Inter Press ServiceCivil Society – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 18 Nov 2017 01:29:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 The World is Losing the Battle Against Child Labourhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/world-losing-battle-child-labour/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-losing-battle-child-labour http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/world-losing-battle-child-labour/#respond Fri, 17 Nov 2017 22:06:46 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153085 The IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour,  which drew nearly 2000 delegates from 190 countries to the Argentine capital, left many declarations of good intentions but nothing to celebrate. Child labour is declining far too slowly, in the midst of unprecedented growth in migration and forced displacement that aggravate the situation, […]

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The IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour, held in the Argentine capital, concluded with an urgent call to accelerate efforts to eradicate this major problem by 2025, a goal of the international community that today does not appear to be feasible. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

The IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour, held in the Argentine capital, concluded with an urgent call to accelerate efforts to eradicate this major problem by 2025, a goal of the international community that today does not appear to be feasible. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Nov 17 2017 (IPS)

The IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour,  which drew nearly 2000 delegates from 190 countries to the Argentine capital, left many declarations of good intentions but nothing to celebrate.

Child labour is declining far too slowly, in the midst of unprecedented growth in migration and forced displacement that aggravate the situation, said representatives of governments, workers and employers in the Buenos Aires Declaration on Child Labour Forced Labour and Youth Employment.

The document, signed at the end of the Nov. 14-16 meeting, recognises that unless something changes, the goals set by the international community will not be met.

As a result, there is a pressing need to “Accelerate efforts to end child labour in all its forms by 2025,” the text states.

In the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), target seven of goal eight – which promotes decent work – states that child labour in all its forms is to be eradicated by 2025."The increase in child labour in the countryside has to do with informal employment. Most of the children work in family farming, without pay, in areas where the state does not reach.” -- Junko Sazaki

“For the first time, this Conference recognised that child labour is mostly concentrated in agriculture and is growing,” said Bernd Seiffert, focal point on child labour, gender, equity and rural employment at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

“While the general numbers for child labour dwindled from 162 million to 152 million since 2013, in rural areas the number grew: from 98 to 108 million,” he explained in a conversation with IPS.

Seiffert said: “We heard a lot in this conference about the role played by child labour in global supply chains. But the majority of boys and girls work for the local value chains, in the production of food.”

The declared aim of the Conference, organised by the Argentine Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security with technical assistance from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), was to “take stock of the progress made” since the previous meeting, held in 2013 in Brasilia.

Guest of honour 2014 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Kailash Satyarthi said he was “confident that the young will be able to steer the situation that we are leaving them,” but warned that it would not make sense to hold a new conference in four years if the situation remains the same.

Satyarthi was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in his country, India, in defence of children’s rights, and in particular for his fight against forced labour, from which he has saved thousands of children.

“We know that children are used because they are the cheapest labour force. But I ask how much longer we are going to keep coming to these conferences to go over the same things again. The next meeting should be held only if it is to celebrate achievements,” he said.

Junko Sasaki, director of the Social Policies and Rural Institutions Division at FAO, said “the increase in child labour in the countryside has to do with informal employment. Most of the children work in family farming, without pay, in areas where the state does not reach.”

“We must promote the incorporation of technologies and good agricultural practices to allow many poor families to stop having to make their children work,” she told IPS.

According to the ILO, as reflected by the final declaration, 71 percent of child labour is concentrated in agriculture, and 42 percent of that work is hazardous and is carried out in informal and family enterprises.

“There are also gender differences. While it is common for children to be exposed to pesticides that can affect their health, girls usually have to work more on household chores. In India, for example, many girls receive less food than boys,” said Sazaki.

Children were notably absent from the crowded event, which brought together government officials and delegates of international organisations, the business community and trade unionists.

Their voice was only heard through the presentation of the document “It’s Time to Talk”, the result of research carried out by civil society organisations, which interviewed 1,822 children between the ages of five and 18 who work, in 36 countries.

The study revealed that children who work do so mainly to help support their families, and that their main concern is the conditions in which they work.

They feel good if their work allows them to continue studying, if they can learn from work and earn money; and they become frustrated when their education is hindered, when they do not develop any skills, or their health is affected.

“We understand that children who work have no other option and that we should not criminalise but protect them and make sure that the conditions in which they perform tasks do not put them at risk or prevent their education,” said Anne Jacob, of the Germany-based Kindernothilfe, one of the organisations that participated in the research.

For Jacob, “it is outrageous that the problem of child labour should be addressed without listening to children.”

“After talking with them, we understood that there is no global solution to this issue, but that the structural causes can only be resolved locally, depending on the economic, cultural and social circumstances of each place,” she told IPS.

The participants in the Conference warned in the final declaration that armed conflicts, which affect 250 million children, are aggravating the situation of child labour.

Virginia Gamba, special representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, explained that “modern armed conflicts use children as if they were disposable materials. Children are no longer in the periphery of conflicts but at the centre.”

In this respect, she pointed out that hundreds of thousands of children are left without the possibility of access to formal education every year in different parts of the world. Her office counted 750 attacks on schools in the midst of armed conflict in 2016, while this year it registered 175 in just one month.

“To fight child labour and help children, we have to think about mobile learning and home-based education. Education must be provided even in the most fragile situations, even in refugee camps, since that is the only means of providing normality for a child in the midst of a conflict,” said Gamba.

In the end, the Conference left the bitter sensation that solutions are still far away.

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder warned that the concentration of child labour in rural work indicates that it often has nothing to do with employers, but with families.

It is easy for some to blame transnational corporations or governments. But the truth is that it is everyone’s fault, he concluded.

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The Birth of a Dictatorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/the-birth-of-a-dictator/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-birth-of-a-dictator http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/the-birth-of-a-dictator/#respond Fri, 17 Nov 2017 13:26:29 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153072 The government had an almost paranoid fear of protests. A square kilometer around the Supreme Court was barricaded and off limits to the public. In faraway provinces, roadblocks were erected to stop demonstrators. Some opposition members were under temporary house arrest. But it turned out to be unnecessary. Nobody dared to protest. The Cambodian government […]

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Police arrayed in front of the Cambodian Supreme Court. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

Police arrayed in front of the Cambodian Supreme Court. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

By Pascal Laureyn
PHNOM PENH, Nov 17 2017 (IPS)

The government had an almost paranoid fear of protests. A square kilometer around the Supreme Court was barricaded and off limits to the public. In faraway provinces, roadblocks were erected to stop demonstrators. Some opposition members were under temporary house arrest. But it turned out to be unnecessary. Nobody dared to protest.

The Cambodian government has launched a fierce crackdown on the opposition. For a few months now, politicians, journalist and activists have been harassed to make their work impossible. A new low point was reached on Thursday when the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP (Cambodia National Rescue Party) ahead of the elections in 2018. Only the CNRP could have competed with the CPP (Cambodian People’s Party), which has been in power for more than three decades. Hun Sen is the world’s longest serving prime minister."Blood on the streets is not a victory for democracy. It's a return to the dark ages. We want people to stay hopeful." --Mu Sochua, vice president of the CNRP

The official dissolution of the CNRP was just a formality. The president of the Supreme Court is also a top committee member of de CPP and a longtime ally of Hun Sen. In Cambodia, justice is an auxiliary of the government – and the prime minister is pulling all the strings firmly, now more than ever.

“I could easily continue for another 10 years,” the 65-year-old Hun Sen told reporters on Thursday. Consequently, he acknowledged that he doesn’t consider an election as a consultation of the people, but as a way to varnish his dictatorial regime with a thin layer of legitimacy. The CNRP was the last democratic obstacle to his power over the country’s resources, which he needs to buy support from the elite.

Fear of reprisals

Since the government stepped up the crackdown on democracy, few Cambodians dare to speak out in public – certainly since the murder of Kem Ley, a popular journalist and a government critic. That was a turning point. Until then, Cambodians thought that their country would slowly become more democratic. But that hope was buried together with Kem Ley in his hometown Takeo.

His mother is cutting vegetables at the grave of her son. Phauk Se had done that every day since July 2016. Next to the burial site are pictures taken moments after the shooting. Kem Ley is lying between tables and chairs, a puddle of blood under this head. He was killed while he was having his morning coffee in a gas station in Phnom Penh.

The 80-year-old mother receives guest every day with soup and a friendly chat. The grave of her son has become a place of pilgrimage. The gunman is behind bars. “That’s not the real killer,” Phauk Se says in a timid voice. “If the government really wanted, they would have found the real culprit.”

Phauk Se, 80, whose son Kem Ley, a popular journalist and a government critic, was murdered in July 2016. Pascal Laureyn/IPS

Phauk Se, 80, whose son Kem Ley, a popular journalist and a government critic, was murdered in July 2016. Pascal Laureyn/IPS

No Cambodian believes that the killer acted alone. But nobody dares to express their suspicion. “Who has the real power? There is only one party who can organize such a murder,” says Kem Rithisith, the brother of Kem Ley, without naming it. “There was a second finger on the trigger, and everyone knows whose finger that was.”

Meanwhile at the market of Takeo, business is not good. Shopkeepers are lying in hammocks, waiting for customers. Mao Much Nech, a salesman of cheap jewelry, doesn’t want to say what party he supports. “That’s sensitive. But the government has lost dignity and credit because of the murder. It’s time to wake up and fight back.”

“The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” a woman says in her stall filled with colorful dresses. “We want change.” Most of the shopkeepers at the market use the same word to express their disappointment with the government.

Blood on the streets

The CPP knows it can’t survive a new popularity test. The CNRP almost won the elections of 2013. It made more progress with the local elections in June. It’s evident that the elections due in July 2018 are causing anxiety at the CPP headquarters. To prevent a defeat, it has started the final assault on the opposition. The CNRP is now dissolved and the party’s president Kem Sokha is in prison. Five thousand mandatories lost their jobs and half of the 55 members of parliament have fled the country.

Mu Sochua is one of them. She is preparing a vegetable soup during the phone call with this reporter. The sound of cutting, chopping and grating makes a fitting backdrop to the combative language of the vice-president of the CNRP.

“The dissolution of the CNRP is a big miscalculation of Hun Sen. The discontent will only continue to rise. Until now the CNRP has channeled this peacefully. But soon people might take their anger to the streets,” Mu says from a Moroccan kitchen. She fled Cambodia after she was tipped off about her impending arrest.

“It needs only one spark to start violent protests, like Tunisia and the Arab Spring,” the politician says while igniting a gas stove. “I’m very afraid of violence. Hun Sen will do anything to stay in power. If people would dare to protest, the tanks will be waiting. Blood on the streets is not a victory for democracy. It’s a return to the dark ages. We want people to stay hopeful.”

The exiled Mu Sochua is now traveling the world to find support for the grassroots movement for democracy in Cambodia. “The CNRP is more than a party. We don’t care about the political game. We want democracy in Cambodia, that’s our real job.”

Sanctions please

The offices of the CNRP headquarters echo hollowly. The building is quiet and almost empty. A few guards are watching a Korean soap opera. Lawmaker Kimsour Phirith may get arrested any moment, but he keeps on smiling. “I’m not afraid. I have done nothing wrong. The CPP is afraid – of losing power.”

“We are witnessing the death of democracy in Cambodia,” Kimsour says. “Hun Sen is showing his true face. He is a dictator now. We are counting on the West. Only economic sanctions can help us.”

The Cambodian economy strongly depends on tourism and the garment industry. If the factories stop producing, 700,000 workers will lose their jobs. Hun Sun would have a major crisis on his hands.

The government may think that Beijing will come to rescue. China has proved in recent years that it has the will and the money to back up Phnom Penh. “But that’s not guaranteed,” says Ou Chanrath, who lost his job as a lawmaker on Thursday. “The Chinese are still dependent on the West. The garment factories are Chinese, but the exports go to the West. When sanctions hit Cambodia, they will pack their bags.”

Human rights groups condemned the dissolution of the CNRP and asked the West to act. “The international community cannot stand idly, it must send a strong signal that this crackdown is unacceptable,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The European Union issued a critical statement in which it linked human rights with access to the European bloc’s reduced and zero tariff trade scheme. The US government decided to discontinue funding for the NEC (the Cambodian election body), in case it still bothered to organise elections.

Prime Minister Hun Sen tried to reassure the nation on Thursday evening. In his speech he said – without any hint of irony – that the government is still deeply committed to democracy. CNRP spokesperson Yim Sovann reacted by saying that “they can never remove the CNRP from the heart of the people.”

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Coal Pollution Continues to Spread in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/coal-pollution-continues-spread-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=coal-pollution-continues-spread-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/coal-pollution-continues-spread-latin-america/#comments Wed, 15 Nov 2017 22:23:29 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153053 Despite growing global pressure to reduce the use of coal to generate electricity, several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean still have projects underway for expanding this polluting energy source. These plans run counter to the climate goals voluntarily adopted by the countries in the region and to the commitment to increase clean and […]

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In the Nov. 11 Climate March through the main streets of the German city of Bonn, protesters called for an end to the use of coal as a power source, especially by German companies, such as RWE. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

In the Nov. 11 Climate March through the main streets of the German city of Bonn, protesters called for an end to the use of coal as a power source, especially by German companies, such as RWE. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

By Emilio Godoy
BONN, Nov 15 2017 (IPS)

Despite growing global pressure to reduce the use of coal to generate electricity, several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean still have projects underway for expanding this polluting energy source.

These plans run counter to the climate goals voluntarily adopted by the countries in the region and to the commitment to increase clean and renewable sources, as part of the Paris Climate Agreement, approved in December 2015.

“Latín America doesn’t have a major global role in the sector, but it does have influence on the region…Colombia (for example) exports lots of coal. The problem is that there are many projects in the pipeline and that’s a threat of locking-in dependency for years,” Heffa Schucking, head of the non-governmental organisation Urgewald, told IPS in the German city of Bonn.

The Global Coal Exit List (GCEL), drawn up by the German organisation, reflects the use of coal in the region, in a global context.“A speedy coal divestment by the financing industry isn't only a matter of avoiding stranded assets, but keeping a livable planet too.” -- Heffa Schucking

Urgewald presented the report during the 23rd annual Conference of the Parties (COP 23) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), taking place Nov. 6-17 in Bonn, a city that is part of what used to be Germany’s industrial belt, driven precisely by coal.

The list, a comprehensive database of some 770 companies participating in the thermal coal industry, points out that in Latin America and the Caribbean, the installed thermoelectric capacity based on coal amounts to 17,909 MW, most of which operates in Mexico (5,351 MW), Chile, (5,101 MW) and Brazil (4,355 MW).

However, new projects for the use of coal will add an additional 8,427 MW, of which Chile will contribute 2,647, Brazil 1,540, the Dominican Republic 1,070, Venezuela 1,000, Jamaica 1,000, Colombia 850 and Panama 320. These ventures will further expand the use of coal in the region, hindering its removal to combat climate change.

The GCEL identifies 14 companies based in the region, of which five are Brazilian, another five Colombian and one per country from Chile, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

It also identifies transnational corporations that operating in the coal industry in the region such as the U.S.-based AES and Drummond; Italy’s Enel, France’s Engie, the Anglo-Swiss Glencore, the Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton and the British Anglo American.

At COP 23, whose electricity comes partially from the lignite mine Hambach, near Bonn, the protests against coal have resonated, due to the major role it plays in the emission of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

At the climate summit in Bonn, coal is a main focus of criticism from environmentalists and academics. In the image, a banner reads "coal to museums", during the hearings of the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, which were held on Nov. 7- 8 in the German city. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

At the climate summit in Bonn, coal is a main focus of criticism from environmentalists and academics. In the image, a banner reads “coal to museums”, during the hearings of the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, which were held on Nov. 7- 8 in the German city. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

Colombia extracts the largest volume of coal in the area – 90 million tons in 2016 – in a sector dominated by Drummond, Glencore, BHP Billiton and Anglo American.

Since 2013, coal extraction in Colombia has ranged between 85 and 90 million tons, mainly from open-pit mines and chiefly for export.

Meanwhile, thermoelectric generation from coal climbed to 1,369.5 MW in 2016.

Brazil produces about eight million tons of coal per year and operates 21 coal-fired thermoelectric plants, generating 3.71 million kilowatts, equivalent to 2.27 percent of the country’s installed capacity.

In 2015, Mexico produced about 7.25 million tons a year, the lowest level in recent years due to the fact that the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) has reduced its coal imports.

The country’s coal-fired power generation totaled 30.124 billion MW/h in 2015, 34.208 billion in 2016 and 24.274 billion in 2017, from three CFE plants.

Chile is one of the largest thermoelectric generators in the region, with 29 coal-fired power plants that produce 14,291 MW, equivalent to 61.5 percent of the national installed capacity.

Carlos Rittl, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, a network of Brazilian environmental organisations, complained that his country lacks a clear policy on coal.

“There are renewable energy goals for 2030, but the electricity capacity continues to be auctioned for fossil fuels and more thermoelectric plants are being built. There is no link between the energy agenda” and the voluntary goals of reducing polluting gases in Brazil, Rittl stressed.

The Brazilian ecologist is one of the 20,000 participants at COP 23, who include academics and delegates from government, civil society, international organisations and the business community.

The GCEL covers 88 percent of the world’s coal production and 86 percent of coal-driven thermoelectric installed capacity.

In addition, the database identifies 225 companies that plan to expand coal mining, and 282 that project more power plants.

Of the 328 mining companies listed, 30 are responsible for more than half of the world’s coal production, and of the 324 thermoelectric plants, the largest 31 cover more than half of the global installed capacity.

The campaign seeks for investors to withdraw funds from the coal industry, in order to cancel new projects and gradually close down existing plants.

Colombia has 16.54 billion tons in coal reserves. Mariana Rojas, director of Climate Change in the Environment Ministry, acknowledged to IPS the difficulty of abandoning coal.

“Different strategies are being used for the different sectors. We want to encourage the increase of renewables in the energy mix; they have become more competitive due to the lower prices. But we cannot reach all sectors,” she said.

Coal was left out of the carbon tax created by the December 2016 tax reform – a reflection of the industry’s clout.

The report “Coal in Colombia: Who wins? Who loses? Mining, global trade and climate change“, drawn up in 2015 by the non-governmental Tierra Digna Centre for Studies on Social Justice, warned that the Andean country plans to continue mining coal until at least 2079.

Brazil already has another plant under construction with a capacity of 340 MW, and plans for at least six more facilities, that would generate 804 MW.

Mexico is in a similar situation, since the current mining permits would expire in 2062, for over 700 million tons in reserves.

Since 2015, the state-run company CFE has been holding online auctions of coal, to control the supply of more than two million tons per year and regulate the activity.

Urgewald’s Schucking called for turning off the financial tap for these projects. “A speedy coal divestment by the financing industry isn’t only a matter of avoiding stranded assets, but keeping a livable planet too.”

Germany has set a 2018 deadline for shutting down its last coal mines, while Canada announced that it would stop using coal by 2030 and Italy promised to do so by 2025.

“The first step is to eliminate subsidies for coal” and redirect them to solar and wind energy, Rittl proposed.

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On Gender Day at Climate Meet, Some Progress, Many Hurdleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/gender-day-climate-meet-progress-many-hurdles/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-day-climate-meet-progress-many-hurdles http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/gender-day-climate-meet-progress-many-hurdles/#respond Wed, 15 Nov 2017 01:42:44 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153031 “Five years ago, when we first started talking about including gender in the negotiations, the parties asked us, ‘Why gender?’ Today, they are asking, ‘How do we include gender?’ That’s the progress we have seen since Doha,” said Kalyani Raj. Raj is a member and co-focal point of the Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) of […]

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Representatives of over a dozen women’s organizations from Latin America, Africa, the MENA region and Asia stage a protest at the COP23 talks in Bonn. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Representatives of over a dozen women’s organizations from Latin America, Africa, the MENA region and Asia stage a protest at the COP23 talks in Bonn. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
BONN, Germany, Nov 15 2017 (IPS)

“Five years ago, when we first started talking about including gender in the negotiations, the parties asked us, ‘Why gender?’ Today, they are asking, ‘How do we include gender?’ That’s the progress we have seen since Doha,” said Kalyani Raj.

Raj is a member and co-focal point of the Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).“The representation of women environment and climate defenders is minimal at the COP as the UNFCCC has built a firewall around it." --indigenous leader Lina Gualinga

Established in 2009, the WGC is an umbrella group of 27 organizations working to make women’s voices and rights central to the ongoing discussions within the UNFCCC and the climate discussions known as COP23 in Bonn.

On Tuesday, as the COP observed Gender Day – a day specifically dedicated to address gender issues in climate change and celebrate women’s climate action – UNFCCC had just accepted the Gender Action Plan, a roadmap to integrate gender equality and women’s empowerment in all its discussions and actions.  For WGC and other women leaders attending the COP, this is a clear indication of progress on the gender front.

“For the first time ever, we are going to adopt a Gender Action Plan. It’s very good and over one year, it will be a matter of implementing it. So that’s where we are,” said Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and former Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Climate Change.

Gender Action Plan: The main points

The creation of a Gender Action Plan (GAP) was agreed upon by the countries at last year’s conference (COP22) in Morocco. All over the world, women face higher climate risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change. Yet they are often left out of the picture when decisions on climate action are made.

The aim of the GAP is to ensure that women can influence climate change decisions, and that women and men are represented equally in all aspects of the UNFCCC as a way to increase its effectiveness.

The GAP is made of five key goals that are crucial for improving the quality of life for women worldwide, as well as ensuring their representation in climate policy. These range from increasing knowledge and capacities of women and men to full, equal and meaningful participation of women in national delegations, including women from grassroots organizations, local and indigenous peoples and women from Small Island Developing States.

In brief, the five goals are:

  • Gender-responsive climate policy including gender budgeting
  • Increased availability of sex and gender disaggregated data and analysis at all levels
  • Gender balance in all aspects of climate change policy including all levels of UNFCCC.
  • 100% gender-responsive climate finance
  • 100% gender responsive approach in technology transfer and development.

The adopted draft, however, is a much watered-down version of the draft GAP that the GEC submitted. It has omitted several of the demands, especially on including indigenous women and women human rights defenders in the climate action plan.

“I would have expected a much-expressed acknowledgement of the participation, the voices and the knowledge of the indigenous and local women. We worked very hard to get that in, but it’s not there as much as I would have liked,” said Robinson, before adding that the adoption of the GAP, nonetheless, is “definitely some progress.”

Nobel laureate Mary Robinson poses impromptu before a wall covered in portraits of male leaders at the Bonn climate talks. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Nobel laureate Mary Robinson poses impromptu before a wall covered in portraits of male leaders at the Bonn climate talks. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Omission leads to disappointment

Not everyone, however, is taking the omissions in the GAP quietly. At Tuesday noon, representatives of over a dozen women’s organizations from Latin America, Africa, the MENA region and Asia gathered at Bula zone 1 – where the negotiations are taking place and held a protest.

“We are here because we want to tell the parties that women human rights defenders are legitimate and critical actors not only in SDG 5, but all the SDGs including combating climate change and all areas of 2030 agenda and Paris Agreement,” said a protester as others nodded in silence, their mouth sealed with black tape.

Prior to the protest, however, Lina Gualinga, an indigenous leader from the Kichwa tribe in Ecuador shared some details of how women environmental activists feel.

“The representation of women environment and climate defenders is minimal at the COP as the UNFCCC has built a firewall around it. So, very few women can actually be here and be part of the COP,” she said.

“In the meantime, the language of the negotiations is drafted and shaped leaving no room to address our concerns. For example, what is sustainable development? For us, it’s nothing but clean water, fresh air, fertile land. Is that reflected in the language of the COP?” she asked.

No access to climate finance

Besides the continuous disappointment over human rights and indigenous issues, accessing finance has emerged as the biggest hurdle for women climate leaders. According to Robinson, the number of women who are getting climate finance is shockingly small.

“The latest figures by OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) shows that only 2 percent of the finance is going to women in the grassroots and southern groups. Only 2 percent! Its tiny. And yet that is where an awful lot of climate work is taking place, where women are trying to make themselves resilient,” Robinson said.

There are three simple ways to solve this, she said:  One, increase local funding. Two, simplify the process to access climate. And three, train women in new, green technologies.

Citing the example of the Barefoot College in India –  a government funded and NGO-run institution that trains women from developing countries in solar technologies before they become “Solar Mamas” or solar entrepreneurs – Robinson said that trainings like this are a great way to include women in climate action at the local level.

“This not only builds their capacity to be more climate resilient, but also helps them become economically empowered,” she said, before admitting that more such initiatives would require more direct funding by local institutions.

Numbers still missing

White the central debate is on mainstreaming gender in the core process of negotiations, some also want to draw attention to the low representation of women in the conference. At the 2015 Paris summit, just over 38 percent of national delegations were women, with Peru, Hungary, Lesotho, Italy and Kiribati among the most balanced delegations and Mauritius, Yemen, Afghanistan and Oman the least.

This year, some countries such as Turkey, Poland and Fiji have 50 percent female delegates while three countries – Latvia, Albania and Guyana – have sent all-female delegations. But the average percentage of female negotiators at country delegations is still 38. Several countries, including Somalia, Eritrea and Uzbekistan, did not include a single women in their delegations.

Noelene Nabulivou, an activist from Fiji, said that it’s time to seriously fill the gender gap at the conference.

“If we are asking for equal opportunity, why can’t we ask for equal participation?” asked Nabulivou.

Meanwhile, Kalyani Raj thinks that quotas could limit the potential scope. “We want a balance, but at the same time, why limit ourselves to a mere 50 percent? It could be anything!” said Raj.

The first report to evaluate the progress on the implementation of the Gender Action Plan will be presented in November 2019.

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The Illusion of Justice: When Will Reparations be Served to Iraq’s Victims?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/illusion-justice-will-reparations-served-iraqs-victims/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=illusion-justice-will-reparations-served-iraqs-victims http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/illusion-justice-will-reparations-served-iraqs-victims/#respond Thu, 09 Nov 2017 16:17:11 +0000 Miriam Puttick http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152956 Miriam Puttick is Head of Middle East and North Africa Programs at the London-based Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and co-author of the report*

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Personal property destroyed in the battle to push ISIS from Iraq's Ninewa plains, March 2017. Credit: Mays al-Juboori

By Miriam Puttick
TORONTO, Nov 9 2017 (IPS)

It is difficult to spend any time in Iraq without being struck by a sense of profound injustice. After successive decades of war and occupation, violence has become the rule rather than the exception in the country, with each phase of conflict outdoing the previous in terms of brutality and capacity to shock the conscience.

Since the fall of Mosul in June 2014, the conflict with ISIS has occupied minds, hearts and television screens, unleashed unspeakable horrors, and created countless new victims. Now, more than three years later, and in the wake of victories in Hawija and Raqqa, ISIS may be on the brink of annihilation – but military defeat without justice raises the specter of further violence.

The recent eruption of military confrontation between Iraqi and Kurdish forces in Kirkuk, which shattered a fragile status quo in place since the start of the conflict with ISIS, seems to confirm that peace is an elusive dream. When contemplating the prospects of reconciliation in Iraq, the idea of multiple layers of injustice, accumulated over time, always comes to mind.

How can a society recover when new wounds are being inflicted before old scars have healed? For every thousand civilians who have been victimized by the conflict with ISIS and are waiting for answers, there are a thousand more widows of the American invasion, and a thousand survivors of Saddam Hussein’s genocides, many of whom have not been served justice to this day.

In international human rights circles, planning for the post-ISIS phase is in full swing. Here, “accountability” is the word of the day, and many are spurred on by a September 2017 UN Security Council resolution that will see an international investigative team deployed to Iraq to support domestic prosecution of ISIS crimes.

However, the resolution’s most obvious flaw is that it is limited in mandate to acts committed by ISIS, despite the fact that other parties to the conflict, including Iraqi and Kurdish forces, government-allied militias, and the US-led coalition, are all responsible for their fair share of violations.

Moreover, while the emphasis on criminal accountability is justifiable given the severity of violations committed, it is questionable whether it is enough to prompt the type of reconciliation and healing desperately needed in Iraq.

It was these types of questions that led my colleagues and I to first start exploring the potential of individual reparations as a path forward towards justice for victims in Iraq. A growing body of international best practices, from Colombia to South Africa, points to the significant material and symbolic impact that reparations can have on individuals and societies recovering from atrocities.

Moreover, a lesser-known fact is that Iraq already has the domestic framework to support reparations – and has been quietly administering them for years. A visit to the Baghdad headquarters of the Central Compensation Committee, the government body responsible for administering compensation to victims of ‘military operations, military mistakes, and terrorist actions,’ was an unexpectedly humbling experience.

The Committee, which draws its mandate from a law passed in 2009, delivers compensation packages to victims harmed since the 2003 invasion that include one-time grants, monthly pensions, and plots of land. In the midst of stiff political opposition, a spiraling economic crisis, and ongoing conflict that has paralyzed their operations in parts of the country, the members of the Committee have diligently gone on with their work.

Between 2011 and 2016, they reached decisions on 183,940 cases, distributing more than $355 million in compensation to victims and their families. The compensation officials we met with seemed refreshingly principled as far as government officials go, and were keen to emphasize the sense of duty that guided their work with victims of violations.

Yet, they receive very little recognition for their work either inside or outside of Iraq. Countless politicians and foreign diplomats we met with in Baghdad were quick to criticize the compensation process as bureaucratic, slow or inconsequential. Many dismissed the idea of reparations entirely, viewing it as unrealistic or financially untenable given the need to invest in stabilization and reconstruction.

These arguments hardly stand up to scrutiny. Reparations cost money, yes, but not nearly as much as war. One of the findings released last year by the Chilcot Inquiry, mandated to investigate the UK’s role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, was that the decision to invade was made almost entirely independently of any financial calculations of what such an undertaking would entail – it was war at any cost.

The UK eventually spent £9.24 billion on the invasion – a figure which pales in comparison to the trillions spent by the US. That the Iraqi government has shown itself able to run an entirely self-funded reparations process in the midst of ongoing conflict, while the worlds’ leading military powers claim to be incapable of accepting financial responsibility for the destruction they unleashed in the country, is as ridiculous as it is lamentable.

But while the US and the UK attempt to put their occupation-era blunders behind them, more recent military involvement in Iraq is setting dangerous new precedents. Since August 2014, airstrikes launched by the US-led military coalition have flattened neighborhoods and led to thousands of civilian casualties – 5,117 deaths as of August 2017, according to international monitoring group Airwars.

Yet, the coalition has proved reluctant to launch proper investigations into reports of civilian casualties and has reportedly only issued two condolence payments to victims’ families since the start of the campaign, in stark contrast to previous practice in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

If Iraq is to be extricated from the cycles of violence and resentment that have dominated its recent history, a truly inclusive transitional justice process is needed to acknowledge the harms committed by all parties to the conflict, past and present. For the Iraqi government, this means ensuring that all armed actors, including government-affiliated militias, are held accountable for their recent actions and engaged in truth-seeking and reparations processes.

For the international community, this means holding themselves to the same standards of justice to which they hold others, and redressing wrongdoing wherever it has occurred.

*The report http://minorityrights.org/publications/reparations-victims-conflict-iraq-lessons-learned-comparative-practice/ was released November 8.

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Victims of El Salvador’s Civil War Demand Reparationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/victims-el-salvadors-civil-war-demand-reparations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=victims-el-salvadors-civil-war-demand-reparations http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/victims-el-salvadors-civil-war-demand-reparations/#comments Thu, 09 Nov 2017 00:55:47 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152949 Among the sea of names of victims of the Salvadoran civil war, engraved on a long black granite wall, Matilde Asencio managed to find the name of her son, Salvador. She then placed a flower and a lit candle at the foot of the segment of the wall where it read: “‘disappeared’ persons 1988”. Asencio, […]

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The coffins of six children killed by the Salvadoran army in May 1982 are carried through the cemetery by relatives, human rights activists and residents of the town of Arcatao, in El Salvador, on Sept 27, 2017. They had been missing for 35 years and their remains were found in January. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The coffins of six children killed by the Salvadoran army in May 1982 are carried through the cemetery by relatives, human rights activists and residents of the town of Arcatao, in El Salvador, on Sept 27, 2017. They had been missing for 35 years and their remains were found in January. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR/ARCATAO, Nov 9 2017 (IPS)

Among the sea of names of victims of the Salvadoran civil war, engraved on a long black granite wall, Matilde Asencio managed to find the name of her son, Salvador.

She then placed a flower and a lit candle at the foot of the segment of the wall where it read: “‘disappeared’ persons 1988”.

Asencio, 78, arrived with her husband, Macario Miranda, 87, to the Monument to Memory and Truth in San Salvador, on Nov. 1, the eve of the Day of the Dead, to pay tribute to their son Salvador Arévalo Miranda, who was captured and “disappeared” by the Salvadoran army in August 1988.

“We have been in this struggle for almost 30 years, we are old and sick, but we will not tire, we will not stop until they tell us what they did with him,” Asencio told IPS, holding a portrait of her son."Apart from the sorrow, I also feel happy that my little boy is no longer abandoned where he had been left, and that has helped me to heal wounds that were very much open." -- Calixta Melgar

The 1980-1992 civil war in this Central American country of 6.8 million people left some 75,000 people dead and 8,000 missing.

Like Asencio and Miranda, dozens of relatives visited the monument in downtown San Salvador to at least be able to place a flower in memory of their deceased and “disappeared” loved ones.

But they also went to demand justice and truth as part of a process of reparation, 25 years after the peace deal was signed.

Groups of victims, supported by human rights organisations, are promoting the creation of a Law for Comprehensive Reparations for Victims of the Armed Conflict, because the State has failed to remedy the wrongs caused, both material and emotional.

“The idea is that the civilians who suffered the war, no matter from which side, can receive reparations,” activist Sofía Hernández from the “Marianela García Villas” Committee of Relatives of Victims of Human Rights Violations told IPS.

The project proposes the creation of a Reparations Fund, a registry of victims and various measures for symbolic and material reparations.

Among these are that the beneficiaries and their descendants have preferential access to the public education system, at every level up to tertiary education, access to the social security healthcare system, and access to a free psychosocial care programme.

Also, if approved, it would grant benefits for obtaining land, housing and preferential credits, and it proposes the creation of a Bank of Genetic Profiles, in order to identify the deceased, and with that information, to be able to initiate exhumation processes.

It also proposes the creation of an initial fund from the General Budget of the Nation, of up to one million dollars, to meet the financial implications of the law.

“These people had their houses burnt down, their children were ‘disappeared’, and there have been no reparations,” said Hernández, who has suffered first-hand the ravages of war.

In March 1980, a contingent of the National Guard entered the village of San Pedro Aguascalientes, in the municipality of Verapaz in the central department of San Vicente, where she lived with her family.

“My brother-in-law was yoking oxen to go to fetch water in the cart and he was shot, along with two of my nephews, they were killed in the yard of their house,” said Hernández, also a member of the project management group.

The house of her brother Juan Francisco Hernández was set on fire, but neither he nor his family were there. But then, on May 2, he was captured and has been missing since, along with two of her nephews.

The bill has not yet been debated in the single-chamber Legislative Assembly, and right-wing parties are not likely to vote for it as they consider the initiative part of a leftist agenda.

Insufficient progress

The search for truth and justice in cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions is another important component of the reparations process, said the victims who spoke to IPS.

After more than three decades of not knowing the whereabouts of her son, José Mauricio Menjívar, or whether he was dead or alive, Calixta Melgar was finally able to give him a Christian burial on Sept. 22, in the municipality of Arcatao in the northern department of Chalatenango.

“Now I know where he is buried, where to go to put a flower, I feel that my grief has been relieved a bit,” Melgar told IPS, through tears.

José Mauricio, who was five years old in May 1982, was killed by soldiers in the village of El Sitio, and his body was left abandoned, along with those of five other children who suffered the same fate.

In the confusion and chaos that followed a military incursion into the area on that date, the children, three boys and three girls, were held by the military and executed in cold blood.

The remains remained buried there until January 2017, when the National Search Commission for Missing Children during the Internal Armed Conflict and the non-governmental Pro-Búsqueda Association for the Search of Disappeared Children found them and identified the victims using DNA.

For the latter, they had the support of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team and the state Salvadoran Forensic Medicine Institute.

“Apart from the sorrow, I also feel happy that my little boy is no longer abandoned where he had been left, and that has helped me to heal wounds that were very much open,” said the 57-year-old Melgar, before the funeral service in the village church.

During the Catholic religious ceremony, the six small white coffins holding the remains of the children were placed in front of the main altar.

Pro-Búsqueda has managed to solve 437 cases of missing children, 83 percent of whom have been found alive, the institution’s executive director Eduardo García told IPS.

This joint and coordinated work between Pro-Búsqueda and a government agency to solve cases of children who went missing in the war was unthinkable not too many years ago.

In this regard, García said that there has been a slight change in addressing the issue of truth, justice and reparation under the two successive governments of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which became a political party after the peace agreement and has been in power since 2009.

“It is evident that the government is showing greater sensitivity; it has initiated processes of forgiveness and continues to maintain a National Search Commission by executive decree,” he said.

But he said more could have been done, for example, allowing access to military archives to help clarify serious human rights abuses committed during the war.

“The Armed Forces has systematically denied information that could clarify these facts, although the Commander in Chief (President Salvador Sánchez Cerén) is leftist,” he said.

Until now, only the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic has begun to timidly investigate some of the cases, arguing that it has neither the capacity nor the budget, while the Legislative Assembly does not even want to recognise Aug. 30 as the National Day of Disappeared Persons.

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UN Member States, With Exceptions, Pay Lip Service to Women & Peacekeepinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/un-member-states-pay-lip-service-women-peacekeeping/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-member-states-pay-lip-service-women-peacekeeping http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/un-member-states-pay-lip-service-women-peacekeeping/#respond Tue, 31 Oct 2017 07:59:52 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152823 A UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution adopted on 31 October 2000, underlying the role of women in peacekeeping, has long been described as both historic and unprecedented. But 17 years later, there are widespread expressions of disappointment over the mostly non- implementation of the resolution known by its symbol UNSCR 1325. Mavic Cabrera Balleza, Chief […]

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Sweden and the UN. We build peace. Credit: Jonas Svensson, Swedish Armed Forces

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 31 2017 (IPS)

A UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution adopted on 31 October 2000, underlying the role of women in peacekeeping, has long been described as both historic and unprecedented.

But 17 years later, there are widespread expressions of disappointment over the mostly non- implementation of the resolution known by its symbol UNSCR 1325.

Mavic Cabrera Balleza, Chief Executive Officer/International Coordinator, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, (GNWP) told IPS that despite all the ballyhoo following the resolution, the percentage of women in peacekeeping “is incredibly low”.

In 1993, women made up 1% of deployed uniformed personnel. As of August 2017, women constituted only 3.7 % of military personnel; and 9.4 % of police personnel.

“This is beyond shocking. If we are going to use this as an indicator to assess the achievements of UNSCR 1325, we are failing miserably,” she declared.

Under-Secretary-General Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, told the Security Council last week although women’s absence from peace tables is no longer easily brushed off as normal, it is still commonplace.

“Every year, we track women’s overall participation in peace processes that are led by the UN. We track the inclusion of gender expertise and gender-sensitive provisions in peace agreements, and the requirement to consult with women’s civil society organizations. In all of these indicators, we performed slightly worse than a year ago.”

At the Myanmar Union Peace Conference in 2016—before the current crisis—there were seven women and 68 men among the delegates. And recent peace talks on the Central African Republic hosted by the Community of Sant’Egidio did not include a single woman.

Six years into the Syrian civil war—and in spite of significant efforts by the UN and the Special Envoy—women’s participation in the peace talks is still inadequate, and often limited to an advisory role. This political marginalization extends beyond peace talks, she declared.

Only 17 countries (out of 193 UN member states) have an elected woman Head of State or Government. This includes only one post-conflict conflict country, Liberia, where Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s presidency has just ended after two terms, following democratic elections and the peaceful transfer of power.

“That is something to celebrate,” she added. Meanwhile, the proportion of women parliamentarians in conflict and post-conflict countries has stagnated at 16 per cent in the last two years.

Focusing on another neglected aspect, Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), told IPS there has to be some element of institutional or state responsibility for sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in UN peacekeeping missions.

She said it cannot just be “a soldier” — after all “a government” sent the soldier to the peacekeeping mission, so that government must bear responsibility for egregious behavior.

Second, “we have to be more honest about the ‘grayness’ of exploitation. Poverty and the need for food and water can induce ‘consent’ – so it can be abusive and exploitative but technically not illegal, if it involves an adult.”

Finally, for over 20 years we have heard the common refrain that “it is difficult to find women in militaries”. Why not have a radical re-think regarding the recruitment of women into peacekeeping forces?

It is not only about equal opportunities for jobs that pay better than others, but also about deep personal empowerment, and of course prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse.

“How do we do it?”, she asked. “Why not have regional women’s peacekeeping institutes where women can come and get the basic military training needed, as well as skills specific to peacekeeping?”.

There are plenty of countries that export women for domestic work, which entails poor pay and exposure to abuse. Why not support them to become peacekeepers? Their salaries would be higher and their skills could be useful once they return home, she argued.

Cabrera Balleza told IPS the benefits of having more women in peacekeeping are numerous and very tangible. Female peacekeepers serve as role models, they inspire women and girls to assert their rights and to take on leadership and non-traditional positions, including as part of the security sector.

“They are also more sensitive to the needs of female ex-combatants, women refugees, survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. No doubt, women peacekeeping personnel are critical to the success of peace operations”, she noted.

She also pointed out that it is easy to criticize the UN for this dismal failure to achieve gender parity in peace operations.

“However, we need to examine the source – and those are the (193) Member States. There are very few women in UN peacekeeping because the sources are shallow. Discriminatory recruitment and hiring polices as well as unsafe work environment within the Troop Contributing Countries (TCC) prevent women from joining police and military institutions”.

This, she said, is symptomatic of the major obstacles in implementing Resolution 1325– initiated by Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury of Bangladesh when he presided over the Security Council in October 2000– and the supporting women-and-peace and security resolutions.”

She also pointed out that the underrepresentation of women in peacekeeping is mirrored by the under-representation of women in peace negotiations; by the lack of women in decision-making and governance positions; by the absence of women in the design of disarmament programs; by the lack of funding for women’s peacebuilding work.

The problems are multi-pronged: they are political, economic, social and cultural. Hence the solutions should also be multi-pronged and holistic.

The call for a holistic and coherent strategy to implement Resolution 1325 and the supporting resolutions is not new, she added.

The three reviews in 2015, namely the Global Study on UNSCR 1325; the High Level Peace Operations; the Peacebuilding Architecture Review all highlighted the need to address the fragmentation in the UN system in order for peacebuilding efforts to be successful.

Needless to say, the global policy decisions and the efforts to find coherence in the work of the UN should be informed by the voices of women in conflict affected communities and translated into localization initiatives.

“Let’s all roll up our sleeves, buckle down to work and take 1325 out of New York, and bring it to local communities. Only then can we fulfill the promise of this ground breaking international policy,” she declared.

In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, Naraghi Anderlini said when she started working in peacebuilding over 20 years ago, the United Nations was coming under fire because multinational forces working as peacekeepers in Cambodia had sexually abused women and girls and spread HIV/AIDS and other diseases among local populations.

In the many years since, UN peacekeepers have been accused of doing the same in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Liberia, and beyond. In 2014, peacekeepers from France and Georgia were implicated in incidents of sexual violence against young children in the Central African Republic.

In 2016, following investigations, the UN reported 41 cases of abuse involving peacekeepers from Burundi and Gabon, including eight paternity cases and six filed on behalf of minors.

With the arrival of Antonio Guterres as the new UN secretary general and Sweden’s presence in the Security Council in 2017, the issues have again gained traction, said Naraghi Anderlini.

As a champion of a “feminist foreign policy,” Sweden has made the Women, Peace, and Security agenda a priority at the UN, she noted.

As Guterres and the Swedish delegation noted, a better balance of women and men in peacekeeping forces would enable greater access to communities while increasing transparency and accountability among the forces themselves and reducing levels of sexual abuse.

“If this seems farfetched, it is worth imagining a scenario where UN peacekeepers are 100 percent female. Incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse likely would disappear altogether. Yet little effort has been put into increasing the number of women,” she declared.

Meanwhile, Sweden has been a staunch supporter of UN peacebuilding and assumed the chair of the Peacebuilding Commission in 2015 while maintaining a long tradition of participating in UN peace operations.

According to the Swedish government, more than 80,000 Swedish women and men have taken part in UN peacekeeping to date. From the very first group of Swedish military observers, who participated in the UN Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) in 1948, to Sweden’s current engagement in the UN stabilisation mission in Mali (MINUSMA), Sweden’s commitment has remained firm.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Adolescent Health Congress Skirts Issue of Abuse, Traffickinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/adolescent-health-congress-skirts-issue-abuse-trafficking/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=adolescent-health-congress-skirts-issue-abuse-trafficking http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/adolescent-health-congress-skirts-issue-abuse-trafficking/#respond Mon, 30 Oct 2017 11:34:43 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152795 Twenty-year-old Gogontlejang Phaladi of Mahalapye, Botswana is grateful she was never sent to a so-called “hyena” like scores of girls in neighboring Malawi were. In a ritual approved by the community, a solo man (the hyena) would have sex with the adolescent girls of an entire village to “sexually cleanse” them so they would be […]

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Attendees at the 11th Congress on Adolescent Health in New Delhi, Oct. 27-29, 2017. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Attendees at the 11th Congress on Adolescent Health in New Delhi, Oct. 27-29, 2017. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
NEW DELHI, Oct 30 2017 (IPS)

Twenty-year-old Gogontlejang Phaladi of Mahalapye, Botswana is grateful she was never sent to a so-called “hyena” like scores of girls in neighboring Malawi were.

In a ritual approved by the community, a solo man (the hyena) would have sex with the adolescent girls of an entire village to “sexually cleanse” them so they would be considered fit for marriage."It makes sense to bring village and religious leaders in this conversation on violent crimes. After all, most of them are validated by the society and traditions.” --Gigi Phaladi

“I am so glad that in Botswana we do not have hyenas, but we face other forms of sexual violence such as stepfathers molesting stepdaughters and giving them HIV,” says Phaladi, founder of Pillar of Hope, a project that counsels, educates and trains local adolescents to tackle these challenges.

Violent Crimes Left Out

Last week, Phaladi attended the 11th World Congress on Adolescent Health which was held in New Delhi and focused on different health aspects of youth in the age group of 10-24. Speaking to an audience that included diplomats, bureaucrats, researchers, doctors and activists, Phaladi stressed that if the problems of adolescents were to be truly addressed, they had to be involved in the process.

Talking to IPS on the sidelines of the Congress later, Phaladi said that there were adolescents who experienced the most heinous and violent crimes across the world such as sexual assaults, trafficking, violent social norms and religious practices of violent crime.

Aside from HIV, beating, molestation, and sexual exploitation at schools by teachers – the challenges faced by adolescents were multiple. But the adolescents directly affected by the violence and crime were not included in the process to address them.

“You see, the laws in these countries are not firm enough to protect the adolescents from these crimes. So, it’s not just a health issue, but a governance deficiency and we need to talk about this at such events, from the adolescents themselves,” she said.

Unfortunately, violent crimes like sexual slavery, hyenas, molestation at schools or breast ironing – another crime reported widely from Western Africa – were missing from the Congress on Adolescent Health, as were issues of cross-border sex trafficking of adolescent boys and girls in Asia and community-backed forced prostitution of young women in India. Mental health was discussed as a generic issue, but rising cases of mental illness in militarized and conflict zones were also missing.

Lack of Studies and Data

A big reason behind this could be lack of any data, said Rajib Acharya, a researcher from Population Council of India, a New Delhi-based NGO researching population issues across India. Acharya just conducted a study of 20,000 adolescents aged 10-14 in two states of India – Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Presented at the Congress, the study showed, among others, severe levels of anemia among the adolescents. According to the study, 1.2 million and 2.8 million are severely anemic, respectively, in these two States.

But it took four months and a team of 50 researchers to interview the adolescents on nutrition and sexual and reproductive health.  Three weeks were spent on training the researchers, and analyzing the data took another four to five months. To generate data on multiple issues would mean multiplying the investment of this time, effort and money, Acharya reminded.

He also said that if the issue was complicated, sensitive and involved  traveling to conflict zones, it was less likely to be taken up for research as gathering credible date would be incredibly hard.

Forums like the Congress should ideally be utilized to bring on the hard-hitting issues related to adolescents,  said Thant Aung Phyo, a young sexual and reproductive healthcare activist in Myanmar. Pointing out the severe restrictions on adolescents in accessing abortion care, Phyo said, “The rigid government policies and social traditions that restrict the rights of adolescents need to be brought up and discussed at forums like this.”

Myanmar is currently caught in a human rights  disaster where over a million Rohingyas had been forced to flee their homes, taking refuge in neighboring countries including Bangladesh, India and Thailand.  The refugees included hundreds of thousands of adolescents who are living in trauma, poverty, fear and uncertainty.

Decribing their suffering as “unfathomable” and “unprecedented”, Kate Gilmore,  Deputy High Commissioner of the UN Human Rights Commission, says that refugee and migrant adolscents  across the world must be provided  free and regular healthcare as a right.

“Migrant adolescents must have access to healthcare without the fear of being reported, detained and deported,” Gilmore said.

Improving World’s Largest Adolescent Program

India, home to the world’s largest adolescent population (253 million), launched  an adolescent-specific program in 2014 – the first country in the world to do so on such a scale. Titled Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (KRSK), the program aimed at improving health and nutrition of adolescents besides protecting them against violence and injuries.

It is currently run in 230 of the country’s 707 districts,  but even after three years, there was  little data available on the program’s impact. The data presented at the event by the health ministry of India at the Congress only specified the facilities built by the government so far (700 adolescent health clinics) and services provided (training over 20,000 adolescents as peer educators).

However, the selection of the peer educators and the skills of the field workers had been questioned by experts from the non government sector.

“The peer educator component is the most controversial aspect of the program. The skill of the workforce on the ground is also questionable,” observed Sunil Mehra, one of the pioneers on adolscent health in India and head of Mamta Health Institute for Mother and Child which coorganised the Congress.

Agreed Rajib Acharya: “If we spoke with community level  health workers, we would see  that only 5 or 6 out of  every 30 or 40 knew what they were supposed to say or do to adolescent patients.”

On Saturday, however,  the ministry  announced certain changes  to improve the RKSK program and monitor certain services  Said Ajay Khera, Deputy Commissioner (Adolescent Health) at the minsitry, the government would “now make the program  promotion and prevention-centric and monitorable”.

The ministry would particularly monitor its  Weekly Iron Folic Supplementation (WIFS) programme  on digital platforms to tackle anemea among adolescents. A special toolkit called “Sathiya” was also launched at the World Congress on Friday for better peer education. The Toolkit—available both in print and online – focused on six broad themes of the RKSK such as integrated child health , sexual and reproductive health, injuries and violence, nutrition, substance abuse and mental health.

Leveraging the Traditional  System

There are other instituions and systems that  India and other countries could make better use of  to address the “wicked problems” faced by the adolescents, reminded  Anthony Costello, Director, Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health at the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Promoting greater interaction among adolescents of different age and sex is one. Involving parents in learning of the health issues of adolescents is another. Talking of difficult and disturbing issues like breast ironing, rape, trafficking is yet another. We need to use all of these,” Costello told IPS.

Gigi Phaladi added that traditioonal and religious leaders  also must be roped in to talk about adolescents. In Botswana, she said, pastors in churches were urged to talk of gender violence, HIV and other gender-based crimes.

“People were surprised to hear their religious leaders talk about sex etc, but they also started paying attention. The general feeling among people was ‘if the pastors do not feel hesitant to talk about these issues, why should we?’ So, it makes sense to bring village and religious leaders in this conversation on violent crimes. After all, most of them are validated by the society and traditions,”she said.

The three-day (Oct. 27-29 ) 11th Congress on Adolescent Health, which had 1,200 participants from 65 countries, concluded on Sunday.

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Historic Resolution on Women & Peacekeeping Remains Mostly Unimplementedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/historic-resolution-women-peacekeeping-remains-mostly-unimplemented/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=historic-resolution-women-peacekeeping-remains-mostly-unimplemented http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/historic-resolution-women-peacekeeping-remains-mostly-unimplemented/#respond Mon, 30 Oct 2017 08:24:02 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152792 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former UN Under-Secretary-General, is internationally recognized as the initiator of the UN Security Council resolution 1325 when he was President of the Security Council in March 2000

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Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former UN Under-Secretary-General, is internationally recognized as the initiator of the UN Security Council resolution 1325 when he was President of the Security Council in March 2000

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 30 2017 (IPS)

At the 26 October launch of GNWP’s (Global Network of Women Peacebuilders) manual “No Money, No NAP” on dedicated budgetary allocation to fund the implementation of the 1325 National Action Plans, Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka characterized UNSCR 1325 as the most unimplemented resolution of the UN Security Council.

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN

Representing the UN Secretary-General, his Chef de Cabinet Maria Luiza Ribiero Viotti said at the Security Council Open Debate on Women and Peace and Security on 27 October that “…seventeen years since the passage of resolution 1325, our own implementation remains too often ad hoc. While there is a clear recognition of the relationship between gender equality, women’s participation and stability and resilience, too little is being done to operationalize this understanding.”

I agree with both of them in a big way particularly bearing in mind that adoption of 1325 opened a much-awaited door of opportunity for women who have shown time and again that they bring a qualitative improvement in structuring peace and in post-conflict architecture.

We need to understand that 1325 by itself envisages a broad-based conceptual transformation of the existing international policies and practices that make women insecure and deny their equality of participation, basically as a result of the Security Council’s support of the existing militarized inter-state security arrangements.

I am referring to the concept of security based on current strategic power structures rather than on human security which highlights the security of the people. That change itself remains very distant.

Here I would mention enthusiastically a dedicated woman, Peace and Security Program which was launched last week at New York’s prestigious Columbia University. Led by 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate dynamic Leymah Gbowee, this Program has identified all the key areas which need special attention, particularly emphasizing the human security dimension and grassroots level experiences in WPS agenda. I wish her and the Program all success!

Apart from that I find there four areas where greater progress was possible during last 17 years:
One, in real terms, National Action Plan (NAP) is the engine that would speed up the implementation of 1325. It should be also underscored that all countries are obligated as per decisions of the Security Council to prepare the NAP whether they are in a so-called conflict situation or not. So far, only 68 out of 193 UN Member States have prepared their plans – what a dismal record after 17 years.

Leymah Gbowee launches WPS Program at the Columbia University, as its Executive Director

There are no better ways to get country level commitment to implement 1325 other than the NAPs. I believe very strongly that only NAPs can hold the governments accountable. There needs to be an increased and pro-active engagement of the UN secretariat leadership to get a meaningfully bigger number of NAPs.

Two, I would say that special attention should be given to building awareness and sensitivity as well as training of the senior officials within the UN system as a whole with regard to 1325. That will create a foundational culture of recognizing women’s equality of participation as essential.

Three, another missing element is a greater, regular, genuine and participatory involvement of civil society in implementing 1325 both at national and global levels. We should not forget that when civil society is marginalized, there is little chance for 1325 to get implemented in the real sense.

Four, what role the Secretary-General should play? I believe there is a need for his genuinely active, dedicated engagement in using the moral authority of the United Nations and the high office he occupies for the effective implementation of 1325. Would it not have a strong, positive impact on countries for the implementation of 1325 if their leaders received a formal communication from the S-G suggesting a date for submission of respective NAPs?

Implementation of 1325 should be seriously taken up in the SG’s UN system-wide coordination mechanism – at the next CEB meeting. DPI needs to have an information and awareness raising strategy for 1325 – mainstreamed in its work – not as an event and anniversary oriented publicity.

UN Resident Coordinators who represent the SG and the whole UN system at the country level and UN country teams should assist all national level actors in preparation and implementation of national action plans.

In short, through implementation of 1325, we want complete and real, practical, functional, operational equality between women and men to end the cycle of all forms of extremism which continue to sabotage humanity’s quest for sustainable peace and development.

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Ending the Male Monopoly on Peace: Women Still Need More Seats at the Tablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/ending-male-monopoly-peace-women-still-need-seats-table/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ending-male-monopoly-peace-women-still-need-seats-table http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/ending-male-monopoly-peace-women-still-need-seats-table/#respond Thu, 26 Oct 2017 06:29:41 +0000 Shaheen Chughtai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152743 Shaheen Chugtai is Oxfam’s Global Women, Peace and Security Policy Lead

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Women participate in an event in Morocco organized to support and encourage women running for local election and to encourage voting. Credit: Ellie Kealey / Oxfam

By Shaheen Chughtai
NEW YORK, Oct 26 2017 (IPS)

Whether targeted by perpetrators of sexual violence, oppressed by ideological extremists, or uniquely threatened by the bombing of hospital maternity units, women often bear the brunt of conflicts. Yet when it comes to peace negotiations, women too often don’t have a seat at the table. The continuing reality that men, particularly armed men, enjoy an almost exclusive role in peace processes defies both logic and evidence.

It is now 17 years since UN resolution 1325 was adopted – the first Security Council resolution to establish the so-called women, peace and security agenda, which aims to uphold women’s rights in war and roles in peace.

Ahead of the Open Debate on Peace and Security at the UN, it is the time reflect and double down both on what promises are left unfilled, as well as what progress has been made – there are examples of both.

There have been some positive signs of headway, as seven subsequent UN Security Council resolutions have helped strengthen policies and norms worldwide over the past decade. Almost 70 countries have national action plans to put women, peace and security aims into practice.

This year, renewed peacekeeping and peace enforcement mandates for Western Sahara, Sudan and Somalia included new language on the importance of women’s participation. Hopefully this trend will continue with South Sudan’s peacekeeping mandate renewal just around the corner.

And just weeks ago, the US Congress passed the Women, Peace and Security Act. Among other aims, the act makes it US policy to promote the meaningful participation of women in efforts to address conflict overseas. But crucial gaps remain – not least, the routine exclusion of women from peace processes.

Why does this matter? Because women missing from peace talks means world leaders are missing opportunities to save countless lives and stabilize an increasingly fractured world.

Analysis of various conflicts and peace processes worldwide shows that when women able to bring crucial perspectives and experiences from civil society and local communities, the chances of peace agreements being reached and sustained rises dramatically.

Worldwide, women already play crucial roles in resolving disputes in their families and communities, and identifying challenges and solutions that influence social cohesion and stability. Tapping into that experience and expertise, a peace that reflects the needs and aspirations of the whole population, benefits everyone, male and female, and is more likely to last.

That simple logic should drive a paradigm shift in international diplomacy to prevent and resolve conflicts. Wars not only take and destroy lives. It is estimated that the total monetary cost of violence and conflict around the world was $13.6 trillion in 2015.

But instead, we hear excuses. Time and time again, key members of the UN Security Council stubbornly stick to strategies that not only struggle to resolve conflicts but offer only hollow rhetoric about supporting women’s participation.

All speak loudly in favor of women’s rights and role inside the UN Security Council chamber, but for the rest of the year leading governments routinely prioritize other interests when it comes to international diplomacy. The standard group photograph of male delegates at any of the major peace talks on Syria or Yemen gives us a damning snapshot of just how far we still have to go.

When the US Security Council Resolution 2242 was adopted, mandating the UN to double its female police representation and reaffirming support for women in civil society, it enjoyed historic support. Unfortunately, in the time since, there has been very little action to back it up.

Friday’s Security Council annual debate will be a chance to reflect on the advances and challenges that have emerged since the adoption of Resolution 2242 and for members to recommit to back up their words with actions.

Several key areas of UN reform would also help: improving the number of women in senior UN positions, including in conflict missions, strengthening gender capacity in peacekeeping missions and assessments, and drastically increasing funding and other support for local women’s organizations.

Addressing these specifics will signal progress, but above all, we need a radical shift in mindsets and priorities to accelerate progress, with support for both the quantity and quality of women’s involvement in peace processes and political decision-making a key objective.

In a world seemingly frayed by growing divisions, with conflicts on the rise and record numbers of people forced from their homes, the continued male monopoly on resolving and preventing conflicts is not just anachronistic – it is a danger to us all.

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Mexican Immigrants Help Sustain Two Economies – and Are Discardedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/mexican-immigrants-help-sustain-two-economies-discarded/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexican-immigrants-help-sustain-two-economies-discarded http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/mexican-immigrants-help-sustain-two-economies-discarded/#comments Thu, 19 Oct 2017 22:34:05 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152606 They work for years to bolster the economies of two countries. For one, the United States, they provide labour and taxes; for the other, Mexico, they send remittances that support tens of thousands of families and communities. Then they are deported, and neither government takes into account their special needs. “These are the inconsistencies of […]

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Press Freedom Groups Condemn U.S. Withdrawal from UNESCOhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/press-freedom-groups-condemn-u-s-withdrawal-unesco/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=press-freedom-groups-condemn-u-s-withdrawal-unesco http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/press-freedom-groups-condemn-u-s-withdrawal-unesco/#respond Tue, 17 Oct 2017 14:21:01 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152552 Civil society groups have called on the United States to reverse its decision to withdraw from a UN body, citing concerns for press freedom and journalists’ safety. Citing anti-Israel bias and concern over the inclusion of Palestine, the Donald Trump Administration announced that it will end its membership in the UN Education, Scientific, and Cultural […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 17 2017 (IPS)

Civil society groups have called on the United States to reverse its decision to withdraw from a UN body, citing concerns for press freedom and journalists’ safety.

Betlehem Isaak, daughter of 2017 UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize Laureate receiving the award certificate from the hands of Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

Citing anti-Israel bias and concern over the inclusion of Palestine, the Donald Trump Administration announced that it will end its membership in the UN Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) by December 2018.

“This anti-Israel bias that’s long documented on the part of UNESCO, that needs to come to an end,” said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.

“If UNESCO wants to get back and wants to reform itself and get back to a place where they’re truly promoting culture and education and all of that, perhaps we could take another look at this,” she continued.

Though the North American nation wants to provide input as a nonmember observer, press freedom organizations including Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and Article 19 called the move a major blow to press freedom and freedom of expression around the world.

“Their withdrawal from UNESCO represents an attempt to weaken that organization and that they will no longer provide input or influence on important issues that UNESCO has within its mandate which includes the protection of journalists,” RSF’s Advocacy and Communications Director in North America Margaux Ewen told IPS.

“The fact that the U.S. has now decided to no longer be a part of UNESCO, they essentially no longer want to be a part of this portfolio and that is really discouraging to anyone who is in favor of press freedom and protecting journalists,” she added.

CPJ’s Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch echoed similar sentiments, stating: “UNESCO plays a critical role in promoting the safety of journalists around the world and U.S. withdrawal will weaken UNESCO’s ability to address global press freedom violations, creating a power vacuum that could very well be filled by governments that embrace authoritarian tactics.”

Founded on the ashes of World War II in 1945, UNESCO is responsible for coordinating international cooperation in education, science, culture and communication along with encouraging peace and strengthening ties between nations and societies.

Among its objectives is to promote free, independent, and pluralistic media in order to enhance freedom of expression and information around the world.

Alongside its concern for press freedom, the organization has also paved the way to ensure the safety of journalists.

UNESCO has recorded the killings of almost 1,000 journalists and media workers since 2007 and it is the lead agency tasked with ensuring the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and Issue of Impunity, a document which lays out measures to strengthen work on such issues.

“Support for UNESCO is therefore intrinsically linked to ensuring that journalists are safe to do their work, including in some of the most dangerous countries,” the press freedom groups said in a statement.

Though it is unclear if it reflects the ongoing trend of rejecting multilateralism and the UN, Ewen noted that the decision is in line with current violations of press freedom within the U.S.

“The current administration has been very locally against press freedom and has attacked media outlets and journalists individually for coverage that the White House doesn’t like, so this kind of seems like an extension of that type of view of press freedom,” she told IPS.

“Protecting free speech and ensuring journalists’ safety, core US values, requires investing in multilateralism, not running away from it,” he added.

Throughout his presidential campaign and since taking office, President Trump has repeatedly described media organisations including the New York Times and CNN as “fake news.”

During a rally in Arizona, the President called journalists as “truly dishonest people” and criticised their coverage of his reaction to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

Most recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions raised the prospect of media subpoenas to reveal leakers, violating journalists’ right to protect their sources.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has criticized President Trump’s anti-media rhetoric, stating: “It’s really quite amazing when you think that freedom of the press, not only sort of a cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution but very much something that the United States defended over the years, is now itself under attack from the President himself…to call these news organisations ‘fake’ does tremendous damage and to refer to individual journalists in this way—I have to ask the question: is this not an incitement for others to attack journalists?”

Already, repercussions of such rhetoric can be seen around the world.

In Cambodia, government spokesperson Phay Siphan threatened to take action against media outlets because they do “not reflect the real situation” while citing President Trump’s expulsion of news organizations from a White House briefing earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has labeled report of atrocities against the Rohingya community “fake news” that helps terrorists.

Executive Director of Article 19 Thomas Hughes noted that President Trump’s attacks on media are “more than empty rhetoric” and signal a shift away from “championing freedom of expression worldwide.”

“Protecting free speech and ensuring journalists’ safety, core US values, requires investing in multilateralism, not running away from it,” he added.

The press freedom groups called on the U.S. to reconsider its decision.

“[The U.S. is] a key player on the international stage and they have the ability to influence positive change, so we would like them to continue to be a part of this discussion and ongoing campaigns to make sure that journalists are protected while doing their job on the field,” Ewen told IPS.

This is the second time that the U.S. has left UNESCO, having withdrawn in 1984 due to concerns over the Soviet Union’s influence and rejoining in 2003.

In 2011, the U.S. withdrew its funding to the organization as a response to Palestine’s membership.

The recent move came in the midst of UNESCO’s elections for a new Director-General which saw French-Jewish former Minister of Culture Audrey Azoulay rise to the occasion.

In response to the turmoil, Azoulay said that leaving UNESCO is not the answer.

“In this moment of crisis, I believe we must invest in UNESCO more than ever, look to support and reinforce it, and to reform it—and not leave it,” she said.

If confirmed by the 195-member General Assembly in November, Azoulay will succeed outgoing Director-General Irina Bokova.

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Hydropower Dams Invade Brazil’s Agricultural Economyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/hydropower-dams-invade-brazils-agricultural-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hydropower-dams-invade-brazils-agricultural-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/hydropower-dams-invade-brazils-agricultural-economy/#respond Mon, 09 Oct 2017 20:43:17 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152403 “After being displaced for the third time,” Daniel Schlindewein became an activist struggling for the rights of people affected by dams in Brazil, and is so combative that the legal authorities banned him from going near the installations of the Sinop hydroelectric dam, which is in the final stages of construction. He was a teenager […]

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Brothers Daniel (left) and Armando Schlindewein stand in front of the small bridge over the Matrinxã river which will be submerged by the filling of the Sinop hydropower dam reservoir in western Brazil. Since the house they share is on the other side of the river, they will have to move, and their farms, which are connected by the bridge, will be separated. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Brothers Daniel (left) and Armando Schlindewein stand in front of the small bridge over the Matrinxã river which will be submerged by the filling of the Sinop hydropower dam reservoir in western Brazil. Since the house they share is on the other side of the river, they will have to move, and their farms, which are connected by the bridge, will be separated. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
SINOP, Brazil, Oct 9 2017 (IPS)

“After being displaced for the third time,” Daniel Schlindewein became an activist struggling for the rights of people affected by dams in Brazil, and is so combative that the legal authorities banned him from going near the installations of the Sinop hydroelectric dam, which is in the final stages of construction.

He was a teenager in 1974 when the Iguaçu National Park was expanded in the southwest of the country, leading to the expulsion of his family and other local farmers. Seven years later, his family was once again evicted, due to the construction of the Binational Itaipu dam, shared with Paraguay, which flooded 1,350 sq km of land.

That was during Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, when fighting for people’s rights could lead to prison and torture.

Today there are laws, recognition of rights and mechanisms to defend people which make conflicts more visible, such as the one triggered by the construction of four dams on the Teles Pires river in the western state of Mato Grosso, where Schlindewein now lives, 1,500 km north of where he was born.

The announcement, last decade, of the plans for the new dams “prompted previously fragmented social movements to organise in their resistance” in Mato Grosso, Maria Luiz Troian, an instructor at the Sinop state vocational-technical school, told IPS.

In 2010 the Teles Pires Forum was born, an umbrella group of trade unions, non-governmental organisations, religious groups, associations of indigenous people and fisherpersons, university professors and groups like the Movement of those Affected by Dams (MAB) and the Landless Movement (MST).

It is a “pluralistic forum without hierarchies,” for the defence of rights that are threatened or violated by hydropower dams, said Troian, one of the group’s most active participants.

Farmers whose land will be flooded by the construction of dams “are forced to accept unfair compensation, because the alternative is legal action, which takes a long time and has an uncertain outcome,” she said.

Aerial view of the hydropower dam being built by the Sinop Energy Company on the Teles Pires river which is changing the lives of the people in a large part of the western Brazilian state of Mato Grosso – both family farmers and monoculture producers of soy. Credit: Courtesy of CES

Aerial view of the hydropower dam being built by the Sinop Energy Company on the Teles Pires river which is changing the lives of the people in a large part of the western Brazilian state of Mato Grosso – both family farmers and monoculture producers of soy. Credit: Courtesy of CES

“In practice it is expropriation; they pay us four times less than the local market price,” complained Schlindewein, 56, one of the first people who settled in the village of Gleba Mercedes, in 1997, five years after emigrating from the southern state of Paraná, drawn by the prospect of cheap land in Mato Grosso.

“Many gave up because it rained too much and it took four hours to get to the city of Sinop, just 100 km away, in ‘girico’ (the name given to improvised motorised carts brought by peasant farmers from Paraná),” he said. Electric power did not arrive in the area until 10 years later.

Despite the difficulties, years later Schlindewein brought his divorced brother Armando, one year younger, who purchased land next to his, separated by the Matrinxã river that runs into the Teles Pires river.

The two brothers share a tractor and other machinery, and live together in the elder brother’s house, less than 100 metres from the small river.

But the dam will put an end to their brotherly cooperation, because the water will rise up to eight metres deep in that area, submerging the small wooden bridge that connects their farms and forcing them to move the house to higher ground.

The solution demanded by the Schlindewein brothers is to build up the riverbanks and make a longer, higher bridge. This modification depends on the Sinop Energy Company (CES), which owns the dam, and is important for local residents, because otherwise the distance to the city would be increased by 20 km since they would have to skirt around the flooded Matrinxã river.

The Teles Pires river, where it winds its way past the future Sinop and Colider hydropower plants, under a bridge on BR-163, the road used to transport most of the soy produced in the state of Mato Grosso northwards to Miritituba, the start of the Tapajós river waterway, which continues along the Amazon river until running into the Atlantic ocean, in Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Teles Pires river, where it winds its way past the future Sinop and Colider hydropower plants, under a bridge on BR-163, the road used to transport most of the soy produced in the state of Mato Grosso northwards to Miritituba, the start of the Tapajós river waterway, which continues along the Amazon river until running into the Atlantic ocean, in Northeast Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Of the 560 families in the village – also known as the Wesley Manoel dos Santos settlement – 214 will see their land totally or partially flooded by the dam when the reservoir is filled in 2018.

Besides the low level of compensation, some complain that improvements made to their land and assets that they will lose have not been taken into account.

In the case of José da Silva Teodoro, his wife Jacinta de Souza and their four children, 79 of their 81 hectares of land will be flooded. With the indemnification, they were able to buy 70 hectares of land nearby, but “without the three sources of water” they have on their farm now – the Teles Pires river along the back and a stream running on either side.

“It wasn’t enough money for us to buy land within the settlement; we were expelled and we will lose our fruit trees, for which they hardly gave us a thing,” Teodoro told IPS. “We’ll plant new ones, but they won’t produce fruit for four or five years.”

The couple, who also come from southern Brazil, grow bananas, cassava, pineapples and mangos, raise chickens, and produce milk and cheese.

Their neighbour Ely Tarabossi, his wife and two children already had to give up half of their 100 cows, because the heavy traffic of trucks, tractors and buses caused by the construction of the dam cut off their access to water from the river. But Tarabossi plans to stay, even though the reservoir will flood 30 of his 76 hectares.

“I don’t have any other option,” he said. Although he was reluctant to do so, he plans to dedicate himself to monoculture production of soy, of which Mato Grosso is Brazil’s largest producer. “We tried everything here, from cassava to cucumbers…logistics is the hurdle. I’m 83 km from Sinop, and growing fresh produce is not feasible – everything perishes on the long journey there,” he said.

José da Silva Teodoro and his wife Jacinta de Souza stand next to their “girico” – the small, improvised vehicle that they use to transport people and products in the northern part of the western Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, which they brought with them when they moved here from the southern state of Paraná. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

José da Silva Teodoro and his wife Jacinta de Souza stand next to their “girico” – the small, improvised vehicle that they use to transport people and products in the northern part of the western Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, which they brought with them when they moved here from the southern state of Paraná. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The logging industry was the first economic driver in the area, and helped clear the land for agriculture, according to the local residents.

Then came cattle-raising, which led to the deforestation of vast expanses of land, followed by soy, which rotates with corn or cotton every year. Livestock and then soy dominated the middle and northern part of the state of Mato Grosso and spread northwards, into the Amazon rainforest.

Then came the construction of hydropower dams.

The 408-MW Sinop dam, 70 km from the city of the same name, built at a cost of 950 million dollars, and its 342-sq-km reservoir will favour three hydroelectric plants downstream: Colider (300 MW), Teles Pires (1,820 MW) and São Manoel (700 MW).

With regard to compensation, CES stated that its calculations are based on the rules of the Brazilian Association for Technical Standards, subject to approval by the concerned parties. The negotiations, which have almost been completed, are carried out individually with each property owner, the company’s communication department told IPS.

“Everyone who is affected has constant meetings with our teams, who are always available for whatever is needed,” the statement said. Bridges and access roads will be built with the approval and “active participation” of the concerned parties, with the aim of minimising the impacts of the dam, it added.

To boost local development, CES has been implementing a Fruit and Vegetable Production Project over the last year in the settlements of Mercedes and 12 de Outubro, with the participation of 88 families.

Large agricultural producers in the area complain that the project ruled out sluices in the hydropower plants, and as a result, discarded the idea of a Teles Pires-Tapajós waterway for exporting soy produced in Mato Grosso, which currently depends on road transport.

“The hydroelectric dams respond to a national need; unfortunately their construction was agreed before the adoption of the new law that requires the creation of canals for future sluices,” Antonio Galvan, the president of the Sinop rural producers association, told IPS.

His hope now is that the waterway will be created on another nearby river, the Juruena, which along with the Teles Pires runs into the Tapajós river, and connect with the 1,142-km Ferrogrão railway running between Sinop and Miritituba, the export port on the Tapajós river in the northern Amazon state of Pará.

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Joining Forces to Improve Lives in Honduran Shantytownshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/joining-forces-improve-lives-honduran-shantytowns/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=joining-forces-improve-lives-honduran-shantytowns http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/joining-forces-improve-lives-honduran-shantytowns/#respond Thu, 05 Oct 2017 19:27:49 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152374 On the north side of the Honduran capital, nine poor neighbourhoods are rewriting their future, amidst the violence and insecurity that plague them as “hot spots” ruled by “maras” or gangs. IPS toured one of the shantytowns – known in Honduras as “colonias” – to get an up-close view of a project of urban development […]

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Inclusive Electoral Processes: a Pathway to More Peaceful Societieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/inclusive-electoral-processes-pathway-peaceful-societies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inclusive-electoral-processes-pathway-peaceful-societies http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/inclusive-electoral-processes-pathway-peaceful-societies/#respond Thu, 05 Oct 2017 05:53:02 +0000 Magdy Martinez-Soliman and Patrick Keuleers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152362 Magdy Martinez-Soliman is UN Assistant Secretary General & Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support & Patrick Keuleers is Director of Governance and Peacebuilding, Bureau for Policy and Programme Support (UNDP).

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Polling station staff assists a voter placing their vote in the ballot box on election day in CAR. Credit: UNDP / Central African Republic

By Magdy Martinez-Soliman and Patrick Keuleers
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 5 2017 (IPS)

The Sustainable Development Goals 16 (SDG16) calls on UN Member States to promote responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making, and to build effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels.

While the means to promote participation have diversified rapidly, in particular through the use of new technologies and social media, elections are, and will likely remain, the definitive mechanism by which most governments derive legitimacy through popular vote.

As part of its responsibility to respond to national requests for enhanced governance capacity, UNDP has provided support to elections and referenda in over 100 Member States since the early 1990s. Our efforts have focused on developing the capacity of national electoral management bodies; promoting the political participation of those most at risk of being left behind; empowering women as electoral administrators, voters and candidates; promoting electoral dialogue between competing political parties; and supporting civic education for a more informed electorate.

UNDP’s work in support of political and electoral processes is done in close partnership with other entities in the UN system. Noting the inherently political nature of elections as contests between those seeking authority to govern, UNDP works closely with and under the guidance of the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, in his capacity as UN Electoral Focal Point, nominated as such by the General Assembly in 1991.

In that capacity, the Focal Point is responsible for establishing the parameters for UN engagement in a Member State’s national elections, in response to either a national request for assistance or a mandate from the Security Council or General Assembly to assist in post-conflict elections.

Every two years, the Secretary-General (SG) reports to the General Assembly on the UN’s work in support of democratic elections, showcasing the breadth and complexity of UN electoral activities around the globe. The 2017 Report was published on August 1, 2017.

Among the many activities undertaken by the UN, it highlights the support that UNDP provides to the UN’s peacekeeping and special political mission efforts in post-conflict elections, as well as UNDP’s work as “the major implementing body of the Organization for support to developing electoral institutions, to building partnerships, legal frameworks and processes and for support to elections in non-mission settings.” In the 2015-2017 period covered by the report, UNDP provided such support to 63 Member States.

Each of the SG’s biennial reports on the UN’s electoral work also addresses specific thematic issues that have proven topical during the reporting period. This year’s report addresses violence surrounding electoral process and suggests strategies that Member States can adopt for the prevention of such violence.

These include, for example, measures to dilute “winner takes all” politics in elections, changes to electoral systems that promote greater inclusivity for the entire spectrum of national political opinions, and promoting dialogue between those competing for political power and the national electoral authorities acting as the guarantors of peaceful and legitimate elections.

Examples of exactly how successful these initiatives can be, were evident in high-stakes presidential elections in countries such as Burkina Faso and Nigeria in 2015, where DPA and UNDP came together to work with national counterparts and electoral contestants at diffusing political tensions in the pre-electoral environment.

In the case of Burkina Faso, the “timely engagement of institutions at the international, regional and sub-regional level was instrumental in encouraging progress and providing the diplomatic, technical and financial support required to restore stability and prepare for the 2015 legislative and presidential elections.” Cote d’Ivoire is a good example of effective capacity development of national electoral institutions.

“The extensive electoral support provided to the Independent Electoral Commission of Côte d’Ivoire since 2005 by UNDP and UNOCI has been gradually scaled down with the Commission fully assuming its role and independently organizing the 2016 (Constitutional Referendum and legislative) elections which were conducted peacefully within the constitutionally established time frames…The subsequent closure and withdrawal of UNOCI by the end of June 2017 attest to the good progress of the political transition in Côte d’Ivoire.”

This year’s report of the Secretary General also addresses thorny issues such as the challenges presented by election boycotts, and the elimination of presidential term limits. There are currently no international standards or commitments that Member States have made to introducing or retaining term limits in their national legislation; this remains an issue of national sovereignty.

The SG’s 2017 report however notes on this subject that term limits “can be important safeguards against “winner-take-all” politics,” and, crucially, that “the manner in which related amendments are sought can be critical factors affecting public confidence” in the electoral process.

A novel but very important topic also addressed in the report is the advent of technological developments that can enhance the inclusiveness of political processes; in this regard the report notes in particular “the additional credibility to an electoral process that expanding voting rights to citizens based abroad can bring.”

The report is very positive about the contribution that we, as the UN, make together to the promotion of democratic values, institutions and processes. UNDP is proud to remain a key partner, with the Department of Political Affairs, in supporting Member States’ efforts to ensure the integrity and freedom of inclusive and peaceful electoral processes globally.

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Rainwater Harvesting Improves Lives in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/rainwater-harvesting-improves-lives-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rainwater-harvesting-improves-lives-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/rainwater-harvesting-improves-lives-el-salvador/#respond Wed, 04 Oct 2017 17:33:52 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152354 Filling a jug with water to supply her household needs used to be an ordeal for Salvadoran villager Corina Canjura, because it meant walking several kilometers to the river, which took up a great deal of time, or else paying for water. But an innovative project of rainwater harvesting has changed her life. “Now we […]

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Corina Canjura loads a jug of water that she has just filled, thanks to a system of rainwater collection located on the ground next to her house, which also supplies another 12 families in the village of Los Corvera in the municipality of Tepetitán, in the central Salvadoran department of San Vicente. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

Corina Canjura loads a jug of water that she has just filled, thanks to a system of rainwater collection located on the ground next to her house, which also supplies another 12 families in the village of Los Corvera in the municipality of Tepetitán, in the central Salvadoran department of San Vicente. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
TEPETITÁN, El Salvador, Oct 4 2017 (IPS)

Filling a jug with water to supply her household needs used to be an ordeal for Salvadoran villager Corina Canjura, because it meant walking several kilometers to the river, which took up a great deal of time, or else paying for water.

But an innovative project of rainwater harvesting has changed her life.

“Now we just pump, fill the tank and we have water ready to use,” said the 30-year-old woman from the village of Los Corvera, in the rural municipality of Tepetitán, in El Salvador’s central department of San Vicente.

In this village, 13 families benefit from a system that collects the rainwater that falls on the roof of Canjura’s house, which is then channeled through a pipe into a huge polyethylene bag, with a capacity of 25,000 liters.

From there, it is manually pumped into a tank with a faucet used by all of the families.

“Since it has rained a lot, the bag is always full, which is a joy for us,” Canjura told IPS, while carrying a jug on her head which she had just filled."We are the ones who do the housework and have to go looking for water... we are the ones who worry and suffer to find it for our families." -- Lorena Ramirez

The initiative, launched in February 2017, is being promoted by the Global Water Partnership (GWP), which, together with Australian aid and the Ford Foundation, have provided funds to get it going, while local organisations and governments have given operational support.

The system´s technology was developed by the consortium Mexichem Amanco, which entered into the market of polyethylene membranes used as waterproof barriers in civil engineering works, sanitary landfills, and artificial lagoons for aquaculture, among other uses.

In 2013, GWP Central America had already promoted a water harvesting project in southern Honduras in communities suffering from drought, and this project is being replicated in El Salvador’s Jiboa Valley.

In this small country of 6.4 million people, eight rainwater harvesting systems have been installed so far in seven municipalities in the Jiboa valley in San Vicente. There is one in each municipality, except for Jerusalen, located in the department of La Paz, where two systems have been installed.

Of the 323 families identified as having problems of access to water in rural communities in these municipalities, 100 are benefiting directly from the project, conceived of as a pilot plan that would offer lessons for its expansion to other areas.

Participation by local women has been vital to the implementation of the project, taking advantage of the fact that they already have a strong presence in the communities through the Network of Women Entrepreneurs of the Jiboa Valley.

“We are the ones who do the housework and have to go looking for water… we are the ones who worry and suffer to find it for our families,” said 43-year-old Lorena Ramirez.

Ramirez shared her experience with IPS during a meeting on the country’s water situation, held on Sept. 21 in San Vicente, the capital of the department.

Women from rural communities in the Jiboa Valley debate at a forum in San Vicente, in central El Salvador, about the impact of water scarcity in that ecoregion. They are the main drivers of the installation in their villages of a system of rainwater harvesting, which has improved the living conditions of the participating families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

Women from rural communities in the Jiboa Valley debate at a forum in San Vicente, in central El Salvador, about the impact of water scarcity in that ecoregion. They are the main drivers of the installation in their villages of a system of rainwater harvesting, which has improved the living conditions of the participating families. Credit: Edgardo Ayala / IPS

She is originally from Hacienda Nuevo Oriente, a village of 400 people, located in the jurisdiction of Verapaz, also in the department of San Vicente. There, another 15 families are benefiting from the harvesting of rainwater.

Ramírez, a homemaker who has a kitchen garden, added that, before the arrival of the project, the families of the village had to look for water in the ravines to wash clothes and for other necessities.

The water they used to drink was fetched from a spring located a kilometer away, but they had to get up very early, otherwise it would be empty. “We drank from that spring,” she said.

During the May to October rainy season there is no problem keeping the polyethylene bag full, Ramirez said. But during the dry season, they will have to establish a mechanism for using the resource wisely.

It is estimated that the 25,000 liters stored in the bag are equivalent to five tanker trucks, and can supply a family for 15 days to one month, depending on the use, although each system installed in El Salvador is intended for 15 families.

“We can’t say this completely meets the needs of those 15 families; this is for filling a couple of jugs for drinking water and to use for basic things,” she stressed.

And when the water runs out in the summer, the participating municipalities have committed to sending tanker trucks and keep the bags filled, so there will always be water.

The basic idea is that the harvested water is exclusively for drinking, so the families involved in the program have received a filter to make it potable.

The University of El Salvador will provide equipment and scientific personnel to measure the quality of the water that has been purified, said Marta Alfaro, mayor of Jerusalen, one of the municipalities participating in the programme.

One of these systems is currently being installed in the Jerusalen neighborhood of El Progreso, and another in the village of Veracruz.

“We want to keep installing more systems, it’s not so costly, but the thing is that this year it was not included in the budget,” Alfaro told IPS.

For the next year her administration will include in the budget the installation of 10 systems in 10 other communities.

Each system costs around 1,400 dollars, Vilma Chanta, a researcher in territorial development for the non-governmental National Development Foundation, told IPS.

The plan to harvest rainwater is “a short-term solution for rural communities, instead of installing water pipes connected to the national grid or other mechanisms, which would be for the medium and long term,” added Chanta, who is also a volunteer at the Water Youth Network, an independent space promoted by GWP Central America.

And with the already visible climate change effects, this effort “has the potential to be an alternative for the adaptation to climate change impacts,” she said.

Jorge García, of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources’ Water Fund, told IPS that one of the main goals of the water plan is to store water in large reservoirs, to address the problem of scarcity.

The plan would cost about 1.2 billion dollars, he said.

“This pilot project in the Jiboa Valley will set a precedent that can be replicated,” he said.

And while the water collected is primarily for drinking, Lorena Ramírez, from Hacienda Nueva Oriente, said that because in the rainy season the bag fills up quickly and must be drained, she plans to capture that surplus in a small well and use it in her garden.

“That way I use it to cover our main needs and irrigate my milpa (traditional corn crop) and my crops of beans, tomatoes and green beans, and without affecting the other 14 families,” she concluded.

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The Tuxá Indigenous Paradise, Submerged under Waterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/tuxa-indigenous-paradise-submerged-water/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tuxa-indigenous-paradise-submerged-water http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/tuxa-indigenous-paradise-submerged-water/#respond Sat, 30 Sep 2017 21:43:52 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152296 The Tuxá indigenous people had lived for centuries in the north of the Brazilian state of Bahia, on the banks of the São Francisco River. But in 1988 their territory was flooded by the Itaparica hydropower plant, and since then they have become landless. Their roots are now buried under the waters of the reservoir. […]

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Tuxá families take a break while building their new village in Surubabel, as part of what they consider the recovery of their ancestral lands, on the bank of what was previously the river where they lived, the São Francisco River, but which now is a reservoir on the border between the Brazilian states of Pernambuco and Bahía. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet / IPS

Tuxá families take a break while building their new village in Surubabel, as part of what they consider the recovery of their ancestral lands, on the bank of what was previously the river where they lived, the São Francisco River, but which now is a reservoir on the border between the Brazilian states of Pernambuco and Bahía. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet / IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
RODELAS, Brazil, Sep 30 2017 (IPS)

The Tuxá indigenous people had lived for centuries in the north of the Brazilian state of Bahia, on the banks of the São Francisco River. But in 1988 their territory was flooded by the Itaparica hydropower plant, and since then they have become landless. Their roots are now buried under the waters of the reservoir.

Dorinha Tuxá, one of the leaders of this native community, which currently has between 1,500 and 2,000 inhabitants, sings on the shore of what they still call “river”, although now it is an 828-sq-km reservoir, in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, along the border with the state of Bahia, to the south.

While singing the song dedicated to their “sacred” river and smoking her “maraku”, a pipe with tobacco and ritual herbs, she looks dreamily at the waters where the “Widow’s Island” was submerged, one of several that sprinkled the lower course of the São Francisco River, and on which the members of her community used to live.“What nostalgia for that blessed land where we were born and which did not let us lack for anything. The river where we used to fish. I have such nostalgia for that time, from my childhood to my marriage. We were indeed a suffering and stoic but optimistic people. We grew rice, onions, we harvested mangoes. All that is gone." -- Manoel Jurum Afé

“This song is to ask our community for unity, because in this struggle we are asking for the strength of our ancestors to help us recover our territory. A landless indigenous person is a naked indigenous person. We are asking our ancestors to bless us in this battle and protect our warriors,” she told IPS.

The hydroelectric plant, with a capacity of 1,480 megawatts, is one of eight installed by the São Francisco Hydroelectric Company (CHESF), whose operations are centered on that river which runs across much of the Brazilian Northeast region: 2,914 km from its source in the center of the country to the point where it flows into the Atlantic Ocean in the northeast.

After the flood, the Tuxá people were relocated to three municipalities. Some were settled in Nova Rodelas, a hamlet in the rural municipality of Rodelas, in the state of Bahia, where Dorinha Tuxá lives.

After a 19-year legal battle, the 442 relocated Tuxá families finally received compensation from the CHESF. But they are still waiting for the 4,000 hectares that were agreed upon when they were displaced, and which must be handed over to them by state agencies.

“What nostalgia for that blessed land where we were born and which did not let us lack for anything. The river where we used to fish. I have such nostalgia for that time, from my childhood to my marriage. We were indeed a suffering and stoic but optimistic people. We grew rice, onions, we harvested mangoes. All that is gone,” Tuxá chief Manoel Jurum Afé told IPS.

The new village is very different from the community where they used to live on their island.

Only the soccer field, where children play, retains the shape of traditional indigenous Tuxá constructions.

But the elders strive to transmit their collective memory to the young, such as Luiza de Oliveira, who was baptized with the indigenous name of Aluna Flexia Tuxá.

She is studying law to continue her people’s struggle for land and rights. Her mother, like many other Tuxá women, also played an important role as chief, or community leader.

“It was as if they lived in a paradise. They had no need to beg the government like they have to do now. They used to plant everything, beans, cassava. They lived together in complete harmony. They talk about it with nostalgia. It was a paradise that came to an end when it was flooded,” she said.

Dorinha Tuxá, a leader of the native Tuxá people, sings to her sacred river and smokes her "marakú", a pipe with tobacco and ritual herbs, to ask her ancestors to help them get the lands which were promised to them when they were evicted from their island to make way for a dam in northeastern Brazil. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi / IPS

Dorinha Tuxá, a leader of the native Tuxá people, sings to her sacred river and smokes her “marakú”, a pipe with tobacco and ritual herbs, to ask her ancestors to help them get the lands which were promised to them when they were evicted from their island to make way for a dam in northeastern Brazil. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi / IPS

After three decades of living with other local people, the Tuxás stopped wearing their native clothes, although for special occasions and rituals they put on their “cocares” (traditional feather headdresses).

They welcomed IPS with a “toré” – a collective dance open to outsiders. Another religious ceremony, “the particular”, is reserved for members of the community. That is how they honour the “enchanted”, their spirits or reincarnated ancestors.

But they are also Catholics and very devoted to Saint John the Baptist, patron saint of Rodelas, which was named after Captain Francisco Rodelas, considered the first chief who fought alongside the Portuguese against the Dutch occupation of northeast Brazil in the 17th century.

Armando Apaká Caramuru Tuxá is a “pajé” – guardian of the Tuxá traditions.

“The waters covered the land where our ancestors lived. Many times I saw my grandfather sitting at the foot of a jua (Ziziphus joazeiro, a tree typical of the eco-region of the semi-arid Northeast), there on the island talking to them up there (in the sky),” he said.

“We lost all that. That place which was sacred to us was submerged under water,” he said, sadly.

The Tuxá people, who for centuries were fishermen, hunters, gatherers and farmers, practically gave up their subsistence crops in their new location.

Some bought small parcels of land and grow cash crops, such as coconuts.

“We need to improve our quality of life. Before we used to live on what we produced from agriculture and fishing. Today that is not possible, so we want to return to agriculture, and to do that we need our land,” Chief Uilton Tuxá told IPS.

In 2014, a decree declared some 4,392 hectares of land an “area of social interest” in order to expropriate it and transfer it to the Tuxá people.

In June of this year, they won a lawsuit in a federal court, which ruled that the National Indigenous Foundation (Funai) had three months to create a working group to begin the demarcation process. It also set
a new compensation to be paid to the Tuxá people.

But distrustful of the state bureaucracy and the courts, the Tuxá people decided to occupy Surubabel, the area near their village, on the banks of the reservoir, which was expropriated in order for it to be demarcated in their favor, but this never happened.

They began to build a new village there, in what they call “the recovery” of their lands.

“The occupation of this land by us, the Tuxá people, represents the rekindling of the flame of our identity as an indigenous people native to this riverbank. We were already here, since the beginning of the colonization process, even in the 16th century when the first catechists arrived,” argued Uilton Tuxá.

“We want to build this small village for the government to fulfill its obligations and the order to delimit our territory,” he said.

During the week they have other activities. They are public employees or work on their plots of land. But on Saturdays they load their tools in their vehicles and build their houses in the traditional way.

“Nowadays a lot of land in this sacred territory of the Tuxás is being invaded by non-indigenous people and also by indigenous people from other ethnic groups,” chief Xirlene Liliana Xurichana Tuxá told IPS.

“We were the first indigenous people from the Northeast to be recognized and we are the last to have the right to our land. This is just the beginning. If the justice system does not grant us our right to continue the dialogue, we will adopt forceful measures, we will mobilise. We are tired of being the good guys,” she warned, speaking as a community leader.

Meanwhile, the small portion of their ancestral land that was not submerged, and the land they occupy now, are threatened by new megaprojects.

These lands were left in the middle of two canals, on the north axis of the diversion of the São Francisco River, a project that is still under construction, which is to supply 12 million people with water.

“The Tuxá people have suffered impacts, above and beyond the dam. There is also the diversion of the river and the possibility that they might build a nuclear plant will also affect us,” said Uilton Tuxá, smoking his marakú during a break.

They say the marakú attracts protective forces. And this time they hope these forces will help them to get the land promised to them when their ancestral land was taken away, and that they will not lose it again to new megaprojects.

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Marginalised Minorities and Homeless Especially Hard-hit by Mexico’s Quakehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/marginalised-minorities-homeless-especially-hard-hit-mexicos-quake/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marginalised-minorities-homeless-especially-hard-hit-mexicos-quake http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/marginalised-minorities-homeless-especially-hard-hit-mexicos-quake/#respond Wed, 27 Sep 2017 23:45:17 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152266 Maricela Fernández, an indigenous woman from the Ñañhú or Otomí people, shows the damages that the Sept. 19 earthquake inflicted on the old house where 10 families of her people were living as squatters, in a neighbourhood in the center-west of Mexico City. The magnitude 7.1 quake, mainly felt in Mexico City and the neighboring […]

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A community of 35 Nahñú indigenous families, from the central state of Querétaro, set up a camp in front of the old building that they occupied in the center of Mexico City, which was heavily damaged by the Sept. 19 earthquake. In the photo can be seen the tent that serves as their kitchen and dining room. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

A community of 35 Nahñú indigenous families, from the central state of Querétaro, set up a camp in front of the old building that they occupied in the center of Mexico City, which was heavily damaged by the Sept. 19 earthquake. In the photo can be seen the tent that serves as their kitchen and dining room. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Sep 27 2017 (IPS)

Maricela Fernández, an indigenous woman from the Ñañhú or Otomí people, shows the damages that the Sept. 19 earthquake inflicted on the old house where 10 families of her people were living as squatters, in a neighbourhood in the center-west of Mexico City.

The magnitude 7.1 quake, mainly felt in Mexico City and the neighboring states of Mexico, Morelos and Puebla, caused structural damage to the building, which like many other buildings in the city is in danger of collapsing.

The two-storey building, inhabited by indigenous families since 2007, had already been damaged by the 8.0 magnitude earthquake that claimed at least 10,000 lives on September 19, 1985 in the Mexican capital, exactly 32 years before the one that hit the city a week ago."These are families who, because of their condition, have long occupied spaces in deplorable conditions, squatting for example on properties condemned since the 1985 earthquake…The recent earthquake left the properties uninhabitable. Authorities have told them that they cannot live in those buildings anymore.” -- Alicia Vargas

Since Sept. 19 “we have been sleeping outside, because the house is badly damaged and may collapse. We do not want to go to a shelter, because they could take the building away from us,” explained Fernández, a mother of two who works as an informal vendor.

The residents of the house, including 16 children, set up a tent on the sidewalk, where they take shelter, cook and sleep while looking after their battered house and belongings inside.

Fernández, a member of the non-governmental “Hadi” (hello in the Ñahñú language) Otomí Indigenous Community, told IPS that humanitarian aid received so far came from non-governmental organisations and individual citizens.

But she criticised what she described as disregard from the authorities towards them and the discrimination exhibited by some neighbors.

“It is unfair that they discriminate against us for being indigenous and poor. Nobody deserves that treatment,” she said.

The earthquake had a death toll of at least 331 people – mostly in Mexico City – while at least 33 buildings collapsed and another 3,800 were partially or totally damaged.

Most schools resumed classes on Monday Sept. 25, as did economic activity and administrative work, but thousands of students and employees are reluctant to return to their educational institutions and workplaces until they have guarantees that the buildings are safe.

A similar situation is faced by another Ñahñú community living in a different rundown, abandoned building in a neighborhood in the centre of the capital, which has a population of nearly nine million people and which exceeds 21 million when adding the greater metropolitan area.

After the earthquake they set up a camp in the street next to the building that is damaged but still standing, where they sleep, cook and eat. Their refusal to move to a shelter is due to the fear of eviction and the loss of their home and belongings.

The 10 Nahñús families who were living in an old house in Mexico City since 2007 are now living outside the building due to the structural damages caused by the Sept. 19 earthquake. They are staying there in order to protect their property and belongings and to demand support for access to housing. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

The 10 Nahñús families who were living in an old house in Mexico City since 2007 are now living outside the building due to the structural damages caused by the Sept. 19 earthquake. They are staying there in order to protect their property and belongings and to demand support for access to housing. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

“We have organised ourselves to prepare food and watch over our things. The government has not taken care of us. They always ignore indigenous people,” complained Telésforo Francisco Martínez, a member of the group of 35 families who inhabit the property.

The whiteness of three large tents and a smaller one contrasts with the black canvas that protects the entrance to the building. Two camping tents complete the makeshift camp, together with two campfires and a few small tables.

These indigenous people work in the informal sector, selling traditional crafts and art, cleaning cars on the streets or cleaning houses.

“We have not been able to work, so we have no income,” said Martínez, who cleans car windshields on the streets.

Since 1986, some 2,000 Ñahñú natives have migrated to Mexico City from the municipality of Santiago Mezquititlán in the central state of Querétaro, and they now live in eight shantytowns in neighborhoods in the center-west of the capital.

Mexico City attracts thousands of people from other parts of the country who leave their towns to seek an income in the informal economy and often live in slums on the outskirts of the city.

The Ñahñús, who numbered 623,098 in 2015, are one of 69 native peoples in Mexico, representing about 12 million people, out of a total population of 129 million.

About 1.2 million indigenous people live in the capital, according to data from the non-governmental Interdisciplinary Center for Social Development (Cides).

“These are families who, because of their condition, have long occupied spaces in deplorable conditions, squatting for example on properties condemned since the 1985 earthquake,” Cides director Alicia Vargas told IPS.

“The recent earthquake left the properties uninhabitable. Authorities have told them that they cannot live in those buildings anymore,” she said.

For Vargas, whose organisation works with these minorities, these groups have been “traditionally invisible, especially children” and their level of vulnerability is exacerbated by disasters and the exclusion and discrimination they suffer.

The Sept. 19 earthquake exacerbated the needs of vulnerable groups living in Mexico City, including the homeless, such as this woman sleeping on a sidewalk on the south side of the capital. Authorities have diverted assistance for the homeless to earthquake victims. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

The Sept. 19 earthquake exacerbated the needs of vulnerable groups living in Mexico City, including the homeless, such as this woman sleeping on a sidewalk on the south side of the capital. Authorities have diverted assistance for the homeless to earthquake victims. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

“The State’s response is to come and assess the properties and evict them, leaving them on the streets, with nothing. They have not offered them any alternative. There is no official response from any government housing body to temporarily resolve their situation,” the activist complained.

The homeless, forgotten as always

The homeless have also suffered from the earthquake, which has exacerbated their extreme poverty.

“It’s the same as with historically excluded groups: in times of disaster, they always do worse. The disaster is so severe that no one remembers these groups. On the street they are more on their own than ever,” the director of the non-governmental organisation El Caracol, Luis Hernández, told IPS.

After the earthquake, squads of 25 community workers with El Caracol, which works with street people, visited groups at risk in different Mexico City neighbourhoods.

The monitoring found that they had received food, but the services they traditionally have access to – such as preventive health care – are now unavailable to them, as these services have been reoriented to care for those affected by the deadly earthquake.

“That neglect exacerbates their vulnerability. No governmental or private institution has approached them to provide assistance. They have remained on the streets and have not been evacuated or taken to shelters,” said Hernández, who noted that many homeless people participated in the efforts to rescue people trapped in damaged buildings.

In Mexico City, 6,774 people are homeless and of these, 4,354 stay in public spaces, and 2,400 in public and private shelters, according to the Census of Homeless People in August, carried out by the Ministry of Social Development.

Of the homeless, 5,912 are men and 862 are women. The majority are between the ages of 18 and 49 and nearly 40 percent have come from other states seeking work.

IPS found at least four people on the street who had received no kind of assistance, and were wandering about without being aware of where they were or what had happened.

In recent years, organisations such as El Caracol have denounced violations of the rights of the homeless, such as eviction from bridges and avenues, without offering them alternative shelter.

Fernández and Martínez just want a decent place to live. “We want to live here…we want them to tear the house down and build housing,” said Fernandez.

Martínez, for his part, complained about the slow process of regularisation of ownership of the property. “We have already completed it and they have not given us an answer. We don’t want anything for free, we just want to be taken into account,” he said.

For Vargas, the cleaning of debris, the installation of temporary housing, the provision of basic services and a safe space for about 100 children are urgent needs.

“Perhaps given this situation they can have access to social housing. In the medium-term, what is necessary is the immediate resolution of the definition of land to build housing for these families, with accessible credits. The indigenous population are in the areas of highest risk in the city, with the worst overcrowding,” he said.

Hernández proposed developing protection policies during emergencies. “What we are worried about is that they could be evicted from their areas, unless it is due to safety issues caused by collapses or demolitions,” he said.

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Crisis in Cameroon Spurs Govt Crackdown on Presshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/crisis-cameroon-spurs-govt-crackdown-press/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=crisis-cameroon-spurs-govt-crackdown-press http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/crisis-cameroon-spurs-govt-crackdown-press/#respond Tue, 26 Sep 2017 12:22:02 +0000 Mbom Sixtus http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152241 “For too long we have been afraid to speak out against injustices and all sorts of atrocities happening in Cameroon, thinking it [the silence] will protect us. If I were to repeat what I have done on Canal 2 English [television], I will do it again. I now stand ready for any eventuality,” says Cameroonian […]

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Police block rioters in front of the Divisional Officers building in Kumba, Southwest Region, Cameroon, amid an ongoing political crisis in the country’s Anglophone region. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

By Mbom Sixtus
YAOUNDE, Sep 26 2017 (IPS)

“For too long we have been afraid to speak out against injustices and all sorts of atrocities happening in Cameroon, thinking it [the silence] will protect us. If I were to repeat what I have done on Canal 2 English [television], I will do it again. I now stand ready for any eventuality,” says Cameroonian journalist Elie Smith.

The outspoken journalist told IPS he was forced to resign from Cameroon’s leading private media house following intense pressure from government. The CEO of the station had suspended a talk show, Tough Talk, Smith co-hosted with Divine Ntaryike and Henry Kejang. He said Prime Minister Philemon Yang and Justice Minister Laurent Esso wanted him fired.Journalist Tim Finian Njua was brutally attacked and taken away by unknown men in Bamenda. He only realised they were security officers when he was brought to Yaounde.

The trio were accused of being too critical of government, especially during reporting and analysis of an ongoing 11-month-long protest in English-speaking Cameroon. Protesters had adopted civil disobedience as their trump card, keeping schools and courts in the region closed since Nov. 21, 2016.

Smith, who had refused to travel from the financial capital, the port city of Douala, to Yaounde, the country’s political capital, to apologise to the prime minister for being too critical of government, was later told to stick to a program called World Views and refrain from any discussion of domestic politics.

“On Sep. 4 when schools were expected to resume in Cameroon, protests marred the resumption in English-speaking Cameroon. Yet, the CEO asked me to lie on air that resumption was effective in order to please government. I refused. That is when we both realised we can no longer work together,” he told IPS.

Despite losing his job, Smith is among the few journalists who have avoided prison in a government clampdown on reporters since the crisis erupted in English-speaking Cameroon. Others have been jailed and tortured, while some are currently in exile. For the most part, security forces target English-speaking journalists whom government accuses of supporting or sympathising with “terrorists”.

Journalists or terrorists?

Cameroon was first colonised by the Germans in 1884. After the defeat of Germany in World War I, France and Britain shared the territory under a mandate from the League of Nations, with Britain keeping one-fifth of it.  A federation of two states with equal status was declared in 1961, but was abolished in 1972 following a referendum – its conduct remains contested to this day.

Citizens of the former trust territory of British Southern Cameroons who have over the years, complained of marginalisation and lack of control over their assets, rose up in October 2016 in two ranks- some demanding a return to federation while others demand total independence. Both camps however agree on the same complaints; insignificant placements of English-speaking Cameroonians in administration, and inequality which they say led to impoverishment of their region and its population and subjugation of their educational and cultural heritage. At least 13 people have been shot dead since the crisis erupted.

A controversial law on the suppression of acts of terrorism in Cameroon enacted in December 2014 is being used to try citizens arrested in relation to the protests. Journalists arrested for reporting on the crisis are equally tried at the military tribunal under the same law which forbids public meetings, street protests or any action that the government deems to be disturbing the peace.

Tim Finian Njua, one of eight journalists arrested in relation to the ongoing crisis, says he is finding it difficult readjusting after spending over six months in jail. The editor of Life Time newspaper, Njua was freed from the Kondengui Prison in Yaounde alongside Atia Tilarious and two other journalists, and close to 50 protesters, following a presidential clemency in August.

Njua told IPS he was brutally attacked and taken away by unknown men in Bamenda. He only realised they were security officers when he was brought to Yaounde. “They said our newspaper reported an incident that may provoke or aggravate rebellion. I was charged with acts of terrorism, insurrection, secession and propagation of false information.”

Atia Tilarious, who had earlier been arrested and released for hosting a TV debate on the uprising, had gone to Kondengui after his first arrest, this time in the company of Amos Fofung, a reporter for The Guardian Post newspaper.

Fofung told IPS “I was let out of prison six months later. I was told the state attorney sent apologies for keeping me in jail without charge or evidence. I walked out and later travelled back to Buea. It made me bolder. I am still objective in my reporting.”

Meanwhile Fonjah Hanson Muki, proprietor of Cameroon Report, was arrested alongside five of his staff in the town of Bamenda, which is regarded as the epicentre of the uprising. They were accused by a military tribunal of propagatng false information. They were also accused of receiving money from secessionists abroad to push a separatist agenda through their reporting. The last of them, arrested on July 25, was released on Sept. 18. The media owner was ordered never to report on the ongoing crisis.

Skewed regulator

Before the clampdown on journalists reporting the crisis, the national communication council had issued a warning to journalists in the country, tacitly outlawing all media debates on the return to federation. Though the council’s decision preceded a speech by President Paul Biya making the topic taboo, French-language media organs continued the debate, while English-language tabloids piped down.

“You know we are not the same. There are things Le Messager or Le Jour can report and go free but The Guardian Post or The Sun will be sanctioned for doing same. The public does not understand, that is why you find citizens criticising us on social media, saying we are chicken-hearted,” a newspaper publisher who asked for anonymity told IPS.

The council has been criticised for siding with state officials and influential citizens. It meted out sanctions on Sep. 22, suspending some 20 media organs, publishers and journalists for periods ranging from one to six months. Most of the decisions were verdicts on complaints filed by government officials like the Minister of Forestry and influential citizens like Cameroonian football star and billionaire, Samuel Eto’o Fils.

Ten-year jail sentence for reporting on terrorism

Ahmed Aba, Cameroon correspondent for the Hausa service of the French international radio, RFI, is currently serving a ten-year jail term. He was found guilty of “laundering of proceeds of terrorism” and “non-denunciation of terrorism” by the military tribunal in Yaounde.

The verdict, handed down this year after two years of pre-trial detention, was appealed by his lawyer, Clement Nakong. Aba told IPS at the prison yard in Yaounde that he is innocent and hopes to be set free after the appeal. He said he was accused of working for the Nigeria-based Boko Haram terror group.

But the outcome of an appeal is uncertain as a government spokesman bluntly declared at a press conference that RFI supports terrorists. The appeal hearing was expected to begin among others in mid-August this year, but Aba’s name was taken off the list.

International and local institutions and activists have been advocating for his release. He was recently named one of the winners of the 2017 International Press Freedom Award by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Another journalist, Gubai Gatama, was placed under investigation and interrogated at the police headquarters for reporting on Boko Haram.

“Cameroon is clearly using anti-state legislation to silence criticism in the press,” said CPJ Africa Program Director Angela Quintal in a statement. “When you equate journalism with terrorism, you create an environment where fewer journalists are willing to report on hard news for fear of reprisal. Cameroon must amend its laws and stop subjecting journalists–who are civilians–to military trial.”

On Sep. 20, CPJ issued a report, written by Quintal, warning that in addition to detaining journalists, authorities have banned news outlets deemed sympathetic to the Anglophone protesters, shut down internet in regions experiencing unrest, and prevented outside observers, including CPJ, from accessing the country by delaying the visa process.

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Indigenous Land Conflicts Finally Garner Attention in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/indigenous-land-conflicts-finally-garner-attention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-land-conflicts-finally-garner-attention http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/indigenous-land-conflicts-finally-garner-attention/#respond Fri, 22 Sep 2017 16:36:36 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152204 The territorial claims of hundreds of indigenous communities, which extend throughout most of Argentina’s vast geography, burst onto the public agenda of a country built by and for descendants of European colonisers and immigrants, accustomed to looking at native people as outsiders. It all started with the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado, a 28-year-old artisan who […]

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An indigenous demonstration in the city of San Miguel de Tucumán, demanding justice for the murder of Javier Chocobar, leader of a Diaguita indigenous community that is fighting against the exploitation of a quarry in northern Argentina. Credit: Courtesy of ANDHES

An indigenous demonstration in the city of San Miguel de Tucumán, demanding justice for the murder of Javier Chocobar, leader of a Diaguita indigenous community that is fighting against the exploitation of a quarry in northern Argentina. Credit: Courtesy of ANDHES

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 22 2017 (IPS)

The territorial claims of hundreds of indigenous communities, which extend throughout most of Argentina’s vast geography, burst onto the public agenda of a country built by and for descendants of European colonisers and immigrants, accustomed to looking at native people as outsiders.

It all started with the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado, a 28-year-old artisan who on Aug. 1 participated in a protest in the southern Patagonian province of Chubut by Mapuche indigenous people, who were violently evicted by security forces. Since then, there has been no news of his whereabouts.

This mobilised broad sectors of society, and brought out of the shadows a conflict that in recent years has flared up into violence on many occasions, but which historically has been given little attention.

“I hope the sad incident involving Santiago Maldonado will help Argentina understand that it is necessary and possible to find legal and political solutions for theindigenous question,” said Gabriel Seghezzo, director of the Foundation for Development in Justice and Peace (Fundapaz) .

“It is imperative to work to defuse conflicts, because otherwise, the violence will continue,” added the head of Fundapaz, anorganisation that works to improve the living conditions of communities living in the Argentine portion of the Chaco, a vast subtropical forest that extends to Paraguay and Bolivia.

Fundapaz was one of the organisations that worked for more than 20 years on a territorial claim of rural lands in the northwestern province of Salta, which ended in 2014, when the local government transferred ownership of 643,000 hectares to the families that lived there.

Communal ownership of over 400,000 hectares was recognised for members of the Wichi, Toba, Tapiete, Chulupí and Chorote indigenous peoples, while the rest was granted in joint ownership to 463 non-indigenous peasant families.

The case, however, was merely one happy exception, since the vast majority of the country’s indigenous communities still do not have title to their lands.

Ten years ago, the government launched the National Programme for the Survey of Indigenous Territories, in which 1,532 communities were registered. To date, only 423 of them have been surveyed, although they do not yet have title deeds, while there are another 401 in process.

According to the National Institute of Indigenous Affairs (INAI), these 824 communities are demanding that 8,414,124 hectares be recognised as their ancestral lands. That is bigger than several countries in the continent, such as Panama or Costa Rica, but it is only about three percent of the 2,780,400 square km of the Argentine territory.

In the remaining communities, the survey has not even started.

This means the constitution, which recognises “the ethnic and cultural pre-existence of indigenous peoples” and guarantees not only “respect for their identity and the right to a bilingual and intercultural education”, but also “the communal possession and ownership of the lands they traditionally occupy,” is not being fulfilled.

These principles were incorporated in the constitution during the latest reform, in 1994, and marked a tremendous paradigm shift for a nation that has historically seen native people as an alien element, to be controlled.

"Where is he?" That is the question repeated on numerous posters on walls in Buenos Aires and other cities in Argentina regarding the Aug. 1 of Santiago Maldonado during a demonstration in the southern region of Patagonia. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

“Where is he?” That is the question repeated on numerous posters on walls in Buenos Aires and other cities in Argentina regarding the Aug. 1 of Santiago Maldonado during a demonstration in the southern region of Patagonia. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

In fact, up to 1994, Argentina’s laws actually instructed the authorities to “preserve the peaceful treatment of Indians and promote their conversion to Catholicism.”

However, the extraordinary progress on paper seems to have brought few concrete improvements for native people, whose proportion in the Argentine population is difficult to establish.

In the last National Census in 2010, 955,032 people identified themselves as belonging to or descended from an indigenous group, which represented 2.38 percent of the total population at that time of 40,117,096.

But the number of indigenous people is believed to be higher, since many people are reluctant to acknowledge indigenous roots, due to the historical discrimination and stigma that native people have suffered. The largest indigenous groups are the Mapuche in the south, the Tobas in the Chaco region, and the Guarani in the northeast.

“Since the constitutional reform that recognised indigenous peoples’ rights, we have had 23 years of absolute failure of public policies to solve the indigenous question. There has been a terrible postponement of the issue by all government administrations in this period,” said Raúl Ferreyra, a professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Buenos Aires.

For Ferreyra, “land disputes have clear roots in the uncontrolled advance of soy monoculture in the north of the country, and the passage to foreign hands of vast swathes of land in the south.”

“What we need is dialogue, but there is a lack of will and of tools,” he told IPS.

What happened with the land question is a good example of the gap between rules and reality.

In November 2006, the national Congress passed Law 26,160 on Indigenous Communities, which declared an “emergency with regard to the possession and ownership of indigenous territories” for four years.

During that period, which was to be used to determine which are the ancestral lands of the communities, as a preliminary step to the granting of title deeds, evictions were banned, even if a court order existed.

However, little progress was made on the survey, despite the fact that Congress voted for an extension of the original term of four years twice, for a total of 11 years.

The latest extension expires in November and dozens of social organisations across the country have called for its renewal until 2021, while Congress will begin debating the fate of the law on Sept. 27.

The demand was backed by hundreds of intellectuals, in a public letter in which they pointed out that “in Argentina, the recognition of indigenous peoples’ collective rights over their ancestral territories is increasingly irreconcilable with the expansion of profitable lands for capital.”

According to a study by global rights watchdog Amnesty International, there are 225 conflicts in the country involving indigenous communities, nearly all of them over land.

In 24 of them there were acts of violence with the intervention of the security forces, and even deaths. One case was the 2009 murder of Javier Chocobar, the leader of a Diaguitacommunityin the northwestern province of Tucumán, which is still unsolved.

“In all these years, many judges have continued to order evictions of indigenous communities despite the law prohibiting it. That is why we believe that if the emergency is not extended, the situation will get worse, “explained BelénLeguizamón, coordinator of the Indigenous Rights area of the Lawyers Association for Human Rights and Social Studies in Northwest Argentina (ANDHES).

In her view, “the law is an umbrella with holes, but an umbrella nonetheless.”

“The survey of Argentina’s indigenous territories should already have been completed, and today we should be studying the granting of title deeds on lands. We have to work against the strong discrimination that not only exists on the part of authorities and the mainstream media, but also among some sectors of society,” Leguizamón told IPS.

As an example, she noted that “schools in Argentina still teach that indigenous people belong to a past that no longer exists.”

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