Development & Aid

Brazil Called upon to Block Genetically Engineered Eucalyptus Trees

Forest protection, increased biodiversity and wildlife conservation are just a few of the promises made by proponents of genetically engineered (GE) plants. But campaigners are not buying these promises.On Tuesday, environmental activists gathered in Brazilian consulates and embassies demanding that the government reject the proposal of FuturaGene, a biotechnological company, to legalise GE eucalyptus trees.The action was taken as part of the Emergency Global Day of Action on Four Continents to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees, organised by an international group of NGOs which have formed the The Campaign to STOP GE Trees. The campaign aims to protect forests, biodiversity, and support communities which may be threatened by the effects of GE plants in the environment.Campaigners fear that the Brazilian Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio), which regulates genetically modified organisms in Brazil, will accept FuturaGene's request for the legalisation of industrial GE plantation, at a conference which will be held on 5th March in Brasilia.International Coordinator of World Rainforest Movement, Winnie Overbeek, said in a statement: “CTNBio does not have sufficient research on the serious impacts that approval of GE eucalyptus trees could cause to render a decision,” adding that CTNBio held only one public meeting, back in September 2014 in Brasilia, which showed the insufficiency of the existing studies on the issue.“Existing non-GE eucalyptus plantations are already causing serious conflicts over access to land, and living conditions of communities surrounded by them have been destroyed. Approval of GE eucalyptus trees will worsen these problems,” Overbeek concluded.As opposed to the negative picture painted by environmentalists, FuturaGene claims that, “Technology developed by FuturaGene could position Brazil as a new model for the plantation forestry industry. This innovation provides benefits in the social, economic and environmental spheres.” However, activists insist on saying that introducing GE eucalyptus trees plantation would simply worsen the impact on the environment, biodiversity, and indigenous and local communities worldwide.Anne Petermann, International Coordinator of the Campaign to STOP GE Trees, said, “Industry requests to legalise GE Trees are not just being decided in Brazil, but in the U.S. also. And companies in other countries would like to develop GE trees.”The U.S. Department of Agriculture has had the same proposal put to them by a different GE tree company, ArborGen.“Today's day of action shows once more that people around the world reject genetically engineered trees and Brazil must also,” Petermann added.In November 2014, a group of experts, scientists, agronomists, indigenous peoples and foresters met in Paraguay to discuss the rejection of all GE trees, even those in field trials. Recently, this committee has finalised a declaration, the Asuncion Declaration, which has been submitted to the CTNBio.Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @ValeieriEdited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

Opinion: Reforming Mental Health in India

India is not only poised for greatness, some say it is already on its way. The events that have shaped the nation's dialogue over the past month showcase an India with a bold vision – to transform industry, to close the gap on inequality and ultimately, to redefine its place as a leader among the world.

Prominent Lawyer Defending the Poor Gunned Down in Mozambique

As billions pour into Mozambique from foreign investors scooping up fields of coal and natural gas, the signs of newfound wealth are impossible to miss.

Burundi-Watchers See Erosion of Human Rights and Civic Freedoms

The bad old days of the 1980s and 1990s when Burundi was widely considered a police state may be making a comeback.Some 300,000 people lost their lives in the country’s civil war from the 1990s to 2003, which broke out following the death of the country’s first democratically elected president.Human rights defenders and journalists are now routinely smeared as enemies of the state.According to a recent report by an East African rights group: “Human rights defenders in Burundi are operating in one of the most restrictive and hostile environments in East Africa as evidenced by an alarming pattern of harassment, intimidation, threats and legislative reforms.” Public gatherings have been banned, members of the opposition are attacked. Violence is escalating in the run up to the June 2015 elections, the East and Horn of Africa defenders project observed.Even group jogging, a popular Burundian hobby that officials now say leads to uprisings, has been banned.A tiny dot wedged between Tanzania to the south and east, and Rwanda to the north, the DRC to the west, Burundi was once a battleground between Hutus and Tutsis, much like Rwanda. The current president, Pierre Nkurunziza, was a Hutu rebel leader.The most contentious issue to date is whether the current president, Pierre Nkurunziza, will try for a third term – an apparent violation of the constitution.A prominent rights activist, Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, fears that a militarized youth wing of the ruling party is responsible for extrajudicial killings including beheadings.An international spotlight was drawn to Burundi in September with the murder of three Italian nuns at their convent in Bujumbura. A radio journalist, Bob Rugurika, broadcast the purposed confession of a man claiming to be one of the killers.Authorities detained Rugurika and then charged him with complicity in the murders and disclosing confidential information about the case.His release last month prompted huge rallies of support. Hundreds of people crammed into dozens of cars and motorbikes followed Mr Rugurika after being released from prison some 30 miles away, the AFP news agency reported.“I have no words to thank the Burundian population," Mr Rugurika said in a radio broadcast. "Thanks to your support, your commitment... I'm free at last."A spotlight has again been drawn to Burundi with the late night prison breakout this week of the president’s political rival, Hussein Radjabu. A former ally of the current president, he was regarded as Burundi’s most powerful man until his arrest in 2007.Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

By Girls, For Girls – Nepal’s Teenagers Say No to Child Marriage

If not for a group of her school friends coming to her rescue, Shradha Nepali would have become a bride at the tender age of 14.

Opinion: Let’s Grant Women Land Rights and Power Our Future

Women are not only the world’s primary food producers. They are hardworking and innovative and, they invest far more of their earnings in their families than men. But most lack the single most important asset for accessing investment resources – land rights.

Syrians “Have No Faith” in International Community to Solve Human Rights Crisis

Syrian citizens “have no faith” in the international community to solve the chaos and war raging across their country, according to a prominent human rights defender.

Tech-Savvy Women Farmers Find Success with SIM Cards

Jawadi Vimalamma, 36, looks admiringly at her cell phone. It’s a simple device that can only be used to send or receive a call or a text message. Yet to the farmer from the village of Janampet, located 150 km away from Hyderabad, capital of the southern Indian state of Telangana, it symbolises a wealth of knowledge that changed her life.

An American Missionary Kidnapped in Nigeria as Neighbouring Countries Seethe

With kidnappings and violent attacks almost a daily occurrence in Nigeria, the disappearance of an American missionary appears to have stirred a new wave of outrage among the international community at the worsening conditions in the West African country, once considered a rising star and the largest economy on the continent.Phyllis Sortor, a reverend with the Free Methodist Church USA, was taken from Hope Academy in Kogi state, central Nigeria, where she had been working since 2005.The kidnapping was probably not the work of Boko Haram, said Philip Obaji Jr., a freelancer and founder of 1 GAME, an advocacy group that fights for the right to education for disadvantaged children in northeastern Nigeria.Kogi state police commissioner Adeyemi Ogunjemilusi announced that a ransom of around 300,000 dollars had been demanded by Tuesday afternoon, barely 24 hours after the kidnapping, which is not typical for Boko Haram.“Kidnapping is big business here in Kogi. Most of the times, ransoms are paid to secure the release of abductees,” Ahmed, a local journalist, said in an interview. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a ransom is paid to secure Ms. Sortor’s release.”On the same day as Sortor’s kidnapping, a Chinese construction worker was abducted from his work site by armed men. All of southern Nigeria is prone to kidnappings, and public officials, their relatives, and foreign workers are regularly abducted for ransom. An estimated 1,500 kidnapping cases are reported every year.Meanwhile, it has been nearly one year since over 270 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in Chibok, Nigeria.Local activists have been stepping up their demands that the government make the disappearance of the Chibok girls the top priority. “Our rallies are the reason why [the government] remembers,” organizer Funmi Adesanya told TIME magazine, “but I don’t think they are really doing anything about it.While President Goodluck Jonathan and his national security advisor promised to end the Boko Haram threat before elections now scheduled for March 28, the new multinational force of Cameroon, Chad and Niger appears to be drawing new and dangerous fire from the insurgents.On Saturday, some 5,000 Cameroonians marched in their capital, Yaounde, and denounced the violence caused by Boko Haram.“It was important to tell Cameroonians that we are at war and a part of the country is suffering,” newspaper editor Gubai Gatama told Al Jazeera. “About 150,000 people have been displaced by the conflict, some 200,000 Nigerians are in refugee camps and 170 schools in Cameroon have been closed,” he said. “I am sure Boko Haram has got the message that the people are united against them.” Two hundred Cameroonian soldiers have been killed in the cross-border skirmishes so far.Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

Illegal Wildlife Trade Booms on Chinese Social Media

Despite a major online crackdown on the sale of illegal wildlife products in China, merchants are still peddling their wares in a thriving social media market.

Tackling Ebola: Give Autonomy to Local African Communities, Says International Rescue Committee

Recommendations on how to eradicate Ebola and avoid future outbreaks were released in a report on Tuesday by the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

Opinion: It’s Time to Step It Up for Gender Equality

If we look at the headlines or the latest horrifying YouTube clip, Mar. 8 – International Women’s Day – may seem a bad time to celebrate equality for women.

Gaza Reconstruction, Hampered by Israeli Blockade, May Take 100 Years, Say Aid Agencies

Despite all the political hoopla surrounding an international pledging conference in Cairo last October to help rebuild Gaza, the reconstruction of the Israeli-devastated territory is apparently moving at the pace of paralytic snail.

Women Leaders Call for Mainstreaming Gender Equality in Post-2015 Agenda

Women leaders from every continent, brought together by U.N. Women and the Chilean government, demanded that gender equality be a cross-cutting target in the post-2015 development agenda. Only that way, they say, can the enormous inequality gap that still affects women and children around the world be closed.

Families See Hope for Justice in Palestinian Membership of ICC

"I have lost all meaning in life after the death of my child, I will never forgive anyone who caused the tearing apart of his little body.  I appeal to all who can help and stand with us to achieve justice and punish those who killed my child."

Next Page »