Inter Press Service » Featured http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 25 Apr 2017 00:12:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.17 With an Eye on Electoral Violence, Kenya Keeps Tight Rein on Mediahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/with-an-eye-on-electoral-violence-kenya-keeps-tight-rein-on-media/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=with-an-eye-on-electoral-violence-kenya-keeps-tight-rein-on-media http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/with-an-eye-on-electoral-violence-kenya-keeps-tight-rein-on-media/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 00:12:52 +0000 Justus Wanzala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150128 Kenyan journalists attend a function. The media has been blamed for fanning the flames of electoral violence, which took an ethnic angle. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

Kenyan journalists attend a function. The media has been blamed for fanning the flames of electoral violence, which took an ethnic angle. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

By Justus Wanzala
NAIROBI, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

As the clock ticks down to Kenya’s general elections slated for Aug. 8, a move by the Kenya Communication Authority (CAK) to make journalists adhere to guidelines on election coverage has elicited fear that the government could be trying to control how they report on the polls.

The rules, announced on Feb. 28, require Kenyan journalists to keep all notes and recordings for six months and ensure that radio and TV guests do not make hateful statements about individuals and ethnic groups.“Considering that most media houses are privately owned by influential politicians and well connected individuals, it remains to be seen whether those who flout the rules will face justice." --Kennedy Epalat

On March 7, the media managers also signed up to another poll coverage code designed by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) in collaboration with Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The council is a quasi-governmental body charged with protecting media independence and enforcing standards of professionalism.

MCK rules also require media organisations to remain truthful to the tenets of responsible journalism that is sensitive to peace and objectivity during the polls. Kenya was engulfed in post-election violence in late December 2007 and January 2008 due to a poll dispute that saw some 2,000 people lose their lives and over 3,000 flee their homes. The media was blamed for not doing enough to forestall the violence, which took an ethnic angle.

The scenario was to influence the subsequent election in 2013, which was peaceful but saw the media depicted as being overly timid. Critics noted that most coverage failed to raise the tough issues facing the country during the election period.

Not everyone thinks the guidelines are a bad thing. According to Dennis Odunga, a reporter at the Daily Nation, Kenya’s leading daily newspaper, enforcement of the rules will be a challenge as long as impunity continues to prevail. But the CAK guidelines are just a reminder that the media is expected to promote fair coverage in line with journalistic standards.

“For instance, keeping notes and recordings is not a new thing in the media world. It is a rule we apply when dealing with sensitive matters like in investigative stories,” he observed.

He said that it is possible to check hate speech in both print and electronic media. In the case of radio and television programmes, hosts should be in control of their guests and be fast in interrupting those who use the platform to whip up ethnic emotions – although such a measure should be done with decorum.

“Freedom of expression and access to information is not absolute [under the constitution],” he noted. “But, being a government entity, we must be wary of possibility of mischief in some of the rules, especially on programming that could affect the flow of revenue for media houses.”

Fair coverage of the election might remain a mere wish anyway, given that media houses are known to be driven by both ownership and editorial interests, he said.

CAK’s Angela Koki, speaking on behalf of Director General Francis Wangusi, told IPS that the Kenya Information and Communication Act 1998 gives the Authority power to prescribe a code that sets standards for the time and manner of programmes to be broadcast.

She said the Authority prepared the Programme Code and Complaints Handling procedure for use in the regulation of broadcasting services with stakeholders. “The consultation was done in line with the constitution and consolidation of inputs, the final documents were published and came into effect on 1st July 2016,” she said.

In exercising its mandate, Koki said the CAK is simply reminding media houses about already existing regulatory provisions governing the responsible use of broadcasting platforms before, during and after the elections.

“Coverage of elections and political parties can be found under section nine of the Programming Code and requires that broadcasters provide equitable coverage and opportunities to political parties participating and candidates among other standards,” she said.

On whether media practitioners are being burdened by multiplicity of regulations, Koki said CAK’s mandate is to regulate broadcasting houses as its licensees, and does not extend to journalists or journalistic practices.

She added that the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) is the regulator mandated to handle professionalism and accountability of media workers and journalists.

“The requirement to keep broadcast recording for a period of one year and also the requirement of delay of live broadcasts by seven seconds so as to manage unintended content before it goes on air applies to broadcasting houses as an entity and not to journalists,” she clarified.

She concurred with Odunga that the Programming Code is a living document and is to be reviewed every two years. She thus urges journalists to give their inputs towards the improvement of the document whenever there is a call for stakeholder consultations.

Her views were echoed by MCK Deputy Chief Executive Officer Victor Bwire who said there are no new guidelines announced by the communication Authority of Kenya. He reiterated that the authority just talked about the need for implementation of its programmes code for radio and television that was instituted in 2016 noting too that CAK’s programmes Code was arrived at in a participatory manner.

Bwire said views were sought from CEOs of media houses and representatives of the Editors Guild. “They are really not new, we just update to include issues relating to gender sensitivity and emerging matters like fake news,” he said.

“The aim is to ensure fair and professional coverage of elections. The measure is also aimed at adherence to standards, just as is the case in when it comes to climate change and business reporting. There is nothing new, if anything each media house has its in house policy,” he added.

Kennedy Epalat, a radio news editor at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, said CAK’s move is influenced by the perception that media helped foment the post-election violence of 2007/8, especially local radio stations.

“By retaining the recorded material and the scripts for six months, relevant agencies get evidence to sustain prosecutions in order to avoid the propagation of hate in future,” he observed.

In relation to radio and television guests, Epalat said it is incumbent upon programme producers to blacklist those with notoriety in propagating hate. Guests should also be prepared by the programe hosts on the dos and don’ts, although such measures are not devoid of challenges.

“In 2004, I black-listed a member of parliament (MP) from participating in my radio programmes because of attacking the president whenever he was talking about crime or corruption. This is even after asking him to avoid the same. I even told my presenter as much. Two months later, the MP was appointed as an Assistant Minister for Information and Broadcasting and asked my station to set aside one hour weekly for him which he would use to outline government policy. Fortunately, I was not victimised,” he recalled.

Commenting on how the multiplicity of guidelines will impact on the 2017 general election coverage, Epalat said that accessing information and freedom of expression will be impeded under certain circumstances.

“The people you seek information from may not offer that information as freely as they would do if you came from their community. People will tend to trust one of their own with information – especially if it is sensitive,” he said.

He said the challenge will be aggravated if those covering the elections have not undergone training in light of the emerging rules. And like Odunga, he is concerned with the problem of impunity.

“Considering that most media houses are privately owned by influential politicians and well connected individuals, it remains to be seen whether those who flout the rules will face justice,” he observed.

To fellow journalists, he said since MCK has signed a memorandum of understanding with the IEBC on elections coverage, as long as they abide by its guidelines, and apply the rule of common sense; cognizant of the past chaotic elections, then they do not need to worry.

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How Feminists Have Catapulted Women to National Leadership Roleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/how-feminists-have-catapulted-women-to-national-leadership-roles/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-feminists-have-catapulted-women-to-national-leadership-roles http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/how-feminists-have-catapulted-women-to-national-leadership-roles/#comments Mon, 24 Apr 2017 15:51:10 +0000 Torild Skard http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150119 Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile, campaigning in Valparaíso, June 2013. The author writes that Bachelet has promoted “women-friendly” policies, but not all female leaders do so.

Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile, campaigning in Valparaíso, June 2013. The author writes that Bachelet has promoted “women-friendly” policies, but not all female leaders do so.

By Torild Skard
NEW YORK, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

Hillary Clinton did not make it to the top, but Theresa May, the British prime minister, and Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, did. Since Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world’s first female prime minister, in Sri Lanka in 1960, one-hundred women have been heads of state or government around the world.

How did they get to power and did they make a difference? And how much did feminist activists influence the promotion of female leaders? Plenty and decisively.

The nations of the world reaffirmed faith in the equal rights of women and men when the United Nations was created in 1945, though all the existing states were male dominated and 97 percent of the representatives at the San Francisco conference were men.

My analysis of the conference shows that women from Latin America, headed by Bertha Lutz from Brazil, lobbied successfully for women’s rights, despite opposition from, among others, the sole US female representative, Virginia Gildersleeve, the dean of Barnard College.

Since then, the UN and member states have repeatedly demanded women’s equal participation in power structures, but progress has been slow. When it comes to everyday realities, men in power often seek to maintain their prerogatives, and the higher the position they hold, the greater the resistance to including women.

Torild Skard, the author of “Women in Politics.”

Torild Skard, the author of “Women in Politics.”

In 2017, only 23 percent of members of Parliament are women; 18 percent of government ministers are women; and 5 percent of national leaders are women, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

When I studied the life course of 73 female presidents and prime ministers in 53 countries from 1960 to 2010, in my book, “Women of Politics,” it was evident that national leadership for women was no simple matter.

In all regions, except North Africa and the Middle East, women rose to power but not often, and it happened in about twice as many industrialized nations as in developing countries. To succeed, most of the female top leaders had extraordinary qualifications, including extensive education and professional careers.

In addition, the political systems provided opportunities. The great majority of women rose to power in established or emerging democracies. But if a certain democracy was necessary for women’s political participation, that was not enough.

Worldwide, political institutions were male dominated and women were neither mobilized nor welcomed if there was no pressure from feminist movements to do so. Many women who climbed to power benefited from activists requiring more women in leading positions.

In practice, women used three paths to become national leaders. Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, Indira Gandhi of India, Isabel Perón of Argentina and others in Asia and Latin America took over the political position of a deceased father or husband.

A few, such as Vigdis Finnbogadottir of Iceland and Ertha Pascal-Trouillot of Haiti, came in as outsiders relative to their personal background. But most of the women rose in the ranks of the political parties, gaining a degree of conditional support from male colleagues.

The political parties are crucial actors in democratic systems, representing a link between people and power. But often they represent an obstacle and do not provide support for women. Studies of parties are, unfortunately, rare. It is notable that globally, women hold only 10 percent of leadership positions in political parties.

Top female leaders are usually surrounded by men. At the same time, female politicians are often expected to promote the interests of women. Whatever they do, female leaders are criticized. So what did they do?

I studied to what extent female leaders followed up the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw), which has 189 states parties, of which the United States is a signatory but has not ratified it. Here is what I learned:

• Some women, albeit a few, conformed to male-dominated politics and neglected or weakened women’s positions. Such examples were Tansu Ciller of Turkey, Golda Meir of Israel and Margaret Thatcher of Britain.
• About half of the women played a compromising role, trying to look after the interests of both men and women. These included, among others, Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, Eugenia Charles of Dominica, Cristina Fernández Kirchner of Argentina, Mary McAleese of Ireland and Merkel and Gandhi.
• Finally, about a third of the women openly opposed male policies and promoted women-friendly measures, such as recruiting women to high positions, ensuring their reproductive rights and establishing special institutions for women. These include Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Helen Clark of New Zealand, Ruth Dreifuss of Switzerland, Tarja Halonen of Finland, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Lidia Gueiler Tejada of Bolivia.

Although most female heads of state and government did not call themselves a “feminist,” they all contributed to strengthening women as political actors by accepting a top position. Thereby, they broke prevailing patterns and, in most cases, showed that women could handle the tasks. In addition, the great majority — some more and some less — made efforts to support women in particular. So, it usually made a difference with a woman at the top instead of a man.

The approaches of top female leaders to winning gains for women was important, but to carry out substantial women-friendly policies they needed support. An active feminist movement pressuring the relevant levers was essential. And the political system had to work democratically, so feminist voters could have an impact on who was elected to political office and which policies were pursued to promote gender equality.

(Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

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Fate of Earth Must Not be Decided by US & Fellow Nuclear Stateshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/fate-of-earth-must-not-be-decided-by-us-fellow-nuclear-states/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-of-earth-must-not-be-decided-by-us-fellow-nuclear-states http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/fate-of-earth-must-not-be-decided-by-us-fellow-nuclear-states/#comments Mon, 24 Apr 2017 15:21:57 +0000 Joan Russow http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150115 Dr Joan Russow is Co-ordinator, Global Compliance Research Project]]> Credit: UN photo

Credit: UN photo

By Joan Russow
VICTORIA, BC, Canada, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

When the United Nations continues its negotiations in June for an international treaty against nuclear weapons, there must be a treaty that should cover every single aspect of the devastating weapons — and leading eventually to their total elimination from the world’s military arsenals.

As envisaged, the treaty should not only prohibit stockpiling; use and threat of use, and planning for use of nuclear weapons but also the deployment; transfer, acquisition, and stationing; development and production of these weapons—along with testing; transit and transshipment; and financing, assistance, encouragement, and inducement and an obligation for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and a framework to achieve it.(WILPH, Reaching Critical Will).

As Eva Walder, the Swedish representative to the UN’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, declared: “Sweden’s position is clear. The only guarantee that these weapons will never be used again is their total elimination.”

Through the current negotiations, there is the global opportunity to speak truth to power, to save the world from the scourge of war and to prevent and remove the threats to peace.

The US has stated that the treaty to ban nuclear weapons would be ineffective, with adverse consequences for security and would hinder the implementation of Article VI of the US constitution on international treaties.

It is, rather, NATO`s nuclear policy which contravenes Article VI, as well as some of the Thirteen Steps Towards Nuclear Disarmament, and has consequences for common security:

1) nuclear weapons must be maintained indefinitely
2) We will improve their use and accuracy (modernize them)
3) We can use them first.
4) We can target non-nuclear weapon states
5) We can threaten to use them
6) We can keep them in Europe, as they are now doing
7) We can launch some on 15 minutes warning.
8) We say “they are essential for peace
(Murray Thompson, Canadian for a Nuclear Weapons Convention)

In October 17 2016, prior to the vote of the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Nuclear Weapons, the US circulated a “non-paper“, to NATO and its allies on potential negative impacts of starting negotiations for a nuclear ban treaty and wrote,“ for the allies, participating in the OEWG , we strongly urge you to vote no on any vote at the UN First Committee on starting negotiations for a nuclear ban treaty.“ http://www.icanw.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/NATO_OCT2016.pdf

Subsequently, in the October 27 2016 meeting of the OEWG, the US Intervention appeared to work. Only the Netherlands did not vote no. On December 23, 2016.the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) approved a significant resolution to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.

The resolution was adopted by a large majority, with 113 UN member states voting in favour, 35 voting against and 13 abstaining. Support came from every continent, except Australia, and represented the range of legal systems. It thus fulfilled the criteria for a peremptory norm.

The US appears, however, to have provided a script for the US allies voting on the nuclear ban treaty; most of them gave the reason for voting against the resolution as being, “the US nuclear weapons are essential for its security and they have refused to declare that nuclear weapons should never be used”. Perhaps “security” needs to be redefined not distorted by the US weapons industry.

The late Olof Palme, former Prime Minister of Sweden, affirmed “True security exists when all are secure, through “common security” (Palme Commission (Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security) 1982)
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/the-u-n-at-70-a-time-for-compliance/

The aforementioned October 17 2016 letter to the NATO and the script for allies at the UNGA, continues the practice of the US “influencing“ votes through financial incentives, threats, or intimidation (FITI),

For example, in 1990, only two countries on the UNSC opposed the passage of US Resolution 678, and when Yemen cast one of these votes, the U.S. Ambassador threatened him: “that will be the most expensive vote you ever cast,” and the U.S. immediately cut off aid to Yemen.

In 2003, several UNSC non-permanent members who opposed the US` proposed intervention in Iraq, suddenly came out with a US script supporting the invasion of Iraq. In addition, in 2003, the US sent a letter, described as an ultimatum, to all the members of the UNGA pressing them to not support the call for an emergency session of the UNGA to oppose the invasion of Iraq.

The data, based on UNGA voting patterns, provided in the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) document of participants in the March negotiations, indicates that there were 138 “supportive” states, one “not supportive” state (Japan), and 13 “not clear” states

The ICAN data on voting patterns of participants who did not attend the March negotiations indicate 14 were “supportive, five were “not clear”, 27 NATO states were “not supportive,” along with the other non-NATO nuclear weapons states (Russia, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and other US allies from NATO along with Japan, and South Korea, http://www.icanw.org/

If the 14 supportive states attend the upcoming June 15– July 7 meeting, there will be around 143 “supportive` states” (70% of the 193 member states of the United Nations). This would be the case, provided the US does not threaten or offer financial incentives and persuade them to claim “that the US nuclear weapons are essential for its security and has refused to declare that nuclear weapons should never be used”`.

If there is a positive vote in the UNGA, the US and the four other permanent members will try to block decision through taking any UNGA decision to the UNSC. With the current composition of the UNSC, the nuclear powers will be able to get “not supportive” votes from only three non-permanent members: Italy, Japan and Ukraine.

This is assuming that Bolivia Egypt, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Senegal. Sweden, and Uruguay will not be coerced into renouncing their former supportive positions for a treaty for the abolition of nuclear weapons. If the required number of nine votes does not oppose the treaty, the UNSC would fail to make a decision. Then there is a precedent in the 1950 “Uniting for Peace Resolution” and the decision could pass back to the UNGA. http://www.un.org/en/sc/repertoire/otherdocs/GAres377A(v).pdf

In the Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations, there is a call to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war – and “to maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace”…

In 2017, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday clock to two and one half minutes to midnight because of the threats arising both from nuclear weapons and climate change. The funds thus saved from ending the production of nuclear weapons could be transferred to fully implement the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

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Building resilient rural livelihoods is key to helping Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/building-resilient-rural-livelihoods-is-key-to-helping-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=building-resilient-rural-livelihoods-is-key-to-helping-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/building-resilient-rural-livelihoods-is-key-to-helping-yemen/#comments Mon, 24 Apr 2017 08:37:39 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150106 José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).]]> Al Hudaydah, Yemen.  Dairy cattle seek shade. Credit: FAO/Chedly Kayouli

Al Hudaydah, Yemen. Dairy cattle seek shade. Credit: FAO/Chedly Kayouli

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

People in Yemen are currently suffering from the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

More than 17 million people around Yemen’s rugged landscape are acutely food insecure, and the figure is likely to increase as the ongoing conflict continues to erode the ability to grow, import, distribute and pay for food. More than 7 million people are on the verge of famine, while the rest are marginally meeting the minimum day-to-day nutritional needs thanks to external humanitarian and livelihoods support. Large-scale famine is a real risk that will cast an awful shadow for generations to come.

Only a political solution can end the suffering in Yemen, as there can be no food security without peace. And the longer the delay to draft an adequately funded recovery plan, the more expensive the burden will be in terms of resources and human livelihood.

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

Keep in mind that Yemen has a very young population, yet some 2.2 million children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition. As inadequate nutrition in a child’s early years can permanently damage an individual’s lifetime potential, it is imperative to stop a generational doomsday loop.

To prevent the food security situation from worsening, immediate livelihoods support – mainly agriculture and fishing – must be an integral part of the humanitarian response. This year, FAO Yemen is appealing for USD 48.4 million in funding to reach 3 million people.

While Yemen is widely noted as being dependent upon imports for almost all of its wheat and rice demands, people can and do produce a lot of food on their own. This requires the provision of seeds, fertilizers and fuel for equipment and irrigation to the 2 million households who currently lack access to such basic agricultural inputs.

In 2016, agricultural production and area under cultivation shrank by 38 percent due to this lack of inputs. Livestock production fell by 35 percent. The situation in 2017 is not expected to improve without the international community’s intervention.

Al Hudaydah, Yemen. A female dairy farmer milks her cow.  Credit: FAO/Chedly Kayouli

Al Hudaydah, Yemen. A female dairy farmer milks her cow. Credit: FAO/Chedly Kayouli


FAO is on the ground in Yemen, working around the clock to deliver emergency livelihood assistance to kick-start food production. This assistance comprises inputs like quick turnaround backyard food production kits, which includes vegetable seeds, egg-laying chickens and rainwater storage tanks, solar pumps, feed, fertilizer, fishery boats, engines, fishing nets and continuous operational equipment and material support.

These home production kits, designed to help feed a household of 20 people for six months, constitute cost-effective humanitarian assistance that can be scaled up to reach more people more quickly. This is especially pertinent for internally displaced people – who now constitute more than 10 percent of the population, and the vast majority of whom traditionally relied on agriculture and livestock. They now live in camps, with relatives or on empty lots and helping them relieve pressure on host communities can pay a double dividend in terms of food and social cohesion.

The kits also have the virtue of being simple, and in the case of Yemen – enduring a combination of several worst-case scenarios at once – simple translates into being implementable.

Simplicity is especially essential to support isolated rural households, almost half of whom live more than six kilometres from any local market at a time when travel is dangerous and roads have been destroyed. For many of these families, these food production kits are their only lifeline to food.

In a bid to restore agricultural livelihoods, FAO is also offering starter kits for beekeepers, replacing fishing equipment that has been destroyed or lost, and giving rural households modern butter churns that enable the production to increase tenfold and help offset Yemen’s serious dairy deficit.

Al Hudaydah, Yemen. A livestock market. Credit: FAO/Chedly Kayouli

Al Hudaydah, Yemen. A livestock market. Credit: FAO/Chedly Kayouli


As many families have had to sell their animals, a key productive asset, and restocking has slowed down due to lack of access to fodder, FAO is also distributing vouchers to distressed households in order to purchase livestock. At the same time, FAO is bolstering veterinary networks to vaccinate and treat ailing livestock as well as monitor and contain potential transboundary livestock diseases, which pose an enormous risk both for households living in Yemen’s remote and isolated areas as well as livestock trade across the region.

Making Yemen’s food system more sustainable will be a long-term effort, requiring important changes to which crops are grown and the rebooting or creation of value chains and improved logistics for what is destined to be the country’s primary economic sector. Agriculture already employs more than half of the workforce and is the main source of income for around 60 percent of households.

Even in peacetime, Yemen will face huge challenges, as only 4 percent of its land is arable and water resources are extremely limited. However, its people can and must be enabled to create a viable and more sustainable food system. This requires a simultaneous approach of providing humanitarian assistance along with resilience-building initiatives.

There is no time to lose. The alternative is dismal and threatens to catalyse more conflicts in the future, for there can be no peace without food security.

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Reclaiming the Bandung Spirit for Shared Prosperityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/reclaiming-the-bandung-spirit-for-shared-prosperity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reclaiming-the-bandung-spirit-for-shared-prosperity http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/reclaiming-the-bandung-spirit-for-shared-prosperity/#comments Mon, 24 Apr 2017 07:17:03 +0000 Noeleen Heyzer and Anis Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150094 Noeleen Heyzer, former Executive Secretary of UN-ESCAP and Under-Secretary-General of the UN. She was also special advisor to the UN-Secretary-General for Timor Leste.

Anis Chowdhury, former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008-2015 in New York and Bangkok.]]>

Noeleen Heyzer, former Executive Secretary of UN-ESCAP and Under-Secretary-General of the UN. She was also special advisor to the UN-Secretary-General for Timor Leste.

Anis Chowdhury, former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008-2015 in New York and Bangkok.

By Noeleen Heyzer and Anis Chowdhury
Bangkok and Sydney, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

“The despised, the insulted, the hurt, the dispossessed—in short, the underdogs of the human race were meeting. … Who had thought of organizing such a meeting? And what had these nations in common? Nothing, it seemed to me, but what their past relationship to the Western world had made them feel. This meeting of the rejected was in itself a kind of judgment upon the Western world!.”

—Richard Wright, The Color Curtain [University Press of Mississippi, 1956].

This is how Richard Wright, a novelist saw the gathering of leaders from 29 African and Asian nations at Bandung (Indonesia) on 18-25 April, 1955 of 29.

Noeleen Heyzer

Noeleen Heyzer

The leaders, prominent among them Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt), Chou En Lai (China), Ho Chi Minh (Viet Nam), and Adam Clayton Powell (Congressman from Harlem, USA), considered how they could help one another in achieving social and economic well-being for their large and impoverished populations. Their agenda addressed race, religion, colonialism, national sovereignty, and the promotion of world peace. In opening the conference, the President of Indonesia, Ahmed Sukarno asked,

“What can we do? We can do much! We can inject the voice of reason into world affairs. We can mobilize all the spiritual, all the moral, all the political strength of Asia and Africa on the side of peace. Yes, we! We, the peoples of Asia and Africa, …, we can mobilize what I have called the Moral Violence of Nations in favour of peace.

The Bandung declaration

The final communiqué expressed, “general desire for economic co-operation among the participating countries on the basis of mutual interest and respect for national sovereignty”; “agreed to provide technical assistance to one another”; “recognized the vital need for stabilizing commodity trade”; recommended that: “Asian-African countries should diversify their export trade by processing their raw material, wherever economically feasible, before export”; promote “intraregional trade”; and provide “facilities for transit trade of land-locked countries”.

The rise of the Third World and demand for a New International Economic Order

Anis Chowdhury

Anis Chowdhury

It was the beginning of what came to be known as the “non-aligned” movement and the “Third World” and within the United Nations, the Group of 77 plus China. With this confidence they called for the establishment of a New International Economic Order (NIEO) recognized at the 1974 General Assembly, based on equity, sovereign equality, interdependence, common interest and cooperation among all States, to correct inequalities and redress existing injustices; to eliminate the widening gap between the developed and the developing countries; and to ensure steadily accelerating economic and social development and peace and justice for present and future generations.

The NIEO declaration was, in effect, a call for shared and differentiated responsibility for equitable development.

Unfortunately, many aspects of the NIEO were never implemented. While the developing countries sought strategic integration with the global economy using trade and industry policies, they were advised to accept unfettered liberalization and privatization, which saw increased volatility and financial crises often disproportionately disadvantaging them. The aid conditionality of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank included straight-jacketed package of so-called “sound policies” that emphasized deregulation and a diminished role for the State. This drastically reduced state capability and developing countries’ policy space to deal with crises, pursue their developmental aspirations and achieve structural transformation.

Through the experience of the Latin American debt crisis in the 1980s and the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, the countries of the South have realized that they have to create their own policy space and craft out policies based on their own circumstances. Thus, they managed to grow steadily over the last two decades and were able to weather the 2008-2009 Great Recession remarkably well to anchor the global economic recovery.

The Global South is no longer a collection of “despised, the insulted, the hurt, the dispossessed—in short, the underdogs”; they are the drivers of global economy.

Global South’s fault-lines

However, the issues facing developing countries are more complex now. They are faced with issues of inequalities and insecurities which affect social cohesion; climate change and uneven competition in global markets when key global negotiations on trade and climate change have broken down. They also face the potential danger of weakening of solidarity as the members of the Global South seek different interests.

It does not help when governance failure occurs in a number of the developing countries; when some are ripped apart by violent internal or regional conflicts, or manipulated because of rising extremisms of many sorts. Corruptions, lack of accountability and trembling of human rights are affront to the aspirations of independence and hinder the fulfilment of development and dignity for all. The governance failures and divided societies within have also weakened the developing South’s ability to deal with issues of international governance in the globalizing world, and our common future even with “Rising Asia”.

Reclaiming the Bandung spirit

Time has come for the rising Global South to collectively work for the unfinished business of a new international economic order that today has to take a more integrated and universal approach for people, planet and prosperity as highlighted in the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development goals (SDGs); to stabilize commodity prices; to improve export incomes; to ensure food security; to demand improved access to markets in developed countries; to put a stop to siphoning off capital through dubious transfer pricing arrangements of multinational corporations and international tax havens; to eliminate the instability of the international monetary system; to ensue full and effective participation in all decision-making in all global bodies, including the IMF and the World Bank, and in formulating an equitable and durable monetary system.

However, the developing South must lead by putting its own house in order; improve democratic governance, respect human rights especially women’s human rights, and ensure wider freedom of its own citizen to re-establish legitimacy and trust through a new social contract that responds to the needs and hopes of all citizens, not just in form but in substance.

In the spirit of Bandung, they have to work together for the prosperity of their people and to protect humanity’s common good, especially our planet. They should recall the message, “All of us … are united by more important things than those which superficially divide us. … And we are united by a common determination to preserve and stabilize peace in the world. . . .”

It is time to come together and advance together to address the risks and challenges that confront our world and harness the opportunities to build a more inclusive and sustainable future of shared prosperity. Only then can we sing:

A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore! (Longfellow; from President Sukarno’s opening speech).

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Bamboo Gaining Traction in Caribbean as Climate Saviorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/bamboo-gaining-traction-in-caribbean-as-climate-savior/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bamboo-gaining-traction-in-caribbean-as-climate-savior http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/bamboo-gaining-traction-in-caribbean-as-climate-savior/#comments Mon, 24 Apr 2017 00:01:36 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150089 Bamboo sequesters carbon at rates comparable to or greater than many tree species. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Bamboo sequesters carbon at rates comparable to or greater than many tree species. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

Keen to tap its natural resources as a way to boost its struggling economy, Guyana struck a multi-million-dollar deal with Norway in 2009.

Under the deal, Norway agreed to pay up to 250 million dollars over five years, if Guyana, a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country in South America, maintained a low deforestation rate."It is a plant, it does photosynthesis, but it happens to be the fastest growing plant in the world so the absorption of CO2 by bamboo forests is quite significant.” --Dr. Hans Friederich

It was the first time a developed country, conscious of its own carbon-dioxide emissions, had paid a developing country to keep its trees in the ground.

The initiative was developed by the United Nations and called REDD+ (for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation plus conservation).

The main aim was to allow for carbon sequestration – the process involved in carbon capture and the long-term storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Trees are thirsty for the potent greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, soaking it up during photosynthesis and storing it in their roots, branches and leaves. Each year, forests around the world absorb nearly 40 percent of all the carbon dioxide produced globally from fossil-fuel emissions. But deforestation increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as trees are burned or start to decompose.

Most of the other Caribbean countries do not have the vast forests present in Guyana, but one expert believes there is still a huge potential to sequester carbon.

While the bamboo plant can be found in abundance in several Caribbean countries, the director of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Dr. Hans Friederich, said its importance and the possible role it could play in dealing with climate change have been missed by many of these countries.

“Bamboo and rattan, to a lesser extent, have been in a way forgotten as mechanisms that can help countries both with mitigation of climate change and with adaptation. And I think, certainly for the Caribbean, for Jamaica, both aspects are important,” Friederich told IPS.

“Mitigation, because carbon is sequestered by bamboo. It is a plant, it does photosynthesis, but it happens to be the fastest growing plant in the world so the absorption of CO2 by bamboo forests is quite significant.”

“The stems are thin but, over a period of time, the total sink of CO2 from a bamboo forest is actually more than the average from other forests. We’ve tried this, we’ve tested this and we’ve measured this in China and that’s certainly the case over there,” he added.

As far as adaptation is concerned, Friederich said bamboo also has a key role to play.

“For example, helping local communities deal with the effects of climate change in relation to erosion control, in relation to providing income in times when maybe other sources of income are no longer there or have been affected through floods or droughts or other environmental catastrophes,” the INBAR official explained.

“So, bamboo really is something that should be included in the overall discussion about climate change mitigation and adaptation.”

INBAR has facilitated a trip to China for a group of Jamaicans, to show them how the Chinese are using bamboo as a source of energy, as a charcoal source – to replicate that intelligence and that experience in Jamaica and help the island develop a bamboo industry.

In 2014, the Jamaica Bureau of Standards announced the country would embark on the large-scale production of bamboo for the construction of low-cost houses and value-added products such as furniture and charcoal for the export market.

The bureau also facilitated training exercises for people to be employed in the industry, and announced plans to set up three bamboo factories across the island.

The agency said it would also offer incentives for people to grow, preserve and harvest the bamboo plant for its various uses.

The following year, the bureau and the Small Business Association of Jamaica (SBAJ) collaborated to establish the country’s first ever Bamboo Industry Association (BIA).

The BIA’s mandate is to engage and heighten awareness among owners of properties with bamboo, about the potential economic values to be derived from the plant, of which there are more than 65,000 hectares of growing across the island.

“We believe in changing the nation…so we are here to make an impactful difference in the lives of the average citizen of this country,” SBAJ President Hugh Johnson said.

It seems the importance of bamboo might be slowly catching on in the Caribbean and elsewhere.

“Does it connect? It depends really with whom. I think our members, we now have 41 states that are part of the network of Inbar – they recognize it. And more and more do we get requests to help countries think about ways that we can develop the industry,” Friederich said.

“But beyond the people that understand bamboo there is still a lot of awareness raising to be done . . . to make people understand the opportunities and the benefits.

“The nice thing about bamboo is that the start of the production chain, the start of the value chain is something that basically involves unskilled, poor people. So, it is really a way to address Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number one – poverty reduction and bringing people out of real bad conditions. Therefore, that is something that we are working our members to see how we can support local communities with activities that basically promote that,” he added.

INBAR is an intergovernmental organisation established in 1997 by treaty deposited with the United Nations and hosted in Beijing, China.

Friederich said reactions from the producing countries have been very positive.

“From the international community, equally, I think those working in forestry like the Food and Agriculture Organisation, they definitely see the opportunities,” he said.

“From the investment community, maybe less so. I think the banks and individual investors are still wondering what the return on investment is, but we do have some very interesting private sector reactions and there are some exciting things going on around the world. So, in general, I think the message is getting through,” Friederich added.

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Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Coast Improves Readiness for Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/nicaraguas-south-caribbean-coast-improves-readiness-for-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-south-caribbean-coast-improves-readiness-for-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/nicaraguas-south-caribbean-coast-improves-readiness-for-climate-change/#comments Sat, 22 Apr 2017 01:41:32 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150081 A dock in the coastal community of Laguna de Perlas, in the municipality of Bluefields, which owes its name to its location along the longest coastal lagoon in Nicaragua, 40 km north of the city. Coexistence with maritime, river or lake water is part of life in the South Caribbean Region, but climate change is compelling the local population to make changes. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

A dock in the coastal community of Laguna de Perlas, in the municipality of Bluefields, which owes its name to its location along the longest coastal lagoon in Nicaragua, 40 km north of the city. Coexistence with maritime, river or lake water is part of life in the South Caribbean Region, but climate change is compelling the local population to make changes. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

By José Adán Silva
BLUEFIELDS, Nicaragua , Apr 22 2017 (IPS)

The effects of climate change have hit Nicaragua’s Caribbean coastal regions hard in the last decade and have forced the authorities and local residents to take protection and adaptation measures to address the phenomenon that has gradually undermined their safety and changed their way of life.

Bluefields, the capital city of Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, has endured a series of hurricanes, floods due to heavy rains or storm surges, droughts, environmental pollution and general changes in temperatures, which have caused economic damages to the local population.

The latest catastrophic event along Nicaragua’s eastern Caribbean coast was Hurricane Otto, which was a category 2 storm on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale when it hit in October 2016.

The structural damages and heavy flooding were the same as always, but something changed for the better: there were no fatalities, wounded or missing people in Nicaragua.“The population in this area has suffered a lot due to climate change, not only because of the hurricanes and flooding from the sea and rivers, but due to the climate variability. They have lost crops because of droughts or too much rain. They used to know how to interpret the signs of rain, but not anymore.” -- Guillaume Craig

The 10,143 people from the 69 coastal communities directly affected in the South Caribbean Region survived with no injuries, having taken refuge in shelters set up by the governmental National Agency for Disaster Management and Prevention (SINAPRED).

This was due to the gradual development of social awareness in the face of climatic events, according to Ericka Aldana, coordinator of the non-governmental international organisation Global Communities’ climate change project: “Citizens Prepared for Climate Change”.

“Historically, Nicaragua’s South and North Caribbean regions have been hit by natural disasters due to their coastal location and environment surrounded by jungles and big rivers which have served as means of transport. But with climate change the vulnerability increased, and it was necessary to make an effort to change the mindset of the population,” Aldana told IPS.

Her organisation, together with the civil and military authorities, have organised conferences, discussion forums and environmental awareness campaigns, in addition to prevention and coastal community rescue plans in the entire South Caribbean Region.

The two autonomous Caribbean coastal regions represent 52 per cent of the territory of Nicaragua and are home to 15 per cent of the country’s 6.2 million people, including a majority of the indigenous and black populations.

Aldana said that in the coastal communities, especially Corn Island and Little Corn Island, located in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Bluefields, the waves changed due to the intensity and instability in wind patterns.
This makes it difficult to maneuver fishing boats, alters fishing cycles, drives away the fish, and erodes the coasts of the two small islands.

On Little Corn Island, local resident Vilma Gómez talked to IPS about the threats posed and damages caused by the change in ocean currents, winds and waves.

As an example, she said that she has seen almost four km of coastline submerged due to the erosion caused by waves over the last 30 years.

The municipality of Corn Island, comprised of the two islands separated by 15 km, with a total area of 13.1 square kilometres, is one of the most populated areas in Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, with about 598 people per square kilometre.

Part of the central region of the city of Bluefields, in Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, from the access pier to Bluefields lagoon, with buildings at the water’s edge. The municipalities’ urban and rural residents learned to raise their houses on pilings, among other measures to face the increasingly frequent floods. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Part of the central region of the city of Bluefields, in Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Autonomous Region, from the access pier to Bluefields lagoon, with buildings at the water’s edge. The municipalities’ urban and rural residents learned to raise their houses on pilings, among other measures to face the increasingly frequent floods. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Gómez said that on her island, infrastructures such as seawalls was built with government funds, to contain the coastal erosion, the damage in wetlands, the shrinking of the beaches and the impact on tourism, which together with fishing make up 90 per cent of the municipality’s economic activity.

But in her opinion, they are futile efforts in the face of the strength of the sea. “I believe that if this continues this way, in a few years the island will become uninhabitable, because the sea could swallow it entirely after contaminating the water sources and arable lands,” lamented Gómez.

Other communities located near Bluefields Bay and its tributaries suffer ever more frequent storm surges and sudden floods, that have destroyed and contaminated the wetlands.

But once the shock and fear were overcome, the population started to try to strengthen their capacities to build resilience in the face of climate change, said Aldana.

Guillaume Craig, director of the environmentalist organisation blueEnergy in Nicaragua, is involved in the project “Citizens Prepared for Climate Change”, in which authorities, civil society and academia together in Bluefields carry out campaigns to strengthen the Caribbean communities’ response capacity to the impacts of climate change.

“The population in this area has suffered a lot due to climate change, not only because of the hurricanes and flooding from the sea and rivers, but due to the climate variability. They have lost crops because of droughts or too much rain. They used to know how to interpret the signs of rain, but not anymore,” Craig told IPS.

As a result, he noted that “the wells dry out in January, when that used to happen in April, the rains in May sometimes fall in March, or do not occur until July. It is crazy, and the local people did not know how to handle it.”

After years of training and campaigns, the locals learned to apply techniques and methods to save water, plant crops resistant to the changes, and techniques for building in coastal areas, which started to suddenly flood due to storm surges or heavy rains.

Climate change has already cost the communities a great deal: a fall in the production of basic grains, a loss of biological diversity and forest resources, water shortages, degradation of soils, salinization of wells, floods in low-lying coastal areas and landslides, among other phenomena.

“The rise in temperatures is affecting people’s health and producing cardiac problems, increasing the populations of vectors that carry diseases, erosion by sea waves and loss of soil, and increasing energy consumption and the risk of fires. The rise in the water level is driving up the risks,” said Craig.
Bluefields, originally a pirate base of operations, is 383 km from the capital city, Managua, and can only be reached by air or by boat along the Escondido River from the El Rama port, located on the mainland 292 km from the capital.

The population of just over 60,000 people is multi-ethnic: Creoles, mestizos (mixed-race), Rama and Garifuna peoples, and descendants of English, French or Asian immigrants.

It faces a bay that serves as a barrier to the sea’s direct waves, and is surrounded by rivers and lakes that connect the region with the Pacific Ocean and the North Caribbean. The elevation above sea level is barely 20 metres, which makes it especially vulnerable.

Marlene Hodgson, who lives in the impoverished coastal neighborhood of El Canal, on the outskirts of the city, told IPS that she and her family have been suffering from the bay’s swells for years.

“Sometimes we did not expect it and all of a sudden we had water up to the waist. Now we have raised the house’s pilings with concrete and dug canals and built dikes to protect it. But we have also become aware of when they come and that allows us to survive without damages,” said the woman of Creole ethnic origin.

After the storms, many houses in the area were abandoned by their occupants, who moved to higher and less vulnerable lands.

The phenomenon also disrupted the economy and the way of life of the traditional fishers, said Alberto Down.

“Just 20 years ago, I would throw the net and in two hours I would get 100 fish,” he told IPS. “Now I have to spend more in fuel to go farther out to sea and I have to wait up to eight hours to get half of that. And on some occasions I don’t catch anything,” said the fisherman from the 19 de Julio neighbourhood, one of the most vulnerable in this area forever threatened by the climate.

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Middle East, Engulfed by a ‘Perfect Storm’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/middle-east-engulfed-by-a-perfect-storm/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=middle-east-engulfed-by-a-perfect-storm http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/middle-east-engulfed-by-a-perfect-storm/#comments Fri, 21 Apr 2017 13:35:21 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150079 In Mazrak, Yemen, a five year-old girl, diagnosed as malnourished, is given a pink wristband to wear to show she has not been getting enough to eat. Credit: UNHCR/Hugh Macleod

In Mazrak, Yemen, a five year-old girl, diagnosed as malnourished, is given a pink wristband to wear to show she has not been getting enough to eat. Credit: UNHCR/Hugh Macleod

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 21 2017 (IPS)

A perfect storm has engulfed the Middle East, and continues to threaten international peace and security.

Hardly anyone could sum up the Middle East explosive situation in so few, blunt words as just did Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

Reporting to the UN Security Council on the “dire situation across the Middle East region, marked by the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War, fractured societies, proliferation of non-State actors and unbelievable human suffering,” Mladenov reiterated the need for a surge in diplomacy for peace to ease the suffering of innocent civilians.

The UN Special Coordinator also warned that “the question of Palestine remained a ‘potent symbol’ and a ‘rallying cry’, “one that is easily misappropriated and exploited by extremist groups.”“The question of Palestine remained a “potent symbol” and “rallying cry,” one that is easily misappropriated and exploited by extremist groups,” UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

“Let us not forget that behind the images of savagery [there] are the millions [struggling] every day not only for their own survival but for the true humane essence of their cultures and societies,” he on 20 April 2017 told the Security Council.

“Today, a perfect storm has engulfed the Middle East, and continues to threaten international peace and security,” he said, noting that divisions within the region have opened the doors to foreign intervention and manipulation, breeding instability and sectarian strife.

“Ending the occupation and realising a two-state solution will not solve all the region’s problems, but as long as the conflict persists, it will continue to feed them.”

Mladenov also informed the 15-member Security Council of sporadic violence that continued to claim lives and reported on Israel’s approval of the establishment of new settlements and declaration of “State land” in the occupied Palestinian territory.

On the Palestinian side, he noted multiple worrying developments that are “further cementing” the Gaza-West Bank divide and dangerously increasing the risk of escalation.

Turning to the wider region, Mladenov briefed the Security Council members on the on-going crisis in Syria that continues to be a “massive burden” for other countries and called on the international community to do more to stand in solidarity with Syria’s neighbours.

“Strong, Loud Alarm”

“The statement that Mr. Mladenov has just made should sound a strong, loud alarm,” a retired Arab diplomat told IPS on condition of anonymity.

“We should always have in mind that the United Nations envoys and special coordinators use to be extremely careful when choosing their wording, in particular when it comes to reporting to the UN Security Council. This is why his words should be taken really seriously,” the diplomat emphasised.

Displaced families from Reyadeh and 1070 neighbourhoods take shelter at a kindergarten in western Aleppo city. Conditions are still extremely basic. Credit: UNICEF/Khuder Al-Issa

Displaced families from Reyadeh and 1070 neighbourhoods take shelter at a kindergarten in western Aleppo city. Conditions are still extremely basic. Credit: UNICEF/Khuder Al-Issa


According to this well-informed source, several Middle East analysts and even regional political leaders “harbour mixed feeling and even confusion about what some consider as “errant” foreign policy of the current US administration.”

“What is anyway clear is that a new Middle East is now “under construction”. Such process will not be an easy one, in view of the growing trend to embark in new cold war between the US and Russia,” the diplomat concluded.

Further in his briefing, the UN Special Coordinator spoke of the situation in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen as well as of “social exclusion and marginalisation that tend to provide fertile ground for the rise of violent extremism.”

Recalling UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ call for a “surge in diplomacy for peace”, Mladenov urged UN Member States, especially through a united Security Council, to assume “the leading role in resolving the crisis.”

“Multilateral approaches and cooperation are necessary to address interlinked conflicts, cross-border humanitarian impacts and violent extremism.”

“Grave Danger”

Just one week earlier, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told the UN Security Council in the wake of yet another dire turn in the Syrian crisis, that the United States and the Russian Federation “must find a way to work together” to stabilise the situation and support the political process.”

In his briefing on 12 April, de Mistura added that the previous week’s reported chemical weapons attack, the subsequent air strikes by the US and intensified fighting on the ground have put the fragile peace process is in “grave danger.”

A seven-year-old child stands in front of her damaged school in Idleb, Syria. October 2016. Credit: UNICEF

A seven-year-old child stands in front of her damaged school in Idleb, Syria. October 2016. Credit: UNICEF


“This is a time for clear-thinking, strategy, imagination, cooperation,” said de Mistura.

“We must all resolve that the time has come where the intra-Syrian talks move beyond preparatory discussions and into the real heart of the matter, across all four baskets, to secure a meaningful negotiated transition package,” he added.

Prior to the reported chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun area of Idlib, modest but incremental progress were made, the UN envoy noted, highlighting that though there no breakthroughs, there were also no breakdowns. The most recent round of talks, facilitated by the UN in Geneva, wrapped up three weeks ago.

However, the reported attack and subsequent events have placed the country between two paths: one leading more death, destruction and regional and international divisions; and the other of real de-escalation and ceasefire, added de Mistura.

The UN Special Envoy reiterated that there are no military solutions to the strife in the war-ravaged country.

“You have heard it countless times, but I will say it again: there can only be a political solution to this bloody conflict […] regardless of what some say or believe,” he expressed, noting that this is what Syrians from all walks of life also say and something that the Security Council had agreed upon.

“So, let us use this moment of crisis – and it is a moment of crisis – as a watershed and an opportunity perhaps for a new level of seriousness in the search for a political solution.”

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Caricom’s Energy-Efficient Building Code Could Be Tough Sellhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/caricoms-energy-efficient-building-code-could-be-tough-sell/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caricoms-energy-efficient-building-code-could-be-tough-sell http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/caricoms-energy-efficient-building-code-could-be-tough-sell/#comments Fri, 21 Apr 2017 00:01:06 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150072 This commercial building, known as Savannah East, is located close to Trinidad and Tobago's historical Queen's Park Savannah. Owned by RGM Limited, it was hailed in the Trinidadian media last month as the first LEED-certified building in the country. Photo credit: RGM Limited

This commercial building, known as Savannah East, is located close to Trinidad and Tobago's historical Queen's Park Savannah. Owned by RGM Limited, it was hailed in the Trinidadian media last month as the first LEED-certified building in the country. Photo credit: RGM Limited

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Apr 21 2017 (IPS)

Caribbean Community (Caricom) states are in the process of formulating an energy efficiency building code for the region that would help reduce CO2 emissions, but implementation of the code may depend heavily on moral suasion for its success.

Fulgence St. Prix, technical officer for standards at Caricom Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ) who is overseeing the Regional Energy Efficiency Building Code (REEBC), told IPS, “When we at the regional level propose a standard or code it’s meant to be voluntary…We do not have the mechanism to dictate to member states to make any standard the subject of a technical regulation thus making implementation mandatory.”"The architects are quite knowledgeable in terms of sustainable design. What we do not have are clients who are willing to do the financial outlay to incorporate sustainability.” --Jo-Ann Murrell of Carisoul

In keeping with WTO guidelines, he said, “A standard is a voluntary document. You cannot force any member state to implement any one standard.” The decision as to whether to implement the REEBC, therefore, rests with member states.

The REEBC project was officially launched at a meeting in Jamaica at the end of March. This followed consultations over several months by a Regional Project Team comprising representatives from some of the Caricom member states, as well as regional architects, engineers, builders and electricians, on the need for a minimum energy efficiency building standard for the region.

It was unanimously agreed that it was imperative one be established and the decision was taken to base the REEBC on the 2018 version of the International Energy Conservation Code that will be published in July of this year.

“The goal is to have a document that would reduce the CO2 footprint on the average,” said St. Prix, adding that climate change is just one of the considerations driving the REEBC initiative. “If we could develop that code and have it effectively implemented, we could realise at least a 25 per cent reduction of CO2 emissions, but this is just an estimate.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chapter on Buildings in its Fifth Assessment Report states that in 2010 buildings accounted for 32 per cent of total global final energy use, 19 per cent of energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (including electricity-related), and approximately one-third of black carbon emissions.

GHG emissions in Latin America and the Caribbean from buildings were said to have grown to 0.28GtCO2eq/yr (280,000,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents of GHG emissions) in 2010.

The report also states, “final energy use may stay constant or even decline by mid-century, as compared to today’s levels, if today’s cost-effective best practices and technologies are broadly diffused.”

However, the IPCC’s report suggests that moral suasion may not be the most effective means of achieving the implementation of energy efficiency standards. It notes, “Building codes and appliance standards with strong energy efficiency requirements that are well enforced, tightened over time, and made appropriate to local climate and other conditions have been among the most environmentally and cost-effective.”

Trinidadian architect Jo-Ann Murrell, managing director of Carisoul Architecture Co. Ltd., a firm that specialises in green architecture, said effective implementation of a regional energy efficiency building code may have to wait until the region’s younger generation become the decision makers with regard to home purchases.

“We have a younger generation who will be older at that time, who will be interested in investing in energy efficiency. They are interested in the sustainability of the climate,” she said.

She said that the subsidised cost of electricity in Trinidad and Tobago is 3 cents US per kWh. So, “there is not a desire on the part of clients, due to the cost factor, for using alternative sources of energy or using energy saving devices. So when we tell clients they can achieve energy savings if they use certain building methods, they will choose the energy efficient air conditioning unit, they will use LED lights, and so on, but [not always] when it comes to other options,” Murrell said.

She stressed, “We have very competent architects in Trinidad and Tobago and the architects are quite knowledgeable in terms of sustainable design. What we do not have are clients who are willing to do the financial outlay to incorporate sustainability.”

St. Prix also cited economic challenges for Caricom states wishing to implement the REEBC. “You know that member states are at very different stages of their development. Any building code is a challenge. The major challenge is human resources and [the need for] economic resources to be able to employ the needed personnel to implement the code.”

The IPCC report also cites transaction costs, inadequate access to financing, and subsidised energy as among the barriers to effective uptake of energy efficient technologies in building globally.

The IPCC report goes on to state, “Traditional large appliances, such as refrigerators and washing machines, are still responsible for most household electricity consumption…albeit with a falling share related to the equipment for information technology and communications (including home entertainment) accounting in most countries for 20 % or more of residential electricity consumption.”

For this reason, CROSQ is also undertaking a regional energy labelling scheme for appliances sold in the region. Though common in European countries, they are not standard practice throughout the Caribbean. The scheme, said Janice Hilaire, project coordinator for the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Project (R3E), is being funded by the German government.

“We also want to develop standards for PVC panels and water heaters,” she added.

Hilaire said the R3E would be training people to carry out the testing for this scheme at select labs in the region that has a limited amount of equipment for carrying out the tests.

“We are setting up an intense information and awareness campaign because we want to bring about a change in behaviour. We want householders to understand why they must adopt certain practices. We also want to bring about a more efficient use of energy.in the region which will positively affect GDP. The REEBC cannot operate in a vacuum. It must be complemented by other initiatives,” she said.

The REEBC and the associated R3E are in their early stages, St. Prix pointed out. As these projects are rolled out, CROSQ will begin collecting data that shows the actual dollar savings the region enjoys through these initiatives. The CROSQ team will then be able “to go to our policy makers and say, if you make this mandatory you will be saving this amount.” Member states would be urged to put legal mechanisms in place, St. Prix said.

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Civil Society: “Everyday Things Are Getting Worse” for Children in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/civil-society-everyday-things-are-getting-worse-for-children-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-everyday-things-are-getting-worse-for-children-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/civil-society-everyday-things-are-getting-worse-for-children-in-yemen/#comments Thu, 20 Apr 2017 21:19:10 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150070 Water delivery in Yemen. Credit: UN photo

Water delivery in Yemen. Credit: UN photo

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 20 2017 (IPS)

Persistent attacks on health care in Yemen is severely impacting children’s well-being, civil society detailed at the launch of a report.

In the report, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, in collaboration with Save the Children, found a series of systematic attacks on medical facilities and personnel and families’ restricted access to health care across three of the most insecure governorates in the Middle Eastern nation.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), warring parties carried out at least 160 attacks against medical facilities and personnel between March 2015 and March 2017 through intimidation, air strikes, and impeded access to medical supplies.

In one incident, anti-Houthi forces raided and shutdown Al Thawra hospital for reportedly treating several injured Houthi-fighers. The hospital had also previously been shelled on numerous occasions.

In Saada, a missile struck the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-supported Shiara Hospital which killed six and wounded ten. The hospital served an area of approximately 120,000 people and was established as a de facto emergency room to provide access to health care for patients that would otherwise need to travel four to five hours along insecure roads to receive. A few days later, the same hospital sustained another rocket attack by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.

Many are now afraid because of the attacks, said Watchlist’s Research Officer Christine Monaghan.

“There is a real sense of fear in the country about not being able to access healthcare when needed, about what might happen to them if they are in a clinic or a hospital and it’s bombed at a time when they visit,” she told IPS.

Following the Shiara Hospital attack, an MSF doctor reported that maternity room deliveries have ceased. “Pregnant women are giving birth in caves rather than risk coming to the hospital,” they said.

This has compounded health challenges as access to life-saving treatment is limited.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than half of Yemen’s population including 8.1 million children lack access to basic health care—an increase of more than 70 percent since the conflict began in March 2015.

As of November 2016, there was 1 hospital bed for every 1,600 people and over 50 percent of medical facilities have closed.

One woman revealed the challenges of caring for her family in an interview with Save the Children, stating: “We cannot afford health care. If any of our children gets sick, we cannot do anything for them. We do not know where to go…two of my daughters, 5 and 3 years old, have persistent coughs, and I cant help them apart from giving them hugs.”

The ongoing blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition has further inhibited access to necessary supplies to run medical facilities such as fuel.

In one case, a child in an incubator died after a hospital lost power and lacked fuel to use its generators.

Due to the collapse of immunization programs, there is also an increased risk of vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio and rubella. According to the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF), a child dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes in Yemen.

Meanwhile, only 15 percent of the country’s humanitarian response plan is funded.

In response, Watchlist and Save the Children have called on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and cease attacks on medical facilities, allow unhindered access to aid, and cooperate with investigations on such attacks.

The organisations also urged Secretary-General António Guterres to list the Saudi-led coalition as responsible for attacks on hospitals and grave violations of children’s rights in conflict in the annual report on children and armed conflict.

In 2016, former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon listed the coalition in his report but subsequently removed it after pressure from Saudi Arabia and its allies. However, this does not have to be the case this year, Monaghan said.

“We are hoping the new Secretary-General uses his first months in office to make a strong statement that he will protect the mandate and hold perpetrators to account,” she told IPS.

Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien called the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as “one of the worst in the world.” The country is on the brink of a famine with over 14 million food-insecure people. Over 70 percent of Yemenis are in need of some form of humanitarian aid.

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New Education Model Can “Achieve Much More,” Says Education Envoyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/new-education-model-can-achieve-much-more-says-education-envoy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-education-model-can-achieve-much-more-says-education-envoy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/new-education-model-can-achieve-much-more-says-education-envoy/#comments Thu, 20 Apr 2017 13:01:22 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150058 About 518,000 primary school students have been unable to go to school in the last decade as due to Taliban's campaign against secular education. Credit: IPS

About 518,000 primary school students have been unable to go to school in the last decade as due to Taliban's campaign against secular education. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 20 2017 (IPS)

UN’s education envoy has unveiled a new model that could provide every child with access to education by 2030.

Citing concerns about the neglect of children’s rights, the Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown urged for more and better finance to ensure every child is in school and learning.

“We’re concerned that millions of children are out of school—some because of child labor, some because of child marriage, some because of child trafficking, some because of sheer discrimination against girls,” Brown told IPS.

The former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom particularly noted that girls’ education is one of the most “important civil rights struggle in our generation.”

Globally, over 250 million children and young people in the world are out of school, and the number of primary-aged children not in school is increasing. For children who are in school, many are not actually learning.

According to the Education Commission, over 800 million young people, or half of the world’s youth, will leave school lacking the basic and necessary skills for the labour market if current trends continue. Many of them will be from low and middle-income countries where only one in 10 young people will be on track to acquire basic secondary level skills.

Meanwhile, international donor contributions to education has decreased from $10 per child in 2010 to $8 per child in low and lower-middle-income countries which is insufficient to pay for textbooks, teachers or school infrastructure. The figures are even lower for education aid in conflict zones where countries like Chad and South Sudan received just 2 percent of their emergency request.

In its report, the Education Commission notes that the costs of such a “learning crisis” includes poverty, inequality, and instability which could be “irreparable.”

“When young people have no access to quality education, not only we deprive them of a right, but we also deprive society of their meaningful contributions,” they said.

In order to provide access and increase quality of education in low and middle-income countries, Brown proposed an International Finance Facility to help close the global funding gap for education.

The facility could create $10 billion for education investments through guarantees from donor countries which are leveraged by development banks. Guarantees, which help protect investors from the risk of non-payment, enables development banks such as the World Bank to mobilize more resources and transform them into affordable financing packages for developing countries who often cannot afford loans.

“By using the money more effectively, we can achieve much more,” Brown told IPS, adding that the mechanism could guarantee universal education within a generation.

In order to access the facility’s resources and further increase education aid, developing countries will have to raise their education outcomes to the level of the top 25 percent best performing countries. The proposal also requires developing countries to increase their own investments in education to 5.8 percent of their national income.

The proposed funding mechanism is similar to that of the International Finance Facility for Immunization which successfully turned government pledges into funding that provided vaccinations to millions of people.

Brown also stressed the need to better protect children against human rights violations more generally, pointing to the examples of the 2014 abduction of 270 girls from school in northern Nigeria and the recent suspected chemical gas attack in Syria which left almost 20 children dead.

He announced the creation of an inquiry that will assess existing international laws and enforcement mechanisms, including the case for an International Children’s Court to protect children’s rights.

“We have these abuses and these exploitations that show something more has got to be done to protect the rights of children,” Brown told IPS.

The Education Commission, headed by Gordon Brown, comprises of political, business, and civil society leaders from around the world who have joined to advocate for increased funding for global education efforts.

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“Imagine a World Where the Worst-Case Scenarios Have Been Realized”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/imagine-a-world-where-the-worst-case-scenarios-have-been-realized/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=imagine-a-world-where-the-worst-case-scenarios-have-been-realized http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/imagine-a-world-where-the-worst-case-scenarios-have-been-realized/#comments Thu, 20 Apr 2017 00:01:13 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150052 Picturesque Antigua and Barbuda says its “natural beauty” is what is being fought for in the war on climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Picturesque Antigua and Barbuda says its “natural beauty” is what is being fought for in the war on climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Apr 20 2017 (IPS)

The tiny island-nation of Antigua and Barbuda has made an impassioned plea for support from the international community to deal with the devastating impacts of climate change.

Urging “further action”, Environment Minister Molwyn Joseph said the Paris Climate Agreement must become the cornerstone of advancing the socio-economic development of countries.“When I see long lines of vehicles trying to escape the storm by heading over state lines or crossing internationial boundaries, I always wonder what they would do if they lived here." --Foreign Minister Charles Fernandez

“One area of approach that we have undertaken in Antigua and Barbuda, that I believe would be beneficial amongst other Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and developing countries, is for those of us with more advanced institutions to seek to be of assistance to other countries,” Joseph told IPS.

“I would like to encourage other countries, which have strong institutions, to take up the challenge in not only seeing how to combat climate change locally and nationally but, where possible, taking regional and global approaches.”

The Paris Agreement, which entered into force in November last year, brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so.

Its central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees C.

Earlier this month Antigua and Barbuda hosted the 16th meeting of countries participating in the Cartagena Dialogue for Progressive Action.

The Dialogue is an informal space “open to countries working towards an ambitious, comprehensive, and legally binding regime in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and committed, domestically, to becoming or remaining low carbon economies.”

It aims to “discuss openly and constructively the reasoning behind each others’ positions, exploring areas of convergence and potential areas of joint action.” It is one of the few groups within the UN climate negotiations that brings together negotiators from the global North and South.

Joseph told delegates that “as a nation, we have a lot to lose” and he urged them to ensure that the Paris Agreement serves the future of all nations and becomes the cornerstone of advancing economically, socially and otherwise.

“Imagine a world where white sandy beaches and coral reefs like the ones just off these shores become a rarity. Where glaciers and snow covered mountain tops might be limited to postcard memories. Where droughts, storms, famines and epidemics can become more intense and more common. Where the worst-case scenarios of climate change have been realised. And with this grave image of what is at stake for humanity in our minds, let us earnestly collaborate to ensure that such horrors never come to pass,” Joseph said.

His colleague, Charles Fernandez, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said as a member of the SIDS, Antigua and Barbuda’s “natural beauty” is what is being fought for.

“Sometimes I watch how larger and richer countries react to the approach of a major hurricane,” he told IPS.

“When I see long lines of vehicles trying to escape the storm by heading over state lines or crossing international boundaries, I always wonder what they would do if they lived here. We small islanders have to be ready to bunker down and bear it; and when it’s over, dust off and pick up the pieces.

“It is for this reason, that for those of us who live on small islands, climate change is an existential threat to our survival and way of life. It is for this reason that so many of us have signed on and begun work on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. For this reason, that we place our faith in the international community to find aggressive solutions to climate change together,” Fernandez added.

The Cartagena Dialogue is one mechanism through which countries look beyond their self-identified commitments toward establishing an ambitious new and binding agreement on climate change.

Joseph said the establishing of such a regime will require the coming together of many and various minds on an impressive list of complex issues.

“From the promotion and access of appropriate technologies that will help nations pursue economic development while mitigating greenhouse gas production, to ensuring that other strategies such as public awareness, education, finance, sector specific targets and national limits — all deserve our keenest consideration toward achieving our goals,” he said.

“Here in Antigua and Barbuda, the government is in the process of developing regulations to further guide the implementation of the Paris Agreement. However, this will only be one in a series of vital steps needed to put Antigua and Barbuda on a progressive path to deal with climate change. We are aggressively pursuing accreditation to the various mechanisms and hope that our experiences both in the accreditation process and implementation will serve as examples and best practices for other SIDS and developing countries to further their own actions against climate change.”

Antigua and Barbuda is the first and currently the only country in the Eastern Caribbean to have achieved accreditation to the Adaptation Fund.

“We have decided as a member of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States to use this status not only for our own advancement but also toward the advancement of fellow members of the sub-region by allowing ourselves to serve as a regional implementing entity, improving their access to the financial mechanisms,” Joseph said.

Last September, Antigua and Barbuda joined more than two dozen countries to ratify the Paris Agreement on Global Climate Change.

The Paris Agreement was opened for signatures on April 22, 2016, and will remain open to Parties of the UNFCCC until April 21, 2017.

The Paris Agreement becomes international law based on a dual “trigger” – when 55 Parties have ratified the Agreement, and 55 percent of the goal of emissions are covered by the Parties.

While the Paris Agreement wasn’t expected to enter into force until 2020, countries including Antigua and Barbuda have been demonstrating leadership to address the global threat of climate change, and reduce emissions to meet the target of less than 1.5 degrees C increase in global average temperatures.

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Nikki Haley’s ‘Historic’ Debate on Human Rights Left a Small Impressionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/nikki-haleys-historic-debate-on-human-rights-left-a-small-impression/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nikki-haleys-historic-debate-on-human-rights-left-a-small-impression http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/nikki-haleys-historic-debate-on-human-rights-left-a-small-impression/#comments Wed, 19 Apr 2017 17:11:08 +0000 Dulcie Leimbach http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150050 Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the UN, with Liu Jieyi, China’s ambassador, before the April 18 Security Council meeting focused solely on human rights. Credit: Rick Bajornas /UN Photo

Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the UN, with Liu Jieyi, China’s ambassador, before the April 18 Security Council meeting focused solely on human rights. Credit: Rick Bajornas /UN Photo

By Dulcie Leimbach
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 19 2017 (IPS)

Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, presided over what she was determined to sell as “an historic meeting exclusively on human rights” in the UN Security Council. But her brief speech in the April 18 meeting fell far short of introducing innovations to confront violations of human rights or prevent them in such places as Syria, Burundi and Myanmar.

“If this Council fails to take human rights violations and abuses seriously, they can escalate into real threats to international peace and security,” Haley began. “The Security Council cannot continue to be silent when we see widespread violations of human rights.

“Why would we tell ourselves that we will only deal with questions of peace and security, without addressing the factors that bring about the threats in the first place?”

The debate, ponderously titled “Maintenance of international peace and security: human rights and prevention of armed conflict,” gave an “opportunity to reflect on the way the Security Council directly addresses human rights issues in its work,” according to a concept note from the US mission to the UN.

The afternoon meeting among the Council’s 15 permanent and elected members turned political in no time. Ukraine referred to a “human-rights phobia” in the UN and blasted away at Russia’s annexation of Crimea; Uruguay said it was the responsibility of governments to protect its citizens’ human rights as well as people “in transit.” A low-level Russian diplomat rejected the whole notion of the Council concentrating on human rights in its forum.

Yet what shone through the two-hour meeting was not Haley’s remarks but the consistent messages of other Council members, who commended the UN Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as indispensable partners with the Security Council. France, for example, said it was very “attached” to the Human Rights Council. Britain was effusive.

“Two institutions of the United Nations are particularly vital to delivering this joined up approach to human rights,” said Matthew Rycroft, the British ambassador to the UN. “First, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and his Office provide invaluable support to UN peace operations.” Second, he added, is the Human Rights Council.

Rights experts had hinted that Haley’s session on human rights was an attempt to undermine the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva. She has pointed to the Council as “corrupt” and said she planned to visit it in June to whip it into shape.

António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, reinforced the primary role of the UN human-rights monitoring bodies. He said that “close cooperation between the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and all relevant United Nations bodies, including the Security Council, enhances general awareness of potential crisis situations, and our collective ability to address them.”

Guterres described the Security Council’s own “decisive action” on human rights, citing the establishment of the international criminal tribunals for Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere as well as the Council’s referral of atrocity cases to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

As a matter of course, human-rights abuses are raised often by Council members as an early warning — or “prevention” — method.

As if stuck on a sales pitch, the US emphasized in the weeks before the meeting that it was holding the first exclusive session in the Council on human rights. But that is debatable, say some rights experts, since the topic has been written specifically into 15 peacekeeping mission mandates, sanctions, investigations, resolutions, special-envoy responsibilities and other matters relevant to the Council.

Even Haley acknowledged these tools of the Council, admitting their relevance and value.

Haley’s office fudged how well the Council accepted the purpose of the debate, saying that “through negotiations the United States convinced all 15 Council members to agree to put the meeting on the POW” – program of work. But the meeting was technically positioned under the international peace and security umbrella and not listed as an agenda item, a threshold that some council members refused to cross.

The US concept note for the meeting posed five questions to Council members to consider when they came to the session, as if they were being asked to write a high-school essay. The first question read, “What types of measures should the Security Council take to respond to serious human rights violations and abuses?” (The US did not appear to answer that.)

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted in the lead-up to the meeting, is the “human rights discussion serious?” He added: “Are particular countries named? Do they include allies?”

In the Council’s early decades, human rights rarely crept into its deliberations because of Article 2, paragraph 7 of the UN Charter, which said, “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state. . . . ”

Sensitive political realities kept the topic from going too deep when it did arise, according to “The Procedure of the UN Security Council,” a reference book by Loraine Sievers and Sam Daws. When a Council member wanted to raise a human-rights issue in a certain country — not unusual throughout the Cold War — ambassadors needed to show that the abuses could ripple outside the country.

Famously, the topic of Myanmar (Burma) was brought up in 2006 when the US representative and other Council members voiced concerns over the deteriorating situation in that country. They noted that Myanmar’s outflow of refugees and illegal drugs as well as contagious diseases could destabilize the region, the Sievers-Daws book said. But China objected to putting Myanmar on the Council’s agenda, denying its problems presented an international threat.

Nevertheless, the Council has not avoided taking on high-profile rights-abuse cases. The rise in abuses in Burundi last year prompted the Council to call on the government to cooperate with UN human-rights monitors — or else. And a UN commission of inquiry on North Korea declared the regime responsible for crimes against humanity, with the Council elevating the matter to its regular agenda.

In Burundi, the UN’s top human-rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said on April 18 that he was alarmed by what appeared to be a “widespread pattern” of rallies in Burundi in which members of a pro-government youth militia chant a call to “impregnate” or kill opponents. Burundi has been seized on and off by violence since its president, Pierre Nkurunziza, won a disputed third term in 2015.

(Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

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Dispute Settlement Becomes Speculative Financial Assethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/dispute-settlement-becomes-speculative-financial-asset/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dispute-settlement-becomes-speculative-financial-asset http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/dispute-settlement-becomes-speculative-financial-asset/#comments Wed, 19 Apr 2017 14:46:24 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150047 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]> Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) will thus strengthen perverse incentives for foreign investors at the expense of local businesses and the public interest. Credit: IPS

Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) will thus strengthen perverse incentives for foreign investors at the expense of local businesses and the public interest. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LAMPUR, Apr 19 2017 (IPS)

Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions in bilateral investment treaties (BITs) and free trade agreements (FTAs) have effectively created a powerful and privileged system of protections for foreign investors that undermines national law and institutions.

ISDS allows foreign corporations to sue host governments for supposedly causing them losses due to policy or regulatory changes that reduce the expected profitability of their investments. Very significantly, ISDS provisions have been and can be invoked, even when rules are non-discriminatory, or profits come from causing public harm. ISDS will thus strengthen perverse incentives for foreign investors at the expense of local businesses and the public interest.

New opportunity for speculation
In recent years, ISDS provisions of investment treaties, free trade and other agreements have increasingly provided an investment opportunity to make money by speculating on lawsuits, winning huge awards and forcing foreign governments, and taxpayers, to pay. Financial speculators have increasingly purchased corporations deemed capable of profitably bringing winnable ISDS claims, sometimes using ‘shell companies’.

Some hedge funds and private equity firms even finance ISDS cases as third parties, with ISDS itself the raison d’etre for such investments. Such ‘third-party funding’ of ISDS claims has been expanding quickly as financing such claims has proven to be very lucrative.

Third-party financing reduces litigation costs to the corporations themselves, making it easier, and thus encouraging them to sue. Foreign corporations typically do not have to declare receiving third-party funding for an ISDS case. Not surprisingly then, the ISDS claims-financing industry is booming as different types of investors have been attracted by and drawn into financing lawsuits, treating ISDS claims as speculative assets.

The International Council for Commercial Arbitration estimates that at least three fifths of those considering ISDS claims have inquired about possible third-party financing before pursuing them. Financing firms provide clients with litigation packages from the outset, advising on what treaties to exploit and which law firms to hire, even recommending arbitrators.

While bondholders do not actually develop productive capacities or sell services in a host country, they too can resort to ISDS arbitration to maximize returns to their debt purchases. Thus, bond-holders who have lost value can use the ISDS back door to sue countries for compensation, thus encouraging a new speculative investment option for ‘vultures’. Hence, ISDS allows investors with little connection to the ‘aggrieved’ initial investment to benefit financially as well.

Ripe for the picking
ISDS advocates claim that case outcomes remain uncertain, with foreign corporations only winning about a quarter of the cases they initiate. But this proportion does not include settlements agreed to before arbitration proceedings are concluded when the foreign corporations secure huge gains. ISDS arbitration is very attractive, even tempting to foreign investors who would otherwise not pursue claims in national courts against host governments.

Recent ISDS arbitrations have seen much greater delegation of authority to arbitrators in interpreting and applying agreements, without any option to appeal or otherwise challenge the arbitrators’ decisions. There is no way to ensure that arbitration tribunals will interpret and apply treaty provisions in ways consistent with governments’ understandings of what treaty obligations imply.

Those investing in ISDS cases recognize that the most vulnerable governments for investors to sue are typically those already in some trouble. For example, when a country resorts to emergency economic measures to protect its citizens, investors can easily claim that these undermine earlier understandings of international agreements. Ensuing lawsuits typically hurt the country’s credit rating, raising capital costs and undermining its ability to attract investment.

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Fighting Xenophobia & Inequality Together in the Age of Trumphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/fighting-xenophobia-inequality-together-in-the-age-of-trump/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-xenophobia-inequality-together-in-the-age-of-trump http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/fighting-xenophobia-inequality-together-in-the-age-of-trump/#comments Wed, 19 Apr 2017 14:25:23 +0000 Ben Phillips http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150042 Ben Phillips is Co-Founder #fightinequality alliance]]> Credit: UN photo

Credit: UN photo

By Ben Phillips
NAIROBI, KENYA, Apr 19 2017 (IPS)

As the world marks 100 days of the Trump Presidency, we can see that we are now in a new era of crisis, that it goes well beyond one man and one country, and that only a profound and international response can get us out of the state we are in.

The crises of xenophobia and inequality embodied by the Age of Trump are profound and are worldwide. Refugees without safe haven; ethnic and religious minorities facing officially sanctioned discrimination; women facing an aggressive onslaught of misogyny.

Civil society leaders supporting marginalized people are seeing an upsurge of these injustices in every continent. We are witnessing a world in danger not just of a slow down in social progress but of a reverse in it.

For leaders of civil society, four things are clear.

First, this is a global challenge. The whirlwind first hundred days of the Trump administration in the US have both epitomized and exacerbated worrying global trends in which an increasingly economically divided world is becoming an increasingly angry and intolerant one.

Secondly, we must take sides against intolerance. We must unashamedly support the oppressed and commit ourselves to resisting forces of division – whether it be hate speech at refugees in Hungary, xenophobic attacks in South Africa, extrajudicial killings of activists in Latin America, discrimination against religious minorities in South Asia, or unconstitutional bans on migrants in the USA. We will work together with others to help foster societies built on respect for diversity, and open to refugees from war and persecution.

The rapid rise in xenophobia and the rise in inequality which is helping to drive it need not be accepted, and can be defeated. When we stand together.
Thirdly, to tackle the forces of intolerance we must also confront the ever widening inequality that is driving societies apart. Progressive values are put under massive strain when economies cast millions aside. We know from history that 1929 economics can lead to 1933 politics, and that when people lose hope fascists ascend. Growth must benefit ordinary people, economies must be reoriented to create jobs, decent jobs, and not see wealth ever more concentrated in the hands of a view.

Fourthly, we must work together as one. There is an old saying, “the people united will never be defeated”. Sadly, that is not always true. But what is true is that the people divided will always be defeated. The challenge to foster societies of equality and solidarity can not be achieved by one organization or even one sector alone. That is why we have come together as many different leaders in NGOs, trade unions, and social movements in a joint call to #fightinequality, and to build power from below.

The stakes could not be higher. The forces of ever widening inequality, and of ever increasingly intolerance, are mobilizing. But so are the forces of solidarity and equality.

We are more united than ever to fight inequality and intolerance. Inspired by the great campaigns of old – anti-slavery, anti-colonialism, votes for women, anti-apartheid, drop the debt – and by the determined young people of today – in Fees Must Fall, Black Lives Matter, Gambia Has Decided – we will work to bend the long arc of the universe towards justice. The rapid rise in xenophobia and the rise in inequality which is helping to drive it need not be accepted, and can be defeated. When we stand together.

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Yemen, World’s Largest Humanitarian Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/yemen-worlds-largest-humanitarian-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yemen-worlds-largest-humanitarian-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/yemen-worlds-largest-humanitarian-crisis/#comments Wed, 19 Apr 2017 05:10:44 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150034 Yemen 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview. Credit: Fragkiska Megaloudi / OCHA

Yemen 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview. Credit: Fragkiska Megaloudi / OCHA

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 19 2017 (IPS)

With 18.8 million people –nearly 7 in 10 inhabitants– in need of humanitarian aid, including 10.3 million requiring immediate assistance, Yemen is now the largest single-nation humanitarian crisis in the world, the United Nations informs while warning that the two-year war is rapidly pushing the country towards “social, economic and institutional collapse.“

More worrying, the conflict in Yemen and its economic consequences are driving the largest food security emergency in the world, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reported.

According to OCHA, over 17 million people are currently “food insecure,” of whom 6.8 million are “severely food insecure” and require immediate food assistance, and two million acutely malnourished children. The Yemeni population amounts to 27,4 million inhabitants.

“We can avert a humanitarian catastrophe, but need 2.1 billion dollars in funding to deliver crucial food, nutrition, health and other lifesaving assistance,” the UN estimates.

UN, Sweden, Switzerland

The world organisation plans to hold a high-level pledging meeting for the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Co-hosted by the governments of Switzerland and Sweden, the conference will take place at UN in Geneva on 25 April 2017.

Credit: OCHA

Credit: OCHA

“The time is now to come together to prevent an “impending humanitarian catastrophe” in Yemen, the organisers warn.
OCHA has also reminded that even before the current conflict escalated in mid-March 2015, Yemen had faced “enormous levels” of humanitarian needs stemming from years of “poverty, under-development, environmental decline, intermittent conflict, and weak rule of law.”

Meantime, it has stressed the need to protect civilians. “The conduct of hostilities has been brutal. As of 31 December 2016, health facilities had reported nearly 48,000 casualties (including nearly 7,500 deaths) as a result of the conflict.” These figures significantly under-count the true extent of casualties given diminished reporting capacity of health facilities and people’s difficulties accessing healthcare.

Massive Violations of Human Rights

OCHA stressed the impact of this crisis in which “all parties appear to have committed violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”

On-going air strikes and fighting continue to inflict heavy casualties, damage public and private infrastructure, and impede delivery of humanitarian assistance, it explains, adding that parties to the conflict and their supporters have created a vast protection crisis in which millions of people face tremendous threats to their safety and well-being, and the most vulnerable struggle to survive.

According to the UN humanitarian body, since March 2015, more than 3 million people have been displaced within Yemen. Roughly 73 per cent are living with host families or in rented accommodation, and 20 per cent in collective centres or spontaneous settlements. A substantial numbers of returnees live in damaged houses, unable to afford repairs and face serious protection risks.

Economy, Destroyed

The Yemeni economy is being wilfully destroyed, OCHA informs. Preliminary results of the Disaster Needs Assessment estimated 19 billion dollars in infrastructure damage and other losses – equivalent to about half of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2013.

“Parties to the conflict have targeted key economic infrastructure. Mainly air strikes – but also shelling and other attacks – have damaged or destroyed ports, roads, bridges, factories and markets. They have also imposed restrictions that disrupt the flow of private sector goods and humanitarian aid, including food and medicine.”

For months, nearly all-basic commodities have been only sporadically available in most locations, and basic commodity prices in December 2016 were on average 22 per cent higher than before the crisis, reports OCHA.

At the same time, Yemen is experiencing a liquidity crisis in which people, traders and humanitarian partners struggle to transfer cash into and within the country. Lenders have become increasingly reluctant to supply credit to Yemeni traders seeking to import essential goods.

Basic Commodities, Scarcer, More Expensive

On this, it informs that at the end result is an economic environment in which basic commodities are becoming scarcer and more expensive just as people’s livelihoods opportunities and access to cash are receding or disappearing altogether.

And that humanitarian partners face growing pressure to compensate for the entire commercial sector, which is beyond both their capacity and appropriate role. Essential basic services and the institutions that provide them are collapsing due to conflict, displacement and economic decline.

“Yemeni authorities report that Central Bank foreign exchange reserves dropped from 4.7 billion dollars in late 2014 to less than 1 billion in September 2016, and the public budget deficit has grown by more than 50 per cent to 2.2 billion dollars.”

In addition, salaries for health facility staff, teachers and other public sector workers are paid erratically, often leaving 1.25 million state employees and their 6.9 million dependents – nearly 30 per cent of the population – without a regular income at a time of shortages and rising prices.

“As a result, social services provided by public institutions are collapsing while needs are surging.” In August 2016, the Ministry of Public Health and Population in Sana’a announced it could no longer cover operational costs for health services, and by October, only 45 per cent of health facilities in the country were fully functional.

Absenteeism among key staff – doctors, nutrition counsellors, teachers, etc. – is reportedly rising as employees seek alternatives to provide for their families, according to the UN. On top of pressure to compensate for a faltering commercial sector, humanitarian partners are increasingly fielding calls to fill gaps created by collapsing public institutions.

90% of Food, Imported – 8 Million Lost Livelihoods

According to OCHA, Yemen relies on imports for more than 90 per cent of its staple food and nearly all fuel and medicine.

Authorities in Sana’a and other areas also at times deny or delay clearances for humanitarian activities, including movement requests for assessments or aid delivery. Restrictions on workshops, humanitarian data collection and information sharing have also been intermittently introduced and rescinded.

These restrictions are at times resolved through dialogue, but the time lost represents an unacceptable burden for people who desperately need assistance. Positive developments since November 2016 indicate that these restrictions may substantially improve in the immediate coming period.

An estimated 8 million Yemenis have lost their livelihoods or are living in communities with minimal to no basic services, the UN informs, adding that about 2 million school-age children are out of school and damage, hosting IDPs, or occupation by armed groups.

Yemen is an Arab country situated in the Southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is the second-largest country in the peninsula, with nearly occupying 528,000 km2, and its coastline stretches for about 2,000 kms.

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“The Ocean Is Not a Dumping Ground”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/the-ocean-is-not-a-dumping-ground/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-ocean-is-not-a-dumping-ground http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/the-ocean-is-not-a-dumping-ground/#comments Wed, 19 Apr 2017 00:02:21 +0000 Nasseem Ackbarally http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150029 President of Mauritius Ameenah Gurib-Fakim. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

President of Mauritius Ameenah Gurib-Fakim. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

By Nasseem Ackbarally
PORT-LOUIS, Mauritius, Apr 19 2017 (IPS)

An internationally renowned scientist, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim became Mauritius’s sixth president on June 5, 2015 – and one of the few Muslim women heads of state in the world.

Her nomination constituted a major event in the island’s quest for greater gender parity and women’s empowerment, giving a higher profile to women in the public and democratic sphere of Mauritius.

Gurib-Fakim started her career in 1987 as a lecturer at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Mauritius. She was one of the leading figures in local academia with a reputation far beyond the Indian Ocean before she accepted the post of president.

She has also served in different capacities in numerous local, regional and international organizations. Gurib-Fakim has lectured extensively and authored or co-edited 26 books and numerous academic articles on biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.

In this exclusive interview with IPS, President Gurib-Fakim urged world leaders to save our oceans, noting that this critical ecosystem impacts millions of livelihoods, particularly for small island-states and coastal communities.

This June, the United Nations will convene a high-level Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development at U.N. Headquarters in New York.

Human activity has already left a huge footprint on the world’s oceans, Gurib-Fakim notes. “We have always assumed that the ocean is a dumping ground – which it is not.”

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: How would you rate the oceans in terms of importance in the context of sustainable development?

A: The ocean space occupies 70 percent of the world’s surface and it still remains unknown. There is no doubt that ocean space impacts livelihood, especially for islands and coastal communities. Several countries in the South-West Indian Ocean, for example, rely heavily on fishing to sustain livelihoods. In 2013, fish accounted for 17 percent of the world population’s intake of animal protein and 6.7 percent of all protein consumed. Coral-reef fish species also represent an important source of protein.

With more than 60 percent of the world’s economic output taking place near coastlines and in some African countries, the ocean economy contributes 25 percent of the revenues and over 30 percent of export revenues. It is becoming increasingly clear the enormous potential of our oceans.

Q: Do you think that the objectives of the World Ocean Summit can still reverse the decline in the health of our ocean for people, planet and prosperity?

A:  This Summit brings on board all the stakeholders involved with ocean issues. This summit is also a pledging conference as funding always remains a thorny issue and yet there is urgency in data collection on several areas of the ocean ecosystems. It provides the policymaker and the researcher a holistic picture of what the ocean stands for and will hopefully change the narrative on the need to reverse the decline of the health of our ocean space.

Climate change remains a big component as acidification of the waters as well as rise in temperatures will affect both the flora and fauna.

We must always be mindful to the fact that humans have had a huge footprint in the health of our oceans as we have always assumed that the ocean is dumping ground. It is NOT. There are within the ocean space, very fragile ecosystems that can be destroyed by small increases in acidity or temperatures.

Q: As an Ocean State, Mauritius does not seem to have given due consideration to the importance of our oceans in terms of an environmental asset. How would this Ocean Summit help to change our mindset?

A: Mauritius has a very small landmass, we have a very huge space of 2.2 million km and I think what the ocean summit helps us to do is to bring back to the fore these multiple challenges or opportunities that the ocean as an entity presents to the economy of Mauritius. As I said, one of the areas will be sustainable fishery, which can be flagged into the economy. Mauritius and in the South West Indian Ocean fisheries are threatened, with up to 30 percent of the fish stock over-exploited or depleted and 40 percent fully exploited. The poor management of this sector has amounted to an annual loss of about USD 225 million.

However, the ocean is not only fish, it is also sustainable tourism as well as renewable energy, including wave energy, amongst others.

Q:  The health of our oceans is critical for the survival of humanity. We have seen that despite all the international conferences and commitments, all the ecosystems of our planet are collapsing one after the other. How will this conference help to change things globally, but equally locally?

A:  For me, the ocean cannot and should not be taken as a dumping ground or a carbon sink. We should also take stock of effluents coming from the rivers as all the runoffs eventually end up in the sea.  Plastic pollution is also a very big issue because we know that a lot of damage is being done to wildlife because of un-recycled plastic. These conferences help us to see visually the impact of these polluting activities. They also bring live images, testimonies from people who have first-hand experiences. They help to change the mindset of people. They also try to bring people to think differently, sustainably.  We need to change the way people do business, the way people look at the ocean, we need to have a completely fresh look at these.

Q: Climate change is a major challenge for the survival of humanity, and we have seen that the United States of America has started to back-pedal on climate change agreements. How do you perceive this change of policy from a major carbon dioxide producer?

A:  To me, climate change is the biggest threat to humanity because it will impact not only on the ocean but also all the ecosystems on earth. It will impact the loss of many species; already 17,000 are threatened and when these species disappear, they reduce the resilience of our ecosystem. I always say biodiversity underpins life on earth and it also in the ocean as well. This balance in the oceans ecosystem is very very fragile.

So, any change, even half a degree increase in temperature of the water, is not sustained by the animals living out there and they will disappear and that is a thing that we do not want to envisage. Now, some countries want to backpedal on climate change agreements, it’s very unfortunate because many countries have fought very very hard to contain emissions. Large economies like India have started a global alliance on renewal energy, China has also made pledges, but it would be unfortunate that any country pulls out of this agreement because we are not talking about the short term but about the long term and for the larger good of humanity.

For those countries that feel that they still need fossil fuels to grow the economy, green technologies have shown that it is possible to sustain growth with same. It is proven and I don’t think people have to shy away from the fact that by disinvesting in fossil fuels their economy will still progress. Clean energy is the answer.

Q: What are your hopes and expectations for the ocean summit?

A: The hope is that those who made pledges deliver on them. We are not too far off the tipping point, but I think all is not lost. We need to act fast and deliver on results as well as on commitments. Our future depends on it.

Q: Nearly two years into your term as President of the Republic of Mauritius, how do you perceive the question of gender equality in Mauritius, and are things are improving?

A: Post-independence Mauritius had a very low per capita income of around 200 USD. Several decisions had been taken since then to ensure the well being of the people and one such decision was to make education free for all in 1976. Education is an enabler and ensures social mobility of people. At that moment in time, parents did not have to make choices of whether to educate their sons or daughters.

Over 40 years down the line we have seen the transformation that this decision has had. The percentage of women in many professional spheres has increased. The medical, judiciary, teaching professions have more than their fair share of women’s representation. We may be weak in terms of percentage at board levels or in politics but I think that it is work in progress. My message is very clear on this issue… any country that wants to make progress cannot afford to ignore 52 percent of its workforce and talents.

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Multilateralism and the Chinese Dreamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/multilateralism-and-the-chinese-dream/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=multilateralism-and-the-chinese-dream http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/multilateralism-and-the-chinese-dream/#comments Tue, 18 Apr 2017 16:44:34 +0000 Nicholas Rosellini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150026 A wind farm outside Tianjin. Credit: Mitch Moxley/IPS

A wind farm outside Tianjin. Credit: Mitch Moxley/IPS

By Nicholas Rosellini
BEIJING, Apr 18 2017 (IPS)

“Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room,” Chinese President Xi Jinping warned the assembled leaders at the World Economic Forum earlier this year. “While wind and rain may be kept outside, that dark room will also block light and air.”

All signs are that China has been heeding its own advice.

With the current geopolitical balance seeming to teeter on every tweet, China’s brand of multilateralism – which President Xi has described as “a win-win, opening-up strategy,” an engine of development for the world – is an alternative to the zero-sum calculus that has fed a wave of nationalism across developed countries.

At the United Nations, where Member States have pledged to ‘leave no one behind’ with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, China has been positioning itself as a champion for inclusive growth and peace. China’s engagement combines development assistance, soft loans and direct investment, reimagining possibilities in a transformed landscape in which leveraged financing, rather than grant-making, is fast becoming the new normal.

China has become the largest contributor of troops and second-largest contributor of funds to UN peacekeeping missions among the five permanent members of the Security Council, which also include France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Through its new UN Peace and Development Trust Fund, it has pledged USD 1 billion to support multilateral cooperation. China is also committing to increase its contributions to the UN development system by USD 100 million by the year 2020.

To much relief, (China) is holding fast to commitments it made during the international climate negotiations to achieve the historic Paris Agreement and its concrete follow-ups.

It is taking a lead on supporting implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), earmarking hundreds of millions to support global efforts to reduce poverty and improve education and health. And, to much relief, it is holding fast to commitments it made during the international climate negotiations to achieve the historic Paris Agreement and its concrete follow-ups.

Regionally and among emerging economies, China has been proactive in building a multipolar architecture of cooperation. Its presidency of the G20 has helped to build consensus around inclusive growth as a shared agenda.

Some 57 countries have signed on to the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, in which China has a 30 percent stake. The BRICS New Development Bank, with 20 percent Chinese contribution, is aiming to support sustainable development initiatives in emerging economies. Both are widely seen as an alternative to Western dominance of multilateral financial institutions and represent China’s leadership in creating new development financing mechanisms and reconfiguring the global governance architecture.

Examples like these are encouraging for proponents of inclusive growth and equity. Yet practice does not always match principle. China has become one of the major South-South development partners in the world, providing by end 2015 some US$63 billion worth of development assistance to 166 countries, both directly and through regional and international organisations. Under the framework of South-South cooperation, China observes principles of mutual benefit, no-strings attached, equality and non-interference in its engagement with other countries. In reality, however, support sometimes comes tied to national regulations and requirements that Chinese parts and labour be used. Opportunities to build capacity and sustainability sometimes are missed in the transfer of technology or equipment, or in the building of infrastructure.

China will need to perfect the balance of interests underpinning its multilateral approach. How does pursuit of the ‘Chinese dream’ – that of a prosperous country, strong and proud at home, powerful and influential abroad – square with the cultivation and preservation of global public goods like clean air and water? Are they mutually reinforcing? Is there a point at which one ends and the other begins?

Even those not charged with creating public goods must be responsible custodians of them. As China’s cities grapple with the effects of pollution caused by decades of neglect, the Chinese private sector has increasingly embraced sustainability as a pillar of good business at home and abroad.

Since Chinese companies are, as a bloc, the third largest investor in the world – their direct investments overseas reached USD 145.7 billion in 2015 – this is welcome news for global development. UN development practitioners are working with the Chinese private sector to promote inclusive practices in business operations, create partnerships that contribute to achieving the SDGs, and ensure that capital markets are aligned to the SDG agenda.

As it rises in prominence as a development partner, China has an opportunity to avoid the mistakes of well-intentioned initiatives of the past. It can be demand- rather than supply-driven, contributing solutions to challenges that the countries it engages with have themselves identified as priorities. And it can use its massive investment, through its blended offer, to support around the world new models of growth and cooperation that are anchored in the principles of inclusivity and sustainability it espouses.

For all its visibility and might, China is still very much a developing country. Yet its adoption of a complementary brand of multilateralism offers welcome grounds for hope in these times.

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Demand for Lower Peacekeeping Dues to Pit US Against UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/demand-for-lower-peacekeeping-dues-to-pit-us-against-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=demand-for-lower-peacekeeping-dues-to-pit-us-against-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/demand-for-lower-peacekeeping-dues-to-pit-us-against-un/#comments Tue, 18 Apr 2017 15:04:02 +0000 Barbara Crossette http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150023 A memorial service for a UN peacekeeper, Corp. Khalid El Hasnaoui of Morocco, April 20, 2016, in the Central African Republic. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, above, leads the mission there. Credit: UN PHOTO

A memorial service for a UN peacekeeper, Corp. Khalid El Hasnaoui of Morocco, April 20, 2016, in the Central African Republic. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, above, leads the mission there. Credit: UN PHOTO

By Barbara Crossette
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 18 2017 (IPS)

The Trump administration, buoyed by a powerful anti-internationalist movement among conservative Republicans in the United States Congress, is headed for a new confrontation with the United Nations over who decides how much the US should pay for peacekeeping.

With a tentative US budget deadline of April 28 fast approaching, it is almost certain that American arrears will mount again, after the Obama administration closed the funding gap.

At the same time, a broad campaign against UN peacekeeping, reflecting current thinking in the US government, is also being waged in the Security Council by Ambassador Nikki Haley.

In her short time on the Council, she has never missed an opportunity to declare that the US will pay no more than 25 percent of the peacekeeping budget, down from about 28 percent. Haley, whose formal education is in accountancy, has also said that she will be looking hard at UN peacekeeping missions to cut costs, although this is still part of a learning curve for her.

Until recently, Haley seemed surprised to hear that troop-contributing countries were compensated by the UN for use of their soldiers.

The US position today is part of an historical cycle of standoffs that began in the 1980s and peaked during the administration of Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s. That is when an earlier wave of anti-internationalism, led most prominently by the late Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, exerted its influence.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Helms reveled in disparaging and insulting the UN, while forcing a politically weakened Clinton to make significant changes in US institutions working in international affairs, including the abolition of an independent Arms Control Agency.

At the time, the US contribution to the annual peacekeeping budget was assessed by the UN at about 31 percent, down from just under 40 percent assessed in the early years of the world body. In 1995, however, Congress passed a law putting a cap of 25 percent on payment of UN peacekeeping dues, and arrears in hundreds of millions of dollars began to accumulate.

By 1999, when the US was in danger of losing its vote in the UN General Assembly, the Helms-Biden agreement (Joseph Biden, a senator then, was the ranking Democrat on the committee) set up a timetable to start paying $926 million in arrears to the UN and other international organizations.

The UN-US calculations and gaps have seesawed ever since. In the early years of the George W. Bush administration, the US cap was raised several times by Congress as arrears were being reduced. In fact, when Barack Obama assumed the presidency in 2009, the US budget cap on payments was higher, at 27.1 percent, than the UN assessment of 25.9 percent.

At the end of the Obama years, the US payment ceiling was set at 28.57 percent, according to figures from the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The UN assessment stood a little lower, at 28.3 percent.

Payments to the UN are drawn from sections of the US State Department budget, which Trump has promised to slash by about 31 percent, a figure that Congress, which writes the budget, is likely to oppose — or temper. The UN’s peacekeeping budget for 2016-2017 was $7.2 billion to $7.89 billion, depending on whose figures are used.

A Republican-led Congress — especially the House of Representative — could argue that all the adjustments made over the years were one-off annual temporary measures that merely tinkered with the 1995 law capping US payments to peacekeeping at 25 percent. Along those lines, all that Congress would have to do is reaffirm the 1995 legislation to meet Trump’s 25 percent. The US would automatically fall back into default.

To describe the process by which the UN sets assessment and dues scales as Byzantine would be making it sound easy. It starts with the UN Charter, which mandated in Article 17 that all member nations contribute to budget expenses. There has been no dispute since 2000 over US dues to the UN’s regular operating budget, for which the US is assessed 22 percent, the highest payment of any nation. The American issue is with peacekeeping dues only.

In assessing peacekeeping rates, the central role is played by the 18-member UN General Assembly Committee on Contributions (separate from the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, the ACABQ, which a previous Take a Look report on the US-UN budget crisis erroneously said was responsible).

Peacekeeping dues are calculated from the base of each nation’s regular budget assessments. A number of factors are then taken into account, including the strength of the national economy, measured in gross national income (GNI) and GNI per capita. Some poor countries receive a discount on their regular budget rate.

The biggest discounts go to least-developed countries (LDCs) , which get 90 percent knocked off their regular budget rate when peacekeeping dues are decided. Countries with high per capita income get no discount.

The permanent five members of the Security Council, or P5 — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — are a special case. Those nations, which can veto or alter proposed peacekeeping resolutions and other measures in the Council, are assessed at a premium rate.

This means that the sum of all discounts given to other countries are added pro rata to the regular budget rates of the P5 to determine what they will be charged for peacekeeping.

Peacekeeping rates and discounts may be recalculated and changed only every three years by the General Assembly, based on advice from the Committee on Contributions. The next major review takes place in 2018. Until then, annual “technical” reviews are held. The 2017 session for this year’s review is in June.

The US government will have to adhere to these timetables and work with the UN in New York throughout the coming months. But as the rules stand now, no major changes can be made on rates until the next three-year review.

The US will remain the world’s largest economy during this period, and there will not be much sympathy around the UN for the Trump administration as the dues argument burgeons. The US already pays less than it should because of previous budget deals.

Even before the Trump cuts kick in, only 1.4 percent of the US federal budget is devoted to foreign aid of all kinds. Within that total, American peacekeeping and regular budget dues to the UN combined account for a minuscule 0.2 percent of the US national budget.

(Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

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Politicians Hijack Macedoniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/politicians-hijack-macedonia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=politicians-hijack-macedonia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/politicians-hijack-macedonia/#comments Tue, 18 Apr 2017 12:28:19 +0000 Frank Mulder http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150014 Thousands of people gather daily in the center of Skopje, Macedonia to express their support for the president. Credit: Aleksandra Jolkina/IPS

Thousands of people gather daily in the center of Skopje, Macedonia to express their support for the president. Credit: Aleksandra Jolkina/IPS

By Frank Mulder
SKOPJE, Apr 18 2017 (IPS)

The political crisis in Macedonia is deepening. With the president and former coalition preventing the formation of a new government, the state threatens to disintegrate in a climate of corruption and nationalism.

The television is turned up loud in a hamburger shop in a suburb of Skopje called Šutka. The ethnic Albanian owner and his workers follow the parliamentary debate live. Their faces, however, are full of contempt. While the owner is preparing an impressively filled bread for less than a euro, he shakes his head despondently."Let's be open: the dispute with the EU about the name is partly the reason for all this mess." --Aleksander Kržalovski

“Those politicians are only getting more and more nationalistic,” one of his clients explains.

Outside we hear the call to prayer. The majority of the people here in Šutka are Muslim. A Roma woman with red-streaked hair is selling ten euro jeans from her market stall. A man with a fluffy salafi-like beard and prayer trousers sells knick-knacks ranging from facial masks and incense sticks to Albanian Korans from beneath a Zlatan Dab Pilsener umbrella.

Filibuster

It looks like nonsensical chatter, what happens on television, but it’s not. What we see is a so-called filibuster, which means politicians preventing any decision-making by just keeping on talking. The right-wing party VMRO-DPNME doesn’t want the social democrats to form a government because that would grant the Albanian minority too many rights.

This has had a disastrous effect on the small Balkan country, which a few years ago was still a promising economy. Since the collapse of Yugoslavia there haven’t been any serious tensions between the Macedonian orthodox majority (about one and a half million) and the Albanian Muslim minority (about half a million), except for limited clashes in 2001.

But corruption has grown since then, along with nationalist rhetoric. In this climate a kind of mini-Watergate scandal has broken out, starting two years ago. Leaked secret service documents showed that ruling VMRO politicians had tapped the phone conversations of 20,000 people, for dubious ends. The country burst out in revolt. Finally, last December, after protests and diplomatic pressure, new elections were held.

VMRO won most of the seats again. Yet, they didn’t manage to form a coalition. The quarrelling Albanian parties, brought together by Albania, decided to strike a coalition deal with the social democrats. To which President Gjorge Ivanov, member of the VMRO, responded with a veto, and the VMRO parliamentarians with a filibuster. Their motive is, they say, that the new coalition wants to accept Albanian as official language, and they will not allow this to happen.

‘Captured state’

“It went very well in Macedonia,” says Samuel Žbogar, ambassador on behalf of the European Union in Skopje. “But the last few years we’ve seen a serious backsliding. We call it a ‘captured state’. Independent institutions like the judiciary are used by politicians.”

The European Union itself is partly to be blamed for the misery. For years, Macedonia has been tempted to enact reforms with a carrot called EU Membership, but year after year Greece has demanded that the country change its name first, for fear of territorial claims on its own Macedonia province.

“People feel deeply hurt,” a source within the European representation in the country says. “They have long been a EU candidate member but are overtaken by other countries.” It is an invitation for countries like Russia to step into the void, although this consists more of vocal instead of financial support – so far.

Fake majority

Thousands of people, mostly grey-haired, gather daily in the center of Skopje to express their support for the president. “Ma-ke-donia! Ma-ke-donia!” they chant, waving red-yellow flags and whipped up by nationalist songs.

“We reject the fake majority of the social democrats and the Albanian parties,” says one young demonstrator, dressed in red and yellow and wearing a 130-year-old cap from anti-Ottoman rebels. He smells strongly of of alcohol but is sure about his case. “The Albanian parties are directed by Albania. We can’t let a neighboring country decide what happens here, can we? They want to create a Great Albania. They want the Macedonian country to disappear. We cannot let this happen.”

This is nonsense, says Nasser Selmani, an ethnic Albanian and president of the Association of Journalists in Macedonia. “I am a Macedonian, this is my country. I don’t belong to Albania, I belong here.” Yet others have more to lose if the state should collapse, he explains. “We have Albania with which we have good relations. But what do the ethnic Macedonians have? Do you think there is anyone who would acknowledge their identity? Greece and Bulgaria won’t.”

The breakdown of the state is not unthinkable. Because of the stalemate, the necessary decisions can’t be made anymore. In a few months, local elections are scheduled. If they don’t take place, the local authorities lose their legitimacy, too.

What also will end in June is the mandate of the Special Prosecutor researching the wiretapping scandal. This is the real reason that politicians have hijacked the country, insiders say. They want to escape prosecution by any means possible.

“They are using the fear of Albanians for their own interest,” says Selmani. “They are using more and more nationalist language. The orthodox church is also promoting this. The cathedral in Skopje is even the gathering place for the daily protests.”

Conservatives

In the big cathedral, however, beneath beautiful icons, all looks peaceful. Evening prayer is silently attended by not more than four people. Even among orthodox believers the Macedonian church, which has declared itself independent from the Serbian orthodoxy, is known as a very nationalistic branch. But demonstrators are not there.

A young orthodox priest in Skopje is willing to explain what he thinks about the current crisis, if only on the basis of anonymity. He serves tea with pieces of Turkish fruit. “We have a separation between church and state. We don’t call for demonstrations here and we don’t give any voting advice. That’s forbidden. But if you ask me personally, I’m against Albanian as an official language. I originally come from a region without Albanians. What if all public servants would be obliged to speak Albanian because it’s an official language? That would be impossible. Our only language is Macedonian.”

On the wall behind the black-robed priest there is a small Macedonian flag with an orange-black Saint George Ribbon, a Russian nationalist symbol. When I ask him what he hopes what will happen, he says, “I hope the crisis will soon be over. That we can live in peace with each other again, without politics being between the people.” The priest doesn’t seem radical, rather very conservative.

Alexander

Through the window of a restaurant in Skopje I look down at the paragon of nationalistic Balkan kitsch, made possible by millions of taxpayers’ money. Between the statues of the Macedonian hero Alexander the Great, to the left, and the Father of Alexander, to the right, we see nobody less than the mother of Alexander, in fourfold. Alexander in her belly, Alexander at her breast, Alexander on her lap, and Alexander around her neck. It’s all completely over the top. It’s the way the current leaders want to bring the people together, at least the ethnic Macedonians.

Inside the restaurant I have a conversation with Aleksander Kržalovski, leader of the Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation, which is the second largest NGO of the country and funder of many small NGOs. He is critical of the current nationalistic wave, he says.

“But it doesn’t make sense to demonize the more conservative population. Many left-wing organisations are very radical. They don’t want to work with fascists, they say. We, instead, believe in cooperation. It’s necessary to bridge the divide between different groups.

“To be honest, it’s unfair to blame right-wing politicians for everything,” Kržalovski continued. “The social democrats use very polarizing rhetoric as well. And many Albanians show no respect for the progress we’ve seen, the rights they have got. Many don’t want to wave the Macedonian flag or sing the national anthem. That raises suspicion. Some people have seen their house burnt down by ethnic Albanians three times, in 2001. And now they see them having a much higher birth rate. It’s understandable that people have fear.”

This doesn’t mean that we have to accept corruption, he says. “Impunity has to end now, that’s very important. But let’s not blame one party. And let’s be open: the dispute with the EU about the name is partly the reason for all this mess. We see that reflected in the diminishing support for the EU in the polls that we do. The EU clearly hasn’t done the job.”

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