Inter Press Service » Editors’ Choice http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 29 Apr 2016 13:52:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Can the UN Security Council Stop Hospitals Being Targets in War?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/can-the-un-security-council-stop-hospitals-being-targets-in-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-the-un-security-council-stop-hospitals-being-targets-in-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/can-the-un-security-council-stop-hospitals-being-targets-in-war/#comments Fri, 29 Apr 2016 13:41:36 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144901 The Agency Headquarters Hospital (AHH) in Bajaur Agency, shortly after a Taliban suicide bomb attack in 2013. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

The Agency Headquarters Hospital (AHH) in Bajaur Agency, shortly after a Taliban suicide bomb attack in 2013. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands
Apr 29 2016 (IPS)

Hospitals, health care workers and patients in war zones are supposed to be protected under international humanitarian law yet recent attacks from Syria to Afghanistan suggest that they have become targets.

The seeming lack of respect for the sanctity of health care in war zones has prompted UN Security Council members in New York to consider a new resolution designed to find new ways to halt these attacks.

The Security Council is expected to vote on the resolution on May 3, just days after Al Quds Hospital in Aleppo, Syria was bombed. Twenty seven staff and patients were killed in the airstrike on the hospital on Wednesday night, Dr Hatem, the director of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo told The Syria Campaign.

Among the victims was Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz, who Dr Hatem described as “the city’s most qualified paediatrician.”

Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria told journalists in Geneva Wednesday that Dr Maaz was the last paediatric doctor left in Aleppo, although IPS understands there is another paediatrician in the Aleppo countryside.

Dr Hatem said that Dr Maaz used to work at the children’s hospital during the day and attend to emergencies at the Al Quds hospital at night time.

“Dr Maaz stayed in Aleppo, the most dangerous city in the world, because of his devotion to his patients,” said Dr Hatem.

Dr Hatem said that “hospitals are often targeted by government and Russian air forces.”

“When the bombing intensifies, the medical staff run down to the ground floor of the hospital carrying the babies’ incubators in order to protect them,” he said.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia will be expected to vote on the proposed new resolution reinforcing the protection of hospitals, doctors and patients in war zones.

“When the bombing intensifies, the medical staff run down to the ground floor of the hospital carrying the babies’ incubators in order to protect them.” -- Dr Hatem, director of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo.

Another Security Council Member accused of bombing a hospital, the United States, is expected to release its report Friday of its own investigation into the attack on the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan on Oct. 3 2015.

MSF say that 42 people we killed in the sustained bombing of the hospital, including 24 patients and 18 staff.

Roman Oyarzun Marchesi, permanent representative of Spain to the UN said that the “the wake up call (for the Security Council resolution) came from organisations such as Medecins Sans Frontieres who are forced to stay out of certain areas or countries due to the lack of protection on the ground.”

“Attacks against the provision of health care are becoming so frequent that humanitarian actors face serious limitations to do their jobs,” said Marchesi at an event held to discuss the proposed resolution at the International Peace Institute earlier this month.

The event brought together representatives from the medical community with the five Security Council members drafting the resolution, Egypt, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, and Uruguay.

Speaking on behalf of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), whose hospitals have come under frequent attacks in recent months and years, Jason Cone, Executive Director of MSF America called for greater accountability.

“As of today suspected perpetrators get away with self-investigating and there’s no independent follow-up of attacks,” said Cone.

“It is a critical moment for member states to reaffirm the sanctity of the medical act in armed conflict,” he said.

The current situation does not reflect the respect given to health care in war from the earliest stages of the Geneva conventions, Stéphane Ojeda, Deputy Permanent Observer to the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross told the meeting.

“The protection of the wounded and sick has been at the heart of International Humanitarian Law since the start,” said Ojeda.

“Indeed the wounded and sick and the medical personnel taking care of them were the first categories of protected persons under international humanitarian law because in the 1864 first Geneva Convention,” he said.

The principle that health care personnel should not be punished for caring for the wounded and sick also needs to be respected, said Ojeda.

“If you start questioning this that’s a whole pillar of humanity starting to collapse,” he said.

Cone also added to Ojeda’s calls for the duties of doctors in caring for the wounded and sick to be respected.

“We can not accept any criminalisation of the medical act, any resolution should reinforce and strengthen protection for medical ethics,” he said.

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Violence Against Women Journalists Threatens Media Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/violence-against-women-journalists-threatens-media-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-against-women-journalists-threatens-media-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/violence-against-women-journalists-threatens-media-freedom/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 19:38:18 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144892 A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

For women journalists, violence and intimidation don’t just happen in conflict zones, they are every day experiences.

“You don’t even have to be in a conflict zone to be violated anymore,” New York Times reporter and author of the Taliban Shuffle Kim Barker said Wednesday at the launch of a new book documenting the daily violence and harassment which women journalists experience.

After writing an opinion-editorial on her experience of sexual harassment in the field, Barker said that an online commenter called her “fat” and “unattractive” and told her that “nobody would want to rape you.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) chose to focus its 2016 edition of the Attacks on the Press book series on the gender-based online harassment, sexual violence and physical assault experienced by women journalists, because of the impact of this violence on press freedom.

“In societies where women have to fight to have control over their own bodies, have to fight to reassert their right in the public space—being a woman journalist is almost a form of activism,” said Egyptian broadcast journalist Rawya Rageh who also spoke at the launch.

Much of the abuse takes place online where attackers can hide behind the anonymity of online comments.

“Our words, our will, can prevent the silencing of voices, the violation of our freedom of expression…and we, as journalists, have a huge responsibility in this regard." -- Jineth Bedoya Lima.

According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of Internet users have experienced some form of online harassment. Though men are also subject to harassment, online abuse towards women tends to be more severe, including sexual harassment and threats of violence.

For example, one journalist reported to the The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) that a troll had threatened to “human flesh hunt” her.

Alessandria Masi, a Middle East correspondent for the International Business Times, recalled the comments she received in an essay in CPJ’s book: “I have been hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army for writing an article that was critical of Syrian President Bashar Assad and asked how many people I have to have sexual relations with to get my article published.”

Online abuse is a symptom of deep-seated and pervasive sexism, many note. University of Maryland Law Professor and Author of “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace” Danielle Keats Citron stated that online gender harassment “reinforce(s) gendered stereotypes” where men are perceived as dominant in the workplace while women are sexual objects who have no place in online spaces.

But the threats do not just stay online, they also often manifest in the real world.

Deputy Editor of a Colombian Newspaper Jineth Bedoya Lima was kidnapped and raped in 2000 after exposing an underground network of arms trafficking in the country.

In 2012, after reporting on the dangers of female genital mutilation, Liberian journalist Mae Azongo received death threats including that she will be caught and cut if she does not “shut up.” She was forced to go into hiding with her nine-year-old daughter.

A year later, Libyan journalist Khawlija al-Amami was shot at by gunmen who pulled up to her car. Though she survived, she later received a text message warning her to “stop your journalism” or be killed.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) journalists also face similar threats, CPJ added. Most recently, Xulhaz Mannan, editor of Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, was hacked to death in his home.

However, many do not report their cases.

“It was almost like this dirty little secret, you didn’t talk about it…because you had to seem like you were just like one of the guys,” Barker said. She pointed to Lara Logan’s case as the dividing point.

While covering the Egyptian Revolution for CBS, Logan was violently sexually assaulted by a mob of men. During an interview on “60 Minutes,” she described how she was pulled away from her crew, her clothes ripped off, beaten with sticks and raped.

When asked why she spoke out, Logan said that she wanted to break the silence “on what all of us have experienced but never talk about.”

One key reason that many journalists do not speak out is the fear of being pulled out of reporting because of their gender or sexual orientation.

“It’s a catch-22,” said Rageh to participants. “I don’t want to reinforce this idea of who I am or what I am is going to curtail my ability to cover the story, but of course there’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” she continued.

CPJ’s Vice Chair and Executive Editor of the Associated Press Kathleen Carroll noted that the threat of sexual violence has long kept women out of the field of journalism. But there are ways to handle such threats that do not lead to the exclusion of women, she said.

Carroll stated that good tools and training should be provided to journalists, both women and men alike. IWMF established a gender-specific security training, preparing women to be in hostile environments. This includes role-play scenarios, risk assessments and communication plans.

Effective, knowledgeable and compassionate leaders are also needed in news agencies in order to help staff minimize threats, Carroll added.

Panelists urged for reform, noting that women are needed in the field.

“The more women you have out there covering those stories, the more those stories get told,” Barker said.

In an essay, Lima also reflected on the importance of women’s voices, stating: “Our words, our will, can prevent the silencing of voices, the violation of our freedom of expression…and we, as journalists, have a huge responsibility in this regard. Our words can stir a fight or bury the hope of change forever.”

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UN Predicts 40 Percent Water Shortfall by 2030http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/un-predicts-40-percent-water-shortfall-by-2030/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-predicts-40-percent-water-shortfall-by-2030 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/un-predicts-40-percent-water-shortfall-by-2030/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 19:04:20 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144889 The pastoralists of Ethiopia’s Somali region are forced to move constantly in search of pasture and watering holes for their animals. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

The pastoralists of Ethiopia’s Somali region are forced to move constantly in search of pasture and watering holes for their animals. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

Ten presidents and prime ministers from around the world will work together to resolve the growing global water crisis amid warnings that the world may face a 40 percent shortfall in water availability by 2030.

The figures continue to be staggering:  despite improvements, at least 663 million still do not have access to safe drinking water.

And projecting into the future, the United Nations says an estimated 1.8 billion people – out of a total world population of over 7 billion – will live in countries or regions with water scarcities.

The crisis has been aggravated by several factors, including climate change (triggering droughts) and military conflicts (where water is being used as a weapon of war in several war zones, including Iraq, Yemen and Syria).

The High Level Panel on Water, announced jointly by the the United Nations and World Bank last week. is expected to mobilise financial resources and scale up investments for increased water supplies. It will be co-chaired by President Ameenah Gurib of Mauritius and President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico. The other eight world leaders on the panel include: Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia; Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh; János Áder, President of Hungary; Abdullah Ensour, Prime Minister of Jordan; Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands; Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa; Macky Sall, President of Senegal; and Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan.

At a UN panel discussion last week, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson of Sweden said water lies at the nexus between sustainable development and climate action.

"If the water service fee is beyond a household’s ability to pay, it is a human rights violation.” -- Darcey O’Callaghan, Food and Water Watch.

Referring to the two extremes in weather patterns– droughts on the one hand and floods on the other – Eliasson said one of his colleagues who visited Pakistan after a huge flood, remarked: “Too much water and not a drop to drink.”

When world leaders held a summit meeting last September to adopt the UN’s post-2015 development agenda, they also approved 17 SDGs, including the elimination of extreme poverty and hunger and the provision of safe drinking water to every single individual in the world – by a targeted date of 2030.

But will this target be reached by the 15 year deadline?

Sanjay Wijesekera, Associate Director, Programmes, and Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at the UN children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS: “As we enter the SDG era, there is no doubt that the goal to get ‘safely managed’ water to every single person on earth within the next 15 years is going to be a challenge. What we have learned from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is that water cannot be successfully tackled in isolation.”

He said water safety is compromised every day from poor sanitation, which is widespread in many countries around the world, particularly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Currently, nearly two billion people worldwide are estimated to be drinking water which may be faecally contaminated.

As a result, UNICEF and others working on access to safe water, will have to redouble their efforts on improving people’s access to and use of toilets, and especially to end open defecation.

“As we address water, sanitation and hygiene, we must also take into account climate change. Droughts, floods, and extreme weather conditions all have an effect on the availability and the safety of water,” said Wijesekera.

He also pointed out that some 160 million children under-5 live in areas at high risk of drought, while around half a billion live in flood zones.

Asked how best the water crisis can be resolved, Darcey O’Callaghan, International Policy Director at Food and Water Watch, told IPS the global water crisis must be addressed in two primary ways.

“First, we must provide clean, safe, sufficient water to all people because water is a human right. Affordability is a key component of meeting this need. Second, we must protect water sustainability by not overdrawing watersheds beyond their natural recharge rate.”

“If we allow water sources to run dry, then we lose the ability to protect people’s human rights. So clearly, we must address these two components in tandem,” she said.

To keep water affordable, she pointed out, it must be managed by a public entity, not a private, for-profit one. Allowing corporations to control access to water (described as “water privatization”) has failed communities around the globe, resulting in poor service, higher rates and degraded water quality.

Corporations like Veolia and Suez — and their subsidiaries around the world—are seeking to profit off of managing local water systems, she said, pointing out that financial institutions like the World Bank and regional development banks often place conditions on loans to developing countries that require these systems to be privatized.

“But this is a recipe for disaster. Profits should not be the priority when it comes to providing water and sanitation services to people”, said O’Callaghan.

Asked if the public should pay for water, she said there is no longer any question that water and sanitation are both human rights. What the public pays for is water infrastructure upkeep and the cost of running water through the networks that deliver this resource to our homes, schools, businesses and government institutions.

“The UN has established guidelines for water affordability –three percent of household income—and these guidelines protect the human right to water. If the water service fee is beyond a household’s ability to pay, it is a human rights violation.”

One approach that has shown promise are public-public partnerships (PPPs). In contrast to privatization, which puts public needs into the hands of profit-seeking corporations, PPPs bring together public officials, workers and communities to provide better service for all users more efficiently.

PUPs allow two or more public water utilities or non-governmental organizations to join forces and leverage their shared capacities. PPPs allow multiple public utilities to pool resources, buying power and technical expertise, she said.

The benefits of scale and shared resources can deliver higher public efficiencies and lower costs. These public partnerships, whether domestic or international, improve and promote public delivery of water through sharing best practices, said O’Callaghan.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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How We Can Keep Press Freedom from Withering Away?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/how-we-can-keep-press-freedom-from-withering-away/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-we-can-keep-press-freedom-from-withering-away http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/how-we-can-keep-press-freedom-from-withering-away/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 18:37:05 +0000 Farhana Haque Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144887

While a free press means that a journalist has rights, it does not mean that she or he is right.

This article forms part of a series by IPS for World Press Freedom Day, May 3.]]>


While a free press means that a journalist has rights, it does not mean that she or he is right.

This article forms part of a series by IPS for World Press Freedom Day, May 3.

By Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, Inter Press Service
ROME, Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

Media freedoms appear increasingly under siege around the world, with concerning signs that achieving middle-income status is no guarantee for an independent political watchdog in the form of the press.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Farhana Haque Rahman

The news is constant and disheartening.

The death this week of a LGBT magazine editor in Bangladesh shows that around the world, those who speak up are too often themselves tragically silenced.

In Mexico, journalists are knocked off – by criminal gangs, or maybe by colluding public authorities – and only rarely is their death punished. The fact that the government has a special prosecutor for such crimes does not seem to have any impact.

In South Africa, a new bill on national security allows for whistle blowers to be jailed for decades – the first legislation since the end of apartheid that curtails a freedom many once fought for.

The arrest of newspaper editors in Turkey is alarming. In Tunisia, the media’s main enemy is no longer tyranny in the form of a dictator, the new constitution tried to make defamation and libel – often flexible categories – punishable by fines only, but those the government often insist on use the penal code. A pending bill that would criminalize “denigration” of security forces.

Security threats, not always well-defined, are increasingly cited to promote further restrictions – in France, Belgium and beyond. The U.S. Senate has proposed requiring Internet companies to report “terrorist activity” and a UN Security Council committee recently called for Internet platforms to be liable for hosting content posted by extremists – even though the Islamic State alone posts an estimated 90,000 posts a day and has been known to taunt the social media platforms they use for trying to stop them.

Proposed Internet regulations are not just about terrorism or alleged civil war. They can be used to muffle news about deadly industrial accidents, government corruption and more. China wants to forbid foreign ownership of online media.

Censorship can use commercial pressure. Many feel the reason a major Kenyan daily sacked its editor was out of fear criticism of the government would lead to an advertising boycott and the risk of bankruptcy. The recent purchase of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post by Alibaba’s founder, widely seen as close to Beijing, will be watched closely.

Looser defamation laws – proposed in the U.S. by a presidential candidate – have a long history of being used to silence people through long Kafka-esque judicial action.

One of the stranger cases – yet no less symptomatic of the trend – was the Indian government’s firing of an educational newspaper’s editor for having published a story suggesting that iron is an important nutritional element and can be obtained from beef or veal – a taboo food according to the ideological Hinduism championed by the current ruling party.

What to do?

There is a broadly-agreed narrative that claims a free and independent press is an essential part of any genuine democracy. It has long been held that while there may be stages along the way for developing countries, upholding media freedom is a strong sign of commitment that bodes well for improved governance across the board and thus better human welfare for all.

I have not heard one coherent argument claiming that this is no longer the case. Political leaders should be pressured to state publicly that they do not believe in media freedom’s merits – which few will do – rather than hide behind vague security threats that often sound like the rumour mill that preceded the guillotines of the French Revolution. This can work, as shown last year when international pressure led President Joko Widodo of Indonesia to force a senior minister to drop new rules curtailing the rights of foreign journalists in the country.

Public pressure on governments to make sure legislative threats to the press are reversed and threats against media freedom properly policed are essential. A Swedish law that makes it illegal for a reporter to reveal an anonymous source warrants consideration for emulation. And this highlights how journalists themselves must help achieve the goal.

Self-regulation can work, as Scandinavian countries show. Independent press councils can serve as a powerful forum – ideally enhanced with a public code of ethics that all parties can invoke – both for journalists themselves and readers and other stakeholders who may complain about their work.

After all, while a free press means that a journalist has rights, it does not mean that she or he is right.

To prove effective, a whole ecosystem must be set up. Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act is now several centuries old, and the country has a constitutional principle requiring that all public records be available to the public. It is true that the experience of the Nordic countries is historically linked to the absence of feudalism, but it is an implicit goal of all democracy to overcome such legacies, so setting up institutions that mutually reinforce the free flow of information is part of any sustainable development in the interest of all – and not a perk upon arrival.

Digital publishing has, to be sure, raised thorny questions, notably about whether expressions that insult cultural sensitivities – whatever they may be – contribute to the culture a free press needs and is meant to foster. Opinions may vary on where appropriate limits may lie. But all authorities – precisely because they hold power – should accept the principle that the free press exists to hold them accountable, and that suppressing journalists will not bolster their power but ultimately erode it.

(End)

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Why we need to stand united against governments cracking down on dissenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/why-we-need-to-stand-united-against-governments-cracking-down-on-dissent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-we-need-to-stand-united-against-governments-cracking-down-on-dissent http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/why-we-need-to-stand-united-against-governments-cracking-down-on-dissent/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 14:33:35 +0000 Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144877 Police use tear gas and water canons in Istanbul to disperse demonstrators protesting the new Internet bill in February 2014. Credit: Emrah Gurel/IPS.

Police use tear gas and water canons in Istanbul to disperse demonstrators protesting the new Internet bill in February 2014. Credit: Emrah Gurel/IPS.

By Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

Last month, after receiving threats for opposing a hydroelectric project, Berta Caceres, a Honduran indigenous and environmental rights campaigner, was murdered. A former winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize for her opposition to one of Central America’s biggest hydropower projects, Berta was shot dead in her own home.

In the same month, South African anti-mining activist, Sikhosiphi Bazooka Radebe, leader of a fiercely fought campaign to protect a pristine stretch of the Pondoland Wild Coast, was also shot dead.

Across the world, civic activists are being detained, tortured and killed. The space for citizens to organise and mobilise is being shut down; dissenting voices are being shut up. In 2015, at least 156 human rights activists were murdered. 156 that we know of.

The scale of the threat cannot be underestimated. The most recent analysis by my CIVICUS colleagues shows that, in 2015, significant violations of civic space were recorded in over 100 countries, up from 96 in 2014. People living in these countries account for roughly 86% of the world’s population. This means that 6 out of 7 people live in states where their basic rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression are being curtailed or denied. No single region stands out; truly, this is a worldwide trend, a global clampdown.

Hostility towards civil society is becoming normalised as threats emanate from an increasing range of state and non-state actors: corrupt politicians and officials, unaccountable security forces, unscrupulous businesses and religious fundamentalists.

Hostility towards civil society is becoming normalised as threats emanate from an increasing range of state and non-state actors: corrupt politicians and officials, unaccountable security forces, unscrupulous businesses and religious fundamentalists. But perhaps more worrying is the demonisation of civil society in mainstream political discourse. A recent bill in Israel, touted by its supporters as the ‘Transparency Bill’, places rigorous new disclosure demands on any Israeli non-profit organisation that receives more than 50% of its funding from “Foreign Political Entities’, in other words from foreign governments, the EU or UN. Following an escalating global trend, the bill seeks to cast Israeli CSOs as disloyal ‘foreign agents’, demanding that their public communications state the source of their funding and calling for their employees to wear distinctive tags.

In the UK recent government efforts to restrict the lobbying activities of civil society organisations prompted over 140 charities to express their concern. A proposed new grant agreement clause seeks to prevent UK charities from using their funds to enter into any dialogue with parliament, government or a political party. In India, Prime Minister Modi has cautioned his judiciary against being influenced by what he called, ‘five star activists’. Insinuating that the civil society sector is elitist and out of touch with realities on the ground, the comments lent renewed impetus to the country’s ongoing crackdown on critical civil rights activists and NGOs.

The recent proliferation of counter-terrorism measures has also served to further stigmatise and stifle the sector. By suggesting that non-profit organisations are particularly vulnerable to abuse or exploitation by terrorist groups, governments have justified new laws and regulatory restrictions on their legitimate activities and the political space they inhabit. Freedom of speech is being silenced, funding sources cut off; the effect has been debilitating.

State surveillance of online activities is also on the rise as authorities note the power of the internet and social media as a tool for citizen mobilization. Governments have woken up to the power of civil society. The deepest fear of repressive regimes is no longer necessarily the rise of new political opposition parties; it is 100,000 of their citizens taking to the streets in the pursuit of change. And so a concerted push-back has begun, an effort to tame civil society, to smother its ability to catalyse social transformation.

We need to push back on these incursions on civic space, urgently and across the world. We need to be challenging our governments over rights violations, about the murder of activists, about their progress in fighting poverty, climate change and inequality.

There is much cause for hope. Last year, a coalition of Tunisian civil society organisations won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in bringing a country back from the brink of civil war and laying the foundations of a pluralistic democracy. The latest innovations in protest and movement building, in technologies that can liberate and mobilise citizens, in citizen-generated data that can empower campaigners and increase transparency around the monitoring of our global goals: all of these signal a new era of dynamic civic activism. Over the last few days more than 500 leading activists and thinkers gathered at International Civil Society Week 2016 in Bogota, Colombia to plot civil society’s global fight-back. It is fitting that this meeting took place against a backdrop of the peace negotiations that Colombian civil society has played such a key role in making possible.

Our gathering has the potential to be a defining moment for the future of democratic struggles. There will be more setbacks, low points and sacrifices to come but the demands for change won’t go away. Nor will civil society’s ability to affect it. A new, radically different vision for the future of civic action is being formulated. And those of us who believe in a healthy, independent civil society have more responsibility than ever before to keep on making our case. Knowing the threats she faced, Berta Caceres said, ‘We must undertake the struggle in all parts of the world, wherever we may be, because we have no spare or replacement planet. We have only this one and we have to take action’. She was right.

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah is the Secretary General of CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of IPS.

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Opinion: Increasing Productivity Key to Revive Growth and Support Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/opinion-increasing-productivity-key-to-revive-growth-and-support-sustainable-development-in-asia-and-the-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-increasing-productivity-key-to-revive-growth-and-support-sustainable-development-in-asia-and-the-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/opinion-increasing-productivity-key-to-revive-growth-and-support-sustainable-development-in-asia-and-the-pacific/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 12:37:28 +0000 Shamshad Akhtar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144870 The author is an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. She has been the UN’s Sherpa for the G20 and previously served as Governor of the Central Bank of Pakistan and Vice President of the MENA Region of the World Bank. The full Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2016 may be downloaded free of charge at http://www.unescap.org/publications/economic-and-social-survey-asia-pacific.]]> Shamshad Akhtar

Shamshad Akhtar

By Shamshad Akhtar
BANGKOK, Thailand , Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

The Asia-Pacific region’s successful achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development needs to be driven by broad-based productivity gains and rebalancing of economies towards domestic and regional demand. This is the main message of the Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2016, published today by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Such a strategy will not only underpin the revival of robust and resilient economic growth, but also improve the quality of growth by making it more inclusive and sustainable.

How should Asia-Pacific policymakers go about implementing such a strategy? Approaches by developing Asia-Pacific economies that are tilted more towards reliance on export-led economic recovery will be ineffective under the current circumstances. Despite extraordinary measures, global aggregate demand remains weak and China’s economic expansion is moderating. The impact of further loosening of monetary policy is also likely to remain muted, and is not advisable. The key reason is a confluence of macroeconomic risks that are clouding the economic outlook, such as low commodity prices affecting resource-dependent economies, volatility in exchange rates, as well as growing private household and corporate debt, the impact of which is likely to be complicated by the ambiguous path of interest rate increases to be pursued by the United States.

The contribution of export-led economic growth to overall development of economies, supported by low interest rates and rising private debt, seems to have plateaued, with economic growth in developing Asia-Pacific economies in 2016 and 2017 forecast to marginally increase to 4.8% and 5% respectively from an estimated 4.6% in 2015. This is considerably below the average of 9.4% in the pre-crisis period of 2005-2007.

Along with the economic slowdown, progress in poverty reduction is slowing, inequalities are rising and prospects of decent employment are weakening. At the same time, rapid urbanization and a rising middle class are posing complex economic, social, and environmental and governance challenges. Such conditions can undermine the significant development successes of the region in recent decades, making it more difficult to deal with the unfinished development agenda, such as lifting 639 million people out of poverty. Had inequality not increased, approximately 200 million more people could have been lifted out of poverty in the three most populous countries of the region alone.

To overcome these challenges, revive the region’s economic dynamism and effectively pursue the 2030 Agenda, policymakers are advised to use all available policy levers, including countercyclical fiscal policy and supportive social protection measures, which critically calls for raising domestic resources. Such interventions would not only support domestic demand but also strengthen the foundations for future productivity-led growth by targeting areas such as: labour quality, including knowledge, skills, and health of the workforce; innovation through trade, investment and R&D; adequate infrastructure in transport, energy and ICT; and access to finance, especially by SMEs.

Fiscal measures, underpinning such initiatives, should be accompanied by sustained reforms towards efficient and fair tax systems which deliver the necessary revenues for the required investment in sustainable development

Sustained increases in domestic demand will also require steady growth in real wages. This requires linking labour productivity more closely to wage levels. Strengthening the enabling environment for collective bargaining is one necessary component in the policy arsenal of governments, with the enforcement of minimum wages as another important policy tool.

After increasing significantly over the last few decades, productivity growth has declined in recent years. This is worrying not only because wage growth has lagged behind productivity growth, but also because wage growth ultimately depends on productivity growth. Specifically, compared to the period 2000-2007, annual growth of total factor productivity has declined by more than 65% in developing countries of the region, averaging only 0.96% per year between 2008 and 2014; labour productivity growth has declined by 30%, reaching just 3.9% in 2013.

The recently-adopted Sustainable Development Goals provide an entry point to strengthen productivity. For instance, raising agricultural productivity and thus lifting rural households income must be the center of the focus to end poverty (Goal 1), to end hunger and achieve food security (Goal 2). This is because agriculture accounts for one in four workers in the region and more than half of the region’s people live in rural areas. Efforts to eradicate poverty and increase agricultural productivity would also foster development of the rural sector and encourage industrialization (Goal 9).

Higher levels of productivity in agriculture will also free-up labour, which would be available to work in the non-agricultural sector. It is therefore imperative to consider a broader development strategy that moves towards full and productive employment (Goal 8) to accommodate the “agricultural push” of labour. This will require mechanisms to provide, particularly those with low skills, access to quality education and lifelong learning (Goal 4).The need to provide quality education cannot be overemphasized in view of the skills bias of modern technology, which reduces the pace of absorption of unskilled labour released from the agricultural sector.

Thus, whereas the Goals will contribute to strengthening productivity, importantly, strengthening productivity will also contribute to the success of a number of the Goals, creating a virtuous cycle between sustainable development, productivity and economic growth.

(End)

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Playing Ping Pong with Disabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/playing-ping-pong-with-disability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=playing-ping-pong-with-disability http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/playing-ping-pong-with-disability/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 07:53:51 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144866 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/playing-ping-pong-with-disability/feed/ 0 Times of Violence and Resistance for Latin American Journalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/times-of-violence-and-resistance-for-latin-american-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=times-of-violence-and-resistance-for-latin-american-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/times-of-violence-and-resistance-for-latin-american-journalists/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 22:15:37 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144856 Demonstrators in a protest held to commemorate murdered reporter Regina Martínez at the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City. Mexico accounted for 14 of the 43 journalists killed in Latin America in 2015. Credit: Lucía Vergara/IPS

Demonstrators in a protest held to commemorate murdered reporter Regina Martínez at the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City. Mexico accounted for 14 of the 43 journalists killed in Latin America in 2015. Credit: Lucía Vergara/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Apr 27 2016 (IPS)

Mexico is the most dangerous country in Latin America for journalists. In 2015 it accounted for one-third of all murders of reporters in the region, and four more journalists have been added to the list so far this year.

The latest, Francisco Pacheco Beltrán, was shot dead outside his home in the southern state of Guerrero on Monday Apr. 25. Pacheco Beltrán regularly covered crime and violence, which have been on the rise in connection with organised crime and drug trafficking. He worked for several local media outlets in Mexico’s poorest state, which is also one of the most violent.

His murder adds one more chapter to the history of terror for the press in Mexico in this new century, which has not only included the killings of 92 journalists, but also a phenomenon that is almost unheard-of in democratic countries around the world: 23 journalists have been forcibly disappeared in the last 12 years, an average of two a year.

And every 22 hours, a journalist is attacked in Mexico, according to the latest report by the Britain-based anti-censorship group Article 19.

“Violence against the press in Mexico is systematic and widespread,” said the former director of the organisation’s Mexico branch, Darío Ramírez, on the last International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, celebrated each Nov. 2.

But violence and impunity are not the only problems faced by journalists in Mexico and the rest of the region.

Ricardo González, Article 19’s global protection programme officer, told IPS that freedom of the press in Latin America faces three principal challenges: prevention, protection and the fight against impunity; the de-concentration of media ownership; and improving the working conditions of journalists.

“For us, the red zones are Mexico, Honduras and Brazil,” González said.

According to the Federation of Latin American Journalists (FEPALC), 43 journalists were killed in the region in 2015, including 14 in Mexico (besides two that were forcibly disappeared). Mexico is followed by Honduras (10), Brazil (eight), Colombia (five) and Guatemala (three).

Brazil’s National Federation of Journalists reported a 60 percent rise in journalists killed between 2014 and 2015. The highest-profile case was the murder of investigative reporter Evany José Metzker, whose decapitated body was found in May 2015.

Honduras and Mexico have a similar problem: the violence against journalists is compounded by a culture of impunity.

Honduran journalists protest an official secrets law that undermines their work. By means of laws and other mechanisms, some governments in Latin America have restricted access to information, the theme of World Press Freedom Day this year. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Honduran journalists protest an official secrets law that undermines their work. By means of laws and other mechanisms, some governments in Latin America have restricted access to information, the theme of World Press Freedom Day this year. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“In the first half of 2015, the Commission registered a worrying number of unclarified murders of communicators and media workers,” says the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) annual report on Honduras.

Not just murders

But violence is not the only threat faced by the media in Honduras. One of the Central American country’s leading newspapers, Diario Tiempo, which stood out for its defence of democracy during the 2009 coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya, was recently shut down.

The closure of the newspaper is linked to the downfall of one of the most powerful families in the country: the family of banking magnate Jaime Rosenthal, who is accused by the U.S. Treasury Department of laundering money for drug traffickers.

The freezing of the accounts of businesses in the family’s Grupo Continental conglomerate, as a result of that accusation, led to the closure of the newspaper, announced in October. As a result, the government was accused of taking disproportionate measures against the outspoken publication.

In a public letter, Rosenthal said “the circumstances that led to this suspension are very serious with regard to freedom of speech, social communication and democracy in our country, to the extreme that this is an atypical case in the Western world.”

A newspaper with a similar name, in Argentina, is an example of the other side of the coin in the region. On Monday Apr. 25, journalists from Tiempo Argentina, a Buenos Aires daily that closed down in late 2015, relaunched the publication, this time as a weekly.

Under the slogan “the owners of our own words”, the Tiempo Argentino reporters got their jobs back by forming a cooperative, similar to the format used by factory workers to get bankrupt companies operating again after Argentina’s severe 2001-2002 economic crisis.

“It’s really good to see that the more people organise, the more the competition between companies is overcome,” Cecilia González, a correspondent for the Notimex agency in the countries of Latin America’s Southern Cone region, told IPS from Buenos Aires.

But González said that in Argentina there are plenty of problems as well, and few positive answers like Tiempo Argentino. One of the big problems was President Mauricio Macri’s modification by decree of a law pushed through by his leftist predecessor in 2015 that outlawed monopolies by media companies.

On Apr. 18, Macri, who took office in December, told the IACHR that he would draft a new law with input from civil society. But reporters in Argentina are sceptical.

“Besides the more than 300 media outlets owned by the Grupo Clarín and which it will avoid losing, another monopoly is being built in the shadows, associated with La Nación, and they plan to get hold of the entire chain of magazines,” the Orsai magazine wrote.

But for the IACHR and its special rapporteur for freedom of expression, conservative governments are not the only ones causing problems.

In Ecuador, to cite one example involving a left-leaning administration, President Rafael Correa, in office since 2007, used the strength of the state to sue executives of the El Universo newspaper – Carlos, César and Nicolás Pérez – and its then editorial page editor, Emilio Palacio.

The president sought 80 million dollars in damages and three years in prison for libel after an editorial by Palacio alleged that he ordered police to open fire on a hospital full of civilians during a September 2010 police rebellion.

In December 2015, the IACHR accepted a petition accusing the government of the alleged violation of legal safeguards and freedom of thought and expression, and requesting legal protection.

Correa also took aim against one of Latin America’s best-known cartoonists. In 2014 a cartoon by Xavier Bonilla – who goes by the pen name Bonil – that depicted a raid by police and public prosecutors on the home of a political opposition leader enraged Correa, who launched a campaign against the cartoonist.

“Ecuadoreans should reject lies and liars, especially if the liars are cowards and haters of the government disguised as clever, funny caricaturists,” was one of the president’s outbursts against Bonilla.

As journalists in the region get ready for World Press Freedom Day, celebrated May 3, there are signs of resistance in some countries, although the climate is not the best for media workers.

One example is Veracruz, the Mexican state that has been in the international headlines for the alarming number of reporters who have been assaulted or killed.

On Apr. 28, the fourth anniversary of the murder of Regina Martínez, a correspondent for the local weekly Proceso, journalists belonging to the Colectivo Voz Alterna, who have battled hard in defence of the right to inform, in the midst of a climate of terror, will place a plaque in her honour in the central square of the state capital.

“We cannot forget, and we cannot just do nothing,” Vera Cruz reporter Norma Trujillo told IPS. Similar sentiments are voiced by reporters working in dangerous conditions around the region.
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Why the World Needs a UN Leader Who Stands Up for Human Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/why-the-world-needs-a-un-leader-who-stands-up-for-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-the-world-needs-a-un-leader-who-stands-up-for-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/why-the-world-needs-a-un-leader-who-stands-up-for-human-rights/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 22:03:39 +0000 Anna Neistat http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144855 The Human Rights Council in Geneva. UN Photo/Pierre-Michel Virot.

The Human Rights Council in Geneva. UN Photo/Pierre-Michel Virot.

By Anna Neistat
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2016 (IPS)

Last August, Balla Hadji, a 61-year-old truck driver in Bangui in the Central African Republic, was having breakfast with his wife when they heard shots outside. He ran out to call his daughter inside, but troops were already there, and shot him in the back as he ran away. His 16-year-old son, Souleimane, was also shot when he ran towards his father. Balla died on the spot, his son Souleimane the next day.

The soldiers were neither armed groups nor government forces; they wore the famous blue helmet and vest of United Nations (UN) peacekeepers. Witnesses told Amnesty International that instead of helping the wounded father and son, the peacekeepers – who were meant to protect them – fired another round when the daughter tried to cross the street to reach her injured relatives.

What happened to an organization meant to protect and give voice to the world’s most vulnerable people? This is a question that candidates to succeed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon must address in the process that started at the UN General Assembly earlier this month. In the coming months governments will select the UN’s next leader – who will take up their post in 2017.

This is a crucial turning point for a twentieth century body being shoe-horned into the twenty-first.

The UN showed it can still deliver when it brokered agreements on development and climate goals in 2015, but its response to major crises was woefully inadequate. From its failure to protect civilians in conflicts like Syria and South Sudan to abuses perpetrated by its own forces, the UN is an organization creaking at the seams.

This is largely the fault of governments willfully thwarting UN action aimed at preventing war crimes and crimes against humanity or holding perpetrators to account. The UN Security Council appears less a place where people’s security and rights are protected than a forum where the richest and most powerful countries in the world play politics with their lives.

Four times a Security Council member has vetoed UN efforts to respond to the Syrian conflict. The result: nearly 12 million forced to flee their homes, and more than 250,000 dead.

At the Human Rights Council, Saudi Arabia’s western allies did its bidding, obstructing the establishment of a UN-led inquiry into violations by all sides in the conflict in Yemen, even while the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign commits war crimes. The result: a conflict that has taken the lives of more than 2,800 civilians, 700 of them children.

Even when the Security Council has acted and imposed sanctions and arms embargoes they have not been implemented effectively, for example in Sudan.

This cannot go on. I have seen the consequences on the ground in countries like Syria and Yemen: thousands detained, killed, displaced, and disappeared. When the victims and their families ask me if there is an organization that can help them, I know the answer should be the UN. Today I cannot look them in the eye and promise it will.

Failure to protect human rights will sow the seeds of future crises by fueling the injustice and repression that breed instability. Look at the uprisings in the Arab world five years ago, a palpable example of the link between system failure and governments repressing dissent and human rights.

The UN has not failed, yet. But its ability to fulfill its purpose is in grave jeopardy. The governments who select the next Secretary-General have to answer the critics who question whether the organization is fit for purpose in the twenty-first century.

The world needs someone who will champion marginalized people, protect civilians in conflict and prevent mass violations, combat impunity by supporting the International Criminal Court, fight for gender equality, defend activists against repressive governments and deal with the biggest global refugee crisis in seventy years.

That is a tall order, but essential in a world racked by proliferating conflict, deliberate targeting of civilians by states and armed groups, and rising xenophobia.

The next Secretary-General can do that by putting the protection of human rights front and centre. Human rights are meant to be the UN’s third pillar, along with development, and maintaining peace and security. But they risk becoming the third rail of UN politics: too controversial to touch, and a black mark in the eyes of certain Security Council members.

The new Secretary-General must bring human rights and humanitarian crises before the Security Council. When serious human rights violations occur, he or she should use their powers under Article 99 of the UN Charter to bring threats to international peace and security before the Security Council. This power has not been used for decades.

The next Secretary-General must also restore the reputation of an organisation tarnished by sexual exploitation and abuse committed by its own peacekeepers. The UN’s own statistics show 69 allegations of abuse in 2015, 22 of them from its peacekeeping force in the Central Africa Republic. The UN must make sure peacekeepers are punished when they turn predator.

But a critical first step is to have a fair and transparent process to select a highly qualified next leader for the UN. In the past, powerful governments who felt a strong Secretary-General was not in their interest have had too much control over the final decision. The debates held earlier this month kick started a vital opportunity for governments to reinvigorate the UN.

The election of the UN Secretary-General this year may capture a fraction of the attention of the US presidential campaign. Yet for much of the world who stand to benefit from a dynamic UN, it could be just as significant. If not more.

Anna Neistat is Senior Director for Research at Amnesty International. She has conducted more than 60 investigations in conflict areas around the world, including Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Zimbabwe, Nepal, Kenya, Yemen, Chechnya, Sri Lanka and Haiti. Follow her @AnnaNeistat

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of IPS.

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The Hypocrisy of the West and Fiscal Paradisehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/the-hypocrisy-of-the-west-and-fiscal-paradise/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-hypocrisy-of-the-west-and-fiscal-paradise http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/the-hypocrisy-of-the-west-and-fiscal-paradise/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 15:17:35 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144853 Roberto Savio, is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News]]>

Roberto Savio, is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Apr 27 2016 (IPS)

The publication of the Panama Papers has now been digested, like any scandal, after just a few days. We are now getting so accustomed to scandals, that it is confusing, and the general public reaction often is: all are corrupt and politics is all about corruption.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

This, of course, plays out well for the right wing, xenophobic parties, numbers of which are ever increasing in every election, from Donald Trump in the United States, to Nigel Farage in Great Britain who promptly asked for the resignation of British prime minister David Cameron, who is among the users of the legal office of Mossack and Fonseca in Panama, which has helped more than 14.000 clients to create 214,488 companies in 21 fiscal paradises.

In some cases, like Iceland, that brought the prime minister to his knees, is a concrete response to the public indignation. By and large the general reaction was similar to the model of Cameron’s style: deny any wrongdoing, and just wait for the fury to go die down.

The Panama Papers had of course a very prominent space in the media, where the issue was alive for several days (but never more than five). The media put very little effort into looking beyond the Panama Papers and to find out the real situation of the fiscal paradise. Had they done so, a very uncomfortable truth would have emerged: the same countries who speak publicly against such paradise, do very little to eliminate them.

For instance, according to the Panama papers, it emerges that more than half of the ghost companies created by Mossack-Fonseca were registered in the British Virgin Islands. It works there like in Panama: a company pays a fee to register and an annual fee after that (always less than 500 US dollars), and by law the company will have to pay taxes only on the activities realized in the country. It suffices to not have any commercial activity in Panama or in any other fiscal paradise to be completely out of the grip of local tax authorities.

It is clear that the Virgin Islands are a British territory, like the Bahamas, Bermuda, Turk and Caicos, and therefore London could oblige these territories to comply with the international laws on transparency and accountability. The Panama Papers are just, “one firm in one place” says the economist Gabriel Zucman, author of “The Hidden Wealth of Nations: The Scourge of Tax Havens.” So, it cannot be representative of what is happening in the whole world”. The total amount of registered firms avoiding taxation is not really known. In fact, Zucman estimates that the tax heavens are now sheltering a staggering 7.6 trillion dollars, or 8% of the world’s financial wealth. And he draws attention to the fact that the United Sates is a major fiscal paradise, just after Switzerland and Hong Kong, according to the Financial Secrecy Index published by the Tax Justice Network, based in Washington.

And here comes a very good example of double standards. After it became evident that Swiss banks were hiding American capital (for which the US Treasury hit them with a heavy fine), in 2010 the US passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which requires all financial firms in the world to surrender details about Americans with offshore accounts. But the US has refused to be part of any agreement for exchanging financial information with other countries.

Edward Kleinbar and Heather A. Lowe, of Global Financial Integrity, say that American Banks are awash with money coming from foreign investors. Kleibard, who was chief of staff of the Congress’s Joint Committee on taxation, declares: “ the United Sates demands that the rest of the world tell it when an American holds an account at a foreign institution, but the US does not return the favour by providing similar information on foreign investors, in US banks to their home jurisdiction”.

But in fact, the secrecy of American banks go beyond that. In fact, several states in the US use their constitutional privileges to shelter their banks also from the central government. Heather A. Lowe, the legal counsel and director of government affairs for Global Financial Integrity, Washington, warned that the problem was in any American state, not just in the more notorious one. ”You can create anonymous companies anywhere in the US: The reason people know about Delaware, Nevada and Wyoming is because those states market themselves internationally”.

For instance, Delaware secretary of State has stressed in his annual reports that this marketing efforts have “helped the state to reach thousands of legal professionals in dozens of countries across the globe, to tell the Delaware story”. And Nevada boasted a similar advertisement on the state’s website: Why incorporate in Nevada? Minimal reporting and disclosing requirement. Stockholders are not public records”.

While the legitimacy of taxes as a concept may be up to personal interpretation, what matters in Hillary Clinton’s use of the so-called Delaware loophole, in particular, is her constant harping on the need for corporations and elite individuals to pay their fair share. In other words, Clinton’s employment of North Orange Street amounts to a telling, Do As I Say, Not As I Do. And, as the Guardian notes, both of “the leading candidates for president – Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – have companies registered at 1209 North Orange, and have refused to explain why.”

John Cassara, a former special agent for the US Treasury Department, reported in the New York Times on April 8where many of the declarations are coming from, about the frustration that fiscal agents have when they try to investigate “who or what is behind that company: you basically strike out. It does not matter if is the FBI, at the federal level, state or local. Even the Department of Justice can’t get the information. There is nothing you can do.” He had to abandon an investigation in Nevada when they found a corporation that had received more than 3700 suspicious wire transfers, totalling over 381 million dollars.

Clearly, one cannot set up rules for global governance, when important rich countries have double standards and cannot even put their own house in order. But the lack of global governance becomes even more evident, when we find out that the debate about global tax negotiations is exclusive to the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and all the other countries of the world are left out. The Group of 77 and China, which has 134 members, has repeatedly asked that the UN must play a greater role in global tax cooperation but to no avail.

And it is a fact that in the list of account holders in Panama there is a large presence of personalities from Arab Countries, China, Nigeria, Brazil and so on. But there is a cultural problem, for which there is no solution. The fiscal authorities of the OECD countries think that on delicate matters, it is better to exclude the developing countries, because it would create a mechanism of negotiations where they could find themselves in the minority. That of course, would be to recognize that global governance can only be effective with a democratic system of consultation and decision. That is not at all the prevailing mood in an increasingly fractured world. Therefore, it would be normal to expect many more scandals, with spotlight for a few days on the names that could emerge, followed by a total relapse, until the next scandal explodes.

How long this can last without damaging the foundations of democracy, it is difficult to predict. And some defenders of the present system are already maintaining that scandals are proof that democracy is alive. But if the citizen’s growing lack of trust in the political and economic elites continues, it is difficult to see how scandals will help nurture democracy.

(End)

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Choose Humanity: Make the Impossible Choice Possible!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/choose-humanity-make-the-impossible-choice-possible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=choose-humanity-make-the-impossible-choice-possible http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/choose-humanity-make-the-impossible-choice-possible/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 15:03:47 +0000 Herve Verhoosel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144850 Herve Verhoosel is the Spokesperson of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to be hosted in Istanbul on May 23-24. He was previously leading the Roll Back Malaria office at the UN in New York and was also Head of External Relations, Advocacy and Communication. In this Op-Ed Verhoosel introduces this major event, the first ever of its kind, which will bring together governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector to propose solutions.]]>

Herve Verhoosel is the Spokesperson of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to be hosted in Istanbul on May 23-24. He was previously leading the Roll Back Malaria office at the UN in New York and was also Head of External Relations, Advocacy and Communication. In this Op-Ed Verhoosel introduces this major event, the first ever of its kind, which will bring together governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector to propose solutions.

By Herve Verhoosel
UN, New York, Apr 27 2016 (IPS)

We have arrived at the point of no return. At this very moment the world is witnessing the highest level of humanitarian needs since World War Two. We are experiencing a human catastrophe on a titanic scale: 125 million in dire need of assistance, over 60 million people forcibly displaced, and 218 million people affected by disasters each year for the past two decades.

Herve Verhoosel

Herve Verhoosel

More than $20 billion is needed to aid the 37 countries currently affected by disasters and conflicts. Unless immediate action is taken, 62 percent of the global population– nearly two-thirds of all of us- could be living in what is classified as fragile situations by 2030. Time and time again we heard that our world is at a tipping point. Today these words are truer than ever before.

The situation has hit home. We are slowly understanding that none of us is immune to the ripple effects of armed conflicts and natural disasters. We’re coming face to face with refugees from war-torn nations and witnessing first-hand the consequences of global warming in our own backyards. We see it, we live it, and we can no longer deny it.

These are desperate times. With so much at stake, we have only one choice to make: humanity. Now is the time to stand together and reverse the rising trend of humanitarian needs. Now is the time to create clear, actionable goals for change to be implemented within the next three years that are grounded in our common humanity, the one value that unites us all.

This is why the United Nations Secretary-General is calling on world leaders to reinforce our collective responsibility to guard humanity by attending the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit.

From May 23rd to the 24th, our leaders are being asked to come together in Istanbul, Turkey, to agree on a core set of actions that will chart a course for real change. This foundation for change was not born overnight. It was a direct result of three years of consultations with more than 23,000 people in 153 countries.

On the basis of the consultation process, the United Nations Secretary-General launched his report for the World Humanitarian Summit titled “One Humanity, Shared responsibility. As a roadmap to guide the Summit, the report outlines a clear vision for global leadership to take swift and collective action toward strengthening the coordination of humanitarian and crisis relief.

Aptly referred to as an “Agenda for Humanity,” the report lays out ground-breaking changes to the humanitarian system that, once put into action, will promptly help to alleviate suffering, reduce risk and lessen vulnerability on a global scale.

The Agenda is also linked to the Sustainable Development Goals, which specifically maps out a timeline for the future and health of our world. Imagine the end of poverty, inequality and civil war by 2030. Is it possible? Undoubtedly so. Most importantly, the Secretary-General has called for measurable progress within the next three years following the Summit.

As such, the Summit is not an endpoint, but a kick-off towards making a real difference in the lives of millions of women, men and children. It’s an unprecedented opportunity for global leaders to mobilize the political will to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. So, how to take action?

The Agenda specifies five core responsibilities that the international community must shoulder if we expect to end our shared humanitarian crises. These core responsibilities offer a framework for unified and concentrated action to Summit attendees, leadership and the public at large. Once implemented, change will inevitably follow.

1. Prevent and End Conflict: Political leaders (including the UN Security Council) must resolve to not only manage crises, but also to prevent them. They must analyse conflict risks and utilize all political and economic means necessary to prevent conflict and find solutions, working with their communities – youth, women and faith-based groups – to find the ones that work.

The Summit presents a unique opportunity to gain political momentum and commitment from leaders to promote and invest in conflict prevention and mediation in order to reduce the impacts of conflicts, which generate 80 percent of humanitarian needs.

2. Respect Rules of War: Most states have signed and implemented international humanitarian and human rights laws, but, sadly, few are respected or monitored. Unless violators are held accountable each time they break these laws, civilians will continue to make up the vast majority of those killed in conflict – roughly 90 percent. Hospitals, schools and homes will continue to be obliterated and aid workers will continue to be barred access from injured parties.

The Summit allows a forum for which leadership can promote the protection of civilians and respect for basic human rights.

3. Leave No One Behind: Imagine being forcibly displaced from your home, being stateless or targeted because of your race, religion or nationality. Now, imagine that development programs are put in place for the world’s poorest; world leaders are working to diminish displacement; women and girls are empowered and protected; and all children – whether in conflict zones or not – are able to attend school. Imagine a world that refuses to leave you behind. This world could become our reality.

At the Summit, the Secretary-General will call on world leaders to commit to reducing internal displacement by 50 percent before 2030.

4. Working Differently to End Need: While sudden natural disasters often take us by surprise, many crises we respond to are predictable. It is time to commit to a better way of working hand-in-hand with local systems and development partners to meet the basic needs of at-risk communities and help them prepare for and become less vulnerable to disaster and catastrophe. Both better data collection on crisis risk and the call to act early are needed and required to reduce risk and vulnerability on a global scale.

The Summit will provide the necessary platform for commitment to new ways of working together toward a common goal – humanity.

5. Invest in Humanity:
If we really want to act on our responsibility toward vulnerable people, we need to invest in them politically and financially, by supporting collective goals rather than individual projects. This means increasing funding not only to responses, but also to crisis preparedness, peacebuilding and mediation efforts.

It also means being more creative about how we fund national non-governmental organizations – using loans, grants, bonds and insurance systems in addition to working with investment banks, credit card companies and Islamic social finance mechanisms.

It requires donors to be more flexible in the way they finance crises (i.e., longer-term funding) and aid agencies to be as efficient and transparent as possible about how they are spending money.

Our world is at a tipping point. The World Humanitarian Summit and its Agenda for Humanity are more necessary today than ever before. We, as global citizens, must urge our leaders to come together at the Summit and commit to the necessary action to reduce human suffering. Humanity must be the ultimate choice.

Join us at http://www.ImpossibleChoices.org and find more information on the Summit at https://www.worldhumanitariansummit.org.
@WHSummit
@herveverhoosel
#ShareHumanity

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Organised Civil Society Increasingly Hemmed In by Global Eliteshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/organised-civil-society-increasingly-hemmed-in-by-global-elites-say-activists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=organised-civil-society-increasingly-hemmed-in-by-global-elites-say-activists http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/organised-civil-society-increasingly-hemmed-in-by-global-elites-say-activists/#comments Tue, 26 Apr 2016 22:55:43 +0000 Constanza Vieira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144845 Tunisian 2015 Peace Prize-winner Ali Zeddini (left), next to Sri Lankan activist Danny Sriskandarajah, secretary general of Civicus, and two other participants in the International Civil Society Week, hosted by Bogotá from Apr. 25-28, with the participation of 900 activists from more than 100 countries. Credit: Constanza Vieira/IPS

Tunisian 2015 Peace Prize-winner Ali Zeddini (left), next to Sri Lankan activist Danny Sriskandarajah, secretary general of Civicus, and two other participants in the International Civil Society Week, hosted by Bogotá from Apr. 25-28, with the participation of 900 activists from more than 100 countries. Credit: Constanza Vieira/IPS

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTA, Apr 26 2016 (IPS)

Collusion, according to the dictionary, means “secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others.” That is what the world’s political and economic elites engage in, according to Danny Sriskandarajah, secretary general of the international civil society alliance CIVICUS.

The reason for this is that they are afraid of dissent, the activist from Sri Lanka said Monday, Apr. 25, the first day of the International Civil Society Week 2016 which has drawn 900 civil society delegates from all continents to the Colombian capital.

This is the first time the biannual CIVICUS event is being held in Latin America.

In Sriskandarajah’s view, this is the reason that protests by young people in every region of the world are cracked down on by the police, often brutally.

He also said this is why civil society organisations are facing a global crisis, with governments that seek to impose their policies.

To do so, more governments are making overseas funding of civil society organisations illegal, while at the same time stepping up state surveillance of their online activities, due to fear of the power of civil society and the social networks to mobilise citizens to protest.

To this is added intimidation and repression which, in many cases, are curbing people’s ability to fight for a broad range of human rights.

Fundamental freedoms are under attack, said organisers and delegates.

CIVICUS tracks threats to basic freedoms of speech, expression and association in over 100 countries. In 2015, it counted 156 murders of human rights defenders worldwide.

Last year, half of the rights violations documented by CIVICUS happened in Latin America, where human rights defenders were the main targets. The most dangerous country was Colombia.

During more than three years of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas, over 500 community organisers and activists have been murdered in Colombia, especially small farmers and rural leaders seeking to reclaim land belonging to their families and communities, as well as human rights activists supporting their struggle.

The global crackdown on activism has continued in 2016. Two high-profile cases were the murders of Honduran human rights activist Berta Cáceres and South African community leader Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe.

Sriskandarajah said “We need to find new ways to defend activists and hold governments to account for these violations as well as the progress they must make in the fight against poverty, inequality and climate change.”

These and other central ideas form part of the Apr. 25-28 international week in Bogotá, whose hashtag is #ICSW2016. The week will culminate in the CIVICUS World Assembly on Friday Apr. 29.

The organisers were expecting 500 delegates at ICSW2016, but 900, from nearly 100 different countries, showed up. They were received by the host organisation, the Colombian Confederation of NGOs, created in 1989 as an umbrella group for non-governmental organisations fighting for economic, social and cultural rights.

Participants have been inspired by the presence of 2015 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Ali Zeddini of the Tunisian Human Rights League, one of the four organisations that joined forces to guide Tunisia’s spontaneous 2010-2011 Jasmine Revolution during the power vacuum left by dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (1987-January 2011) after he fled the North African country.

The Tunisian movement was finally successful in bringing about a transition to democracy, with a new constitution that establishes, in articles that cannot even be rewritten by another constituent assembly, that Tunisia is a civil state based on the people’s will, not the will of God. It also guarantees freedom of belief, conscience and religious practice.

The ICSW2016 will review mechanisms that hold governments accountable for murders of activists and other human rights violations. The delegates will also assess the progress made in the fight against poverty, inequality and adaptation to climate change.

Other participants are José Ugaz of Peru, the chair of Transparency International, and South African activist Kumi Naidoo, former head of Greenpeace and current director of the Africa Civil Society Centre.

The participating organisations include the Community of Democracies, Global Philanthropy Project, Article 19, the International Centre for Non-Profit Law, Amnesty International, the International Land Coalition, Abong – the Brazilian Association of NGOS, Transparency International and ACT Alliance.

One of this week’s workshops will address recent trends in the use of technology to empower and mobilise citizens.

One example is DataShift, a social data platform and Civicus initiative “that builds the capacity and confidence of civil society organisations to produce and use citizen‑generated data.”

A Youth Assembly was held Sunday Apr. 24 ahead of the ICSW2016. The delegates discussed solutions to youth poverty and inequality, as well as adaptation to climate change.

IPS spoke to Jhoanna Cifuentes, a Colombian with a degree in biology who is an activist with Red+Vos, a young people’s network. She is taking part in the ICSW2016 in representation of the Colombian Youth Climate Movement (MCJC).

The MCJC was created in 2014 to participate in the annual climate conferences. That year’s edition was held in Peru.

“We realised there was no space for young Colombians to come together and make their voices heard,” Cifuentes said. “We didn’t know each other, we all worked with different focuses. Our 10 groups organised and joined forces.”

The experience showed her that these civil society meetings are a chance to meet and network with people involved in similar activism. Because, she said, “Our work can’t just be limited to the local level, we have to have a wider influence.”

The Youth Assembly put out a statement on priority issues for young people, such as inclusion, gender and the environment. “But in order for these questions not to remain just on paper, it is the duty of each one of us to develop these initiatives and concerns in the organisations we work with,” Cifuentes said.

“I think a meeting like this one serves that purpose: to share information and make contacts in order to form networks, to work together in the future,” she added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Eastern Europe’s Claims for UN Chief Questionedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/eastern-europes-claims-for-un-chief-questioned/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eastern-europes-claims-for-un-chief-questioned http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/eastern-europes-claims-for-un-chief-questioned/#comments Tue, 26 Apr 2016 01:17:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144826 A Berlin Wall monument stands next to a Soviet sculpture at United Nations headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

A Berlin Wall monument stands next to a Soviet sculpture at United Nations headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 26 2016 (IPS)

As the campaign for a new UN Secretary-General (UNSG) gathers momentum, there is one lingering question that remains unanswered: does the now-defunct Eastern European political alliance have a legitimate claim for the job on the basis of geographical rotation?

Of the nine candidates in the running, seven are from the former Eastern Europe. All previous secretaries-general have come from the four other regional groups, including Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean and Western Europe and Other States.

But none from Eastern Europe, which exists as a geographical entity only within the precincts of the United Nations.

After the end of the Cold War in 1990-1991, Eastern European nations joined either the European Union (EU) or the North Atlantic Organisation (NATO), or both.

These include: Bulgaria (joined the EU in 2007), Croatia (2013), Czech Republic (2004), Estonia (2004), Hungary (2004),Latvia  (2004), Lithuania (2004),Poland  (2004), Romania  (2007), Slovakia (2004) and Slovenia (2004).

And four countries awaiting membership in the EU include: Albania, Montenegro, Serbia and the former Yugolav Republic of Macedonia.

Jayantha Dhanapala, a former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs and a one-time candidate for the post of Secretary-General, told IPS the end of the Cold War has transformed Eastern Europe from a political and geographical entity to a purely geographical group.

“Many of the East European countries are in NATO and the EU and their interests are closely linked to Western Europe – although some strains are showing in the wake of economic pressures and the recent migrant waves.

He said the principle of “geographical rotation” with regard to the UNSG position is therefore less strong than the vitally important gender equality criterion.

“The appointment of a competent and qualified woman as SG is therefore essential,” said Dhanapala, who lost out to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon nine years ago.

Eastern Europe should rightfully be an integral part of Western European and Other States. But the geographical group continues to exist at the UN purely to claim seats, including as non-permanent members of the Security Council, under the banner of Eastern Europe, according to some diplomats.

At elections for subsidiaries of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) last week, Belarus got a seat in the Statistical Commission purely on the basis of its non-existent Eastern European credentials.

So did many others: Estonia in the Commission on the Status of Women; Belarus and Montenegro in the Executive of UN Women; Romania in the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Albania and Moldova in the Executive Board of the UN Development Programme (UNDP)/ UN Population Fund (UNFPA)/UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS).

Since the creation of the UN over 70 years ago, the post of Secretary-General has been held by: Trygve Lie of Norway (1946-1953); Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden (1953-1961); U. Thant of Burma, now Myanmar (1961-1971); Kurt Waldheim of Austria (1972-1981); Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru (1982-1991); Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt (1992-1996); Kofi Annan of Ghana (1997-2006); and Ban Ki-moon of South Korea (2007 through 2016).

The nine candidates for the post of UNSG who made their presentations to delegates recently include: Dr Srgjan Kerim of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; Ms Vesna Pusic of the Republic of Croatia; Dr Igor Luksic of Montenegro; Dr Danilo Turk of Slovenia; Ms Irina Bokova of Bulgaria; Ms Natalia Gherman of the Republic of Moldova and Vuk Jeremić of Serbia – all from the former Eastern Europe.

The two non-Eastern Europeans who are in the running include Helen Clark of New Zealand and Antonio Guterres of Portugal, the former from a Pacific nation and the latter from Western Europe.

When Clark was asked about Eastern European claims, she told reporters: ”When nominations were called for from Member States, they were called for from all Member States”.

“Already one senior representative from outside Eastern Europe has been nominated (Guterres of Portugal). I anticipate there will be other nominations. I judge it to be an open contest and my hope is that Member States will look at what are the challenges that the Secretary-General’s going to have to lead the organisation forward on and who has the best skills for that job.”

Currently, the strongest claims for the jobs are from women candidates.

Although the UN is one of the strongest advocates of gender empowerment, only three women have so far been elected President of the General Assembly, the highest policy making body at the UN: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit of India (1953), Angie Brooks of Liberia (1969) and Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa of Bahrain (2006).

With women comprising half the world’s 7.2 billion people, the move to install a woman is perhaps the most legitimate of the claims.

James Paul, a former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum who monitored the politics of the UN for nearly 19 years, told IPS there is the important question of whether a woman will finally be chosen for the post and the secondary issue of whether the East European bloc will be represented.

As for the longstanding complaints about secrecy, the recently-announced “open process” and “dialogues” with candidates, provide a small step forward in what has always been an outrageously secretive procedure, he said.

“But predictably little attention is directed at the biggest issue of all – a selection still based on the will of a small oligarchic group.”

This year, as in the past, the Secretary General will effectively be chosen by the “P-5,” the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council (the US, UK, France, China and Russia), Paul pointed out.

“As in previous years, there will be little reference to the will of all the other countries, the concerns of the world’s people or the pressing leadership needs of the organisation.  Polite conversation in the General Assembly will not stop the P-5 juggernaut,” he argued.

“The P-5, with Washington always in the lead, has a record of choosing weak and compliant candidates for this post – people who will reliably cater to the interests of the powerful and agree to a weak and relatively inactive UN,” said Paul, an onetime writer and consultant on several projects with Human Rights Watch, Oxford University Press and Physicians for Human Rights.

The selections of Secretary General in 2006 and 2011 showed clearly that strong and dynamic candidates are set aside, that poor performance in the job is no barrier to re-election, and that the overwhelming majority of member states – even those sitting on the Security Council – have almost no influence over the outcome, he declared.

“Could this despotic arrangement be changed in favour of a more democratic process and a far better end-result?,” he asked.

Paul said no small-scale, incremental reforms will do.  Excluded governments and ignored citizens will have to say “no” in this round and again five years from now.

“The public is increasingly fed up with those who govern.  The P-5 will not be able to continue their despotism forever.”

But in the meanwhile, can the UN survive as the climate clock ticks towards midnight?, asked Paul.

Samir Sanbar, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General who headed the Department of Public Information (DPI) told IPS the Eastern European Group was initially a political alliance supporting the former Soviet Union balancing Western Europe and Other States.

While political lines were scrambled with the fall of the Berlin Wall, it seemed politically expedient to interpret it geographically mainly for balancing purposes, he added.

“Some would push the boundaries around to interpret it in general European terms,” he noted.

Geographical rotation was obviously not essential in electing two Scandinavians successively (Trygve Lee and Hammarskjold), he pointed out.

And a third European, an Irish General Assembly President, was in line when an Asian, U Thant became a surprise candidate, by a practical consensus, initially as “acting” UNSG, said Sanbar who served under five different UN secretaries-general.

When U Thant refused a second term “as a glorified clerk” it was not extended to another Asian. Instead Kurt Waldheim of Austria was elected.

While African diplomats presented Salim Salim of Tanzania to succeed him on geographical grounds, a Latin American Javier Perez de Cuellar was elected in a last minute vote in 1982.

As long as geographical groupings remain, however nominally, Eastern European candidates would naturally stake an obvious claim, said Sanbar.

But qualified women from anywhere in the European continent would have a more credible claim, he declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Any Ways to Combat Extremism?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/any-ways-to-combat-extremism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=any-ways-to-combat-extremism http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/any-ways-to-combat-extremism/#comments Mon, 25 Apr 2016 13:45:16 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144817 Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 25 2016 (IPS)

“The objective of extremists is for us to turn on each other [and] our unity is the ultimate rebuke for that bankrupt strategy.”

This is what the UN chief Ban Ki-moon has recently said. “While it may be inevitable to draw on examples, such as Da’esh [also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL] or Boko Haram, “the phenomenon of violent extremism conducive to terrorism is not rooted or confined to any religion, region, nationality or ethnic group.”

“Let us also recognize that today, the vast majority of victims worldwide are Muslims,” Ban on April 8 stressed while addressing the Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism – The Way Forward.

There, Ban stressed, “violent extremism is clearly a transnational threat that requires urgent international cooperation.” Then he explained that his Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism puts forward a comprehensive and balanced approach for concerted action at the global, regional and national levels.

Such Plan was first submitted to the General Assembly on 15 January. Then, on 12 February, the 193-nation body adopted a resolution that welcome Ban’s initiative, pledging to give further consideration to the Plan, including in the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy review in June 2016, as well as in other relevant forums.

So far, so good.

Barely six days after the UN chief’s assertion that the vast majority of victims of extremism are Muslims, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)—which was founded in 1969 being the second largest inter-governmental body after the UN, grouping 57 member states – held its 13th Islamic Summit in Istanbul on 14-15 April to discuss ways on how to combat the escalation of extremism and terrorism and the resulting growing Islamophobia.

How to do this? IPS posed this question in an interview to Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC.

OIC summit in Istanbul. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

OIC summit in Istanbul. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

“The OIC summit agreed on a set of measures to counter Islamophobia. And member states have been also be urged to establish stronger dialogue with the international community at the bilateral and multilateral levels and engage with the West in order to establish stronger cross-cultural and religious ties as a counterweight to polarising sentiment against religious minorities.”

Talebna explained that the Istanbul summit discussed “the need to reinforce the role of religious and social leaders in halting tendencies towards extremism, which sometimes fuel Islamophobia, by encouraging the principles of tolerance, moderation, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.”

Asked what are the key reasons behind on-going wave of Islamophobia in Western countries in general and in Europe in particular, Talebna said “despite the growing social ethics, the Economy in Europe has gone towards the opposite direction, hand-in-hand with populist rhetoric and a resurgence in far-right politics.”

“Negative Stereotypes Against all Muslims”

This coupled with the extremist acts of a few Muslims that have made it easier to generalise negative stereotypes and discrimination against all Muslims to take place, she said.

“Such circumstances inter-mingled with the rising intolerance against Islam and Muslims in western countries, which to a large extent was proliferated by widespread reporting, writings, articles, interviews, commentaries, and editorials in some western print and visual media, including social media and cinema that has resulted in negative stereotyping and racial discrimination and victimization directed against Muslims and distortion of the Islamic faith.”

According to the OIC senior official, “ironically, terrorist groups like DAESH and right-wing extremist groups in the west, and the negative media campaigns feed off each other. Here at the OIC, we are committed to oppose right wing extremists and to combat terrorist groups like DAESH.”

“We also encouraged all OIC Member States to work with the media to promote the understanding of responsible use of freedom of speech, to hold the media accountable for perpetuating hate speech and extremism, and to speed up the implementation of the OIC Media Strategy in Countering Islamophobia, adopted at the Ninth Islamic Conference of Information Ministers held in Libreville, Republic of Gabon, in 2012.”

This requires partnership and mutual trust with the West, and notably advancing cultural rapprochement something the OIC is committed to, Talebna added.

Asked about the role of religious and social leaders in halting tendencies towards extremism, Talebna said “We are setting up an anti-extremism messaging centre that uses leading Islamic clerics, through the International Islamic Fiqh (jurisprudence) Academy, to create religiously sound counter-narratives against extremist propaganda.”

“We will also collaborate with various NGOs and institutions and community leaders advocating and promoting tolerance, moderation and mutual respect and countering extremist rhetoric.”

Empowering Women to Restrain Extremism

The OIC is also making efforts to restrain extremism by taking actions such as empowering women as well as building capacity among the youth in order to promote peace and development in the Muslim world. We expect that such an approach will help easing the problem of extremism in the long run, she said.

Asked how could she explain to lay people the reasons behind the growing trend of Muslim societies, especially in the Middle East, to seek refuge in religion, Talebna said, “If such a trend is indeed taking place, then this is not a trend confined to Muslim societies. Religion is generally on the rise across the developing world.”

She explained that countless surveys have shown that religious people are more law-abiding happier and generally not prone to extremism. “If it makes people happier then more religion and religious practice should be welcomed. Even many people believe that religion could bring about, not only happier, but also healthier life.“

“Religion can play a positive social, political, economic, cultural and spiritual role in society. After all, it has done so for centuries across the Islamic world and led the world in scientific discovery, education, governance and proven conducive to building strong multicultural societies. There is no reason any increased observance of religion in the Islamic world cannot, with the right institutions and intellectual leadership, lead to similarly positive results.”

The OIC Summit planned to adopt a set of “practical” measures “to counter mounting anti-Muslim sentiment, both in Western countries and other regions of the world. How?

“The official communiqué of the Islamic Summit calls on all Member States to increase the role of religious and community leaders to curb tendencies of extremism, and to diminish Islamophobia, which is in fact main factors of extremism,” Talebna said to IPS.

“The conference encouraged all Member States to promote inter-faith and inter-religious dialogues within the OIC Member States to raise awareness about religious interpretations and beliefs, and open space for further discussion about Islam and faith and to initiate relevant projects at the level of United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.”

The OIC also encouraged all Member States to make further efforts to effectively implement of the Action Plan contained in Res. 16/18 of the Human Rights Council that focuses on combatting anti-religious hatred without double standards

“In an attempt to address the root causes of factors giving rise to the resurgence of racism and xenophobia more generally, of which Islamophobia is a part, the OIC expressed support for efforts to galvanize the international community towards re-engaging with the on-going discourse on the negative historic legacies of trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism.”

According to the OIC high official, such a discourse would include the reference to the looting of cultural heritage and artifacts and the related issues of restitution, reparations and atonement for these wrongs, including the need for an agreement on strategies for achieving them.

In this regards, the Istanbul summit further mandated the OIC to support the convening of an international conference to comprehensively discuss the issue of the slave trade, slavery, colonialism, restitution and reparations.

(End)

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Harvesting Rainwater to Weather Drought in Northeast Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/harvesting-rainwater-to-weather-drought-in-northeast-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=harvesting-rainwater-to-weather-drought-in-northeast-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/harvesting-rainwater-to-weather-drought-in-northeast-argentina/#comments Mon, 25 Apr 2016 07:52:29 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144799 Jésica Garay, a young mother who is studying to become a teacher, gets water from the family tank built next to her humble home in the rural municipality of Corzuela in the northeast Argentine province of Chaco. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Jésica Garay, a young mother who is studying to become a teacher, gets water from the family tank built next to her humble home in the rural municipality of Corzuela in the northeast Argentine province of Chaco. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
CORZUELA, Argentina, Apr 25 2016 (IPS)

In a semiarid region in the northeast Argentine province of Chaco, small farmers have adopted a simple technique to ensure a steady water supply during times of drought: they harvest the rain and store it in tanks, as part of a climate change adaptation project.

It’s raining in Corzuela, a rural municipality of 10,000 inhabitants located 260 km from Resistencia, the provincial capital, and the muddy local roads are sometimes impassable.

But it isn’t always like this in this Argentine region where, as local farmer Juan Ramón Espinoza puts it, “when it doesn’t rain there is no rain at all, and when it does rain, it rains too much.”

“There have always been water shortages, but things are getting worse every year,” he told IPS. “There are seasons when four or five months go by without a single drop of water falling.”“I used to bring water from the public well. My husband would go with a pony carrying a water container and bring water for the tank we have back there. But other times we would have to go and buy water, and sometimes I even had to forget about buying meat so I could pay for the water.” -- Olga Ramírez

The local residents of Corzuela blame the increasingly severe droughts on deforestation, a consequence of the spread of monoculture crops in this area since the turn of the century.

“They started to invade us with soy plantations,” Espinoza said. “There’s a lot of deforestation. They come and use their bulldozers to knock everything down, on 4,000 or 5,000 hectares. They don’t leave a single tree standing.”

This is compounded by the global effects of climate change, which has led to longer, more intense droughts.

The result is that local peasant farmers don’t have water for drinking, washing, cooking or irrigating their vegetable gardens.

“We would lose half a day going back and forth, filling tanks and containers with water for washing, cooking and bathing,” recalled Graciela Rodríguez, a mother of 11 children who often helped her hauling water.

“Now if you’re in your house and you need water, you go and get some, in your own house,” she told IPS happily, explaining that she uses the extra time she now has to cook bread, clean the house and take care of her grandchildren.

The solution was to build tanks to collect and store rainwater. But the local peasant farmers had neither the funds nor the technology to implement the system.

Today, joined together in associations, the local residents receive funds and other assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), through the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP).

The project is carried out locally with technical assistance from the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) for the construction of tanks using cement, bricks, sand, steel and stones, and from the National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI), for training in safety and hygiene.

“This project helps solve a very pressing local problem: water scarcity in the region,” said SGP technician María Eugenia Combi. “The solution is to take advantage of whatever rainfall there is to harvest and store water, for times when it is scarce.”

Local small farmer José Ramón Espinoza stands next to a recently constructed community tank for harvesting rainwater, which will enable a group of families to weather the recurrent drought in Corzuela, a rural municipality in the northeast Argentine province of Chaco. The underground tank was provided by GEF’s Small Grants Programme. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Local small farmer José Ramón Espinoza stands next to a recently constructed community tank for harvesting rainwater, which will enable a group of families to weather the recurrent drought in Corzuela, a rural municipality in the northeast Argentine province of Chaco. The underground tank was provided by GEF’s Small Grants Programme. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The first project was carried out in this area from 2013 to 2015, when five community water tanks were built, serving 38 families. A second project began in March this year, to build another eight community tanks and 30 single-household tanks.

The technology is simple and low-cost. The roofs of the “ranchos” or poor rural dwellings are adapted with the installation of rain gutters to catch the water, which flows into 16,000-litre family tanks or 52,000-litre community tanks.

“Once the beneficiaries are trained to build the tanks, they can go out and build them in every house,” Combi told IPS.

Traditionally the main source of water for human and agricultural consumption – small-scale livestock production and small gardens – in this region has been family wells.

But as Gabriela Faggi, an INTA technical adviser to the programme, explained to IPS, besides the drought that has reduced ground-water levels, many wells have high sodium levels and are contaminated with arsenic, and in extreme cases the water cannot even be used for watering livestock or gardens, which has exacerbated the region’s food supply problems.

The new year-round availability of water has now helped alleviate that problem as well.

“I used to bring water from the public well,” said another Corzuela resident, Olga Ramírez. “My husband would go with a pony carrying a water container and bring water for the tank we have back there. But other times we would have to go and buy water, and sometimes I even had to forget about buying meat so I could pay for the water.”

The local farmers depend on subsistence farming, growing traditional crops like sweet potatoes, cassava, pumpkin and corn, and raising small livestock.

“It’s a big help for the animals,” said Ramírez. “We use the stored rainwater for washing, cooking, drinking yerba mate (a traditional herbal infusion consumed in the Rio de la Plata region), watering our chickens and other animals and the garden – for everything.”

“Now that we have this tank we can even waste water,” said Jésica Garay, a young mother who is studying to be a teacher. “We even use it to water the garden. Before, we only had enough for drinking and bathing.

“We don’t have to worry anymore about not being able to eat something, in order to buy water,” she said.

The SGP, active in 120 countries, emerged in 1992 as a way to demonstrate that small-scale community initiatives can have a positive impact on global environmental problems. The maximum grant amount per project is 50,000 dollars.

“What we are aiming at are local actions with a global impact,” the head of the programme in Argentina, Francisco Lopez Sastre, told IPS. “That is, small solutions to global environmental problems like climate change.”

He said the promotion of vegetable gardens, which complement the water tank programme “will boost consumption of fruit and vegetables, which is very low among local families due to the high cost.

“This can improve the household economy and bolster the inclusion of healthy foods, which will result in better health and food sovereignty.”

The SGP is currently carrying out another 13 projects in Chaco, for which it has provided a combined total of 537,000 dollars in grants.

Two of them involve water supply for human consumption in rural communities, complemented by agroecological gardens.

The province, which has a population of one million people, has the highest poverty level in this country of 43 million, according to independent studies. In Chaco, more than 57 percent of the population lives in poverty, and 17 percent in extreme poverty.

It is also the region with the second-largest proportion of indigenous people. Population density is 10.6 inhabitants per square km, below the national average of 14.4.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Developing Countries Take Lead at Climate Change Agreement Signinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/developing-countries-take-lead-at-climate-change-agreement-signing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=developing-countries-take-lead-at-climate-change-agreement-signing http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/developing-countries-take-lead-at-climate-change-agreement-signing/#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 19:40:13 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144780 The UN General Assembly hall during the record-breaking signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. UN Photo/Mark Garten

The UN General Assembly hall during the record-breaking signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 22 2016 (IPS)

An unprecedented 175 countries signed the Paris Climate Change Agreement here Friday, with 15 developing countries taking the lead by also ratifying the treaty.

The Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Somalia, Palestine, Barbados, Belize, Fiji, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Samoa, Tuvalu, the Maldives, Saint Lucia and Mauritius all deposited their instruments of ratification at the signing ceremony, meaning that their governments have already agreed to be legally bound by the terms of the treaty.

Speaking at the opening of the signing ceremony UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon welcomed the record-breaking number of signatures for an international treaty on a single day but reminded the governments present that “records are also being broken outside.”

“Records are also being broken outside. Record global temperatures. Record ice loss. Record carbon levels in the atmosphere.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
“Record global temperatures.  Record ice loss.  Record carbon levels in the atmosphere,” said Ban.

Ban urged all countries to have their governments ratify the agreement at the national level as soon as possible.

“The window for keeping global temperature rise well below two degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5 degrees, is rapidly closing,” he said.

In order for the Paris agreement to enter into force it must first be ratified by 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions.

The 15 developing countries who deposited their ratifications Friday only represent a tiny portion of global emissions but include many of the countries likely to bear the greatest burden of climate change.

For the treaty to move ahead it is important that some of the world’s top emitters ratify as soon as possible. However unlike in the past, the world’s top emitters now include developing countries, including China, India, Brazil and Indonesia. For these countries, addressing climate change can also help other serious environmental problems including air pollution, deforestation and loss of biodiversity.

According to the World Health Organization air pollution causes millions of deaths every year.

“Air pollution is killing people every day,” Deborah Seligsohn, a researcher specializing in air pollution in China and India at the University of California at San Diego told IPS.

“Countries commitments on climate change will help with air pollution but will be insufficient to reduce air pollution to the levels that we are accustomed to in the West,” she said, adding that not all measures to reduce air pollution necessarily contribute to addressing climate change.

Sunil Dahiya, a Climate & Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace India told IPS that “pollution control measures for power plants, a shift to renewables, more public transport and cleaner fuels as well as eco-agriculture, would not only clean up the air but also reduce our emissions.”

Brazil and India have also found their way into the list of top emitters in part due to deforestation. Peat and forest fires in Indonesia, exacerbated by last year’s severe El Nino, contributed to a spike in global carbon emissions. However while these environmental problems occur in developing countries, the global community also has a responsibility to help address them.

While both developed and developing countries have responsibilities to reduce their emissions, David Waskow, Director of the International Climate Action Initiative at the World Resources Institute (WRI) said that an equitable approach among countries must take into account several factors.

“Questions of equity are threaded through out” the Paris agreement and that these take into account the respective capabilities of countries and their different national circumstances, said Waskow.

Heather Coleman Climate Change Manager at Oxfam America said that the conversation around equity shifted during negotiations in Paris.

“We moved away from talking about rich versus poor countries and the conversation started really evolving around poor versus rich people around the world,” said Coleman.

According to Oxfam’s research, the richest 10 percent of the world’s population are responsible for over half of the global emissions, said Coleman.

“Putting the burden on rich people around the world is where we need to be moving,” she said.

The WRI has developed a climate data explorer which compares countries not only on their commitments, but also their historic emissions and emissions per person, two areas where developed countries tend to far exceed developing countries.

One area that developed countries are still expected to take the lead is in climate finance said Waskow. Finance commitments will see richer countries help poorer countries to reduce their emissions. Financing could potentially help countries like Brazil and Indonesia address mass deforestation while a new Southern Climate Partnership Incubator launched at the UN Thursday will help facilitate the exchange of ideas between developing countries to tackle climate change.

Financing should also help vulnerable countries to better prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change, however Coleman told IPS that the Paris agreement lacks a specific commitment to adaptation financing, and that this omission should be addressed this year.

Despite the records broken at the signing ceremony here Friday Coleman also said it was important to remember that the national commitments made by countries are still “nowhere near enough” to avoid catastrophic climate change.

“We really need to look towards a two degree goal but we need to stretch to 1.5 if we are going to see many vulnerable communities (continue) their very existence,” she said.

Some of the communities most vulnerable to climate change include small island countries and indigenous communities.

For island countries, already threatened by increasingly severe and frequent cyclones and rising sea levels, coral bleaching is a new imminent threat likely to effect the economies which rely on coral reef tourism.

Indigenous communities are also losing their homes to deforestation and have become targets for violence because of their work defending the world’s natural resources.

According to Global Witness at least two people are killed each week for defending forests and other natural resources from destruction, and 40 percent of the victims are indigenous.

However although forests owned by Indigenous people contain approximately 37.7 billion tons of carbon, Indigenous people have largely been left out of national climate plans.

Only 21 countries referred to the involvement of indigenous people in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted as part of the Paris agreement, Mina Setra an Indigenous Dayak Leader from Indonesia said at an event at the Ford Foundation ahead of the signing ceremony.

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How the Definition of Development Aid is Being Erodedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/how-the-definition-of-development-aid-is-being-eroded/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-the-definition-of-development-aid-is-being-eroded http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/how-the-definition-of-development-aid-is-being-eroded/#comments Thu, 21 Apr 2016 23:12:22 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144768 Participants at a UN event on Interfaith harmony and the Sustainable Development Goals. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

Participants at a UN event on Interfaith harmony and the Sustainable Development Goals. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 21 2016 (IPS)

The traditional definition of aid is being eroded at the same time that governments have committed to achieving the UN’s ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Jeffrey Sachs special adviser to the UN Secretary-General on development told IPS Thursday.

“A lot of governments have a kind of magical thinking which is, we’re all for the Sustainable Development Goals but don’t come to us if you want to achieve them, go borrow from the private markets,” said Sachs.

Aldo Caliari who represents civil society in UN Financing for Development (FfD) negotiations told journalists here Monday that there has been a “significant shift in the language” in these negotiations towards “a larger presence of the private sector”.

“We are concerned about states withdrawing their responsibility and saying the private sector should do it,” said Caliari who is also director of the Rethinking Bretton Woods Project at the Washington DC-based Center of Concern.

“Loans usually go for commercial projects rather than public service delivery so this is an entirely different way of utilising the financing,” he said.

While private sector financing will provide part of the funds needed to achieve the sustainable development goals, there are definitely some areas where public funds remain essential.

“If you want to achieve universal health coverage in poor countries, which is SDG 3, that is a public sector function and the poor countries do not have enough domestic revenues to achieve that on their own,” said Sachs.

“For the poorest countries the Official Development Assistance should be overwhelmingly in the form of grants because putting absolutely impoverished countries into debt makes no sense,” he said.

Sachs said that there are examples right now where donor governments are reducing funding to development programs in favour of domestic refugee costs, peacekeeping budgets and climate financing.

“I know cases where contributions to The Global Fund (to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria) and GAVI (The Vaccine Alliance) were cancelled in favour of climate financing because the government wanted to check the box on climate financing,” said Sachs.

He said that even Scandinavian countries, which he described as “some of the world’s best donors”, were reallocating their development funds to refugee programs.

Jeroen Kwakkenbos, Policy and Advocacy Manager at the European Network on Debt and Development (EURODAD) expressed concerns that some of the biggest increases in the recently published 2015 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Official Development Assistance (ODA) figures were for areas not traditionally defined as aid.

“One of the largest increases aside from refugee costs was for non-grant financing which is basically loans which increased by 26 percent,” said Kwakkenbos.

Kwakkenbos said that there is a trend towards loans replacing grants in country’s overseas development assistance budgets.

These changes are reflected in donor government aid policies. For example, the Australian government states on its website, that aid represents “an increasingly small proportion of development finance” and that Australia’s aid program will achieve it’s purpose by “supporting private sector development and strengthening human development.”

Kwakkenbos said that the inclusion of refugees in ODA accounting started in the 1990s, “but at the time it was a very small proportion of ODA so everyone just kind of ignored it.”

Overall, the OECD figures showed a small increase in ODA in 2015, without including the refugee costs, although some OECD countries did individually reduce the development assistance in favour of refugee programs.

The OECD told IPS by email that there has “not been any change of rules to allow more refugee costs to be counted as ODA” and that the OECD Development Assistance Committee told donor countries in February they were concerned that refugee costs should not “eat into ODA”.

Despite the small overall increase, most donor countries remain a long way from meeting their commitments to increase aid to 0.7 of one percent of their Gross National Income (GNI).

Kwakkenbos said that the target to reach 0.7 has now been revised to 2030, the same year governments have agreed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

“You have to remember that the original 0.7 target was 1980 and no later than 1985,” he said.

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Climate: Africa’s Human Existence Is at Severe Riskhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/climate-africas-human-existence-is-at-severe-risk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-africas-human-existence-is-at-severe-risk http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/climate-africas-human-existence-is-at-severe-risk/#comments Thu, 21 Apr 2016 14:53:52 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144755 Education vital for healthy, productive ecosystems. One of UNEP’s goals within an integrated ecosystem management framework is to foster the capacity of professionals and develop human capacity across all social strata and genders.  Credit: UNEP

Education vital for healthy, productive ecosystems. One of UNEP’s goals within an integrated ecosystem management framework is to foster the capacity of professionals and develop human capacity across all social strata and genders. Credit: UNEP

By Baher Kamal
CAIRO, Apr 21 2016 (IPS)

“Africa’s human existence and development is under threat from the adverse impacts of climate change – its population, ecosystems and unique biodiversity will all be the major victims of global climate change.”

This is how clear the Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is when it comes to assessing the negative impact of climate change on this continent of 54 countries with a combined population of over 1,200 billion inhabitants. “No continent will be struck as severely by the impacts of climate change as Africa.”

Other international organisations are similarly trenchant. For instance, the World Bank, basing on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, confirms that Africa is becoming the most exposed region in the world to the impacts of climate change.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, extreme weather will cause dry areas to become drier and wet areas wetter; agriculture yields will suffer from crop failures; and diseases will spread to new altitudes, say the World Bank experts, while alerting that by 2030 it is expected that 90 million more people in Africa will be exposed to malaria, “already the biggest killer in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

These and other dramatic conclusions are not new to the World Bank specialists. In fact, they alerted five years ago that the African continent has warmed about half a degree over the last century and the average annual temperature is likely to rise an average of 1.5-4°C by 2099, according to the most recent estimates from the IPCC.

Meanwhile, UNEP’s experts explain that, given its geographical position, the continent will be particularly vulnerable due to the “considerably limited adaptive capacity, exacerbated by widespread poverty and the existing low levels of development.”

What Is at Stake?

The facts are striking as mentioned in UNEP’ summary of the projected impacts of climate change in Africa. See UNEP’s fact sheet “Climate Change in Africa – What Is at Sake?”, which is based on excerpts from IPCC reports:

— By 2020, between 75 and 250 million people in Africa are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change.

— By 2020, in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%.

— Agricultural production, including access to food, in many African countries is projected to be severely compromised. This would further adversely affect food security and exacerbate malnutrition.

— Towards the end of the 21st century, projected sea level rise will affect low-lying coastal areas with large populations.

— By 2080, an increase of 5 to 8 per cent of arid and semi-arid land in Africa is projected under a range of climate scenarios,

— The cost of adaptation could amount to at least 5 to 10% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Furthermore, the African chapter of IPCC Report on Regional Climate Projections provide some key factors:

Temperatures: By 2050, average temperatures in Africa are predicted to increase by 1.5 to 3°C, and will continue further upwards beyond this time. Warming is very likely to be larger than the global annual mean warming throughout the continent and in all seasons, with drier subtropical regions warming more than the moister tropics.

Ecosystems: It is estimated that, by the 2080s, the proportion of arid and semi-arid lands in Africa is likely to increase by 5-8 per cent. Ecosystems are critical in Africa, contributing significantly to biodiversity and human well-being.

Mozambique: Investing in Environment Pays off for the Poorest. Communities look to protect ecosystems for livelihoods, following a disease that devastated their coconut plantations. Credit: UNEP

Mozambique: Investing in Environment Pays off for the Poorest. Communities look to protect ecosystems for livelihoods, following a disease that devastated their coconut plantations. Credit: UNEP

Between 25 and 40 per cent of mammal species in national parks in sub-Saharan Africa will become endangered. There is evidence that climate is modifying natural mountain ecosystems via complex interactions and feedbacks.

Rainfall: There will also be major changes in rainfall in terms of annual and seasonal trends, and extreme events of flood and drought.

Annual rainfall is likely to decrease in much of Mediterranean Africa and the northern Sahara, with a greater likelihood of decreasing rainfall as the Mediterranean coast is approached.

Droughts: By 2080, an increase of 5 to 8 per cent of arid and semi-arid land in Africa is projected under a range of climate scenarios. Droughts have become more common, especially in the tropics and subtropics, since the 1970s.

Human health, already compromised by a range of factors, could be further negatively impacted by climate change and climate variability, e.g., malaria in southern Africa and the East African highlands.

Water: By 2020, a population of between 75 and 250 million and 350-600 million by 2050, are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change. Climate change and variability are likely to impose additional pressures on water availability, water accessibility and water demand in Africa.

In Ethiopia, owners bring their livestock to sell for destocking purposes. El Niño impacts have made it necessary to reduce herd sizes. Credit: FAO

In Ethiopia, owners bring their livestock to sell for destocking purposes. El Niño impacts have made it necessary to reduce herd sizes. Credit: FAO

Agriculture: By 2020, in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 per cent.

Agricultural production, including access to food, in many African countries is projected to be severely compromised. Projected reductions in yield in some countries could be as much as 50 per cent by 2020, and crop net revenues could fall by as much as 90 per cent by 2100, with small-scale farmers being the most affected.

Sea-level rise: Africa has close to 320 coastal cities –with more than 10,000 people– and an estimated population of 56 million people (2005 estimate) living in low elevation (10-m) coastal zones. Toward the end of the 21st century, projected sea level rise will affect low-lying coastal areas with large populations.

Energy: Access to energy is severely constrained in sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated 51 per cent of urban populations and only about 8 per cent of rural populations having access to electricity. Extreme poverty and the lack of access to other fuels mean that 80 per cent of the overall African population relies primarily on biomass to meet its residential needs, with this fuel source supplying more than 80 per cent of the energy consumed in sub-Saharan Africa.

Further challenges from urbanisation, rising energy demands and volatile oil prices further compound energy issues in Africa.

Agriculture Pays the Price

Another concerned United Nations body–the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) focuses on the threat climate changes poses to agriculture. “Climate change is emerging as a major challenge to agriculture development in Africa,” FAO reports.

A Zimbabwean subsistence farmer holds a stunted maize cob in his field outside Harare. Credit: FAO

A Zimbabwean subsistence farmer holds a stunted maize cob in his field outside Harare. Credit: FAO

It explains that the increasingly unpredictable and erratic nature of weather systems on the continent have placed an extra burden on food security and rural livelihoods.

“Agriculture is expected to pay a significant cost of the damage caused by climate change.”

The agriculture sector is also likely to experience periods of prolonged droughts and /or floods during El- Nino events. And fisheries will be particularly affected due to changes in sea temperatures that could decrease trends in productivity by 50-60 per cent.

(End)

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Latin America to Redouble Its Climate Efforts in New Yorkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/latin-america-to-redouble-its-climate-efforts-at-new-york-ceremony/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-to-redouble-its-climate-efforts-at-new-york-ceremony http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/latin-america-to-redouble-its-climate-efforts-at-new-york-ceremony/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 23:48:16 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144741 Deforestation, as seen in this part of Rio Branco, the northern Brazilian state of Acre, is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Latin America. Credit: Kate Evans/Center for International Forestry Research

Deforestation, as seen in this part of Rio Branco, the northern Brazilian state of Acre, is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Latin America. Credit: Kate Evans/Center for International Forestry Research

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Apr 20 2016 (IPS)

The countries of Latin America will flock to sign the Paris Agreement, in what will be a simple act of protocol with huge political implications: it is the spark that will ignite actions to curb global warming.

More than 160 countries have confirmed their attendance at the ceremony scheduled for Friday, Apr. 22 in New York by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. And eight have announced that they will present the ratification of the agreement during the event, having already completed the internal procedures to approve it.

The countries of Latin America, with the exception of Nicaragua and Ecuador, promised to participate in the collective signing of the historic binding agreement reached by 195 countries on Dec. 12 in the French capital.

Experts consulted by IPS stressed the political symbolism of the ceremony, and said they hoped Latin America would press for rapid implementation of the climate deal. “In New York, the region will underscore the importance of acting with the greatest possible speed, in view of the impacts that we are feeling in each one of our countries.” -- Andrés Pirazzoli

“In New York, the region will underscore the importance of acting with the greatest possible speed, in view of the impacts that we are feeling in each one of our countries,” said Chilean lawyer Andrés Pirazzoli, a former climate change delegate of Chile and an expert in international negotiations.

The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, many of which are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, are calling for the adoption of global measures to curb global warming.

According to a 2014 World Bank report, “In Latin America and the Caribbean temperature and precipitation changes, heat extremes, and the melting of glaciers will have adverse effects on agricultural productivity, hydrological regimes, and biodiversity.”

Pirazzoli said this recognition of the threat posed by climate change in the region would be a bone of contention for the participating countries.

At the Paris Summit or COP 21 – the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – the Chilean expert led the technical team of the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), made up of Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.

Pirazzoli said that “if there is one issue that has brought Latin America together, beyond internal ideological questions, it was the issue of vulnerability.”

“That will be a mantra for the region in the negotiations that will follow the signing of the agreement,” which will get underway again in Bonn in May, he added.

Friday’s ceremony is just the first piece in a puzzle that involves the 197 parties to the UNFCCC, in which each one will have to activate its mechanism to achieve ratification of the international agreement.

On Dec. 12, 2015, at the end of COP 21, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) and other dignitaries celebrated the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, to be signed this week in New York. Credit: United Nations

On Dec. 12, 2015, at the end of COP 21, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) and other dignitaries celebrated the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, to be signed this week in New York. Credit: United Nations

In order for the treaty to enter into effect, it must be signed by at least 55 parties accounting for a combined total of at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and this is to happen by 2020, according to what was agreed on at COP 21.

The countries agreed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century relative to pre-industrial levels to prevent “catastrophic and irreversible impacts”.

The agreement set guidelines for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, for addressing the negative impacts of global warming, and for financing, to be led by the countries of the industrialised North.

In the region, the process will vary from country to country, but “according to tradition in Latin America, normally these accords have to go through two houses of Congress, which makes the process more complex,” said Pirazzoli.

He pointed out that Mexico and Panama committed to ratifying the agreement this year.

The United Nations reported that the eight countries that will attend the agreement signing ceremony with their ratification instrument in hand are Barbados, Belize and St. Lucia – in this region – along with Fiji, the Maldives, Nauru, Samoa and Tuvalu.

“A story of power of vulnerable countries is beginning to emerge, and instead of coming as victims, they will use this ceremony to show that they want to be in the leadership,” said Costa Rican economist Mónica Araya, another former national climate change negotiator.

Araya heads the non-governmental organisation Nivela and is an adviser to the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a self-defined “leadership group” within the UNFCCC negotiations, which assumes strong, progressive positions.

The economist said the confirmation of their participation in the New York ceremony by almost all of the countries in Latin America was one more sign that the region is waking up.

She concurred with Pirazzoli that Latin America’s leaders are finding points in common that enable them to overcome ideological barriers, at least in this field.

“We have seen new efforts, such as the summit of environment ministers in Cartagena, which set a precedent by creating a climate change action platform for the entire region,” said Araya, referring to the 20th Meeting of the Forum of Ministers of the Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean, held in late March in that Colombian city.

But she said that in order for international efforts to be effective, change must start at home. “Public opinion and the business community should be helped to understand that our parliaments will play a key role” in ratifying the agreement, she added.

Enrique Maurtua, climate change director with the Argentine NGO Environment and Natural Resources Foundation, and a veteran of the climate talks, agreed.

“The signing of the accord is only the second step, after reaching the agreement,” he said. “Without this, we can’t go on to the third, which is ratification – the most important step in order for the accord to go into effect.”

Maurtua said these global processes need to take root at a global level, by improving their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which nearly the entire region submitted last year, with the exception of Panama, which did so on Apr. 14, and Nicaragua, which said it would not do so.

Although they account for only a small proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions, the region’s countries pledged to reduce them in their INDCs – a numerous group with ambitious goals, including the two biggest economies in the region: Brazil and Mexico.

They also listed climate change adaptation actions, in several cases going beyond the minimum required.

Maurtua was upbeat with regard to the implementation of the Paris Agreement by 2020 and the 2016 negotiating process, which will begin in Bonn in May and will continue until COP 22 is held in Morocco.

“Latin America could very well be an example of the implementation of good practices for achieving sustainable development,” he said.

The absence of Ecuador and Nicaragua is in line with previous positions taken, where they have showed a reluctance to participate in multilateral processes.

After COP 21, Nicaragua said the Paris Agreement did not go far enough.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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UN Chief Seeks Fast-Paced Ratifications for Climate Change Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/un-chief-seeks-fast-paced-ratifications-for-climate-change-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-chief-seeks-fast-paced-ratifications-for-climate-change-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/un-chief-seeks-fast-paced-ratifications-for-climate-change-treaty/#comments Tue, 19 Apr 2016 19:27:02 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144703 “Predictions are that the emission reduction pledges under the Agreement would lead to rise in temperatures beyond 3 degrees celsius, which would be catastrophic for the world,” Meena Raman told IPS. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS.

“Predictions are that the emission reduction pledges under the Agreement would lead to rise in temperatures beyond 3 degrees celsius, which would be catastrophic for the world,” Meena Raman told IPS. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 19 2016 (IPS)

Over 150 countries are expected to sign the Paris climate change agreement on April 22 but the historic treaty will not come into force until it has been ratified by 55 countries.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has hailed the agreement as “a landmark of international cooperation on one of the world’s most complex issues”, is hoping for fast-paced ratifications – perhaps before the end of the year so that it will also be considered as one of his lasting political legacies before he steps down in December.

And he may not be far off the mark.

“Early ratification and entry into force will send a strong signal to Governments, businesses and communities that it is time to fast-track climate action,” Ban said last week.

The real challenge lies ahead, he declared, describing it in a single word:  “Implementation.”

Dr Palitha Kohona, a former Chief of the UN Treaty Section, told IPS although signatories are important, the more significant aspect of any international treaty is ratification – some of them long drawn out because that action has to be taken by domestic legislatures.

The Paris Agreement (PA), he pointed out, will enter into force when 55 countries that produce at least 55 percent of the world’s Greenhouse Gas (GHGs) — “ratify, accede, approve or accept it.”

Signatures alone, even by a large majority, will not bring it in to force, he added. He said there are other treaties with similarly complex entry-in-to force provisions.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), he noted, has still not entered in to force despite having been signed by over one hundred countries on the first day it was opened for signature at a glittering ceremony at the UN headquarters over 20 years ago.

President Clinton was the first to affix his signature on behalf of the US, he said. That treaty has been ratified by 157 countries, but the holdouts include the US, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan.

“The critical element to entry in to force (of the Paris agreement) will be the key GHG producers. The US, China, Brazil, Russia and the European Union (EU) account for over 75 percent of the world’s GHG emissions and they could provide the main impetus for bringing the agreement in to force”, said Dr Kohona.

Asked if it is realistic to expect the treaty to come into force early, Meena Raman, Legal advisor of the Malaysia-based Third World Network, told IPS: “Well, if the United States and China both ratify early or even this year, then about 40 percent of the global emissions would have been covered but the remaining countries would have to account for the balance of the 15 percent of the emissions and at least 55 countries must have ratified the agreement.”

So it is not completely unrealistic for the early ratification of the agreement before 2020, said Raman, who was been monitoring all of the climate change negotiations as a member of civil society.

However, what is more important to consider, she argued, is the effect of the early ratification and entry into force of the agreement.

The contributions that Parties will make (referred to as ‘nationally determined contributions’) – as to how they would contribute to emission reductions and adaptation actions will only be effective from 2020 onwards, as that is what countries have stated they will do in their intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), prior to Paris.

So, even if the PA comes into effect say in 2017 or 2018, the actual effect of actions by Parties will begin to materialise from 2020 to 2025/2030 onwards only under the agreement, she noted.

It is well known that the aggregate emissions reductions from the existing INDCs that have been communicated by Parties thus far which will translate to their contributions under the Agreement is grossly inadequate to keep temperature rise to well below 2 degree celsius, let alone 1.5 degrees, she said.

“Predictions are that the emission reduction pledges under the Agreement would lead to rise in temperatures beyond 3 degrees celsius, which would be catastrophic for the world.”

So, while the early entry into force of the PA may send some positive signals, the real issue is whether governments, especially in the developed world step up with their emission cuts even more ambitiously now and provide the necessary financial and technology transfer resources to developing countries to also act with urgency in the pre-2020 time frame – and not wait for actions after 2020, as they had agreed under the various decisions of the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) and the Kyoto Protocol.

Eliza Northrop, an Associate in the International Climate Initiative at the Washington-based World Resources Institute, told IPS the Paris Agreement, with the required ratifications,  could enter into force in 2017 or even earlier.

It certainly will happen faster than previous comparable agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol, she pointed out.

“Not only is there greater political momentum behind the Paris Agreement but the conditions for entry into force are different to that of the Kyoto Protocol”.

Although the Kyoto Protocol followed a similar “55 Parties/55 percent of emissions” approach to the Paris Agreement – in the case of the Kyoto Protocol, the “55 percent of emissions” threshold was only based on the carbon dioxide emissions from developed country Parties.

By contrast, she said, the Paris Agreement takes into account all greenhouse gas emissions from all countries.

“Entry into force will require the support of a broad constituency of countries and broad support for climate action from the largest emitters to the most vulnerable island nations,” Northrop added.

Dr Kohona told IPS the policy of the US would be seminal.

While its past performance in this area of global law making has not been encouraging, and climate sceptics exert a disproportionate amount of influence on US policy making, it is to be hoped that the threat to the very existence of the human race that climate change poses will influence its decision making.

“Any dilution of the leadership provided so far by the US could provide the excuse for others to to lose their enthusiasm”.

The commitment of the administration of President Barack Obama to address the threat of climate change forcefully must remain unabated if the world is to deal with this problem effectively, he declared.

Meanwhile, the provisions of the agreement include reaffirming the goal of limiting global temperature increase well below 2 degrees celsius, while urging efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees.

At the same time, the Paris Agreement calls for establishing binding commitments by all parties to make “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs), and to pursue domestic measures aimed at achieving them; commits all countries to report regularly on their emissions and “progress made in implementing and achieving” their NDCs, and to undergo international review and submit new NDCs every five years, with the clear expectation that they will “represent a progression” beyond previous ones.

Additionally, the agreement reaffirms the binding obligations of developed countries under the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) to support the efforts of developing countries, while for the first time encouraging voluntary contributions by developing countries too, and extends the current goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year in support by 2020 through 2025, with a new, higher goal to be set for the period after 2025.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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