumika Muchhala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141719 Bhumika Muchhala of Third World Network. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Bhumika Muchhala of Third World Network. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Bhumika Muchhala
ADDIS ABABA, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations is the only universal forum that connects systemic issues to the global partnership for development. The latter recognises North-South cooperation based on historical responsibility and varying levels of development and capacity among member states of the U.N.

And there is a vital acknowledgement of the global rules and drivers that determine national policy space for development.While prospects are uncertain for now, what is increasingly clear is the stark fact that the geopolitical offensive in the U.N. has not abated. If anything, it has become even more pronounced.

With regard to such systemic reforms, the Addis Ababa outcome on Financing for Development (FfD) explicitly ignores a landmark initiative in the U.N. itself to establish an international statutory legal framework for debt restructuring.

Instead, it reaffirms the dominance of creditor-led mechanisms, such as the Paris Club, whose inequitable governance was criticised in the Doha Declaration of 2008.

The Addis outcome also welcomes existing OECD and IMF initiatives which do not address the scale of debt problems afflicting many developing countries today, such as Jamaica, which according to its finance minister’s intervention in Addis Ababa, won’t be able to finance its SDGs until its external debt can achieve sustainability in 2025.

Clearly, servicing creditors has to precede development goals. Reversing this order by incorporating national development financing needs into debt sustainability analyses was neglected by most member states in the FFD negotiations.

In spite of the global recognition that capital controls are crucial to developing countries ability to protect themselves from financial crises, the outcome document demotes the use of “capital flow management measures” as a last resort “after necessary macroeconomic policy adjustment.”

This is a regression from the 2002 Monterrey Consensus, which recognised that “Measures that mitigate the impact of excessive volatility of short-term capital flows are important and must be considered.” Financial regulations, particularly on derivatives trading, goes unheeded.

Similarly, the Addis outcome makes no call for special drawing rights (SDR) allocations. Again, this is a step back from Monterrey, which addressed SDR allocations in two clauses. SDR allocations, if carried out on the basis of need, could serve as a development finance tool by boosting developing countries foreign exchange reserves without creating additional dependency on primary reserve currencies.

Unlike most global economic arenas, FfD has the mandate to address international monetary system reform in a development-oriented manner. The Addis outcome, again, missed this chance entirely.

Despite these critical retrogressions, there are two beacons of light in the Addis outcome: the establishment of a Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM) in the UN that supports SDG achievement, and an institutionalized FFD follow-up mechanism that will involve up to five days of review every year to generate “agreed conclusions and recommendations.”

However, this follow-up forum is to be shared with the review of MOI for the post-2015 development agenda, going against developing countries call for the FFD follow-up to be distinct and independent from that for the post-2015 development agenda in order to maintain focus on the specificities of the FFD agenda.

While the TFM has positive potential, especially if it address intellectual property rights and endogenous technological development in developing countries and does not become a platform to facilitate the ‘green economy’ through the , it is at the same time not tantamount to the financing items that comprise the development agenda. As such, the TFM helps obscure the paucity of political ambition on the FFD agenda.

A crisis of multilateralism

Perhaps the most sordid mark of a process that occurred in bad faith is the fact that negotiations never transpired in Addis Ababa. There was no official plenary, no proposals articulated and no document projected onto a screen to amend.

Instead, what took place over four days in Addis Ababa was a behind-the-scenes pressure campaign exerted by the most powerful countries onto most developing countries. One developing country delegate revealed that the pressure included bullying and blackmailing to silence many developing countries who can’t afford to be politically defiant.

Another delegate disclosed that he had never before experienced such an absence of transparency within the U.N. Some observers commented that what transpired in Addis Ababa was akin to a ‘Green Room’ style of discussions, where private talks are held in small groups without any gesture of openness or transparency.

A central strategy of developed countries was the distortion of developing country narratives and the creation of new narratives to undermine the longstanding arguments of developing countries. Throughout the FFD negotiations in New York, the European Union (EU) created a narrative of ‘the world has changed.’

They argued that developing countries’ emphasis on international public finance as the primary source for financial resources and developing countries’ red line on the Rio principle of CBDR does not reflect a world that has changed since Monterrey in 2002.

Much of the FfD text is still premised on an outdated North-South construct, the EU said, which does not reflect the complexity of today’s world. Germany reinforced the EU’s position, adding that the G77’s positions do not consider the reality that emerging economies are now capable of taking on some of the financing burdens for development.

In response to this challenge laid on middle-income countries, India provided a succinct response. India pointed out that the 30 richest countries of the world account for only 17 percent of the global population, but over 60 percent of global GDP, more than 50% of global electricity consumption and nearly 40 percent of global CO2 emissions.

The UN report on “Inequality Matters – World Social Situation 2013,” said that in 2010, high-income countries generated 55 percent of global income, while low-income countries created just above 1 percent of global income even though they contained 72 percent of the global population. India clarified that despite the relatively faster rates of growth in developing countries, international inequality has not fallen.

The above UN report on inequality shows that that excluding one large developing country (e.g. China), the Gini coefficient of international inequality was higher in 2010 than as compared to 1980. India concluded that these figures attest to the fact of the North-South gap, saying that member states will be doing themselves a disservice if reality is misrepresented.

Implications for post-2015 and climate change

The ways in which key words such as “transformative,” “ambitious,” “rule of law” and “enabling environment” were used, or misused, by developed country negotiators in the FFD negotiations have made their developing country counterparts wary of the gap between actual meaning and rhetorical application.

The phrase ‘enabling environment’ is used by developing countries to refer to an enabling environment for development. This involves development-oriented reforms in the international financial and trade architecture, such as addressing unfair agricultural subsidies in developed countries or pro-cyclical macroeconomic conditions attached to financial loans.

However, developed countries also use the phrase ‘enabling environment’ with equivalent vigor. Except that they are referring to an enabling environment for private investment, such as business-friendly taxes and labour market deregulation.

The experience of the FfD negotiations suggests that when these terms are tossed about in the post-2015 and COP 21 negotiations, they will be associated with limiting the policy space of developing countries. For the most part, this limitation is linked to facilitating private sector activity through multi-stakeholder or public-private partnerships that involve shared financing between multiple entities while most decision-making remains in the seat of the private sector.

Meanwhile, an implicit ebbing, if not a reneging, takes place on the public and international financing obligations of developing countries. Consequently, financing and decision-making shifts to institutions where developing countries have to compete with representatives of the private sector and private foundations for voice and representation.

As the last two weeks of post-2015 development agenda negotiations conclude in New York, the repercussions of the FFD experience remain to be witnessed. Will developing countries unite with renewed strength and determination to bring multilateralism back? Or will the retrogression in commitments and actions induced by Addis Ababa drag the post-2015 outcome down to its lowly ambition?

While prospects are uncertain for now, what is increasingly clear is the stark fact that the geopolitical offensive in the U.N. has not abated. If anything, it has become even more pronounced.

In fact, the current geopolitical dynamics in the U.N. renders a troubling irony to the international community as it embarks on its most ambitious sustainable development paradigm for the next 15 years.

Part of this Op-Ed can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Remains Barred from Visiting U.S. Prisons Amid Abuse Chargeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-remains-barred-from-visiting-u-s-prisons-amid-abuse-charges/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-remains-barred-from-visiting-u-s-prisons-amid-abuse-charges http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-remains-barred-from-visiting-u-s-prisons-amid-abuse-charges/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 20:23:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141705 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

When U.S. President Barack Obama visited the El Reno Correctional Facility in Oklahoma last week to check on living conditions of prisoners incarcerated there, no one in authority could prevent him from visiting the prison.

There is an extensive body of research on long-term solitary confinement and its damaging effects. Credit: Bigstock

There is an extensive body of research on long-term solitary confinement and its damaging effects. Credit: Bigstock

Obama, the first sitting president to visit a federal penitentiary, said “in too many places, black boys and black men, and Latino boys and Latino men experience being treated different under the law.”

The visit itself was described as “unprecedented” and “historic.”

But the United Nations has not been as lucky as the U.S. president was. Several U.N. officials, armed with mandates from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, have been barred from U.S. penitentiaries which are routinely accused of being steeped in a culture of violence.

Back in 1998, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, was barred from visiting three Michigan prisons to probe sexual misconduct against women prisoners.

Although she had made extensive preparations to interview inmates, Michigan Governor John Engler barred Coomaraswamy on the eve of her proposed visit.

The late Senator Jesse Helms, former chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blocked a proposed prison visit by Bacre Waly Ndiaye, head of the U.N. Human Rights Office in New York, who was planning to observe living conditions in some of the U.S. prisons.

Obama’s visit has prompted the United Nations to give another shot at seeking permission to visit the U.S. prison system.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, and the Chairperson of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Seong-Phil Hong, have jointly called on the U.S. government to facilitate their requests for an official visit to U.S. prisons to advance criminal justice reform.“AI believes this external scrutiny is particularly important in the case of 'super-maximum' security facilities where prisoners are isolated within an already closed environment." -- Tessa Murphy of Amnesty International

“I look forward to working with the U.S. Department of Justice on the special study commissioned by the President on the need to regulate solitary confinement, which affects 80,000 inmates in the United States, in most cases for periods of months and years,” Méndez said early this week.

“The practice of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement inflicts pain and suffering of a psychological nature, which is strictly prohibited by the Convention Against Torture,” he said.

“Reform along such lines will have considerable impact not only in the United States but in many countries around the world,” he noted.

Hong, who leads the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, said a visit to federal and state institutions “will be an excellent opportunity to discuss with authorities the ‘Basic Principles and Guidelines on the right to anyone deprived of their liberty to bring proceedings before a court’, and to promote its use by the civil society.”

The Working Group has already drafted a set of Principles and Guidelines that “will help establish effective mechanisms to ensure judicial oversight over all situations of deprivation of liberty.”

The document will be considered by the Human Rights Council in September.

According to published reports, there have been charges of unhealthy living conditions and physical beatings, specifically against minorities, including African-Americans and Latin Americans, in the U.S. jail system.

Last month, the administration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District announced far reaching reforms, including the proposed appointment of a Federal Monitor to probe continued prisoner abuses in Riker’s Island, described as the second largest jail system in the United States.

Other measures include restrictions on the use of force by prison guards and the installation of surveillance cameras.

Asked whether U.N. Special Rapporteurs (UNSRs) have previously been permitted into U.S. prisons, Tessa Murphy at Amnesty International (AI), told IPS that Juan Mendez hasn’t visited any U.S. supermaximum facility prisons in his role as UNSR.

He has, however, visited Pelican Bay in California as an expert witness in ongoing litigation there.

She also said AI has called on the U.S. State Department to extend an invite repeatedly requested by the UNSR to visit the United States to examine the use of solitary confinement in federal and state facilities, including through on-site visits.

“AI believes this external scrutiny is particularly important in the case of ‘super-maximum’ security facilities where prisoners are isolated within an already closed environment. We continue to call for this access to be provided.”

She pointed out that AI has released several reports calling for access – based on an extensive body of work on long-term solitary confinement and its damaging effects.

Antonio M. Ginatta, Advocacy Director, U.S. Programme at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS it is a momentous time in the United States as it re-examines and moves to reform its criminal justice system.

President Obama himself just spoke to the need for this reform, and specifically highlighted the harms caused by solitary confinement.

“Yet the State Department continues to fail to allow the Special Rapporteur on torture access to U.S. confinement facilities to review their use of solitary confinement. It’s as if they missed the President’s speech,” he said.

Ginatta said an invitation to the Special Rapporteur is years overdue.

“In light of the president’s speech and his visit to the El Reno prison, the U.S. Department of State should change course and immediately extend an unrestricted invitation to Special Rapporteur Mendez and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention,” he declared.

After his prison visit, Obama said: “My goal is that we start seeing some improvements at the federal level and that we’re then able to see states across the country pick up the baton, and there are already some states that leading the way in both sentencing reform as well as prison reform and make sure that we’re seeing what works and build off that.”

Providing details of its meetings with U.S. State Department officials, Amnesty International told IPS that in February it met with Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and Director William Mozdzierz in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs to emphasise the importance of facilitating external scrutiny by the SRT as well as to hand over a petition to the State Department (with over 20,000 signatures, on the same issue.)

AI said SRT Mendez has provided them with a list of prisons he wishes to visit, including in Louisiana, California, Arizona, Pennsylvania, New York, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Secretary Mozdzierz, stressed to AI that the State Department has a strong national interest in ensuring that the United States lives up to international treaty obligations.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby emphasised how committed the U.S. government is in providing access for the SRT.

However, Secretary Mozdzierz emphasised that access to state prisons is dependent on the individual governors and state Attorney Generals being amenable, and there are no mechanisms by which the State Department can ensure a positive response.

He also made it clear that he would stress to state authorities the importance of facilitating the SRT’s requests. Both Directors acknowledged that BOP ADX prison in Colorado was ‘unavailable’ to SRT Mendez.

SRT Mendez, who met with AI prior to the meetings above, asked AI to seek an explanation for the reason that he had been told in correspondence with State Department that federal prisons were “unavailable” to him.

Secretary Mozdzierz confirmed that the reason federal prisons were “unavailable” to the SRT was because of ongoing litigation in ADX; Cunningham V BOP, which has been in a structured settlement process since last year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Tribal Priestesses Become Guardians of Seeds in Eastern Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/tribal-priestesses-become-guardians-of-seeds-in-eastern-india/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 19:51:15 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141699 Priestesses from the Dongria Kondh tribal community in the eastern Indian mountain range of Niyamgiri perform an elaborate ritual before setting out on a quest for ancient seeds. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Priestesses from the Dongria Kondh tribal community in the eastern Indian mountain range of Niyamgiri perform an elaborate ritual before setting out on a quest for ancient seeds. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NIYAMGIRI, India, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

As the rhythmic thumping of dancing feet reaches a crescendo, the women offer a song to their forest god for a bountiful harvest.

“We are Dongria Kondh. We will die without our sacred hills and seeds.” -- a priestess from the Niyamgiri Hills in eastern India
Then, with earthen pots on their heads and their spiritual creatures – a pigeon and a hen – in tow, they proceed in single file on a long march away from their village of Kadaraguma, located on the Niyamgiri mountain range in the Rayagada District of the eastern Indian state of Odisha.

Members of the forest-dwelling Dongria Kondh tribe, who worship these hills as the sacred abode of their god Niyam Raja, these women are priestesses, known in the local dialect as ‘bejuni’.

The ceremony today is the first stage in a journey to a neighbouring village to collect a rare variety of heirloom millet, the traditional staple food source of the 10,000-strong tribe.

The hardy, highly nutritious cereal was once cultivated on massive swathes of farmland throughout India. Here on the Niyamgiri Hills, the Dongria Kondh tribe has long sworn by the benefits of millet and dedicated stretches of the mountainside to its production.

Over the past several decades, however, industrial and extractive development in the resource-rich state has swallowed up many acres of land and pushed the drought-resilient crop to the sidelines.

A government rice subsidy scheme has also contributed to a decline in millet production and consumption, much to the dismay of indigenous communities like the Dongria Kondh who attach not only good health, but also spiritual and cultural value to the local food source.

Determined to preserve it, the priestesses are going door-to-door, from village to village, encouraging their members to revive the unique heritage.

An intricate ritual

“As a girl, I heard that we harvested over 30 traditional varieties of millet,” 68-year-old Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages working together on millet preservation, tells IPS. “Ten years ago, that was down to 11 varieties and today, only two varieties are grown.”

Dasara hails from Kadaraguma, a village comprised of 31 households that is playing a key role in the project.

Above it, in high-reach hamlets of the hills that can only be reached by foot and located a good 15 km from Kadaraguna, smaller village communities have already preserved several dying varieties of the plant including one called ‘kodo’ millet, a high-fibre variation that is ideal for treating diabetes.

Seed collection follows an intricate ritual. Traveling by foot, a group of priestesses visit villages where they have been told an ancient millet variety is being preserved. Offering the hen and the pigeon to the local bejuni, the seed savers then request four measures of the seeds – enough to fill four bamboo baskets – to be poured into a white cloth.

Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages that are working together to revive millet varieties in the Indian state of Odisha, explains why the tribe embarked on their initiative. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Dasara Kadraka, the senior-most priestess from the 22 villages that are working together to revive millet varieties in the Indian state of Odisha, explains why the tribe embarked on their initiative. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The seed is then distributed equally among five families in the traveling priestesses’ village, to be sown during the month of June. Rain-fed, the crop delivers a harvest in December that is on average 50 times the quantity of seed planted.

In payment, the priestesses deliver eight basketsful of grain to their neighbours – double the amount of seed they received.

News of rare seed varieties travels by word of mouth, with the members of the Dom community – a primarily Dalit tribe who have lived for centuries as neighbours with the Dongria Kondh people – acting as messengers.

Visits by Dom community members to far-flung, remote hamlets recently yielded reports on two ‘vanishing’ millet species: the ‘khidi janha’, a close relation of sorghum, in Jangojodi village; and a version of the foxtail millet, called ‘kanga-arka’, in Sagadi village.

The more people hear of these stories, the more involved the entire community becomes. Whenever they meet, during village rituals or at the weekly market, bejuni networks eagerly inquire about news of revived seeds.

When major clans of the Dongria Kondh tribe – who are spread across some 120 villages on the Niyamgiri Hills – get together for marriages or clan feasts, the first question is if a family is preserving a millet variety that others have abandoned.

Local habits, wholesome diets

In 2013, Dongria Kondh people made front page news all around the world when their determined opposition to a British mining company’s bauxite extraction operation on the revered mountain range resulted in the private multinational’s departure from Niyamgiri.

In chasing away the mining giant, the tribe showed the same reverence for this ancient land as it now displays in its efforts to protect an old agricultural custom.

Sixty years ago millet was grown in 40 percent of all cereal cultivated areas in India, a figure that has today fallen to just 11 percent of the country’s harvested land.

Data from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations reveals that while millet production was rising steadily 20 years ago, it began to fall again at the turn of the millennium, with production levels in 2010 barely exceeding those of 1990.

In Niyamgiri, the numbers are even starker. “A government scheme to promote cash crops like pineapple, turmeric and ginger among the Dongria Kondh community has cut into 50 percent of millet land over the past fifteen years,” Susanta Kumar Dalai, a social sector volunteer who has worked closely with the Dongria Kondh tribe, tells IPS.

Given that the crop grows well in adverse settings, able to thrive in drought-like conditions and requiring no irrigation beyond what the seasonal rains can provide, rural communities have been at a loss to explain the government’s decision to reign in its production.

Millet also adds high amounts of protein, vitamin B and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, zinc and copper to the simple diets of tribal people, filling crucial nutritional gaps that cannot be supplemented with other, costlier foods.

Malnutrition in the community is common, seen in six out of 10 school-age children, while 55 percent of adults show chronic energy deficiencies.

Millet gruel is carried in natural gourd containers that maintain an even temperature, even under the sun. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Millet gruel is carried in natural gourd containers that maintain an even temperature, even under the sun. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Extreme hunger in Niyamgiri – measured according to the government’s benchmark of a daily intake of 2,400 calories – stands at 83 percent.

None of the Dongria Kondh villages have access to electricity, sanitation or safe drinking water facilities. While this seldom interferes with their traditional lifestyle, it does present severe challenges in terms of healthcare.

Communities mostly rely on traditional medicines sourced directly from their ancestral forests, but more serious and ‘modern’ epidemics – such as chronic diarrhoea or other water-borne diseases – call for advanced medical interventions.

These are not easily accessible, with primary health facilities located anywhere from one to 22 km from the remote villages. Often, these centres are reachable only by foot, with the sick transported in makeshift hammocks or ‘rope cots’.

Too frequently, the journeys are fatal. The situation is made worse by the fact that many tribe members – including the elderly – are forced to navigate steep terrain in order to reach government services, neighbouring villages or even farmlands.

Locals tell IPS that falling back on traditional farming practices like mixed cropping and old dietary habits could solve many of these problems.

“When we had more millet varieties we would sow up to nine different cereals and lentils in a single patch,” explains 53-year-old Krusna Kadraka, headman of Kadaraguma village.

At harvest time every house would have several overflowing ‘guli’ – cow dung-coated bamboo baskets able to hold up to 200 kg of grain.

Now, as cereal varieties vanish, replaced by mono-crops like rice, 27 out of 31 households in this village who each own a hectare of hilly farmland harvest barely two guli of grain annually.

The ‘grain caste system’

Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan, a prominent 88-year-old geneticist, tells IPS that India has developed a ‘grain hierarchy’, with white rice – a money-maker for industrialists in the business of selling fertilizer and a major export-earner for the government – considered superior to more traditional crops.

At Swaminathan’s insistence, millet will soon be included in the country’s public food distribution system, a massive state programme that promises subsidised grain to two-thirds of India’s population of 1.2 billion – essentially feeding 820 million people.

While the scheme is riddled with corruption, it has reached millions of families, converting large rural populations into rice consumers and positing millet as a “coarse” grain, destined to become fodder for livestock rather than a dietary staple for humans.

Swaminathan tells IPS he is urging not only the Indian government to recognize the value of millet, but also the United Nations to name an international year after what he calls the “orphan crop” – one that was once popular around the world but has largely been forsaken in an increasingly globalised, export-driven food system.

Such a move could be just what the doctor ordered for a country that has one of the highest rates of hunger in the world, with 194.6 million people defined as ‘undernourished’ by the FAO, putting it ahead of neighbouring China in both absolute and relative terms.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) also estimates that close to 1.3 million children die every year in India because of malnutrition, while the country’s prevalence of underweight kids is nearly double that of sub-Saharan Africa.

While the matter is being debated at the highest level of politics, communities here on the sloping hillsides in eastern India are already setting processes in motion that could make the region nutritionally self-sufficient.

Forty-year-old resident Gulpa Kadraka tells IPS that he tried replacing his millet gruel with rice, but found it did not sustain him as he climbed steep hills and crossed streams to reach his farmland. “It never gave me the energy that millet does,” he explains.

Like many of his community members, he is invested in the attempt to preserve the old agricultural ways and eating habits. Others feel that the millet revival scheme will deter corporations, and particularly mining companies, who still have their eye on these lucrative hills.

A group of priestesses discuss their plans before setting off in search of ‘vanishing’ millet varieties from a neighbouring village in eastern India. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A group of priestesses discuss their plans before setting off in search of ‘vanishing’ millet varieties from a neighbouring village in eastern India. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Kone Wadaka, a 64-year-old priestess, tells IPS, “Even though we chased away Vedanta [the British mining company], we are still afraid it will come back to take away our hills, our streams and our hillside farms.

“We will not be able to grow millet on the plains where the company wanted to re-settle us. Also, on lowland areas we will not have access to the forests’ yams, the edible leaves and all the fruits on our sacred hills that are untouched by chemical pesticides and fertilizers,” she adds.

By rekindling their old traditions, and re-planting large sections of the hills with millet, the community feels they will be sending a strong signal to any potential intruders who see the tribe merely as an obstacle to the extraction of natural wealth, rather than a permanent fixture in Niyamgiri’s ecosystem.

“We are Dongria Kondh,” another priestess tells IPS. “We will die without our sacred hills and seeds.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

This article is part of a special series entitled ‘The Future Is Now: Inside the World’s Most Sustainable Communities’. Read the other articles in the series here

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Opinion: Third FfD Conference Fails to Finance Development – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-third-ffd-conference-fails-to-finance-development-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-third-ffd-conference-fails-to-finance-development-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-third-ffd-conference-fails-to-finance-development-part-one/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 13:49:43 +0000 Bhumika Muchhala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141696 Bhumika Muchhala of Third World Network. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Bhumika Muchhala of Third World Network. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Bhumika Muchhala
ADDIS ABABA, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

The third Financing for Development (FfD) conference in Addis Ababa concluded last Thursday, July 16, in bad faith as developed countries rejected a proposal for a global tax body and dismissed developing countries’ compromise proposal to strengthen the existing U.N. committee of tax experts.

Usually, when large conferences end after conflicts and climax in intergovernmental negotiations, there is a sense of exhilaration. This did not happen in Addis Ababa.The hallmark failure of the 3rd FfD conference is the missed opportunity to create an intergovernmental tax body, despite the persistent push into the 11th hour by a critical mass of developed countries led by India and Brazil.

Instead, there was deep disappointment amidst developing countries and many U.N. staff and outrage amidst civil society who had been following the FfD process over the last year. But among developed countries, there was relief, at best, or complacency, at worst. As the representative of Japan said in the final plenary, many developed countries, including Japan felt a sense of relief.

As the civil society coalition on FfD stated in its reaction to the outcome document, a fundamental opportunity was lost to tackle structural injustices in the current global economic system and ensure that development finance is people-centred and protects the environment.

Not only does the Addis Ababa outcome not rise to the world’s multiple crises, including finance, climate and distribution, it lacks the necessary ambition, leadership and actions to be associated with the post-2015 development agenda.

Indeed, the outcome is wholly inadequate to support the operational Means of Implementation (MOI) for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and exposes an unbridged gap between the rhetoric of aspirations in the post-2015 development agenda and the reality of the void of actions in the Addis Ababa outcome, which does not commit to new financial resources let alone scaling up existing resources.

In light of the agreements in the Monterrey Consensus and the Doha Declaration (in the first and second FfD conferences), the Addis Ababa Action Agenda displays a retrogression from the past, which undermines the FfD mandate to address international systemic issues in macroeconomic, financial, trade, tax and monetary policies.

The hallmark failure of the 3rd FfD conference is the missed opportunity to create an intergovernmental tax body, despite the persistent push into the 11th hour by a critical mass of developed countries led by India and Brazil.

Such a global tax body, that would enable the U.N. to have a norm-setting role in tax cooperation at an equal capacity to that of the current monopoly of the OECD, would have been a meaningful advancement in global economic governance and domestic resource mobilisation.

The intransigence of developed countries against such a key step demonstrated their unwillingness to democratise global economic governance and their disregard for FfD and U.N. standards of “good governance at all levels” and “rule of law.”

The core argument of developing countries is that given the reality that they are most affected by illicit financial flows, tax evasion and avoidance and transfer mis-pricing by large corporations, they should have an equal say at an international negotiation table on tax rules.

Given the glaring absence of new financial commitments, let alone the assurance of new and additional financial resources for climate and biodiversity finance, the majority of funds needed to finance the SDGs will come out of domestic budgets.

However, ample research shows how hundreds of billions of dollars are extracted out of the corporate tax purse of developing countries, particularly in the resource-rich African continent.

This is due to the very loopholes and tricks in the international tax architecture that is defined and dominated by the OECD. A global tax body could have shifted this power imbalance and delivered some fairness to global political economic structures.

The Addis Ababa outcome legitimises the predominance of private finance through blended finance and public-private partnerships (PPPs). This is problematic precisely because it is unattached to accountability measures or binding commitments based on international human and labour rights, and environmental standards.

A fast-growing body of evidence substantiates global concern over an unconditional support for PPPs and blended financing instruments. Without a parallel recognition of the developmental role of the state and robust safeguards to enable the state to regulate in the public interest, there is a great risk that the private sector undermines rather than supports sustainable development.

The Addis outcome’s blind trust in PPPs and blended finance is premised on the notion that such arrangements will lower the risk for private investment. The outcome makes no mention of the critical importance of inclusive and sustainable industrial development for developing countries, for the objectives of supporting economic diversification, adding value to raw materials and ascending the value chain, improving economic productivity and developing modern and appropriate technologies.

Civil society had hoped that being in Addis Ababa governments would remind themselves of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 based on shared prosperity through social and economic transformation.

Similarly, there is no critical assessment of trade regimes. Instead of safeguarding policy space, the Addis outcome fails to critically assess international trade policy in order to provide alternative paths to commodity-dependence, eliminate or at least review investor-state dispute settlement clauses, and undertake human rights impact and sustainability assessments of all trade agreements to ensure their alignment with the national and extraterritorial obligations of governments.

Furthermore, the additional steps to address gender equality and women’s empowerment seem to speak more to “Gender Equality as Smart Economics” than to women and girls’ entitlement to human rights and show a strong tendency towards the instrumentalisation of women by stating that women’s empowerment is vital to enhance economic growth and productivity.

The core competencies of FfD are comprised of international systemic issues such as capital flows, external debt, trade, financialisation and the monetary system.

The ability of the U.N. to address systemic issues is routinely challenged by developed countries who argue that these issues are outside the domain of the U.N.

Power and control over systemic issues and reforms are thus kept exclusively in the rich countries’ domain of the Bretton Woods Institutions (the IMF and World Bank), the G7 and the G20.

However, not only does the U.N. have a longstanding history in substantively analysing and proposing reforms on systemic issues, it is also the only universal forum where all countries, from the smallest island nation to the poorest landlocked country, have a voice and a vote in the General Assembly.

Part Two can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Calls Mount for “Bold” Climate Deal in Parishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/calls-mount-for-bold-climate-deal-in-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=calls-mount-for-bold-climate-deal-in-paris http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/calls-mount-for-bold-climate-deal-in-paris/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 18:47:15 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141684 By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

A diverse coalition of 24 leading British scientific institutions has issued a communique urging strong and immediate government action at the U.N. climate change conference set for Paris in December.

Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank and president of the British Academy, has called for a strong international climate agreement in Paris this year. Credit: public domain

Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank and president of the British Academy, has called for a strong international climate agreement in Paris this year. Credit: public domain

The statement, issued Tuesday, points to overwhelming evidence that if humanity is to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming to two degrees C, the world economy must transition to zero-carbon by early in the second half of the century.

Climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern, president of the British Academy, one of the signers, said it “demonstrates the strength of the agreement among the UK’s research institutions about the risks created by rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“Our research community has for many decades been at the forefront of efforts to expand our understanding and knowledge of the causes and potential consequences of climate change,” he said.

“While some of our politicians and newspapers continue to embrace irrational and reckless denial of the risks of climate change, the UK’s leading research institutions are united in recognising the unequivocal evidence that human activities are driving climate change.”

Other signatories include the British Ecological Society, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Meteorological Society and the Wellcome Trust.

The letter notes that the dangers are hardly theoretical, and in fact, many systems are already at risk. A two-degree rise would bring ever more extreme weather, placing entire ecosystems and cultures in harm’s way.

At or above 4 degrees, it notes, the world faces substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, and fundamental changes to human activities that today are taken for granted.

It also stresses that addressing the problem has vast potential for innovation, for example in low-carbon technologies.

Climate mitigation and adaptation actions, including food, energy and water security, air quality, health improvements, and safeguarding the services that ecosystems provide, would bring considerable economic benefits.

Also on Tuesday, the Vatican hosted mayors and governors from major world cities who signed a declaration urging global leaders to take bold action at the U.N. summit.

Mayors from South America, Africa, the United States, Europe and Asia signed a declaration stating that the Paris summit “may be the last effective opportunity to negotiate arrangements that keep human-induced warming below 2 degrees centigrade.”

Leaders should come to a “bold agreement that confines global warming to a limit safe for humanity while protecting the poor and the vulnerable,” said the declaration, which Pope Francis, who has taken a strong public stand on climate change, also signed.

California Governor Jerry Brown, who is in Rome this week, skewered climate change deniers in an interview with the Sacramento Bee, calling them “troglodytes.”

“Because the other side, the Koch brothers, are not sitting still,” Brown said. “They’re raising money, they’re supporting candidates, they’re putting money into think tanks, and denial, doubt and skepticism is being spewed through various media channels, and therefore the sincerity and the authority of the pope is a welcome antidote to that rather virulent strain of climate change denial.”

According to research by Greenpeace, Charles and David Koch (who also funded the right-wing U.S. Tea Party) have sent at least 79,048,951 dollars to groups denying climate change science since 1997.

“We don’t even know how far we’ve gone, or if we’ve gone over the edge,” Brown said in a speech at the Vatican climate summit. “There are tipping points, feedback loops, this is not some linear set of problems that we can predict.

“We have to take measures against an uncertain future which may well be something no one ever wants. We are talking about extinction. We are talking about climate regimes that have not been seen for tens of millions of years. We’re not there yet, but we’re on our way.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Museums Taking Stand for Human Rights, Rejecting ‘Neutrality’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/museums-taking-stand-for-human-rights-rejecting-neutrality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=museums-taking-stand-for-human-rights-rejecting-neutrality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/museums-taking-stand-for-human-rights-rejecting-neutrality/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 09:54:39 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141672 A visitor looking at a panel at the International Slavery  Museum in Liverpool, England. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

A visitor looking at a panel at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
LIVERPOOL, England, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

An exhibition on modern-day slavery at the International Slavery Museum in this northern English town is just one example of a museum choosing to focus on human rights, and being “upfront” about it.

“Social justice just doesn’t happen by itself; it’s about activism and people willing to take risks,” says Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum (ISM).

The institution looks at aspects of both historical and contemporary slavery, while being an “international hub for resources on human rights issues”.

It is a member of the Liverpool-based Social Justice Alliance for Museums (SJAM), formed in 2013 and now comprising more than 80 museums worldwide, and it coordinated the founding of the Federation of International Human Rights Museums (FIHRM) in 2010.

Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum. Credit: National Museums Liverpool

Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum. Credit: National Museums Liverpool

The aim of FIHRM is to encourage museums which “engage with sensitive and controversial human rights themes” to work together and share “new thinking and initiatives in a supportive environment”. Both organisations reflect the way that museums are changing, said Fleming.

“Museums are not dispassionate agents,” he told IPS. “They have a role in safeguarding memory. We have to look at the role of museums and see how they can transform lives.”

The International Slavery Museum’s current exhibition, titled “Broken Lives” and running until April 2016, focuses on the victims of global modern-day slavery – half of whom are said to be in India, and most of whom are Dalits, or people formerly known as “untouchables”.

The display “provides a window into the experiences of Dalits and others who are being exploited and abused through modern slavery in India”, say the curators.

“Dalits still experience marginalisation and prejudice, live in extreme poverty and are vulnerable to human trafficking and bonded labour,” they add.

Presented in partnership with the Dalit Freedom Network, the exhibition uses photographs, film, personal testimony and other means to show “stories of hardship” that include sexual servitude and child bondage. It also profiles the activists working to mend “broken lives”.“Museums [in Liverpool, Nantes, Guadeloupe and Bordeaux ] hope that they can play a role in global citizenship, educating the public and encouraging visitors to leave with a different mind-set – about respect for human rights, social justice, diversity, equality, and sustainability”

The display occupies a temporary exposition space at the museum, which has a permanent section devoted to the atrocities of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the legacy of racism.

Along with the Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery in the French city of Nantes and the recently opened Mémorial ACTe in Guadeloupe, the Liverpool museum is one of too few national institutions focused on raising awareness about slavery, observers say.

But it has provided a “vital source of inspiration” to permanent exhibitions on the slave trade in places such as Bordeaux, southwest France, according to the city’s mayor Alain Juppé. Here, the Musée d’Aquitaine hosts a comprehensive division called ‘Bordeaux, Trans-Atlantic Trading and Slavery’ – with detailed, unequivocal information.

These museums hope that they can play a role in global citizenship, educating the public and encouraging visitors to leave with a different mind-set – about respect for human rights, social justice, diversity, equality, and sustainability.

“We try to overtly encourage the public to get involved in the fight for human rights,” Fleming told IPS in an interview. “We’ve often said at the Slavery Museum that we want people to go away fired up with the desire to fight racism.

“You can’t dictate to people what they’re going to think or how they’re going to respond and react,” he continued. “But you can create an atmosphere, and the atmosphere at the Slavery Museum is clearly anti-racist. We hope people will leave thinking: I didn’t know all those terrible things had happened and I’m leaving converted.”

Despite Liverpool’s undeniable history as a major slaving port in the 18th century, not everyone will be affected in the same way, however. There have been swastikas painted on the walls of the museum in the past, as bigots reject the institution’s aims.

“Some people come full of knowledge and full of attitude already, and I don’t imagine that we affect these people. But we’re looking for people in the middle, who might not have thought about this,” Fleming said.

A poster sign for the ‘Broken Lives’ exhibition under way at the International Slavery  Museum in Liverpool. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

A poster sign for the ‘Broken Lives’ exhibition under way at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

He described a visit to the museum by a group of English schoolchildren who initially did not comprehend photographs depicting African youngsters whose hands had been cut off by colonialists.

When they were given explanations about the images, the schoolchildren “switched on to the idea that people can behave abominably, based on nothing but ethnicity,” he said.

Fleming visits social justice exhibitions around the world and gives information about the museum’s work, he said. As a keynote speaker, he recently delivered an address about the role of museums at a conference in Liverpool titled ‘Mobilising Memory: Creating African Atlantic Identities’.

The meeting – organised by the Collegium for African American Research (CAAR) and a new UK-based body called the Institute for Black Atlantic Research – took place at Liverpool Hope University at the end of June.

It began a few days after a white gunman killed nine people inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in the U.S. state of South Carolina.

The murders, among numerous incidents of brutality against African Americans over the past year, sparked a sense of urgency at the conference as well as heightened the discussion about activism – and especially the part that writers, artists and scholars play in preserving and “activating” memory in the struggle for social justice and human rights.

“Artists, and by extension museums, have what some people have called a ‘burden of representation’, and they have to deal with that,” said James Smalls, a professor of art history and museum studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).

“Many times, artists automatically are expected to speak on behalf of their ethnic group or community, and some have chosen to embrace that while others try to be exempt,” he added.

Claire Garcia, a professor at Colorado College, said that for a number of academics “there is no necessary link between scholarship and activism” in what are considered scholarly fields.

Such thinkers make the point that scholarship should be “theoretical” and “universal,” and not political or focused on “the specific plights of one group,” she said. However, this standpoint – “when it is disconnected from the embattled humanity” of some ethnic groups – can create further problems.

The concept of museums standing for “social justice” is controversial as well because the issue is seen differently in various parts of the world. The line between “objectifying and educating” also gives cause for debate.

Fleming said that National Museums Liverpool, for example, would not have put on the contentious show “Exhibit B” – which featured live Black performers in a “human zoo” installation; the work was apparently aimed at condemning racism and slavery but instead drew protests in London, Paris and other cities in 2014.

“Personally I loathe all that stuff, so my vote would be ‘no’ to anything similar,” Fleming told IPS. “And that’s not because it’s controversial and difficult but because it’s degrading and humiliating. There are all sorts of issues with it, and I’ve thought about that quite a lot.”

He and other scholars say that they are deeply conscious of who is doing the “story-telling” of history, and this is an issue that also affects museums.

Several participants at the CAAR conference criticised certain displays at the International Slavery Museum, wondering about the intended audience, and who had selected the exhibits, for instance.

A section that showed famous individuals of African descent seemed superficial in its glossy presentation of people such as American talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and well-known athletes and entertainers.

Fleming said that museums often face disapproval for both going too far and not going “far enough”. But taking a disinterested stand does not seem to be the answer, because “the world is full of ‘faux-neutral’ museums”, he said.

The most relevant and interesting museums can be those that have a “moral compass”, but they need help as they can “do very little by themselves,” Fleming told IPS. The institutions that he directs often work with non-governmental organisations that bring their own expertise and point of view to the exhibitions, he explained.

Apart from slavery, individual museums around the world have focused on the Holocaust, on apartheid, on genocide in countries such as Cambodia, and on the atrocities committed during dictatorships in regions such as Latin America.

“Some countries don’t want museums to change,” said Fleming. “But in Liverpool, we’re not just there for tourism.”

Edited by Phil Harris

The writer can be followed on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale   

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Young Hondurans Lead Unprecedented Anti-Corruption Movementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/young-hondurans-head-unprecedented-anti-corruption-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-hondurans-head-unprecedented-anti-corruption-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/young-hondurans-head-unprecedented-anti-corruption-movement/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 07:02:43 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141669 The rain has not stopped the ever-growing weekly torch marches organised by the Outraged Opposition citizen movement in the capital of Honduras and 50 other cities around the country. The peaceful protests are demanding the creation of an International Commission Against Impunity, to combat corruption and strengthen democracy. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The rain has not stopped the ever-growing weekly torch marches organised by the Outraged Opposition citizen movement in the capital of Honduras and 50 other cities around the country. The peaceful protests are demanding the creation of an International Commission Against Impunity, to combat corruption and strengthen democracy. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
TEGUCIGALPA, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

A Honduran spring is happening, led by young people mobilising over the social networks, who are flooding the streets with weekly torch marches against corruption and impunity.

Since late May, the peaceful movement of young people who declare themselves “indignados” or outraged has broken down the media’s resistance to cover what is happening, and has brought hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets in Tegucigalpa and 50 other cities around the country.

The torch marches are demanding the creation of an international commission to fight corruption and impunity, purge this Central American country’s institutions, and strengthen democracy.

The Oposición Indignada or Outraged Opposition citizen movement is largely made up of middle-class young people upset over the embezzlement of 200 to 300 million dollars in the country’s social security institute (IHSS).“But later, as if by some miracle, everything changed. And now every Friday thousands of us come out together with our torches, peacefully, to call for justice and an end to impunity.” -- Gabriela Blen

According to the investigations, some of the money was used to finance the right-wing National Party (PN), which has governed the country since 2010. The scandal also involved the purchase of equipment at marked-up prices, and of expired medications.

The IHSS scandal is the biggest case of corruption in Honduras in half a century and has caused widespread indignation due to the consequences it has had for the health of Hondurans, who already suffer from the scarcity of medicines in the country’s network of public hospitals.

The fraud and graft in the institution that provides social security and healthcare to both public and prívate-sector employees has severely shaken the government of Juan Orlando Hernández, whose four-year term began in January 2014.

The president ordered the investigations. But he never imagined that the straw that would break the camel’s back would be the use of healthcare funds to finance the campaign that led to his election.

So far, 10 checks totalling 147,000 dollars that went towards his party’s campaign have surfaced. But that figure could increase, if the investigation digs deeply enough, experts say.

Hernández says the party will give the money back, and denies any involvement.

The dozen or so people prosecuted in connection with the scandal include former deputy ministers of health, a former IHSS director and an influential businessman. But the investigators say the list will grow and that powerful governing party figures will soon be implicated.

“What made us come together was the embezzlement, and knowing cases of friends whose relatives died in the social security institute because of the shortage of medications,” Gabriela Blen, a young activist who is one of the founders of Oposición Indignada, told IPS.

“On the social networks we started commenting that young people can’t be so indifferent, and the idea of the torch marches emerged,” she said.

In the last 13 months, the organisation – the Latin American branch of the New York-based Covenant House – documented the murders of 1,076 people between the ages of 13 and 27.

Blen, 27, said that “in the beginning there were just a few of us, only 50 or 100 people who would come out to protest in front of the social security institute building. ‘There go those crazy kids’, they would say.

This country of 8.4 million people is one of the poorest in Latin America: 60 percent of households are poor and 40 percent extremely poor, according to official statistics.

Honduras is also one of the most corrupt countries in the region, along with Venezuela, Paraguay and Nicaragua, according to Transparency international, the global anti-corruption watchdog.

And Honduras is not only plagued by corruption and impunity, but by violence. The homicide rate, 68 per 100,000 population in 2014 according to the Autonomous National University’s Observatory of Violence, makes it one of the most violent countries in the world.

Over 60 percent of the population is young, and according to Casa Alianza, a child advocacy organisation, young people in this country are stigmatised as a result of the violence, much of which is gang-related, while policies aimed at boosting social inclusion are lacking.

“But later, as if by some miracle, everything changed,” she said. “And now every Friday thousands of us come out together with our torches, peacefully, to call for justice and an end to impunity.”

Blen says Honduras has woken up.

Every Friday in Tegucigalpa, and on Saturday or Sunday in another 50 cities, hundreds of thousands of “indignados” or angry, outraged protesters pour onto the streets to demand the creation of an International Commission Against Impunity (CICIH), like the one operating in Guatemala since 2007.

The media, which initially kept silent about the movement, is now covering it, although still in a marginal fashion or to discredit it.

But society is sympathetic towards Oposición Indignada, which has also won recognition from the United Nations and the U.S. embassy.

Members of the movement have met with representatives of the U.N. and the U.S. embassy to ask for support for their demand for the installation of the CICIH.

Eugenio Sosa, an expert on social movements, told IPS that Oposición Indignada has the characteristics of a 21st century social movement.

“These are citizen movements without the classic rigid, hierarchical organisational structure, but with horizontal, fluid chains of command instead. That is why this has gone beyond the country’s political, trade union and social leaderships,” he said.

The sociologist said these movements “emerge around issues, and in this case it’s corruption, particularly in the social security institute. It’s a middle-class movement representing a new generation which is challenging the current political class.”

“Honduras is at an interesting historical juncture,” he said.

The government has ignored the protesters’ demands and has presented its own comprehensive proposal to fight impunity and corruption, without including the creation of the international commission the movement is calling for.

The demonstrators, meanwhile, reject the government’s plan.

Hernández called for a national dialogue but without including the political opposition or the “indignados” movement. Alghough the president said the dialogue would be “inclusive and without preconditions,” only traditional actors from some 30 sectors on good terms with the governing party have been invited so far.

The president also sought support from the U.N. and the Organisation of American States (OAS) to facilitate the dialogue.

The U.N. responded by sending a fact-finding mission which is to issue a report in a few weeks, and the OAS agreed to mediate talks but has not yet appointed facilitators.

During a visit to Honduras on Jul. 8, U.S. State Department special adviser Thomas Shannon called the torch marches a genuine expression of democracy and urged the government to “listen to the people.”

Shannon, who visited the country as part of a tour that also took him to El Salvador and Guatemala, said it would be smart for both the Honduran and the Salvadoran governments to consider setting up international commissions against impunity.

Former attorney general Edmundo Orellana told IPS that the situation is becoming complex because no Honduran president has faced such strong pressure from society.

But the movement – which has demanded that the president resign – says it will not engage in talks with the government until the CICIH is set up.

“And they’re right, because if people in the president’s inner circle are implicated in the social security corruption, what is needed is not talks but impeachment,” said Orellana, the country’s first attorney general, who enjoys great prestige.

Honduras, he said, has been caught up in a serious “crisis of legitimacy” since the 2009 coup that toppled then president Manuel Zelaya. And President Hernández “has lost credibility and popularity, and is really using the state for his own benefit.”

Orellana was referring to Hernández’s tight control over the three branches of the state and over the attorney general’s office itself.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Papua New Guinea’s Unemployed Youth Say the Future They Want Begins With Themhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/papua-new-guineas-unemployed-youth-say-the-future-they-want-begins-with-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=papua-new-guineas-unemployed-youth-say-the-future-they-want-begins-with-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/papua-new-guineas-unemployed-youth-say-the-future-they-want-begins-with-them/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 23:04:30 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141662 Every day the Tropical Gems can be seen taking charge of clearing and tidying civic spaces in Madang, a town on the north coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Every day the Tropical Gems can be seen taking charge of clearing and tidying civic spaces in Madang, a town on the north coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
MADANG, Papua New Guinea, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

Zibie Wari, a former teacher and founder of the Tropical Gems grassroots youth group in the town of Madang on the north coast of Papua New Guinea, has seen the hopes of many young people for a decent future quashed by the impacts of corruption and unfulfilled promises of development.

"The way to fight back [...] is to go out and educate our fellow country men and women. Let’s not sit down and wait, let’s stand up on our two feet and make a difference.” -- Zibie Wari, a former teacher and founder of the Tropical Gems grassroots youth group
Once known as ‘the prettiest town in the South Pacific’, the most arresting sight today in this coastal urban centre of about 29,339 people is large numbers of youths idling away hours in the town’s centre, congregating under trees and sitting along pavements.

“You must have a dream, I tell them every day. Those who roam around the streets, they have no dreams in life, they have no vision. And those who do not have a vision in life are not going to make it,” Wari declared. “So, as a team, how can we help each other?”

The bottom-up Tropical Gems movement, which is now more than 3,000 members strong, develops young people as agents of change by fostering attitudes of responsibility, resilience, initiative and ultimately self-reliance.

The philosophy of the group is that, no matter how immense the challenges in people’s lives, there is a solution. But the solutions, the ideas and their implementation must start with themselves.

There is a large youth presence here with an estimated 44 percent of Madang’s provincial population of 493,906 aged below 15 years. However, the net education enrolment rate is a low 45 percent, hindered by poor rural access with only a small number subsequently finishing secondary school.

The youth bulge is also a national phenomenon and young people desperate for employment and opportunities are flooding urban centres across the country. But up to 68 percent of urban youth are unemployed and 86 percent of those in work are sustaining themselves in the informal economy, according to the National Youth Commission.

While PNG has an estimated 80,000 school leavers each year, only 10,000 will likely secure formal jobs.

The plight of this generation is in contrast to the Melanesian island state’s booming GDP growth of between six and 10 percent over the past decade driven by an economic focus on resource extraction, including logging, mining and natural gas extraction.

Yet these industries have failed to create mass or long-term employment or significantly reduce the socioeconomic struggle of many Papua New Guineans with 40 percent of the population of seven million living below the poverty line.

Nearly half the residents in Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, live in informal settlements with little access to clean water or sanitation. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Nearly half the residents in Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea, live in informal settlements with little access to clean water or sanitation. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Export-driven development leaving millions behind

Papua New Guinea is considered one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, but the boons of this progress are largely concentrated in the hands of government officials and private investors with little left for the masses of the country, which is today ranked 157th out of 187 countries in terms of human development.

As the country surrenders its natural bounty to international investors – PNG has attracted the highest levels of direct foreign investment in the region, averaging more than 100 million U.S. dollars per year since 1970 – its people seem to get poorer and sicker.

According to the National Research Institute, PNG has less than one doctor and 5.3 nurses per 10,000 people. The availability of basic drugs in health clinics has fallen by 10 percent and visits from doctors dropped by 42 percent in the past decade. Despite rapid population growth, the number of patients seeking medical help per day has decreased by 19 percent.

Millions of dollars that could be used to develop crucial health infrastructure is lost to corruption. Papua New Guinea has been given a corruption score of 25/100 – where 100 indicates clean governance – in comparison to the world average of 43/100, by Transparency International.

The generation representing the country’s future has also been hit hard by the impacts of endemic corruption, particularly the deeply rooted patronage system in politics, which has undermined equality. Large-scale misappropriation of public funds, with the loss of half the government’s development budget of 7.6 billion kina (2.8 billion dollars) from 2009-11 due to mismanagement, has impeded services and development.

“The [political] leaders are very busy [engaging] in corruption, while the future leaders of this country are left to fend for themselves. Many of these young people have been pushed out by the system. At the end of the day, there is a reason why homebrew alcohol is being brewed and why violence is going on,” Wari told IPS.

“But the way to fight back corruption is to go out and educate our fellow country men and women. Let’s not sit down and wait, let’s stand up on our two feet and make a difference.”

This is no easy task in a country where 2.8 million people live below the poverty line, where maternal mortality is 711 deaths per 100,000 live births, literacy is just 63 percent and only 19 percent of people have access to sanitation.

But the Tropical Gems are empowering themselves with knowledge about the political and economic forces, such as globalisation and competition for resources, which are impacting their lives. And they are returning to core social and cultural values for a sense of leadership and direction.

“We have gone astray because of the rapid changes that have happened in our country and because we were not prepared for them. When these influences come in, they divert us from what we are supposed to do. So, now in Tropical Gems, we do the talking,” Wari said.

For the Tropical Gems, leadership begins with rejecting passivity and taking responsibility and initiative for the betterment of themselves, others and the wider community. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

For the Tropical Gems, leadership begins with rejecting passivity and taking responsibility and initiative for the betterment of themselves, others and the wider community. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Away from dependency, towards self-reliance

Their first step has been to reject the dependency syndrome and temptation to wait for others, whether in the state or private sector, to deliver the world they desire.

Every day, dozens of ‘leaders’, as the group’s members are known, spend half a day out on the streets of Madang working, without payment, to clear the streets and coastline areas of litter and tidy up public gardens and spaces. Their visibility to the town’s population, including youth who remain in limbo, is that the future they want starts with them.

And there is no shortage of people who want to be a part of this grassroots movement. While the group was formed by Wari in Madang in 2013 with less than 300 members, it has since grown to more than 3,000, ranging from teenagers to people in their forties, from provinces around the country, including the northern Sepik, mountainous highlands and far flung Manus Island.

Many of those who have joined Tropical Gems have endured personal hardships and social exclusion, whether due to poverty, loss of their parents or missing out on the opportunity to finish their education.

“My life was really hard before I joined Tropical Gems, but now it has changed,” 30-year-old Sepi Luke told IPS. He now feels in control of his life and has hope for the future.

Lisa Lagei of the Madang Country Women’s Association supports the group’s endeavours and recognises the positive impact they can have on the wider community.

“What they are doing, taking a lead is good. It is important to take the initiative. We can’t wait for the government, we have to do things for ourselves,” she said.

Lagei has observed many issues facing youth in Madang, ranging from high unemployment and crime to an increase in young girls turning to prostitution for money and a high secondary education dropout rate primarily due to families being unable to afford school fees. While these problems are mainly visible in urban areas, they are increasingly prevalent in rural communities as well, she added.

Wari believes there is a gap between the formal education system and the real world, and many young people in Papua New Guinea are seeking ways to cope with the complex forces that are shaping their lives.

Customary landowners in Papua New Guinea, a rainforest nation in the Southwest Pacific, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in Papua New Guinea, a rainforest nation in the Southwest Pacific, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Tackling the toughest issues

In March the group was visited by members of the civil society activist organisation, Act Now PNG, which conducted awareness sessions about land issues, such as how land grabbing occurs and corruption associated with the country’s Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs).

Land grabbing has led to the loss of 5.5 million hectares – or 12 percent of the country’s land area – to foreign investors, many of which are engaged in logging, rather than agricultural projects of benefit to local communities.

Papua New Guinea, home to the world’s third largest tropical rainforest, has a forest cover of an estimated 29 million hectares, but the rapid growth of its export-driven economy has made it the second largest exporter of tropical timber after Malaysia.

The California-based Oakland Institute estimates that PNG exports approximately three million cubic metres of logs every year, primarily to China.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicts that 83 percent of the country’s commercially viable forests will be lost or degraded by 2021 due to commercial logging, mining and land clearance for oil palm plantations.

“Within ten years nearly all accessible forests will be logged out and at the root of this problem is endemic and systematic corruption,” a spokesperson for Act Now PNG told IPS last December.

This could spell disaster for the roughly 85 percent of Papua New Guinea’s population who live in rural areas, and are reliant on forests for their survival.

Consider the impacts of environmental devastation and logging-related violence in Pomio, one of the least developed districts in East New Britain – an island province off the northeast coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland – where there is a lack of health services, decent roads, water and sanitation.

Life expectancy here is a miserable 45-50 years and the infant mortality rate of 61 per 1,000 live births is significantly higher than the national rate of 47.

How to address these issues are huge questions, but the Tropical Gems do not shy away from asking them.

“We discourage, in our awareness [campaigns], the selling of land. Our objectives are to conserve the environment, to value our traditional way of living,” Wari said.

Knowledge sharing also extends to livelihood skills and the group’s leaders who know how to weave, bake or grow crops hold training sessions for the benefit of others. Some have started their own enterprises.

The Tropical Gems is a grassroots youth initiative that emerged in the coastal town of Madang in Papua New Guinea in 2013. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

The Tropical Gems is a grassroots youth initiative that emerged in the coastal town of Madang in Papua New Guinea in 2013. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Barbara grows and sells tomatoes at the town’s market, for example, and Lynette, from the nearby village of Maiwara, has a small business raising and selling chickens.

One of the next steps for Tropical Gems is to extend the reach of its activities into rural areas to help people see the sustainable development potential in their local setting, rather than migrating to urban centres.

Indeed, rapid urbanisation has resulted in grim living conditions for many city-dwellers, with 45 percent of those who reside in the capital, Port Moresby, living in informal settlements that lack proper water and sanitation facilities.

In Eight Mile Settlement, located on the outskirts of Port Moresby, 15,000 residents drink contaminated water from broken taps. Water-borne diseases are the leading cause of hospital deaths in Papua New Guinea.

But tackling the particular issue or urbanisation may require more resources than the group currently has, even though they have sustained their projects to date without any external funding.

“The fees that individuals pay to join are used to sustain Tropical Gems and we help ourselves,” Wari explained.

In the meantime, word about the unique initiative has spread to the capital. This year, Wari and the Gems have been invited to give a presentation about their work to the Waigani Seminar, a national forum to discuss progress toward the country’s ‘Vision 2050’ aspirations, to be co-hosted by the government and University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby from 19-21 August.

Papua New Guinea will face many hurdles in the coming decade, particularly environmental challenges as the country faces up to rising sea levels and the other impacts of climate change. Initiatives like the Tropic Gems are laying the groundwork for a far more resilient society than its political leaders have thus far created.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Sahrawi Women Take to the Streetshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/sahrawi-women-take-to-the-streets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sahrawi-women-take-to-the-streets http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/sahrawi-women-take-to-the-streets/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 23:04:59 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141640 (From left to right) Fatima, Aza and Rabab, three Sahrawi women activists, pose from an undisclosed location in Laayoune, the capital of occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

(From left to right) Fatima, Aza and Rabab, three Sahrawi women activists, pose from an undisclosed location in Laayoune, the capital of occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
LAAYOUNE, Occupied Western Sahara, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

Ten women are gathered to discuss how to transmit Sahrawi culture and tradition to the younger generations. As usual, it´s a secret meeting. There is no other way in the capital of Western Sahara.

Rabab Lamin chose the place and the date for this latest meeting of the Forum for the Future of Sahrawi Women, an underground organisation yet seemingly far from being disorganised.

“We set up the committee in 2009 and today we rely on 60 active members, an executive committee of 16 and hundreds of collaborators,” Lamin, the mother of a political prisoner, tells IPS.

“Here you´ll hardly come across any Sahrawi who has not been mistreated by the police, nor a family who has not lost one of their own" – Aza Amidan, sister of a Sahrawi political prisoner
“Our goal is to fight for the fundamental rights of the Sahrawi people through peaceful struggle,” adds the 54 year-old woman, before noting that she was born “when the Spaniards were here.”

This year will mark four decades since Spain pulled out of Western Sahara, its last colony, leaving the territory in the hands of Morocco and Mauritania. While Rabat claims that this vast swathe of land – the size of Britain – is its southernmost province, the United Nations labels it as a “territory under an unfinished process of decolonisation.”

Since the ceasefire signed in 1991 between Morocco and the Polisario Front – the authority that the United Nations recognises as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people – Rabat controls almost the whole territory, including the entire Atlantic coast.

Only a tiny desert strip on the other side of the wall built by Morocco remains under Sahrawi control. That´s where the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) was announced in 1976, a political entity today recognised by 82 countries.

The most immediate consequence of Sahara´s frozen conflict was the displacement of almost the entire Sahrawi people to the desert of Algeria. Those who dared to stay still suffer the consequences of their decision:

“Since the Moroccans took over our land we have only faced brutality,” laments Aza Amidan, the sister of a political prisoner. “We are constantly harassed and beaten; they raid our houses, they arrest our men and women, even kids under 15.

“Here you´ll hardly come across any Sahrawi who has not been mistreated by the police, nor a family who has not lost one of their own,” says Amidan. The 34-year-old activist stresses that the founder and current leader of the Forum, Zukeine Ijdelu, spent 12 years in prison.

Sahrawi women activists who have taken to the streets in Laayoune, capital of occupied Western Sahara, are often forcibly dispersed. Credit: Mohamed Salem

Sahrawi women activists who have taken to the streets in Laayoune, capital of occupied Western Sahara, are often forcibly dispersed. Credit: Mohamed Salem

In a report issued two months ago, Amnesty International labels the practice of torture in Morocco as “endemic” while underlining that Sahrawi political dissidents are among the main targets. The NGO also accused the Moroccan government of “protecting the torturers, and not the tortured.”

Sahrawi activists claim that one of the main tasks of this women´s organisation is to support, “both morally and economically”, those who have suffered prison or their relatives. Amidan gives the details:

“We gather money among the community for those women as they are always the ones who suffer most. Whether it´s them who are arrested or their husbands, it´s them who have to sustain their families.”

Despite several phone calls and e-mails, the Moroccan authorities refused to speak to IPS on these and other human rights violations allegedly committed in Western Sahara.

Assimilation

At 62, Fatima Hamimid is one of the senior veteran activists of the Forum. She says torture is “something that can one can cope with.” But there are other grievances that are seemingly “irreparable”.

“Today’s workshop sought to raise awareness among the new generations over the cultural assimilation we´re being subjected to at the hands of Rabat. Morocco seeks to deny our mere existence by either erasing our history or including it into their own.”

The most eloquent proof of such policies may be the total absence of Hassaniya –the Arabic dialect spoken by Sahrawis – in the education system or the administration.

However, Hamimid also points to other issues such the explicit ban over the Sahrawi traditional tent, the harassment  women wearing their distinctively colourful garb often have to face, or the prohibition of giving names that recall historical Sahrawi dissidents to their children.

“This is yet another reason that drags us to the streets to organise and take part in demonstrations,” notes Hamimid. Peaceful protests, she adds, are another important axis of action of this group.

But it is neither easy nor free of risks. In its World Report 2015, Human Rights Watch denounces that Rabat has “prohibited all public gatherings deemed hostile to Morocco’s contested rule.”

The New York-based NGO also points to the “large numbers of police who blocked access to demonstration venues and often forcibly dispersed Sahrawis seeking to assemble.”

Under such circumstances, Takbar Haddi chose to conduct a hunger strike for 36 days in front of the Moroccan consulate in Gran Canaria (Spain), which ended with her hospitalisation in June.

Haddi is still asking the Moroccan authorities to deliver the body of her son, Mohamed Lamin Haidala, stabbed in February in Laayoune, and that both the circumstances of the crime and the alleged lack of an adequate health assistance be investigated.

The activist´s close relatives in Laayoune told IPS that the family had rejected an economic compensation from Rabat in exchange for their silence.

“Some people think that being free is just not languishing in prison, or not suffering torture,” explains Hamimid, while she serves the last of the three cups of tea marking Sahrawi tradition. “We, Sahrawi women, understand freedom in its full meaning.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Kashmiri Women Suffering a Surge in Gender-Based Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 21:15:55 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141635 A billboard in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir promotes gender equality and protests violence against women. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

A billboard in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir promotes gender equality and protests violence against women. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
SRINAGAR, India, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

Rizwana* had hoped and expected that justice would be served – that the man who raped her would be sufficiently punished for his crime. Months after she suffered at his hands, however, the perpetrator remains at large.

"We receive 1,000 to 1,500 complaints of domestic violence annually." -- Gulshan Akhtar, head of Srinagar’s only women’s police station
Hailing from a poor family in the northwestern part of the Indian administered state of Kashmir, Rizwana worked hard to finish her studies, knowing that if she landed a job it would help ease her family’s financial woes.

When an official in the frontier Kupwara District hired her as an assistant earlier this year, she thought she had struck gold. But she quickly discovered that the man’s support and eagerness to offer her a job was simply a front for ulterior motives.

“After working in the office for just a few days he summoned me to a room on the upper floor and bolted the door. Then he made sexual advances on me. When I objected to his behaviour, he forcibly raped me,” the young graduate told IPS.

Her entire family was traumatised by the experience; Rizwana quit her job and her mother suffered a panic attack that confined her to the hospital for weeks

Rizwana approached the State Women’s Commission (SWC) in Srinagar, the state’s summer capital, and pleaded that the official be terminated from his position and sent to jail.

“But so far nothing has happened,” she said. “While the women’s commission is supporting me, the rapist is yet to be brought to justice as he uses his influence to get away with the crime.”

Militarisation breeds impunity

Anyone who follows the daily headlines in this heavily militarised territory in northern India knows that Rizwana’s case is not unusual. Every year, thousands of women experience sexual or physical abuse, both in and outside their homes, though few come forward to report it.

Women’s rights advocates blame the conflict in Kashmir – which dates back to the 1947 partition of India and has claimed 60,000 lives in six decades – for nursing a culture of impunity that makes women extremely vulnerable to gender-based violence.

In 2007, the Indian government revealed that it had 337,000 army personnel stationed in the region. At the time, this amounted to roughly one soldier for every 18 persons, making Kashmir “the most heavily militarised zone” in the world, according to sociologist Bashir Ahmad Dabla.

In 2013, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on violence against woman stated in her final country report on India that legislative provisions like “the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has mostly resulted in impunity for human rights violations [since] the law protects the armed forces from effective prosecution in non-military courts for human rights violations committed against civilian women among others, and it allows for the overriding of due process rights.”

Noting that impunity for armed forces was “eroding fundamental rights and freedoms […] including dignity and bodily integrity rights for women in Jammu and Kashmir”, the rapporteur called on the Indian government to repeal the Act.

A woman holds up a picture of her son, injured in the conflict. Here in Kashmir, women often bear the brunt of fighting and some have been subjected to rape at the hands of the armed forces. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

A woman holds up a picture of her son, injured in the conflict. Here in Kashmir, women often bear the brunt of fighting and some have been subjected to rape at the hands of the armed forces. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Two years later, her recommendations are yet to be acted upon, with the result that not only armed forces but officials in any capacity feel at liberty to exploit women’s rights and freedoms, often in the form of sexual transgressions.

For instance, IPS recently gained access to a sexual harassment complaint filed by the female staff of the Kashmir Agricultural University with the State Women’s Commission.

Staff filed a joint appeal earlier this month so as to conceal each woman’s individual identity.

It stated: “Being the working ladies at the university, we want to share with you [the] bitter and hard realities we have been facing for the past many years”, adding that the male staff – and one official in particular – routinely harass the women, using their institutional authority to prevent the victims from taking action.

The complainants are demanding “strict punishment” for the culprits according to provisions on sexual harassment in India’s 2013 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act.

Nayeema Ahmad Mehjoor, chairperson of the SWC, told IPS that she acted on the appeal as soon as it was filed, and has already visited the university in order to take up the issue with the necessary authorities.

“They have assured me of initiating a fair probe, and we are expecting a detailed report within a few days,” she stated.

Domestic violence on the rise

These assurances are comforting but hold little weight in a society that routinely puts women’s issues on the backburner, a reality reflected in the low rate of reporting sexual crimes.

The situation is even worse in the domestic sphere, experts say, where spousal or intimate partner violence is on the rise.

Gulshan Akhtar, head of Srinagar’s lone Women’s Police Station, has been a busy officer over the past few years as she struggles to deal with a growing domestic violence caseload.

On a typical day, she receives between seven and 10 cases of domestic disputes involving violence towards the female partner.

“When this police station was established in 1998, it used to receive far fewer complaints compared to what we have been receiving over the past five-year period,” Akhtar told IPS.

“Now we receive 1,000 to 1,500 complaints of domestic violence annually,” she said, adding that the SWC receives an additional 500 complaints on average every year.

Kashmir’s State Women’s Commission (SWC) records roughly 500 cases of domestic violence every year. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Kashmir’s State Women’s Commission (SWC) records roughly 500 cases of domestic violence every year. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

These figures – which are conservative estimates, considering that many women are silent about their suffering – reveal that every single day, over five Kashmiri women endure sexual or physical abuse.

Local news reports indicate that Jammu, the state’s winter capital, tops the list of districts with the highest number of domestic violence cases, recording over 1,200 separate incidents since 2009.

Earlier this year, newspapers quoting officials from the State Home Ministry stated that over 4,000 culprits have been booked in connection with these crimes, but rights groups maintain that prosecution levels are too low to act as a deterrent.

This past May, the women’s rights NGO Ehsaas organised a sit-in at Partap Park in Srinagar to draw attention to a surge in domestic violence.

Academics, journalists and activists gathered to mourn a woman whose husband had burned her to death the month before.

Addressing the crowd, Ehsaas Secretary and Women’s Project Consultant Ezabir Ali said, “It is high time to speak out against this barbaric form of human nature and a send message to the government to act strictly against such acts.”

The sit-in called attention to all the many forms of violence against women – from dowry killings and burnings, and from verbal and emotional abuse to rape. In 2013, according to statistics released by the Crime Branch, Kashmir recorded 378 cases of rape, an increase of 75 cases from the year before. Data for 2014-2015 is still pending.

Conflict leaves women vulnerable

Some experts say the increase in such heinous crimes is due to militarisation and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

A 2014 report by Human Rights Watch noted that “a local court recently ordered the reopening of the investigation into alleged mass rapes in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district in 1991. Residents of the villages allege that soldiers raped women during a cordon and search operation.”

Because of the brutality involved in these incidents, and because the victims included old women and young girls alike, scholars and advocates have claimed that it set a precedent for violence against women, since the perpetrators have yet to be brought to justice.

Others say violence has risen together with women’s shifting socio-economic role in traditional Kashmiri society. With more women leaving the home to work, men feel their financial hold weakening.

“This is causing conflict as many men […] do not feel comfortable with women acquiring a [better] economic status,” author and sociologist Dabla told IPS.

IPS recently met two women at Srinagar’s Rambagh women police station, one of whom had come to lodge a complaint that her husband was forcing her to hand over her monthly earnings, or risk a divorce.

Indeed, surveys and studies undertaken by the women’s NGO Ehsaas reveal that 75 percent of Kashmiri men “felt their masculinity was threatened” if their wives did not obey them.

Activists working to safeguard women and create a more peaceful society overall say that deep and fundamental changes in both the law and social attitudes are necessary to achieve some degree of gender equality and women’s rights.

*Name changed for her protection

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Homosexuality Will Never Be Eliminated. How About Eliminating Homophobia?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-homosexuality-will-never-be-eliminated-how-about-eliminating-homophobia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-homosexuality-will-never-be-eliminated-how-about-eliminating-homophobia http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-homosexuality-will-never-be-eliminated-how-about-eliminating-homophobia/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 19:34:22 +0000 Neela Ghoshal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141631 A Ugandan transgender woman in a town near Kampala, shortly before she fled the country. She left to escape the police harassment and violence she experienced after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. © 2014 Human Rights Watch

A Ugandan transgender woman in a town near Kampala, shortly before she fled the country. She left to escape the police harassment and violence she experienced after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. © 2014 Human Rights Watch

By Neela Ghoshal
NEW YORK, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

A report published in June by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), in collaboration with the Uganda National Academy of Sciences, could help reshape understandings of human sexuality – if African policymakers take the time to consider the report’s findings.

Contrary to widespread belief amongst African lawmakers and ordinary citizens, homosexuality is neither a Western import nor a matter of choice. These are some of the findings the panel of African scientists revealed after reviewing hundreds of studies on same-sex attraction.Same-sex relationships and diverse gender identities exist even where laws are most repressive, and levels of stigma are highest. Criminalising LGBT identities or same-sex conduct simply won’t make LGBT people disappear.

But some African politicians seem too busy fomenting panic around homosexuality to pay attention to the facts, by, for example, spreading false claims that U.S. President Barack Obama is pushing same-sex marriage on Kenya and Nigeria.

Desperate to distract voters from real, unresolved problems, such as poverty, insecurity and corruption, many African politicians like to raise the specter of homosexuality as a mortal danger. In the name of protecting society, “traditional values,” or children, they pass deeply discriminatory laws.

Nigeria, under former president Goodluck Jonathan, slapped 10-year prison sentences on anyone who even “indirectly” demonstrates a “same sex amorous relationship.” In Uganda, before its Anti-Homosexuality Act was struck down on procedural grounds last year, a landlord who didn’t evict a gay or lesbian tenant could have been convicted for maintaining a “brothel.”

For the proponents of these laws, Obama is the latest bogeyman, with one Kenyan politician suggesting that if Obama so much as mentions the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people during his upcoming visit to Kenya, this might tear Kenya’s “social fabric.”

But the panel of well-respected African scientists roundly dismissed claims that homosexuality is imported, finding the prevalence of homosexuality in African countries “no different from other countries in the rest of the world”.

The panel concurred with a previous a finding by Ugandan scientists that “homosexuality existed in Africa way before the coming of the white man.” When these Ugandan scientists presented their report to President Yoweri Museveni in early 2014, he shamelessly ignored their conclusions, claiming their report justified the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The recent report notes that same-sex relationships and diverse gender identities exist even where laws are most repressive, and levels of stigma are highest. Criminalising LGBT identities or same-sex conduct simply won’t make LGBT people disappear.

Likewise, an approach to sexuality and gender that is in line with international human rights law will not open the floodgates to waves of Africans “converting” to homosexuality. Indeed, countries like the Netherlands and Sweden, known to be particularly open to sexual diversity, have no higher rates of homosexuality than any other countries in the world.

The scientists find that “… studies such as this show that young people can be friends with LBGTI youngsters without fearing (or their parents fearing) that they will ‘catch’ same-sex attraction from their friends. Such ‘transmission’ of sexual orientation simply does not happen.”

Nor should policymakers worry that LGBT people are a threat to children. The fear that gays are recruiting and abusing children is often offered to justify cracking down on homosexuality. However, the panel found “no scientific evidence to support the view” that LGBT people are more likely to abuse children than anyone else.

Instead, the panel, having examined studies of child sexual abuse, concluded that “most of the perpetrators are heterosexual men.” Rather than scapegoating homosexuals, the report suggests, governments should identify and hold accountable the real child abusers.

When given an opportunity to speak for themselves, LGBT people often emphasise that they were aware of their sexual or gender identity from an early age. Similarly, heterosexual people often develop romantic feelings toward the opposite sex from early childhood—they don’t “choose” those feelings, nor can they change them.

In examining the scientific literature, the panel says that, “Overall, the surge in recent confirmatory studies,” including those of twins and of similarities in chromosomes across a population group with a particular trait, “have reached the stage where there is no longer any doubt about the existence of a substantial biological basis to sexual orientation.”

If sexuality has a biological basis, the scientists ask – and if there is no evidence that LGBT people “recruit” or otherwise harm children – what could possibly be the justification for punishing people for their sexual orientation or gender identity?

African policymakers should ask themselves the same. And rather than wringing their hands about a US court decision on marriage equality, or tearing their hair out over purely hypothetical comments that Obama may or may not make, they should look at the very real social harms caused by homophobia and transphobia.

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights – which, like the South African and Ugandan scientists who produced the report, can hardly be dismissed as Western – passed a resolution in 2014 condemning widespread violence on the grounds of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

The commissioners expressed “alarm” that “acts of violence, discrimination and other human rights violations continue to be committed on individuals in many parts of Africa because of their actual or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity.” They cited “‘corrective’ rape, physical assaults, torture, murder, arbitrary arrests, detentions, extra-judicial killings and executions, forced disappearances, extortion and blackmail.”

The commission calls on African countries to end all violence and abuse on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The ASSAf report goes a step further in concluding that “As variation in sexual identities and orientations has always been part of a normal society, there can be no justification for attempts to ‘eliminate’ LGBTI from society.”

As the study shows, same sex attraction and gender variance have always existed and nothing will change that, no matter how many repressive laws are passed, how many LGBT people are raped, murdered, imprisoned, expelled from schools or evicted from their homes.

Instead of trying to “eliminate” LGBT people, why not begin taking steps to eliminate violence and discrimination against them?

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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New Convention Will Help Protect Latin America’s Elderlyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-convention-will-help-protect-latin-americas-elderly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-convention-will-help-protect-latin-americas-elderly http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/new-convention-will-help-protect-latin-americas-elderly/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 18:39:10 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141625 Latin America’s population is ageing, which poses social and economic challenges, for which there is a new Convention. In the photo, older adults gathered in the town of Cuautitlán-Izcalli, to the north of the Mexican capital, to receive information about economic support for this segment of the population. Credit: Courtesy of the city government of Cuautitlán-Izcalli

Latin America’s population is ageing, which poses social and economic challenges, for which there is a new Convention. In the photo, older adults gathered in the town of Cuautitlán-Izcalli, to the north of the Mexican capital, to receive information about economic support for this segment of the population. Credit: Courtesy of the city government of Cuautitlán-Izcalli

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

“Our rights are only partially respected; in some places we are given special attention, but in others it is quite the opposite. There is a lack of education and respect for people my age,” Hilda Téllez, a 70-year-old Mexican woman, told IPS.

A few hours earlier, a taxi driver had refused to carry her wheelchair, in the middle-class neighbourhood of Villa Olímpica, where Téllez lives. She said she suffers double discrimination: as an elderly person and as someone with a disability, since she suffered a stroke that affected the right side of her body.

“When I got sick, they violated my rights, because I collapsed in the office due to the level of stress there,” she said. “I didn’t go back to work after that. But the doctors ruled that it wasn’t a work-related health problem,” said the divorced mother of three and grandmother of eight, who worked for over 15 years in Mexico’s public prosecutor’s office, until retiring in 2006.

Because of that, she now receives a pension of only 225 dollars a month, even though her salary when she retired was over 1,250 dollars.

Discrimination, abandonment or neglect by families, and lack of care, work opportunities and full access to social services are all problems faced by people over 60 in Latin America and the Caribbean.“Ageing should be a concern for states, because it not only affects social welfare systems but also the life of the community and the development of countries, and its effects should be anticipated.” -- Sandra Huenchúan

To address this situation, the Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons was approved Jun. 15 by the Organisation of American States (OAS) members. It needs to be ratified by two countries to go into effect, and has already been signed by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay.

The Convention is the first regional instrument for promoting, protecting and recognising the human rights of the elderly.

It creates a comprehensive system of care for older adults, a Conference of the Parties, and a committee of experts who will issue recommendations to states.

It also creates a channel for any individual, group or non-governmental organisation to file complaints with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against an OAS member country for violating the Convention.

There are currently 71 million people over 60 in Latin America. And by 2040, the elderly will outnumber children, according to an international forum held in this capital on the human rights of older adults by the Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Centre (CELADE).

Sandra Huenchúan, a CELADE expert on ageing, said the main challenges involve improving social security coverage, access to healthcare, and inclusion in the labour market, and carrying out studies on the rights of the elderly.

“There are often problems applying the legislation – a lack of institutional or jurisdictional guarantees that would make enforcement possible,” Huenchúan said.

She added that “there is an enormous range of areas where older adults are unprotected, despite the existence of standardised legal mechanisms. Society isn’t fully aware that older adults have rights.”

The still hands of América Herrera, a victim of what experts call patrimonial violence against older adults, when they are stripped of their assets and property by means of deceit. The new Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons attempts to address such problems. Credit: Maricel Sequeira/IPS

The still hands of América Herrera of Costa Rica, a victim of what experts call patrimonial violence against older adults, when they are stripped of their assets and property by means of deceit. The new Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons attempts to address such problems. Credit: Maricel Sequeira/IPS

The countries in Latin America that already have specific laws and regulations for the protection of the rights of older adults are Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela.

María Isolina Dabove, an expert from Argentina, said “The region is facing multigenerational ageing, a complex phenomenon that emerged with the demographic changes of the second half of the 20th century and is fuelled by the rise in life expectancy, which makes it possible for several generations to coexist.”

Dabove, with the Argentine government’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), told IPS that the Convention is “the first explicit acknowledgement” by the region of the specific problems of older adults.

“This is an instrument that will guarantee the enforcement of the rights of all older adults,” she said.

Between 1950 and 2010, life expectancy at birth in the region climbed from 51 to 75 years, and it is expected to rise to 81 by the mid-21st century, according to CELADE, the population division of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

One illustration is what is happening in Argentina, where 14 million of the country’s roughly 40 million inhabitants are over 60, according to the 2012 National Survey on the Quality of Life of Older Adults, while one out of five people in Argentina will be over 65 by 2050.

In Mexico, with a population f 120 million, seven million people are over 65 – a number that is expected to soar to more than 30 million by 2050.

And in Brazil, the most populous country in the region, with 200 million people, the number of people over 60 is expected to increase from 10 million today to more than 16 million by 2025 and to 29 million by 2050, according to official statistics.

“The real, concrete impact of the new Inter-American Convention is that each one of the states must incorporate it into their domestic laws. The Convention should have the legal hierarchy that would make it possible to build a free and equal society for all ages,” said Dabove.

Téllez, who receives medical care in the Social Security and Services Institute of Workers of the State, said she would like special clinics so the care would be “faster and more efficient.” She also suggested that the clinics could employ older adults.

“The government could make things accessible, approve stricter laws, provide driver education, improve the treatment we receive, and apply heavy fines, to educate people,” the pensioner said.

The region could benefit from the so-called “demographic bonus” – a broad segment of young people of an age to study and work and contribute to economic growth – but that advantage can vanish without investment in the human development of this part of the population.

In the November 2014 report “The New Demographic Era in Latin America and the Caribbean: Time for Equality According to the Population Clock”, CELADE said the demographic bonus could be secured with investment in education and health, particularly for children, adolescents, young people and women.

“Ageing should be a concern for the states, because it not only affects social welfare systems but also the life of the community and the development of countries, and its effects should be anticipated,” Huenchúan said.

That concern, she added, “should not only translate into caring for older adults, but in making sure they have better conditions to exercise their rights.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Indigenous People in Brazil’s Amazon – Crushed by the Belo Monte Dam?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/indigenous-people-in-brazils-amazon-crushed-by-the-belo-monte-dam/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 21:57:33 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141614 The school in the Juruna indigenous village of Paquiçamba on the banks of the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon jungle, which will not be flooded but will see the water flow considerably reduced due to the construction of the Belo Monte hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The school in the Juruna indigenous village of Paquiçamba on the banks of the Volta Grande (Big Bend) of the Xingú River in Brazil’s Amazon jungle, which will not be flooded but will see the water flow considerably reduced due to the construction of the Belo Monte hydropower dam. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Jul 16 2015 (IPS)

Ethnocide, the new accusation leveled against the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, brings to light deeper underlying aspects of the conflicts and controversies unleashed by megaprojects in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

Federal prosecutor Thais Santi announced that legal action would be taken “in the next few weeks” against Norte Energía, the company building the dam, on the argument that its initiatives to squelch indigenous resistance amount to ethnocide.

“This will be an innovative legal process in Brazil,” said Wilson Matos da Silva, who has a direct interest in this “pioneer legal proceeding” as a Guaraní indigenous lawyer who has written about the issue in publications in Dourados, the city in western Brazil where he lives.

“Brazil has no legislation on ethnocide, a neologism used as an analogy to genocide, which is classified by a 1956 law,” said the defender of indigenous causes. “The object of the crime isn’t life, it is culture – but the objective is the same: destroying a people.

“Ethnocide only occurs when there is omission on the part of the state, which means it can be implicated in an eventual lawsuit,” added Matos da Silva.

The issue has been debated for some time now, especially among anthropologists, in international forums and courts. The novel development in Brazil is that it will now reach the courts, “a laudable initiative” that could set an important legal precedent, the lawyer said in a telephone interview with Tierramérica.

Belo Monte has been the target of numerous complaints and lawsuits that sought to halt the construction process. The company has been accused of failing to live up to the measures required by the government’s environmental authority to mitigate or compensate for impacts caused by the hydropower complex on the Xingú River which will generate 11,233 MW, making it the third –largest of its kind in the world.

The 22 lawsuits brought by the public prosecutor’s office failed to halt work on the dam. But they managed to secure compliance with several environmental requisites, such as the purchase of land for the Juruna Indigenous Community of Kilometre 17 on the Trans-Amazonian highway, who were exposed to the bustle and chaos of the construction project because they lived in a small area near the dam.

Socorro Arara, an indigenous fisherwoman whose surname is the name of her indigenous community, is fighting to maintain the way of life of the seven family units in her extended family. The island where they live on the Xingú River will be flooded by the Belo Monte reservoir, and she is demanding another island or riverbank area for resettling her family. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Socorro Arara, an indigenous fisherwoman whose surname is the name of her indigenous community, is fighting to maintain the way of life of the seven family units in her extended family. The island where they live on the Xingú River will be flooded by the Belo Monte reservoir, and she is demanding another island or riverbank area for resettling her family. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In a Jun. 29 report, the non-governmental Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA) said the conditions were not in place for the government to issue the final operating permit to allow Belo Monte to fill its reservoirs and begin generating electricity in early 2016.

ISA, which is active in the Xingú basin, said that many of the 40 initial requisites set before the concession was put up to tender in 2010, as well as the 31 conditions related to indigenous rights, have not yet been fulfilled.

Protection of indigenous territories is one of the conditions that have not been met, as reflected in the increase of illegal logging and poaching by outsiders, it said.

Norte Energía argues that it has invested 68 million dollars to benefit the roughly 3,000 people in 34 villages in the 11 indigenous territories in the Belo Monte zone of influence.

The programme aimed at providing social development in the local area has included the construction of 711 housing units and the donation of 366 boats, 578 boat motors, 42 land vehicles, 98 electrical generators, and 2.1 million litres of fuel and lubricants, as of April 2015.

In addition, teachers were trained as part of the indigenous education programme.

“But indigenous communities are unhappy because the plan was only partially carried out: of the 34 basic health units that were promised, not a single one is yet operating,” complained Francisco Brasil de Moraes, the coordinator for FUNAI – the government agency in charge of indigenous affairs – along the middle stretch of the Xingú River.

Nor is the project for productive activities, a local priority as it is aimed at enhancing food security and generating income, moving forward, he added. Technical assistance for improving agriculture is needed, and few of the 34 community manioc flour houses, where the staple food is processed and produced, are operating.

Another indispensable measure, the Indigenous Lands Protection Plan, which foresees the installation of operating centres and watch towers, has not been taken up by Norte Energía and “FUNAI does not have the resources to shoulder the burden of this territorial management,” Moraes told Tierramérica.

But the actions that prompted the accusation of ethnocide occurred, or started to occur, before the projects making up the Basic Environmental-Indigenous Component Plan were launched.

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará – a mega-project which is 80 percent complete and will be finished in 2019. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Part of what will be the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant’s turbine room in the northern Brazilian state of Pará – a mega-project which is 80 percent complete and will be finished in 2019. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

For 24 months, up to September 2012, Norte Energia carried out an Emergency Plan, distributing donations of necessary goods to the 34 villages, at a monthly cost of 9,600 dollars per village.

That fuelled consumption of manufactured and processed foods such as soft drinks, which have hurt people’s health, increased child malnutrition, and undermined food security among the indigenous communities by encouraging the neglect of farming, fishing and hunting, the ISA report states.

“Norte Energía established a relationship with the indigenous people that involved coopting the only outspoken opponents of the dam, and making their leaders come frequently to the city (of Altamira) to ask for more and more things at the company headquarters,” Marcelo Salazar, ISA’s assistant coordinator in the Xingú River basin, told Tierramérica.

In addition, villages were divided and the authority of local leaders was weakened by the company’s activities in the area, according to the public prosecutor’s office.

But Norte Energía told Tierramérica in a written response from the press department that “the so-called Emergency Plan was proposed by FUNAI,” which also set the amount of monthly spending at 30,000 reals.

The funds went towards “the promotion of ethno-development,” and included the donation of farm equipment and materials, the construction of landing strips and the upgrading of 470 km of roads leading to the villages, the company said.

Strengthening FUNAI by hiring 23 officials on Norte Energía’s payroll and purchasing computers and vehicles was another of the Emergency Plan’s aims, the company reported.

But the emphasis on providing material goods such as boats, vehicles and infrastructure forms part of a business mindset that is irreconcilable with a sustainable development vision, say critics like Sonia Magalhães, a professor of sociology at the Federal University of Pará, who also accuses Belo Monte of ethnocide.

“Their culture has been attacked, a colonial practice whose objective is domination and the destruction of a culture, which is a complex and dynamic whole,” she told Tierramérica, referring to the Emergency Plan.

“The Xingú River forms part of the world vision of the Juruna and Arara Indians in a way that we are not able to understand – it is a reference to time, space and the sacred, which are under attack” from the construction of the dam, she said.

Indifferent to this debate, Giliard Juruna, a leader of a 16-family Juruna indigenous village, is visiting Altamira, the closest city to Belo Monte, with new requests.

“We got speedboats, a pickup truck and 15 houses for everyone,” he told Tierramérica. “But things run out, and it was very little compared to what is possible.”

“We also asked for speedboats for fishing, although the water is murky and dirty, we don’t have sanitation, we have schools but we don’t have bilingual teachers,” he said, adding that they were seeking “a sustainability project” involving fish farming, cacao and manioc production, a manioc flour house, and a truck.

“We have customers for our products, but we don’t have any means of transport, because we won’t be able to use boats anymore,” he said.

The diversion of part of the waters of the Xingú River to generate electricity in Belo Monte will significantly reduce the water flow at the Volta Grande or Big Bend, where his village is situated.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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