Inter Press Service » Featured http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 03 May 2016 16:17:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Mideast: 1 in 3 Bribe to Access Basic Public Serviceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/mideast-1-in-3-bribe-to-access-basic-public-services/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-1-in-3-bribe-to-access-basic-public-services http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/mideast-1-in-3-bribe-to-access-basic-public-services/#comments Tue, 03 May 2016 13:16:07 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144942 Corruption Perceptions Index 2015 | Credit: Transparency International

Corruption Perceptions Index 2015 | Credit: Transparency International

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 3 2016 (IPS)

Just an ordinary citizen living in a Middle East and North of Africa country and requring a birth certificate for your new-born daughter? No problem—just take something with you, either some cash, a pack of cigarettes or just buy a glass of tea with milk and a lot of sugar.

Or a rich Middle-Eastern and want to strike a good business deal? No problem again –all you need is to carry with you an envelope full of banknotes or ask for the bank account of the concerned high government official, preferably abroad.

You may say that paying bribes is a worldwide practise that may have different names—commission, compensation, gratification, or maybe just a little present. You would be right. In fact, Transparency International (TI) estimates that more than 6 billion people live in countries with “a serious corruption problem.”

Poor Countries Lose One Trillion Dollars a Year to Corruption

In the case of poor countries, 1 trillion dollars a year is lost to corruption, TI estimates.

The Middle East and North Africa is no exception. In fact, paying bribes to access even the basic public service in this region of 22 states, home to nearly 400 million people, has become a deeply rooted “normal”, at least over the last seven decades or so, i.e. since many of them accessed formal independence.

This is basically due to two major facts: long decades of colonialism pushing the majority of citizens more and more towards the very bottom of growing impoverishment. And a widespread phenomenon of corrupted government officials.

Credit: Transparency International

Credit: Transparency International

Anyway, big and small corruption is so extended over the whole region, that a new Transparency International report issued on May 3 estimated that nearly one in three citizens who tried to access basic public services in the MENA region paid a bribe, showing that governments across the region have failed to hear their citizens’ voices against corruption.

According to a public opinion survey by the international anti-corruption group of nearly 11,000 adults in 9 countries and territories, the majority of people (61 per cent) across the region think that the level of corruption has gone up over the last 12 months.

The 30 per cent who paid a bribe for a basic service represent the equivalent of nearly 50 million people, TI reported.

“It’s as if the Arab Spring never happened. Leaders who fail to stop secrecy, fail to promote free speech and fail to stop bribery also fail to bring dignity to the daily lives of people living in the Middle East and North Africa. Peoples’ human rights are seriously affected,” said José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International.

Public dissatisfaction with corrupt leaders and regimes was a key catalyst for change in the region, notably with Arab Spring protests, says Transparency International.

Five years on, it adds, the survey finds governments have done little to enforce laws against corruption and bribery, nor have they done enough for transparency and accountability through the promotion of freedoms of the press, civil society and for individuals.

“In Lebanon, numbers are alarming as nine in ten people (92 per cent) say that they think corruption has increased,” says TI. “Government officials, tax officials and members of parliament are perceived to be the most corrupt groups in the region.”

Based on the findings of the survey, here are Transparency International’s four top recommendations:

— Governments in the region must speak out immediately and publicly about their commitment to end corruption. They must also finally deliver on their anti-corruption commitments made globally and regionally, such as under the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and the Arabic Convention for Combating Corruption.

— Governments must eradicate impunity and bring the corrupt to justice so they can take responsibility for the consequences of their actions

— Governments must create a safe and enabling environment for civil society and the media to fight and report corruption.

— Governments must involve their citizens in the fight against corruption and create the space to hold institutions to account and to help law enforcement institutions. This is especially important when the majority of citizens (58 per cent) believe they have the power to make a difference.

The Global Corruption Barometer 2016 question module was implemented by the Afrobarometer network and by several national partners in the Arab Barometer network.

All fieldwork was completed using a face-to-face survey methodology. The survey samples were selected and weighted to be nationally representative of all adults aged 18 and above living in each country/territory.

From villages in rural India to the corridors of power in Brussels, Transparency International works to give voice to the victims and witnesses of corruption. “We work together with governments, businesses and citizens to stop the abuse of power, bribery and secret deals,” it says.

“As a global movement with one vision, we want a world free of corruption. Through chapters in more than 100 countries and an international secretariat in Berlin, we are leading the fight against corruption to turn this vision into reality.“

All this is fine. The point is: who dares to put the cat in the bag?

Click here for the full report. Download the report | View online

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Indian Women Worst Hit by Water Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/indian-women-worst-hit-by-water-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indian-women-worst-hit-by-water-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/indian-women-worst-hit-by-water-crisis/#comments Tue, 03 May 2016 10:30:48 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144938 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/indian-women-worst-hit-by-water-crisis/feed/ 0 The Family Garden Going Out of Style in Cuban Countrysidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-family-garden-going-out-of-style-in-cuban-countryside/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-family-garden-going-out-of-style-in-cuban-countryside http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-family-garden-going-out-of-style-in-cuban-countryside/#comments Tue, 03 May 2016 06:47:34 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144934 José Leiva, 61, walks past rows of bean plants on his small farm, where he grows crops for family consumption and for sale, near the town of Horno de Guisa in the eastern Cuban province of Granma. Credi: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

José Leiva, 61, walks past rows of bean plants on his small farm, where he grows crops for family consumption and for sale, near the town of Horno de Guisa in the eastern Cuban province of Granma. Credi: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, May 3 2016 (IPS)

In the past, all rural homes in Cuba had gardens for putting fresh vegetables on the dinner table. The local term for these gardens is “conuco”, a word with indigenous roots that is still used in several Caribbean nations.

The gardens provided the foundation for healthy meals based on vegetables and fruit grown without chemicals. The families also grew spices, as well as products that they did not sell at market, in order to have a more varied and tasty diet.

But this tradition is fading in the Cuban countryside.

However, farmers aware of the importance of the family garden, non-governmental organisations and researchers recommend that the tradition be revived, to boost food security among the rural population, which represents 26 percent of the country’s 11.2 million people.

“Gardens aren’t that common anymore, at least in this area; that tradition has been lost,” said Abel Acosta, the biggest flower grower in the province of Mayabeque, next to Havana. “What is most common on the farms are the old orchards, thanks to our grandparents, who planted fruit trees, thinking of us,” he told IPS.

Acosta is a 42-year-old agronomy technician who turned to farming for a living in 2008, when the government of Raúl Castro began to distribute idle land to people willing to farm it, as part of a broader policy aimed, so far with little success, at boosting agricultural production.

Since 2009, 279,021 people have received land to farm. Like Acosta, many of them had to learn how to manage a farm, and commute every day from their homes in nearby towns to their land.

“The new generations have a different concept; they plant with the idea of harvesting and seeing their profits grow quickly. They feed their families with whatever they are growing at that time to sell, and they buy everything else outside,” said Acosta, the head of the 2.5-hectare San Andrés Farm, which produced 100,000 dozens of flowers in 2015.

“None of the 25 farmers who I deal with the most have a home garden,” said the farmer, who lives in the rural settlement of Consejo Popular Pablo Noriega in the municipality of Quivicán, 45 km south of the capital.

“Producing food for consumption at home is a good idea because you don’t have to buy things elsewhere and you save time and money. Sometimes no one is even selling a single pepper in town,” said Acosta, referring to the unstable local food markets, where supplies are often low.

That is why in San Andrés, which employs three farmhands, small-scale crops are grown for the five families involved in the farm.

The farm inclues a half-hectare mixed orchard with coffee bushes and mango, avocado, lemon, tangerine, orange and “mamey sapote” trees. Besides, Acosta’s father retired from a job as a public employee and is planting plantains – cooking bananas – and growing foods like cassava, tomatoes and lettuce.

Aliuska Labrada, 39, walks down the rows of her garden, with which she improves and diversifies her family’s diet in Ciénaga de Zapata in the western Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Aliuska Labrada, 39, walks through her garden, with which she improves and diversifies her family’s diet in Ciénaga de Zapata in the western Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“In Cuba a large part of this (conuco) culture has unfortunately been lost as a result of the structure of agricultural production in rural areas,” lamented Theodor Friedrich, the representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Cuba.

FAO promotes “family gardens, which formed part of the culture of rural families, not only in Cuba,” Friedrich told IPS.

The gardens “are important elements for improving nutrition and food security,” as are better-known national projects like “urban farming and school gardens.”

Friedrich added that “in many rural communities, gardens are still widespread, and that is where curious small farmers eventually start experimenting with conservation agriculture (ecological no-till farming) until they can one day expand it to the fields.”

For decades, local scientific researchers have been studying conucos, among other traditional practices. Unlike in other countries, in Cuba conucos do not have indigenous roots, but were originally small plots that slaveowners let slaves use to plant or raise small livestock for their own consumption.

A 2012 report, “Twelve attributes of traditional small-scale Cuban rural farming”, described home gardens in the countryside as “a dynamic, sustainable agricultural ecosystem that contributes to family subsistence.” It also considered the gardens key to preserving local species and varieties.

The study by the governmental Alexander Humboldt National Institute of Basic Research in Tropical Agriculture was partly based on field research in family gardens in 18 localities in west, central and east Cuba.

A pomegranate on one of the fruit trees in Aliuska Labrada’s family garden in Zapata Swamp in western Cuba. Credit: jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A pomegranate on one of the fruit trees in Aliuska Labrada’s family garden in Zapata Swamp in western Cuba. Credit: jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Home gardens, which vary in size, are used to produce food for the family, fodder for livestock, spices and herbs, biofuel and ornamental plants. They even generate income, because the families sell between five and 30 percent of what they produce in the gardens, the study said.

The gardens studied maintained the traditional practices of intercropping and crop rotation, and generally used organic fertiliser.

“Farmers have always had conucos for family consumption, although they don’t cover 100 percent of needs,” Emilio García, a veteran farmer who owns an 18-hectare farm on the outskirts of Camagüey, a city 534 km east of Havana, told IPS.

Although less than five percent of the population was undernourished in Cuba between 2014 and 2016, according to FAO, the country depends on food imports that cost millions of dollars a year.

And although the government provides a basic basket of heavily subsidised foods and other items, it does not completely cover people’s needs, and other foods are very costly for Cuban families.

IPS spoke to other people who improve their family diets with vegetables grown in their conucos, such as 39–year-old homemaker Aliuska Labrada, who lives in Ciénaga de Zapata in the west of the country, and 61-year-old José Leiva, a farmer who owns 4.5 hectares of land in Horno de Guisa in eastern Cuba.

Leiva is receiving training and support from the non-governmental ecumenical Bartolomé G. Lavastida Christian Centre for Service and Training (CCSC) based in Santiago de Cuba, 847 km from Havana, which carries out development projects in the five eastern provinces and the central province of Camagüey.

“We train people in family agriculture concepts,” said Ana Virginia Corrales, who coordinates training in the CCSC. “In first place, we want people to be able to cover their own needs, and in second place, we want them to be able to sell their surplus production. That way they will be self-sustainable.”

The CCSC is involved in 45 ecological farming initiatives in 20 municipalities, which had benefited 1,995 families by late 2015, with the help of Bread for the World of Germany, Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action and the White Rose Ministry of the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, New York.

The Programme for Local Agrarian Innovation (PIAL), active in 45 of the country’s 168 municipalities, promotes home gardens to empower rural women, with support from the National Institute for Agricultural Sciences and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation since 2000.

As of late 2015, 6,240,263 hectares of land were being farmed in this island nation of 109,884 square kilometres, 30.5 percent of which was farmed by the state, 34.3 percent by cooperatives and the rest by small independent farmers.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Odd Situation in the “Paradise” of Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/odd-situation-in-the-paradise-of-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=odd-situation-in-the-paradise-of-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/odd-situation-in-the-paradise-of-press-freedom/#comments Mon, 02 May 2016 16:54:45 +0000 Milla Sundstrom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144930 By Milla Sundström
HELSINKI, Finland, May 2 2016 (IPS)

A strange situation has emerged in Finland where some people feel that the press freedom is currently jeopardised. The small Nordic country is a press freedom celebrity leading the index kept by Reporters Without Borders since 2009 and hosting the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

The case is related to the so-called Panama Papers that were recently leaked by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The papers originate from the Panama based law company Mossack Fonseca and include information about over 210,000 companies that operate in fiscal paradises.

The Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) was involved in publishing the leak and fiscal authorities of Finland now insist that the company has to hand the material over to them. The dead line expired on Friday but YLE has refused.

The company is appealing the tax authorities’ decision and stating that it’s basic freedom is to protect the news sources. Besides YLE emphasised that it does not possess the material but a few journalists just have access to it.

What has most surprised both journalists and the public here is the fact that this happens in Finland while no other country whose media is involved in the Panama case has experienced same kind of threat from the authorities.

“We understand very well about why the tax office and politicians are interested in the documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca”, the responsible editors of YLE investigative group, Ville Vilén and Marit af Björkesten, said in their statement referring to the possible tax evasions and their social consequences.

They admit having partly shared purposes with the authorities but refuse to violate old principles that have been followed for decades in the European countries that respect press freedom.

“Despite their wideness the Panama papers are not a reason to endanger the protection of the news source and the possibilities of Finnish journalists to practice influential investigative journalism on a longer run,” they continue.

“Surprisingly we are not here to celebrate press freedom but instead to ponder an amazing situation”, the president on the Finnish Council of Mass Media, Elina Grundström, said Monday on YLE’s morning television.
The Council of Mass Media is an organ of the Finnish media’s self-regulation meant to supervise the ethics of the press from all stakeholders’ angle. Grundström gave her support to YLE’s decision not to give up the Panama papers to the tax authorities.
Susanna Reinboth, the law reporter of the biggest national daily, agreed while Pekka Mervola, editor-in-chief of the regional paper Keskisuomalainen, thinking that the material could be delivered with certain reservations that are meant to protect the sources.
The problem may be at least partly solved on May 9th when the ICIJ has promised to publish part of the Panama material.

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Free Press a Casualty of Pakistan’s Terror Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/free-press-a-casualty-of-pakistans-terror-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-press-a-casualty-of-pakistans-terror-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/free-press-a-casualty-of-pakistans-terror-war/#comments Mon, 02 May 2016 14:59:49 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144927 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/free-press-a-casualty-of-pakistans-terror-war/feed/ 0 Grilled for a Retweet: Press Freedom in Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/grilled-for-a-retweet-press-freedom-in-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=grilled-for-a-retweet-press-freedom-in-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/grilled-for-a-retweet-press-freedom-in-kenya/#comments Mon, 02 May 2016 12:28:51 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144925 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/grilled-for-a-retweet-press-freedom-in-kenya/feed/ 0 Black Colombian Activists Continue Our Struggle For Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/black-colombian-activists-continue-our-struggle-for-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=black-colombian-activists-continue-our-struggle-for-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/black-colombian-activists-continue-our-struggle-for-rights/#comments Sun, 01 May 2016 23:28:03 +0000 Charo Mina Rojas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144920 By Charo Rojas
Cauca, COLOMBIA, May 1 2016 (IPS)

While Colombia’s peace talks continue in Havana, Cuba, back home in the region of North Cauca, Black Colombians have found their cries for access to their ancestral lands met with tear-gas and rubber bullets.

We saw them approach, the ESMAD, the dreaded special police unit called out to squelch popular mobilizations against the government. We pressed even closer together to maintain our lines on one of the main highways that connects Colombia’s north and south. Over a thousand of us, black Colombians from one of the poorest regions of the country, gathered to demonstrate to the government that we would not be silenced while our territories are taken away. Suddenly, without warning, the ESMAD began their assault and soon elders, children, women and our young people were choking from the tear-gas and holding parts of their bodies stinging from rubber bullets indiscriminately fired at us.

The ESMAD’s assault took place on April 25 in the region of North Cauca, Colombia. The next day, the ESMAD sabotaged conversations between the community councils and the authorities, their renewed attacks this time also effecting some of the government officials. A three month-old baby and several children were hurt by a tear-gas grenade that exploded inside their house. We black Colombians are more or less held hostage by the ESMAD, while the national government had promised a meeting at the Mayor’s office in the nearest town.

The Afrodescendant Women’s Mobilization has received numerous death threats due to our actions to protect our community’s rights and territories. However, the government fails to find the responsible persons for the illegal mining or the death threats.

The Northern Cauca region, located in the department of Cauca, is a critical area in the negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC that are currently taking place in Havana, Cuba. Yet Black communities and our interests have not been considered during these discussions, even though our ancestral territories will be compromised by at least one of the agreements: the 63 so-called campesino reserves. Most of the areas the FARC wants to settle or continue to control are in the middle of or close to black and Indigenous lands.

The main national Black organizations have been concentrated in the National Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA by its acronym in Spanish), which with the Interethnic Commission of Peace, has demanded and lobbied the Colombian government to bring our voice and interests to the table in Havana. But since our demands have been ignored we have had to find new ways to make our voices heard.

As has often been the case in our long history of struggle and resistance in Colombia we have again had to turn to protest. In November 2014, eighty Afro-descendant women mobilized and walked across the country to Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, where we seized the building of the Ministry of Interior to demand a stop to the increase in illegal mining in our territories. These mining activities have brought death, violence and tragedy. In one mine collapse alone, over 40 of our people were killed.

These mobilizations have often been led by Black women, increasingly so in recent years. We have made the government sign agreements to remove illegal mining and admit that granting mining rights to multinationals violates its own laws. We have also made the government acknowledge that these agreement violate the right to prior and informed consultation and consent, as recognized by the International Labour Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention. Yet those admissions and agreements have not translated into respect for our rights or any change in government’s actions or approach. In fact, despite the agreements, and the laws and the constitutional mandate to consult, to respect, promote and protect the rights of Black people, the Colombian government has granted mining concessions that cover seventy percent of the Cauca lands to multinationals such as Anglo Gold Ashanti.

The Afrodescendant Women’s Mobilization has received numerous death threats due to our actions to protect our community’s rights and territories. However, the government seems incapable of finding those responsible for the illegal mining or the death threats.

That is why we must continue to resist. The Community Councils will continue blocking the road until the national authorities commit to a renewed dialogue that will lead to substantive changes in how the interests of our communities are protected. It is clear for us that our Black lives matter only through our own efforts.

Charo Mina Rojas is an activist with the Black Communities’ Process in Colombia.

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

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Media Freedom in Africa Remains Under Attackhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/media-freedom-in-africa-remains-under-attack/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=media-freedom-in-africa-remains-under-attack http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/media-freedom-in-africa-remains-under-attack/#comments Sat, 30 Apr 2016 16:24:12 +0000 Zubair Sayed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144916 Journalists in Zambia protest against attacks on the media. Credit: Kelvin Kachingwe/IPS

Journalists in Zambia protest against attacks on the media. Credit: Kelvin Kachingwe/IPS

By Zubair Sayed
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 30 2016 (IPS)

Imagine a world without the media, where we have no verified information about what’s going on around us. Where everything is hearsay and gossip, where there are no trusted sources of information. It would be hard to operate in a world like that: to make decisions about what to do about the things that affect our lives.

Think for a minute too about what it would mean for those in power; they would be able to act as if we, the people, did not exist. It would be impossible to hold them to account, to know that they’re keeping the election promises they made in their wordy manifestos, and it would be impossible for our voices to be heard. Similarly, it would be difficult to know how companies are behaving, how they are treating their workers and the environment, and whether they are colluding to extract ever more from our pockets.

The role of the media in providing credible information, of giving voice to the people and holding those in power to account is fundamental to the realisation of our freedom and human rights. Whilst there are differences of opinion about whether the media are part of civil society, what is undisputed is the key role that they play in social and economic development, democracy, human rights and the pursuit of justice. Organisations and activists that work on social issues and help articulate public opinion need the media to disseminate the voices they represent. Without a plurality of voices, ideas are diminished, debate is stifled and tolerance is weakened.

Yet, or perhaps because of their role in giving voice and speaking truth to power, the media are increasingly under attack from both governments and corporate interests.

In its recently released World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders say that there has been a “deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels” and that there is a “climate of fear and tension combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private-sector interests.”

This assault on journalistic freedom takes many forms, including regular harassment of journalists, censorship, confiscation of equipment, closure of media outlets, arrests and in some cases direct and dire attack. Research by the Committee to Protect Journalists is quite chilling: 72 journalists were murdered in 2015 and a further 199 imprisoned.

In Africa, the situation for media varies in different countries across the continent. Alongside Eritrea and Ethiopia as two of the most censored countries in the world – in first and fourth place respectively – there are countries like Namibia, Ghana, Cape Verde and South Africa that score highly when it comes to freedom of information (even though those countries too experience challenges to media freedom). However, in far too many African countries the media come under regular attack and freedom of information remains a distant right.
                              
There is perhaps no clearer indication of both the importance of the media and the assault it faces than when governments crackdown on journalists and media houses in the run up to and during elections. In January this year, Ugandan officials shutdown an independent radio station after it broadcast an interview with a leading opposition candidate. A few months earlier, police shot and injured radio journalist Ivan Vincent as he covered squabbles between supporters of the leading opposition candidate and the police. Between October 2015 and January 2016, the Human Rights Network for Journalists–Uganda documented about “40 election-related incidents in which journalists have been shot at, assaulted, their gadgets damaged, detained and released without charge and blocked from accessing news scenes.”

The situation for media in Burundi following the violence and repression that started ahead of last year’s election has not improved, and some say that the country has seen the near complete destruction of independent media with journalists and civil society being targeted. Facing shutdowns and direct attacks, many journalists have fled the country out of fear for their lives.

Similarly, during the last year in Djibouti and the Republic of Congo, the desire of leaders to hold onto power and to silence voices opposing them, contributed to election-related violence and media repression.

Of course, the media don’t only face attack during elections. In Angola, the government has kept a decades-long close watch on the media, frequently arresting and harassing those it disagrees with. Currently, journalist Domingos da Cruz is one of 17 activists in prison for his participation in a private gathering to discuss non-violent strategies for civil disobedience.

An Ethiopian human rights advocate that spoke with CIVICUS recently reiterated that “Ethiopia has for a long time severely restricted press freedom and the work of civil society. It is one of the top countries when it comes to jailing journalists, many of whom it charges under the 2009 anti-terrorism law.”

This attack on the media is itself part of a broader attack on the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and assembly that CIVICUS has been documenting during the last few years (in 2015 there were serious violations of these freedoms in more than 100 countries). Attacks on the media often go hand in hand with those on activists and organisations that challenge or question the powers that be. In many countries, this crackdown happens with impunity and attacks often go unpunished.

While governments are the main culprits when it comes curtailing media freedom, the private sector also often seeks to control or manipulate media outputs in ways that favour them and their narrow interests: putting profit before people. This takes place in multiple ways, from the concentration of media ownership and the power that allows corporates to yield, to bribing journalists and influencing editorial content in exchange for paid advertising.

Often caught between state repression and corporate influence, media in many African countries face huge challenges. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to these challenges a key part of the solution must be to support independent media, including citizen-journalism; for regional governance institutions to hold African countries accountable and for African countries to hold each other accountable; and for education and awareness about rights related to freedom of information and expression.

With regard to the latter, recent research shows that there is widespread support for media freedom and freedom of expression in Africa but that support for these rights is not universal.  In some contexts, journalistic ethics need to be strengthened; media outlets need to invest more in their journalists and support for independent media amongst civil society and the general public needs to be amplified. We need to look towards innovation too, to think of ways to use inexpensive technology to produce people-powered information and data.

Media that is accurate, credible, ethical and impartial is crucial to development, freedom, human rights and justice in Africa – as it is elsewhere. A study on freedom of expression across 34 African countries in 2013 showed the link between this most basic right and a range of factors, stating that “freedom of expression is also consistently linked to better ratings of government performance, especially with respect to government effectiveness in fighting corruption, but also in other sectors such as maintaining roads and managing the economy.”

Given the challenges we face on the continent, the current media crackdown is untenable and dangerous, and does nothing to facilitate the progress so many are working hard to achieve. As citizens of Africa, we need to increase our efforts to protect those that give us voice and help us realise the full scope of our rights.

Zubair Sayed is the Head of Communication and Campaigns at CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organisations.

Follow him on Twitter @zubairsay

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West Papuans Turn to Africa for Support in Freedom Bidhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/west-papuans-turn-to-africa-for-support-in-freedom-bid-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=west-papuans-turn-to-africa-for-support-in-freedom-bid-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/west-papuans-turn-to-africa-for-support-in-freedom-bid-2/#comments Sat, 30 Apr 2016 06:30:44 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144913 Former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, voiced his support for West Papuan political aspirations during a meeting with West Papuan indigenous leader, Benny Wenda, at Ghana's 59th Independence celebrations in March this year. Credit: Benny Wenda

Former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, voiced his support for West Papuan political aspirations during a meeting with West Papuan indigenous leader, Benny Wenda, at Ghana's 59th Independence celebrations in March this year. Credit: Benny Wenda

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Apr 30 2016 (IPS)

For more than half a century, the indigenous people of West Papua, located on the western side of the island of New Guinea, who are related to the Melanesians of the southwest Pacific Islands, have waged a resistance to governance by Indonesia and a relentless campaign for self-determination.

But despite regular bloodshed and reports of systematic human rights abuses by national security forces, which have taken an estimated half a million West Papuan lives, the international community has remained mostly unwilling to take concerted action in support of their plight.

Now Benny Wenda, a West Papuan independence leader who has lived in exile in the United Kingdom since 2003, is driving a mission to build the support of African states. Following a visit to Senegal in 2010 and two visits to South Africa last year, Wenda was welcomed at the 59th Independence anniversary celebrations in Ghana in March this year.

“There has been widespread attention and further pan-African solidarity for West Papua renewed following my diplomatic visits to these African countries, both at parliamentary and grassroots levels,” Wenda told IPS.

In Ghana, Wenda met with political and church leaders, including former Presidents, Jerry John Rawlings and John Kufuor.

‘We are honoured to fight for your people. We share a similar history. It is no surprise to me that you had support from Ghana at the UN in 1969 and that we accepted West Papuan refugees in the 1980s,’ Jerry John Rawlings said to the Ghanaian media.

The alliance which Wenda is forging is based on a sense of shared historical experience.

“Africa is the motherland to all people and we Melanesians feel this strongly….our affinity primarily lies in our shared ancestral heritage, but also in our recent history because Africa has also suffered the brutalities of colonialism,” Wenda said.

Following decolonisation of the Dutch East Indies, Indonesia gained independence in 1949, but there was disagreement between the Netherlands and Indonesia about the fate of Dutch New Guinea, which the former was preparing for self-determination. A United Nations supervised referendum on its political future, named the ‘Act of Free Choice,’ was held in 1969, but less than 1 per cent of the region’s population was selected to vote by Indonesia, guaranteeing an outcome for integration, rather than independence.

At the time, Ghana and more than a dozen other African states were the only United Nations members to reject the flawed ballot.

During Wenda’s visit to South Africa last February, other leaders, such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Chief Nkosi Zwelivelile ‘Mandla’ Mandela MP, added their solidarity.

‘I’m shocked to learn that West Papua is still not free. I call on the United Nations and all the relevant bodies, please, do what is right, as they know, for West Papua,’ Tutu said in a public statement.

The momentum continued when the Nigeria-based non-government organisation, Pan African Consciousness Renaissance, held a pro-West Papua demonstration outside the Indonesian Embassy in Lagos in April 2015.

Indonesia’s refusal to recognise secessionist aspirations in its far-flung troubled region is often attributed not only to concerns about national unity, but the immense mineral wealth of copper, gold, oil and natural gas which flows to the state from ‘West Papua’, the umbrella term widely used for the two Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

Since coming to power in 2014 populist Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, has vowed to increase inclusive development in the region and called on security forces to refrain from abusive measures, but the suffering of West Papuans continues. In May last year, there were reports of 264 activists arrested by police ahead of planned peaceful protests. Twelve Papuans were shot by security forces in Karubaga in the central highlands in July, while in August three people were abducted and tortured by police in the Papuan capital, Jayapura, and two shot dead outside the Catholic Church in Timika.

West Papua’s political fate stands in contrast to that of East Timor at the end of last century. East Timor, a Portuguese colony militarily annexed by Indonesia in 1975, gained Independence in 2002. The positive result of an independence referendum in 1999 was widely accepted and further supported by a multi-national peacekeeping force when ensuing violence instigated by anti-independence forces threatened to derail the process.

But in the political climate of the 1960s, Wenda says “West Papua was effectively handed over to Indonesia to try and appease a Soviet friendly Indonesian government….our fate was left ignored for the sake of cold war politics.” Now Indonesia staunchly defends its right of sovereignty over the provinces.

In the immediate region, West Papua has obtained some support from Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu which have voiced concerns about human rights violations at the United Nations.

And last year the Melanesian Spearhead Group, a sub-regional intergovernmental organisation, granted observer status to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua coalition. However, Indonesia, a significant trade partner in the Pacific Islands region, was awarded associate membership, giving it an influential platform within the organisation.

“Luhut Pandjaitan’s [Indonesia’s Presidential Chief of Staff] recent visit to Fiji suggests that Indonesia is continuing its efforts to dissuade Pacific states from supporting West Papua and is willing to allocate significant diplomatic and economic resources to the objective,” Dr Richard Chauvel at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute commented to IPS.

In contrast to Indonesia’s Pacific Island neighbours, Dr Chauvel continued, “African states mostly do not have significant trade, investment, diplomatic and strategic interests with Indonesia and do not have to weigh these interests against support for the West Papuan cause at the UN or elsewhere.”

How influential south-south solidarity by African leaders will be on West Papua’s bid for freedom hinges on whether championing words translate into action. In the meantime, Benny Wenda’s campaign continues.

(End)

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“Together, Civil Society Has Power”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/together-civil-society-has-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=together-civil-society-has-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/together-civil-society-has-power/#comments Fri, 29 Apr 2016 22:53:55 +0000 Constanza Vieira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144908 Participants in the biannual International Civil Society Week 2016, held in Bogotá, waiting for the start of one of the activities in the event that drew some 900 activists from more than 100 countries. Credit: CIVICUS

Participants in the biannual International Civil Society Week 2016, held in Bogotá, waiting for the start of one of the activities in the event that drew some 900 activists from more than 100 countries. Credit: CIVICUS

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTA, Apr 29 2016 (IPS)

When Tamara Adrián, a Venezuelan transgender opposition legislator, spoke at a panel on inclusion during the last session of the International Civil Society Week held in Bogotá, 12 Latin American women stood up and stormed out of the room.

Adrián was talking about corruption in Venezuela, governed by “Chavista” (for the late Hugo Chávez) President Nicolás Maduro, and the blockade against reforms sought by the opposition, which now holds a majority of seats in the legislature.

The speaker who preceded her, from the global watchdog Transparency International, referred to corruption among left-wing governments in South America.

Outside the auditorium in the Plaza de Artesanos, a square surrounded by parks on the west side of Bogotá, the women, who represented social movements, argued that, by stressing corruption on the left, the right forgot about cases like that of Fernando Collor (1990-1992), a right-wing Brazilian president impeached for corruption.“Together, civil society has power…If we work together and connect with what others are doing in other countries, what we do will also make more sense.” -- Raaida Manaa

“Why don’t they mention those who have staged coups in Latin America and who have been corrupt?” asked veteran Salvadoran activist Marta Benavides.

Benavides told IPS she was not against everyone expressing their opinions, “but they should at least show respect. We don’t all agree with what they’re saying: that Latin America is corrupt. It’s a global phenomenon, and here we have to tell the truth.”

That truth, according to her, is that “Latin America is going through a very difficult situation, with different kinds of coups d’etat.”

She clarified that her statement wasn’t meant to defend President Dilma Rousseff, who is facing impeachment for allegedly manipulating the budget, or the governing left-wing Workers’ Party.

“I want people to talk about the real corruption,” she said. “In Brazil those who staged the 1964 coup (which ushered in a dictatorship until 1985) want to return to power to continue destroying everything; but this will affect everyone, and not just Brazil, its people and its resources.”

In Benavides’ view, all of the panelists “were telling lies” and no divergent views were expressed.

But when the women indignantly left the room, they missed the talk given on the same panel by Emilio Álvarez-Icaza, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), who complained that all of the governments in the Americas – right-wing, left-wing, north and south – financially strangled the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Emilio Álvarez-Icaza, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the last one on the right, speaking at an International Civil Society Week panel on the situation of activism in Latin America. Credit: Constanza Vieira/IPS

Emilio Álvarez-Icaza, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the last one on the right, speaking at an International Civil Society Week panel on the situation of activism in Latin America. Credit: Constanza Vieira/IPS

He warned that “An economic crisis is about to break out in the Inter-American human rights system,” which consists of the IACHR and the Court, two autonomous Organisation of American States (OAS) bodies.

“In the regular financing of the OAS, the IACHR is a six percent priority, and the Inter-American Court, three percent,” said Álvarez-Icaza.

“They say budgets are a clear reflection of priorities. We are a nine percent priority,” he said, referring to these two legal bodies that hold states to account and protect human rights activists and community organisers by means of precautionary measures.

He described as “unacceptable and shameful” that the system “has been maintained with donations from Europe or other actors.”

There were multiple voices in this disparate assembly gathered in the Colombian capital since Sunday Apr. 24. The meeting organised by the global civil society alliance CIVICUS, which carried the hashtag ICSW2016 on the social networks, drew some 900 delegates from more than 100 countries.

The ICSW2016 ended Friday Apr. 29 with the election of a new CIVICUS board of directors.

Tutu Alicante, a human rights lawyer from Equatorial Guinea, is considered an “enemy of the state” and lives in exile in the United States. He told IPS that “we are very isolated from the rest of Africa. We need Latin America’s help to present our cases at a global level.”

Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang has been in power for 37 years. On Sunday Apr. 24 he was reelected for another seven years with over 93 percent of the vote, in elections boycotted by the opposition. His son is vice president and has been groomed to replace him.

“Because of the U.S. and British interests in our oil and gas, we believe that will happen,” Alicante stated.

He said the most interesting aspect of the ICSW2016 was the people he met, representatives of “global civil society working to build a world that is more equitable and fair.”

He added, however, that “indigenous and afro communities were missing.”

“We’re in Colombia, where there is an important afro community that is not here at the assembly,” Alicante said. “But there is a sense that we are growing and a spirit of including more people.”

He was saying this just when one of the most important women in Colombia’s indigenous movement, Leonor Zalabata, came up. A leader of the Arhuaco people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, she has led protests demanding culturally appropriate education and healthcare, and indigenous autonomy, while organising women in her community.

She was a keynote speaker at the closing ceremony Thursday evening.

A woman with an Arab name and appearance, Raaida Manaa, approached by IPS, turned out to be a Colombian journalist of Lebanese descent who lives in Barranquilla, the main city in this country’s Caribbean region.

She works with the Washington-based International Association for Volunteer Effort.

“The most important” aspect of the ICSW2016 is that it is being held just at this moment in Colombia, whose government is involved in peace talks with the FARC guerrillas. This, she said, underlines the need to set out on the path to peace “in a responsible manner, with a strategy and plan to do things right.”

The title she would use for an article on the ICSW2016 is: “Together, civil society has power.” And the lead would be: “If we work together and connect with what others are doing in other countries, what we do will also make more sense.”

In Colombia there is a large Arab community. Around 1994, the biggest Palestinian population outside the Middle East was living in Colombia, although many fled when the civil war here intensified.

“The peaceful struggle should be the only one,” 2015 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Ali Zeddini of the Tunisian Human Rights League, who took part in the ICSW2016, said Friday morning.

But, he added, “you can’t have a lasting peace if the Palestinian problem is not solved.” Since global pressure managed to put an end to South Africa’s apartheid, the next big task is Palestine, he said.

Zeddini expressed strong support for the Nobel peace prize nomination of Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader serving five consecutive life sentences in an Israeli prison. He was arrested in 2002, during the second Intifada.

 Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Illicit Financial Flowshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/opinion-illicit-financial-flows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-illicit-financial-flows http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/opinion-illicit-financial-flows/#comments Fri, 29 Apr 2016 14:34:23 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144905 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. ]]>

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.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Apr 29 2016 (IPS)

International capital flows are now more than 60 times the value of trade flows. The Bank of International Settlements (BIS) is now of the view that large international financial transactions do not facilitate trade, and that excessive financial ‘elasticity’ was the cause of recent financial crises.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Illicit financial flows involve financial movements from one country to another, especially when funds are illegally earned, transferred, and/or utilized. Some examples include:
• A cartel using trade-based money laundering techniques to mix legal money, say from the sale of used cars, with illegal money, e.g., from drug sales;
• An importer using trade mis-invoicing to evade customs duties, VAT, or income taxes;
• A corrupt public official or family members using an anonymous shell company to transfer dirty money to bank accounts elsewhere;
• An illegal trafficker carrying cash across the border and depositing it in a foreign bank; or
• A terrorist financier wiring money to an operative abroad.

Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimated that in 2013, US$1.1 trillion left developing countries in illicit financial outflows. Its methodology is considered to be quite conservative, as it does not pick up movements of bulk cash, mispricing of services, or most money laundering.

Beyond the direct economic impact of such massive haemorrhage, illicit financial flows hurt government revenues and society at large. They also facilitate transnational organized crime, foster corruption, undermine governance and decrease tax revenues.

Where Does The Money Flow To?
Most illicit financial outflows from developing countries ultimately end up in banks in countries like the US and the UK, as well as in tax havens like Switzerland, the Cayman Islands or Singapore. GFI estimates that about 45 per cent of illicit flows end up in offshore financial centres and 55 per cent in developed countries. University of California, Berkeley Professor Gabriel Zucman has estimated that 6 to 8 per cent of global wealth is offshore, mostly not reported to tax authorities.

GFI’s December 2015 report found that developing and emerging economies had lost US$7.8 trillion in illicit financial flows over the ten-year period of 2004-2013, with illicit outflows increasing by an average of 6.5 per cent yearly. Over the decade, an average of 83.4 per cent of illicit financial outflows were due to fraudulent trade mis-invoicing, involving intentional misreporting by transnational companies of the value, quantity or composition of goods on customs declaration forms and invoices, usually for tax evasion. Illicit capital outflows often involve tax evasion, crime, corruption and other illicit activities.

How Low Can You Go?
In the 1960s, there was a popular dance called the ‘limbo rock’, with the winner leaning back as much as possible to get under the bar. Many of today’s financial centres are involved in a similar game to attract customers by offering low tax rates and banking secrecy. This has, in turn, forced many governments to lower direct taxes not only on income, but also on wealth. From the early 1980s, this was dignified by US President Ronald Reagan’s embrace of Professor Arthur Laffer’s curve which claimed higher savings, investments and growth with less taxes.

With the decline of government revenue from direct taxes, especially income tax, many governments were forced to cut spending, often by reducing public services, raising user-fees and privatizing state-owned enterprises. Beyond a point, there was little room left for further cuts, and governments had to raise revenue. This typically came from indirect taxes, especially on consumption, as trade taxes were discouraged to promote trade liberalization. Many countries have since adopted value added taxation (VAT), long promoted, in recent decades, by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others as the superior form of taxation: after all, once the system is in place, raising rates is relatively easy.

A progressive tax system would seek to ensure that those with more ability to do so, pay proportionately more tax than those with less ability to do so. Instead, tax systems have become increasingly regressive, with the growing middle class bearing the main burden of taxes. Meanwhile, tax competition among developing countries has not only reduced tax revenue, but also made direct taxation less progressive, while the growth of VAT has made the overall impact of taxation more regressive as the rich pay proportionately less tax with all the loopholes available to them, both nationally and abroad. Overall tax incidence in many developing countries has not only long been regressive, but has also become more regressive over time, especially since the 1980s.

Although there are many reasons for income inequality, hidden untaxed wealth has undoubtedly also increased wealth and income inequality at the national and international level.

(End)

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World Farmers’ Organisation Meeting Eyes New Markets, Fresh Investmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/world-farmers-organisation-meeting-eyes-new-markets-fresh-investment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-farmers-organisation-meeting-eyes-new-markets-fresh-investment http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/world-farmers-organisation-meeting-eyes-new-markets-fresh-investment/#comments Fri, 29 Apr 2016 13:52:52 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144903 Bags of maize at the Food Reserve Agency Depot in Kasiya, Pemba district, Southern Zambia. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Bags of maize at the Food Reserve Agency Depot in Kasiya, Pemba district, Southern Zambia. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
LIVINGSTONE, Zambia, Apr 29 2016 (IPS)

‘No Farmer, No Food’ is an old slogan that the Zambia National Farmers’ Union still uses. Some people consider it a cliché, but it could be regaining its place in history as agriculture is increasingly seen as the answer to a wide range of the world’s critical needs such as nutrition, sustainable jobs and income for the rural poor.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), agricultural investment is one of the most important and effective strategies for economic growth and poverty reduction in rural areas where the majority of the world’s poor live. Available data indicates that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in agriculture is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth originating in other sectors.

Armed with this evidence, the world’s development trajectory is focusing on how the sector can boost the fight against hunger and extreme poverty—two of the major obstacles to achieving sustainable development. And the upcoming 6th World Farmers’ Organisation General Assembly slated for May 4-7 in Zambia is set to be dominated by, among other things, agricultural investment and market linkages."We should use the gathering to solicit for ideas and investments to improve the agricultural value chain as government sets agriculture as the mainstay of the economy." -- WFO President Evelyn Nguleka

Under the theme ‘Partnerships for Growth’, the conference is poised to deliberate on ways to encourage farmer-centered partnerships and investments aimed at improving the economic environment and livelihood of this group of producers, most of whom live in rural areas.

FAO estimates that an additional investment of 83 billion dollars will be needed annually to close the gap between what low- and middle-income countries have invested each year over the last decade and what is needed by 2050.

But for developing countries like Zambia, where would this kind of investment come from?

Evelyn Nguleka, president of the Zambia National Farmers’ Union (ZNFU), believes hosting this year’s event is an opportunity for Zambia to market itself as a preferred agricultural investment destination.

“We have the land, water, human resource and good climate which supports the growing of all kinds of agricultural produce,” Dr. Nguleka told IPS. She added that the hosting of the WFO General Assembly comes at a crucial time for Zambia, which has suffered one of the worst droughts induced by the El Nino weather phenomenon sweeping across Southern Africa.

“It is a critical point in our agricultural development that we should use the gathering to solicit for ideas and investments to improve the agricultural value chain as government sets agriculture as the mainstay of the economy,” said the ZNFU president, who is also the current World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) president.

Highlighting the challenge of market access and poor mechanisation, Nguleka is hopeful that Zambia would use the platform to learn from countries that have mechanised and are now reaping the benefits.

“As you are aware, majority producers are smallholders most of whom are women. Women are not only farmers but also home managers, and to balance these two duties requires some basic mechanisation to reduce time spent in the fields,” she said, highlighting the importance of women to agricultural development.

But for Green Living Movement, a member of the Zambia Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity Conservation, the conference should ensure that the voice of smallholder farmers – usually marginalised at such big events – is heard loud and clear.

“We welcome the theme, which is timely. But we say no to one-sided partnerships that seemingly favour the bigger corporations while the smallholder farmers lose out,” said Emmanuel Mutamba, director of Green Living Movement and Chairman of the Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity Conservation.

Mutamba said WFO should guard against selfish corporate interests whose agenda is largely driven by profit. “Climate change is here to stay. We call upon our representatives at this conference to seriously consider the plight of smallholders who produce 75 percent of the country’s food requirements and are at the frontlines of climate change effects. Sustainable technologies must be sought for their continued productivity, or else whatever partnerships emerge would not make sense without production,” Mutamba told IPS, highlighting the importance of tackling climate change.

And in adding value to the win-win approach being advocated for, the Cultivate Africa’s Future (CultiAF) Project on reducing post-harvest losses of fish in Western Zambia could be a perfect example.

After introducing fishers to efficient post-harvest handling technologies, the project has moved to fund business ideas meant to up-scale workable technologies whose findings are a result of joint efforts between fishers and researchers through a Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach.

Dubbed Expanding Business Opportunities for African Youth in Agricultural Value Chains in Southern Africa, the CultiAF supplementary project is funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

Jonathan Tambatamba, director of Programmes at the ATDF Entrepreneurship Hub (AEH), a private company contracted by IDRC to implement the commercialisation project, said, “The project seeks to move away from the ‘business as usual’ approach of using communities for commercial interests, after which they are dumped without a sustainability plan.”

Apart from entrepreneurship training, three novel and creative business ideas would be picked and supported with a 5,000-dollar grant each, addressing some of the noted challenges in the (CultiAF) PAR process – financial sustainability and poor market access.

And for 35-year-old fish trader Joyce Inonge Nang’umbili, the idea of having access to reliable markets built around the local business value chain could be close to a miracle. “For some of us who have taken up salting as the best option for fish processing, we desire proper market access of salted fish which is not widely known by most consumers in Zambia,” she said.

As WFO representatives gather in Livingstone, many hope they will be drawn not only to farmer centered policies that address market linkages, but also responsible agricultural investments, with serious implications for the fight against climate change threatening the very existence of humanity and attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as espoused in the UN 2030 agenda.

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Can the UN Security Council Stop Hospitals Being Targets in War?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/can-the-un-security-council-stop-hospitals-being-targets-in-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-the-un-security-council-stop-hospitals-being-targets-in-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/can-the-un-security-council-stop-hospitals-being-targets-in-war/#comments Fri, 29 Apr 2016 13:41:36 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144901 The Agency Headquarters Hospital (AHH) in Bajaur Agency, shortly after a Taliban suicide bomb attack in 2013. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

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

By Lyndal Rowlands
Apr 29 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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El Nino-Induced Drought in Zimbabwehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/el-nino-induced-drought-in-zimbabwe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=el-nino-induced-drought-in-zimbabwe http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/el-nino-induced-drought-in-zimbabwe/#comments Fri, 29 Apr 2016 05:42:21 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144896 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/el-nino-induced-drought-in-zimbabwe/feed/ 0 Violence Against Women Journalists Threatens Media Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/violence-against-women-journalists-threatens-media-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-against-women-journalists-threatens-media-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/violence-against-women-journalists-threatens-media-freedom/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 19:38:18 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144892 A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, many do not report their cases.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Farhana Haque Rahman

Farhana Haque Rahman

The news is constant and disheartening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(End)

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

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

By Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shamshad Akhtar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(End)

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Playing Ping Pong with Disabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/playing-ping-pong-with-disability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=playing-ping-pong-with-disability http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/playing-ping-pong-with-disability/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 07:53:51 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144866 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/playing-ping-pong-with-disability/feed/ 0