Inter Press Service » Editors’ Choice http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 28 Feb 2015 02:25:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Rousseff’s Brazil – No Country for the Landlesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/rousseffs-brazil-no-country-for-the-landless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rousseffs-brazil-no-country-for-the-landless http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/rousseffs-brazil-no-country-for-the-landless/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 19:01:15 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139404 Farmers with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) protest the concentration of land ownership in Brazil, during a Feb. 21 demonstration in support of the occupation of part of the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from Brasilia. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

Farmers with the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) protest the concentration of land ownership in Brazil, during a Feb. 21 demonstration in support of the occupation of part of the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from Brasilia. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

In Brazil, one of the countries with the highest concentration of land ownership in the world, some 200,000 peasant farmers still have no plot of their own to farm – a problem that the first administration of President Dilma Rousseff did little to resolve.

In its assessment of the situation in the 2011-2014 period, the Brazilian Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) found the worst progress in that period in terms of agrarian reform in the last 20 years, one of the church-based organisation’s coordinators, Isolete Wichinieski, told IPS.

“Historically, there has been a high concentration of land in Brazil,” she said. But what is worrisome, she added, is that during the first presidency of Rousseff, whose second term started on Jan. 1, 2015, “land ownership has become even more concentrated.”

“There was a fall in the numbers of new rural settlements and of land titling in indigenous territories and ‘quilombos’ (communities of the descendants of African slaves), while on the other hand, investment in agribusiness and agro-industry grew,” said Wichinieski.

Social movements had hoped that Rousseff, who belongs to the left-wing Workers’ Party like her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), would take up the banner of democratisation of land ownership.

But her government’s economic policies have focused on incentives for agribusiness and agro-industry, mining and major infrastructure projects.

According to the CPT report, during the first Rousseff administration (2011-2014), 103,746 families were granted land under the government’s agrarian reform programme. But that figure is actually misleading, because in 73 percent of the cases, the land settlement process was already in progress before the president took office, and the families had already been counted in previous years.

If only the new families settled on plots of their own during Rousseff’s first administration are counted, the total shrinks to 28,000.

The government reported that in 2014 it regularised the situation of just 6,289 families – a number considered insignificant by the CPT.

Since 1995 agrarian reform was given a new boost, with the creation of a special ministry answering directly to the president, and other legal instruments, largely due to the intense lobbying and protests throughout the country by the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST).

As a result, during the presidency of Luis Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003), 540,704 families were given land, and 614,088 were settled on farms during Lula’s two terms (2003-2011), according to the National Institute for Colonisation and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), which reported that 9,128 rural settlements have been created since 2000.

The Dom Tomás Balduíno camp, along the river that crosses the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, next to the first crops planted on the 400 hectares occupied by landless Brazilian peasant farmers. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

The Dom Tomás Balduíno camp, along the river that crosses the Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, next to the first crops planted on the 400 hectares occupied by landless Brazilian peasant farmers. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

In order for land reform to be effective, the CPT argues, more settlements must be created and the concentration of rural property ownership must be reduced in this country of 202 million people. But the organisation does not believe Rousseff is moving in that direction, Wichinieski said.

Agrarian reform was not on the agenda of the campaign that led to the president’s reelection in October, and the new government includes names from the powerful rural caucus in Congress, which represents agribusiness and agro-industry.

The agriculture minister is former senator Kátia Abreu, the president of the National Confederation of Agriculture. She surprised people when she stated in a Feb. 5 interview with the newspaper Folha de São Paulo that there are no “latifundium” or large landed estates in Brazil.

“Abreu has backwards, outdated views of agriculture,” complained Wichinieski. “She denies that there is forced labour in the countryside, she isn’t worried about preserving the environment, and she argues in favour of the intensive use of agrochemicals in food production.”

The conflict over land has intensified, according to the CPT, with the expansion of livestock-raising and monoculture farming of soy, sugarcane, maize and cotton, and growing speculation by large landowners with close ties to politicians.

A typical case

One example is the case of the 20,000-hectare Agropecuaria Santa Mônica estate, 150 km from the national capital, Brasilia, in the state of Goiás, part of which has been occupied by families belonging to the MST.

The property belongs to Senator Eunício Oliveira, considered the wealthiest candidate for governor in Brazil in the last elections.

In the Senate, Oliveira heads the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, Rousseff’s main ally in Congress. He served as communications minister under Lula in 2004-2005 and last year lost the elections for governor of the state of Ceará.

The landless farmers occupying 400 hectares of the Santa Mônica estate sell their agroecological products in nearby towns, promoting chemical-free family farming. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

The landless farmers occupying 400 hectares of the Santa Mônica estate sell their agroecological products in nearby towns, promoting chemical-free family farming. Credit: Courtesy of the MST

Valdir Misnerovicz, one of the leaders of the MST, told IPS that the estate is unproductive and that its only purpose at this time is land speculation.

Strategically located between the municipalities of Alexânia, Abadiânia and Corumbá, Santa Mônica represents the largest land occupation by the MST in the last 15 years.

It all started on Aug. 31, when 3,000 families marched on foot and in 1,800 vehicles to the estate, part of which they occupied.

Since then, more than 2,000 men, women, children and elderly persons have been living in a camp and control 400 hectares of the estate. They are determined to win a portion of the land to farm.

This is one of the MST’s strategies, said Misnerovicz. “We occupy large areas of unproductive land. In the camp we grow a variety of food like green leafy vegetables, manioc, maize, rice, beans and squash. All of the families plant healthy food in chemical-free agroecological community gardens,” he said.

The tents in the Dom Tomás Balduíno camp were set up on the bank of a river that cuts across the estate, which comprises 90 different properties that the senator purchased over the last two decades.

“The day we got there, they tried to keep us out but there were thousands of us. We are never armed. Our strength is in the number of peasants who accompany us,” said Misnerovicz.

In November, a court ruled that Oliveira has the right to recover the property. But the MST leader is confident that despite the risk that the families will be evicted, they will be successful in their bid for the Santa Mônica estate to be expropriated under the land reform programme.

Misnerovicz said the government itself has encouraged the families occupying the land to continue negotiating.

“Then it would be possible, after a year, to make the biggest rural settlement in recent times in Brazil. We were with the president in January, who committed to a plan with targets for settling (MST) families camped around the country,” he said.

INCRA has avoided taking a public position on this specific case. But it pointed out that, by law, “all of the occupied properties are off-limits for inspections to evaluate the situation with a view to agrarian reform.”

The administrator of Santa Mônica, Ricardo Augusto, told IPS that the occupied area is productive agricultural property where soy, maize and beans are grown.

“The purchase of the property was notarised. The MST is not telling the truth. We advocate a negotiated, peaceful solution. Productive, occupied land can’t be expropriated, and there is no interest in selling the property,” he said.

But João Pedro, who was granted a plot of land in a municipality near Santa Mônica, sees things very differently.

During a Feb. 21 demonstration in favour of the occupation, near the camp, the farmer said the families camping there were merely seeking the enforcement of Brazil’s laws: “the land has a social function, and that’s all we want – for the constitution to be applied.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/rousseffs-brazil-no-country-for-the-landless/feed/ 0
From the Police Station Back to the Hellhole: System Failing India’s Domestic Violence Survivorshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 18:03:42 +0000 Shai Venkatraman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139401 Government data indicates that 40 percent of all Indian women have experienced domestic violence, but activists believe the figure is closer to 84 percent. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Government data indicates that 40 percent of all Indian women have experienced domestic violence, but activists believe the figure is closer to 84 percent. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Shai Venkatraman
MUMBAI, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

“One time my husband started slapping me hard on the face because I had not cooked the rice to his satisfaction,” Suruchi* told IPS. “He hit me so hard that my infant daughter fell from my arms to the ground.”

For 20 years 47-year-old Suruchi, a resident of India’s coastal megacity Mumbai, faced physical and verbal abuse within the walls of her home. Her husband would often lock her out of their apartment through the night and one day even tried to strangle her.

“I had hoped all along that by obeying [my husband] things would eventually get better. While recovering in hospital I understood [...] that I owed it to myself and my children to walk out.” -- a domestic violence survivor in Mumbai
“I never knew what would set him off – it could be talking to a neighbour or looking out of the window. I would get ready for work in the morning and he would suddenly announce that I had to stay home all day.”

Suruchi had no access to her earnings as she was expected to hand her salary over to her in-laws. “On the rare occasion that I spoke out, I would get beaten up.” Her parents sensed that she was unhappy but Suruchi never told them the full story.

She was just 20 when she got married, she told IPS, and the constant abuse has left a profound impact on her and her children, especially her son who is anxious and largely uncommunicative.

It was only after she suffered a nervous breakdown following an especially violent assault that she finally acted.

“I had hoped all along that by obeying him things would eventually get better. While recovering in hospital I understood that my attitude had fuelled the abuse and that I owed it to myself and my children to walk out.”

Today Suruchi has put the past behind her. She lives independently and is pursuing a degree in law. However, her story is all too common in millions of homes across India.

A 2006 government survey, the last time the state collected comprehensive household data, stated that 40 percent of Indian women faced domestic violence.

Considering that women comprise over 48 percent of India’s population of 1.2 billion people, this means that hundreds of millions of people are living a nightmare in what is considered the world’s largest democracy.

However many experts believe that a 2003 survey conducted by a non-profit and supported by the Planning Commission of India that threw up a figure of 84 percent paints a more accurate picture.

“It tells us that many cases are going unreported,” says Rashmi Anand, a domestic violence survivor who runs a free legal aid and counseling service for victims in the capital, New Delhi, in collaboration with the police.

Interestingly, figures for domestic violence reported in crime statistics in many states are significantly higher than those that find their way into national-level databases.

An abundance of violence, too few solutions

In a 2013 study by the New Delhi-based think tank National Council for Applied Economic Research, over half of the married women surveyed said that they would be beaten up for going out of the house without permission (54 percent); not cooking properly (35 percent) and inadequate dowry payments (36 percent).

Indian law bans dowry, but the practice remains widespread.

Studies also indicate that economic and social gains have put women at far greater risk in a deeply patriarchal country like India.

A 2014 report in Population and Development Review, a peer reviewed journal, shows that women who are more educated than their husbands are at higher risk of domestic violence as men see in it a way to re-assert their power and control over their wives.

In 1983 domestic violence was recognised as a criminal offence under Section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code. However only in 2005 was a separate civil law to deal with the specifics of domestic violence introduced.

Among other things, the law defines domestic violence and widens the scope to verbal, economic and emotional violence. It also takes into account a woman’s need for financial support and protects her from being thrown out of her home and provides for monetary relief and temporary custody of children.

Since it came into force, activists say there has been a gradual rise in the number of women seeking help.

“Earlier women would seek legal help only when they were thrown out of their marital homes”, says New Delhi-based lawyer C.P Nautiyal, who counsels victims of domestic violence.

“Most women believe that suffering verbal abuse or being slapped by their husbands is expected behaviour. Since the law came into being there is greater awareness regarding domestic violence.”

However, there is still considerable stigma attached to being divorced and this prevents many women from reaching out.

“Economically women in India have made great progress but not so much when it comes to personal growth,” says Anand. “The attitude remains skewed when it comes to relationships. A woman continues to be defined by marriage and this cuts across all classes.”

Veteran lawyer and women’s rights activist Flavia Agnes agrees.

“There is a lot of pressure to stay married,” she tells IPS. “I have found that even highly placed women don’t like to reveal that they are divorced or separated. It’s like being raped, they will hide it as much as possible.”

Experts say that it is women from under-educated or underprivileged backgrounds who are reaching out for help in greater numbers. “Those who come from the upper classes are generally more reluctant to walk out as they stand to lose social status or a certain lifestyle,” Agnes says.

However it is precisely those women who are reaching out in greater numbers that the system is failing the most.

Most keenly felt is the lack of adequate government-run shelters. Barring the southern state of Kerala where shelter homes for domestic violence victims have been set up across 12 districts, authorities in other states have been neglectful.

“I am constantly looking for places where I can send impoverished, battered women to stay,” says Anand. Of the five shelters for women in crisis in the capital New Delhi, only two are functional. Even these can accommodate just 30 women each, and not for more than a month.

“Women are kept like prisoners there,” Agnes tells IPS about the shelters. “They can’t leave, not even to go to their places of work. Children above seven cannot stay with their mothers. Only those who are utterly destitute and desperate consider staying there.”

Another critical need is for fast-track courts to ensure cases get heard rapidly. The Indian legal system is notoriously slow and cases drag on for years, even decades.

However tougher laws alone cannot stem the tide of domestic violence as long as attitudes stay rooted in patriarchy.

The last government study done in 2006, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), revealed that over 51 percent of Indian men didn’t think it wrong to assault their wives. More shockingly, 54 percent of the women themselves felt such violence was justified on certain grounds.

Activists say such biases are reflected every time a victim of domestic violence comes seeking help.

“We see it on the part of the police, NGOs, stakeholders and religious authorities,” points out Agnes. “The protection officer is supposed to collect evidence, file an order and take the victim to court. Instead the tactic is to tell her, ‘He slapped you a few times that’s all. Don’t make a big deal and sort it out’, and she is sent back to the hellhole.

“We have to stop this current approach of putting a Band-Aid on a gaping, bleeding wound [if we want] change to come about,” she stressed.

*Name changed upon request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/from-the-police-station-back-to-the-hellhole-system-failing-indias-domestic-violence-survivors/feed/ 0
Gazan Fishermen Dying to Survivehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/gazan-fishermen-dying-to-survive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gazan-fishermen-dying-to-survive http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/gazan-fishermen-dying-to-survive/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 09:03:34 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139389 Fathi Said and Mustafa Jarboua, Gazan fishermen who have seen their livelihoods destroyed by Israel’s blockade. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Fathi Said and Mustafa Jarboua, Gazan fishermen who have seen their livelihoods destroyed by Israel’s blockade. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
GAZA CITY, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

The beautiful Mediterranean Sea laps gently onto the white sandy beach near Gaza City’s port. Fishing boats dot the beach as fishermen tend to their boats and fix their nets.

However, this scenic and peaceful setting belies a depressing reality. Gaza’s once thriving fishing industry has been decimated by Israel’s blockade of the coastal territory since 2007.

Approximately 3,600 Gazan fishermen, and their dependents, estimated at over 30,000 people, used to rely on fishing for a living.

Fish also provided a basic source of food for Gaza’s poverty-stricken population of over 1.5 million people.“Access restrictions imposed by Israel at land and sea continue to undermine the security of Palestinians and the agricultural sector in Gaza, which is the primary source of income for thousands of farmers and fishermen and their families” – U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

Following the blockade of the Gaza Strip, more than 90 percent of Gaza’s fishermen have had to depend on aid to survive.

Mustafa Jarboua, 55, the father of 10 children from Shati refugee camp, sits on the beach near his boat mending his nets. He has been a fisherman for 17 years and has witnessed the fishing industry’s decline since Israel first started placing restrictions on the fishermen in the early 2000s, culminating in the 2007 blockade.

“Before the blockade I used to earn about NIS 2000-3000 per month (500-750 dollars),” he told IPS.

“Now I’m lucky if I can earn NIS 500-600 (126 -152 dollars) a month because we can only fish a few days each week depending on when there are sufficient fish.

“The shoals closer to shore have been depleted with most of the better quality fish at least nine miles out to sea. I have to rely on money from the Ministry of Social Affairs to survive.

“I can’t afford meat and have to buy second-hand clothes for my children. Buying treats on holidays is no longer possible,” said Jarboua.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “in the late 1990s, annual catches from the Gaza Strip’s four fishing wharves located in Rafah, Khan Younis, Deir Al Balah and Gaza City averaged more than 3,500 tonnes and generated an annual income of over 10 million dollars.”

The already dire situation was exacerbated during last year’s July-August war with Israel, reducing the area in which the fishermen can fish to six nautical miles. After the Oslo agreement in 1993, the distance had been 20 nautical miles.

However, fishermen are still being shot at and killed and injured even within that 6-mile nautical zone.

Jarboua pointed to his boat and showed IPS the bullet holes where the Israeli navy had fired on him while out to sea.

Others fishermen have had their boats destroyed and been arrested, Jarboua’s friend Fathi Said, also from Shati camp, told IPS that his brother had been arrested by the Israelis several weeks ago while only five nautical miles out to sea.

Sami Al Quka, 35, from Shati had his hand blown off when the Israeli navy shot at him while he was within the approved fishing zone.

Brother Ibrahim Al Quka, 55, said he used to earn about 50-100 dollars a day before Israel’s blockade.

“Now on a good day I only earn about 30 dollars and then I can buy food for my family for a few days. After that I have to rely on the United Nations to survive,” Al Quka told IPS.

Oxfam GB confirms the fishermen’s claims: “Even when fishing within the six mile restriction, fishermen face being shot or arrested by the Israeli navy. In the first half of 2014, there were at least 177 incidents of naval fire against fishermen – nearly as many as in all of 2013.”

OCHA reported in its weekly Humanitarian Report in mid-February that “incidents involving Israeli forces opening fire into the Access Restricted Areas (ARAs) on land and at sea continued on a daily basis, with at least 17 such incidents reported during the week.”

“In at least two incidents,” said the report, “Israeli naval forces opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats reportedly sailing within the Israeli-declared six nautical mile fishing limit, forcing them ashore.

“Access restrictions imposed by Israel at land and sea continue to undermine the security of Palestinians and the agricultural sector in Gaza, which is the primary source of income for thousands of farmers and fishermen and their families.”

Gaza’s farmers are also unable to access their land near the borders with Israel which is imposing “security zones” of up to 1.5 km in some of Gaza’s most fertile land. Dozens of farmers have been shot and killed or injured after trying to reach their farms.

The Gaza Strip’s dense population is crammed into an area 6-12 km wide by 41 km in length.

Gaza’s struggling economy has been further battered by Israel’s almost complete ban on exports, including manufactured goods and agricultural products which formed a major part of its economy, and imports.

“Severe trade restrictions on both imports and exports have stifled the private sector, forcing several thousands of businesses to close in the past few years,” according to the ‘GAZA Detailed Needs Assessment (DNA) and Recovery Framework: Social Protection Sub-Sector‘ report produced by the Palestinian Government, European Union, World Bank and the United Nations.

“Since the economic blockade (which Egypt has now joined) was put in place in 2007, exports from Gaza have dropped by 97 per cent,” added the report. “Even companies that are still operating can only produce at high risk and with limited profit, due to elevated production costs, widespread power cuts and the almost complete ban on exports.”

“The basic needs of Gazans are not being met,” Arwa Mhanna from Oxfam told IPS. “Poverty is deepening, vital services have been affected and livelihoods crippled. The situation is moving towards more violence and further humanitarian tragedy.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/gazan-fishermen-dying-to-survive/feed/ 1
Families of ‘Desaparecidos’ Take Search into Their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/families-of-desaparecidos-take-search-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=families-of-desaparecidos-take-search-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/families-of-desaparecidos-take-search-into-their-own-hands/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 16:33:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139372 “Forced disappearance, a strategy of terror” reads a sign with the Mexican flag, held by a family member during a Feb. 19 ceremony to celebrate the 15th year anniversary of HIJOS, one of the first organisations created by the families of ‘desaparecidos’ to search for their loved ones and fight for justice. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

“Forced disappearance, a strategy of terror” reads a sign with the Mexican flag, held by a family member during a Feb. 19 ceremony to celebrate the 15th year anniversary of HIJOS, one of the first organisations created by the families of ‘desaparecidos’ to search for their loved ones and fight for justice. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

Carlos Trujillo refuses to give up, after years of tirelessly searching hospitals, morgues, prisons, cemeteries and clandestine graves in Mexico, looking for his four missing brothers.

The local shopkeeper has left no stone unturned and no clue unfollowed since his brothers Jesús, Raúl, Luís and Gustavo Trujillo vanished – the first two on Aug. 28, 2008 in the southern state of Guerrero and the last two on Sep. 22, 2010 on a highway that joins the southern states of Puebla and Veracruz.

“The case has gone nowhere; four agents were assigned to it, but there’s still nothing concrete, so I’m forging ahead and I won’t stop until I find them,” Trujillo told IPS.

On Feb. 18, Trujillo and other relatives of “desaparecidos” or victims of enforced disappearance founded the group Familiares en Búsqueda María Herrera – named after his mother – as part of the growing efforts by tormented family members to secure institutional support for the investigations they themselves carry out.

“We want to create a network of organisations of victims’ families,” the activist explained. “One of the priorities is to strengthen links and networking, to ensure clarity in the search process, and to share tools. The aim is for the families themselves to carry the investigations forward.”

The group is investigating the disappearance of 18 people. Prior to the creation of the organisation, some of the members found six people alive, in the last two years.“Each one of us started with our own particular case. We didn’t understand what disappearance was; we had to learn. We didn’t know we had a right to demand things. The search started off with problems, no one knew how to work collectively, and we gradually came up with how to do things.” -- Diana García

With determination and courage, the family members visit morgues, police stations, prisons, courtrooms, cemeteries and mass graves, trying to find their lost loved ones, or at least some clue that could lead them in the right direction.

The group grew out of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, which in 2011 brought together the families of victims of the wave of violence in Mexico, and held peace caravans throughout the country and even parts of the United States, where the movement protested that country’s anti-drug policy.

Enforced disappearance became a widespread phenomenon since the government of conservative Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) declared the “war on drug trafficking.” His successor, the conservative Enrique Peña Nieto, has not resolved the problem, which has become one of the worst tragedies in Latin America’s recent history.

But the phenomenon has only drawn international attention since the disappearance of 43 students of the Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college, which exposed a cocktail of complicity and corruption between the police and the mayor of the town of Iguala and a violent drug cartel operating in Guerrero.

Thursday marks the five month anniversary of their disappearance.

The families have not stopped their indefatigable search for the students, even though the attorney general’s office announced a month ago that they were killed by the organised crime group “Guerreros Unidos” and their bodies were burnt.

The humanitarian crisis prompted the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances to demand on Feb. 13 that Mexico pass specific laws to combat the problem, create a registry of victims, carry out proper investigations, and provide justice and reparations to the victims’ families.

Mexico’s office on human rights, crime prevention and community service has reported that in this country of 120 million people, 23,271 people went missing between 2007 and October 2014. However, the office does not specifically indicate how many of these people were victims of enforced disappearance, as opposed to simply missing. Human rights organisations put the figure at 22,600 for that period.

Most enforced disappearances are blamed on drug cartels, which dispute smuggling routes to the lucrative U.S. market, in some cases with the participation of corrupt local or national police. The victims are mainly men from different socioeconomic strata, between the ages of 20 and 36.

“Each one of us started with our own particular case,” Diana García, whose son was disappeared, told IPS. “We didn’t understand what disappearance was; we had to learn. We didn’t know we had a right to demand things. The search started off with problems, no one knew how to work collectively, and we gradually came up with how to do things.”

Her son, Daniel Cantú, disappeared on Feb. 21, 2007 in the city of Ramos Arizpe in the northern state of Coahuila.

García, who has two other children and belongs to the group Fuerzas Unidas por Nuestros Desaparecidos en Coahuila, is convinced that only by working together can people exert enough pressure on the government to get it to search for their missing loved ones.

With the support of the Centro Diocesano para los Derechos Humanos Fray Juan de Larios, a church-based human rights organisation, a group of family members of victims came together and founded Fuerzas Unidas in 2009, which is searching for a total of 344 people.

The organisation successfully advocated the creation of a new local law on the declaration of absence of persons due to disappearance, in effect since May 2014, as well as the classification of enforced disappearance as a specific crime in the state of Coahuila.

Other groups have emerged, such as Ciencia Forense Ciudadana (Citizen Forensic Science), founded in September to create a forensic and DNA database.

“The initiative is aimed at a massive identification drive,” one of the founders of the organisation, Sara López, told IPS. “To do this we need a registry of victims of disappearance, a genetic database, and a databank for what has been found in clandestine graves.”

The project plans to cover 450 families affected by enforced disappearance and to reach 1,500 DNA samples. So far it has gathered 550, and it has representatives – victims’ relatives – in 10 of the country’s 33 states.

On Feb. 16, Ciencia Forense identified the remains of Brenda González, who went missing on Jul. 31, 2011 in Santa Catarina, in the northern state of Nuevo León, with the support of an independent forensic investigation carried out by the Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team.

“With the organisation that we just created, we will also try to provide a broad assessment of the question of enforced disappearances,” Trujillo said.

Human rights organisations say that until the case of the missing Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college students erupted, the authorities did very little to combat the phenomenon, and failed to adopt measures to comply with sentences handed down by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.

The plight of the families is described in the song “Desaparecido” by French-Spanish singer-songwriter Manu Chao, dedicated to the thousands of victims of enforced disappearance in Latin America and their families: “I carry in my body a pain that doesn’t let me breathe, I carry in my body a doom that forces me to keep moving.”

And their lives are put on hold while they visit registries, fill out paperwork, lobby, take innumerable risks, and rack up expenses as they search for their loved ones and other desaparecidos.

“For now, I’m not interested in justice or reparations,” said García. “What I want is to know the truth, what happened, where he is. I’m looking for him alive but I know that in the context we’re living in there may be a different outcome. It’ll probably take me many years and I am desperate, but I continue the struggle.”

Her organisation, Fuerzas Unidas, drew up a plan that includes the analysis of crime maps, a genetic registry, awareness-raising campaigns, and proposed measures to hold those responsible for botched investigations accountable.

“The families are more familiar with the situation than anyone else, they know what has to be done. The problem is that we are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the phenomenon in Mexico,” said López.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/families-of-desaparecidos-take-search-into-their-own-hands/feed/ 0
Mobile Technology a Lever for Women’s Empowermenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/mobile-technology-a-lever-for-womens-empowerment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mobile-technology-a-lever-for-womens-empowerment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/mobile-technology-a-lever-for-womens-empowerment/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 13:39:49 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139367 For Cherie Blair (left), founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, “empowering women and girls to access education isn’t an option, isn’t a nice thing to do, it’s an imperative”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

For Cherie Blair (left), founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, “empowering women and girls to access education isn’t an option, isn’t a nice thing to do, it’s an imperative”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

Providing women with greater access to mobile technology could increase literacy, advance development and open up much-needed educational and employment opportunities, according to experts at the fourth United Nations’ Mobile Learning Week conference here.

“Mobile technology can offer learning where there are no books, no classrooms, even no teachers. This is especially important for women and girls who drop out of school and need second chances,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women.

The agency, which focuses on gender equality and the empowerment of women, joined forces with its “sister” organisation, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to host the Feb. 23-27 conference this year.“Mobile technology can offer learning where there are no books, no classrooms, even no teachers. This is especially important for women and girls who drop out of school and need second chances” – Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women

The aim, UNESCO said, was to give participants a venue “to learn about and discuss technology programmes, initiatives and content that are alleviating gender deficits in education.”

Participants from more than 70 countries shared so-called best practices and presented a range of initiatives to address the issue, including reducing the costs of access to mobile services in some developing countries, and providing training and free laptops to women teachers in countries such as Israel.

“There is still a persistent gender gap in access to mobile technology,” said keynote speaker Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In an interview on the side-lines of the conference, she told IPS that “anything that encourages the education of girls is important” and that it was “particularly significant” that UNESCO and UN Women had joined forces to work together in this area to achieve results.

“We need to encourage women to use technology and we also need to involve men to provide support,” Blair said. She cited research showing that a woman in a low- or middle-income country is 21 percent less likely than a man to own a mobile phone. In Africa, the figure is 23 percent less likely, and in the Middle East and South Asia 24 percent and 37 percent respectively.

“The reasons women cite for not owning a mobile phone include the costs of handsets and data plans, lack of need and fear of not being able to master the technology,” Blair said.

Yet, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), mobile phones are the “most pervasive and rapidly adopted technology in history”, with six billion of the world’s seven billion people now having access.

If there existed gender parity in this access, women could benefit from the technology in a number of ways, including getting information about healthcare and other services, experts said.

They could also potentially follow massive open online courses (MOOCS) such as those offered by an increasing number of universities and other institutions, despite on-going controversy about their benefits. Currently, the majority of students enrolled in MOOCs are men, and often from wealthy backgrounds, surveys suggest.

Whether women live in low-income or rich countries, learning how to use technology could have future benefits especially regarding employment, said Mark West, a UNESCO project officer.

“Ninety percent of jobs in the future are going to require ICT skills,” he told IPS in an interview. “So any idea that it’s not socially or culturally acceptable for women to use technology is extremely dangerous.”

He said the fact that 25 percent fewer women than men currently access the Internet “was alarming” and that changes needed to occur early in education so that girls were not left out of future jobs.

“We don’t often realise how gendered our perceptions of technology are,” he added. “Women are taught from a young age to not like technology, taught that maths and science are not for them, and this is a big problem.”

At university level, only about 20 percent of female students are pursuing careers in computer science, and in the technology sector, only six percent of CEOs are women, according to the ITU.

“We should do more to get women in STEM fields,” said Doreen Bogdan, ITU’s Chief of Strategic Planning and Membership Department, referring to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Some participants highlighted current programmes to keep girls interested in science, such as camps run by the California-based semiconductor company Qualcomm, which brings sixth-grade female students together to learn coding and tech skills, and does follow-up work with them as they continue their education.

“All of the tech companies are fighting for the same talent pool and there are not enough females in that talent pool because not enough girls are studying it,” said Angela Baker, a senior manager at Qualcomm.

“There’s a ton of research that shows that when you have more women in the industry, companies tend to do better … so we have a vested interest in building that pipeline of girls and women,” she told IPS.

Apart from the STEM fields, girls have made great strides in education over the past 30 years, but there is “still a long way to go,” said experts, who cited U.N. figures showing that globally there are seven girls to every 10 boys in school.

Both UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova and Cherie Blair described education as a “human rights imperative” as well as a development and security imperative.

They stressed that the goal of achieving gender equality in education will continue for the post-2015 development agenda, and that technology has an important role to play.

“Empowering women and girls to access education isn’t an option, isn’t a nice thing to do, it’s an imperative,” Blair said.

Edited by Phil Harris    

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/mobile-technology-a-lever-for-womens-empowerment/feed/ 0
Indigenous Storytelling in the Limelighthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 09:33:21 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139362 María Mercedes Coroy, first-time lead actress in ‘Ixcanul Volcano’, winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 2015 Berlinale. The film, directed by Guatemalan Jayro Buscamante, emerged from a community-media storytelling project involving local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Credit: © La Casa de Producción

María Mercedes Coroy, first-time lead actress in ‘Ixcanul Volcano’, winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 2015 Berlinale. The film, directed by Guatemalan Jayro Buscamante, emerged from a community-media storytelling project involving local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Credit: © La Casa de Producción

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

In recent years, the Berlin International Film Festival, known as the Berlinale, has established a European hub for indigenous voices across a number of platforms, including its NATIVe – A Journey into Indigenous Cinema series and Storytelling-Slams in which indigenous storytelling artists share their stories before opening the floor to contributions from the audience.

This year’s Berlinale, with a focus on Latin America, dabbed a rainbow of native flair to Berlin’s greyest month, with a chorus of voices and perspectives from indigenous people, including Guarani, Hicholes, Xavante, Wichi, Kuikuro, Mapuche, Tzotzil and Quechua.

And it was an indigenous story from Guatemala – ‘Ixcanul Volcano’ by Jayro Buscamante (37), set among the Maya community in the Pacaya volcano region – which took home the Berlinale’s Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize this year for a film that “opens new perspectives on cinematic art”."I wanted to reveal the state of impotence, the real situation faced by indigenous women who have no power, told from their own perspective, in their own language” – Jayro Buscamante, director of ‘Ixcanul Volcano’

Ixcanul Volcano is the story of Maria, a 17-year-old Mayan girl from a coffee-farming community in the volcano’s foothills, who is torn between an arranged marriage to the local foreman and her attraction to a young local man, Pepe, who seduces her with his dreams of a different life, beyond the volcano, up north.

Following a botched-up elopement attempt, Maria finds herself bearing the consequences of an unwanted teenage pregnancy. The young girl and her mother, played by Maria Telon, a Mayan community theatre actress-activist, are soon engulfed in a precipice of dramatic circumstances.

Based on true events, Ixcanul Volcano emerged from a community-media storytelling project where Buscamante involved local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Inevitably, the story came to reflect the glaring nexus among human rights abuses, poverty and powerlessness.

“I wanted to reveal the state of impotence, the real situation faced by indigenous women who have no power, told from their own perspective, in their own language,” explained Buscamante, who learnt Kaqchikel growing up among the Maya.

It was his mother, a community health worker, who first told him about the scourge surrounding child-trafficking practices, one of the darkest chapters of Guatemala’s long civil war (1960-1996), involving public health employees and state authorities.

The United Nations has reported a staggering 400 cases of abductions of Mayan children and minors per year, a human rights scandal carried out with impunity.

“There is an insidious social-legal framework which can chain and cheat the poorest of the poor even while pretending to help them out. This leads to a state of impotence and submission, sometimes the only response left available,” explained Buscamante.

Yet, in Berlin, Maria Telon and the hauntingly beautiful, first-time lead, María Mercedes Coroy,  spoke of their gratitude for “liking our story” and for being heard and appreciated, something which, Telon said, is not always the case for indigenous women and communities.

The horrors and human rights crimes perpetrated by the massacre of the Mayan population, which accounted for 85 percent of the victims of the Guatemalan civil war, are outlined in a report by Guatemala’s Historical Clarification Commission’s report titled Memory of Silence”, drafted by three rapporteurs, including German jurist Christian Tomuschat, professor of public international law at Berlin’s Humboldt University.

Memory was the thread linking native perspectives on water, the crucial element sustaining life on the planet and the subject of The Pearl Button (El boton de nazar), Chilean film director Patricio Guzman’s documentary, which took home a Berlinale Silver Bear Prize for Best Script.

Countries which deny their past remain stuck in collective amnesia and Guzman, for whom “a country without documentary cinema is like a family without a family album,” applies this conviction to Chile’s denial of its colonial history and the extermination of its native inhabitants.

The documentary’s title refers to the legend of Jemmy Button, a Yagan teenager who was sold off to a British naval captain in 1830 for the price of a pearl button.

It pays tribute to three of the all but extinguished Yacatan original inhabitants, the “water nomads” of the Patagonian estuary, and to the native wisdom of those who navigated these waters which sustained human existence for centuries.

Interviewed by Guzman, who endured 15 days of detention in Pinochet’s infamous torture stadium in 1973 and is internationally acclaimed for the documentary trilogy ‘The Battle of Chile’ (1975-1978), Gabriela Paterito recalled a 600-mile voyage aged 12 with her mother to collect fresh water.

Asked to translate Spanish words into her own native Kawesquar, Paterito recalls many words including “water”, “sun” and “button” and, pushed to find the equivalent for “police”, she nods replying: “No, we don’t need that.” And as far as God is concerned, her response comes as a resolute: “No, there is no God.”

The fate of Gabriela’s people was sealed in Chile’s colonial past. Five distinct ethnic groups tied to the water environment of the archipelagos were exterminated by Catholic missionaries and conquistadores.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recognises that “indigenous knowledge is the local knowledge that is unique to a culture or society” and that knowledge of the natural world cannot be confined to science because it represents the accumulated knowledge which has sustained human societies in their interaction with the natural world across the ages.

Another protagonist in The Pearl Button explains how the government denies him the use of his handmade canoe,  and consequently access to his own traditional livelihood, ostensibly for  his own protection – a disturbing disconnect in a country which exterminated its native maritime inhabitants and was never able to make use of the  potential of its 2,670 miles of coastline.

“Ixcanul is a significant step for a native, Latin American film. With 80 percent of our screens spewing out U.S. blockbusters it leaves a small niche for alternatives from Europe and a tiny one for Latin American films, Leo Cordero of Mexico’s Mantarraya Distribucion told IPS. “Paradoxically, it is only if the film is well received in Europe and around the world that we can take a chance on it.”

Strongly committed to the Guatemalan peace process and the emancipation of the Maya people, Ixcanul Volcano comes at a time when indigenous media are flourishing with a new understanding of the native retelling of history and film-making as a “common good”.

Bolivia and Ecuador have acknowledged the world view of indigenous people based on a sacred conception of the Law of Rights of mother Earth – the concept of Pachamama, which prioritises the collective good over individual gain.

At the Berlinale’s NATIVe Storytelling-Slam, indigenous perspectives were centre stage.  David Alberto Hernandez Palmar, a Venezuelan video artist and producer of the documentary Owners of Water about an indigenous campaign to protect an Amazonian river, insisted that the Kueka stone, which originated in Venezuela’s Gran Sabana nature reserve in the Pemom Indian lands, should be returned from Berlin’s central park, the Tiergarten. “Mother Earth is sad,” he said.

Whether or not Berlin will become involved in a case of restitution of indigenous property is unsure but, increasingly, indigenous arts, media and communications are building bridges.

“The medium of film can provide a crucial path towards understanding because you have to open up to the perspectives of others,” said Buscamante, who stressed his interest in the relationships among different cultures and ethnic groups.

Edited by Phil Harris    

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight/feed/ 0
Falling Oil Prices Won’t Derail St. Lucia’s Push for Clean Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/falling-oil-prices-wont-derail-st-lucias-push-for-clean-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=falling-oil-prices-wont-derail-st-lucias-push-for-clean-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/falling-oil-prices-wont-derail-st-lucias-push-for-clean-energy/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 16:01:45 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139341 Workers use electricity and firewood to prepare cassava bread in Canaries, St. Lucia. The country’s government says renewable energy can help with value-added in the agricultural sector. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Workers use electricity and firewood to prepare cassava bread in Canaries, St. Lucia. The country’s government says renewable energy can help with value-added in the agricultural sector. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
CASTRIES, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

At Plas Kassav, a roadside outlet in Canaries, a rural community in western St. Lucia, a busload of visitors from other Caribbean countries, along with tourists from North America and Europe, sample the 12 flavours of freshly baked cassava bread on sale.

In the back of the shop, employees busily sift the grated cassava and prepare it for baking. Next to them, an electric motor powers a device that turns grated cassava as it bakes into farine — a cereal made from cassava tubers — in a wood-fired cauldron.Caribbean nations, with their fossil fuel-dependant economies, “don't want to be caught in a situation where today the price of oil is less than 50 dollars a barrel and tomorrow, if the Saudis and the other players decide, that the price of oil could go up to 120 dollars a barrel.” -- Minister James Fletcher

This is one of the ways in which this eastern Caribbean nation of 180,000 people is marrying its tourism and agriculture sectors.

Tourism makes the largest contribution to St. Lucia’s 1.3-billion-dollar economy. And with oil prices expected to continue falling for some time, this 617-square-kilometre island is hoping for significant economic growth on the heels of the slim years since the global financial crisis struck in 2008.

The government says that the move toward renewable energy will see businesses and households paying less for energy and will also strengthen the nation’s argument at the international climate change negotiations.

A renewable energy expert with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) tells IPS that falling oil prices present an excellent opportunity for small island developing states such as St. Lucia and its 14 other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) allies to accelerate their renewable energy programme.

“I think you can look at it as a windfall that buys you time for the transition,” Dolf Gielen says.

He tells IPS that falling oil prices will slow down but will not end the push towards clean energy.

“Oil prices will somewhat slow the acceleration but you will see a continued transition towards renewables,” he says. “Now you have a little more time to plan it and to make sure that it functions well.”

James Fletcher, St. Lucia’s Minister of Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology, tells IPS that he agrees that the region needs to accelerate its transition toward renewable energy, but is not certain whether lower fuel prices is really reason to exhale.

“I’m not sure about the breathing space. I think what it does, however, show is that this fuel price game is not one we want to be playing,” Fletcher tells IPS.

He notes that while the price of oil has fallen to 50 dollars a barrel — less than half of what it was half year ago — the decrease did not result from any advances in technology.

“The price of oil right now is being determined by the geopolitics of oil,” he says, noting that Saudi Arabia has increased its production in an effort to make production of shale oil in the United States and Canada less attractive.

Fletcher says that Caribbean nations, with their fossil fuel-dependant economies, “don’t want to be caught in a situation where today the price of oil is less than 50 dollars a barrel and tomorrow, if the Saudis and the other players decide, that the price of oil could go up to 120 dollars a barrel.”

Cruise in Castries Harbour, St. Lucia. The island is hoping to use renewable energy to fuel a greater part of its tourism sector. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Cruise in Castries Harbour, St. Lucia. The island is hoping to use renewable energy to fuel a greater part of its tourism sector. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

If the Caribbean is really serious about sustainable development and wants its economies to develop with some level of certainty, “we can’t be at the mercy of a widely fluctuating oil market,” Fletcher stresses.

“So, for me, what is happening in the oil market is reason why, as much as possible, we should get either out of it or insulate ourselves from it – and that’s why renewable energy makes so much sense to us.”

As opposed to dependence on oil, Fletcher says, if Caribbean countries are depending on renewable energy then there is “much more certainty” of what the price of energy will be.

“… With prices fluctuating so much not because of any huge difference in technology and any difference in supply in the Middle East or any glut in the supply market, I think that’s why we should be getting pursuing our renewable energies programme with more haste and more energy,” Fletcher tells IPS.

In St. Lucia, consumers pay 38 cents for one kilowatt-hour of electricity. The government hopes that its investments in renewable energy could see that price reduced to 30 cents.

St. Lucia is home to Sulphur Sprints, the “world’s only drive in volcano” — a smoking caldera located near Soufrière on the southwestern side of the island, where the natural heat boils the water and geysers shoot into the air at high tide and full moon.

St. Lucia hopes to generate up to 30 megawatts of electricity in Soufriere, home to Sulphur Springs, the “world’s only drive-in volcano”. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

St. Lucia hopes to generate up to 30 megawatts of electricity in Soufriere, home to Sulphur Springs, the “world’s only drive-in volcano”. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

It stands to reason that geothermal energy will be the nation’s focus as it pivots to renewable energy.

Fletcher tells IPS wind and solar PV are intermittent sources of energy “and we really can’t complete a transition away from fossil fuel based on intermittent sources, unless we invest heavily in storage, which we really don’t have the capacity to do right now.”

St. Lucia has received financial and technical support from the government of New Zealand, SIDS-DOCK, and the Global Environmental Facility to conduct the initial stage of exploration, which will start soon, Fletcher says.

LUCILEC, the state-owned power company in St. Lucia, will purchase the electricity from the power plant developer, ORMAK of Isreal, and resell it to consumers.

Fletcher tells IPS that the government is pleased with the pace of the negotiations but notes that developing geothermal potential takes time.

“But at least it puts us on track to developing what we believe is as much as 30 megawatts of geothermal energy in Soufriere,” he says.

And while geothermal energy has been identified as the booster that St. Lucia’s tourism industry has been longing for, exploiting that same renewable energy potential could deal a devastating blow to the nation’s tourism product.

“There is one little wrinkle in that, because the drive-in volcano is also located within the Piton Management Area, and the Piton Management Area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is located in one of the policy areas where we are restricted in the level of infrastructural development that can take place,” Fletcher explains.

“So what we will be doing is looking at drill sites outside of the immediate vicinity of the drive-in volcano, but we are quite confident that we will have quite productive wells outside of that immediate area.”

St. Lucia is also exploring the development of a 12-megawatt wind farm on the island’s east cost and has been having discussion with an entity in the United States in this regard.

The third element of the renewable energy push is solar PV, the first stage of which will be done by LUCILEC, which has invited responses to proposal for a 1.2-megawatt facility in the south of St. Lucia, the intention being that it will be scaled up to 3 megawatts in the near future.

In this regard, the government is working with the Carbon War Room and the Clinton Initiative, which have been supporting the renewable energy programme.

Fletcher tells IPS that the move toward renewable energy, coupled with energy saving initiatives — such reducing from 4.0 million dollars to 2.6 million annually the amount spent on street lighting by switching to LED bulbs — will have a “tremendous” impact on St. Lucia.

The government is moving to make its own buildings more energy efficient, and will take to Parliament legislation to provide home and land tax, income tax rebate for people who are retrofitting their homes with energy efficient devices or installing grid-tie solar PV.

“What that does is many-fold. First of all, it causes our economic sector to be much more competitive,” Fletcher says, adding that a large portion of spending in the tourism sector is on energy.

“When you now superimpose on that the work we are doing with renewables, that, hopefully, will cause a reduction in the price of electricity from what it is right now, which 38 US cents per hour, to something approaching 30 cents. Then the expenditure by our hotels, by our manufacturing sector, the expenditure by people who are interested in value-added in agriculture, that expenditure goes down and it makes those sectors more competitive,” Fletcher tells IPS.

“On the household side, any money that is not being spent on energy is money that can be spent on something else. And so our focus is not just on the commercial establishments but also to get our residential consumers to benefit from the reduction in the cost of electricity, but also by putting in energy saving measures in their homes and giving them concessions to do that, that they will realise significant savings where their energy expenditure is concerned.”

Fletcher is one of St. Lucia’s and CARICOM’s negotiator at the global climate change talks, where the nations of the worlds are slated to sign a binding deal for reducing global warming in Paris later this year.

He tells IPS that at the international climate change negotiations, St. Lucia has been saying to developed countries that they have to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases to keep global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels, as proposed by experts.

“Now, it strengthens our case. It strengthens our moral argument if we can say that a country like St. Lucia that contributes … something like 0.00078 per cent of all green house gases, we recognise the importance of this being a global effort and we are still committing to reducing our carbon footprint by 30, 40, 50 per cent.

“Then we believe that the big emitters, like the United States, like the European countries, like China, like Russia, that they also should be doing more to reduce their greenhouse emissions. So, I think it strengthens our hand in the international negotiations where climate change is concerned,” Fletcher tells IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at Kentonxtchance@gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @KentonXChance

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/falling-oil-prices-wont-derail-st-lucias-push-for-clean-energy/feed/ 0
Big Trouble in the Air in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/big-trouble-in-the-air-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=big-trouble-in-the-air-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/big-trouble-in-the-air-in-india/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 01:46:00 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139327 Vehicle ownership in India is projected to hit 400 million by 2040 from the current 170 million, which could prompt a five-fold increase in poisonous gases emitted by cars and trucks. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Vehicle ownership in India is projected to hit 400 million by 2040 from the current 170 million, which could prompt a five-fold increase in poisonous gases emitted by cars and trucks. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

Like many others of her age, 15-year-old Aastha Sharma, a Class 10 student at a private school in India’s capital, New Delhi, loves being outdoors, going for walks with her friends and enjoying an occasional ice-cream. But the young girl can’t indulge in any of these activities.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a lung disorder likely caused by Delhi’s heavily polluted air, has severely cramped the girl’s lifestyle, confining her mostly to her home.

An estimated 1.5 million people die annually in India due to indoor and outdoor air pollution.
For the past three years, Sharma’s life has been a whirligig of doctors’ prescriptions, missed social outings and a restricted diet that does not include most of her favourite foods. Along with books and a lunchbox, she also packs a nebulizer in her satchel daily to ward off the wheezing attacks that she has now come to dread.

“I’m sick of the endless do’s and don’ts I have to follow. When will I be able to lead a free life?” the teen wonders.

Many other youngsters in Delhi are asking the very same question as they grapple with the effects of rampant air pollution in this city of 18 million, believed to be world’s most polluted.

Particulate matter: a deadly matter

Greenpeace India, an environmental NGO, recently released findings of its air quality monitoring survey highlighting how poor the air was inside five prominent schools in the capital.

“Air pollution levels inside Delhi’s schools are alarmingly high and children are consistently breathing bad air. The new government needs to acknowledge the severity of air pollution in the city,” said Aishwarya Madineni, a campaigner with Greenpeace.

Another study conducted in 2014, which monitored 11,628 school-going children from 36 schools in Delhi in different seasons, found that every third child in the city had reduced lung function because of particulate pollution.

In a report submitted last year to the Supreme Court, the country’s Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority urged the apex court to order all schools in Delhi to shut down on days when air pollution levels posed a threat to public health.

Studies by the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) point out that when children are exposed to particulate matter – a complex mixture of acids (nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles – of 2.5 micrometers, it can trigger a raft of deadly respiratory illnesses.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified particulate matter pollution as carcinogenic to humans in 2013 and designated it as a “leading environmental cause of cancer deaths.”

“Apart from mucous membranes and nasal cavities, air pollution also severely irritates eyes and skin. Exposure to high levels of pollution can lead to serious health [issues] in the long run,” warns Dr. Abha Sood, a senior consultant oncologist at the New Delhi-based Max Hospital.

Mothers’ exposure to pollution for prolonged periods, adds the specialist, can lead to malformation of organs in newborns.

“[Particulate Matter] of less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM 10) is particularly insidious as it gets lodged deep inside the lungs and penetrates the bloodstream, heightening a person’s vulnerability to cancer and heart disease,” she explains.

A national crisis

India’s high levels of air pollution, ranked by the WHO as being among the worst in the world, are adversely impacting the life spans of its citizens, reducing most Indian lives by over three years, says a study by economists from the Universities of Chicago, Harvard and Yale.

Over half of India’s population – roughly 660 million people – live in areas where fine particulate matter pollution is above India’s standards for what is considered safe, said the study.

If India reverses this trend to meet its air standards, this demographic would gain about 3.2 years in their expected life spans, according to the study. In other words, cleaner air would save 2.1 billion life-years, it said.

Furthermore, India has the distinction of recording the world’s highest death rate from chronic respiratory diseases, and more deaths from asthma than any other nation, according to the WHO. The health organisation also claims that India is home to 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities.

An estimated 1.5 million people die annually in India due to indoor and outdoor air pollution, which also contributes to both chronic and acute heart disease, the leading cause of death in the country.

In a report submitted to the Supreme Court in December 2014, the country’s Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority called for increasing the tax on diesel cars, and banning all private vehicles on high air pollution days.

The report also advised that cars older than 15 years be taken off the city’s roads and air purifiers installed at crowded markets; it also called for a crackdown on the burning of trash.

However, the implementation of these measures has been patchy at best, say health activists. Worse, vehicle ownership in India is projected to hit 400 million by 2040 from the current 170 million, says a joint study by the Energy and Resources Institute at the University of California, San Diego, and the California Air Resources Board.

This could result in a health crisis – a three-fold increase in PM 2.5 levels and a five-fold increase in poisonous, highly reactive gases emitted by cars and trucks, the study predicted.

The economic cost of pollution is already proving to be a heavy burden for Asia’s third largest economy. A 2013 World Bank Report highlighted how pollution and other environmental challenges costs India 80 billion dollars a year, nearly six percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

About 23 percent of child mortality and 2.5 percent of all adult deaths in the country can be attributed to environmental degradation, the study further stated.

Coal-based power: adding fuel to the fire

Air pollution is now the fifth-leading cause of death in India. Between 2000 and 2010, the annual number of premature deaths linked to air pollution across India shot up six-fold to 620,000, according to the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), an advocacy group in New Delhi.

Another CSE study out this week has sounded alarm bells over air pollution, particularly from coal-based power plants. The two-year comprehensive environmental audit, conducted on 47 thermal power plants owned by the Centre, state governments and private players, has found that Indian thermal power plants were among the most inefficient in the world, on an average operating at 60 to 70 percent of their installed capacity.

The coal-based power plants were also found to have carbon dioxide emissions that were 14 percent higher than similar plants in China. Also, 76 percent of the plants were unable to meet the targets for ulitisation of ‘fly ash‘, imposed by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).

With the government showing little interest in formulating a cohesive action plan – involving all stakeholders – for tackling the many-headed hydra of air pollution, it looks like Sharma and her nebulizer will be inseparable for a while.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/big-trouble-in-the-air-in-india/feed/ 0
Syria’s “Barrel Bombs” Cause Human Devastation, Says Rights Grouphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/syrias-barrel-bombs-cause-human-devastation-says-rights-group/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrias-barrel-bombs-cause-human-devastation-says-rights-group http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/syrias-barrel-bombs-cause-human-devastation-says-rights-group/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 22:18:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139328 A girl cries near a damaged car at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by government forces in Aleppo's Dahret Awwad neighbourhood Jan. 29, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

A girl cries near a damaged car at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by government forces in Aleppo's Dahret Awwad neighbourhood Jan. 29, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 2015 (IPS)

The warring parties in the brutal four-year-old military conflict in Syria, which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 civilians and triggered “the greatest refugee crisis in modern times,” continue to break every single pledge held out to the United Nations.

Despite Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s plea for a political rather than military solution to the country’s ongoing civil war, both the Syrian government and the multiple rebel forces continue to escalate the conflict with aerial attacks and artillery shelling, hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid.“Amid talk of a possible temporary cessation of strikes on Aleppo, the question is whether Russia and China will finally allow the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions to stop barrel bombs.” -- Nadim Houry

But the worst of it, says Human Rights Watch (HRW) in report released Tuesday, is the use of locally improvised deadly “barrel bombs.”

By examining satellite imagery, HRW said, it has identified at least 450 distinct major damage sites in 10 towns and villages held by rebel groups in Daraa and over 1,000 in Aleppo between February last year and January this year.

“These impact sites have damage signatures strongly consistent with the detonation of large, air-dropped munitions, including improvised barrel and conventional bombs dropped by helicopters. Damages that possibly result from the use of rockets, missiles, or fuel-air bombs are also likely in a number of instances,” the group said.

According to HRW, barrel bombs are unguided high explosive weapons that are cheaply made, locally produced, and typically constructed from large oil drums, gas cylinders, and water tanks, filled with high explosives and scrap metal to enhance fragmentation, and then dropped from helicopters usually flying at high altitude.

Asked if the explosives in the barrel bombs originate either from Russia or China, two strong political and military allies of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the United Nations Director of HRW Philippe Bolopion told IPS: “We are not in a position to say where the high explosive is coming from but barrel bombs are pretty primitive and made from commonly found materials.”

With the 15-member Security Council deadlocked over Syria, there is little or no hope that Russia and China, two members with veto powers, will ever relent or penalise the Assad regime despite several resolutions.

“We certainly hope they will stand by their own resolution and impose consequences on the regime for thumbing its nose at the Security Council,” Bolopion said.

Asked if protests by HRW and other human rights organisations will be an exercise in futility, he said: “Sadly, when thousands of civilians are being slaughtered, we have to continue to place the Security Council, and Russia and China in particular, in front of their responsibilities, no matter how futile it may sound.”

Nadim Houry, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, said: “For a year, the Security Council has done nothing to stop Bashar al-Assad’s murderous air bombing campaign on rebel-held areas, which has terrorized, killed, and displaced civilians.

“Amid talk of a possible temporary cessation of strikes on Aleppo, the question is whether Russia and China will finally allow the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions to stop barrel bombs,” Houry said.

The Security Council is expected to meet Thursday for its next round of reporting on resolution 2139 of Feb. 22, 2014, which demanded that all parties to the conflict in Syria end the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs and other weapons in populated areas.

In a statement released Tuesday, HRW said non-state armed groups have also conducted indiscriminate attacks, including with car bombs and explosive weapons in government held areas.

The Security Council should impose an arms embargo on the government as well as rebel groups implicated in widespread or systematic indiscriminate attacks, HRW said.

The government attacks have led to the death and injury of thousands of civilians in rebel-held territory, according to HRW researchers.

The Violations Documentation Center (VDC), a local monitoring group, has documented 609 civilian deaths, including 203 children and 117 women, in Daraa from aerial attacks between Feb. 22, 2014, and Feb. 19, 2015.

During the same period they have documented 2,576 civilian deaths in Aleppo governorate from aerial attacks, including 636 children and 317 women.

While deaths from aerial attacks are not exclusively from barrel bombs, residents from rebel-held territory in Daraa and Aleppo told HRW that barrel bombs account for a majority of air strikes.

Last week, Ban appealed to all parties to de-escalate the conflict in order to provide a reprieve for the long-suffering civilians of Syria. An immediate de-escalation is a much needed step towards a political solution to the conflict, he added

U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura told the Security Council last week that the Syrian government has committed to suspend all aerial attacks and artillery shelling over the entire city of Aleppo for a period of six weeks.

This is in order to allow the United Nations to implement a pilot project of unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid starting with one district in Aleppo and building incrementally to others.

Ban said Security Council resolution 2139 called for an end to the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas in Syria, including shelling and aerial bombardment, and expects the Syrian government to follow through on its commitment.

The secretary-general also appealed to all armed opposition groups in Aleppo to suspend their shelling of the city.

He pointed out that the last four years of war have led to the deaths of over 200,000 civilians, the greatest refugee crisis of modern times and created an environment in which extremist groups and terrorist organisations such as ISIL/Daesh flourish.

The secretary-general recalled Security Council resolutions 2170 and 2178 and stressed that there is no military solution to this conflict.

“This is a political conflict. Ending the killing, reversing the increasing fragmentation of Syria requires a political process, based on the full implementation of the Geneva Communique of 2012, that addresses the deep roots of the conflict and meets the aspirations of all Syrians,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/syrias-barrel-bombs-cause-human-devastation-says-rights-group/feed/ 0
Tackling Corruption at its Root in Papua New Guineahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/tackling-corruption-at-its-root-in-papua-new-guinea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tackling-corruption-at-its-root-in-papua-new-guinea http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/tackling-corruption-at-its-root-in-papua-new-guinea/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 15:50:04 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139320 Transparency International (PNG) organises an annual Walk Against Corruption in Papua New Guinea's capital, Port Moresby. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Transparency International (PNG) organises an annual Walk Against Corruption in Papua New Guinea's capital, Port Moresby. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Feb 24 2015 (IPS)

Corruption, the single largest obstacle to socioeconomic development worldwide, has had a grave impact on the southwest Pacific Island nation of Papua New Guinea. While mineral resource wealth drove high gross domestic product (GDP) growth of eight percent in 2012, the country is today ranked 157th out of 187 countries in terms of human development.

Key anti-corruption fighters in the country say that money laundering must be tackled to increase deterrence and ensure that stolen public funds earmarked for vital hospitals and schools do not pay for luxury assets abroad.

A patronage system of governance and a culture of secrecy have led to the misappropriation of an estimated half of Papua New Guinea's development budget of 7.6 billion kina (about 2.8 billion dollars) between 2009 and 2011 -- Investigation Task-Force Sweep (ITFS)
“Our police officers, school teachers and health workers live and work in very squalid circumstances,” Lawrence Stephens, chairman of Transparency International (PNG), in the capital, Port Moresby, told IPS.

“So when we see the government awarding a contract for pharmaceutical and medical supplies to a company not qualified to tender, a company quoting a price 40 percent higher than the closest qualified tender and costing the equivalent of 160 new homes for nurses each year of the three-year contract, we blame corrupt individuals for destroying development.”

Papua New Guinea has been given a corruption score of 25/100, where 100 indicates clean governance, in comparison to the world average of 43/100, by Transparency International.

The country’s dedicated anti-corruption team, Investigation Task-Force Sweep (ITFS), launched by the government in 2011, has described the country as a ‘mobocracy’, where a patronage system of governance and a culture of secrecy have led to the misappropriation of an estimated half of the development budget of 7.6 billion kina (about 2.8 billion dollars) from 2009 to 2011.

Large-scale theft of public funds, including foreign aid, is alleged to have occurred across government departments responsible for national planning, health, petroleum and energy, finance and justice.

A 2006 Public Accounts Committee Inquiry into the Lands Department alone concluded that it had conducted itself illegally over many years and given priority to the interests of private enterprise and speculators over the interests and lawful rights of the State. The department’s shortfall in revenue was 5.9 million kina (2.2 million dollars) in 2001 and 4.9 million kina (1.8 million dollars) in 2003.

State capture, where powerful private sector interests exert undue influence over state leaders, officials and procurement processes, has had devastating repercussions for national development. Approval of ‘white elephant projects’ has channelled windfalls to criminal syndicates, Sam Koim, the ITFS Chairman, reported in the Griffith Law Journal.

Koim told IPS that, of 302 cases of corruption entailing revenue of up to 5.3 billion kina (1.9 billion dollars) under investigation, 91 had been prosecuted. Twenty-eight senior public servants have been suspended or removed from office, while two Members of Parliament and two senior public servants have been convicted and jailed.

To date, 8.3 million kina (3.1 million dollars) in proceeds of crime have been recovered, but including all outstanding cases this figure could potentially rise to 500 million kina (187 million dollars). Investigation into corporate tax evasion has led to the restitution of 22.6 million kina (8.4 million dollars).

Globally it is estimated that corruption drains the developing world of up to one trillion dollars every year and what is lost is in the magnitude of 10 times the official development assistance budget, claims the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

This has impacted increasing inequality in countries such as PNG, where 40 percent of the population of seven million live below the poverty line, maternal mortality is 711 per 100,000 live births, literacy is just 63 percent and only 19 percent of people have access to sanitation.

It is a vicious cycle, as Koim also believes that the state becomes an alternative source of personal prosperity when there are few legitimate avenues available for people to economically improve their lives.

Banks crucial to fighting corruption

The majority of stolen funds have been transferred through banks to offshore investments. Australia receives about 200 million Australia dollars (155 million dollars) of illicit gains from the Melanesian island state every year, claims the Australian Federal Police.

Several PNG politicians have purchased luxury homes with a total estimated value of 11.5 million Australian dollars (8.9 million dollars) in the northern Australian city of Cairns.

“Without banks and financial institutions, it is impossible to commit economic crimes, such as fraud and money laundering,” states the Investigation Task-Force Sweep (ITFS).

In a report last year on the government’s payment of fraudulent legal fees, ITFS identified numerous control gaps, such as lack of written contracts, oversight of procurement and payment clearance processes and the failure of banks to prevent evidently suspicious transactions.

“The duty imposed on banks to avoid engaging in money laundering should not be limited to ticking the boxes or submitting periodic transaction reports, but also taking proactive steps including rejecting transactions and closing bank accounts,” the report recommended. Sixty-five percent of PNG’s financial sector assets are held by commercial banks, including foreign bank subsidiaries.

There are also gaps between national legislation and banking sector regulations. For instance, money laundering is a criminal offence under the Proceeds of Crime Act (2005), but there is no obligation on banks to check inexplicably large or unorthodox patterns of transactions.

Action is also required by recipient nations, experts say. Professor Jason Sharman of the Centre for Governance and Public Policy at Queensland’s Griffith University told IPS that there was a need for improved government “supervisory responsibility to make sure that Australian banks are not accepting suspect funds from PNG Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs).”

“One of the main weaknesses is in the Australian real estate sector with very little scrutiny of foreign money coming in, especially when, as is often the case, this money is routed via lawyers’ or real estate agents’ trust accounts,” he added.

But progress by the anti-corruption team has accelerated broader action. “A number of PNG-based banks have closed accounts of high risk customers and refused suspicious transactions”, while some international corresponding banks “have refused transactions they view to have originated from illicit sources,” ITFS reports.

Reducing and preventing corruption is a long-term battle, which includes addressing the cultural divide between an introduced western government system and centuries of traditional governance based on a leader’s ability to acquire and distribute resources to his own kin. But if corruption is driven largely by the lure of a quick route to untold personal wealth, then a critical measure now is eliminating safe havens for the plunder.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/tackling-corruption-at-its-root-in-papua-new-guinea/feed/ 0
Can Nepal’s TRC Finally Bring Closure to its War Survivors?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/can-nepals-trc-finally-bring-closure-to-its-war-survivors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-nepals-trc-finally-bring-closure-to-its-war-survivors http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/can-nepals-trc-finally-bring-closure-to-its-war-survivors/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 02:36:27 +0000 Renu Kshetry http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139307 Suman Adhikari, son of Muktinath Adhikari, a school principal who was killed by Maoist rebels during Nepal’s People’s War, says his family is still waiting for justice to be served. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

Suman Adhikari, son of Muktinath Adhikari, a school principal who was killed by Maoist rebels during Nepal’s People’s War, says his family is still waiting for justice to be served. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

By Renu Kshetry
KATHMANDU, Feb 24 2015 (IPS)

The picture of Muktinath Adhikari, principal of Pandini Sanskrit Secondary School in the Lamjung district of west Nepal who was killed during the country’s decade-long civil conflict, became an iconic portrayal of the brutality of the bloody ‘People’s War’.

The then Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which waged a 10-year-long armed struggle, killed Adhikari in 2002 after he refused to ‘donate’ 25 percent of his salary to the cause and attend functions organised by the rebels.

"The consultation, ownership, and participation of conflict victims are a must for the successful completion of the transition to justice." -- Suman Adhikari, son of Muktinath Adhikari, a school principal who was killed by Maoist rebels during Nepal’s People’s War
“Our life changed drastically for the worse after my father was killed; the memory of him being killed with his hands tied behind his back still haunts us,” recalls Suman Adhikari, the slain teacher’s son. “We want justice to move on with our life.”

Eight years after the war ended, Nepal’s newly formed Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission to Investigate Enforced Disappearances (CIED) will now take up the case of the Adhikari family, and thousands of others like them who are still waiting for closure.

Originally agreed upon during the signing of the 12-point understanding between the then CPN (M) and the Seven Party Alliance – which includes the current ruling Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) – and reaffirmed during the signing of the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), these commissions have been a long time coming.

According to records kept by the Informal Sector Services Centre (INSEC), a non-governmental organisation, 13,236 people were killed during the Maoist insurgency, while the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has recorded more than 1,350 cases of disappearances that are yet to be accounted for.

Both the TRC and CIED have been given the mandate to probe serious violations of human rights during the armed conflict, investigate the status of those missing and create an atmosphere for reconciliation in Nepali society.

Many hope that a robust reconciliation process will also give the country an economic boost, including improving the lives of the 25 percent of its 27-million strong population that lives below the poverty line.

However, rights activists have criticised the TRC Act for falling short of international standards, while several prominent groups fear that unaddressed criticisms could derail the process altogether.

Amnesty for war crimes?

International rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists have joined local activists in voicing grave concern that the TRC Act fails to uphold Nepal’s commitments under international law – namely, the possibility of granting amnesty for war crimes.

Statements released by the watchdog groups echo fears voiced by locals that flaws in the Act could leave thousands out of the reconciliation process.

Others are disgruntled about the lack of consultation prior to appointing members of the TRC.

Mohana Ansari, spokesperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), is unhappy that the TRC recommendation committee did not pay heed to the names suggested by the NHRC. “The culture of impunity should not be encouraged at any cost,” she stressed.

Others fear that a flawed TRC Act could lead to “forced reconciliation”, with survivors compelled to go along with a process that does not represent their best interests.

Surya Kiran Gurung, the newly appointed Chairperson of the TRC, is also sceptical about the Commission’s mandate.

“There is a need for amendments to the TRC Act because it is not clear what will happen to those cases that have been filed and investigated in court,” Gurung told IPS. “Parallel jurisdiction can create problems later on.”

However, he was confident that the TRC would recommend amendments to its Act in order to ensure consensus and consent of victims in the reconciliation process. He was similarly aware of the need to bridge the river of mistrust between survivors of the conflict and the commission.

“We will to reach out to them even if they are not willing to come forward,” he said.

Despite Gurung’s optimism, 53-year-old Kalyan Budhathoki of the Ramechap district in central Nepal is not as hopeful.

He, along with his 35-member extended family, fled their village in 2000 when rebels threatened to kill them and seized property after he refused to pay a “donation” of one million Nepali rupees.

“Why are these culprits roaming freely and why has no action been taken against those selling our cattle and seizing our property?” asked Budhathoki, a supporter of the ruling Nepali Congress (NC) who now works as a daily wage labourer in Kathmandu. “We are yet to feel the presence of law and order in the country.”

Thousands of futures at stake

The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction formed a task force in 2006 to collect data on the dead, displaced, disabled, and those who suffered property damage during the war.

Available records indicate that of the 79,571 internally displaced persons (IDPs), only about 25,000 had received relief funds from the government and returned to their homes by October 2013.

According to the Relief and Rehabilitation Unit of the Ministry, a total of 14,201 families who lost their kin have received relief, while families of 1,528 missing people have availed themselves of government aid amounting to 100,000 rupees (about 1,000 dollars) each.

“Local leaders who are not conflict victims have been receiving compensation and relief packages by submitting fake documents and exercising political influence,” alleged Budhathoki. “In this situation, how could we believe that the TRC, with its members picked by the political parties, will not be biased?”

Rights activists too believe that political parties have reached an understanding on the controversial provision of granting blanket amnesty, even for those allegedly involved in serious rights violations.

Some politicians have offered the view that penalizing perpetrators will hinder the peace and reconciliation effort.

However, TRC Chairperson Gurung is confident that the Commission’s work will not be affected by political interference. “We will strictly abide by the TRC mandate of finding the truth and investigating the war-era issues,” he said.

He stressed that there would be public hearings that are expected to bring all manner of atrocities to light, after which the country can begin to move ahead with the reconciliation process.

Those like Suman Adhikari, however, believe the process will not go far without the active participation of those affected. “The consultation, ownership, and participation of conflict victims are a must for the successful completion of the transition to justice,” he told IPS.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/can-nepals-trc-finally-bring-closure-to-its-war-survivors/feed/ 0
Indigenous Food Systems Should Be on the Development Menuhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-food-systems-should-be-on-the-development-menu/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-food-systems-should-be-on-the-development-menu http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-food-systems-should-be-on-the-development-menu/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 11:08:39 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139295 Food security and a balanced diet for all must be combined with the knowledge of indigenous peoples’ food systems and livelihoods as a contribution to sustainable development. Credit: IFAD

Food security and a balanced diet for all must be combined with the knowledge of indigenous peoples’ food systems and livelihoods as a contribution to sustainable development. Credit: IFAD

By Valentina Gasbarri
ROME, Feb 23 2015 (IPS)

Overcoming hunger and malnutrition in the 21st century no longer means simply increasing the quantity of available food but also the quality.

Despite numerous achievements in the world’s food systems, approximately 805 million people suffer from chronic hunger and roughly two billion peoples suffer from one or more micronutrient deficiencies while, at the same time, over 2.8 billion people are obese.

Unfortunately, the debate over how to address this challenge has polarised, pitting agriculture and global commerce against local food systems and traditional ecological knowledge, land-based ways of life and a holistic, interdependent relationship between people and the Earth.“Arrogantly and insolently, humanity has cultivated the idea of development and progress based on the belief that the planet’s resources are infinite and that human domination of nature is limitless” – Carlo Petrini, founder of the International Slow Food Movement

Organised to reflect on this, among other issues, the second Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum, held at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) from Feb. 12-13 in Rome, discussed solutions that combine the need to ensure food security and a balanced diet for all with the knowledge of indigenous peoples’ food systems and livelihoods as a contribution to sustainable development.

According to IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze, “indigenous peoples’ lands are some of the most biologically and ecologically diverse places on earth … It is only now, in the 21st century, that the rest of the world is starting to value the biodiversity that is a core value of indigenous societies.” Occupying nearly 20 percent of the Earth’s land area, indigenous groups act as custodians of biodiversity.

Participants at the Forum debated the potential of indigenous livelihood systems and practices – thanks to an age-old tradition of inter-generational knowledge transmission – to contribute to and inspire new transformative approaches of sustainable development, synthesising culture and identity, firmly anchored in respect for individual and collective rights.

However, the Forum described how many indigenous communities and ecosystems are at risk due to the lack of recognition of their rights and fair treatment by governments and corporations, population growth, climate change, migration and conflict. According to participants, the on-going exclusion of indigenous people devalues not only the importance of their communities but also the traditional ecological and agricultural knowledge they possess.

“Arrogantly and insolently, humanity has cultivated the idea of development and progress based on the belief that the planet’s resources are infinite and that human domination of nature is limitless,” Carlo Petrini, founder of the International Slow Food Movement, said at a Forum side event focused on the interconnections among nutrition, food security and sustainable development.

“The march towards this idea of progress has left women, youth and elderly people and indigenous populations at the end of the line with no one left to give a voice to them,” he continued. “All the drama of modern reality is now revealing itself: the ‘glorious march’ of progress is now on the edge of a precipice, the present crisis the fruit of greed and ignorance.”

Largely addressing the so-called developed world, the Forum described how many of the good practices and traditional empirical wisdom of indigenous peoples deserve to be studied with care and attention. For example, boosting local economies and agriculture, along with respect for small communities, are ways of reconciling man with the earth and nature.

At the same time, many indigenous communities have certain foods – including corn, taro and wild rice – that are considered sacred and are cultivated through sustainable land and water practices.  This contrasts with the global production, distribution and consumption of food which pays little attention to loss of water and soil fertility, genetic plant and animal erosion and unprecedented food waste.

The Forum also heard how issues related to the paramount role of indigenous peoples’ food systems are central to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) projects managed by the Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment (CINE) at Montreal’s McGill University in Canada.

“Years of work have documented the traditional food systems of indigenous peoples and their dietary habits to understand matriarchy and the role of women in food security and community peace in Canada,” said Harriet V. Kuhnlein, Professor Emerita of Human Nutrition and founding Director of CINE.

Kuhnlein described one of CINE’s projects, the Kahnawake Schools Diabetes Prevention Project, a three-year community-based project focused on a primary prevention programme for non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in a Mohawk community near Montreal.

Among others, the project organised community-based activities promoting healthy lifestyles and demonstrated that “a native community-based diabetes prevention programme is feasible through participatory research that incorporates native culture and local expertise,” said Kuhnlein.

According to Forum participants, the reintroduction of local food products is essential for feeding the planet – “here we see real democracy in action,” said one speaker – and a major effort is needed to avoid practices that exacerbate the negative impacts of food production and consumption on climate, water and ecosystems.

There was also a call for the post-Millennium Development Goal (MDG) agenda to ensure a healthy environment as an internationally guaranteed human right, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will replace the MDGS at the end of 2015, encouraging governments to work towards agricultural policies that are compatible with environmental sustainability and trade rules that are consistent with food security.

It was agreed that none of this will be easy to implement and will require both a strong accountability framework and the will to enforce it, including through recognition of corporate responsibility in the private sector.

As the world prepares for the post-2015 scenario, the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum in Rome said that it was crucial to incorporate food security, environmental issues, poverty reduction and indigenous peoples’ rights into discussions around the new goals of sustainable development involving citizens, governments, academic institutions, private corporations and international organisations worldwide.

Edited by Phil Harris

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-food-systems-should-be-on-the-development-menu/feed/ 0
The Hidden Billions Behind Economic Inequality in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/the-hidden-billions-behind-economic-inequality-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-hidden-billions-behind-economic-inequality-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/the-hidden-billions-behind-economic-inequality-in-africa/#comments Sat, 21 Feb 2015 13:01:00 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139288 Street vendors in Africa reflect the income inequality that pervades the continent, much of it due to corruption. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Street vendors in Africa reflect the income inequality that pervades the continent, much of it due to corruption. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Feb 21 2015 (IPS)

Reports this year of illicit moneys from African countries stashed in a Swiss bank – indicating that corruption lies behind much of the income inequality that affects the continent – have grabbed international news headlines.

Secret bank accounts in the HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm unearthed this year by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) were said to hold over 100 billion dollars, some of which came from Africa, including some of the poorest nations on the continent.

When these funds leave the region, they deny the very nations that need them most.

For example, at least 57 clients of the Swiss HSBC bank associated with Uganda were reported to be worth at least 159 million dollars. The World Bank has estimated that Uganda loses more than 174.5 million dollars in corruption annually.“Income inequality begins with our political leaders and corrupt wealthy business people who, more often than not, illicitly own the resources of the [African] continent” – Claris Madhuku, Platform for Youth Development, Zimbabwe

It is not a crime for Africans to have a Swiss bank account. But questions are now being raised by local tax offices as to whether the proper taxes were paid on the stashed amounts.

In South Africa, the head of the Revenue Service, Vlok Symington, said his office was analysing the information. “Early indications are that some of these account holders may have utilised their HSBC accounts to evade local and/or international tax obligations,” Symington was reported as saying by the South Africa Sunday Times.

“Income inequality begins with our political leaders and corrupt wealthy business people who, more often than not, illicitly own the resources of the continent,” Claris Madhuku, director of the Platform for Youth Development, a democracy lobby group in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Diamonds, for example, which have made many traders wealthy, are often mined by the poorest of the poor, treated almost as slaves in war-torn African countries, despite the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which was established in 2003 to prevent the flow of these diamonds.

“It’s a case of greed and corruption,” thundered Zimbabwean independent political analyst, Ernst Mudzengi. “Africa has parasitic politicians who are primarily concerned with self-centred political power and economic gain as ordinary Africans remain at the periphery in poverty,” Mudzengi told IPS.

Development experts here attribute income inequalities to the continent’s lax anti-corruptions laws.

“African countries do not have sound anti-corruption laws and politicians and the rich amass too much power exceeding even the powers of the police here, leaving them with the liberty to accumulate wealth overnight by whatever means without being questioned,” Nadege Kabuga, an independent development expert in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, told IPS

“It’s shocking how huge banks such as HSBC have created a system for enormously profiteering at the expense of impoverished ordinary people, worse by assisting numerous millionaires from Africa in particular to evade tax payment, disadvantaging the already poor,” Zenzele Manzini, an independent economist based in Mbabane, the capital of Swaziland, told IPS .

“Very often, government directors, ministers and their secretaries are the ones globetrotting on government businesses, awarding themselves huge allowances and the lower government workers remain stuck at the periphery with no extra benefits besides the meagre salaries they get monthly,” a top Zimbabwean government official in the Ministry of Labour, told IPS on the condition of anonymity, afraid of victimisation.

Writing for Financial Transparency Coalition, a global alliance of civil society organisations and governments working to address inequalities in the financial system, Koen Roovers, the coalition’s European Union (EU) Lead Advocate, asked the deeper question: “How do we prevent this in the first place?”

To catch fraud sooner rather than later, capacity in developing countries must be increased, Roovers said. “The scale of the challenge is significant: the UK-based charity Christian Aid has estimated that sub-Saharan Africa would need around 650,000 more tax officials to reach the world average.”

Rich states have promised help to poor countries to build the capacity they need, but these commitments have yet to be honoured.

Researchers at the U.S.-based Global Financial Integrity, a non-profit organisation working to curtail illicit financial flows, said developing nations have lost almost one trillion dollars through illicit channels.

Without clearly defined measures to curb income inequalities, economists say the African continent may be headed for the worst levels of poverty set to hit even harder at the already poor.

“Africa may keep facing perpetual poverty amid rising income inequalities because governments here have no institutions and expertise to identify and halt money laundering by corrupt wealthy individuals and politicians evading tax,” Zimbabwean independent economist, Kingston Nyakurukwa, told IPS.

According to Roovers, “criminals and their enablers are creative, so the only way to prevent future scandals is to shed light on what criminals and tax dodgers are trying to hide. This is why online registers of assets for all legal persons and arrangements are necessary and should be publicly available.

“If we turn a blind eye to these loopholes,” he added, “economic development for all will continue to be undermined by illicit actors looking to exploit them.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/the-hidden-billions-behind-economic-inequality-in-africa/feed/ 0
Biogas Eases Women’s Household Burden in Rural Cubahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/biogas-eases-womens-household-burden-in-rural-cuba/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biogas-eases-womens-household-burden-in-rural-cuba http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/biogas-eases-womens-household-burden-in-rural-cuba/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 17:34:02 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139281 Rural doctor Arianna Toledo heats water on her biogas stove at her home in the town of Cuatro Esquinas in the western Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Rodríguez Pagés/Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action

Rural doctor Arianna Toledo heats water on her biogas stove at her home in the town of Cuatro Esquinas in the western Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Rodríguez Pagés/Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action

By Ivet González
LOS ARABOS, Cuba, Feb 20 2015 (IPS)

On the blue flame of her biogas stove, it takes half as long for rural doctor Arianna Toledo to heat bath water and cook dinner as it did four years ago, when she still used electric power or firewood.

The installation of a biodigester, which uses pig manure to produce biogas for use in cooking food, cut the expenses and the time spent on food preparation for Toledo’s five-member family, who live in the town of Cuatro Esquinas, Los Arabos municipality in the western Cuban province of Matanzas.

“The main savings is in time, because the gas stove cooks faster,” Toledo told Tierramérica. She and the rest of the women in the family shoulder the burden of the household tasks, as in the great majority of Cuban homes.

Another 20 small biogas plants operate in homes in this town located 150 km from Havana, and over 300 more in the entire province of Matanzas, installed with support from a project run by the Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue (CCRD-C), based in Cárdenas, a city in the same province.“In general, women manage the household budget, which becomes a burden. That’s why they are thankful for the biodigesters, and many of them have been motivated to raise pigs and get involved in farming as a result.” -- Rita María García

The ecumenical institution seeks to improve living conditions in rural areas by fomenting ecological practices, which mitigate environmental damage, soil degradation and poor use of water.

Another key aim of the biodigester project is also to ease the work burden and household expenses of rural women.

“Our monthly power bill has been reduced, and we spend less on cooking gas cylinders, while at the same time we’re protecting the environment by using a renewable natural resource,” Toledo said.

In Cuba, 69 percent of families depend on electricity for cooking.

Toledo’s husband, Carlos Alberto Tamayo, explained to Tierramérica that using the biodigester, the four pigs they raise for family consumption guarantee the fuel needed for their home.

“And the organic material left over is used as natural fertiliser for our garden, where we grow fruit and vegetables,” said Tamayo, an Episcopal pastor in Cuatro Esquinas, which has a population of just over 2,300.

He said the biodigester prevents bad smells and the spread of disease vectors, while the gas is safer because it is non-toxic and there is a lower risk of accidents or explosions.

With the support of international development funds from several countries, for 15 years the CCRD-C has been promoting household use of these systems, reforestation and renewable energies, which are a priority for this Caribbean island nation, where only 4.3 percent of the energy consumed comes from clean sources.

The biodigesters, which are homemade in this case, will mushroom throughout Cuba over the next five years.

The organic fertiliser produced by this biodigester effluent tank is used on a family garden in Los Arabos in the Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Rodríguez Pagés/Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action

The organic fertiliser produced by this biodigester effluent tank is used on a family garden in Los Arabos in the Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Courtesy of Randy Rodríguez Pagés/Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action

The Swine Research Institute’s Biogas Promotion and Development Centre is designing a national plan to promote the use of biodigesters in state companies and agricultural cooperatives.

In 2014, the Centre reported that there were 1,000 biodigesters in these two sectors, which benefited 4,000 people, in the case of the companies, and 8,000 people, in the case of the farming cooperatives.

The plan projects the construction of some 1,000 biodigesters a year by 2020, through nine projects implemented by the Agriculture Ministry and the non-governmental National Association of Small Farmers, which will receive financing from the United Nations Small Grants Programme.

According to Rita María García, director of the CCRD-C, monitoring of the project has shown that replacing the use of firewood, kerosene and petroleum-based products with biogas makes household work more humane.

Women gain in safety and time – important in a country where unpaid domestic work absorbs 71 percent of the working hours of women, according to the only Time Use Survey published until now, carried out in 2002 by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI).

The study found that for every 100 hours of work by men, women worked 120, many of them multitasking – cooking, cleaning, washing and caring for children.

“In general, women manage the household budget, which becomes a burden,” said García. “That’s why they are thankful for the biodigesters, and many of them have been motivated to raise pigs and get involved in farming as a result.”

The methodology followed by the CCRD-C projects first involves training for the beneficiaries in construction and maintenance of the biodigesters, and in ecological farming techniques using organic fertiliser, said Juan Carlos Rodríguez, the organisation’s general coordinator.

The CCRD-C also promotes reforestation by small farmers and the use of windmills, to reduce the use of electricity in a country that imports 53 percent of the fuel it consumes.

An additional benefit of the biodigesters is that they offer an alternative for the disposal of pig manure, which contaminates the environment.

In 2013 there were 16.7 million pigs in Cuba, 65 percent of which were in private hands in this highly-centralised, socialist economy.

Because pork is the most widely consumed meat in Cuba, and many private farmers and families raise pigs, the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment are fomenting the installation of biodigesters, to help boost production.

The authorities require those who raise pigs to guarantee adequate disposal of their waste.

Biogas is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide produced by the bacterial decomposition of organic wastes. It can be used for cooking food, lighting, refrigeration and power generation.

Biodigesters help reduce soil and groundwater pollution, and curb the cutting of trees for firewood.

Cuba introduced their use in the 1980s, with U.N. support. But they began to take off a decade later, thanks to the National Biogas Movement.

Studies reported by the local press say the annual national potential for biogas production is over 400 million cubic metres, which would generate 700 gigawatt-hours per year.

That would reduce the release of carbon dioxide by more than three million tons, and would reduce oil imports by 190,000 tons a year.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

 

 

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/biogas-eases-womens-household-burden-in-rural-cuba/feed/ 0
Threats, Deaths, Impunity – No Hope for Free Press in Pakistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/threats-deaths-impunity-no-hope-for-free-press-in-pakistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=threats-deaths-impunity-no-hope-for-free-press-in-pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/threats-deaths-impunity-no-hope-for-free-press-in-pakistan/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 14:47:31 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139278 Journalists in Pakistan protest against the killing of their colleagues. Credit: Rahat Dar/IPS

Journalists in Pakistan protest against the killing of their colleagues. Credit: Rahat Dar/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb 20 2015 (IPS)

It is no surprise that most Pakistani journalists work under tremendous stress; caught between crime lords in its biggest cities, militant groups across its tribal belt and rival political parties throughout the country, censorship, intimidation and death seem almost to come with the territory.

But while many have become accustomed to working with a degree of fear and uncertainty, none could have been prepared for the number of tragedies that unfolded in 2014, the worst year ever for the media in Pakistan.

All told, last year saw the deaths of 14 journalists, media assistants and bloggers, while dozens more were injured, kidnapped or intimidated.

Reports by rights groups here point to a culture of impunity that is rendering impossible the notion of a free press, which activists and experts say is crucial to development and peace in a country mired in poverty and conflict.

Deaths, attacks, violence

“Pakistan’s media community is effectively under siege. Journalists, in particular those covering national security issues or human rights, are targeted from all sides in a disturbing pattern of abuses carried out to silence their reporting." -- David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s deputy Asia-Pacific director
A report released last month by the Pakistan-based Freedom Network (FN) documents numerous assassinations and attacks including the Jan. 1 shooting of Shan Dahar, a reporter with Abb Takk Television in Larkana, a city in the southern Sindh Province.

The local media initially reported that stray bullets fired during New Year’s Day celebrations hit Dahar, but subsequent investigations suggest that the killing was planned.

At the time of his death, the reporter had been working on a story about Pakistan’s sprawling black market for unregulated drugs; some believe that those with vested interests in the industry had a hand in his death.

Other documented deaths include the Jan. 17 killing of Waqas Aziz Khan, Ashraf Arain and Muhammad Khalid in a suburb of Karachi when gunmen opened fire on a media van used for live transmissions by Express TV.

While none of those killed were journalists – one was a security guard, one a driver and the other a technician for Express TV – activists here say their deaths represent the deadly climate for anyone involved, however remotely, with the press.

The FN report tracks patterns and challenges ahead for the industry in Pakistan, including trends such as the invocation of laws on blasphemy and treason to intimidate media houses, and the use of crippling fines and blanket bans on coverage that have forced many outlets to practice self-censorship in an effort to stay afloat.

In what the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) called a “chilling” example of these laws, last November one of the country’s Anti-Terrorism Courts sentenced four citizens to 26 years each in prison, plus a 12,800-dollar fine apiece, for airing a “contentious” television programme, supposedly in violation of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

Climate of impunity

Other incidents that have media workers here on edge include the April 2014 assault on Hamid Mir, a senior reporter for Geo TV, who was fired at by gunmen on motorcycles while on his way from the airport to his office in Karachi.

Though he survived the attack, and his since undergone a successful operation, his assailants are still at large, and the threat to his life is still very much alive.

Mazhar Abbas, a former president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, tells IPS that the government’s inability to ensure freedom of expression has put reporters in an extremely difficult situation.

“The problem is that nobody knows who is killing the journalists,” he says. A complete dearth of official information on the perpetrators, combined with a lack of proper investigations, means that far too many journalists continue to operate within a climate of uncertainty and impunity, experts say.

In the northern Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), journalists suffer constant threats and attacks from the Taliban and other militant groups that have operated on the border of Afghanistan since fleeing the U.S. invasion of their country in 2001.

Since the War on Terror began, 12 journalists in FATA have lost their lives, while scores of others have fled to Peshawar, capital of the neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

For others, being out of reach of terrorist groups does not necessarily guarantee security. According to Amnesty International, hundreds of journalists in Pakistan experience threats, harassment and violence, sometimes even at the hands of the intelligence services.

The rights group’s recent report, ‘A Bullet has Been Chosen for You’, presents 34 cases in which journalists have been killed in retaliation for their work since 2008; only one of the perpetrators has been booked for the crime. The report blasts the authorities for failing to stem the bloody wave of violence against media workers, which activists say constitutes a grave violation of human rights.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) estimates that 56 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1992. This figure, however, includes only those cases in which there was a clear motive for the death; activists here believe the true number of murders could be much higher.

Even those who aren’t killed exist in a kind of grey space, where they constantly fear reprisals for investigations or exposures that implicate any number of political actors.

“Pakistan’s media community is effectively under siege,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s deputy Asia-Pacific director, when the report was released last year. “Journalists, in particular those covering national security issues or human rights, are targeted from all sides in a disturbing pattern of abuses carried out to silence their reporting.

“The constant threat puts journalists in an impossible position, where virtually any sensitive story leaves them at risk of violence from one side or another,” he added.

In a country that is ranked 126th on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), just a few places ahead of nations like Myanmar, Afghanistan and North Korea, experts say that a free press is essential to educating the public and exposing fraud, theft and rights violations on a massive scale.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/threats-deaths-impunity-no-hope-for-free-press-in-pakistan/feed/ 0
Negev Bedouin Resist Israeli Demolitions “To Show We Exist”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/negev-bedouin-resist-israeli-demolitions-to-show-we-exist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=negev-bedouin-resist-israeli-demolitions-to-show-we-exist http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/negev-bedouin-resist-israeli-demolitions-to-show-we-exist/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 09:07:18 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139270 Mariam Abu Madegham Al Turi sits with her niece in her family's tent in Al Araqib village in the Negev desert. The tent was built following the latest demolition of the village by Israeli government authorities on Jan. 14, 2015. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Mariam Abu Madegham Al Turi sits with her niece in her family's tent in Al Araqib village in the Negev desert. The tent was built following the latest demolition of the village by Israeli government authorities on Jan. 14, 2015. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
AL ARAQIB, Negev Desert, Israel, Feb 20 2015 (IPS)

Lehavim Junction in the northern Negev in Israel has been the backdrop to protests against home demolitions in Bedouin localities for the past four and half years.

Every Sunday, inhabitants of the Bedouin village of Al Araqib and their supporters stand behind a large banner reading ‘Stop Demolishing Al Araqib’ in English, Arabic and Hebrew. To the rhythm of clapping hands, the younger ones shout slogans into the PA system, ‘Jews and Arabs can live together’, ‘Stop demolishing our homes’.

Last month, the ‘unrecognised’ village of Al Araqib was demolished for the eightieth time in four and half years. Despite the absence of a ruling adjudicating ownership of the lands of Al Araqib, the state is planting a forest on the Al-Turi Arab Bedouin tribe’s ancestral lands.“Planting a forest is not in my view a reasonable excuse to demolish a village. And neither is making room for a Jewish settlement. These are racist and discriminatory excuses” – Michal Rotem, Arab-Jewish NGO Negev Coexistence Forum (NCF)

“The newspapers here don’t write about Al Araqib,” Mariam Abu Madegham Al Turi, a young inhabitant of Al Araqib told IPS. “These weekly protests are a way to show that we exist. It is part of our sumoud (steadfastness), our resistance.”

Once in a while, a sympathetic driver passing the junction honks the horn in support, a sign of the niche interest that the situation of the Bedouin in the Negev still arouses in the wider Israeli public.

And yet according to a recent report titled ‘The House Demolition Policy in the Negev-Naqab’, published by the Arab-Jewish Negev Coexistence Forum (NCF) non-governmental organisation, the situation in Al Araqib is far from unique.

NCF advocates for civil equality in the Negev-Naqab and is the only NGO methodically documenting house demolitions affecting Bedouins. They counted 859 in the twelve-month period between July 2013 and June 2014

The level, it confirms, has remained virtually unchanged in the past four years and the high numbers “attest to the incompetence of the state in offering durable solutions” to the crisis affecting the region.

Since the Prawer Plan bill ‘to regulate Bedouin settlement’ was frozen at the end of 2013 following mass outcry from the Bedouin community, NCF claims that “in the absence of a legislated plan”, the government is using home demolitions as a policy to limit Bedouin land rights and still implement its vision of development for the Negev.

Naif Agele stands with his children and nephews by the ruins of his brother's house in an ‘unrecognised’ section of the township of Kuseife in the Negev desert. The house took one month to build and was demolished by government authorities in 10 minutes in March 2014. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Naif Agele stands with his children and nephews by the ruins of his brother’s house in an ‘unrecognised’ section of the township of Kuseife in the Negev desert. The house took one month to build and was demolished by government authorities in 10 minutes in March 2014. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Development for whom and at what cost is the question posed in the NCF report. “The state does not need this land for development,” Michal Rotem who co-authored the report, told IPS.

“They just want it clear,” she said. “Planting a forest is not in my view a reasonable excuse to demolish a village. And neither is making room for a Jewish settlement. These are racist and discriminatory excuses.”

Bedouins are indigenous to the Negev, are Israeli citizens and number roughly 220,000, or 30 percent of the region’s population. About 140,000 of them have been forcibly urbanised and live in seven failing townships planned by the government in the 1960s and 70s, as well as in ten ‘recognised’ villages.

The remaining 80,000 live in 40 localities that are not recognised by the state, do not appear on any map and are at constant risk of demolition, as is the case with Al Araqib.

As Rotem explained, these communities often pre-date the state of Israel but a policy of nationalisation of land turned their inhabitants into ‘invaders’ of state land. “Imagine,” she said, “a state came, legislated its new laws and declared all of the Bedouin community in the Negev criminals, that’s what happened.”

In the past forced urbanisation was offered as the only path to becoming ‘not criminals’, but today those who did urbanise have very little to show for what they gave up.

The NCF report reveals that 54 percent of all demolitions in the period assessed took place in ‘legal’ localities. This means that no provisions were made to accommodate the lifestyle or the natural growth of the Bedouin community, which has the highest fertility rate in Israel.

“This completely contradicts state plans,” Rotem told IPS. “First they tell Bedouins to live in recognised localities and then they go and demolish there too.”

Jalal Abo Bneah is a field coordinator with NCF. He lives in the ‘unrecognised’ village of Wadi Al Nam and knows all too well how these ‘contradictions’ affect people’s lives.   “For example,” he told IPS, “the government wants to move the 15,000 people of Wadi al Nam to the township of Segev Shalom. But there is barely enough space in the township for the people already living there. How is this going to work?”

Abu Bneah stressed that there is growing dissatisfaction amongst the Bedouin community with unilateral governmental plans that ignore their needs. “They show no respect for anyone. Not for the people in the recognised localities nor for the ones in the unrecognised villages. Where do they want us to go?” he asked.

Last October, the United Nations Human Rights Committee adopted a number of concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Israel. For example, it stressed that the state refrain from executing demolitions based on discriminatory planning policies and that it consult Bedouins on plans regarding their future.

Abo Bneah welcomes pressure from global actors but given the current right-wing political climate in Israel, he holds little hope that change will come soon.

In the meantime, to counteract state efforts to erase the Bedouin, NCF has launched a website that seeks to set the record straight regarding the true topography of the Negev. The ‘Arab Befouin Vilages in the Ngev-Naqab’ project puts all 40 ‘unrecognised’ villages on the map of Israel, something the state has so far refused to do.

The website allows visitors to learn basic facts about each village, such as date of establishment, number of inhabitants or distance from public services and to see photos of the homes, the nature or the inhabitants. The residents themselves will soon be providing more images, especially documenting demolitions

Just like the weekly demonstrations at Lehavim, the ‘Arab Bedouin Villages project’ helps make the Bedouin more visible, their experience of state power public and their narrative of the past known, but there is more work ahead says Abu Bneah.

“There is still a lot of ignorance out there, especially among the Jewish public,” he stressed. “They still think we took the lands of the state and that is not true.”

For Mariam and the others in Al Araqib, being told by their state that the Bedouin do not exist or that they are ‘criminal invaders’ only makes their commitment to sumoud stronger. “We are here and we are not going anywhere,” Mariam said. “This is our land and, until we live, we will stay.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/negev-bedouin-resist-israeli-demolitions-to-show-we-exist/feed/ 7
LGBTI Community in Central America Fights Stigma and Abusehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/lgbti-community-in-central-america-fights-stigma-and-abuse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lgbti-community-in-central-america-fights-stigma-and-abuse http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/lgbti-community-in-central-america-fights-stigma-and-abuse/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2015 20:10:41 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139250 Daniela Alfaro standing in front of the University of El Salvador med school, where the complaints she has filed about the harassment and aggression she has suffered as a transgender student of health education have gone nowhere. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Daniela Alfaro standing in front of the University of El Salvador med school, where the complaints she has filed about the harassment and aggression she has suffered as a transgender student of health education have gone nowhere. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Feb 18 2015 (IPS)

Despite the aggression and abuse she has suffered at the University of El Salvador because she is a trans woman, Daniela Alfaro is determined to graduate with a degree in health education.

“There is very little tolerance of us at the university. I thought it would be different from high school, but it isn’t,” Alfaro, a third year student of health education at the University of El Salvador med school, in the capital, told IPS.

Rejected by the rest of her family, Alfaro only has the emotional and financial support of her mother, “the only one who didn’t turn her back on me,” she said.

Like her, many members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community suffer harassment, mistreatment and even attacks on a daily basis in Central America because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, said activists from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua interviewed by IPS.

The discrimination, aggression and harassment that Alfaro has experienced at the university have come from her own classmates, as well as professors and university staff and authorities.“We don’t exist for the state in the areas of health, education, work or social matters, there is no protocol for how public employees should treat us.” -- Carlos Valdés

Since 2010 she has been filing reports and complaints with the university authorities for the aggression she has suffered in the men’s bathroom, which she is forced to use. “But they don’t take my complaints seriously because I’m trans,” said the 27-year-old student.

Alfaro has also experienced the invisibility of LGBTI persons when they receive no response from institutions or officials because their complaints or reports are dismissed or ignored simply because of prejudice against non-heterosexuals, said Carlos Valdés, with the Lambda Organisation in Guatemala.

“We don’t exist for the state in the areas of health, education, work or social matters, there is no protocol for how public employees should treat us,” Valdés told IPS by phone from Guatemala City.

Lambda and three other organisations in Central America are carrying out the regional programme “Centroamérica Diferente” (Different Central America), aimed at securing respect for the human rights of people with different sexual orientations or gender identities.

“Basically we want to improve the quality of life of the LGBTI community, so we are no longer discriminated against by sectors and institutions of the government,” said Eduardo Vásquez, with the Salvadoran Asociación Entreamigos, which is involved in the initiative.

The programme began in May 2014 and will run through June 2016 in the four participating countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

With funds from the European Union, it aims to get 40 organisations and more than 200 human rights activists involved, and to reach 3,550 members of the LGBTI community, 160 communicators, 600 public employees, 8,000 adolescents and 10 percent of the population of the four countries.

The programme provides legal support in cases of abuse and violence, and training for sexual diversity rights activists, and it carries out national and regional campaigns against homophobia.

The activists coordinate the activities with government institutions that provide public services to the LGBTI community, and exercise oversight to prevent abuses and discrimination, for example in health centres, schools and the workplace, or in police procedures.

“We are sad to see that some police continue to use poor procedures during searches, or refer in a disrespectful manner to gay or transgender persons,” Norman Gutiérrez, with the Centre for AIDS Education and Prevention in Nicaragua, another group taking part in the initiative, told IPS by telephone.

The programme will also set up a regional LGBTI human rights observatory to monitor cases of abuse, attacks and violence, and will conduct a study to gauge the magnitude of human rights violations based on sexual orientation or identity.

Hate crimes

The observatory and the study will play a key role in detecting, for example, how severe is the phenomenon of homophobic murders, especially against transgender persons, since official statistics do not recognise hate crimes and merely classify them as homicides, the activists explained.

“In Guatemala the right to life is one of the rights that is most violated, and these murders often target trans persons,” Valdés said.

Given the lack of clear official figures, the organisations compile information as best they can, without the necessary systematisation. Based on this information, the groups participating in the programme estimate that in the last five years, at least 300 members of the LGBTI community, mainly transgender women, were murdered in hate crimes.

These murders occur in a context of generalised violence in the region. The so-called Northern Triangle, made up of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, is one of the most violent regions in the world.

The murder rate in Honduras in the last few years has stood at around 70 per 100,000 population, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) – far above the Latin American average of 29 and the global average of 6.2.

In Honduras, LGBTI activists have reported at least 190 homophobic murders in the last five years, some of which were included in a report published Dec. 17 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

The document reports human rights violations against the LGBTI community committed between January 2013 and March 2014 in 25 Organisation of American States member countries. In that period, at least 594 people perceived to be LGBTI were killed, while another 176 were victims of serious physical assaults.

The IACHR “urges States to adopt urgent and effective measures to prevent and respond to these human rights violations and to ensure that LGBTI persons can effectively enjoy their right to a life free from violence and discrimination.”

Among the cases compiled by the IACHR is the murder of a trans woman in Honduras who was stoned to death on Mar. 4, 2013 in the northern city of San Pedro Sula. She was identified as José Natanael Ramos, age 35.

Unlike other programmes that are implemented only in the capital cities, Centroamérica Diferente plans to reach small cities and towns as well, where the violence, discrimination and vulnerability are generally worse.

“In small towns there is much more ‘machismo’, more violence and more homophobia. Some hate crimes and murders aren’t even reported,” added Gutiérrez, the Nicaraguan activist.

There is also a high level of discrimination in the workplace against the LGBTI community in Central America, said Valdés, with the Lambda Organisation from Guatemala.

“For example, gays have to hide their identity in order to get a job, and if their sexual orientation is discovered, they are harassed until they quit,” he said.

Alfaro, meanwhile, said in front of the med school where she studies that she will not stop denouncing the discrimination and harassment she suffers, until she finally sees justice done.

“I just hope that someday they will respect my identity as a woman,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/lgbti-community-in-central-america-fights-stigma-and-abuse/feed/ 0
The Two Koreas: Between Economic Success and Nuclear Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/the-two-koreas-between-economic-success-and-nuclear-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-two-koreas-between-economic-success-and-nuclear-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/the-two-koreas-between-economic-success-and-nuclear-threat/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2015 11:49:06 +0000 Ahn Mi Young http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139234 The Koreas on the globe. Credit: TUBS/ Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Koreas on the globe. Credit: TUBS/ Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Ahn Mi Young
SEOUL, Feb 18 2015 (IPS)

The two Koreas are an odd match – both are talking about possible dialogue but both have different ideas of the conditions, and that difference comes from the 62-year-old division following the 1950-53 Korean War.

During this time, North Korea has become a nuclear threat – estimated to possess up to ten nuclear weapons out of the 16,300 worldwide (compared with Russia’s 8,000 and the 7,300 in the United States) according to the Ploughshares Fund’s report on world nuclear stockpiles – and South Korea has become the world’s major economic success story.

In a national broadcast on Jan. 16, South Korean president Park Geun Hye presented her vision for reunification by using the Korean word ‘daebak‘ (meaning ‘great success’ or ‘jackpot’). “If the two Koreas are united, the reunited Korea will be a daebak not only for Korea but also for the whole world,” she said.North Korea has become a nuclear threat – estimated to possess up to ten nuclear weapons out of the 16,300 worldwide – and South Korea has become the world's major economic success story

Since she became leader of the South Korea’s conservative ruling party in 2013, Park has been referring to a new world that would come from a unified Korea. Her argument has been that if the two Koreas are reunited, the world could be politically less dangerous – free from the North Korea’s nuclear threat – and a united Korea could be economically more prosperous by combining the South’s economic and cultural power and the North’s natural resources and discipline.

Denuclearisation has been set as a key condition for daebak to come about. At a Feb. 9 forum with high-ranking South Korean officials, President Park said that “North Korea should show sincerity in denuclearisation efforts if it is to successfully lead its on-going economic projects. No matter how good are the programmes we may have in order to help North Korea, we cannot do so as long as North Korea does not give up its nuclear programme.”

However, observers have said North Korea has no reason to give up its nuclear weapons as long as it depends on its nuclear capability as a bargaining chip for political survival.  “Nuclear capabilities are the North’s only military leverage to maintain its regime as it confronts the South’s economic power,” said Moon Sung Muk of the Korea Research Institute of Strategies (KRIS).

In fact, there are few signs of changes. North Korea has conducted a series of rocket launches, as well as three nuclear tests – all in defiance of the U.S. sanctions that are partially drying up channels for North Korea’s weapons trade.

Amid recent escalating tension between Washington and Pyeongyang over additional sanctions, activities at the 5-megawatt Yongbyon reactor in North Korea which produces nuclear bomb fuel are being closely watched to monitor whether the North may restart the reactor.

In the meantime, South Korea has been denying the official supply of food and fertilisers to North Korea under the South Korean conservative regimes that started in 2008.

During the liberal regime of 2004-2007, South Korea was the biggest donor of food and fertilisers to North Korea.

Then there appeared to be a glimmer of hope when North Korea’s enigmatic young leader Kim Jong Un presented a rare gesture of reconciliation towards South Korea in his 2015 New Year’s speech broadcast on Korean Central Television on Jan. 1.

“North and South should no longer waste time and efforts in (trying to resolve) meaningless disputes and insignificant problems,” he said. “Instead, we both should write a new history of both Koreas … There should be dialogue between two Koreas so that we can re-bridge the bond that was cut off and bring about breakthrough changes.”

In his speech, the North Korean leader even went as far as suggesting a ‘highest-level meeting’ with the South Korean president. “If the South is in a position to improve inter-Korean relations through dialogue, we can resume high-level contacts. Also, depending on some circumstances and atmospheres, there is no reason we cannot have the highest-level meeting (with the South).”

In South Korea, hopes for possible inter-Korean talks have been subdued. “What North Korea wants from dialogue with the South is not to talk about nuclear or human rights, but to have the South resume economic aid,” said Lee Yun Gol, director of the state-run North Korea Strategic Information Centre (NKSIS).

The government in Seoul remains cautious about Pyongyang’s peace initiatives. “We are seeing little hope for any rosy future in inter-Korean relationships in the near future, although we are working on how to prepare for the vision of ‘daebak‘,” said Ryu Gil Jae, South Korean reunification minister, in a Feb. 4 press conference.

North Korean observers have said that economic difficulties have been pushing the North Korean government to relax its tight state control over farm private ownership. North Korean farmers can now sell some of their products in markets nationwide, in a gradual shift towards privatised markets.

Further, according to Chinese diplomatic academic publication ‘Segye Jisik’ (세계 지식), quoted by the South Korean news agency Yonhap News, the North Korean economy has improved since its new leader took office in 2012. From a 1.08 million ton deficit in stocks to feed the 20 million North Koreans in 2011, the deficit now stands at 340,000 tons.

According to observers, this report, if true, could send the signal that if North Korea is economically better off, it may be politically willing to reduce its dependence on the nuclear card in any bargaining process with South Korea.

U.S. sanctions have been used in the attempt to force North Korea to denuclearise, thus restricting North Korea’s trade, and the U.S. government levied new sanctions against North Korea on Jan. 2 this year in response to a cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment. The FBI accused North Korea of the attack in apparent retaliation for the film, The Interview, a comedy about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

But, while sanctions may work in troubling ordinary North Koreans concerned with meeting basic food needs, they have little impact on the North Korean government. “North Korea’s trade with China has become more prosperous and most of North Korea’s deals with foreign partners are behind-the-scene deals,” said Hong Hyun Ik, senior researcher at the Sejong Research Institute.

And, in response to the threat that it may be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC), on the basis of U.N. findings on human rights, Kim Jong Un reiterated: “Our thought and regime will never be shaken.”

South Korea may now stand as the only hope for North Korea, as the United States and the United Nations gather to turn tough against the country over the human rights issue, and South Korea may find itself faced with a ‘two-track’ diplomacy between the hard-liner United States and its sympathy for the North Korean people.

In past decades, North Korea has usually played out a game with the United States and South Korea. “In recent year, the United States has been using ‘stick diplomacy’ against the North Korea, while South Korea may want to shift to ‘carrot diplomacy’,” said Moon Sung Muk of the Korea Research Institute of Strategies (KRIS).

“The Seoul government knows that the pace of getting closer to the North should be constrained by U.N. or U.S. moves,” Moon added.

Edited by Phil Harris    

 

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/the-two-koreas-between-economic-success-and-nuclear-threat/feed/ 0
Deadly Asbestos Still Costing Liveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/deadly-asbestos-still-costing-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deadly-asbestos-still-costing-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/deadly-asbestos-still-costing-lives/#comments Tue, 17 Feb 2015 20:36:48 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139223 Two workers engaged in the removal of asbestos on the roof of a building where a cinema used to operate in the centre of the southern Spanish city of Málaga, in May 2014. Credit: Courtesy Plataforma Málaga Amianto Cero

Two workers engaged in the removal of asbestos on the roof of a building where a cinema used to operate in the centre of the southern Spanish city of Málaga, in May 2014. Credit: Courtesy Plataforma Málaga Amianto Cero

By Inés Benítez
MÁLAGA, Spain , Feb 17 2015 (IPS)

“I would get asbestos in my mouth, spit it out and carry on working,” said 52-year-old Francisco Padilla. Exposure to this deadly mineral fibre over most of his working life has resulted in cancer and the removal of his left lung, the lung lining and part of his diaphragm.

Sitting on the sofa in his home in the southern Spanish city of Málaga, Padilla told Tierramérica with watering eyes that he has always looked after his health and has never smoked.

He used to cycle to and from the workshop where he has worked since the age of 18, until in May 2014 he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an aggressive malignant tumor linked to occupational exposure to asbestos, and had to undergo radical surgery three months ago.“Thousands of people have died, are dying and will die in the future because of asbestos....its effects have been overwhelmingly silenced.” -- Activist Francisco Puche

The use of asbestos, a low-cost fire retardant and insulating material, was banned in Spain in 2002. Previously, however, it was widely used in construction, shipbuilding, and the steel, automotive and railway industries, among others.

Workers in these industries were at risk of contracting mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis, whose symptoms could take 20 to 40 years to develop.

“Thousands of people have died, are dying and will die in the future because of asbestos. It is the great unknown factor, and its effects have been overwhelmingly silenced,” activist Francisco Puche of Málaga Amianto Cero, an anti-asbestos alliance, told Tierramérica.

Puche believes Europe should have “a plan for safe asbestos removal,” because the risk continues in spite of the bans.

He pointed out several water tanks made of cement containing asbestos fibres on the rooftop of a building in a central Málaga square, and warned that in their everyday lives, people are caught in a hazardous “spiderweb” of asbestos.

It is present in thousands of kilometres of water pipes, public and private buildings, warehouses, tunnels, machinery, ships and trains, although it is being progressively replaced by other materials.

Puche warned of the dangers involved in the deterioration and modification of structures containing asbestos, which breaks down into rigid microscopic fibrils that accumulate in the body by inhalation or ingestion.

TA Spain 2

Asbestos is banned in 55 countries, including the 28 members of the European Union, Argentina, Chile, Honduras and Uruguay. But more than two million tonnes a year are still being extracted worldwide, mainly in China, India, Russia, Brazil and Kazakhstan, according to the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat.

Every year 107,000 people worldwide die of lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma linked to occupational exposure to asbestos, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

WHO estimates that 125 million people are in contact with asbestos in the workplace, and attributes thousands of other deaths a year to indirect contact with the material in the home.

“The asbestos issue shows the true face of a system that is only interested in profits,” said Puche, who is critical of “big business,” powerful lobbies linked to asbestos mining, and the “impunity” surrounding the illness and death of workers in Europe and around the world.

Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, the former CEO of Eternit, a family business that set up asbestos factories across the globe in the 20th century, had been sentenced to 18 years in prison and payment of nearly one million euros (1.14 million dollars) in damages to thousands of victims. However his sentence was overturned by Italy’s highest court on Nov. 19, on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired.

“The other day I heard that a retired workmate of mine had died of mesothelioma,” José Antonio Martínez, the head of the Málaga Asbestos Victims’ Association (AVIDA Málaga), told Tierramérica.

Many workers die before the occupational nature of their ailment is recognised, and they are deprived of their right to disability pensions and compensation for damages.

Francisco González , a worker with the state railway company RENFE, died in 2005 at the age of 55 from mesothelioma. His daughter Anabel told Tierramérica that she and her mother finally achieved an indemnity payment after “a long struggle, without any help and against many obstacles.”

Being vindicated was more important than the money,” she said, even though it took five years after her father’s death.

In Spain and other countries, asbestos victims and their families are forming associations for information, mutual support and justice. AVIDA Málaga was created in June 2014; it has nearly 200 members, and is part of the Spanish Federation of Associations of Asbestos Victims.

Victims are demanding the creation of a compensation fund for those affected, like ones that have been set up in Belgium and France, paid for by the state and the companies concerned, which often refuse to shoulder responsibility retroactively.

Asbestos was used for decades in more than 3,000 products, so even today plumbers, electricians, building demolition and maintenance workers and car mechanics may come across this hazardous material in the course of their jobs, facing health risks if they fail to take precautions.

Padilla, who has a 29-year-old son, is still waiting for confirmation of his occupational injury pension and plans to claim compensation. By law, he has up to one year to do so from May 2014, when he was diagnosed with an ailment on the list of occupational diseases.

His company recognised his cancer as a work-related illness without his having to resort to litigation. This made legal history in Spain, where many people die without getting justice.

Padilla had chemotherapy before his major surgery, and is now undergoing radiotherapy. His wife, Pepi Reyes, who attends these sessions with him, has been advised by the doctor to have medical tests herself, because she handled her husband’s work clothes for years.

A study by the European Union reports that half a million people are expected to die of mesothelioma and lung cancer by 2030, due to occupational exposure to asbestos in the 1980s and 1990s. The study analyses mortality in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Francisco Báez, a former worker for the transnational company Uralita in the southern Spanish city of Seville, is the author of the book “Amianto: un genocidio impune” (Asbestos: an unpunished genocide). He complained to Tierramérica about the double standards applied by countries that prohibit the material within their borders, yet abroad “they promote its use and profit financially from the installation and maintenance of asbestos sector industries.”

Padilla opened a window in his home and pointed out the corrugated asbestos cement roofs of the warehouses opposite. Afterwards he brought out his mobile phone and showed a photo of his long operation scar, all along his left side, and said he feels lucky to be alive.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/deadly-asbestos-still-costing-lives/feed/ 0
Indigenous Peoples – Architects of the Post-2015 Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-peoples-architects-of-the-post-2015-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-architects-of-the-post-2015-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-peoples-architects-of-the-post-2015-development-agenda/#comments Tue, 17 Feb 2015 18:31:39 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139220 IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanzwe (centre) joins in a traditional Fijian dance at the opening ceremony of the second Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples' Forum, February 2015. Credit: IFAD

IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanzwe (centre) joins in a traditional Fijian dance at the opening ceremony of the second Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples' Forum, February 2015. Credit: IFAD

By Valentina Gasbarri
ROME, Feb 17 2015 (IPS)

“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” – an ancient Indian saying that encapsulates the essence of sustainability as seen by the world’s indigenous people.

With their deep and locally-rooted knowledge of the natural world, indigenous peoples have much to share with the rest of the world about how to live, work and cultivate in a sustainable manner that does not jeopardise future generations.

This was the main message brought to the second Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum, organised by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) last week in Rome.“We have learned the relevance of the diversity and distinctiveness of peoples and rural communities and of valuing and building on their cultural identity as an asset and economic potential. The ancient voice of the natives can be the solution to many crises” – Antonella Cordone, IFAD

The Indigenous Peoples’ Forum represents a unique initiative within the U.N. system. It is a concrete expression of IFAD’s recognition of the role that indigenous peoples play in economic and social development through traditional sustainable practices and provides IFAD with an institutional mechanism for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the agency’s engagement with indigenous peoples.

This engagement includes achievement of the objectives of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Despite major improvements in recent decades, indigenous and tribal peoples – as well as ethnic minorities – continue to be among the poorest and most marginalised people in the world.

There are over 370 million indigenous peoples in some 70 countries worldwide, with the majority living in Asia. They account for an estimated five percent of the world’s population, with 15 percent of these peoples living in poverty.  Various recent studies show that the poverty gap between indigenous peoples and other rural populations is increasing in some parts of the world.

“IFAD is making all efforts to ensure that the indigenous peoples’ voice is being heard, rights are respected and well-being is improving at the global level,” said Antonella Cordone, IFAD’s Senior Technical Specialist for Indigenous peoples and Tribal Issues.

“We have learned the relevance of the diversity and distinctiveness of peoples and rural communities and of valuing and building on their cultural identity as an asset and economic potential,” she continued. “The ancient voice of the natives can be the solution to many crises.”

As guardians of the world’s natural resources and vehicles of traditions over the years, indigenous peoples developed a holistic approach to sustainable development and, as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, highlighted during an Asia-Pacific working group session, “indigenous peoples’ livelihoods are closely interlinked with cultural heritage and identities, spirituality and governance systems.”

These livelihoods have traditionally been based on handing down lands and territories to new generations without exploiting them for maximum profit. Today, these livelihoods are threatened by climate change and third party exploitation, among others.

Climate change, to which indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable, is posing a dramatic threat through melting glaciers, advancing desertification, floods and hurricanes in coastal areas.

Long-standing pressure from logging, mining and advancing agricultural frontiers have intensified the exploitation of new energy sources, construction of roads and other infrastructures, such as dams, and have raised concerns about large-scale acquisition of land for commercial or industrial purposes, commonly known as land grabbing.

In this context, the Forum stressed the need for the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples whenever development projects affect their access to land and resources, a requirement which IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanzwe said should be respected by any organisation engaging with indigenous peoples.

Poverty and loss of territories and resources by indigenous peoples due to policies or regulations adverse to traditional land use practices are compounded by frequent discrimination in labour markets, where segmentation, poor regulatory frameworks and cultural and linguistic obstacles allow very few indigenous peoples to access quality jobs and social and health services.

Moreover, indigenous peoples suffer from marginalisation from political processes and gender-based discrimination.

These are among the issues that participants at the Forum said should be taken into account in the post-2015 development agenda. They said that this agenda should be designed to encourage governments and other actors to facilitate the economic and social empowerment of poor rural people, in particular, marginalized rural groups, such as women, children and indigenous peoples.

A starting point for the architecture of the agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that expire at the end of this year was seen as the recommendations adopted during the two-day Forum (Feb. 12-13).

These included the need for a holistic approach to supporting and strengthening indigenous peoples’ food systems, recognition of traditional tenure, conservation of biodiversity,  respect for and revitalisation of cultural and spiritual values, and ensuring that projects be designed with the FPIC of indigenous peoples.

Participants said that it is important to emphasise the increasing need to strengthen the participation and inclusion of indigenous peoples in discussions at the political and operational level, because targets in at these levels can have a catalytic effect on their social and economic empowerment.

The Forum agreed that giving the voice to indigenous people and their concerns and priorities in the post-2015 agenda represents an invaluable window of opportunity for development.

Edited by Phil Harris    

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-peoples-architects-of-the-post-2015-development-agenda/feed/ 0