Inter Press Service » Featured http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 24 Aug 2016 15:51:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 Concern over Profit-Oriented Approach to Biodiversity in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/concern-over-profit-oriented-approach-to-biodiversity-in-latin-america/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 23:16:28 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146641 An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

An indigenous peasant farmer holds native coffee grains he grows in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. The sharing of benefits generated by genetic resources has become a controversial issue throughout Latin America. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

In July 2015, the Mexican government granted a U.S. corporation permission for the use of genetic material obtained in Mexican territory for commercial and non-commercial purposes, in one of the cases that has fuelled concern in Latin America about the profit-oriented approach to biodiversity.

The agreement, which is catalogued with the identifier number Absch-Ircc-Mx-207343-2, was approved by the National Seeds Inspection and Certification Service and benefits the U.S. company Bion2 Inc, about which very little is known.

Prior, informed consent from the organisation or individual who holds right of access to the material was purportedly secured. But the file conceals the identity of this rights-holder and of the genetic material that was obtained, because the information is confidential.

This is an example of confidentiality practices that give rise to concern about the proper enforcement of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, signed in that Japanese city in 2010 and in effect since 2014.

The protocol, a supplementary agreement to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, in force since 1993, seeks to strengthen the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the protocol has been ratified by Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

The protocol stipulates that each party state must adopt measures to ensure access to traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources in the possession of indigenous and local communities.

That will be done, it states, through the prior informed consent and the approval and participation of these groups, and the establishment of mutually agreed conditions.

“The expectations of indigenous people are not well-covered by the protocol,” Lily Rodríguez, a researcher with the Institute for Food and Resource Economics at Germany’s Bonn University, told IPS.

She stressed that the protocol is “the opportunity to recognise traditional knowledge as part of each nation’s heritage and to establish mechanisms to respect their decisions with regard to whether or not they want to share their knowledge.”

Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with the greatest biodiversity in the world, as it is home to several mega-diverse countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.

The questions covered by the Nagoya Protocol will form part of the debate at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held December 4-17 in Cancun, Mexico.

Indigenous groups and civil society organisations complain that the protocol recognises intellectual property rights for so-called bioprospectors, research centres or companies hunting for biological information to capitalise on.

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Quechua peasant farmers plant quinoa seeds in Peru’s highlands. Civil society organisations and indigenous peoples are strongly opposed to the commercial use of Latin America’s genetic wealth. Credit: Courtesy of Biodiversity International

Furthermore, the sharing of eventual monetary and non-monetary benefits for indigenous peoples and communities is based on “mutually agreed terms” reached in contracts with companies and researchers, which can put native people at a disadvantage.

In Guatemala, civil society organisations and indigenous groups have fought their country’s inclusion in the Nagoya Protocol, which it signed in 2014.

In June, a provisional Constitutional Court ruling suspended the protocol in Guatemala.

“We are opposed because it was approved without the necessary number of votes in Congress; indigenous people were not consulted; and it gives permission for experimentation with and the transfer and consumption of transgenics,” said Rolando Lemus, the head of the Guatemalan umbrella group National Network for the Defence of Food Sovereignty.

The activist, whose NGO emerged in 2004 and which groups some 60 local organisations, told IPS, from the Guatemalan department of Chimaltenango, that the use of biodiversity is part of the culture and daily life of indigenous people, whose worldview “does not allow profiting from ancestral know-how.”

Guatemala had accepted three requests for research using the medicinal plant b’aqche’ (Eupatorium semialatum), cedar and mahogany. The request for the first, used against stomach problems like worms, was in the process of being studied, and the other two were approved in October 2015 for research by the private University del Valle of Guatemala.

As a subsidiary to the Biodiversity Convention, the protocol also covers activities carried out since last decade, regulated by national laws, in different countries of Latin America, which are discussed in a regional study published in 2014.

Brazil, for example, has granted at least 1,000 permits for non-commercial research since 2003 and 90 for commercial research since 2000.

Between 2000 and 2005, Bolivia granted 10 genetic resources access contracts, out of 60 requests filed. Several of them involved quinoa and other Andes highlands crops.

Two of them were for commercial uses. But since new laws were passed in Bolivia in 2010, ecosystems and the processes that sustain them cannot be treated as commodities and cannot become private property. The legislation amounts to a curb on the country’s adherence to the protocol.

In Colombia there are permits to collect samples and to send material abroad. Since 2003, that South American country has granted 90 contracts, out of 199 requests, and has signed a contract for commercial research.

Although Costa Rica has not approved permits for access to traditional knowledge or genetic resources in indigenous territories, it has issued 301 permits for basic research and access to genetic resources and 49 for bioprospecting and access to genetic resources since 2004.

Bioprospecting involves the systematic search for, classification of, and research into new elements in genetic material with economic value. The role of the protocol is to ensure that this does not deprive the original guardians of their knowledge and eventual benefits.

Ecuador has received 19 requests since 2011 and in 2013 it negotiated a commercial contract.

For its part, Mexico has authorised 4,238 permits for scientific collection since 1996, and only a small percentage of requests have been denied.

Peru, meanwhile, requires a contract for every kind of access. Since 2009, it has authorised 10 contracts, out of more than 30 requests, and 180 permits for research into biological resources.

Ecuador is a good example in the region of the plunder of genetic material, as officials in that country complain.

The “First report on biopiracy in Ecuador”, released in June by the Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, stated that Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States have improperly exploited their biological wealth.

Of 128 identified patents, companies from the U.S. hold 35, from Germany 33, from the Netherlands 17, from Australia 15 and the rest are held by firms in a number of countries.

“It all depends on how the governments of each country protect indigenous people, in accordance with their own legal frameworks,” said Rodríguez.

“If the legislation says that they will only negotiate prior consent, including clauses on mutually agreed conditions – if they aren’t in a position to negotiate, it would be good if the government supported them so the negotiations would be more equitable and favourable for native peoples,” she argued.

Lemus is confident that the suspension in Guatemala will remain in place. “We are thinking of other actions to engage in. People must have mechanisms to protect themselves from intellectual property claims and genetic contamination,” he said.

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US, EU Accused of Paying Lip Service to Global Arms Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/us-eu-accused-of-paying-lip-service-to-global-arms-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-eu-accused-of-paying-lip-service-to-global-arms-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/us-eu-accused-of-paying-lip-service-to-global-arms-treaty/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 19:06:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146636 The non-violence knotted gun statue at UN headquarters in NYC. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

The non-violence knotted gun statue at UN headquarters in NYC. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which was aimed at curbing the flow of small arms and light weapons to war zones and politically-repressive regimes, is being openly violated by some of the world’s arms suppliers, according to military analysts and human rights organizations.

The ongoing conflicts and civil wars in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Ukraine are being fueled by millions of dollars in arms supplies – mostly from countries that have either signed or ratified the ATT, which came into force in December 2014.

Dr. Natalie Goldring, UN Consultant for the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, told IPS: “The Arms Trade Treaty is incredibly important. Put simply, if fully implemented, it has the potential to save lives.”

But if implementation is not robust, the risk is that “business as usual” will continue, resulting in continued violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, she warned.

“Recent and proposed arms sales by States Parties and signatories to the ATT risk undermining the treaty,” said Dr Goldring, who has closely monitored the 20 year long negotiations for the ATT, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in April 2013.

The reported violations of the international treaty have coincided with a weeklong meeting in Geneva, beginning August 22 through August 26, of ATT’s second Conference of States Parties (CSP).

Recent reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Control Arms, Forum on Arms Trade and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) document the continued transfer of conventional weapons that may be used to violate international humanitarian and human rights law.

Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International, said the ATT has the potential to save millions of lives, which makes it especially alarming when states who have signed or even ratified the treaty seem to think they can continue to supply arms to forces known to commit and facilitate war crimes, and issue export licenses even where there is an overriding risk the weapons will contribute to serious human rights violations.

“There must be zero tolerance for states who think they can just pay lip service to the ATT.”

“The US government’s response to apparent Saudi bombings of civilian targets is to sell them more weapons? This makes no sense." -- Natalie Goldring

He said the need for more effective implementation is painfully obvious: “from Yemen to Syria to South Sudan, every day children are being killed and horribly maimed by bombs, civilians are threatened and detained at gunpoint, and armed groups are committing abuses with weapons produced by countries who are bound by the treaty,” he noted.

Providing a list of “unscrupulous arms transfers,” Amnesty International pointed out that the US, which has signed the ATT, and European Union (EU) member states who have ratified it, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France and Italy, have continued to lavish small arms, light weapons, ammunition, armoured vehicles and policing equipment on Egypt, “despite a brutal crackdown on dissent by the authorities which has resulted in the unlawful killing of hundreds of protesters, thousands of arrests and reports of torture by detainees since 2013.”

In 2014, France issued export licences that again included sophisticated Sherpa armoured vehicles used by security forces to kill hundreds of protesters at the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit in just a year earlier.

Arms procured from ATT signatories have also continued to fuel bloody civil wars, the London-based human rights organization said.

In 2014, Amnesty International said, Ukraine approved the export of 830 light machine guns and 62 heavy machine guns to South Sudan.

Six months after signing the ATT, Ukrainian authorities issued an export licence on 19 March 2015 to supply South Sudan with an undisclosed number of operational Mi-24 attack helicopters.

Three of those attack helicopters are currently in service with South Sudan government forces, and they are reportedly awaiting the delivery of another.

Additionally, in March 2015 the US State Department approved possible military sales of equipment and logistical support to Saudi Arabia worth over $24 billion, and between March 2015 and June 2016, the UK approved the export of £3.4 billion (approximately $4.4 billion) worth of arms to Saudi Arabia.

“These approvals were given when the Saudi Arabia-led coalition was carrying out continuous, indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes and ground attacks on civilians in Yemen, some of which may amount to war crimes,” Amnesty International said in a statement released August 22.

Jeff Abramson of the Forum on the Arms Trade said the Geneva meeting takes place during a time of ongoing conflict and controversy over the responsible transfer and use of conventional weapons.

He said key topics that may be addressed, either formally or informally, include better promoting transparency in the arms trade and arming of Saudi Arabia, in light of the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen — including recent US notification of possible tank sales to Riyadh

Dr Goldring told IPS the US government recently proposed to sale of 153 M1A2 Abrams tanks to Saudi Arabia.

She said the written notification of the proposed sale notes that 20 of the tanks are intended as “battle damage replacements for their existing fleet.”

As Brookings Institution Scholar Bruce Riedel has noted, the Saudis are only using tanks in combat along the Saudi-Yemeni border.

“The US government’s response to apparent Saudi bombings of civilian targets is to sell them more weapons? This makes no sense. This is part of a pattern of continued arms transfers taking place despite a high risk that they will be used to violate international human rights and humanitarian law,. ” declared Dr Goldring.

She said States parties to the ATT are required to address the risks of diversion or misuse of the weapons they provide. But if this criteria are taken seriously, it’s virtually impossible to justify continued weapons deals with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Countries without strong export control systems have argued that it will take time to fully implement the ATT, while other countries such as the United States have domestic impediments to ratifying the treaty.

But one of the treaty’s strengths, Dr Goldring, argued is its specification of conditions under which arms transfers should be blocked. States do not have to wait for ratification or accession to the treaty to begin implementing such standards.

“The ATT is a new treaty, but we can’t afford to ‘ease into’ it. While we discuss the treaty, lives are being lost around the world. We need to aggressively implement the ATT from the start,” Dr Goldring said.

Another important issue in full implementation of the ATT, she noted, is making the global weapons trade transparent, so that citizens can understand the commitments their governments are making in their names.

“Governments should not be transferring weapons unless they are willing to take responsibility for them. Their opposition to openness and transparency raises questions about what they’re trying to hide,” she added.

But in the end, although it’s important to bring transparency to the discussion of these issues, the real issue is whether the transfers are being controlled. Recent sales raise significant concerns in this regard, Dr Goldring said.

“The Conference of States Parties that is being held this week in Geneva presents a critical opportunity to face these issues. To strengthen the Arms Trade Treaty, the conference must focus on this key substantive concern of the risks entailed in continuing business as usual. States should not allow their attention to be diverted to process issues,” said Dr Goldring who is currently participating in the Geneva meeting,

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Uruguay’s Victory over Philip Morris: a Win for Tobacco Control and Public Healthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/uruguays-victory-over-philip-morris-a-win-for-tobacco-control-and-public-health/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uruguays-victory-over-philip-morris-a-win-for-tobacco-control-and-public-health http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/uruguays-victory-over-philip-morris-a-win-for-tobacco-control-and-public-health/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 08:49:27 +0000 German Velasquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146586 Credit: Bigstock

Credit: Bigstock

By Germán Velásquez
GENEVA, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

In a landmark decision that has been hailed as a victory of public health measures against narrow commercial interests, an international tribunal has dismissed a claim by tobacco giant company Philip Morris that the Uruguay government violated its rights by instituting tobacco control measures.

The ruling had been much anticipated as it was the first international case brought against a government for taking measures to curb the marketing of tobacco products.

Philip Morris had started proceedings in February 2010 against Uruguay at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) under a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) between Uruguay and Switzerland. The decision was given on 8 July 2016.

Under the BIT, foreign companies can take cases against the host state on various grounds, including if its policies constitute an expropriation of the companies” expectation of profits, or a violation of “fair and equitable treatment” These investment treaties and arbitration tribunals like ICSID have been heavily criticised in recent years for decisions favouring companies and that critics argue violate the right of states to regulate in the public interest.

In this particular case, the tribunal gave a ruling that dismissed the tobacco giant’s claims and upheld that the Uruguayan pro-health measures were allowed.

President Tabaré Vázquez of Uruguay, responding to the ruling, stated on 8 July:: “We have succeeded to prove at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes that our country, without violating any treaty, has met its unwavering commitment to defend the health of its people… From now on, when tobacco companies try to undermine the regulations adopted in the context of the framework tobacco convention with the threat of litigation, they (countries) will find our precedent.”

Germán Velásquez

Germán Velásquez

Philip Morris International (PMI) started legal proceedings against Uruguay’ government at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), based at the World Bank, in February 2010. This was the first time the tobacco industry challenged a state in front of an international tribunal.

Philip Morris claimed that the health measures imposed by the Ministry of Health of Uruguay violated its intellectual property rights and failed to comply with Uruguay’s obligation under its bilateral investment treaty (BIT) with Switzerland.

Two specific measures were contested by Philip Morris. The first measure was the Single Presentation Requirement introduced by the Uruguayan Public Health Ministry in 2008, where tobacco manufacturers could no longer sell multiple varieties of one brand. Philip Morris had to withdraw 7 of its 12 products and alleged that the restriction to market only one variety substantially affected its company’s value.

The second measure contested by Philip Morris was the so-called “80/80 Regulation”. Under a presidential decree, graphic health warnings on cigarette packages should cover 80 percent instead of 50 percent, of the packaging, leaving only 20 percent for the tobacco companies’ trademarks and advertisement.

Uruguay adopted strict tobacco control policies to comply with the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), in light of evidence that tobacco consumption leads to addiction, illness, and death.

According to the Ministry of Health, since Uruguay introduced its tobacco control programme in 2003, its comprehensive tobacco control campaign has resulted in a substantial and unprecedented decrease in tobacco use.

From 2005 to 2011 per person consumption of cigarettes dropped by 25.8 %. Tobacco consumption among school-going youth aged 12­17 decreased from over 30 percent to 9.2 percent from 2003 to 2011. Ministry of Health data also indicate that since smoke-free laws were introduced, hospitalization for acute myocardial infarction has reduced by 22 percent.

Since this was the first international litigation, the case is highly important for similar debates taking place in other forums, like the World Trade Organization, where some states are being challenged by other states for their tobacco control measures. It is a significant victory for a state facing commercial threats by tobacco companies fighting control measures.

The decision is supportive of states that choose to exercise their sovereign right to introduce laws and strategies to control tobacco sales in order to protect the health of their population.

This is a David against Goliath victory. The annual revenue of Philip Morris in 2013 was reported at $80.2 billion, in contrast to Uruguay”s gross domestic product of $55.7 billion. The international lawyer and practitioner in investment treaty arbitration Todd Weiler stated in a legal opinion that: “the claim is nothing more than the cynical attempt by a wealthy multinational corporation to make an example of a small country with limited resources to defend against a well-funded international legal action.”

An important aspect of the case was that the secretariats of the World Health Organization and the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) submitted an amicus brief during the proceedings.

The brief provided an overview of global tobacco control, including the role of the WHO FCTC. It set out the public health evidence underlying Uruguay’s tobacco packaging and labelling laws and detailed state practice in implementing similar measures.

This is a David against Goliath victory. The annual revenue of Philip Morris in 2013 was reported at $80.2 billion, in contrast to Uruguay''s gross domestic product of $55.7 billion
The Tribunal accepted the submission of the amicus brief on the basis that it provided an independent perspective on the matters in the dispute and contributed expertise from “qualified agencies”. The Tribunal subsequently relied on the brief at several points of the factual and legal analysis in their decision.

In accepting submission of the amicus brief the Tribunal noted that given the “public interest involved in this case”the amicus brief would “support the transparency of the proceeding”.

The Tribunal ruling upheld that Uruguay could maintain the following specific regulations:

Prohibiting tobacco companies from marketing cigarettes in ways that falsely present some cigarettes as less harmful than others.

Requiring tobacco companies to use 80% of the front and back of cigarette packs for graphic/pictures of warnings of the health danger of smoking.

According to expert Chakravarthi Raghavan there are several specific legal findings of the panel ruling, including:

  1. Uruguay did not violate any of its obligations under the Switzerland/Uruguay Bilateral Investment Treaty, or deny Philip Morris any of the protections provided by that Treaty.
  1. Uruguay’s regulatory measures did not “expropriate” Philip Morris’ property. They were bona fide exercises of Uruguay’s sovereign police power to protect public health.
  1. The measures did not deny Philip Morris “fair and equitable treatment” because they were not arbitrary; instead, they were reasonable measures strongly supported by the scientific literature, and had received broad support from the global tobacco control community.
  1. The measures did not “unreasonably and discriminatorily” deny Philip Morris the use and enjoyment of its trademark rights, because they were enacted in the interests of legitimate policy concerns and were not motivated by an intention to deprive Philip Morris of the value of its investment.

This is a landmark ruling because it supports the case that it is the sovereign right not only of Uruguay but of States in general to adopt laws and regulations to protect public health by regulating the marketing and distribution of tobacco products.

It is hoped that many other countries, which have been awaiting this decision before adopting similar regulations, will follow Uruguay’s example.President Vázquez said it is time for other nations to join Uruguay in this struggle, “without any fear of retaliation from powerful tobacco corporations, as Uruguay has done.”

Nevertheless, there is still a lot of public concern worldwide about the role that bilateral investment treaties has played in curbing the policy space of countries, including for health policies. There have also been serious concerns about the rulings made by other tribunals of ICSID and other arbitration centres, which have favoured the claims of companies and imposed high monetary awards against states. In the case of Philip Morris versus Uruguay, the tribunal’s ruling was correct in supporting the state’s right to regulate in the interest of public health. But the concerns in general are still valid. Other tribunals in other cases may or may not be so sympathetic to the public interest.

This is a reduced version of the article published in www.southcentre.int.

 

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The UN Must be at the Forefront of the fight for Civic Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-un-must-be-at-the-forefront-of-the-fight-for-civic-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-un-must-be-at-the-forefront-of-the-fight-for-civic-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-un-must-be-at-the-forefront-of-the-fight-for-civic-rights/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 02:14:24 +0000 Burkhard Gnärig http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146628 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-un-must-be-at-the-forefront-of-the-fight-for-civic-rights/feed/ 0 Literature Professor Probes Novels of the Anthropocene Agehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/literature-professor-probes-novels-of-the-anthropocene-age/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=literature-professor-probes-novels-of-the-anthropocene-age http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/literature-professor-probes-novels-of-the-anthropocene-age/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 01:41:17 +0000 Dan Bloom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146626 "The industrialized North looks with nostalgia and admiration at the false image of the people whose labor and resources fund its comfort, imagining them to be somehow closer to nature." -- Nick Admussen. Photo Credit:  Arun Shrestha/IPS

"The industrialized North looks with nostalgia and admiration at the false image of the people whose labor and resources fund its comfort, imagining them to be somehow closer to nature." -- Nick Admussen. Photo Credit: Arun Shrestha/IPS

By Dan Bloom
TAIPEI, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

A literature professor at Cornell University in upstate New York, Nick Admussen, has recently published an online literary essay about writing novels in the Anthropocene Age.

Titled “Six proposals for the reform of literature in the age of climate change,” the 1500-word essay will change the way you think about how modern novelists need to change they ways they try to tackle climate change themes.

Admussen is an assistant professor of Chinese literature and culture at Cornell and has an MFA degree in poetry. In the essay, which has reached a larger audience of literary critics and writers worldwide via social media, Admussen uses the negative poetics of an an early 20th century Chinese writer to outline some habits he feels that fiction writers need to break in order to make culture more responsive to climate change. It might be one of the most important literary essays of the 21st century, and whether you agree with all his six proposals or not, Admussen’s piece deserves an international readership.

"Vast disparities in income, as well as vast differences in the intensity of social and political systems from region to region, drive climate destruction in the present day and fundamentally restrict our ability to conceptualize the global ecosystem of tomorrow," -- Nick Admussen

One of Admussen’s themes is that global culture has not just failed to adapt to the climate change challenges we now face in this age of global warming, it actively prevents us from facing those challenges. That’s a tall order, but the author has his talking points and they’re all worth paying attention to.

Admussen says he wants to speak to those ”who feel an intense responsibility for our shared future on Earth, those casting around for means and methods by which that future might be improved.”

“Today, global cosmopolitan culture [is creating massive ] chaos,” Admussen, 45, opines. “Power is concentrated in the hands of a few independent corporations and states, each strong enough to escape environmental regulation, none with the will or mission to provoke change in themselves or others. Day after day, human activity fills
the atmosphere with carbon, transforming Earth’s climate, melting the polar ice caps, already destroying the homes and habitats of the planet’s many creatures — including ourselves. Yet we lack the ability to visualize these problems, to locate their source in our own actions and lives, to tell and transform the stories of the interactions between our behaviour and our biome.”

“This is not a failing of science, the science is quite clear: it is a failing of culture,” he adds, noting: ”The single most influential artwork of climate change remains former U.S. Vice President Al Gore standing in front of a Powerpoint presentation 10 years ago. Global culture has not just failed to adapt to the challenges we now face: it actively prevents us from facing those challenges. To change this, we need to break with our existing traditions of art and media, even if that means rejecting some of the works we love most.”

Admussen says that the current way that novelists worldwide try to tackle global warming themes is ”a destructive and atomizing act of imagination” that ”erases our radical dependence on each other and on the environment.”

And he doesn’t stop there, adding: ”Reducing literature to a procession of isolated actors (or authors) belies the responsibility readers have to see the disastrous paradigm in which a focus on individuals occludes acts that harm the broader community.”

Admussen goes from despair to hope. While he maintains that ”the humblest grammatical formulation all the way up to the way we conceptualize our most cherished ideals, the English language is choked by metaphors of possession and exchange, and sorely lacks metaphors of membership and interrelation,” he also champions what he calls perhaps the greatest hope for fiction today, that young people are participating now in fiction.

“They write a fanfic or attend a book club or play Quiddich on the college campus green,” he writes. “They dream themselves into capacious and novel systems. This gives them the power and vision to build futures.”

Building on his variou themes and proposals, Admussen notes that in the last 20 years, advanced economies in the North have taken pride in their modest decreases in carbon dioxide emissions per capita, while at the same time completely ignoring the way in which this is possible because of the exportation of manufacturing to the global South.

“Vast disparities in income, as well as vast differences in the intensity of social and political systems from region to region, drive climate destruction in the present day and fundamentally restrict our ability to conceptualize the global ecosystem of tomorrow,” the Cornell professor writes. “These types of inequities are almost always accompanied by moralizing fictions. The industrialized North looks with nostalgia and admiration at the false image of the people whose labor and resources fund its comfort, imagining them to be somehow closer to nature.  Full partnership for everyone in a global ecosystem means redistributing the rewards that the developed world has already incurred by harming it.”

Like I said, this is all a tall order, and not everyone is keen to accept it.

“I’m circumspect about calls for systemic ‘reform’ of any art form,” a published novelist told me by email. “Calls for art or literature that portray or reflect an under appreciated truth are useful but I think that proposals like these are more likely to emerge as trends naturally, from the culture at and not likely to vault forward because
an academic or critic has articulated them.” Said another novelist, also via email: “Admussen’s essay is interesting, but ‘prescription’ for artists is not a good idea, and ‘reform’ in relation to the arts is always pretty sinister.”

The entire essay is published by The Critical Flame here.

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India’s New Maternity Benefits Act Criticised as Elitisthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/indias-new-maternity-benefits-act-criticised-as-elitist/#comments Fri, 19 Aug 2016 18:20:39 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146620 The new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country's unorganised sector such as contractual labour, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country's unorganised sector such as contractual labour, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Aug 19 2016 (IPS)

The passage of the landmark Maternity Benefits Act 1961 by the Indian Parliament, which mandates 26 weeks of paid leave for mothers as against the existing 12, has generated more heartburn than hurrahs due to its skewed nature.

The law will also facilitate ‘work from home’ options for nursing mothers once the leave period ends and has made creche facilities mandatory in establishments with 50 or more employees. The amendment takes India up to the third position in terms of maternity leave duration after Norway (44 weeks) and Canada (50).

However, while the law has brought some cheers on grounds that it at least acknowledges that women are entitled to maternity benefits — crucial in a country notorious for its entrenched discrimination against women and one that routinely features at the bottom of the gender equity index — many are dismissing it as a flawed piece of legislation.

The critics point out that the new law will benefit only a miniscule percentage of women employed in the organised sector while ignoring a large demographic toiling in the country’s unorganised sector such as contractual workers, farmers, casual workers, self-employed women and housewives.

Poor women working as labourers in India are deprived of any maternity benefits. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Poor women working as labourers in India are deprived of any maternity benefits. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

According to Sudeshna Sengupta of the Right to Food Campaign, India sees 29.7 million women getting pregnant each year.

“Even if the law is fully implemented,” the activist told IPS, “studies show that it will benefit only 1.8 million women in the organised sector leaving out practically 99 percent of the country’s women workforce. If this isn’t discrimination, what is? In India, women’s paid workforce constitutes just 5 percent of the 1.8 million. The rest fall within the unorganised sector. How fair is it to leave out this lot from the ambit of the new law?” asks Sengupta.

Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), opines that maternity benefits should be universally available to all women, including wage earners.

“But the act ignores this completely by focussing only on women in the organised sector. In India most women are waged workers or do contractual work and face hugely exploitative work conditions. They are not even recognised under the ambit of labour laws. The moment a woman becomes pregnant she is seen as a liability. The new law has no provisions to eliminate this mindset, ” Krishnan told IPS.

Some of the employed women this correspondent spoke to say that a woman’s pregnancy is often a deal breaker for employers in India. Sakshi Mehra, a manager with a garment export house in Delhi, explains that though initially her employers were delighted with her work ethic, and even gave her a double promotion within a year of joining, “things changed drastically when I got pregnant. My boss kept dropping hints that I should look for an ‘easier’ job. It was almost as if I’d become handicapped overnight,” Mehra told IPS.

Such a regressive mindset — of pregnant women not being `fit’ — is common in many Indian workplaces. While some women fight back, while others capitulate to pressure and quietly move on.

Another glaring flaw in the new legislation, say activists, is that it makes no mention of paternity leave, putting the onus of the newborn’s rearing on the mother. This is a blow to gender equality, they add. Global studies show lower child mortality and higher gender equality in societies where both parents are engaged in child rearing. Paternity leave doesn’t just help dads become more sensitive parents, show studies, it extends a helping hand to new moms coming to grips with their new role as a parent.

According to Dr. Mansi Bhattacharya, senior gynaecologist and obstetrician at Fortis Hospital, NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh, there’s no reason why fathers should not play a significant role in childcare.

“Paternity leave allows the father to support his spouse at a critical time. Also, early bonding between fathers and infants ensures a healthier and a more sensitive father-child relationship. It also offers support to the new mother feeling overwhelmed by her new parental responsibilities,” she says.

A research paper of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) — a think-tank of developed countries — says children with ‘more involved’ fathers fare better during their early years. Paternity leaves with flexible work policies facilitate such participation.

Paternity leave is also a potent tool for boosting gender diversity at the workplace, especially when coupled with flexi hours, or work-from-home options for the new father, add analysts. “Parental leave is not an either/or situation,” Deepa Pallical, national coordinator, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights told IPS. “A child needs the involvement of both parents for his balanced upbringing. Any policy that ignores this critical ground reality is a failure.”

The activist adds that granting leave to both parents augments the chances of women returning to their jobs with greater peace of mind and better job prospects. This benefit is especially critical for a country like India, which has the lowest female work participation in the world. Only 21.9 percent of all Indian women and 14.7 percent of urban women work.

Women in India represent only 24 percent of the paid labour force, as against the global average of 40 percent, according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report. At 53 percentage points, India has one of the worst gender gaps (disproportionate difference between the sexes) in the world when it comes to labour force participation, World Bank data shows. The economic loss of such non-participation, say economists, is colossal. Lakshmi Puri, assistant secretary-general of UN Women, noted in 2011 that India’s growth rate could ratchet up by 4.2 percent if women were given more opportunities.

According to a World Bank report titled “Women, Business and the Law” (2016), over 80-odd countries provide for paternity leave including Iceland, Finland and Sweden. The salary during this period, in Nordic countries, is typically partly paid and generally funded by the government. Among India’s neighbours, Afghanistan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore mandate a few days of paternity leave.

In a fast-changing corporate scenario, some Indian companies are encouraging male employees to take a short, paid paternity break. Those employed in State-owned companies and more recently, public sector banks are even being allowed paternity leave of 15 days. In the U.S., however, companies like Netflix, Facebook and Microsoft offer generous, fully-paid paternity leave of a few months.

Perhaps India could take a page from them to address an issue which not only impacts nearly half of its 1.2 billion population, but also has a critical effect on its national economy. The right decision will not only help it whittle down gender discrimination and improve social outcomes, but also augment its demographic dividend – a win-win-win.

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Deadly Yellow Fever Spreading, Amid Global Vaccine Shortageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/deadly-yellow-fever-spreading-amid-global-vaccine-shortages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deadly-yellow-fever-spreading-amid-global-vaccine-shortages http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/deadly-yellow-fever-spreading-amid-global-vaccine-shortages/#comments Fri, 19 Aug 2016 04:59:12 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146613 A WHO Yellow Vaccination book. Credit: IPS.

A WHO Yellow Vaccination book. Credit: IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 2016 (IPS)

As deadly yellow fever spreads to seven provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), new measures have been introduced to ensure that as many people as possible are immunised, despite global shortages of the yellow fever vaccine.

Global emergency stocks of just 6 million yellow fever vaccines have been strained by the current outbreak, which began in Angola and has now spread to neighbouring DRC.

To reach as many people as possible with the limited supply of vaccines, the World Health Organization (WHO) has started recommending the use of partial doses.

“Studies done in adults show that fractional dosing using one fifth of the regular dose provides effective immunity against yellow fever for at least 12 months and possibly much longer,” WHO Spokesperson Tarik Jašarević told IPS.

The WHO began recommending that fractional doses could be used as an emergency measure in June 2016, ensuring additional doses would be available for mass vaccination campaigns in Angola and the DRC.

The WHO has also recently changed its recommendations for those who have already been immunised with a complete dose of the yellow fever vaccine.

“We know now that a single complete dose provides lifelong protection,” said Jašarević.

“There is a global shortage and yellow fever vaccines take quite a long time to produce and I think there are only five outlets in the world that manufacture the vaccine,” Heather Kerr, Save the Children.

The change in recommendation happened on 11 July 2016, but also applies retrospectively to those already carrying certificates of immunisation required for travel.

“This lifetime validity of these certificates applies automatically to certificates issued after 11 July 2016, as well as certificates already issued,” said Jašarević.

The new measures will potentially mean that more doses are available for mass vaccination campaigns such as the one the DRC government began in Kinshasa this week.

IPS spoke with Heather Kerr who is the DRC Country Director of Save the Children, which is providing support to the DRC Ministry of Health’s mass vaccination campaign.

“So far in DRC there are 74 actual confirmed cases and there’ve been 16 deaths from those cases,” she said. This means that more than 20 percent of people who have contracted yellow fever in the DRC have died. The number of suspected cases in the DRC and Angola is much higher.

“Obviously a big city like Kinshasa worries us, we don’t really know how many people there are in Kinshasa, no census has been done since the 1980s but we estimate around 10 million.”

The current campaign aims to reach 420,000 people in Kinshasa over 10 days, said Kerr.

“The governments decision was in Kinshasa to use what’s called the fractionalised dose, so it’s a fifth of the normal dose.”

Kerr says that since the fractional doses only provide protection for one year, revaccination will be required, but that hopefully by this time there will be more vaccines available globally.

“There is a global shortage and yellow fever vaccines take quite a long time to produce and I think there are only five outlets in the world that manufacture the vaccine,” she said.

“There’s no known cure for yellow fever,” said Kerr. “Prevention is better than cure always, but in this case it really is, so that’s why this vaccination campaign is so important.”

In the early stages Kerr says that yellow fever either has hardly any symptoms or symptoms such as fever, nausea and diarrhea “which could be confused also with something like malaria.”

“Then the more severe symptoms are bleeding because it’s a haemorrhagic fever, and then people can become severely jaundiced and can go into organ failure and that’s why it’s called yellow fever.”

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UN Admits it Needs to do More After Causing Haiti Cholera Epidemichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 21:34:15 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146610 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/un-admits-it-needs-to-do-more-after-causing-haiti-cholera-epidemic/feed/ 0 The Time is Ripe to Act against Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 14:13:32 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146601

The author is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which co-organized with the Namibian government the Africa Drought Conference on 15-19 August in Windhoek. This Op-Ed is based on Barbut’s opening speech to the Conference High –level Segment.

By Monique Barbut
WINDHOEK, Aug 18 2016 (IPS)

Let us start with some good news.  Sort of.  The strongest El Niño in 35 years is coming to an end. [1]

In 2015/2016 this “El Niño effect” led to drought in over 20 countries [2].  There were scorching temperatures, water shortages and flooding around the world.  Worst hit were eastern and southern Africa[3]

Monique Barbut

Monique Barbut

To understand what that means for people, you just have to look at the numbers about food insecurity[4].  32 million people in southern Africa were affected by food insecurity as a result.  Across Africa, 1 million children required treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

And though the worst of the drought is coming to an end, predictions are high (at about 75%) that La-Nina will arrive later in 2016. La Nina – El Niño’s opposite number – is known for the flooding it brings.

There may not be much relief for policy makers and people across Africa before the end of the year.

But then, if will be over, we can breathe again.  We can go back to business as usual – right?

Well…if you will allow me…for Albert Einstein…one of the definitions of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Going back to business as usual fits this definition of insanity very well.

  • We know the next El Niño droughts are likely to return regularly.  Probably as often as every two to seven years.
  • We know that the extent and severity of droughts will increase.  This is because of climate change and unsustainable land use.   Scientists have estimated that the fraction of the land’s surface regularly experiencing drought conditions is predicted to increase from less than 5 percent today to more than 30 percent by the 2090s[5].
  • We know we will miss our targets on water scarcity (6.4, 6.5 and 6.6) under the sustainable development goals[6].
  • We know poor people, who tend to be wholly dependent on natural resources like water and land to provide for their families, will suffer.

Unless we change our approach, when drought comes and the rains fail, the future of the 400 million African farmers who rely on rain fed subsistence agriculture, for example, is put in jeopardy.

Rain-fed agriculture accounts for more than 95 percent of farmed land in sub-Saharan Africa. And water scarcity alone could cost some regions 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product.

Unless we change our approach, people are going to be increasingly forced to decide whether to ride out a drought disaster and then rebuild.  Or simply leave.

It is a form of madness that we force our people to make these difficult choices.

 

Especially if the cycle of drought disaster and recovery could be broken. 

Progress is starting to happen. Mexico, Brazil, Vietnam and Morocco, to name just a few countries, are now implementing drought plans with a strong emphasis on risk mitigation and preparedness.

And in the areas where land has been restored in Central and Eastern Tigray in Ethiopia, ecosystems and people seem to have fared better in recent El Nino related droughts than areas where no restoration has been undertaken.

But because by 2050, one in four people – up to 2.5 billion people – will be living in a country at risk of water scarcity, more needs to be done. Everywhere.  We must prepare better and manage drought risks proactively.

Africa has already done a lot[7] but needs to stay on its toes.

UNCCD is proposing three important pillars for your consideration.

 

Firstly, Early Warning Systems. 

Declaring a drought too late can have a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods. Yet when you declare a drought, it can often be very subjective and highly political.

Africa would benefit from an effective Early Warning System (EWS) in all countries. The system would need good data and – equally important – local and traditional knowledge. It would guide you by providing timely information that you can use to reduce risks and to better prepare for an effective response.

 

Secondly, vulnerability and risk assessment.

Of course, no amount of early warning will work without action to protect the most vulnerable.

Some people and some systems are more vulnerable to drought as a result of social, economic, and environmental factors. So it is important to combine better forecasts with detailed knowledge on how landscapes and societies respond to a lack of rain.

Which communities and ecosystems are most at risk? Why are important sectors like agriculture, energy, tourism, health vulnerable?

Then turn that knowledge into early intervention.

We can assure it would be highly cost effective.  Before the cost of a single late response is reached, you can “overreact” up to six times.

In Niger and Mozambique for example, the cost of an early intervention and resilience building efforts would lead to a cost reduction of 375 million US dollars in Mozambique and 844 million US dollars in Niger when compared to late humanitarian response to drought.[8]

 

Finally, drought risk mitigation measures.

We can identify measures to address these risks head on.  There are things that can be done at a very practical level to reduce drought risk, which if started right away, can deliver real and tangible benefits to your communities.

African countries could consider the development of sustainable irrigation schemes for crops and livestock or water harvesting schemes or the recycling and reuse of water. They can explore the cultivation of more drought tolerant crops, expand crop insurance schemes and establish alternative livelihoods that can provide income in drought-prone areas.

Investing in improved land management, for example, can improve on-farm water security by between 70 and 100%[9].

This would result in higher yields and more food security.   In Zimbabwe, water harvesting combined with conservation agriculture increased farmers gross margins by 4 to 7 times and increased returns on labour by 2 to 3 times. [10]

This is the type of proactive drought risk management, which could save lives and the livelihoods of millions of people, is something that we all should aspire to.

 

The Africa Drought Conference is a rare window of opportunity.

An opportunity for the continent to recognize that the traditional approach of “responding” to drought is no longer viable. It has proved to be ineffective far too often. Instead, Africa could lead a proactive drought revolution.

By investing in early warning systems and addressing their vulnerabilities head on, well-planned and coordinated drought action will have a positive ripple effect across sectors and across borders.

Nelson Mandela once said, “We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right”.

The time is ripe. Taking proactive action against drought is the right thing to do.

 

Footnotes

[1] http://media.bom.gov.au/releases/267/el-nino-ends-as-tropical-pacific-ocean-returns-to-neutral/

[2] List compiled from: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/southern-africa-worst-global-food-crisis-25-years and https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/30/el-nino-is-over-but-it-leaves-nearly-100-million-people-short-of-food.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/africa-worst-famine-since-1985-looms-for-50-million

[4] https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/OCHA_ElNino_Overview_13Apr2016.pdf

[5]  WMO( 2011): Towards a Compendium on National Drought Policy, p. 9.

[6] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg6

[7] i.e. The Sahel and Sahara Observatory (OSS), IGAD’s Drought Resilience Sustainability Initiative (IDDRSI), the Southern Africa Development Community – Community Climate Service Center (SADC-CSC) or the African Drought Risk and Development Network (ADDN).

[8] Department for international development : The Economics of Early Response and Resilience Series, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/226255/TEERR_Two_Pager_July_22.pdf

[9] Bossio, Deborah et al( 2010): Managing water by managing land: Addressing land degradation to improve water productivity and rural livelihoods, p. 540.

[10] Winterbottom, R. (et al.): Improving Land and Water Management. Working Paper, Installment 4 of Creating a Sustainable Food Future. World Resources Institute, 2013, p. 18.

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133 Organisations Nominate Syria’s White Helmets for Nobel Peace Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 11:34:27 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146605 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/133-organisations-nominate-syrias-white-helmets-for-nobel-peace-prize/feed/ 2 Olympic Games – More Media Show than Sports Eventhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/olympic-games-more-media-show-than-sports-event/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=olympic-games-more-media-show-than-sports-event http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/olympic-games-more-media-show-than-sports-event/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 04:04:20 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146598 Judoka Rafaela Silva, who won Brazil’s first medal – gold - on Aug. 8, had received racial slurs like “monkey that should be in a cage” when she was disqualified from the London 2012 Games; now she is fa heroine. Credit: Roberto Castro/Brasil2016

Judoka Rafaela Silva, who won Brazil’s first medal – gold - on Aug. 8, had received racial slurs like “monkey that should be in a cage” when she was disqualified from the London 2012 Games; now she is fa heroine. Credit: Roberto Castro/Brasil2016

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 18 2016 (IPS)

Brazil’s first gold medal of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics gave it a new multipurpose heroine, Rafaela Silva, whose defeat of the favourites in judo has made her a strong voice against racism and homophobia. Not only is she black and poor, but she just came out as gay.

In her first remarks as an Olympic champion, on Aug. 8, she referred to the harsh criticism she received after being disqualified in the second round of the London Olympics in 2012, when people lashed out against her in the social media, with one saying she was a “monkey who should be in a cage.” Her medal is her vengeance against racism.

It is also an example of a triumph over the poverty and crime that drags down so many young people in the Cidade de Deus, the Rio de Janeiro “favela” or shantytown where she grew up, which was made famous by the film City of God.

Colourful figures like Silva or Jamaican runner Usain Bolt, or unbeatable athletes like U.S. swimming legend Michael Phelps,are crucial in the Olympics, which have become a huge global media event, more than the leading international sports competition.

Sheer overkill also plays a key role in the media spectacle. In the Aug. 5-21 Rio Games, 11,552 athletes – eight percent more than in London 2012 – are participating in 306 medal events in 42 disciplines.

But the number of journalists grew even more, by about 20 percent. More than 25,000 accredited reporters are covering Rio 2016, which translates into 2.2 press, TV, radio and internet journalists for each athlete during the 19-day Games.

The Rio Games – the first held in South America – are the most connected Olympics in history, with data traffic and internet activity four times greater than in London.

And while six million tickets were sold for the stadiums, according to the organisers, billions in profits have been made from the spectators watching the Games on TV or over the internet worldwide.

The opening ceremony alone was watched by an estimated three billion people around the globe. The colourful ceremony and its special effects, directed by prize-winning filmmakers, cleared up the doubts about the success of the Games, due to threats like construction delays, the Zika virus epidemic and Brazil’s political and economic crisis.

The filtered view provided by dozens of TV cameras is no substitute for the actual atmosphere of the stadiums, but it makes it possible to see up-close details from different angles, including up above, which is impossible for spectators in the stadiums. And the technological advances constantly improve the experience of watching the Games from far away points on the globe.

Aesthetics is another dimension that colors the competition. It played a role in the inauguration of the Games and its strong presence in some disciplines, like the various gymnastics or diving events, helped minimise the military origins of many Olympic sports, like wrestling or shooting.

Judoka Rafaela Silva, who won Brazil’s first medal – gold - on Aug. 8, had received racial slurs like “monkey that should be in a cage” when she was disqualified from the London 2012 Games; now she is fa heroine. Credit: Roberto Castro/Brasil2016

Judoka Rafaela Silva, who won Brazil’s first medal – gold – on Aug. 8, had received racial slurs like “monkey that should be in a cage” when she was disqualified from the London 2012 Games; now she is fa heroine. Credit: Roberto Castro/Brasil2016

But the drama seen in many of the contests is perhaps the central element of the Olympic media spectacle.

More people remember Swiss long-distance runner Gabriela Andersen’s struggle to finish the 1984 Olympic marathon in 37th place, staggering with heat exhaustion in the final 200 metres, than the actual winner of the marathon in Los Angeles that year.

For the honour of lighting the Olympic cauldron at the inauguration of the Rio 2016 Games, the athlete chosen was Brazilian runner Vanderlei de Lima, who became famous in Athens in 2004 when an Irish priest shoved him to the side of the road when he was in the lead in the marathon.

A Greek spectator helped free Lima from the grasp of the priest – who was later defrocked – and he continued the race. But he lost time and his rhythm was broken, and he ended in third place. For exemplifying the spirit of sportsmanship he showed by settling for the bronze, the International Olympic Committee awarded him the Pierre de Coubertin medal, a special decoration that carries the name of the founder of the IOC.

The footage of the incident, broadcast over and over around the world, made Lima an Olympics symbol.

The show needs heroes. National ones abound; sometimes winning a medal is all it takes. So far in Rio 2016, there are many examples.

Judoka Majlinda Kelmendi will surely provide a major boost to the eight-year-old Kosovo’s consolidation as an independent nation now that she has won the country’s first medal – gold. In 2012 she competed under the Albanian flag.

Fiji as well won its first medal – also gold – in Rugby Sevens, which debuted in these Games as an Olympic sport. (Rugby union was played at the Olympics from 1900 to 1924.)

Puerto Rico, an associated free state of the United States, with its own delegation in the Olympics, also took its first gold medal in Rio, won by Monica Puig in tennis.

The IOC recognizes 208 national committees, surpassing the 193 members of the United Nations. Some participants in the Olympics are not independent states, as in the case of Puerto Rico, Hong Kong, the Virgin Islands or American Samoa.

Dramatic incidents like the one involving Vanderlei de Lima also give rise to Olympic heroes, who add to the show.

Etenesh Diro of Ethiopia was cheered when she completed the 3,000-metre steeplechase, even though she finished seventh. She had pulled off her shoe when it was torn in a tangle with other competitors and continued on, barefoot.

But although she didn’t qualify for the final, the authorities rewarded spots in the race to her and two others who fell.

Heroes are generally individuals. Maybe that’s why football didn’t overshadow the Games – a worry that was apparently behind some restrictions set on participating in the sport, which is wildly popular in Brazil, such as a 23-year age limit, with three exceptions.

At any rate, the Olympic audience is guaranteed thanks to the diversity of sports, cultures and dramatic personal or national situations.

The excess of raw material for journalists and for the television and online show and the out of proportion size will make it difficult for another country of the developing South to host the Games in the near future.

Besides aspects linked to the needs and pressures of what is, more than anything, a huge global spectacle, the decision will also be influenced by the problems that cropped up in Rio, like construction delays, urban crime, water pollution, half-empty stadiums, and unsportsmanlike loud booing of some foreign athletes and teams.

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US To Push for UN Security Council Ban on Nuclear Testshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/us-to-push-for-un-security-council-ban-on-nuclear-tests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-to-push-for-un-security-council-ban-on-nuclear-tests http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/us-to-push-for-un-security-council-ban-on-nuclear-tests/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 18:32:06 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146591 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/us-to-push-for-un-security-council-ban-on-nuclear-tests/feed/ 0 TPPA could be discarded due to US political dynamicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/tppa-could-be-discarded-due-to-us-political-dynamics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tppa-could-be-discarded-due-to-us-political-dynamics http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/tppa-could-be-discarded-due-to-us-political-dynamics/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 10:13:21 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146585

Martin Khor is the Executive Director of the South Center, based in Geneva

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Aug 17 2016 (IPS)

No country was more active in pushing for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).  In the five years of negotiations, the United States cajoled, persuaded and pressurised its trade partners take on board its issues and positions.

Finally, when the TPP was signed in February by 12 countries, it was widely expected the agreement will come into force within two years, after each country ratifies it.

But now there are growing doubts if the TPP will become a reality. Ironically it may become a victim of US political dynamics as the TPP has become a toxic issue in its Presidential elections.

Opposing the TPPA is at the centre of Republican nominee Donald Trump’s campaign.He has declared the TPP would be a disaster, it would encourage US companies to move their production abroad and weaken domestic jobs, and called for the US to withdraw from the agreement.  In his typical extreme style, Trump said at a recent rally that the TPP “is another disaster, done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country.”

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

Bernie Sanders, the Democrat Presidential candidate who ran a surprisingly close contest with Hillary Clinton, championed the anti-TPP cause, saying:  “We shouldn’t re-negotiate the TPP. We should kill this unfettered FTA which would cost us nearly half a million jobs.”

Hillary Clinton also came out against the TPPA, a turn-around from her position when she was Secretary of State and decribed it as a gold-standard agreement.  To counter suspicions that she would again switch positions if she becomes President, Clinton stated: “I am against the TPP, and that means before and after the elections.”

They may all be reflecting popular sentiment that trade agreements have caused the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs, stagnation in wages and contributed to the unfair distribution of benefits in US society, much of which has accrued to the top 1 or 10 per cent of income earners.

An article in New York Times (29 July 2016) began as follows:  “Democrats and Republicans agreed on almost nothing at their conventions this month, except this: free trade, just a decade ago the bedrock of the economic agendas of both parties, is now a political pariah.”

Besides the Presidential candidates, two other players will decide the TPPA’s fate:  President Obama and the US Congress.

Obama has been the TPPA’s main champion, passionately arguing that it will bring economic benefits, raise environmental and labour standards and give the US an advantage over China in Asian geo-politics.

Considering the TPP to be a key legacy of his presidency, Obama wants Congress to ratify the

agreement before his term ends.  But till now he has been unable to get the bill tabled because it would be certainly defeated in the election season, given the TPP’s unpopularity.

His last opportunity is to get the TPP passed during the lame-duck Congress session after the election on 8 November and before mid-January 2017.

“I am against the TPP, and that means before and after the elections.” Hillary Clinton
However, it is unclear whether there is enough support to table a lame-duck TPP bill, and if tabled whether it will pass.

Last year, a related fast-track trade authority bill was adopted with only slim majorities. Now, with the concrete TPPA before them, and the swing in mood, some Congress members who voted for fast track are indicating they won’t vote for TPP.

For example, Clinton’s running mate for Vice President, Senator Tim Kaine, who supported had fast track has now proclaimed his opposition to TPP.  Other leading Democrats who have publicly denounced TPP include  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelossi, and House Ways & Means Committee Ranking Member Sandy Levin who said:“It is now increasingly clear that the TPP agreement will not receive a vote in Congress this year, including in any lame duck session, and if it did, it would fail.”

Congress Republican leaders have also voiced their opposition.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConell said that the presidential campaign had produced a political climate that made it virtually impossible to pass the TPP in the “lame duck” session.

House Speaker, Republican Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) who played a leading role in writing the fast-track bill, said he sees no reason to bring TPP to the floor for a vote in the lame duck session because “we don’t have the votes.”

Meanwhile, six House Republicans  sent a letter to President Obama in early August last week asking him not to try to move TPP in a “Lame Duck”.

Though the picture thus looks grim for Obama, he should not be under-estimated. He said when the elections are over he will be able to convince Congress to vote for TPP.

“I will actually sit down with people on both sides, on the right and on the left,” he told the media. “We’ll go through the whole provisions….I’m really confident I can make the case this is good for American workers and the American people.”He added many people thought he would fail to obtain the fast track legislation, but he succeeded.

On  12 August, the Obama administration submitted a draft Statement of Administration Action, as required by the fast-track processfor introducing a TPP bill.  The document describes the steps the administration will take to implement changes to U.S. law required by the TPP.  Obama can later send a final statement and the draft of the implementing bill describing the actual changes to US law needed to comply with the TPP agreement.

Following that, a lot of deal-making is expected between the President and Congress members.  Obama will doubtless offer incentives or privileges to some of the demanding Congress members in order to obtain their votes, as was seen in the fast-track process.

To win over Congress, Obama will have to respond to those on the right and left who are upset on specific issues such as the term of monopoly for biologic drugs, or the inclusion of  ISDS (investor-state dispute settlement) in  the TPP.

To pacify them, Obama will have to convince them that what they want will anyway be achieved, even if these are not legally part of the TPP because the TPP text cannot be amended..

He can try to achieve this through bilateral side agreements on specific issues.  Or he can insist that some countries take on extra obligations beyond what is required by the TPP as a condition for obtaining a US certification that they have fulfilled theirTPP  obligations.  This certification is required for the US to provide the TPP’s benefits to its partners, and thus the US has previously made use of this to get countries to take on additional obligations, which can then be shown to Congress members that their objectives have been met.

Obama could theoretically also re-negotiate to amend specific clauses of the TPP in order to appease Congress.  But this option will be unacceptable to the other TPP countries.

In June, Malaysia rejected any notion of renegotiating the TPPA.  The question of renegotiating the TPPA does not arise even if there are such indications by US presidential candidates, said Tan Sri Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, then the secretary general of the International Trade and Industry Ministry.

“If the US does not ratify the TPPA then it will not be implemented,”  she said.  The other TPP members would have to resort to a ”different form of cooperation.”

Singapore Prime Minister Lee HsienLoong, on a recent visit to Washington, dismissed any possibility of reopening parts of the TPP as some Congress members are seeking. “Nobody wants to reopen negotiations,” he said. “We have no prospect of doing better and every chance of having it fall apart.”

In January, Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said a renegotiation of the TPP is not possible. Japan also rejected renegotiations, which it defined as including changing existing side agreements or adding new ones.  This is not going to happen, said Japan’s Deputy Chief of Missions Atsuyuki Oike.

What happens if the US Congress does not adopt the TPP during the lame-duck period?  The 12 countries that signed the agreement in February are given 2 years to ratify it.

Enough countries to account for 85% of the combined GNP of the 12 countries must ratify it for the TPP to come into force.  As the US accounts for over 15% of the combined GNP, a prolonged non-ratification by it would effectively kill the TPPA.

Theoretically, if the TPP is not ratified this year, a new US President can try to get Congress to adopt it in the next year.  But the chances for this happening are very slim.

That’s why the TPP must be passed during the lame duck session.  If it fails to do so, it would mark the dramatic change in public opinion on the benefits of free trade agreements in the United States, the land that pioneered the modern comprehensive free trade agreements.

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Time for a Woman to Lead the UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/time-for-a-woman-to-lead-the-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-for-a-woman-to-lead-the-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/time-for-a-woman-to-lead-the-un/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 02:25:11 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146579 Candidates for Secretary-General debate in the UN General Assembly hall. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Candidates for Secretary-General debate in the UN General Assembly hall. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 2016 (IPS)

Judging by the latest polls it now seems more likely that the United States will have a female President in 2016, than the United Nations will have a female Secretary-General.

Despite widespread support for the next UN Secretary-General to be a woman, female candidates have not fared as well as men in the first two so-called straw polls of UN Security Council members.

However the campaign received a small boost from UN Secretary -General Ban Ki-Moon this week when he told an Associated Press Journalist in California it is “high time” for a woman to hold his job.

Unfortunately Ban’s support may come too late for the five female candidates who remain in the race.

By custom, the 15 members of the Security Council select their preferred candidate, with the five permanent members China, France, Russia the United Kingdom and the United States yielding the additional power to veto candidates they dislike.

The most recent straw poll confirmed that former Prime Minister of Portugal, Antonio Guterres is easily the most popular candidate, with 11 Security Council members encouraging him to continue his campaign.

Of the top four candidates, the only woman is Susana Malcorra, the current Foreign Minister of Argentina and former Chef de Cabinet to the Executive Office at the United Nations, with eight encourages and 6 discourages.

“The straw polls continue to reflect the deep seated male bias embedded in the UN and its member states, in spite of their claims to work for gender equality and women's empowerment." -- Charlotte Bunch.

It is difficult to tell exactly which candidate will prevail, since the leaked results of the straw polls do not specify who voted for who. Even Guterres’ seemingly safe position could be undermined if one or both of the two discourages he received were from veto-wielding permanent members.

Charlotte Bunch, Founding Director and Senior Scholar at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University told IPS that she welcomed Ban’s comments “as it is definitely past time when the UN should have a woman as Secretary-General.”

“It has been disappointing that after many countries gave lip service to this idea, the votes have not followed their words,” added Bunch, who is also a core committee member of the Campaign to Elect a Woman UN Secretary-General.

“And they cannot say that there are not qualified women available,” she added. “The list of 12 (candidates) included half (6) women – a historic first.”

Five women, and 11 candidates in total, now remain, after Vesna Pusnic of Croatia withdrew when she placed last in the first straw poll.

“Several of these women have served as heads of UN agencies and departments as well as in prominent positions in government, and are clearly as qualified as the men on the list,” said Bunch.

They include Irina Bokova, of Bulgaria who is currently Director General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and current Administrator of the UN Development Programme alongside Malcorra. Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica, who led the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to the successful adoption of the Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2015, is also one of the candidates.

“The straw polls continue to reflect the deep seated male bias embedded in the UN and its member states, in spite of their claims to work for gender equality and women’s empowerment,” said Bunch.

Jessica Neuwirth, Director of Donor Direct Action and founder of Equality Now, which first launched a campaign for election of a woman Secretary-General in 1996 told IPS that she “couldn’t agree more” with Ban’s comments.

“Women make up more than half the world’s population and should be represented equally at all levels of the UN.”

Men have now led the UN for over 70 years, with women’s leadership only made incremental gains, despite decades of campaigning to increase gender equality at the higher levels.

“In Beijing in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference in Women governments undertook to ensure the inclusion of women at the highest levels of decision-making in the UN secretariat,” said Neuwirth.

“More than 20 years later we are still waiting for implementation of this commitment,” she said. “It’s long overdue.”

Neuwirth also expressed disappointment that women hadn’t fared better in the straw polls.

“As a group they did better in the public debates than they did in the straw polls,” she said.

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Peruvians Say “No!” to Violence Against Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/peruvians-say-no-to-violence-against-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peruvians-say-no-to-violence-against-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/peruvians-say-no-to-violence-against-women/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 14:13:15 +0000 Aramis Castro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146561 A group of demonstrators with black crosses, symbolising the victims of femicide in Peru and other countries of Latin America, march down a street in the centre of Lima during an Aug. 13 march against gender violence. Credit: Noemí Melgarejo/IPS

A group of demonstrators with black crosses, symbolising the victims of femicide in Peru and other countries of Latin America, march down a street in the centre of Lima during an Aug. 13 march against gender violence. Credit: Noemí Melgarejo/IPS

By Aramis Castro
LIMA, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Peruvians took to the streets en masse to reject violence against women, in what was seen as a major new step in awareness-raising in the country that ranks third in the world in terms of domestic sexual violence.

The Saturday Aug. 13 march in Lima and simultaneous protests held in nearly a dozen other cities and towns around the country, includingCuzco, Arequipa and Libertad,was a reaction tolenient court sentences handed down in cases of femicide – defined as the violent and deliberate killing of a woman – rape and domestic violence.

The case that sparked the demonstrations was that of Arlette Contreras, who was beaten in July 2015 by her then boyfriendin the southern city of Ayacucho, Adriano Pozo, in an attack that was caught on hotel cameras.“We want justice; we want the attackers, rapists and murderers to go to jail. We want the state to offer us, the victims, safety.” -- Arlette Contreras

Despite the evidence – the footage of the attack – Pozo, the son of a local politician, was merely given a one-year suspended sentence for rape and attempted femicide, because of “mitigating factors”: the fact that he was drunk and jealous. When a higher court upheld the sentence in July, the prosecutor described the decision as “outrageous”.

“We want justice; we want the attackers, rapists and murderers to go to jail. We want the state to offer us, the victims, safety,” Contreras told IPS during the march to the palace of justice in Lima, which was headed by victims and their families.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Peru is in second place in Latin America in terms of gender-based killings, and in a multi-country study on sexual intimate partner violence, it ranked third.

“Enough!”, “The judiciary, a national disgrace”, “You touch one of us, you touch us all”were some of the chants repeated during the march, in which some 100,000 people took part according to the organisers of the protest, which emerged over the social networks and was not affiliated with any political party or movement, although President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and members of his government participated.

Entire families took part, especially the relatives of victims of femicide, who carried signs with photos and the names of the women who have beenkilled and their attackers.

“My daughter was killed, but they only gave her murderer six months of preventive detention,” said Isabel Laines, carrying a sign with a photo of her daughter. She told IPS she had come from the southern department of Ica, over four hours away by bus, to join the protest in Lima.

Other participants in the march were families and victims of forced sterilizations carried out under the government of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000). In 2002, a parliamentary investigation commission estimated that more than 346,000 women were sterilised against their will between 1993 and 2000.

In late June, the public prosecutor’s office ruled that Fujimori and his three health ministers were not responsible for the state policy of mass forced sterilisations, and recommended that individual doctors be charged instead.

The ruling enraged those demanding justice and reparations for the thousands of victims of forced sterilization, who are mainly poor, indigenous women.

Over the social networks, the sense of outrage grew as victims told their stories and discovered others who had undergone similar experiences, under the hashtags #YoNoMeCallo (I won’t keep quiet) and #NiUnaMenos (Not one less – a reference to the victims of femicide).

“After seeing the video of Arlette (Contreras), and the indignation when her attacker went free, a group of us organised over Facebook and we started a chat,” one of the organisers of the march and the group Ni UnaMenos, Natalia Iguíñiz, told IPS.

In the first half of this year alone, there were 54 femicides and 118 attempted femicides in Peru, according to the Women’s Ministry. The statistics also indicate that on average 16 people are raped every day in this country.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynskitook part in the march against gender violence in Peru, where 54 femicides and 118 attempted femicides were committed in the first half of 2016 alone. Credit: Presidency of Peru

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynskitook part in the march against gender violence in Peru, where 54 femicides and 118 attempted femicides were committed in the first half of 2016 alone. Credit: Presidency of Peru

Between 2009 and 2015, 795 women were the victims of gender-based killings, 60 percent of them between the ages of 18 and 34.

Women’s rights organisations complain that up to now, Peruvian society has been tolerant of gender violence, and they say opinion polls reflect this.

In a survey carried out by the polling company Ipsos in Lima before the march, 41 percent of the women interviewed said Peru was not safe at all for women and 74 percent said they lived in a sexist society.

Meanwhile, 53 percent of men and women surveyed believed, for example, that if a woman wears a mini-skirt it is her fault if she is harassed in public areas, and 76 percent believe a man should be forgiven if he beats his wife for being unfaithful.

Since Kuczynski took office on Jul. 28, the issue of gender violence has been put on the public agenda and different political leaders have called for measures to be taken, such as gender-sensitive training for judicial officers and police, to strengthen enforcement of laws in cases of violence against women.

“The problem of gender violence is that the silence absorbs the blows and it’s not easy for people to report,” said the president before participating in the march along with several ministers, legislators and other authorities.

Iguíñiz said the march represented the start of a new way of tackling the phenomenon of violence against women in Peru, and added that the momentum of the citizen mobilisation would be kept up, with further demonstrations and other activities.

“Thousands of people are organising. We’re a small group that proposes a few basic things, but there are a lot of groups working culturally, in their neighbourhoods, in thousands of actions that are being taken at a national level: districts, vocational institutes, different associations,” she said.

In her view, the call for people to get involved “has had such a strong response because it is so broad.”

The movement Ni Una Menoshas organised previous demonstrations against violence against women in other Latin American countries, like Argentina, where a mass protest was held in the capital in June 2015.

“We are in coordination with people involved in the group in other countries,” said Iguíñiz.“We’re going to create a platform for petitions but we’re planning to do it at a regional level, in all of the countries of Latin America.”

The private Facebook group “Ni UnaMenos: movilización ya” (Not one less: mobilisation now), which started organising the march in July, now has some 60,000 members, and was the main coordinator of the demonstrations, although conventional media outlets and human rights groups later got involved as well.

In addition, hundreds of women who have suffered abuse, sexual attacks or harassment at work began to tell their stories online, in an ongoing process.

Peruvians abroad held activities in support of the march in cities like Barcelona, Geneva, London, Madrid and Washington.

With reporting by Alicia Tovar and Jaime Vargas in Lima

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One Humanity? Millions of Children Tortured, Smuggled, Abused, Enslavedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/one-humanity-millions-of-children-tortured-smuggled-abused-enslaved/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=one-humanity-millions-of-children-tortured-smuggled-abused-enslaved http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/one-humanity-millions-of-children-tortured-smuggled-abused-enslaved/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 11:19:24 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146555 A boy carrying his belongings in a large cloth bag over his shoulder is among people walking on railway tracks to cross from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia into Serbia. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2015-2203/Georgiev

A boy carrying his belongins in a large cloth bag over his shoulder is among people walking on railway tracks to cross from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia into Serbia. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2015-2203/Georgiev

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Children are being smuggled, sexually abused, maimed, killed for their vital organs, recruited as soldiers or otherwise enslaved. Not only: 69 million children under five will die from mostly preventable causes, 167 million will live in poverty, and 263 million are out of school. And 750 million women will have been married as children by 2030.

These are just some of the dramatic figures that the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and other UN and international bodies released few weeks ahead of the World Humanitarian Day (WHD) marked every year on August 19.

Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general, summarized the world future generation situation: “Children continue to be tortured, maimed, imprisoned, starved, sexually abused and killed in armed conflict.”

A boy holds a large piece of exploded artillery shell, which landed in the village of Al Mahjar, a suburb of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Photo: UNICEF/Mohamed Hamoud

A boy holds a large piece of exploded artillery shell, which landed in the village of Al Mahjar, a suburb of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Photo: UNICEF/Mohamed Hamoud

“In places such as Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, children suffer through a living hell,” the UN chief said as he opened the Security Council’s debate on children and armed conflict on August 2.

Meanwhile, the future of humankind continues to be bleak, “unless the world focuses more on the plight of its most disadvantaged children,” alerts a United Nations report.

“Denying hundreds of millions of children a fair chance in life does more than threaten their futures – by fuelling inter-generational cycles of disadvantage, it imperils the future of their societies,” on 28 June said UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake, on the release of The State of the World’s Children, the agency’s annual flagship report.

“We have a choice: Invest in these children now or allow our world to become still more unequal and divided.”

The UNICEF report notes that significant progress has been made in saving children’s lives, getting children into school and lifting people out of poverty. But this progress has been neither even nor fair, the report flags. “The poorest children are twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday and to be chronically malnourished than the richest.”

Across much of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, children born to mothers with no education are almost three times more likely to die before they are five than those born to mothers with a secondary education, says UNICEF’s report. And “Girls from the poorest households are twice as likely to marry as children than girls from the wealthiest households.”

Worst in Sub-Saharan Africa

Nowhere is the outlook grimmer than in sub-Saharan Africa, where at least 247 million children – or 2 in 3 – live in multidimensional poverty, deprived of what they need to survive and develop, and where nearly 60 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds from the poorest fifth of the population have had less than four years of schooling, the report warns.

At current trends, the report projects, by 2030, sub-Saharan Africa will account for nearly half of the 69 million children who will die before their fifth birthday from mostly preventable causes; more than half of the 60 million children of primary school age who will still be out of school; and 9 out of 10 children living in extreme poverty.  her twin

The UNICEF report goes on to warn that about 124 million children today do not go to primary- and lower-secondary school, and almost two in five who do finish primary school have not learned how to read, write or do simple arithmetic.

Youth, The Other Lost Generation

Meanwhile, there is another lost generation—the youth. “Today, over 70 million youth are looking for jobs while nearly 160 million are working, yet living in poverty. These figures embody a massive waste of potential and a threat to social cohesion,” on August 12 wrote Azita Berar Awad, Director of Employment Policy Department at the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

More than half a billion children live in areas with extremely high flood occurrence, 160 million live in high drought severity areas. Of the 530 million children in the flood-prone zones, some 300 million live in countries where more than half the population lives in poverty – on less than $3.10 a day. Photo: UNICEF.

More than half a billion children live in areas with extremely high flood occurrence, 160 million live in high drought severity areas. Of the 530 million children in the flood-prone zones, some 300 million live in countries where more than half the population lives in poverty – on less than $3.10 a day. Photo: UNICEF.

“Youth unemployment and decent work deficits depreciate human capital and have a significant negative influence on health, happiness, anti-social behaviour, and socio-political stability. They impact the present and future well-being of our societies,” she added.

Moreover, Berar stressed, conditions in youth labour markets are changing constantly and rapidly, so are the profiles and aspirations of young women and men who are entering the labour force every day.

“For most, expectations of decent work are not only about earning an income and making a livelihood. Youth see decent work as the cornerstone of their life project, the catalyst for their integration into society, and the pathway to their participation into the broader social and political arena.”

Anyway, this year’s WHD follows on one of the most pivotal moments in the history of humanitarian action: the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), which was held on May 23-24 May in Istanbul.

The WHS main objective was to mobilise world leaders to declare their collective support for the new Agenda for Humanity and commit to bold action to reduce suffering and deliver better for the millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance.

But while succeeding in attracting world’s attention to the current humanitarian emergency, the Istanbul Summit failed to mobilise the urgently needed funds to alleviate the sufferance of up to 160 million people and growing: as little and affordable 21 billion dollars.

Now, the WHD 2016 will continue communications around the Istanbul World Humanitarian Summit. For instance, the #ShareHumanity campaign, which kicked off last year on 19 August, beginning a global countdown to drive awareness for the WHS.

“Impossible Choices”

Previously, the campaign ‘Impossible Choices’ was launched In April this year with a call to world leaders to attend the Summit and to ‘Commit to Action’.  The launch of final phase of this UN vast campaign coincides with the WHD on 19 August and will run up until the UN secretary-general presents the Wold Humanitarian Summit Report at the UN General Assembly in September.

Following on this ‘Impossible Choices’ campaign earlier this year, the WHD digital campaign ‘The World You’d Rather’ will launch on 19 August.

Featuring a quiz based on the popular game ‘Would you rather’, the digital campaign will bring to light the very real scenarios faced by people in crisis. After being confronted with challenging choices, users will be able to share a personalised graphic on social media, tweet their world leader and learn about the Agenda for Humanity.

But while the UN starves to raise awareness among political decision-makers and mobilise humanity to take speedy, bold actions to alleviate, end and hopefully prevent the on-going, unprecedented human sufferance, world’s biggest powers continue to spend over 1,7 trillion dollars a year on weapons production and trade.

One Humanity? Yes. But whose? And for Whom?

This story is part of special IPS coverage of World Humanitarian Day on August 19.

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The Counter Narrative to Terror and Violence is Already Among Ushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-counter-narrative-to-terror-and-violence-is-already-among-us/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-counter-narrative-to-terror-and-violence-is-already-among-us http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-counter-narrative-to-terror-and-violence-is-already-among-us/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 05:13:43 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146552 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-counter-narrative-to-terror-and-violence-is-already-among-us/feed/ 0 Ethiopian Food Aid Jammed Up in Djibouti Porthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ethiopian-food-aid-jammed-up-in-djibouti-port/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopian-food-aid-jammed-up-in-djibouti-port http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ethiopian-food-aid-jammed-up-in-djibouti-port/#comments Mon, 15 Aug 2016 22:11:20 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146547 Workers in Djibouti Port offloading wheat from a docked ship. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Workers in Djibouti Port offloading wheat from a docked ship. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
DJIBOUTI CITY, Aug 15 2016 (IPS)

Bags of wheat speed down multiple conveyor belts to be heaved onto trucks lined up during the middle of a blisteringly hot afternoon beside the busy docks of Djibouti Port.

Once loaded, the trucks set off westward toward Ethiopia carrying food aid to help with its worst drought for decades.“The bottleneck is not because of the port but the inland transportation—there aren’t enough trucks for the aid, the fertilizer and the usual commercial cargo.” -- Aboubaker Omar, Chairman and CEO of Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority

With crop failures ranging from 50 to 90 percent in parts of the country, Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest wheat consumer, was forced to seek international tenders and drastically increase wheat purchases to tackle food shortages effecting at least 10 million people.

This resulted in extra ships coming to the already busy port city of Djibouti, and despite the hive of activity and efforts of multitudes of workers, the ships aren’t being unloaded fast enough. The result: a bottleneck with ships stuck out in the bay unable to berth to unload.

“We received ships carrying aid cargo and carrying fertilizer at the same time, and deciding which to give priority to was a challenge,” says Aboubaker Omar, chairman and CEO of Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority (DPFZA). “If you give priority to food aid, which is understandable, then you are going to face a problem with the next crop if you don’t get fertilizer to farmers on time.”

Since mid-June until this month, Ethiopian farmers have been planting crops for the main cropping season that begins in September. At the same time, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has been working with the Ethiopian government to help farmers sow their fields and prevent drought-hit areas of the country from falling deeper into hunger and food insecurity.

Spring rains that arrived earlier this year, coupled with ongoing summer rains, should increase the chances of more successful harvests, but that doesn’t reduce the need for food aid now—and into the future, at least for the short term.

“The production cycle is long,” says FAO’s Ethiopia country representative Amadou Allahoury. “The current seeds planted in June and July will only produce in September and October, so therefore the food shortage remains high despite the rain.”

Port workers, including Agaby (right), make the most of what shade is available between trucks being filled with food aid destined to assist with Ethiopia’s ongoing drought. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Port workers, including Agaby (right), make the most of what shade is available between trucks being filled with food aid destined to assist with Ethiopia’s ongoing drought. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

As of the middle of July, 12 ships remained at anchorage outside Djibouti Port waiting to unload about 476,750 metric tonnes of wheat—down from 16 ships similarly loaded at the end of June—according to information on the port’s website. At the same time, four ships had managed to dock carrying about 83,000 metric tonnes of wheat, barley and sorghum.

“The bottleneck is not because of the port but the inland transportation—there aren’t enough trucks for the aid, the fertilizer and the usual commercial cargo,” Aboubaker says.

It’s estimated that 1,500 trucks a day leave Djibouti for Ethiopia and that there will be 8,000 a day by 2020 as Ethiopia tries to address the shortage.

But so many additional trucks—an inefficient and environmentally damaging means of transport—might not be needed, Aboubaker says, if customs procedures could be sped up on the Ethiopian side so it doesn’t take current trucks 10 days to complete a 48-hour journey from Djibouti to Addis Ababa to make deliveries.

“There is too much bureaucracy,” Aboubaker says. “We are building and making efficient roads and railways: we are building bridges but there is what you call invisible barriers—this documentation. The Ethiopian government relies too much on customs revenue and so doesn’t want to risk interfering with procedures.”

Ethiopians are not famed for their alacrity when it comes to paperwork and related bureaucratic processes. Drought relief operations have been delayed by regular government assessments of who the neediest are, according to some aid agencies working in Ethiopia.

And even once ships have berthed, there still remains the challenge of unloading them, a process that can take up to 40 days, according to aid agencies assisting with Ethiopia’s drought.

“I honestly don’t know how they do it,” port official Dawit Gebre-ab says of workers toiling away in temperatures around 38 degrees Celsius that with humidity of 52 percent feel more like 43 degrees. “But the ports have to continue.”

The port’s 24-hour system of three eight-hour shifts mitigates some of the travails for those working outside, beyond the salvation of air conditioning—though not entirely.

Scene from Djibouti Port. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Scene from Djibouti Port. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

“We feel pain everywhere, for sure,” Agaby says during the hottest afternoon shift, a fluorescent vest tied around his forehead as a sweat rag, standing out of the sun between those trucks being filled with bags of wheat from conveyor belts. “It is a struggle.”

To help get food aid away to where it is needed and relieve pressure on the port, a new 756 km railway running between Djibouti and Ethiopia was brought into service early in November 2015—it still isn’t actually commissioned—with a daily train that can carry about 2,000 tonnes, Aboubaker says. Capacity will increase further once the railway is fully commissioned this September and becomes electrified, allowing five trains to run carrying about 3,500 tonnes each.

Djibouti also has three new ports scheduled to open in the second half of the year—allowing more ships to dock—while the one at Tadjoura will have another railway line going westward to Bahir Dar in Ethiopia. This, Aboubaker explains, should connect with the railway line currently under construction in Ethiopia running south to north to connect the cities of Awash and Mekele, further improving transport and distribution options in Ethiopia.

“Once the trains are running in September we hope to clear the backlog of vessels within three months,” Aboubaker says.

The jam at the port has highlighted for Ethiopia—not that it needs reminding—its dependency on Djibouti. Already about 90 percent of Ethiopia’s trade goes through Djibouti. In 2005 this amounted to two million tonnes and now stands at 11 million tonnes. During the next three years it is set to increase to 15 million tonnes.

Hence Ethiopia has long been looking to diversify its options, strengthening bilateral relations with Somaliland through various Memorandum Of Understandings (MOU) during the past couple of years.

The most recent of these stipulated about 30 percent of Ethiopia’s imports shifting to Berbera Port, which this May saw Dubai-based DP World awarded the concession to manage and expand the underused and underdeveloped port for 30 years, a project valued at about $442 million and which could transform Berbera into another major Horn of Africa trade hub.

But such is Ethiopia’s growth—both in terms of economy and population; its current population of around 100 million is set to reach 130 million by 2025, according to the United Nations—that some say it’s going to need all the ports it can get.

“Ethiopia’s rate of development means Djibouti can’t satisfy demand, and even if Berbera is used, Ethiopia will also need [ports in] Mogadishu and Kismayo in the long run, and Port Sudan,” says Ali Toubeh, a Djiboutian entrepreneur whose container company is based in Djibouti’s free trade zone.

Meanwhile as night descends on Djibouti City, arc lights dotted across the port are turned on, continuing to blaze away as offloading continues and throughout the night loaded Ethiopian trucks set out into the hot darkness.

“El Niño will impact families for a long period as a number of them lost productive assets or jobs,” Amadou says. “They will need time and assistance to recover.”

This story is part of special IPS coverage of World Humanitarian Day on August 19.

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Interview: The UN Security Council and North Korea’s Nuclear Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/interview-the-un-security-council-and-north-koreas-nuclear-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=interview-the-un-security-council-and-north-koreas-nuclear-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/interview-the-un-security-council-and-north-koreas-nuclear-threat/#comments Sun, 14 Aug 2016 16:17:42 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146542 Ambassador Choong-hee Han of South Korea with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Ambassador Choong-hee Han of South Korea with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Rose Delaney
UNITED NATIONS / ROME, Aug 14 2016 (IPS)

Ambassador Hahn Choong-hee, UN representative of the Republic of Korea, spoke with IPS about the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2270, which was unanimously adopted on 2 March 2016.

The resolution calls for the universal condemnation of the nuclear threat from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK / North Korea) and was prompted by repeated missile launches by North Korea in defiance of opposition from the international community.

North Korea’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs not only violate UN Security Council resolutions but also pose a grave threat to global peace and security. Ambassador Hahn, from neighbouring South Korea shared his views on North Korea with IPS.

IPS: Undoubtedly, the North Korean nuclear threat endangers and poses a great threat to global peace and security. In light of the UN Security Council Resolution 2270 discussions in New York on the 30th of June, how will the Security Council tackle nuclear weapon issues? In other words, what role will the UN and the global community play in the North Korea Sanctions Regime?

Ambassador Hahn: The conference on Resolution 2270 held in New York in June 2016 was very significant as key discussions were developed on the topic of North Korean evasion tactics. The discussion was hosted by three major sponsoring countries, South Korea, the United States and Japan, who are all leading voices in the strive against North-Korean nuclear advances.

With diplomatic démarche I believe we can overcome North Korea’s defiance.

In order to enforce UN Sanctions on North Korea, the most significant criteria for member states to comply with the sanctions regime is to present a 90-day report. As of yet, we’ve received around 40 reports from a select number of countries. The generation of reports this year has been above average, however, in spite of this great intake, it is still not enough. It is now time to raise global awareness on the importance of the enforcement of this sanction.

The implementation of Resolution 2270 has proved exceedingly difficult as North Korea is defiant and acts out against the international voice. In fact, they’ve launched 7 missiles recently. The missiles were particularly alarming worrisome because if they had been successful, there impact could have reached as far as Japan and US territory. Although North Korea’s Musudan last missile launch attempts have failed. The latest missile to be launched was more successful than the rest, as its maximum delivery was 1000km and its distance 400 km. This is why the international cooperation of state agencies and civil society organizations is critical at this juncture to put the threat of nuclear advancement to a halt.

IPS: Will the development of nuclear technology in the DRPK have a grave impact on the world? How does the UN Security Council plan to address these advancements?

Ambassador Hahn: Most definitely, the impact would be immense if the advancements proved successful. North Korea is continuously trying to improve on tried and tested nuclear methods and are relentless in their belief that nuclear power ensures national security or regime survival. They are currently attempting to work on a nuclear technology referred to as “musudan” in the Korean language. This is an intermediate missile, if it’s further developed it could be used as a delivery means carrying nuclear warhead. It’s a particularly precarious advancement as this missile could cover the US territory of Guam.

Japan is particularly concerned about North Korea’s continued launch of missiles. This has become a critical issue for Japanese security. Whenever North Korea launches any mid to long range missile, Japan has been reacting strongly against the last seven missiles.

Another international preoccupation comes from the launching of missiles from mobile pads. These missiles could be concealed and launched at any time and in any given place. We’ve already born witness to this danger as they’ve attempted to launch missiles in a similar manner 7 times. The UN has issued a press statement each time, even if it was a failure, to communicate the message that the UN is watching and we are, by no means, disregarding what they are doing.

In reaction to North Korea’s defiance, we’d like to share a strong message. The international society are both committed and rigorous in their fight to stop North Korea’s engagement with nuclear weapons.

North Korea has tried to avoid their compliance with the sanction through many evasion tactics. By issuing the publication of case studies on North Korea with all member states, a strong emphasis will be placed on the country’s refusal to comply with international regulation. In this way, each member can compare what they’re doing against North Korea and what other countries are experiencing in relation to implementation of the sanction.

We believe that by condemning the actions of North Korea through global dissemination and by member states openly discouraging their behaviour we will eventually stamp out the North Korean nuclear threat.

IPS: How can North Korean defiance and refusal to comply with Resolution 2270 be resolved in a peaceful manner? How significant will international cooperation and coordination be in countering the impact of North Korea’s violations?

Ambassador Hahn: As we are all too aware, there is a critical need to implement sanction pressure in North Korea at this juncture. In several countries, bilateral sanctions have been introduced. For example, the US passed a law to introduce the so-called “secondary boycott”, this is a way to condemn and place penalties on foreign companies, for example companies from other states operating with North Korea, which is helping North Korea’s WMD capabilities.

This law gives leverage to the administration to decide what kind of sanction measures they can take. The US is trying to penalise regions such as North Korea for human rights violations. The EU has also introduced various forms of sanction pressure.

Bilateral pressure will also be encouraged to put a stop to North Korea’s clandestine cooperation with Middle Eastern and African countries. “Diplomatic demarche” has led to clandestine transactions between companies from North Korea and African and Middle Eastern countries. It is now time for the global community to condemn North Korea’s abuse of the international finance system and shut down their clandestine systems of trade and banking. Through the enforcement of laws together with the strength of bilateral pressure, with diplomatic demarche I believe we can overcome North Korea’s defiance.

IPS: In accordance to the UN Security Council, the implementation of the core Sanctions measures contained in resolution 2270 will counter the North Korea’s illicit activities. In light of this, how has China, a neighbouring country and significant partner in trade to North Korea, fared in their implementation of the sanctions?

Ambassador Hahn: Unfortunately, as of yet, the implementation has been met with nothing more than a series of unmet promises on China’s part. Which is worrying as I truly believe a solution to the “North Korea problem” could come through the continued pursuit and that China take faithful implementation of 2270.

The Chinese government continuously assure us that they’ll implement the Resolution 2270 sanction, however it seems premature to say that China is in full implementation as there is a so-called “livelihood” exception in some of the sectoral ban of the resolution.

We will have continued discussions with China to see how they are going to realistically implement the 2270 general and ensure their future commitment to it.

IPS: In spite of China’s current position on the implementation of Resolution 2270, have North-Korean-Chinese relations worsened due to the nuclear threat North Korea endangers the world with?

Ambassador Hahn: Yes, relations between North Korea and China have been tarnished. In a recent diplomatic visit to China, North Korea demonstrated their need to avoid diplomatic isolation. Lee Soo-Yong, North Korea’s senior worker’s party official, met with the president of China, and expressed the importance of maintaining good relations with China in a bid to avoid isolation.

Chinese President Xi Jinping communicated the message to the North Korean delegation that while China acknowledges the importance of bilateral relations between China and North Korea, they do not support North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and missile launches.

However, in spite of North Korea’s fear of exclusion and isolation, they did not seem to take heed of China’s advice, protest, and warning. North Korea believe nuclear weapons are the key to their survival and they refuse to compromise anything for it.

IPS: As the number of North Korean labourers in the international workforce grows and illicit negotiations between Middle Eastern and African companies ceases to discontinue, North Korea’s defiance has shown that it not only endangers the world with the threat of nuclear warfare, it also poses a grave threat to the international financial system. How does the UN Security Council together with the aid of the international community aim to eliminate this threat?

Ambassador Hahn: A big stake in North Korea’s relationship with other countries, is its labour force abroad. So far, over 35,000 North Korean workers worldwide are on special contracts, generating over 300 million dollars a year. Some countries are now reviewing and reconsidering these contracts and a couple of countries have made a decision to discontinue some of the contracts.

We’ve approached several countries about the implementations of these types of sanctions. Recently, Qatar, sent over 100 workers back home to North Korea. These actions discourage the continuance of North Korea’s careless attitude. China are also attempting to implement a lot of diplomatic demarche. For example, several North Korean restaurants have now closed in China.

Cooperation with North Korea and some African countries, has led to the development of bilateral military cooperation projects, recently South Korean president Park Geun-hye visited Uganda and condemned this illicit cooperation and Uganda subsequently agreed to discontinue their military cooperation with North Korea.

IPS: Finally, what are the expected outcomes of Resolution 2270 and where will the UN Security Council go from there?

Ambassador Hahn: At present, North Korea’s power consolidation process is very troubling. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un wants to demonstrate his absolute power through the showcasing of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. In this way, North Korea has demonstrated zero intention to abandon their nuclear weapons program. They consider it to be a form of economic prosperity and ultimately, survival. They are trying to go ahead with “Byungjin”, literally “going together” with nuclear and economic development.

As of yet, it is much too early to judge whether the 2270 general is being implemented in a faithful manner on an international level. As North Korea is defiant and is engaged in the launching of missiles it’s clear that they do not respect the UN sanctions. This attitude will be exceptionally challenging for the future success of the Resolution. North Korea is not interested in complying with internationally beneficial regulations and this is something that will be difficult to reverse.

As I mentioned before, it is not not easy to predict any future measures but what is important to emphasis is that there should be a very steady, orderly mid and long-term process of implementation of Resolution 2270 in North Korea. I hope that the diplomatic demarche from member states will enable us all to work together, along with the critical assistance of China, to ultimately, put North Korea’s engagement with nuclear weapons to a stop.

 Valentina Ieri, IPS UN Bureau, interviewed Ambassador Hahn in New York.

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Iran: Children at the Gallowshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/iran-children-at-the-gallows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iran-children-at-the-gallows http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/iran-children-at-the-gallows/#comments Fri, 12 Aug 2016 15:11:46 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146533 At least 160 youths under the age of 18 currently await execuion in Iran. Credit: IPS

At least 160 youths under the age of 18 currently await execuion in Iran. Credit: IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Aug 12 2016 (IPS)

As Iran currently executes the highest number of juvenile offenders in the world, hundreds of Iranian minors helplessly watch their childhoods pass them by as they await their fatal ends behind bars.

Shockingly, rights groups have reported that Iran has executed at least 230 people since the beginning of 2016.

Whilst the majority of countries worldwide are fighting for the eradication of capital punishment against adults, Iran continues to sentence girls as young as 9 and boys aged 15 to death.

According to a recent report issued by Amnesty International, at least 160 young Iranians currently await execution.

Whilst Iran is a major perpetrator in this human rights violation against minors, a host of countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen uphold Iran’s belief that the death penalty is an acceptable form of punishment for “devious” minors.

The death penalty for minors in Iran is invoked by what are considered to be “Hodud crimes”. “Hodud” refers to offenses which have fixed definitions and punishments under Islamic law.

For example, those engaged in the practices of alcohol consumption, adultery, and same-sex fornication will, in most cases, face the grave consequence of death.

Iran’s brutal stance on the death penalty was brought to the fore this August as Human Rights Watch reported on the mass execution of 20 felons in Iran’s Rajai Shahr prison on August 2nd.

Whilst a score of “criminals” were put to death this month , Alireza Tajiki , managed to narrowly escape his final execution date of August 3rd.

Alireza, now 19, was sentenced to death at the tender age of 15, following a trial that did not meet international standards of justice by any means.

Thankfully, the young Iranian evaded execution due to the support of a lawyer. However, the postponement is only temporary.

Alireza, who has been convicted of rape and murder, is one of the hundreds of young Iranians to be sent to the gallows for what Iran considers to be “the most serious” of crimes.

Hassan Afshar, arrested at 17 and convicted of “forced male to male intercourse” did not share the same luck as Alireza.

On July 18, Amnesty International reported the hanging of Hassan by Iranian authorities. He had no access to a lawyer.

Drug-related crimes are also amongst the host of “atrocities” to be deemed punishable by death.

Janat Mir, a young Afghani residing in Iran was arrested for drug offenses after his friend’s house was raided by local police.

Similar to the vast majority of young people in his grave situation, he could not avail of legal protection or consular services.

He is said to have been 14 or 15-years-old when he was mercilessly executed in 2014.

Unfortunately, many convicted youths in Iran find themselves trapped in similarly hopeless situations to those described above.

The most alarming issue is that Iranian minors are, for the most part, blindly unaware of their rights to a fair trial.

Although a progressive path was paved when the Iran Supreme Court announced that youths sentenced to death could apply for a retrial, this reform did not leave the impact it should have.

While the official policy has been amended and undertaken, an underlying problem persists; the vast majority of incarcerated children are kept in the dark on their right to a retrial.

Even though a revised Islamic Penal Code was introduced in 2013 wherein children who “did not comprehend the nature of their crime” or who lacked “mental growth and maturity” during the criminal act could be given an alternative punishment to the death penalty, the code does not meet Iran’s international obligations.

No judge or courts, under any circumstances, should have the authority to sentence juvenile offenders to death.

In this way, Iran has consistently failed to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, by neither protecting nor informing minors of their rights and also refusing to put an end to the death penalty for minors.

Ironically, Iran often denies confining and subsequently executing young offenders.

In April 2014, the Head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, stated: “In the Islamic Republic of Iran, we have no execution of people under the age of 18.”

In this sense, it remains evident that the Iranian judicial system demonstrates a blatant disregard of its human rights obligations to children.

James Lynch, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, emphasised his belief that “Iran’s bloodstained record of sending juvenile offenders to the gallows, routinely after grossly unfair trials, makes an absolute mockery of juvenile justice and shamelessly betrays the commitments Iran has made to children’s rights.”

In many ways, the amendment of the 2013 Islamic Penal Code is the fundamental key to achieving child development and juvenile justice in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Penal code must be altered in order to explicitly prohibit the use of the death penalty for all crimes committed by people under 18 years of age, increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility for girls to that for boys, which is currently set at 15, and ensure that no individual under 18 years of age is held culpable as an adult, in line with Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Now, it is time for the world to call for a reform of the Islamic Penal Code.

The justice, freedom, and fundamental human rights Iran’s children behind bars have been so mercilessly denied of must be put to an almighty halt.

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