Inter Press ServiceEditors’ Choice – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 27 Jul 2017 18:27:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 Can Economic Growth Be Really Green?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/can-economic-growth-really-green/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-economic-growth-really-green http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/can-economic-growth-really-green/#respond Thu, 27 Jul 2017 11:37:03 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151441 The answer to this big question is apparently “yes” – Economic growth can be really green. How? The facts are there. For instance, in 2016, solar power became the cheapest form of energy in 58 lower income countries, including China India and Brazil. In Europe, in 2016, 86 per cent of the newly installed energy […]

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The main impediments to a 100% clean energy infrastructure are are fossil fuel subsidies and current government legislation

Credit: GGGI

By IPS World Desk
ROME/SEOUL, Jul 27 2017 (IPS)

The answer to this big question is apparently “yes” – Economic growth can be really green. How?

The facts are there. For instance, in 2016, solar power became the cheapest form of energy in 58 lower income countries, including China India and Brazil. In Europe, in 2016, 86 per cent of the newly installed energy capacity was from renewable sources. And solar power will likely be the lowest-cost energy option in almost all parts of the world in less than 10 years.

This bold, fact-based information has been provided by Frank Rijsberman, the Director General of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), a well-known expert in the field of sustainable development and former CEO of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Consortium.

The G20 countries pledged in 2009 to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, yet they continue to this day

Frank Rijsberman. Credit: GGGI

Building on this documented information, Rijsberman, in an article Will fossil fuels and conventional cars be obsolete by 2030?, which was published on 23 February in The Huffington Post, asks “Is it all over for fossil fuels?”

The GGGI chief then answers: “Tony Seba, Author of “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation,” predicts that the industrial era of centralized fossil-fuel based energy production and transportation will be all over by 2030.”

Solar Energy, Self-Driving Electric Vehicles

Solar energy and self-driving electric vehicles will take over, explains Rijsberman. “New business models will allow people to call a self-driving car on their phone for a ride, ending the need for private car ownership.”

This change will occur as quickly as the transition from horse-drawn carriages to cars a century ago.

“The Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, and independent think-tank the Carbon Tracker Initiative echoed Seba’s prediction in their recent report, stating that electric vehicles and solar panels could dominate by 2020, sparking revolution in the energy sector and putting an end to demand growth for oil and coal.”

The Global Green Growth Institute invited experts to debate Seba’s “clean disruption” last month [January 2017] at the World Economic Forum in Davos (see short summary of our conclusions here).

“We discussed what are the main impediments to a 100% clean energy infrastructure. The most immediate barriers are fossil fuel subsidies and current government legislation. The G20 countries pledged in 2009 to eliminate these subsidies, yet they continue to this day, Rijsberman informed.

“Significant volumes of investment are shifting away from fossil fuels and towards alternative energy services, particularly in countries with binding renewable energy targets such as in Europe.”

The Energy Transition

According to the head of GGGI — a treaty-based international, inter-governmental organisation dedicated to supporting and promoting strong, inclusive and sustainable economic growth in developing countries and emerging economies–the energy transition can accelerate through the removal of fossil fuel subsidies.

Globally fossil fuel subsidies still amount to some 450 billion dollars per year, warned Rijsberman.

Even African governments, with limited budgets and many competing priorities still subsidise fossil fuels to the tune of 20-25 billion dollars per year according to Dr. Frannie Laeutier of the African Development Bank, speaking in Davos, he added.

Rijsberman then underlined that the best way for governments to attract the private sector is to stand aside (i.e., remove impeding policies such as fossil fuel subsidies and enable market access) and let the market develop by itself.

“Easier said than done, of course, for countries with monopolistic power utilities, with large political influence; or for countries with heavy subsidies on electricity prices.”

Unsustainable Depletion of Natural Resources

The Seoul-based Global Green Growth Institute, which was established in 2012, at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, has been accelerating the transition toward a new model of economic growth –green growth– founded on principles of social inclusivity and environmental sustainability.

In contrast to conventional development models that rely on the “unsustainable depletion and destruction of natural resources,” green growth is a coordinated advancement of economic growth, environmental sustainability, poverty reduction and social inclusion driven by the sustainable development and use of global resources, according to GGGI.

Sirpa Jarvenpaa. Credit: GGGI

On this, GGGI incoming Director of Strategy, Partnerships and Communications, Sirpa Jarvenpaa, in an interview to IPS, emphasised the importance of the Institute in “supporting developing and emerging country governments in their transition to an inclusive green growth development.”

“We do it through mainstreaming green growth in development and sector plans, mobilising finance to green growth investments, and improving multi-directional knowledge sharing and learning for achieving green outcomes on the ground.”

Green Jobs, Clean Energy

Sirpa Jarvenpaa explains that, globally, GGGI’s strategy contributes to “reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, green job creation, access to sustainable services (clean energy, sustainable waste management improved sanitation, and sustainable transport), improved air quality, access to enhanced ecosystem services, and climate change adaptation.”

In Jordan, for example, GGGI is helping the government prepare a national green growth plan –an overarching and influential policy instrument enabling incorporation of green growth objectives across the national investment planning, Jarvenpaa told IPS.

There, the Institute works in partnership with the Ministry of Environment as well as the German Ministry for the Environment

This interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder organisation believes “economic growth and environmental sustainability are not merely compatible objectives; their integration is essential for the future of humankind.”

For that, it works with developing and emerging countries to design and deliver programs and services that demonstrate new pathways to pro-poor economic growth. And it provides member countries with the tools to help build institutional capacity and develop green growth policy, strengthen peer learning and knowledge sharing, and engage private investors and public donors.

The Global Green Growth Institute supports stakeholders two complementary and integrated work-streams –Green Growth Planning & Implementation and Knowledge Solutions– that deliver comprehensive products and services designed to assist in developing, financing and mainstreaming green growth in national economic development plans.

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To Achieve Ambitious Goals – We Need to Start with our Basic Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/achieve-ambitious-goals-need-start-basic-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=achieve-ambitious-goals-need-start-basic-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/achieve-ambitious-goals-need-start-basic-rights/#respond Wed, 26 Jul 2017 14:16:40 +0000 Oliver Henman and Andrew Firmin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151434 Oliver Henman and Andrew Firmin, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

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By Oliver Henman and Andrew Firmin
NEW YORK, Jul 26 2017 (IPS)

Recent protests in Ethiopia have seen people demonstrate in their thousands, angry at their authoritarian government, its favouritism towards those close to the ruling elite, and its failure to share the country’s wealth more equally.

The response of the state, in a country where dissent is simply not tolerated, has been predictably brutal: at the height of protests last year hundreds of people were killed, and a staggering estimated 24,000 were arrested, many of whom remain in detention today.

Perhaps not many of those marching in Ethiopia were aware of Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies with provisions to protect civic freedoms, ensure equal access to justice and uphold the rule of law.

Clearly, in countries like Ethiopia, the current reality falls a long way short of these basic standards: if people felt that the government was listening to them and they could take part in making the decisions that affect their lives, they wouldn’t have protested in such large numbers.

If fundamental freedoms were upheld, including the essential civil society rights of association, peaceful assembly and expression, then people wouldn’t have been met with mass killings and detentions. It is no surprise that on the CIVICUS Monitor, a new online platform that assesses the space for civil society – civic space – in every country of the world, Ethiopia is rated in the worst category, as having an entirely closed civic space.

It’s a matter of disappointment for civil society that progress on Goal 16 was not one of the goals reviewed by the governance body of the global goals at last week´s High Level Political Forum, which convened all UN member states and leaders from across sectors to review goal progress. A common concern amongst the 2,5000 civil society representatives that attended the global forum is that without progress on Goal 16, all the other goals cannot be achieved. And Goal 16 can only be realised if the role of civil society is respected and civic freedoms are protected.

On this score, two years into the Sustainable Development Goals, the early signs are worrying. Of the 44 countries whose progress was checked, four of them – Azerbaijan, Belarus and Iran, alongside Ethiopia – have entirely closed civic space, according to CIVICUS Monitor ratings. A further 18 countries, ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe and from Brazil to Thailand – are rated as also having serious civic space restrictions. Only ten countries are assessed as having entirely open civic space.

The fact that there are worrying levels of restrictions placed on civil society in over three quarters of the countries up for review in New York indicates that civil society’s ability to realise Goal 16 is being hampered, and potential for SDG progress is being lost.

The SDGs must go further than their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which enabled governments to receive praise for making advances on a narrow set of indicators even while they were cracking down on fundamental freedoms: Ethiopia, for example, was rated highly for its MDG performance, alongside other countries where civic space is heavily restricted. It must be remembered that the promise of the SDGs is to be much more ambitious than the MDGs, and to advance social justice and human rights.

The ambition of the SDGs calls for everyone – governments, businesses and civil society – to play their part; the agenda is too big for any one sector to deliver on its own. But when civil society is being constrained – including widespread restrictions on the ability of civil society organisations (CSOs) to receive funds and organise the masses – then its capacity to help deliver the Sustainable Development Goals at the community level is severally limited.

Goal 16 must be on the agenda whenever countries meet to evaluate progress on the SDGs. As of now it is only scheduled to be reviewed in 2019. The key test for Goal 16, for Ethiopia’s citizens, and the many other countries with restricted civic space, is if people are able to freely express their opinions, protest in peace and promote the interests of their communities without fear of persecution. On these measures, the Sustainable Development Goals still have a long way to go.

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China Seeks to Export Its Green Finance Model to the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/china-seeks-export-green-finance-model-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=china-seeks-export-green-finance-model-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/china-seeks-export-green-finance-model-world/#respond Wed, 26 Jul 2017 03:05:44 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151431 Hand in hand with UN Environment and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) disembarked in the Argentine capital to prompt this country to adopt and promote the agenda of so-called green finance, which supports clean or sustainable development projects and combats climate change. The PBOC, which as China’s central bank […]

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Ma Jun, chief economist at the People’s Bank of China, together with Rubén Mercado, from the United Nations’ Development Programme (UNDP) in Argentina. The high-ranking Chinese official promoted Beijing’s green finance while in Buenos Aires. Credit: UNDP

Ma Jun, chief economist at the People’s Bank of China, together with Rubén Mercado, from the United Nations’ Development Programme (UNDP) in Argentina. The high-ranking Chinese official promoted Beijing’s green finance while in Buenos Aires. Credit: UNDP

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 26 2017 (IPS)

Hand in hand with UN Environment and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) disembarked in the Argentine capital to prompt this country to adopt and promote the agenda of so-called green finance, which supports clean or sustainable development projects and combats climate change.

The PBOC, which as China’s central bank regulates the country’s financial activity and monitors its monetary activity, has been particularly interested in Argentina, because next year it will preside over the Group of 20 (G20) industrialised and emerging economies.

In 2018, Buenos Aires will become the first Latin American city to organise a summit of the G20 forum, in which the major global powers discuss issues on the global agenda.

“China started to develop strategies to promote green finance international collaboration in the G20 framework in 2016, the year when it took over the presidency. And Germany took over this year the presidency and decided to continue. We are looking forward to Argentina to continue with this topic of green finance in 2018,” said Ma Jun, chief economist at the PBoC, in a meeting with a small group of reporters at the UNDP offices in Buenos Aires. “Once the companies begin to release the environmental information, we’ll see that money will begin to change direction. Some of the money which is invested in the polluting sector will be redirected to the green companies. And that costs governments zero. It’s only a requirement for the companies to disclose their environmental information.” -- Ma Jun

Ma, a distinguished economist who has worked at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Deutsche Bank, was the keynote speaker at the International Symposium on Green Finance, held Jul. 20-21 at IDB headquarters in Buenos Aires.

At that event, he told representatives of the public sector and private companies from a number of countries that over the past three years China has been making an important effort for its financial system to underpin a change in the development model, putting aside polluting industries and supporting projects that respect the environment and use resources more efficiently.

Ma, a high-ranking PBoC official since 2014, surprised participants in the Symposium stating that in 2015, China decided to change its development model because of the enormous environmental impact it had, which is reflected in the estimate he quoted: that “a million people a year die in China due to pollution-related diseases.“

He said four trillion yuan – approximately 600 billion dollars – will be needed to finance investments in environmentally sustainable projects over the next few years in China.

Simon Zadek, co-director of the UN Environment Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System, concurred with Ma.

He explained that the UN agency he co-heads promotes the “mobilisation of private capital towards undertakings compatible with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the commitments made in the Paris Agreement on climate change, by the financial markets, banks, investment funds and insurance companies.“

He added that “many countries have taken steps in that direction and China is one of the most inspiring, most ambitious at an internal level and most active in promoting international cooperation.“

“Financial markets and capital should take environmental and climate issues into account now, not tomorrow. We are hoping for Argentina’s leadership next year on this matter and we are ready to collaborate if it decides to do so,“ said the UN Environment official.

The Symposium was held a few days after this year’s G20 summit, which was hosted Jul. 7-8 by Hamburg, Germany.

During the summit the discrepancy became evident between the rest of the heads of government and U.S. President Donald Trump, who does not believe in climate change and withdrew his country from the Paris Agreement, which in December 2015 set commitments for all governments to reduce global warming.

In Hamburg, a meeting was held by the Green Finance Study Group (GFSG), created in 2016, the year China presided over the G20, and which is headed by Ma and Michael Sheren, senior advisor to the Bank of England, with UN Environment acting as its secretariat.

There are two main issues that the GFSG currently promotes for the financial industry to consider when deciding on the financing of infrastructure or productive projects: setting up an environmental risk analysis and using publicly available environmental data.

“PBoC, the largest Chinese bank, has verified that to invest too much in the polluting sector is not beneficial. The costs are higher and the profits lower, because lots of policies are more and more restrictive in the polluting sector,” Ma said, noting that the bank began to carry out environmental risk analysis two years ago.

For the chief economist, “the other focus is to allow financial markets to distinguish who is green and who is brown,” referring to the predominant model of development, based on draining natural resources and not preserving ecosystems.

“Once the companies begin to release the environmental information, we’ll see that money will begin to change direction. Some of the money which is invested in the polluting sector will be redirected to the green companies. And that costs governments zero. It’s only a requirement for the companies to disclose their environmental information,” added Ma.

An important part of the initiative is the promotion of the emission of so-called green bonds, to finance projects of renewable energy, energy saving, treatment of wastewater or solid waste, the construction of green buildings that emit less pollutants and reduce their energy consumption, and green transport.

But the promotion of green finance does not foresee the arrival of special funds for that purpose to countries of the developing South.

In fact, the “greening of the financial system“ mainly depends on the private sector, especially where the state has limited fiscal capacity, according to the conclusions of the G20’s GFSG.

For Rubén Mercado, UNDP economist in Argentina, governments can facilitate undertakings that are beneficial to the environment by changing policies, without the need for spending additional funds.

“The key issue is that of relative prices. In Argentina we have subsidised fossil fuels for years. Perhaps we would not even have to subsidise renewable forms of energy, but simply reduce our subsidies for fossil fuels so that the other sources can be developed,“ he said.

Ma took a similar approach, pointing out that “You don´t need to spend money, you just need to eliminate the subsidies” that are traditionally granted to fossil fuel producers, which hamper investments in clean energies.

In the Symposium in Buenos Aires a study was released about the economies of Germany, China and India, which revealed that in the last year they have invested in renewable energies just 0.7, 0.4 and 0.1 per cent of GDP, respectively.

“The massive demand for green financing simply cannot be met by the public sector or the fiscal system,” said Ma.

“In a country like China, 90 percent is being covered by the private sector. Globally, my feeling is that in the OECD countries the fiscal capacity is probably higher. Maybe more than 10 percent could be provided by governments,” he said.

“But in other economies with weaker fiscal capacity, the rate should be even lower than in China.”

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Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast Pools Efforts Against Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/costa-ricas-caribbean-coast-pools-efforts-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=costa-ricas-caribbean-coast-pools-efforts-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/costa-ricas-caribbean-coast-pools-efforts-climate-change/#respond Mon, 24 Jul 2017 03:18:10 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151406 Jonathan Barrantes walks between the rows of shoots, naming one by one each species in the tree nursery that he manages, in the south of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastal region. There are fruit trees, ceibas that will take decades to grow to full size. and timber species for forestry plantations. The tree nursery run by […]

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Local Farmers and Consumers Create Short Food Supply Chains in Mexican Citieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/local-farmers-consumers-create-short-food-supply-chains-mexican-cities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=local-farmers-consumers-create-short-food-supply-chains-mexican-cities http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/local-farmers-consumers-create-short-food-supply-chains-mexican-cities/#respond Thu, 20 Jul 2017 18:51:59 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151382 Víctor Rodríguez arranges lettuce, broccoli, potatoes and herbs on a shelf with care, as he does every Sunday, preparing to serve the customers who are about to arrive at the Alternative Market of Bosque de Tlalpan, in the south of the Mexican capital. Farmers bring their organic vegetables from San Miguel Topilejo, a rural village […]

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Mauricio Rodríguez, a member of the association of Organic Vegetables’ Producers of San Miguel Topilejo "Del Campo Ololique", serves customers at his stall in the Tlalpan Alternative Market, in the south of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Mauricio Rodríguez, a member of the association of Organic Vegetables’ Producers of San Miguel Topilejo "Del Campo Ololique", serves customers at his stall in the Tlalpan Alternative Market, in the south of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jul 20 2017 (IPS)

Víctor Rodríguez arranges lettuce, broccoli, potatoes and herbs on a shelf with care, as he does every Sunday, preparing to serve the customers who are about to arrive at the Alternative Market of Bosque de Tlalpan, in the south of the Mexican capital.

Farmers bring their organic vegetables from San Miguel Topilejo, a rural village a few km away in the municipality of Tlalpan, where they grow chard, onions, radishes, beets and other produce as a group on a total of seven hectares.

Agriculture “is a family heritage handed down by our grandparents, we are the third generation, it gives us knowledge and tools for living. We farmers must continue to exist, because we form part of the food chain,“ said Rodríguez, 36, whose wife also works in the association.

He is one of eight members of the Organic Vegetables’ Producers association of San Miguel Topilejo “Del Campo Ololique”, which in the Nahuatl indigenous tongue means “place where things are well.“

Rodríguez, a father of two, says “the best thing to do was return to the roots and contribute to future generations,“ referring to the decision to engage in organic farming and create direct channels of distribution, instead of selling their crops to wholesalers, who used to pay them a pittance.

“We have made it through the hardest part, which was to keep the project alive. Now we have steady customers who want healthy products, they know what they are consuming. We have gained the trust of our customers,“ he explained.

The association emerged in 2003 and harvests some 700 kg of vegetables a week, which the members take on Sundays to the Tlalpan street market and two other alternative markets in Mexico City, and on Tuesdays to Cuernavaca, a city about 90 km south of the capital.

They also welcome visits to the farm by customers interested in seeing how they do things.

The group has added 1,000 metres of tomato greenhouses and 500 of cucumbers, thanks to a rainwater collection system that allows them to cultivate year round. They also make beet juice and ready-to-eat salads, to incorporate added value.

In Topilejo, which in Nahuatl means “he who holds the precious chieftain’s staff“ and where some 41,000 people live, the group also protects the forest and has built terraces to prevent mudslides.

The Ololique association is one of the five winners of the 2017 Fund for the Innovation of Short Agri-Food Chains, organised by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the non-governmental organisation Slow Food Mexico, which distributed some 34,000 dollars between five undertakings.

A total of 98 groups involved in sustainable commerce, eco-gastronomy and nutritional education ran in the competition held to promote traditional cuisine, agroecological food production, clean systems in small-scale agriculture, agricultural biodiversity of crops and wild species, as well as food security, sovereignty and resilience.

Short food supply chains are market mechanisms that imply a proximity between places of production and consumption, which offer products grown using sustainable agricultural practices, with fewer intermediaries and closer ties between producers and consumers.

The idea is that these mechanisms can bolster family farming, whose international year was celebrated in 2014, to promote agroecological practices, improve farmers’ incomes, protect the environment and bolster sustainable food.

“Short chains are mechanisms of commercialisation to sell directly to consumers or through only one intermediary,“ explained Mauricio García, coordinator of the Short Food Chains project in the FAO office in Mexico.

“Since the farmers know the consumers, they start growing in response to demand, and their products sell better. The consumer knows who the producers are and can see how they grow their food,“ he told IPS.

The expert said that this way “a connection“ is established that allows small-scale farmers to sell their products at a fair price and allows consumers to buy products knowing where they came from.

FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food estimate that small-scale agriculture produces 75 per cent of the country’s food. Of the more than five million farms in Mexico, over four million are family farms.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, small-scale farming makes up nearly 81 per cent of agricultural holdings, provides between 27 and 67 per cent of food consumed domestically, occupies between 12 and 67 per cent of agricultural land and contributes between 57 and 77 per cent of regional agricultural employment.

In this country of 129 million people, there are only 26 short food supply chain street markets, where farmers sell their produce directly to consumers in markets that they have set up themselves, according to the Platform of ‘Tianguis’ and Organic Markets of Mexico, and confirmed by FAO.

In 2017, the Mexican Agriculture Ministry’s Programme to Support Small-Scale Producers has a budget of 490 million dollars – a 29 per cent increase with respect to 2016.

One of the objectives of the Ministry’s 2013-2018 sectoral programme is to support the production and incomes of small-scale farmers in the poorest rural areas.

Rodríguez said that reaching more markets and consumers without intermediaries will require more support. “These projects are indispensable, because we defend agriculture, preserve our communities and protect the environment,“ he said.

The group plans to buy a solar dryer, add another four hectares of land in 2018, register their brand and design packaging and wrappers for their processed foods.

FAO and the Agriculture Ministry list some of the challenges for small-scale agriculture, such as human capital, limited capital goods and technologies, weak integration in production chains and degradation of natural resources.

They also include high vulnerability to weather shocks, low yields and serious constraints due to shortages of land and water.

García suggests a change in perspective for the public sector.

“We want strategic aspects to be financed in these projects, which already have a history and required very concrete things, in order for them to work better. They can have better products, with more added value to generate more resources and to be able to sustain their projects,“ he said.

He stressed that “these are replicable initiatives, we need to finance them, for them to thrive and to promote their replication.“

Since 2013, the more than 190 United Nations member states have been negotiating the “Declaration on the rights of peasants and other people living in rural areas.“

It addresses and promotes the rights to natural resources and to development, to participation, information about production, commercialisation and distribution, as well as to access to justice, work, and safety and health in the workplace.

In addition, it deals with rights to food and food sovereignty, to decent livelihoods and income, to land and other natural resources, to a safe, clean and healthy environment, to seeds and to biodiversity.

Meanwhile, organisations of farmers, rural associations and research centres have promoted, since 2015, that the UN declare a “Decade of Family Agriculture“.

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Halting Sexual Exploitation of Children in Tourism, Mission Impossiblehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/halting-sexual-exploitation-children-tourism-mission-impossible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=halting-sexual-exploitation-children-tourism-mission-impossible http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/halting-sexual-exploitation-children-tourism-mission-impossible/#respond Tue, 18 Jul 2017 14:44:16 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151347 While the business sector jumps for joy as the number of tourists grew in 2016 for the seventh consecutive year to reach 1.2 billion, and as the first four months of 2017 have registered 6 per cent increase, the sheer speed, abetted by technology, of an atrocious crime—the sexual exploitation of children in tourism, has, […]

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By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jul 18 2017 (IPS)

While the business sector jumps for joy as the number of tourists grew in 2016 for the seventh consecutive year to reach 1.2 billion, and as the first four months of 2017 have registered 6 per cent increase, the sheer speed, abetted by technology, of an atrocious crime—the sexual exploitation of children in tourism, has, to date, out-paced all attempts to put an end to it.

In fact, failure of collective action and a chronic lack of robust data constitute the main challenges to eliminate this crime, underlines the Global Study “Offenders on the Move,” which is the largest pool of information on the issue to date.


Source: International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017

In spite of such widely recognised failure, further attempts gave lastly been deployed to halt this crime–a group of specialised experts on July 17 gathered in Madrid at the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) headquarters, to discuss measures the fight against child sexual exploitation in the tourism sector. “Sexual exploitation in travel and tourism has a child’s face. No country is untouched by this phenomenon and no child is immune.”

“We cannot build the responsible and sustainable tourism sector that we seek without protecting the most vulnerable in our societies. To do so we need effective tools and a global commitment,” said UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai.

“Article 2 of UNWTO’s Global Code of Ethics for Tourism underlines that the exploitation of human beings in any form, especially when applied to children, conflicts with the fundamental aims of tourism and is the negation of tourism”, Taleb Rifai recalled.

The world organisation is progressing with transforming the Code into a legally binding international treaty, the UNWTO Draft Framework Convention on Tourism Ethics, which we hope will be approved by our General Assembly next September, he added.

The Madrid meeting initiative has been coordinated by the Bangkok-based End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT), a network of 95 civil society organisations in 86 countries with one common mission: to eliminate the sexual exploitation of children, with the support of the government of The Netherlands.

UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai

‘Sexual Exploitation in Tourism Has a Child Face’

The fight against Child Exploitation in tourism is one of the priorities of UNWTO who has been leading since 20 years the World Tourism Network on Child Protection, formerly the Task Force for the Protection of Children in Tourism.

Najat Maalla M’jid, Chair of this Task force, which guided the development of the Global Study, set the scene for Madrid the meeting by stridently declaring, “Sexual exploitation in travel and tourism has a child’s face. No country is untouched by this phenomenon and no child is immune.”

In this International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, let us place children’s right to protection from violence and exploitation at the heart of our actions, she added.

For his part, the Special Rapporteur on child trafficking and sexual exploitation, Maud de Boer Buquicchio called for “child protection to be placed at the core of tourism development strategies.”

The rise of the Internet and informal operators as well as greater access to international travel have expanded ‘demand’ and heightened the dangers for children. At the same time, grinding poverty and lack of education – combined with the continued neglect of child protection systems – have fuelled the ‘supply’ of children.

INTERPOL at Work

One of the initiatives conducted globally has been represented by the tools implemented by INTERPOL aimed at reducing the possibilities for known sex offenders travelling unnoticed internationally.

Peter van Dalen, from Interpol’s Organized & Emerging Crime Directorate, said, “Anonymity protects traveling sex offenders, and INTERPOL is working with countries to deprive known sex offenders’ of their anonymity, through mechanisms such as an international warning system sharing information across borders about convicted sex offenders, as well as an international vetting system for job applicants applying to working with children.

Credit: UNWTO

A unique feature of this process has been the strong engagement with the private sector, motivated by the need to ‘get ahead’ of practices that can seriously affect their reputation and their bottom line, according to UNWTO.

“The recently reported examples from the US involving flight attendants intervening when they noticed unusual situations involving children travelling with adults underscore the fact that no country is immune to the issue – and furthermore, that investments by the travel and tourism industry in training staff and access to reporting systems can pay dividends.”

The challenge remains to expand coordinated action to implement the recommendations of Global Study.

Poor Countries Encouraged to Promote Tourism

Meanwhile, world bodies have been lastly encouraging developing countries, in particular in Africa and the poorest nations worldwide, to promote tourism as a powerful economic engine.

Just four days ahead of the Madrid expert meeting on sexual exploitation of children in tourism, the UNWTO reported that tourism “can make a strong contribution to the economies of Least Developed Countries where the sector is a major exporter concludes the report Tourism for Sustainable Development in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).’

Launched on 13 July on the occasion of the Aid for Trade Review held in Geneva, the report has been produced by UNWTO, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF).

Tourism represents 7 per cent of all international trade and is of increasing relevance to the trade community, according to the report. It is part of services trade, accounting for 30 per cent of the world’s trade in services. This is particularly true for the LDCs, where it represents 7 per cent of total exports of goods and services, a figure that stands at 10 per cent for non-oil LDC exporters.

In view of the above, and as shown in the report, tourism has been recognised as a key sector for trade-related technical assistance in LDCs. Forty-five out of 48 Diagnostic Trade Integration Studies analysed for the report feature tourism as a key sector for development, according to the study.

“Yet, despite tourism’s value in the trade agenda, it is often difficult to direct trade-related technical assistance towards the sector because tourism and trade tend to fall under different line ministries. Successful interventions in tourism require strong collaboration across government agencies as well as across different actors at the regional or local level.”

The report aims to increase the commitment and investment in coordination and raise tourism’s prominence in trade-related technical assistance as to ensure the sector delivers on its powerful capacity to create jobs and incomes where they are most needed and for those who are most vulnerable – including youth and women.

The report has been launched to coincide with the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development 2017.

In the context of the universal 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the International Year aims to support a change in policies, business practices and consumer behaviour towards a more sustainable tourism sector that can contribute to all the 17 SDGs.

Goal 17 sets as one of the targets a “significant increase of exports of developing countries, in particular with a view to doubling the least developed countries’ share of global exports by 2020”, to which tourism as service export can contribute.

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Brazil’s Shipyards – Victims of a Failed Reindustrialisation Processhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/brazilian-shipyards-no-reindustrialisation-horizon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazilian-shipyards-no-reindustrialisation-horizon http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/brazilian-shipyards-no-reindustrialisation-horizon/#respond Tue, 18 Jul 2017 00:33:01 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151342 “I have lived through three good periods and two bad ones,” prior to the present crisis in the Brazilian shipping industry, said Edson Rocha, a direct witness since the 1970s of the ups and downs of a sector where nationalist feelings run high. Now as the president of the Niteroi Metalworkers Union in this city […]

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An Atlantic Ocean deepwater oil platform moored at the Astillero Maua (Maua Shipyard) in Niteroi, in southeast Brazil, after being repaired, while awaiting being hired out to resume its activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

An Atlantic Ocean deepwater oil platform moored at the Astillero Maua (Maua Shipyard) in Niteroi, in southeast Brazil, after being repaired, while awaiting being hired out to resume its activities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jul 18 2017 (IPS)

“I have lived through three good periods and two bad ones,” prior to the present crisis in the Brazilian shipping industry, said Edson Rocha, a direct witness since the 1970s of the ups and downs of a sector where nationalist feelings run high.

Now as the president of the Niteroi Metalworkers Union in this city near Rio de Janeiro Rocha has to battle with mass unemployment of shipyard workers, bearing a collective responsibility that he had not faced in previous shipyard crises.

“Out of the 14,500 people employed directly by the shipbuilding sector in 2014, only around 1,500 are left,” the union leader told IPS. He estimates that 2,500 indirect jobs, beyond the union’s control, have been lost out of a total of 4,000 such jobs in that year."Building ships abroad, although it may be cheaper, means paying attention only to shareholders’ profits and not to the overall interests of Brazil. Every job in the shipbuilding industry generates four or five indirect jobs, and domestic costs can be negotiated." -- Jesus Cardoso

For a city of half a million people and few alternative employment opportunities, the impact has been devastating. “This time the decline was abrupt,” with thousands of workers suddenly being made redundant at the 10 large and medium-sized local shipyards when construction of ships and other oil industry equipment stopped.

Rocha joined the shipbuilding sector when it was at its peak in the 1970s, when strong government stimulus policies promoted the production of dozens of ships, mainly for the export of Brazilian iron ore.

Then in the 1980s the industry went broke during the “lost decade” of foreign debt. It recovered slightly in 1993-1994, only to practically disappear in the years that followed.

But it made a strong recovery after 2002, based on the big increase in offshore oil production, Rocha, a qualified project design technician, told IPS.

The discovery in 2006 of vast pre-salt oil deposits in deep Atlantic ocean waters, some 200 kilometres off the Brazilian coast, accelerated national plans to become a new oil superpower.

The dream of reactivating and expanding the shipbuilding industry was consequently renewed. The industry depends on domestic demand because its costs are too high to compete internationally.

Large shipyards were buillt at various points on the Atlantic coast, joining dozens already in existence and under expansion, to provide the ships and equipment needed for exploration, production and transport of fossil fuels.

There was plenty of finance available, as well as a protectionist policy requiring at least 60 percent national content in such equipment.

Ricardo Vanderlei, the president of Maua Shipyard, next to the repairs dock where a dredging platform is moored. The company, located in Niteroi on Guanabara bay, near Rio de Janeiro, is suffering from the serious crisis affecting Brazil’s shipbuilding industry. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Ricardo Vanderlei, the president of Maua Shipyard, next to the repairs dock where a dredging platform is moored. The company, located in Niteroi on Guanabara bay, near Rio de Janeiro, is suffering from the serious crisis affecting Brazil’s shipbuilding industry. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The house of cards collapsed at the end of 2014. The fall in oil prices, the domestic economic crisis and the losses sustained by the state oil group Petrobras, owing to corruption and bad management, interrupted projects, contracts and payments to shipbuilding suppliers.

A total of 82,472 workers were employed by Brazil’s over 40 shipyards in late 2014. In November 2016, the National Naval Industry Union had only 38,452 registered members, and the figure is still dropping.

The Maua Shipyard, which has been operating since 1845 in Niteroi, ceased receiving payments in July 2015 and has had to suspend construction of three Panamax ships – the largest that could pass through the locks of the Panama Canal before the canal was enlarged in June 2016 – contracted by Transpetro, the logistical subsidiary of Petrobras.

“Two of the ships are 90 percent finished and the third is half built,” Ricardo Vanderlei, the president of the company since 2013, told IPS during a visit to the shipyard.

The cancellation of the contract forced the immediate redundancy of 3,500 workers. Today the shipyard, which also carries out repairs and other services, employs about 500 people, compared to an average of 350 in 2016.

“Our problem is how to survive until 2020,” when oil extraction is projected to increase, and demand for equipment and transport is expected to recover, in Vanderlei’s view.

The solution for his shipyard seems clear: finishing the three partly built ships in the yard would represent two years’ work and allow for the recall of 1,800 workers, he said.

The Zelia Gatai, one of the three unfinished tankers in the Maua Shipyard in southeast Brazil, waiting for renewal of the contract suspended two years ago in order to complete the remaining 10 percent of its construction. This Panamax ship has a length of 228 metres. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Zelia Gatai, one of the three unfinished tankers in the Maua Shipyard in southeast Brazil, waiting for renewal of the contract suspended two years ago in order to complete the remaining 10 percent of its construction. This Panamax ship has a length of 228 metres. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

At the moment there is a surplus of workers available in an economy that has been in recession for three years, he said, but the most highly skilled workers will be lost if the period of unemployment is further extended.

“Most of the workers laid off by the shipyards have resorted to the informal sector, like street sales and occasional services,” said Rocha, whose union is still claiming the labour rights of metalworkers, who are owed wages since they were made redundant two years ago.

A recovery in the shipbuilding industry, beginning by finishing partly built ships, platforms and drill rigs required for oil production, unites the interests of unionised workers and shipyards threatened by economic collapse. At least 12 shipyards are in the hands of the receivers with the courts setting measures such as long-term payment agreements.

There would be many advantages and limited costs in the case of Maua, but the process has been blocked by court procedures and by the paralysis of Transpetro, under new management since the resignation of its former president, Sergio Machado, in February 2015 after 12 years in office.

After being accused of corruption, Machado cooperated with the justice system, recording conversations with several of the political leaders involved. He was given a reduced sentence of only three years’ house arrest, and the return of 75 million reals (23 million dollars) that he had siphoned off from the company.

Transpetro cancelled 17 contracts in 2016 and put a halt to its Fleet Modernisation and Expansion Programme, initiated in 2004 for building 49 ships, more than half of which are completed or nearly completed.

Some, like the three ships being built by Maua in association with Ilha Shipyards S.A., are waiting on court judgments and the weakened decision-making power of Transpetro, Vanderlei said.

Large bore tubes abandoned in the Maua Shipyard, in southeast Brazil, after the cancellation of the contract for building three large ships for transporting fossil fuels on the part of a subsidiary of the state oil company Petrobras. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Large bore tubes abandoned in the Maua Shipyard, in southeast Brazil, after the cancellation of the contract for building three large ships for transporting fossil fuels on the part of a subsidiary of the state oil company Petrobras. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Losses are accumulating because of the need to maintain deteriorating equipment and the continued occupation of the shipyard’s whole industrial area of 180,000 square metres.

With a length of 228 metres, width of 40 metres and height of 18.5 metres, each Panamax ship is equivalent to a city block bearing six-storey buildings. Those built at Maua have the capacity to transport 72,000 tons.

The shipyards did not participate in “the business of bribery, and they lost market position” in an increasingly complex production sector, without budget add-ons that promoted corruption and recently benefited other large Brazilian projects, Vanderlei complained.

The Maua Shipyard survives thanks to its traditions, the diversification of its services including repair work on various ships and its privileged location at the entrance of Guanabara bay, shared between Niteroi and Rio de Janeiro, and its mooring facilities for large ships, Vanderlei said.

“Shipyards have an assured future as demand is bound to increase after 2020, given that the country has an extensive Atlantic coastline and needs to increase oil production,” he said.

“The initial costs of industrial infrastructure in Brazil have already been paid. We have already delivered dozens of ships to Transpetro, proving our capacity,” he argued. Production in Brazil is more expensive, but meets local requirements that are not satisfied by standard ships built abroad, he added.

Jesus Cardoso, president of the Rio de Janeiro Metalworkers’ Union, told IPS that “building ships abroad, although it may be cheaper, means paying attention only to shareholders’ profits and not to the overall interests of Brazil. Every job in the shipbuilding industry generates four or five indirect jobs, and domestic costs can be negotiated,” he said.

Rio de Janeiro, with 6.5 million inhabitants, has lost 15,000 shipyard jobs since 2015, contributing to the halving of the total number of local metalworkers which had reached a peak of 70,000, Cardoso said.

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Not Just Numbers: Migrants Tell Their Storieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/not-just-numbers-migrants-tell-stories/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=not-just-numbers-migrants-tell-stories http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/not-just-numbers-migrants-tell-stories/#respond Mon, 17 Jul 2017 09:52:11 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151317 Every single day, print and online media and TV broadcasters show images and footage of migrants and refugees adrift, salvage teams rescuing their corpses–alive or dead, from fragile boats that are often deliberately sunk by human traffickers near the coasts of a given country. Their dramas are counted –and told– quasi exclusively in cold figures. […]

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By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jul 17 2017 (IPS)

Every single day, print and online media and TV broadcasters show images and footage of migrants and refugees adrift, salvage teams rescuing their corpses–alive or dead, from fragile boats that are often deliberately sunk by human traffickers near the coasts of a given country. Their dramas are counted –and told– quasi exclusively in cold figures.

Every now and then a reporter talks to a couple of them or interviews some of the tens of humanitarian organisations and groups, mostly to get information about their life conditions in the numerous so called “reception centres” that are often considered rather as “detention centres” installed on both shores of the Mediterranean sea.

How to participate in IOM “i am a migrant” campaign


Answer a few questions:
- Country of origin/ current country/occupation,
- At what age did you leave your country and why (and where did you go to)?
- What was your first impression?
- What do you miss from your country?
- What do you think you bring to the country you're living in?
- What do you want to do/what do you actually do for your country of origin? (Example) What's your greatest challenge right now?
- Do you have a piece of advice you'd like to give to the people back in your country?
- And to those living in your host country?
- Where is home for you?
- Share a high-resolution picture of yourself

SOURCE: IOM

It is a fact that their numbers are shocking: 101,417 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2017 through 9 July, the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) has reported. Of this total, 2,353 died.

Beyond the figures, migrants and refugees live inhumane drama, are victims of rights abuse, discrimination, xenophobia and hatred–often encouraged by some politicians. Let alone that tragic realty that they fall easy pry to human traffickers who handle them as mere merchandise. See: African Migrants Bought and Sold Openly in ‘Slave Markets’ in Libya..

On top of that, another UN organisation—the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that the Central Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe is among the world’s deadliest and most dangerous migrant routes for children and women.

“The route is mostly controlled by smugglers, traffickers and other people seeking to prey upon desperate children and women who are simply seeking refuge or a better life,” it reports. See: A Grisly Tale of Children Falling Easy Prey to Ruthless Smugglers.

On this, Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe, said that this route “is mostly controlled by smugglers, traffickers and other people seeking to prey upon desperate children and women who are simply seeking refuge or a better life.”

Moreover, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has estimated that 7 of 10 victims of human traffickers are women and children.

True that statistics help evaluate the magnitude of such an inhumane drama. But, is this enough?

1,200 Migrants Tell Their Dreams and Realities

2,716 kms from home. “I’ll probably go back to Senegal to use what I have learnt here (Niger) to contribute to my country’s development and to Africa as a whole” – Fatou. Read her story. Credit: IOM/Amanda Nero

In a singular initiative, IOM launched “i am a migrant” – a platform to promote diversity and inclusion of migrants in society.

3,385 kms from home. “Before, they used to ask how I came here. Now they ask migrants why they came” – Jasmine. Occupation: Law-maker. Current Country: Republic of Korea. Country of Origin: Philippines. Read her story. Credit: IOM

It’s specifically designed to support volunteer groups, local authorities, companies, associations, groups, indeed, anyone of goodwill who is concerned about the hostile public discourse against migrants, says IOM.

i am a migrant” allows the voices of individuals to shine through and provides an honest insight into the triumphs and tribulations of migrants of all backgrounds and at all phases of their migratory journeys.”

“While we aim to promote positive perceptions of migrants we do not shy away from presenting life as it is experienced. We seek to combat xenophobia and discrimination at a time when so many are exposed to negative narratives about migration – whether on our social media feeds or on the airwaves.”

The IOM campaign uses the testimonials of migrants to connect people with the human stories of migration. Thus far, it has seen 1,200 profiles published. The anecdotes and memories shared on the platform help us understand what words such as “integration”, “multiculturalism” and “diversity” truly mean.

Through stories collected by IOM teams around the world, “diversity finally finds a human face.” While inviting migrants to share their stories with its teams, IOM informs that “i am a migrant” is part of the UN TOGETHER initiative that promotes respect, safety and dignity for everyone who has left home in search of a better life.

Read their stories here.

From the Ashes of World War II

IOM is among the world’s most experienced international agencies dealing with migrants. No wonder– it rose from the ashes of World War Two over 65 years ago.

“In the battle-scarred continent of Europe, no government alone could help survivors who wanted no more than an opportunity to resume their lives in freedom and with dignity. The first incarnation of IOM was created to resettle refugees during this post-war period,” it reminds.

The agency’s history tracks the man-made and natural disasters of the past over 65 years – Hungary 1956; Czechoslovakia 1968; Chile 1973; the Viet Nam boat people 1975; Kuwait 1990, Kosovo and Timor 1999; the 2003 invasion of Iraq; the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.

Now under the United Nations umbrella as part of its system since 2016, IOM quickly grew from a focus on migrant and refugee resettlement to become the world’s leading inter-governmental organisation dedicated to the well-being, safety and engagement of migrants.

Over the years, IOM has grown into 166 member states. Its global presence has expanded to over 400 field locations. With over 90 per cent of its staff deployed in the field, it has become a lead responder to the world’s worst humanitarian emergencies.

Shall these facts –and the stories migrants tell—help awaken the consciousness of those European politicians who ignore the fact that their peoples were once migrants and refugees as a consequences of wars their predecessors provoked? And that the migration agency was born for them?

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Argentina Plans Billions of Dollars in Railway Projectshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/argentina-plans-billions-dollars-railway-projects/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-plans-billions-dollars-railway-projects http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/argentina-plans-billions-dollars-railway-projects/#respond Wed, 12 Jul 2017 03:11:50 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151244 Development in Argentina in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century was closely tied to that of the railway. The eighth largest country in the world, Argentina’s economy grew through exporting agricultural and livestock products, and the railways were key to founding centres of population and transporting […]

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After decades of decline, Argentina has a recovery plan for its railways, involving investments of billions of dollars, for freight and passenger transport

One of the new locomotives, imported from China to modernise Argentina’s freight railway network, being unloaded in the port of Buenos Aires in May. Credit: Ministry of Transport

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 12 2017 (IPS)

Development in Argentina in the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century was closely tied to that of the railway. The eighth largest country in the world, Argentina’s economy grew through exporting agricultural and livestock products, and the railways were key to founding centres of population and transporting goods to the ports.

“The railways had an enormous social and cultural impact, and often arrived in areas where there was little or no population. Around the middle of the last century there were 48,000 kilometres of track, at which point the railway system was nationalised as Ferrocarriles Argentinos (Argentine Railways), the largest railway company in the world,” historian Eduardo Lazzari told IPS.

But by 1950, decline had set in. Branch lines were closed and the track network was almost halved, in this country with an area of 2.8 million square kilometres and an estimated population of 43.5 million.

This decline is viewed by some Argentines as a cause, by others as a consequence, but nearly all of them see it as symbolic of the fate of the country, which has suffered countless economic crises in recent decades, and where according to official figures one-third of the population lives in poverty.. “We have to think about what kind of railway we want, because for many years the main problem has not been lack of investment but bad management. It makes no sense to try to go back to the railway system the country once had, because needs have changed." -- Alberto Muller

Argentina now has a recovery plan for the railways, involving investments of billions of dollars and addressing both freight carriage as well as passenger transport in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, where 15.2 million people live, representing 35 percent of the country’s total population.

There are also plans, on a lower key, to renovate intercity rail links in this, the third largest economy of Latin America.

“In the last few years there have been investments on a scale that I have never seen before, especially in the metropolitan railway network. Some of them have not been particularly well planned,” transport expert Alberto Muller, the head of a research centre at the Faculty of Economic Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) told IPS.

Muller voiced the doubts entertained by many experts in the field about the priorities that have been adopted. “We have to think about what kind of railway we want, because for many years the main problem has not been lack of investment but bad management. It makes no sense to try to go back to the railway system the country once had, because needs have changed,” he said.

In 2008 the state began to buy new railway carriages for metropolitan trains, which it had not done since 1985.

The railway sector was privatised in the 1990s as part of the neoliberal reforms undertaken by the government of Carlos Menem (1989-1999).

The visible deterioration in services and infrastructure began to be reversed in recent years, when the state recovered ownership of the majority of branch lines.

But it took a major tragedy to give the railways top political priority and accelerate investments.

On a Wednesday morning in February 2012 a train carrying 1,200 passengers on the Sarmiento line drove into Once, one of the four main stations in Buenos Aires used daily by thousands of suburban commuters. The brakes failed and it crashed into the buffers..

The crash killed 51 people and led to a trial that riveted the nation and sentenced transport officials and private railway company administrators to prison terms.

In their verdict, the judges determined that the accident had been caused by the “deplorable lack of maintenance that affected safety conditions.”

The weight of public opinion led to 1.2 billion dollars being spent by 2015 to modernise the metropolitan railway lines.

In 2016, in the first year of the government of president Mauricio Macri, an investment plan was announced for nearly 14.2 billion dollars up to 2023. The goal is that trains entering and leaving Buenos Aires should have a daily passenger transport capacity of five million people, compared with their current capacity of 1.2 million passengers.

The plan will be financed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), credits from Brazil’s National Development Bank, and contributions from the Argentine Treasury.

Multimillion dollar investments are also planned to modernise the freight railroad network.

China will contribute four billion dollars to the renewal of more than 1,500 kilometres of track in Belgrano Norte and San Martin, carrying freight from the north and west of the country to the ports of Rosario, on the Parana river, and Buenos Aires, on the Rio de la Plata, to be shipped for export.

The agreement includes the purchase of 3,500 railway carriages and 107 locomotives from China.

“The railroad must play a key role in Argentina’s economic recovery,” Transport Minister Guillermo Dietrich said on May 30 upon receiving 10 of the Chinese locomotives.

As for intercity railways, services between Buenos Aires and the city of Mar del Plata were reinaugurated on July 3. The 400 kilometre journey takes nearly seven hours, giving rise to heavy criticism.

A 60-year-old newsreel video, showing the same journey taking four and a half hours, rapidly went viral on the social networks.

“Argentine society has a nostalgic vision of the railroads, and official policies tend to go along with this, which is a mistake. Intercity trains, for example, have little chance of surviving because this is a very large and relatively underpopulated country, and so the costs are too high,” Jorge Wadell, the co-author of “Historia del Ferrocarril en Argentina” (History of the Railroad in Argentina), told IPS.

One of the most important works in progress is laying the Sarmiento line, which was the scene of the 2012 disaster, underground. This railway line connects the centre of the capital with the west of the conurbation, and practically cuts the City of Buenos Aires in two. At present there are dozens of level crossings that are dangerous and complicate rail traffic.

The project has a budget of three billion dollars and involves digging a 22-kilometre long tunnel with tracks for two trains, one in each direction.

The initiative has been on the drawing board for decades and while many people have called for its completion, some experts have criticised the concept.

“At present there are four tracks on the Sarmiento line, but with the tunnel there will only be two, and all the trains will have to stop at all the stations, so there will be no more fast trains. Nowhere in the world is railway capacity being reduced in this way,” the head of the Instituto Ciudad en Movimiento, Andres Borthagaray, told IPS.

The other major project is the Regional Express Network, consisting of the construction of 20 kilometres of tunnels and a network of underground stations to link the different railway lines arriving in Buenos Aires from the suburbs.

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Mexico’s Methane Emissions Threaten the Environmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/mexicos-methane-emissions-threaten-environment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-methane-emissions-threaten-environment http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/mexicos-methane-emissions-threaten-environment/#respond Sat, 08 Jul 2017 17:27:48 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151219 Mexico is in transition towards commercial exploitation of its shale gas, which is being included in two auctions of 24 hydrocarbon blocks, at a time when the country is having difficulty preventing and reducing industrial methane emissions. Increasing atmospheric release of methane, which is far more polluting than carbon dioxide (CO2) and which is emitted […]

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Two chimney stacks (left) burning gas at the Tula refinery in the state of Tulio, adjacent to Mexico City. Burning and venting gas at facilities of the state group PEMEX increases methane emissions in Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Two chimney stacks (left) burning gas at the Tula refinery in the state of Tulio, adjacent to Mexico City. Burning and venting gas at facilities of the state group PEMEX increases methane emissions in Mexico. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jul 8 2017 (IPS)

Mexico is in transition towards commercial exploitation of its shale gas, which is being included in two auctions of 24 hydrocarbon blocks, at a time when the country is having difficulty preventing and reducing industrial methane emissions.

Increasing atmospheric release of methane, which is far more polluting than carbon dioxide (CO2) and which is emitted along the entire chain of production, is threatening the climate goals adopted by Mexico within the Paris Agreement which aims to contain global warming.

“Shale gas is the last gas that is left to exploit after reserves that are easier to access have been used up. Its production entails higher economic, environmental and energy costs. It is practically impossible for a shale gas well to be non-polluting,” researcher Luca Ferrari, of the Geosciences Institute at the state National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) told IPS.

The state-run but autonomous National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH) issued a resolution on Jun. 22 calling for bids for the two auctions of 24 blocks of gas and oil in five basins, located in the north, southeast and south of the country. For the first time, shale gas reserves are included. Bidding will take place on Jul. 12, and total estimated reserves of 335 million barrels are being offered.

By refraining from producing non-conventional fuels (like shale gas) itself, the government is partially opening the energy sector to participation by private enterprise to supply the country’s industrial gas needs.

Mexico’s energy reform, introduced in August 2014, opened up exploitation, refining, distribution and sales of hydrocarbons, as well as electricity generation and sales, to national and foreign private sectors.

In shale gas deposits, hydrocarbon molecules are trapped in sedimentary rocks at great depths. Large quantities of a mixture of water, sand and chemical additives, which are harmful to health and the environment, have to be injected to recover shale gas and oil.

The “fracking” technique used to free shale gas and oil leave huge volumes of liquid waste that has to be treated for recycling, as well as methane emissions that are more polluting than CO2, the greenhouse gas responsible for most global warming.

Mexico, shale superpower

An analysis of 137 deposits in 41 countries by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) puts Mexico in sixth place worldwide for technically recoverable shale gas reserves, behind China, Argentina, Algeria, the United States and Canada, with reserves of 545 trillion cubic feet. The country occupies seventh place for shale oil.

However CNH quotes more moderate estimates of probable reserves, of the order of 81 trillion cubic feet.

“Current regulations are based on best practices, but the philosophy of environmental protection has been abandoned. Exploitation is deepening inequities in a negative way, such as environmental impact. It is irresponsible to auction reserves without a proper evaluation of environmental and social impacts,” researcher Ramón Torres, of UNAM’s Development Studies Programme, told IPS.

In March, the national Agency for Industrial Safety and Environmental Protection, responsible for regulating the hydrocarbons sector, published a regulatory package on exploitation and extraction of non-conventional reserves.

The regulations identify the risks of fracking fluid leaks, heightened demand for water, pollution caused by well emissions of methane and other volatile organic compounds, pollution caused by toxic substance release and by the return of injected fluid and connate water to ground level from the drill hole.

The regulations indicate that 15 to 80 percent of fracking fluid returns to the surface, depending on the well. As for atmospheric pollutants, they mention nitrogen oxides, benzene, toluene, methane and coal.

Measures are imposed on companies, such as verifying the sealing of wells, applying procedures for preventing gas leaks, and disclosing the composition of drilling fluids. Gas venting is prohibited, and burning is restricted.

Since 2003, Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) has used hydraulic fracking – applicable not only to shale extraction – to drill at least 924 wells in six of the country’s 32 states, according to CartoCritica, a non-governmental organisation. At least 28 of these were confirmed to be of non-conventional crude.

Gas emissions

Within this context, Mexico faces problems in reducing methane emissions.

In 2013 the country emitted 126 million tonnes of methane into the atmosphere, of which 54 million were from the stock rearing sector, 31 million from oil and gas, and 27 million from waste products. The rest was from electricity generation, industry and deforestation. Use of gas for electricity generation contributed at least 0.52 million tonnes.

Mexico, Latin America’s second largest economy, emitted a total of 608 million tonnes of CO2 during the same year.

Pemex Exploration and Production, a subsidiary of the state PEMEX group, reported that in 2016 its total methane emissions were 641,517 tonnes, 38 percent higher than the previous year.

Shallow water undersea extraction contributed 578,642 tonnes, land based fields 46,592 tonnes, hydrocarbon storage and distribution 10,376 tonnes, gas fields not associated with oil fields 5,848 tonnes, and non-conventional fields 57 tonnes.

In 2016, PEMEX changed the way it reported emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHG). Previously these volumes were reported by production region, making comparative analysis difficult.

In 2015, the Northeast Marine Region comprising the Gulf of Mexico, where the largest underwater oil deposits are located, emitted 287,292 tonnes.

The emissions reduction was presumably associated with reduced fossil fuel production due to a fall in international prices and PEMEX’s own lack of financial resources.

But between 2012 and 2014 emissions increased by 329 percent, leaping from 141,622 tonnes to 465,956 tonnes, presumably because of increased venting and burning of gas (whether or not associated with crude oil wells). PEMEX lacked the technology for gas recovery.

By reducing venting and burning, PEMEX was able to reduce its emissions between 2009 and 2011, after GHG emissions grew from 2007 to 2009.

In Ferrari’s view, the problem is a technical and economic one. “The first step is to prevent venting,” but that requires investment, he said.

According to the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR) led by the World Bank, in 2015 Mexico burned 5 billion cubic metres of gas, putting it in eighth place in the world, the same as for venting intensity, the relation between cubic metres of gas burned to barrels of oil produced.

The aim of the GGFR is to eradicate such practices by 2030.

Mexico is one of 24 goverrnments participating in the initiative, together with French Guiana and Peru in the Latin American region. Thirty-one oil companies – not including PEMEX – and 15 multilateral financial institutions are also involved. The World Bank will publish its first report on burning and venting gas this year.

Torres and Ferrari agree that the volume of gas produced by hydraulic fracking will not be sufficient to satisfy domestic demand.

“The volume that can be exploited is small and insufficient,” said Torres. Ferrari’s calculations indicate that shale gas would only supply domestic needs for 10 months.

In May Mexico produced 5.3 billion cubic feet of gas per day, and imported 1.79 billion cubic feet. Meanwhile, it extracted 2.31 million barrels of crude per day.

In the same month, the Energy Ministry updated its Five Year Plan for Oil and Gas Exploration and Extraction 2015-2019 and set a new target to auction reserves of nearly 31 billion barrel equivalents of non-conventional fuels.

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Mideast: Water Use Innovations ‘Crucial’ to Face Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/mideast-water-use-innovations-crucial-face-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-water-use-innovations-crucial-face-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/mideast-water-use-innovations-crucial-face-climate-change/#respond Wed, 05 Jul 2017 17:11:15 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151170 In the Near East and North Africa region, the per capita renewable water availability is around 600 cubic metres per person per year –only 10 per cent of the world average- and drops to just 100 cubic metres in some countries, the United Nations warned. “Arab states must continue to seek innovations to overcome water […]

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Arab states must continue to seek innovations to overcome water scarcity in the face of climate change,” said FAO's Director-General José Graziano da Silva

The Initiative on water scarcity will make governments, international organisations, civil society and the private sector work together to seek participatory and innovative policy, governance and management options for the sustainable use of water scarce resources, which are vital for the food security of the Near east and North Africa countries. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Jul 5 2017 (IPS)

In the Near East and North Africa region, the per capita renewable water availability is around 600 cubic metres per person per year –only 10 per cent of the world average- and drops to just 100 cubic metres in some countries, the United Nations warned.

“Arab states must continue to seek innovations to overcome water scarcity in the face of climate change,” said the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva at an event co-hosted by the Arab League on the side-lines of the UN specialised agency’s biennial Conference (3-8 July 2017).

“In the Near East and North Africa region, the per capita renewable water availability is around 600 cubic metres per person per year --only 10 per cent of the world average- and drops to just 100 cubic metres in some countries.”

He praised Near East and North African countries’ progress, despite the challenges, in areas such as desalination, water harvesting, drip irrigation and treating wastewater. “It is fundamental to promote ways for agriculture, and food production in general, to use less water, and use it more efficiently”.

“Population growth and the impacts of climate change will put more pressure on water availability in the near future. Climate change, in particular, poses very serious risks.”

Agriculture Accounts for over 80% of Freshwater Withdrawals

Farmers and rural households should be at the centre of strategies to address water scarcity, Graziano da Silva said. “Not only to encourage them to adopt more efficient farming technologies, but also to secure access to drinking water for poor rural households. This is vital for food security and improved nutrition.”

Agriculture accounts for more than 80 per cent of all freshwater withdrawals in the region, reaching peaks above 90 per cent in some countries including Yemen and Syria. Sustainable and efficient water management practices in agriculture are therefore key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger.

“The future of the Arab region is tightly linked to the problem of water scarcity,” said for his part the Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul-Gheith.

Arab states must continue to seek innovations to overcome water scarcity in the face of climate change,” said FAO's Director-General José Graziano da Silva

Water use innovations crucial to face climate change in Arab countries. Credit: FAO

“There is a major gap between supply and demand when it comes not only to water but also food in the Arab region. This gap leads to dire political, economic and security consequences.”

He also urged better collaboration with countries that are home to rivers that flow into the region, and noted that water levels in the Euphrates and Nile Rivers are decreasing steadily.

Climate Change to Compound Water Scarcity

Unrestrained demand for water for agriculture in the region has led to groundwater over‐drafting, declines in water quality and land degradation including salinization, FAO reports. “Climate change is expected to compound these trends and agriculture will be one of the hardest hit sectors.”

More frequent and intense heat waves and reduced rainfall will curb growing seasons. With less rain, there will be a reduction in soil moisture, river runoff and aquifer recharge. Increased uncertainty will affect productivity, and make agricultural planning more difficult.

In collaboration with the Arab League, FAO launched a Regional Initiative on Water Scarcity in the Near East in 2013, which supports the coordination of a Regional Collaborative Strategy.

Building on this, the UN agency launched a Global Framework, Coping with water scarcity in agriculture, at COP 22 in Marrakesh last year. It encourages cooperation among stakeholders and will help develop technology and governance based on good science.

New Global Action Programme for SIDS Countries

Meantime, new United Nations global action programme launched on 4 July at FAO seeks to address pressing challenges related to food security, nutrition and the impacts of climate change facing the world’s Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

The initiative was developed jointly by FAO, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS).

Arab states must continue to seek innovations to overcome water scarcity in the face of climate change,” said FAO's Director-General José Graziano da Silva

Global Action Programme (GAP) on Food Security and Nutrition in Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Credit: FAO

Because of their small size and isolation, SIDS are particularly threatened by natural disasters and the impacts of climate change, says the UN specialised body. “Many have limited arable agricultural land and are dependent on small-scale agriculture, ocean resources and high priced imports.”

The Global Action Programme aims to achieve three objectives: i) create enabling environments for food security and nutrition; ii) promote sustainable, resilient nutrition-sensitive food systems; and, iii) empower people and communities for improved food security and nutrition.

On this, Graziano da Silva stressed that the Global Action Programme is the fruit of wide-ranging consultations in the SIDS regions where food security and nutrition must be addressed together with issues such as climate change, the health of oceans, land degradation, social inclusion education and gender equality.

“The impacts of climate change are particularly worrisome. They affect everything that we plan to do in the SIDS countries,” he said, referring to their vulnerability to rising ocean levels and the increase in extreme weather events such as tsunamis, storms, floods and droughts.

Regarding the nutrition situation, FAO chief said that “the triple burden of malnutrition is a reality among many SIDS countries. This means that undernourishment, micronutrient deficiency and obesity coexist within the same country, same communities and even the same households.”

For his part, the President of the Republic of Palau, Tommy Remengesau Jr. pointed to the need to “curb the alarming trends” in the SIDS such as, in the case of the Pacific region, the high rate of mortality caused by non-communicable diseases including cancer and heart attacks, to which poor nutrition is a major contributor.

“In my view the Global Action Programme is an important mechanism to empower our communities and peoples,” Remengesau said, underscoring the need to gradually shift people in the SIDS towards “wholesome nutrition and healthy lifestyles.”

“I call on the international community, development partners, intergovernmental organizations and fellow SIDS to work together to help our communities and our people,” he said.

UN General Assembly President Peter Thomson, who is also Fiji’s Permanent Representative to the UN, said at the event that the launch of the programme “represents an important step towards implementation of the (SDG) Sustainable Development Goals targets as related to the SIDS for addressing poverty, health, water, sanitation, economic development, inequalities, climate change, and of course the oceans”.

Thomson noted that the Global Action Programme stems from the SIDS Acclerated Modalities Of Action (S.A.M.O.A.) Pathway – the outcome of the Third International Conference on SIDS held in Apia, Samoa in 2014, where FAO was invited to develop a global framework for action.

Focus on the Small Island Developing States

FAO has scaled up its work with the SIDS in recent years including in areas aimed at improving the management and use of natural resources; promoting integrated rural development; and building resilience to extreme weather events.

Last month during the Ocean Conference in New York, FAO presented a commitment to increase economic benefits to SIDS countries through the Blue Growth Initiative. In particular, this will be done through three specific regional SIDS projects, with funding of some 16 million dollars from this agency’s budget.

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Governments Support Trump’s Aim to Block Central American Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/governments-support-trumps-aim-block-central-american-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=governments-support-trumps-aim-block-central-american-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/governments-support-trumps-aim-block-central-american-migrants/#respond Mon, 03 Jul 2017 07:01:58 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151112 Trying to make it into the United States as an undocumented migrant is not such an attractive option anymore for Moris Peña, a Salvadoran who was deported from that country in 2014. “The situation in the United States is getting more and more difficult,” the 39-year-old construction worker from Chalchuapa, a city in the west […]

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The Greater Caribbean Raises Funds to Protect its Sandy Coastshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/greater-caribbean-raises-funds-protect-sandy-coasts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=greater-caribbean-raises-funds-protect-sandy-coasts http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/greater-caribbean-raises-funds-protect-sandy-coasts/#respond Sat, 01 Jul 2017 07:39:36 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151114 Almost no Caribbean beach escapes erosion, a problem that scientific sources describe as extensive and irreversible in these ecosystems of high economic interest, that work as protective barriers for life inland. “The phenomenon of erosion is widespread in the Caribbean,“ geographer Luis Juanes, a researcher at the recently created state Marine Science Institute of Cuba, […]

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Tourists enjoy the beach in the international resort of Varadero, in western Cuba. Scientists say the erosion of sandy ecosystems in the Greater Caribbean - which have a high economic value and are a protective barrier for life inland - is irreversible. Credit: Jorge Luis Bolaños/IPS

Tourists enjoy the beach in the international resort of Varadero, in western Cuba. Scientists say the erosion of sandy ecosystems in the Greater Caribbean - which have a high economic value and are a protective barrier for life inland - is irreversible. Credit: Jorge Luis Bolaños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Jul 1 2017 (IPS)

Almost no Caribbean beach escapes erosion, a problem that scientific sources describe as extensive and irreversible in these ecosystems of high economic interest, that work as protective barriers for life inland.

“The phenomenon of erosion is widespread in the Caribbean,“ geographer Luis Juanes, a researcher at the recently created state Marine Science Institute of Cuba, who participates in the scientific coordination of a project of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) to protect sandy coasts from the effects of global warming, told IPS.

The regional initiative “Impact of climate change on the sandy coasts of the Caribbean: Alternatives for its control and resilience“ could begin to be implemented this year, after negotiations between the ACS and the main donor for the project: the International Cooperation Agency of South Korea.

“Caribbean beaches have an irreversible tendency to erosion,“ said Juanes in an interview with IPS, referring to a problem “whose main causes are associated with misguided human action in coastal areas, such as the extraction of sand for the construction industry and the building of tourism installations on dunes.“

However, the scientist pointed out that research from local and foreign authors found this kind of deterioration even in pristine beaches on uninhabited keys, which can only be explained by the rising sea levels and other consequences of global warming.

For this reason, the ACS, founded in 1994, which groups 25 countries of the Greater Caribbean region, initially approved in 2016 and ratified in a summit in March this year this proposal set forth by Cuba, within a broader programme of adaptation to climate change.

This programme also includes projects against the invasion by Sargassum seaweed and exotic species such as the lionfish.

To finance the programme, the ACS raises cooperation funds to mitigate and adapt to the new climate scenario in this diverse region of highly vulnerable small islands and mainland countries that have in common developing economies with limited resources for environmental preservation.

So far, the project against erosion of the sandy coasts has received around a quarter of a million dollars from the Netherlands and Turkey, said Juanes. And a contribution of 4.5 million dollars from South Korea is foreseen to achieve the targets set out during its four years of implementation.

 Geographer José Luis Juanes, of the Marine Science Institute, stands along the eroding and polluted shore in Havana, where the new Cuban state body is based. Credit: Jorge Luis Bolaños/IPS

Geographer José Luis Juanes, of the Marine Science Institute, stands along the eroding and polluted shore in Havana, where the new Cuban state body is based. Credit: Jorge Luis Bolaños/IPS

In addition, each country member of the ACS that confirms its participation will contribute funds and a logistic base.

The initiative´s coordination has already attracted the interest of Antigua and Barbuda, Colombia, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Vincent, Saint Lucía, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The initiative seeks to improve practices of preservation and restoration of beaches in the Caribbean, by establishing a regional network to monitor erosion, developing a coastal engineering manual, training technical and professional staff, generating scientific exchanges, and providing equipment, among other objectives.

“Part of the topics we are discussing with the Koreans is the collaboration of scientific institutions from that country to contribute a basic infrastructure with some modern technologies such as drones and coastal radars,“ said Juanes.

A key goal is obtaining data to assess the effects of coastal erosion up to 2100 in the area of the Greater Caribbean, which must ensure sustainable use of sandy beaches, its main natural resource for the tourism industry.

Many of these countries depend on the entertainment industry, particularly small island states where tourism represents an average 25 per cent of GDP and is the sector with the highest rate of growth.

A man combs through objects among the trash strewn on the polluted sands of El Gringo beach in the city of Bajos de Haina, the Dominican Republic’s main industrial centre and port. Credit: Jorge Luis Bolaños/IPS

A man combs through objects among the trash strewn on the polluted sands of El Gringo beach in the city of Bajos de Haina, the Dominican Republic’s main industrial centre and port. Credit: Jorge Luis Bolaños/IPS

Juanes pointed out that the concern with the issue emerged “mainly in the major tourist centres“ in the region, in the last decades of the 20th century. He said the countries have adopted coastal protection legal measures and engineering solutions on beaches frequented by tourists.

Pioneers in this area, Cuban scientific institutions and state companies have shared their local experiences in coastal protection and restoration with countries such as Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico and Dominican Republic, said the scientist.

He warned that the “touristic development model used is unsustainable“ and the Greater Caribbean should halt the current deterioration of the sandy coasts, since it lacks the resources to maintain artificial beaches, like the ones created in the U.S. state of Florida.

“If our Caribbean beaches and ecosystems deteriorate, in a few years the competition with tourism spots within the United States itself will be overwhelming,“ he said, referring to the main source of visitors to the Caribbean region.

While the beaches of Varadero, in Cuba, the Riviera Maya, in Mexico, and Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, to mention some examples, are financing their own studies and costly maintenance efforts using sand extracted from the depths of the sea, many beaches outside the tourist routes are neglected and affected by pollution.

In response, the ACS project will prepare “at least three beach restoration projects in three hot spots in three different less well-off countries,“ said Juanes.

But he said that they will only “prepare the conceptual framework, do the fieldwork and modeling,“ since the implementation will cost millions and will be up to the countries themselves.

“A community-based and eco-conscious solution is that the people adopt the beaches that they benefit from,“ said Ángela Corvea, the coordinator of the Acualina environmental education programme, which mobilises the authorities and the community in cleaning up the coastline in the Havana district of Playa, on the west side of the Cuban capital.

“Nobody cleans those beaches,“ lamented Corvea about the area with many mainly rocky beaches and only a few sandy ones. For this reason, Acualina has been organising children and young people since 2003 to pick up garbage in three neighborhoods along the coast, including La Concha, the only sandy beach accessible to the public in the municipality.

“These community actions, if all the people that use the beaches would particpate, would improve the preservation of the beaches,“ said the activist. “And to do these things, nobody should wait for an order or decree,“ she said, referring to the limited practical effect of environmental laws in different ACS countries.

In another Caribbean island nation, the Dominican Republic, IPS saw one of the most blatant examples of the deplorable environmental situation on the many beaches that have no tourism.

There are heaps of garbage on the dunes of El Gringo beach in the highly industrialised Dominican municipality of Bajos de Haina. “The problem of pollution on the beach has been discussed a great deal in the neighbourhood council. It needs to be cleaned and dredged,“ said Mackenzie Andújar, a 41-year-old local plumber.

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Chilean President’s Apology to the Mapuche People Considered “Insufficient”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/chilean-presidents-apology-mapuche-people-considered-insufficient/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chilean-presidents-apology-mapuche-people-considered-insufficient http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/chilean-presidents-apology-mapuche-people-considered-insufficient/#respond Thu, 29 Jun 2017 01:27:00 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151087 Chilean President Michelle Bachelet’s formal apology to the country’s Mapuche Indians, for the “mistakes and atrocities” committed against them by the Chilean state, is seen by indigenous and social activists in the central region of Araucanía – the heartland of the Mapuche people – as falling short. Native leaders in that region are calling for […]

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Representatives of the Mapuche, Lonko and Machi people attend the raising of the flag in the Plaza de Armas in Vilcún, 700 km south of Santiago, one of the numerous ceremonies held in Chile on Jun. 24, declared a national holiday as We Tripantu, the Mapuche new year. Credit: Mirna Concha/IPS

Representatives of the Mapuche, Lonko and Machi people attend the raising of the flag in the Plaza de Armas in Vilcún, 700 km south of Santiago, one of the numerous ceremonies held in Chile on Jun. 24, declared a national holiday as We Tripantu, the Mapuche new year. Credit: Mirna Concha/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Jun 29 2017 (IPS)

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet’s formal apology to the country’s Mapuche Indians, for the “mistakes and atrocities” committed against them by the Chilean state, is seen by indigenous and social activists in the central region of Araucanía – the heartland of the Mapuche people – as falling short.

Native leaders in that region are calling for concrete actions and policies with regard to key questions such as their demands for self-determination, respect for their rights to their ancestral land, water use rights, and an end to violence against indigenous people.

The latest incident took place on Jun. 14, when members of the carabineros militarised police used tear gas during a raid in a school in the town of Temucuicui, which affected a number of schoolchildren and local residents.

On Jun. 27, lawyers at the government’s National Human Rights Institute filed legal action on behalf of the schoolchildren in that Mapuche town of 120 families, in the region of Araucanía.“While the question of relations between the state and indigenous people is fundamentally political, any kind of self-determination must necessarily be accompanied by management of and access to economic resources. These are the most marginalised parts of the country, and are also paradoxically where the most profitable industries operate. That is immoral.” -- Carlos Bresciani

“This apology and acknowledgment that mistakes, and especially atrocities, have been committed is important,” said Adolfo Millabur, mayor of the town of Tirúa, the hub of the Mapuche people’s ancestral territory, with respect to the Jun. 23 request for forgiveness by the socialist president, during the launch of a Plan for Recognition and Development of Araucanía.

“I think it is positive that a president of Chile has recognised mistakes and above all atrocities committed after the Chilean state’s invasion of Mapuche territory started in 1860, in the misnamed ‘Pacification of Araucanía’,” he said.

The “Pacification of Araucanía” was a brutal military campaign by the Chilean army and settlers that ended in 1881 with the defeat of the Mapuche people, leaving tens of thousands of indigenous people dead and leading to the reduction of Mapuche territory from 10 million to just half a million hectares.

But Millabur called for “concrete measures to repair the damage caused” and said “the demilitarisation of the area would be a good gesture.”

“Children are suffering, there are victims of all kinds, Mapuche people have died, and there is no indication of how the state is going to act in the immediate future, if it is going to continue to militarise the area as it is doing now,” he added.

The Association of Municipalities with Mapuche Mayors acknowledged in a communiqué that Bachelet’s apology “is aimed at gaining a better understanding between the Mapuche people and the state.”

But it also said “this gesture must be accompanied by concrete developments such as new forms and methods of dialogue, a different approach by the police in our communities…fair trials for our brothers and sisters, and the non-application of the anti-terrorism law.”

The mayors were referring to the prosecution of Mapuche activists accused of setting trucks on fire, and the continuous raids on Mapuche homes and buildings, such as the one in the school in Temucuicui.

Mapuche activists have been arrested and prosecuted under the 1984 anti-terrorism law, put in place by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) and still in force, which allows witnesses to conceal their identity while testifying, and provides for longer periods of arrest on remand and extremely heavy sentences.

According to the last census, from 2012, 11 percent of Chile’s population of 17.7 million people identify themselves as indigenous.

Of the country’s 1.9 million indigenous people, 84 percent are Mapuche. Smaller native communities in Chile include the Aymara, Atacameño, Pehuenche and Pascuense people.

Catholic priest Carlos Bresciani, the head of the Jesuit mission in Tirúa, told IPS that “it is laudable that the president apologised, but asking for forgiveness is not enough if it is not accompanied by fair reparations.”

 During the launch of a new plan for the region of Araucania, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet apologised to the Mapuche people on Jun. 23 in the name of the Chilean state, for the “mistakes and atrocities” committed against them. Credit: Chilean Presidency


During the launch of a new plan for the region of Araucania, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet apologised to the Mapuche people on Jun. 23 in the name of the Chilean state, for the “mistakes and atrocities” committed against them. Credit: Chilean Presidency

Bresciani also believes greater dialogue with the Mapuche people will be possible “if more political questions such as self-determination or autonomy are put on the table, and if the dialogue includes all sectors, no matter how radical they might be.”

The priest was referring to the low level of representation of Mapuche leaders on the Araucania Presidential Advisory Commission, appointed by Bachelet in January 2015, which wrapped up its work in January with a package of proposals that included a suggested apology by the president.

“If she wants to talk about collective rights, (Bachelet) should be reminded of the treaties signed by Chile, such as convention 169 of the ILO (International Labour Organisation) and the United Nations Declaration on the rights of indigenous people which, among other things, declares their right to self-determination or autonomy, terms that are absent from her plan for Araucanía,” Bresciani said.

Jorge Pinto, a history professor at the Universidad de La Frontera, a university in Temuco, the capital of Araucanía, who sat on the commission set up by Bachelet, told IPS that the government’s new plan for that region is “sound and complete” and interpreted the apology as a gesture aimed at reactivating dialogue.

“We need more dialogue,” said Pinto. “I agree with the president’s call for more dialogue, without repression, because repression brings more violence.”

But the academic urged “talks with the different actors from the region who have been left out so far.”

He also said “it is not enough to guarantee rights to land ownership and water use. Control over their land by indigenous people and autonomy in managing resources are also necessary.”

“No one is proposing that the forestry and hydroelectric companies pull out of the region,” said Pinto. “What we are saying is that agreements must be reached with the local communities affected by hydropower dams, logging companies and mines, and not with the authorities.”

Jesuit missionary Bresciani said “the main issue is not poverty or marginalisation; it’s political.”

“The proposals talk about economic or development policies,” the priest said. “While the question of relations between the state and indigenous people is fundamentally political, any kind of self-determination must necessarily be accompanied by management of and access to economic resources. These are the most marginalised parts of the country, and are also paradoxically where the most profitable industries operate. That is immoral.”

According to Bresciani, the extreme poverty in Araucanía “is the result of a systematic and planned policy to appropriate resources, under an unsustainable extractivist model. The measures proposed are not aimed at modifying these structural policies, but at continuing to offer money to turn the communities into clients of the existing system.”

Social activists and indigenous leaders admit the value of some of the initiatives included in Bachelet’s plans, such as the official declaration of Jun. 24 – We Xipantu, the Mapuche new year – as a national holiday, and a stronger effort to teach Mapuzungún, the Mapuche language, in schools in their communities.

They also applaud the proposal to explicitly recognise native communities in the projected new constitution, which would replace the current one, which dates back to 1980 and is a legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship which successive democratic governments have failed to replace, implementing limited reforms instead.

Activists say however, that the measures taken so far have been inadequate, and point out that Bachelet’s term ends in just nine months.

That will make it difficult to bring about real actions in areas such as land ownership and water use rights, which are key to a regional economy dominated by the interests of large logging, hydropower and mining companies.

Former right-wing president Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014), who is the favorite in the opinion polls for the November elections as the likely candidate for the Chile Vamos alliance, supports Bachelet’s apology to the Mapuche people.

“I agree with the apology because I believe that throughout history, many injustices have been committed against the Mapuche people,” said Piñera. He added, however, that “the apology is just a gesture, and does not solve any problem.”

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China Drives Nuclear Expansion in Argentina, but with Strings Attachedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/china-drives-nuclear-expansion-argentina-strings-attached/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=china-drives-nuclear-expansion-argentina-strings-attached http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/china-drives-nuclear-expansion-argentina-strings-attached/#respond Tue, 27 Jun 2017 23:30:36 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151073 Two new nuclear power plants, to cost 14 billion dollars, will give a new impetus to Argentina’s relation with atomic energy, which began over 60 years ago. President Mauricio Macri made the announcement from China, the country that is to finance 85 per cent of the works. But besides the fact that social movements quickly […]

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The first of Argentina’s three existing nuclear plants, Atucha I, is located 100 km from Buenos Aires. China has offered to finance 85 percent of the 14 billion dollar cost of two other plants. Credit: CNEA

The first of Argentina’s three existing nuclear plants, Atucha I, is located 100 km from Buenos Aires. China has offered to finance 85 percent of the 14 billion dollar cost of two other plants. Credit: CNEA

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jun 27 2017 (IPS)

Two new nuclear power plants, to cost 14 billion dollars, will give a new impetus to Argentina’s relation with atomic energy, which began over 60 years ago. President Mauricio Macri made the announcement from China, the country that is to finance 85 per cent of the works.

But besides the fact that social movements quickly started to organise against the plants, the project appears to face a major hurdle.

The Chinese government has set a condition: it threatens to pull out of the plans for the nuclear plants and from the rest of its investments in Argentina if the contract signed for the construction of two gigantic hydroelectric power plants in Argentina’s southernmost wilderness region, Patagonia, does not move forward. The plans are currently on hold, pending a Supreme Court decision.“China has an almost endless capacity for investment and is interested in Argentina as in the rest of Latin America, a region that it wants to secure as a provider of inputs. Of course China has a strong bargaining position and Argentina’s aim should be a balance of power.“ -- Dante Sica

Together with Brazil and Mexico, Argentina is one of the three Latin American countries that have developed nuclear energy.

The National Commission for Atomic Energy was founded in 1950 by then president Juan Domingo Perón (1946-1955 and 1973-1974) and the country inaugurated its first nuclear plant, Atucha I, in 1974. The development of nuclear energy was halted after the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, by then-president Raúl Alfonsín (1983-1989), but it was resumed during the administration of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007).

According to the announcement Macri made during his visit to Beijing in May, construction of Atucha III, with a capacity of 745 MW, is to begin in January 2018, 100 km from the capital, in the town of Lima, within the province of Buenos Aires.

Atucha I and II, two of Argentina’s three nuclear power plants, are located in that area, while the third, known as Embalse, is in the central province of Córdoba.

Construction of a fifth nuclear plant, with a capacity of 1,150 MW, would begin in 2020 in an as-yet unannounced spot in the province of Río Negro, north of Patagonia.

Currently, nuclear energy represents four per cent of Argentina’s electric power, while thermal plants fired by natural gas and oil account for 64 per cent and hydroelectric power plants represent 30 per cent, according to the Energy Ministry. Other renewable sources only amount to two per cent, although the government is seeking to expand them.

Besides diversifying the energy mix, the projected nuclear and hydroelectric plants are part of an ambitious strategy that Argentina set in motion several years ago: to strengthen economic ties with China, which would buy more food from Argentina and boost investment here.

During his May 14-17 visit to China, Macri was enthusiastic about the role that the Asian giant could play in this South American country.

“China is an absolutely strategic partner. This will be the beginning of a wonderful era between our countries. There must be few countries in the world that complement each other than Argentina and China,” said Macri in Beijing, speaking to businesspeople from both countries.

During his May 14-17 visit to China, Argentina President Mauricio Macri announced the construction of two new nuclear power plants. Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are the three Latin American countries that use nuclear energy. Credit: Argentine Presidency

During his May 14-17 visit to China, Argentina President Mauricio Macri announced the construction of two new nuclear power plants. Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are the three Latin American countries that use nuclear energy. Credit: Argentine Presidency

“Argentina produces food for 400 million people and we are aiming at doubling this figure in five to eight years,“ said Macri, who added that he expects from China investments in “roads, bridges, energy, ports, airports.“

Ties between Argentina and China began to grow more than 10 years ago and expanded sharply in 2014, when then president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015) received her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires, where they signed several agreements.

These ranged from the construction of dams in Patagonia to investments in the upgrading of the Belgrano railway, which transports goods from the north of the country to the western river port of Rosario, where they are shipped to the Atlantic Ocean and overseas.

On Jun. 22, 18 new locomotives from China arrived in Buenos Aires for the Belgrano railroad.

However, relations between China and Argentina are not free of risks for this country, experts warn.

“China has an almost endless capacity for investment and is interested in Argentina as in the rest of Latin America, a region that it wants to secure as a provider of inputs. Of course China has a strong bargaining position and Argentina’s aim should be a balance of power,“ economist Dante Sica, who was secretary of trade and industry in 2002-2003, told IPS.

“They are buyers of food, but they also want to sell their products and they generate tension in Argentina´s industrial structure. In fact, our country for several years now has had a trade deficit with China,“ he added.

Roberto Adaro, an expert on international relations at the Centre for Studies in State Policies and Society, told IPS that “Argentina can benefit from its relations with China if it is clear with regard to its interests. It must insist on complementarity and not let China flood our local market with their products.“

Adaro praised the decision to invest in nuclear energy since it is “important to diversify the energy mix“ and because the construction of nuclear plants “also generates investments and jobs in other sectors of the economy.“

However, there is a thorn in the side of relations between China and Argentina regarding the nuclear issue: the project of the hydroelectric plants. These two giant plants with a projected capacity of 1,290 MW are to be built at a cost of nearly five billion dollar, on the Santa Cruz River, which emerges in the spectacular Glaciers National Park in the southern region of Patagonia, and flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

In December, when the works seemed about to get underway, the Supreme Court suspended construction of the dams, in response to a lawsuit filed by two environmental organisations.

The three Chinese state banks financing the two projects then said they would invoke a cross-default clause included in the contract for the dams, which said they would cancel the rest of their investments if the dams were not built.

To build the two plants, three Chinese and one Argentine companies formed a consortium, but after winning the tender in 2013, construction has not yet begun.

Under pressure from China, the government released the results of a new environmental impact study on Jun. 15 and now plans to convene a public hearing to discuss it, so that Argentina’s highest court will authorise the beginning of the works.

Added to opposition to the dams by environmentalists is their rejection of the nuclear plants. In the last few weeks, activists from Río Negro have held meetings in different parts of the province, demanding a referendum to allow the public to vote on the plant to be installed there.

They have even generated an unusual conflict with the neighbouring province of Chubut, where the regional parliament unanimously approved a statement against the nuclear plants. The governor of Río Negro, Alberto Weretilnek, asked the people of Chubut to “stop meddling.“

“Argentina must start a serious debate about what these plants mean, at a time when the world is abandoning this kind of energy. We need to know, among other things, how the uranium that is needed as fuel is going to be obtained,“ the director of the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation, Andrés Nápòli, told IPS.

Argentina now imports the uranium used in the country’s nuclear plants, but environmentalists are worried that local production, which was abandoned more than 20 years ago, will restart.

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Why Is International Human Rights Law Such an Easy Target?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/international-human-rights-law-easy-target/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=international-human-rights-law-easy-target http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/international-human-rights-law-easy-target/#respond Tue, 27 Jun 2017 14:40:21 +0000 Zeid Raad Al Hussein http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151064 Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking at the Law Society in London

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Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking at the Law Society in London

By Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein
LONDON, Jun 27 2017 (IPS)

“Earlier this month, Britain’s Prime Minister called for human rights laws to be overturned if they were to “get in the way” in the fight against terrorism. Specifically, Theresa May said there was a need “to restrict the freedom and movement of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they are a threat, but not evidence to prosecute them in full in court.”

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

For an increasingly anxious public, shaken by the recent and dreadful terrorist attacks, her remarks no doubt reflected real anger and frustration, but they also seemed intended to strike a chord with a certain sector of the electorate, and it is this expectation that truly worries me.

British Government officials would probably claim the comments should be understood in the context of a tough electoral campaign, and would presumably try and reassure us quietly that the government’s support for human rights remains steadfast and unchallengeable.

Whatever the intention behind her remarks, they were highly regrettable, a gift from a major Western leader to every authoritarian figure around the world who shamelessly violates human rights under the pretext of fighting terrorism. And it is not just the leaders.

A few days ago, citing Prime Minister May, a former Sri Lankan rear admiral delivered a petition to the President of the Human Rights Council. He demanded action be taken against my Office for “forcing” Sri Lanka to undertake constitutional reforms, and for exerting pressure on them to create a hybrid court to try perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity – when in reality, he claimed, all they had engaged in was fighting terrorism.

My first question: Why is international human rights law such an easy target? Why is it so misunderstood, so reviled by some, feared by others, spurned, attacked?

My second: If the Prime Minister meant what she said, which universal rights would the UK be willing to give away in order to punish people against whom there is insufficient evidence to justify prosecution? What, exactly, are the rights she considers frivolous or obstructive? The right to privacy? The right to liberty and security of person? Freedom of expression? Freedom of religion and belief? The principle of non-refoulement? The prohibition of torture? Due process?

And why are we fighting the terrorists in the first place, if not to defend both the physical well-being of people and the very human rights and values the Prime Minister now says she is willing, in part, to sacrifice – in order to fight the terrorists? And where would it stop?

Foregoing some rights now may have devastating effects on other rights later on. If we follow this reasoning to its logical conclusion, the eventual complete unwinding of human rights would transform us – both states and international organizations. To quote Nietzsche: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster”. We would be in danger of becoming virtually indistinguishable from the terrorists we are fighting.

So why did Prime Minister May say this? At least part of the answer may lie in market conditions. Human Rights law has long been ridiculed by an influential tabloid press here in the UK, feeding with relish on what it paints as the absurd findings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

This viewpoint has some resonance with a slice of the public unaware of the importance of international human rights law – often seen by far too many people as too removed from everyday life, very continental, too lawyerly, too activist, ultimately too weird. How can the Court consider prisoners’ voting rights, and other supposedly frivolous claims, when set against the suffering of victims? The bastards deserve punishment, full stop!

This may be understandable, at some emotional level. However, one should also acknowledge that British ink, reflecting an enormously rich legal tradition, is found throughout the European Convention on Human Rights.

And for good reason. To recognise that even a criminal has rights is the basis of enlightened thought, a principle enshrined in common law. It lies at the very core of human civilization, and distinguishes us from a primeval horde wrapped only in retribution and cruelties. I believe, like so many others, that criminals, too, have fundamental rights, because whatever evil they have wrought, they remain human beings. Frequently their pathological behaviour has been influenced by trauma inflicted on them by others.

Let me take one, perhaps extreme, example. In Iraq, there are people who argue for the killing of as many child soldiers of Da’esh as possible, and would perhaps even support torturing them, given how monstrous their actions have been. But in Sierra Leone, many child followers of Foday Sankoh, who were once hacking off the limbs of other small children, have now largely been rehabilitated, in no small measure due to the efforts of the UN. They were children even while they were terrorists – and they have to be seen as children first.

I seek in the course of this short lecture to examine some of these attacks on international human rights law, on international law generally. You have honoured me with the request that I speak to the legacy of Hugo Grotius. What would Grotius say today, were he to be brought back to life for a few moments? Would he be surprised, almost 400 years after publication of his treatise On the Law of War and Peace, by the overall achievement? The extent of the current backlash? The struggle? Or perhaps he would not be at all surprised by any of it.

While promoting an international “society” governed by law, not by force, he well may have been surprised it took a further 300 years of treaty-making and immense bloodletting, capped by two world wars, before humanity embraced a system of international law. Or, put another way, reason alone had proven itself to be insufficient.

Only the death of some 100 million people in two world wars and the Holocaust could generate the will necessary for a profound change. Humanity had fallen off a cliff, survived, and, having frightened itself rigid, became all the wiser for it. The prospect of nuclear annihilation also sharpened post-war thinking. And soon after, States drew up the UN Charter, reinforced international law – codified international refugee law, further elaborated international humanitarian law, and created international human rights law and international criminal law.

It is precisely these bodies of international law that are now endangered.

While I ought to, in this lecture, examine all the threats to public international law, from Russia’s seizure and annexation of Crimea to the almost enthusiastic derogation by European powers of their obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention, or the seemingly deliberate bombing by major state actors of facilities protected under IHL – such as clinics and hospitals in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan – I shall confine myself for the sake of brevity to those principal threats directed against international human rights law, and pay special attention to the absolute prohibition on the use of torture. In doing so, I hope to illustrate how they are symptomatic of a broader cynicism emerging in defiance of international law more generally.

Let me first return to the struggle against terrorism, and how it is being exploited by governments the world over to roll back the advances made in human rights. The curtailing of the freedoms of expression and association – which threatens to wipe out dissent completely in countries like Egypt, Bahrain, and Turkey – is closing what is left of a democratic space, and all under the banner of fighting terrorism. And this contagion is spreading, fast.

When I emphasise this point, and highlight the excesses of government action, I am sometimes accused of showing sympathy with the terrorists, which is outrageous. I wish to be clear. I condemn terrorism unreservedly. It can never be justified, on the basis of any grievance, real or perceived.

The Da’esh, Al Qa’eda, Al Nusra, Al Shabab, Boko Haram manifestation does have a distinct ideology, and it must be dismantled at the source. If it is to be fought from a security perspective, through intelligence networks and military force, the actions must also be extremely precise. In other words, the arbitrariness and imprecision that are the hallmarks of target selection on the part of terrorists require a diametrically opposite reaction from states. The laser-like application of the law, consistent with universal human rights standards and guarantees, is the only workable antidote if this struggle is ever to be successful.

The detention, and in some cases torture, of individuals whose association with a terrorist group is non-existent but who are nevertheless charged under a vaguely-worded counter-terrorism law – simply because they have criticized the government – is not just wrong, it is dangerous and entirely self-defeating.

It transforms not only one individual, falsely charged, into a person who hates the state, but also their families, friends, possibly even their communities. Some may even go further than simple hatred. Arbitrary detention serves the terrorists, not the state; it fuels recruitment. And yet arbitrary detentions are commonplace in those states grappling with terrorism. In fact, if you believe the rhetoric of many governments, every lawyer or journalist is almost by definition a terrorist, particularly if they are human rights-focused. Present company included!

Moreover, given that prisons often become factories for converting petty criminals into violent extremists, the lawful deprivation of liberty ordered by Courts should be reserved for the most serious offenses, and non-custodial remedies sought for lesser offenses. This is not what is happening.

Instead, we see in the United States a renewed resort to very long prison sentences for those convicted of drug offenses. And rather than focus on potentially violent individuals driven by Takfiri ideology, or any other extreme ideology, the Trump Administration is pursuing its executive orders on the travel bans all the way to the Supreme Court, despite their being struck down as unconstitutional in the lower courts.

Likewise, in the weeks following the vicious terrorist attacks in Paris, in November 2015, the French authorities took broad aim and closed down 20 mosques and Muslim associations, while also undertaking some 2,700 warrantless house searches. In the United Kingdom, the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 constituted one of the most sweeping mass surveillance regimes in the world, permitting the interception, access, retention and hacking of communications without a requirement of reasonable suspicion.

Refugees and migrants were increasingly viewed as Trojan horses for terrorists. Hysteria raged in political circles across Europe, and the terrorists must have been grinning. When it came to the management of the public’s reaction, instead of adopting a common-sense approach, fever set in.

To overcome terrorism, governments must be precise in the pursuit of the terrorists. Pretending to seal off borders — with or without walls decorated with solar panels — is an illusion, and a nasty one. Migrant children should not be detained. There should be no refoulement. Nor should there be collective push back, or decisions taken at borders by police officers, instead of judges. Or indeed, returns to countries that are manifestly not safe.

The EU deal with Turkey, in our view, has failed on several of these key points; most especially when it comes to the right of every asylum seeker to individual assessment. Taken together with the emergency measures being rushed through a number of European parliaments, which also derogate from the 1951 Refugee Convention, Europe – as a sentinel for the observation of refugee and human rights laws worldwide – finds itself enmeshed in gross hypocrisy.

The demagogues and populists across Europe and in many other parts of the world, as well as the tabloids in this country, have for years remorselessly stoked xenophobia and bigotry – the fuel that gave rise to these unwise policies. And this seemed to be paying off, with a windfall of popular support gathering in their favour.

After the referendum here in the UK, dominated as it was by the whipped-up fear of foreigners and foreign institutions, came the outcome of the US election, and the populist bandwagon seemed to be on an unstoppable roll.

The default condition of the human mind is, after all, fear. Primordial fear. That innermost instinctive mechanism protecting us from harm, from death. An emotion every extremist, skilled populists included, seeks to tap or stimulate. By manipulating it, and obliterating deductive reasoning drawn from knowledge, they more easily mould the movements they lead, and their political ambitions are well-served – at least for a while.

The emotional mechanism in the mind of a human rights defender works rather differently. To do good in our lives, and not just to some, but to all; to defend the human rights of all – this requires a continuous investment of thought, where the natural prejudices lying deep within each of us must be watched out for and rejected every day of our lives.

The default flow in the minds of humanity may be reptilian; but the internal battle to overcome it is profoundly human. To think of all, to work for all: these are the two fundamental lessons learned by those who survived the two world wars – whether we speak in relation to the behaviour of individuals or states. And they are etched into the UN Charter.

The two words “human rights” were not placed in the preamble of the UN Charter by its final author, Virginia Gildersleeve, as a literary flourish. They were written into the text – almost at the beginning, in the third line – because human rights was viewed as the only choice possible for that first beat of a new pulse. Because on 26 June 1945, the day of the Charter’s signing, killing on a scale hitherto unknown to humans had only just come to an end, with cities across the world pulverized and still smoking, monuments to immense human malevolence and stupidity.

Only by accepting human rights as the cornerstone could the rest of the edifice – success in economic development, durable peace – become possible. It is a point that even today – perhaps especially today – needs to be absorbed by the numerous political actors who only see human rights as a tiresome constraint. Indeed, many people who have enjoyed their rights since birth simply do not realise what these principles really mean. Like oxygen, they lie beyond our daily sensory perception, and only when suddenly deprived of it do we fathom their enormous significance.

To advocate for the universal rights of every human being, every rights holder, is another way of saying that only by working together, do we – as humans and as states – have a hope of ridding ourselves of the scourges of violence and war.

Tragically, the nativistic reflexes once again being peddled by populists and demagogues still seem to work. They sell supremacy and not equality, sow suspicion rather than calm, and hurl enmity against defined categories of people who are vulnerable – easy scapegoats, and undeserving of their hatred. This brand of politician seems more intent on profiting from the genuine fear of specific constituencies than promoting care for the welfare of the whole.

Thankfully, change is afoot. The populist or nationalist-chauvinistic wave in the western world, which crested in the US, has broken for now, dashed against the ballot boxes of Austria, the Netherlands and France. There may yet be other waves. Nevertheless, in Europe, the anti-populist movement, as some have called it, is now up and running.

In other parts of the world, threats to international law and the institutions upholding them are thus far unaffected by these recent, more positive developments.

The US is weighing up the degree to which it will scale back its financial support to the UN and other multilateral institutions. It is still deciding whether it should withdraw from the Human Rights Council and there was even talk at one stage of it withdrawing from the core human rights instruments to which it is party.

Last year, it was also reported that nine Arab states – the coalition led by Saudi Arabia fighting the Houthi/Saleh rebels in Yemen – made the unprecedented threat of a withdrawal from the UN if they were listed as perpetrators in the annex of the Secretary General’s report on children and armed conflict.

The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, the Inter-American Court, the Southern African Development Court, and the International Criminal Court have also not been spared such threats. Fortunately, in almost all these cases, either the threat of withdrawal has fizzled out, or, even if one or two countries did withdraw, no chain reaction ensued. But the regularity of these threats means it is increasingly probable the haemorrhaging will occur someday – a walk-out which closes the book on some part of the system of international law.

In this context, most worrisome to me is the persistent flirtation by the President of the United States, throughout his campaign and soon thereafter, with a return to torture. We are now told the US Army field manual will not be redrafted, and the US Secretary of Defence is guiding the White House on this. For now there is little danger of a return to the practice of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”, a euphemism that dupes no-one. The mood in the US could of course change dramatically, if the country were at some stage to experience a gruesome terrorist attack. And, mindful of how the American public has, over the last ten years, become far more accepting of torture, the balance could be tipped in favour of its practice – and destroy the delicate position the Convention Against Torture is in.

It is worth recalling that the Convention against Torture, ratified by 162 countries, is the most unyielding of any existing instrument in international law. Its prohibition on torture is so absolute, it can never be lifted – not even during an emergency that “threatens the life of the nation.”

And yet, notwithstanding its broader recognition as jus cogens, and the crystal clarity of Article 2 of the Convention, the existence of so many surviving victims of torture, who remain unacknowledged, unsupported, denied justice or redress, forms a living testimony to the dreadful persistence of torture worldwide.

While only a small number of states appear to practise torture systematically, as part of state policy, 20 countries (and they are listed on our website) do not recognize the competence of the Committee Against Torture under Article 20. Accordingly, they refuse a priori any scrutiny of the alleged widespread violations.

A much larger number of states are host to isolated – or not so isolated – acts of torture and ill-treatment. Disturbingly, states in this group are simply not taking their obligations seriously enough. The levels of impunity are very high, given that most of those individuals who are found culpable face only administrative sanctions; and so-called evidence obtained under torture remains, in many states, admissible in court.

There are also a number of states – and this group may possibly be increasing – which, while having no record of practising torture, are nevertheless acquiescing to it by, for example, disregarding the principle of non-refoulement as contained in Article 3 of the Convention.

Another large majority of states parties also fully or partially disregard their obligations under Article 14 of the Convention for the redress and rehabilitation of victims, no matter where the torture occurred or by whom it was perpetrated.

Eleven years ago, noticeable progress was made with the entry into force of the Optional Protocol, which enables preventive visits to be made by the Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture to any place of deprivation of liberty, at any time. Some fifty national preventive mechanisms have been created, and the Sub-Committee has conducted 54 visits. However, many national preventive mechanisms are under-resourced and not empowered to deliver real results.

The fragility of the Convention is underscored by the fact that no country abides by all of its terms. No country would admit publicly that it engages in torture, but abundant evidence shows that torture is systematically practised by at least some states – that first category I referred to earlier.

It would seem all governments have been participating in a theatrical pretence of conforming with the Convention. And this may be more crucial than we initially realise, because it implies a sense of shame. Consider the alternative.

The president of the Philippines has spoken openly about extra-judicial killings. And the president of the United States of America has said that torture could be necessary in certain circumstances. There is no longer any pretence. They are breaking long-held taboos.

If other leaders start to follow the same rhetorical course, undermining the Convention with their words, the practice of torture is likely to broaden, and that would be fatal. The Convention would be scuttled, and a central load-bearing pillar of international law removed.

The dangers to the entire system of international law are therefore very real.

Today, the 26th of June, is the international day in support of victims of torture, and earlier I participated in a panel at King’s College organised by the International Bar Association to raise awareness about the absolute prohibition of torture, and the need for the legal profession to take a far more active role in preventing its use.

Human progress never glides; it will always stagger and sometimes even temporarily collapse. The common effort, for a common cause, within a common frame of understanding and regulation, will always be attacked by those more committed to the pursuit of narrower personal or national interests.

These extreme practitioners of the assertive, thin agenda are apt to dismiss many of today’s international laws and post-war institutions as anachronisms. And because, to the non-lawyer, the system of international law is so complicated, the human rights system so indecipherable to many lay-persons, it is hard to rally the general public, who may not see any immediate threat to themselves.

This brings me to the central threat to human rights today: indifference. The indifference of a large part of the business community worldwide, who would still pursue profit even at the cost of great suffering done to others. The indifference of a large segment of the intelligence and security community, for whom the pursuit of information eclipses all the rights held by others, and who describe challenges to terrible, discriminatory practices as treachery.

Some politicians, for whom economic, social and cultural rights mean little, are indifferent to the consequences of economic austerity. They view human rights only as an irritating check on expediency – the currency of the political world. For others, indifference is not enough. Their rejection of the rights agenda is expressed in terms replete with utter contempt for others, a parade of meanness.

Our world is dangerously close to unmooring itself from a sense of compassion, slowly becoming not only a post-truth but also a post-empathetic world. It is so hard for us now in the UN to generate the sums needed for humanitarian action worldwide. Our appeals for funds for the most destitute are rarely met at levels over 50%; the final figure is often far less.

What is happening to us?

My hope lies not primarily with governments, but with those people who reject all forms of terrorism, reject extreme, discriminatory counter-terrorism, and reject the populisms of the ideological outer limits. My hope lies with those who choose to elect more enlightened political leaders.

My hope also lies with the most courageous of us: the human rights defenders, often victims of violations themselves who, armed with nothing beyond their minds and voices, are willing to sacrifice everything, including seeing their children and families, losing their work, even their lives, to safeguard rights – not just their own, but the rights of others.

How stunningly beautiful is that? I am moved by them. We should all be. It is they who ensure we retain our equanimity, and it is they, not us, who bear the greater burden of defending this crucial part of our system of international law. It is they who will save us, and we in turn must invest every effort in protecting them.

I don’t think Grotius would be surprised by any of this.

The reptilian urge of the human brain is not easily overcome, and humanity will for centuries remain untrustworthy and unreliable. Our behaviour, and the behaviour of states, will long require legal scaffolding to keep what we recognize as human civilization in place. Grotius would be grateful we are still fighting, standing up, for his international society and perhaps even crack a wry smile when thinking just how prescient he was, those four centuries ago.

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Global Devaluation of Work Drives Up Unemployment in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/global-devaluation-work-drives-unemployment-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-devaluation-work-drives-unemployment-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/global-devaluation-work-drives-unemployment-brazil/#respond Sat, 24 Jun 2017 03:04:37 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151034 In addition to driving up the number of unemployed people to 14.2 million, the severe recession of the last two years led Brazil to join the global trend of flexibilisation of labour laws in order to further reduce labour costs. Creating more jobs without affecting rights is the basic argument of the government and advocates […]

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In addition to driving up unemployment to 13.7%, the severe recession led Brazil to the flexibilisation of labour laws to further reduce labour costs

Police officers use tear gas to crack down on a May 24 trade union march heading towards the Brazilian Congress to protest the projected labour and social security reforms which cut social rights. Credit: UGT

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 24 2017 (IPS)

In addition to driving up the number of unemployed people to 14.2 million, the severe recession of the last two years led Brazil to join the global trend of flexibilisation of labour laws in order to further reduce labour costs.

Creating more jobs without affecting rights is the basic argument of the government and advocates of the reform that has made its way through the lower house of Congress but is pending a vote in the Senate, announced for the end of the month.

“Increasing job insecurity will be the consequence of this measure,” said Ricardo Antunes, sociology professor at the University of Campinas, in the southern state of São Paulo.

This process, which “completely undermines labour rights,” according to the academic, also includes a law on outsourcing in force since March, and a social security reform still in the initial stages in parliament, and whose approval is unlikely given the requirement of a special two-thirds majority in both houses.“Outsourcing does away with the employee-employer relationship, with workers frequently moved from one worksite or job to another. Workers lose their identity, no longer knowing if they are steelworkers or service providers, or to which category they belong.” -- Wagnar Santana

“This is a global trend that advances in a country depending on the level of resistance it runs into: slower where the trade union movement is strong, like in Germany and France, and faster where trade unionism is weaker, such as Great Britain and the United States,” Antunes told IPS.

In Brazil, workers are facing this offensive already weakened by unemployment, which is projected to remain high for a long time to come.

According to the state Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), unemployment stood at 13.7 per cent in the first three months of 2017, or 14.2 million people in a country of 207.6 million with a workforce of 103.1 million.

But underemployment amounted to 24.1 per cent, or 26.5 million people who work part-time or just a few hours a week or are considered only “potential” workers, the IBGE reported.

In addition, the lineup of forces in Congress is highly unfavourable to labour rights, with the government of President Michel Temer enjoying a vast majority, although it is vulnerable to allegations of corruption against the president and almost all of the leaders of the ruling coalition, who face possible prosecution in the Supreme Court.

The legislation proposed by the government “de-regulates labour relations, with arguments that reveal ignorance or bad faith,” argued Wagnar Santana, president-elect of the Union of Steelworkers of the ABC region, an industrial region in greater São Paulo that gave rise to the Workers’ Party (PT) and the CUT central union.

“This de-regulation did not increase employment in countries such as Spain, Mexico and Portugal, but instead drove up the rate of informal work. In Mexico, people who work for Volkswagen need another job as well to have a decent standard of living,” said the trade unionist, who works for the German car-maker.

Keeping formal labour rights such as a weekly day off and health coverage on the books means little without the possibility of enforcing them, due to the growth of informal work, employment instability and outsourcing, and the weakness of the trade union movement, he told IPS.

“Outsourcing does away with the employee-employer relationship, with workers frequently moved from one worksite or job to another. Workers lose their identity, no longer knowing if they are steelworkers or service providers, or to which category they belong,” complained Santana.

Trade unions have trouble organising, in the construction industry for example, where job rotation is frequent, he said.

If collective bargaining agreements between workers and employers trump labour laws, as the government’s proposed reform stipulates, the rights of workers would be undermined.

The strongest and best organised trade unions, such as the ones in large industrial cities, could negotiate better agreements and ensure that they are respected, but many others would not be able to. “That would end up weakening all of us, since we are not isolated,” said the trade unionist.

There are other factors that conspire against labour in Brazil, besides the high unemployment and the economic crisis aggravated by political troubles. The process of deindustrialisation weakens even the most combative trade unions, such as the steelworkers union.

The union of ABC, which represented up to 150,000 workers in the 1980s, currently has only 73,000 members, based in the municipalities of São Bernardo do Campo, Diadema, Ribeirão Pires and Rio Grande da Serra, after many ups and downs over the two past decades, Santana noted.

From the steelworkers of São Bernardo do Campo emerged trade unionist and political leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who founded the Workers Party (PT) in 1980, which he led to power the first day of 2003 and with which he governed Brazil until the last day of 2011, when he handed over the presidency to his fellow party member Dilma Rousseff, who was removed from office in August 2016.

The crisis and international competition also contributed to the rise in unemployment and to lower participation by industry in Brazil’s GDP.

But it is the devaluation of work at a global scale which Antunes attributes to the transnationalization of large companies, the new modes of production and the hegemony of finance capital, which has led to the setback in labour standards that is being pushed through in Brazil.

It is a return to “archaic” labour relations that is almost like a return to slavery, according to the expert in the sociology of labour. “Slaves used to be sold, now they are rented” through outsourcing, he said.

In 1995, Antunes published the book “Goodbye to Work?”, in which he discusses the trend towards increasing informality and precariousness of labour, and “21st century slavery”. “Precarious work used to be an exception, now it has become the rule,” he said.

One example is the British “zero-hour contract” where the employer is not required to provide any minimum working hours. One million people in the UK are working under these contracts, which puts them at the disposal of the company, to be called in to work when needed, and earning only for the hours they work, without full labour rights, said Antunes.

In Brazil this modality was included in the labour reform as “intermittent employment”.

The incorporation to the labour market of China’s huge reserves of labour power contributed to the devaluation of work around the world.

“They are qualified workers that the revolution fed and educated. Five years ago China offered poor quality industrial goods, today they have cutting-edge technology,” said the sociologist, adding that Asia has an enormous cheap labour force in countries like India, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

The reduction of costs is widespread. “In Italy they are closing factories that are reopening in Poland or Hungary, cutting monthly wages from 2,000 to 300 euros,” he said, to illustrate.

“There is a new morphology of labour. In Brazil we have 1.5 million workers in ‘telemarketing’ that did not exist before. Remote work, through on-line connection by cellphone or computer, has become widespread,” he pointed out.

But the working class has grown, although it is “more fragmented and diverse than before, and subjected to online work”. New forms of protest are emerging, including “picketing and roadblocks”, in Argentina for example, instead of strikes, he said.

“The outlook for the future is one of struggle, rebellions, as well as repression, massacres. The 21st century will be one of social upheavals”, concluded Antunes.

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“Torture Works” — in All the Wrong Wayshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/torture-works-wrong-ways/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=torture-works-wrong-ways http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/torture-works-wrong-ways/#respond Fri, 23 Jun 2017 19:09:46 +0000 Victor Madrigal Borloz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151031 Victor Madrigal-Borloz is Secretary-General of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, Copenhagen, representing 153 centres in 76 countries, and a Hilton Humanitarian Prize Laureate

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June 26 - International Day in Support of Torture Victims

Prisoners held at S-21, the Khmer Rouge regime's main torture centre, on display at what is now a genocide museum in Phnom Penh. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

By Victor Madrigal-Borloz
COPENHAGEN, Jun 23 2017 (IPS)

“Torture works” might rank among the most sweeping generalisations ever uttered, one brutal in its disregard of the pain and suffering created by this abhorrent practice. Indeed, torture works, but to all the wrong ends.

Torture is effective at creating enormous pain, severe trauma, and lasting damage. Victims suffer psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, withdrawal and self-isolation, confusion, flashbacks, memory lapses and other cognitive symptoms; as well as fatigue, insomnia and recurrent nightmares.

This can naturally lead to permanent physical impairment and is psychologically scarring, leaving victims with long-lasting illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and deep depression.

In rehabilitation centers worldwide, victims of torture report suicidal feelings and of being easily frightened and suspicious, making it extremely difficult to maintain social relationships, or to work and function in society. They often describe being disconnected from the world and from the feeling of being less than human.

In addition to psychiatric disorder, it is strongly believed that PTSD results in later serious medical problems such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and possibly dementia.

So, if the intent is to inflict severe pain and lasting suffering, torture is the tool.

Torture is also an effective mechanism to corrode the social fabric. The necessary conditions for torture include alienation — the mechanism through which the perpetrator ceases to regard his or her victim as human.

What this does to a society is difficult to describe in the abstract, but easy to perceive in any conversation with a Chilean, a Cambodian, a Croatian or a Congolese survivor of torture. All will describe how it has taken decades, and will take many more, to restore the trust among neighbors, and sometimes even family.

So, if the goal is to divide communities, torture will do.

Torture, not surprisingly, also ensures long lasting damage to democratic structures. In states in which torture is systematic or widespread, human rights defenders are invariably under threat. Justice is carried out at the peril of the prosecutor. The independence of judges is curtailed. How can you expect people to speak freely, to claim their rights or to organize politically if the response from the state is torture?

So, as a way to weaken democracy, torture does the trick. What does torture not achieve?

Torture does not work to produce reliable intelligence, to solve crime or to prevent terrorism. In her foreword to the Senate’s Intelligence Committee on the CIA Detention and Interrogation Program, Senator Diane Feinstein registered this conclusion pristinely: “Prior to the attacks of September 2001, the CIA itself determined from its own experience with coercive interrogations that such techniques ‘do not produce intelligence,’ ‘will probably result in false answers,’ and had historically proven to be ineffective.”

Yet the global consensus on an absolute prohibition of torture is vociferously questioned. Despite the vacuum of evidence of benefits, politicians across the political spectrum jump to vouch for the necessity of torture.

This shift in public discourse away from a universal and total prohibition of torture is now leading to other challenges. Traditional national donors are shrinking from their commitments and responsibilities by decreasing or stopping funding. This at a time of unprecedented demand for the crucial services performed by human rights organisations.
Despite these challenges, dedicated staff at rehabilitation centres continue, often at great personal sacrifice and sometimes at great risk, to provide outstanding physical and psychological treatment while assisting their clients to re-integrate into societies.

There is a lot of pending work in relation to torture victims. The member centres of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims treat some 100,000 victims around the world every year, but we know that this is a minuscule proportion of all affected children, women and men.

Our movement is resilient. Today, we speak with one voice to let demagogues and extremists know that, more than ever, we stand resolutely for what is right, and we are ready to work with anyone wishing to improve the lives of torture victims. We invite the support of those members of the public who share our aspiration to safer societies and understand that torture is not the answer, and who recognize that all victims of this despicable crime have the right to full rehabilitation to rebuild their lives.

As the world marks the United Nations International Day in Support of Torture Victims, Monday June 26, please join your voice to ours at http://irct.org

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Latin America’s Rural Exodus Undermines Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/latin-americas-rural-exodus-undermines-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-americas-rural-exodus-undermines-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/latin-americas-rural-exodus-undermines-food-security/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 22:15:51 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150934 This article forms part of special IPS coverage for the World Day to Combat Desertification, celebrated June 17.

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In Latin America and the Caribbean a number of factors contribute to soil degradation and to a rural exodus that compromises food security

Livestock seek shade on a small farm in the arid centre of the northern Argentine province of Santiago del Estero, where men are forced to migrate to cities or to seek seasonal work in more fertile regions, fleeing from drought and poverty. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jun 16 2017 (IPS)

In Latin America and the Caribbean, which account for 12 per cent of the planet’s arable land, and one-third of its fresh water reserves, a number of factors contribute to soil degradation and to a rural exodus that compromises food security in a not-so-unlikely future.

These figures, and the warning, emerge from studies carried out by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) ahead of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, celebrated on June 17. This year’s theme is “Our land. Our home. Our Future,” highlighting the link between desertification and rural migration, which is driven by the loss of productive land to desertification.

Over the past 50 years, the agricultural area in Latin America increased from 561 to 741 million hectares, with a greater expansion in South America, from 441 to 607 million hectares. This growth led to intensive use of inputs, degradation of the soil and water, a reduction of biodiversity, and deforestation.

Fourteen per cent of the world soil degradation occurs in this region, and it is worst in Mesoamerica (southern Mexico and Central America), where it affects 26 per cent of the land, compared to 14 per cent in South America.“This vicious circle has to do with the historical backwardness of Latin American rural areas, where vulnerability to climatic phenomena aggravate other factors that drive people to migrate, due to the lack of opportunities and because what used to be their main economic activity, agriculture, no longer allows them to survive with dignity,” Saramago said from FAO’s regional office. -- André Saramago

“As the soil degrades, the capacity for food production declines, jeopardising food security,” explained FAO forestry officer Jorge Meza from the organisation’s regional office in Santiago, Chile.

According to Meza, soil degradation depends on factors such as the extent and severity of the degradation, weather conditions, the economic conditions of the affected populations and the country’s level of development.

He told IPS that the first reaction of people trying to survive is intensifying the already excessive exploitation of the most accessible natural resources.

The second step they take, he said, is selling everything they have, such as machinery, to meet monetary needs for education and healthcare, or to put food on the table.

“The third is the fast increase in rural migration: adult men or young people of both sexes migrate seasonally or for several years to other regions in the country (especially to cities) or abroad, looking for work. These survival strategies tend to generate a breakdown of the community and sometimes of the family,” he added.

“The outlook for the future is that as climate change advances and rural populations, particularly vulnerable ones, fail to become more resilient, these figures could significantly increase,” warned the FAO expert.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), some 28.4 million Latin Americans live outside the countries where they were born, nearly 4.8 per cent of the total population of 599 million people.

Central America is the area with the most migration, with nearly 15 million migrants, who represent 9.7 per cent of the total population of 161 million people.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) defines “environmental migrants” as people or groups who are forced or choose to leave their communities due to sudden or gradual shifts in their environment that affect their livelihoods.

But for André Saramago, a FAO consultant on rural development, rural migration has multiple causes such as poverty, a lack of opportunities and, in some cases, such as the countries that make up the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America – Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – soaring rates of violence crime.

And these elements are now compounded by the vulnerability of homes to phenomena aggravated by climate change, such as increasingly intense and frequent droughts, he told IPS.

“This vicious circle has to do with the historical backwardness of Latin American rural areas, where vulnerability to climatic phenomena aggravate other factors that drive people to migrate, due to the lack of opportunities and because what used to be their main economic activity, agriculture, no longer allows them to survive with dignity,” Saramago said from FAO’s regional office.

According to the expert, reverting this phenomenon requires comprehensive responses, to manage land in a sustainable manner, preventing degradation and promoting recovery. He said, however, that this would not be enough to combat rural migration.

“Strategic investment in rural areas is key, in order to generate public assets that enable farmers, particularly small-scale family farmers, to overcome longstanding limitations,” he said.

These are the tools, he said, “to reverse the vicious circle; it is crucial to recover and rethink the concept of rural development, where the joint elaboration of policies and the capacity to tackle the problem in a multidisciplinary and multisectoral manner are key.”

For his part, Meza said that one of these actions is improving the management and distribution of water. Over the last three decades, water use has doubled in the region – a much faster increase than the global rate. The agricultural sector, and particularly irrigation farming, represents 70 per cent of water use.

“From a social perspective, rural poverty is also reflected in a lack of access to water and land. Poor farmers have less access to land and water, they farm land with poor quality soil that are highly vulnerable to degradation. Forty per cent of the world’s most degraded land are in areas with high poverty rates,” he said.

The expert noted that there are numerous experiences that combine production and preservation of biodiversity, particularly indigenous and traditional agrifood systems, as well as management of shared resources and protection of natural resources, which provide a methodology and systematisation of practices and approaches.

Norberto Ovando, president of the Friends of the National Parks of Argentina Association and a member of the World Commission on Protected Areas, described some of the experiences in his country, where 70 per cent of the territory is threatened by desertification.

Eighty per cent of Argentina’s territory is dedicated to agricultural, livestock and forestry activities. Erosion is most acute and critical in arid and semi-arid areas that make up two-thirds of the territory, where the fall in productivity translates into a decline in living conditions and displacement of the local population.

“Currently many farmers in the world and in Argentina are using the drip irrigation system, which should be replicated around the world, and governments should adopt it as a state policy, assisting farmers with soft loans for installing it. With this system, up to 50 per cent of water can be saved, compared to the traditional system,” the environmental consultant told IPS.

Novando also said that the system of production of clean, varied and productive food, known as integrated polyculture agricultural-livestock-fish farming, currently widespread in Asia, should be adopted in the region.

“Public policies that promote support for family farming and that promote rural employment are essential,” he added.

“It could be said that in Latin America and the Caribbean hunger is not a problem of production, but of access to food. For this reason, food security is related to overcoming poverty and inequality,” he said.

“Effective management of migration due to environmental causes is indispensable in order to ensure human security, health and wellbeing and to facilitate sustainable development,” he concluded.

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Men Who Commit Femicide Lose Rights Over Their Children in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/men-commit-femicide-lose-rights-children-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=men-commit-femicide-lose-rights-children-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/men-commit-femicide-lose-rights-children-argentina/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 00:37:22 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150908 In January 2008, Rosana Galliano was shot to death in Exaltación de la Cruz, a rural municipality 80 km from Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires. Her ex-husband, José Arce, who was sentenced to life in prison, had hired hitmen to kill her. Nine years later, Arce was put under house arrest, for health reasons, and lives […]

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Men Who Commit Femicide Lose Rights Over Their Children in Argentina

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jun 16 2017 (IPS)

In January 2008, Rosana Galliano was shot to death in Exaltación de la Cruz, a rural municipality 80 km from Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires. Her ex-husband, José Arce, who was sentenced to life in prison, had hired hitmen to kill her.

Nine years later, Arce was put under house arrest, for health reasons, and lives with their children, two boys aged 12 and 13.

Women’s organisations hold that there are dozens of similar situations in Argentina, where society is becoming more aware of cases of gender-based violence.“In most cases, the woman files a complaint, but there is no support or monitoring in place to know what happens to her afterwards. And when the judges issue a restriction order, it is not enforced and the woman is defenceless.” -- Mabel Bianco

People have responded by taking to the streets: since 2015, an extraordinary social mobilisation, which has continued to this day, has installed the issue on the public agenda and forced politicians to address the phenomenon of the high rate of femicides, the term given murders of women for gender-based reasons.

The case of Rosana Galliano’s children was the main catalyst for a law passed by Congress on May 31, which strips parents who kill, injure or sexually abuse their partners of parental rights.

“We have received queries about a number of cases similar to that of Rosana Galliano’s children, which don’t make it to the media because the families of the murdered women don’t want to go public,” said Ada Rico, who heads La Casa del Encuentro, a Buenos Aires-based organisation that combats violence, abuse and discrimination against women.

“We submitted a draft law in 2014 aimed at removing parental responsibility from those who commit femicide,” she told IPS. “It was discussed together with seven similar drafts and a consensus was reached. It is a law that is likely to be copied by other countries.”

In the face of the lack of official statistics, La Casa del Encuentro began in 2008 to gather media reports on gender-based murders of women in this South American country of nearly 44 million people.

That same year these murders were officially defined as femicides, during a meeting of the Committee of Experts of the Follow-up Mechanism of the Belem do Pará Convention, the Inter-American instrument signed in 1994 to prevent and punish violence against women.

 Demonstrators march along the Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires, behind a big banner that reads “Students demand ‘Not one less’” during the massive march against gender violence in the Argentine capital on Jun. 3. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS


Demonstrators march along the Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires, behind a big banner that reads “Students demand ‘Not one less’” during the massive march against gender violence in the Argentine capital on Jun. 3. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS

The Argentine Congress followed suit in 2012, stipulating life in prison for men guilty of murders involving gender-based violence.

Up to then, murders resulting from domestic violence were treated as manslaughter, punishable with a maximum of 25 years in prison.

However, this change did not lead to a decline in violence against women in this country. La Casa del Encuentro’s figures show that femicides have remained fairly stable, at a high level: 255 in 2012, 295 in 2013, 277 in 2014, 286 in 2015 and 290 last year.
Among the hundreds of cases, one completely changed life in the town of Rufino, in the province of Santa Fe, and shook the entire country.

Chiara Páez, a 14-year-old girl, disappeared one Sunday in May 2015.

A large part of the town’s 20,000 people went out to search for her. But eventually the police found her body buried at the house of her boyfriend’s grandparents. Her 16-year-old boyfriend confessed that he had beat her to death. The autopsy revealed that Chiara was pregnant and that she had taken medication to have an abortion.

A few days later, hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets of Buenos Aires and other large cities to demand a stop to male violence against women. “Not one less” (“Ni una menos”) was the slogan devised by a group of feminist activists and journalists, which was taken up immediately by a good part of Argentine society.

Since then, huge “Not one less” marches have become an annual event. The last one was held on Jun. 3 on the Avenida de Mayo avenue, and one of the main speakers was Nora Cortiñas, renowned leader of the human rights group Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

The pamphlet handed out at the demonstration noted that many women are murdered after reporting that they are victims of domestic violence, which makes the government responsible for their protection and their deaths, “as much as the murderers.”

“Not One Less” was the slogan of the Jun. 3 march against gender-based violence in Buenos Aires. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS

“Not One Less” was the slogan of the Jun. 3 march against gender-based violence in Buenos Aires. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS

They also demanded an end to discrimination against women in the labour market, and called for legal, safe, free of charge abortion.

“Violence against women will not rapidly decline since it is mainly linked to cultural factors very marked in society, such as the greater value put on men in all fields,” Dr. Mabel Bianco, the head of the Foundation for Women’s Studies and Research, told IPS.

“We are still lacking answers from the government. A protocol that unifies the steps to be followed nationwide in the face of complaints of gender-based violence must be designed,” she said.

She said that “in most cases, the woman files a complaint, but there is no support or monitoring in place to know what happens to her afterwards. And when the judges issue a restriction order, it is not enforced and the woman is defenceless.”

One of the results of the social mobilisation was the start of official record-keeping on femicides in 2015. The Supreme Court keeps these figures, and in late May it presented the statistics from 2016: 254 women were murdered for gender-based reasons, 19 more than in 2015.

In this year’s report, the Court for the first time differentiated between “biological females” and trans women, who were the victims of five of the femicides last year.

Meanwhile, Congress did not stop with the parental responsibility law. The same day it was passed, the Senate gave preliminary approval to two other bills focused on gender-based violence.

One of them establishes financial support by the state for women who cannot afford to leave their abusive partners. The other one implements a subsidy for the families who raise children whose mothers have been victims of femicides. The two draft laws are now pending approval in the lower house of Congress.

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