Inter Press Service » Featured http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 24 Apr 2015 22:22:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.3 U.N. Committee Gets ‘Unhindered Access’ to Azerbaijan’s Detention Centres – But Is it Enough?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-committee-gets-unhindered-access-to-azerbaijans-detention-centres-but-is-it-enough/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-committee-gets-unhindered-access-to-azerbaijans-detention-centres-but-is-it-enough http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-committee-gets-unhindered-access-to-azerbaijans-detention-centres-but-is-it-enough/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 22:08:58 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140310 Against the backdrop of serious human rights allegations, Azerbaijan is gearing up to host the first-ever European Games. Credit: ResoluteSupportMedia/CC-BY-2.0

Against the backdrop of serious human rights allegations, Azerbaijan is gearing up to host the first-ever European Games. Credit: ResoluteSupportMedia/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Months after being denied access to Azerbaijan’s places of detention, the head of the United Nation’s Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) announced Friday that her four-member delegation had successfully conducted investigations of Azerbaijani prisons, police stations and investigative isolation units.

“The Azerbaijani Government this time enabled unhindered access to places of deprivation of liberty,” confirmed Aisha Shujune Muhammad, head of the SPT delegation, in a statement published by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“I can’t think of a single case of the ones we’ve followed – which largely are connected to political activists, journalists and human rights defenders – in which allegations of torture have been effectively investigated." -- Jane Buchanan, associate director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch
As a state party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, Azerbaijan is obliged to allow independent experts full access to sites of detention, but last September the SPT was forced to suspend its visit after being prevented from inspecting some sites and barred from completing its work at others, “in violation of Azerbaijan’s treaty obligations”, according to OHCHR.

This month, from Apr. 16-24, SPT members visited a range of sites including pre-trial detention facilities, psychiatric hospitals, and social care institutions.

On Friday the subcommittee presented its confidential preliminary observations to Azerbaijani authorities, including recommendations for strengthening systems to protect those persons deprived of their liberty against torture and other cruel or inhuman treatment.

While welcoming the government’s cooperation, Muhammad stressed, “[The] State party has yet to guarantee all fundamental legal and procedural safeguards to persons deprived of their liberty, including access to a lawyer, a medical doctor, and to contact his or her family.”

Streets empty of political dissidents

The statement confirms what international watchdogs have been warning for the past few years: that ill treatment of prisoners and impunity, particularly with regards to political activists and journalists, is rampant in this land-locked nation of 9.4 million people.

“We have had long-standing concerns about conditions in detention and ill treatment and torture of people detained in police stations, in prisons and other facilities,” Jane Buchanan, associate director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

“We have huge concerns about fair trials and due process, so we don’t have a sense of optimism at all – nor do I read a lot of optimism into the SPT’s statement. I would not say the trajectory is good.”

She said the situation is particularly worrying for human rights defenders and the media, who are currently weathering a harsh government crackdown against any form of dissent.

In 2014 alone, Human Rights Watch (HRW) recorded over 35 cases of activists, journalists and human rights defenders who were detained or imprisoned on politically motivated charges.

Buchanan said other, local groups have longer lists, whose numbers are closer to the 100 mark.

Even these could be conservative estimates, as many of those who would otherwise be monitoring violations of human rights are now behind bars, or have fled the country to escape prosecution.

“The government is effectively shutting down mechanisms for transparency and accountability for all kinds of things including torture and ill treatment,” she stated.

Amnesty International’s most recent country report for Azerbaijan echoes many of these concerns, highlighting cases like the arrest on May 6 of Kemale Benenyarli, a member of the opposition Azerbaijani Popular Front Party (APFP) who subsequently alleged that she was “beaten, punched, dragged and locked in a cell, where she was kept without food and water until her trial the following morning.”

At the time of her arrest, Benenyarli was among a group of peaceful protestors gathered outside the Baku City Grave Crimes Court, demanding the release of jailed youth activists associated with the NIDA Civic Movement.

Amnesty also reported that another protestor arrested that day, Orkhan Eyyubzade, complained that he was “stripped naked, dragged by the hair, punched, kicked and threatened with rape after he engaged in an argument with police officers during his detention on May 15.”

Other allegations of torture in detention include the withholding of medical treatment, denial of necessary foods due to medical conditions, and the use of physical violence on the part of staff or cellmates, according to HRW’s Buchanan.

“I can’t think of a single case of the ones we’ve followed – which largely are connected to political activists, journalists and human rights defenders – in which allegations of torture have been effectively investigated,” she added.

At present, rights groups say over 50 political prisoners are being held in jails around the country, largely on trumped-up charges.

European Games: A chance to shine a light on injustice?

Against the backdrop of serious rights allegations, which have been escalating since 2012, Azerbaijan is gearing up to host the first-ever European Games under the auspices of the Olympic Movement.

Over 6,000 athletes representing 50 countries are scheduled to participate in the event, which will run from Jun. 12-28 this year.

According to the London-based Business News Europe, the games are budgeted at an estimated eight billion dollars, and billed as the “most spectacular show in Azerbaijan’s history.”

While the government of President Ilham Aliyev hopes to use the games to spotlight his country’s economic development, rights groups are pushing the European Olympic Committees and key National Olympic Committees to instead shift the focus onto human rights abuses and political prisoners.

The Sports and Rights Alliance, a coalition comprised of the likes of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Football Supporters Europe, and Transparency International Germany, recently submitted a letter to Patrick Hickey, president of the European Olympic Committees, arguing that the current crackdown on critics and dissidents is “at odds with key principles of the Olympic Charter that the European Games are meant to uphold.”

The Alliance also urged the sporting body to use its leverage with Azerbaijan to, among other things, demand the immediate and unconditional release of rights activists like Khajida Ismayilova, Leyla Yunus, Arif Yunus, Intigam Aliyev, Rasul Jafarov, Rauf Mirgadirov, Anar Mammadli, Ilgar Mammadov, and Tofig Yagulblu.

“Those participating in the European games being funded by the Azerbaijani government have a real obligation to speak out,” Buchanan stressed.

Among those receiving “funding” to attend the games is Britain’s team of 160 athletes. In February, the Guardian reported that the British Olympic Association (BOA) had admitted that the host country would cover the bulk of the costs associated with getting its teams to Baku.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Planned Mega-Port in Brazil Threatens Rich Ecological Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/planned-mega-port-in-brazil-threatens-rich-ecological-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=planned-mega-port-in-brazil-threatens-rich-ecological-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/planned-mega-port-in-brazil-threatens-rich-ecological-region/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 19:00:05 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140301 The town of Ilhéus in the Northeast Brazilian state of Bahia, part of whose coastline will be modified by the construction of the Porto Sul port complex, which environmentalists and local residents are protesting because of the serious ecological and social damage it will cause. Credit: Courtesy Instituto Nossa Ilhéus

The town of Ilhéus in the Northeast Brazilian state of Bahia, part of whose coastline will be modified by the construction of the Porto Sul port complex, which environmentalists and local residents are protesting because of the serious ecological and social damage it will cause. Credit: Courtesy Instituto Nossa Ilhéus

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Activists and local residents have brought legal action aimed at blocking the construction of a nearly 50 sq km port terminal in the Northeast Brazilian state of Bahia because of the huge environmental and social impacts it will have.

The biggest project of its kind in Brazil has given rise to several court battles. With a budget of 2.2 billion dollars, Porto Sul will be built in Aratiguá, on the outskirts of the city of Ilhéus, at the heart of the Cocoa Coast’s long stretches of heavenly beaches, where the locals have traditionally depended on tourism and the production of cocoa for a living.

The courts have ordered four precautionary measures against the project, while civil society movements say they will not stop fighting the projected mega-port with legal action and protests.

The Porto Sul port complex will be financed by the Brazilian government, through its growth acceleration programme, which focuses largely on the construction of infrastructure.

Construction of the deepwater port and the complex will employ 2,500 people at its peak. But the project is staunchly opposed by locals and by social organisations because of what activists have described as the “unprecedented” environmental impact it will have.

Critics of the project have dubbed it the “Belo Monte of Bahia” – a reference to the huge hydroelectric dam being built on the Xingú river in the northern Amazon jungle state of Pará, which will be the third-largest in the world in terms of generation capacity.

Environmentalists protest that the new port terminal and its logistical and industrial zone will hurt an ecological corridor that connects two natural protected areas.

These are the 93-sq-km Sierra de Conduru State Park, which boasts enormous biodiversity in flora and fauna, and the 4.4-sq-km Boa Esperança Municipal Park in the urban area of Ilhéus, which is a refuge for rare species and a freshwater sanctuary.

Construction of the port complex “shows a lack of respect for the region’s natural vocation, which is tourism and conservation. Since 2008 we have been fighting to show that the project is not viable,” activist Maria Mendonça, president of the Nossa Ilhéus Institute, dedicated to social monitoring of public policies, told IPS.

Ilhéus, a city of 180,000 people, has the longest coastline in the state, and is famous as the scenario for several novels by renowned Bahia writer Jorge Amado, such as “Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon”.

Digital view of a small part of the future Porto Sul port complex in Aratiguá, in the Northeast Brazilian city of Ilhéus. Credit: Bahia state government

Digital view of a small part of the future Porto Sul port complex in Aratiguá, in the Northeast Brazilian city of Ilhéus. Credit: Bahia state government

The project’s environmental impact study, carried out in 2013, identified 36 potential environmental impacts, 42 percent of which could not be mitigated. Some of them will affect marine species that will be driven away by the construction work, including dolphins and whales. The project will also kill fauna living on the ocean floor.

Aratiguá, the epicentre of the Porto Sul port, “is an important fishing location in the region, where more than 10,000 people who depend on small-scale fishing along a 10-km stretch of the shoreline clean their catch,” Mendonça said.

An estimated 100 million tons of earth will be moved in this ecologically fragile region, where environmentalists are sounding the alarm while authorities and the company promise economic development and jobs, in a socioeconomically depressed area.

Bahia Mineração (Bamin) reported that until Porto Sul is operative, the Caetité mine will continue to produce a limited output of one million tons a year of iron ore.

According to Bamin, “the company will contribute to the social and economic development of Bahia and its population.” It says the Projeto Pedra de Ferro project will create 6,600 jobs and estimates the company’s total investment at three billion dollars in the mine and its terminal in the port complex.

Officials in the state of Bahia, which controls the Porto Sul project, reported that Brazil’s environmental authority held 10 public hearings to discuss the port complex, and said that 17 sq km of the complex will be dedicated to conservation.

A communiqué by the Bahia state government stated that all of the families to be affected by the works are included in a programme of expropriation and resettlement. Indemnification payments began in the first quarter of this year.

Social and environmental activist Ismail Abéde is one of 800 people living in the Vila Juerana coastal community, who will be displaced by the port complex project.

“The erosion will stretch 10 km to the north of the port, where we live, and the sea will penetrate up to 100 metres inland. It will be a catastrophe,” Abéde complained to IPS.

He pointed out that the complex was originally to form part of the Projeto Pedra de Ferro project.

That project, operated by Bahia Mineração (Bamin), a national company owned by Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC) and Zamin Ferrous, is to extract an estimated 20 million tons of iron ore a year in Caetité, a city of 46,000 people in the interior of the state.

The iron ore will be transported on a new 400-km Caetité-Ilhéus railway, built mainly to carry the mineral to Bamin’s own shipping terminal in Porto Sul.

The mining project was granted an environmental permit in November 2012 and an operating license in June 2014.

Meanwhile, the Porto Sul complex received a building permit on Sep. 19, 2014, and construction is to begin within a year of that date at the latest. The complex is to be up and running by the end of 2019.

Porto Sul, the biggest port being built in Northeast Brazil and one of the largest logistical structures, will be the country’s third-largest port,l moving 60 million tons in its first 10 years of activity.

The main connection with the complex will be by rail. But an international airport is also to be built in its area of influence, as well as new roads and a gas pipeline.

The interconnected Projeto Pedra de Ferro requires a 1.5 billion dollar investment, and the mine’s productive potential is 398 million tons, which would mean a useful life of 20 years.

“The mine is not sustainable and the railway to carry the mineral to the port runs through protected areas and local communities,” Mendonça complained.

Activists argue that iron ore dust, a toxic pollutant, will be spread through the region while it is transported, affecting cocoa crops and the rivers crossed by the railroad.

Abedé also protested the way the company has informed the families that will be affected by either of the two projects. He said neither the company nor the authorities have offered consultation or dialogue.

“The state can expropriate property when it is for the collective good, not for a private international company,” he said.

The Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), a United Kingdom-based multinational, was delisted from the London Stock Exchange in November 2013, accused of fraud and corruption.

“We are preparing reports that we will present to public banks to keep them from financing the projects,” said Abedé, referring to one of the measures the activists plan to take to fight the project, along with court action.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Burundi – Fragile Peace at Risk Ahead of Electionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-burundi-fragile-peace-at-risk-ahead-of-elections/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-burundi-fragile-peace-at-risk-ahead-of-elections http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-burundi-fragile-peace-at-risk-ahead-of-elections/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 10:59:08 +0000 David Kode http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140290

In this column, David Kode, a Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, describes a series of restrictions on freedom in Burundi and, in the run-up to elections in May and June, calls on the international community – including the African Union and donor countries – to support the country by putting pressure on the government to respect democratic ideals and by condemning attacks on civil liberties.

By David Kode
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa is not permitted to get close to an airport, train station or port without authorisation from a judge.  He cannot travel outside of the capital of his native Burundi, Bujumbura. Whenever called upon, he must present himself before judicial authorities.

These are some of the onerous restrictions underlying the bail conditions of one of Burundi’s most prominent human rights activists since he was provisionally released on medical grounds in September last year, after spending more than four months in prison for his human rights work.

David Kode

David Kode

Mbonimpa was arrested and detained on May 15, 2014, and charged with endangering state security and inciting public disobedience. The charges stemmed from views he expressed during an interview with an independent radio station, Radio Public Africaine, in which he stated that members of the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, were being armed and sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo for military training.

The arrest and detention of Pierre Claver is symptomatic of a pattern of repression and intimidation of human rights defenders, journalists, dissenters and members of the political opposition in Burundi as it heads towards its much anticipated elections in May and June 2015.

The forthcoming polls will be the third democratic elections organised since the end of the brutal civil war in 2005.  The antagonism of the CNDD-FDD government and its crackdown on civil society and members of opposition formations has increased, particularly as the incumbent, President Pierre Nkurunziza, silences critics and opponents in his bid to run for a third term even after the National Assembly rejected his proposals to extend his term in office.“The international community and Burundi’s donors cannot afford to stand by idly and witness a distortion of the decade-long relative peace that Burundi has enjoyed, which represents the most peaceful decade since independence from Belgium in 1962”

Tensions continue to mount ahead of the polls and even though the president has not publicly stated that he will contest the next elections, the actions of his government and the ruling party clearly suggest he will run for another term.  Members of his party argue that he has technically run the country for one term only as he was not “elected” by the people when he took to power in 2005.

Civil society organisations and religious leaders recently pointed out that Constitution and the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement – which brought an end to the civil war – clearly limit presidential terms to two years.

As the 2015 polls draw closer, state repression has increased, some political parties have been suspended and their members arrested and jailed. The Imbonerakure has embarked on campaigns to intimidate, physically assault and threaten members of the opposition with impunity. They have prevented some political gatherings from taking place under the pretext that they are guaranteeing security at the local level.

Civil society organisations and rival political movements have on several occasions been denied the right to hold public meetings and assemblies, while journalists and activists have been arrested and held under fictitious charges in an attempt to silence them and force them to resort to self-censorship.

Legislation has been used to stifle freedom of expression and restrict the activities of journalists and the independent media.  In June 2013, the government passed a new law which forces journalists to reveal their sources.

The law provides wide-ranging powers to the authorities and sets requirements for journalists to attain certain levels of education and professional expertise, limits issues journalists can cover and imposes fines on those who violate this law.  It prohibits the publication of news items on security issues, defence, public safety and the economy.

The law has been used to target media agencies and journalists, including prominent journalist Bob Rugurika, director of Radio Public Africaine.

The government does not see any major difference between opposition political parties and human rights activists and journalists and has often accused civil society and the media of being mouth pieces for the political opposition, describing them as “enemies of the state”.

In the lead-up to the last elections in 2010, most of the opposition parties decided to boycott the elections and the ruling party won almost unopposed. However, the post-elections period was characterised by political violence and conflict.

Ideally, the upcoming elections could present the perfect opportunity to “jump start” Burundi’s democracy.  For this to happen, the media and civil society need to operate without fear or intimidation from state and non-state actors.  On the contrary, state repression is bound to trigger a violent response from some of the opposition parties and ignite violence similar to that which happened in 2010.

The international community and Burundi’s donors cannot afford to stand by idly and witness a distortion of the decade-long relative peace that Burundi has enjoyed, which represents the most peaceful decade since independence from Belgium in 1962.

It is increasingly clear that the people of Burundi need the support of the international community at this critical juncture. The African Union (AU), with its public commitment to democracy and good governance, must act now by putting pressure on the government of Burundi to respect its democratic ideals to prevent more abuses and further restrictions on fundamental freedoms ahead of the elections.

The African Union should demand that the government stops extra-judicial killings and conducts independent investigations into members of the security forces and Imbonerakure who have committed human rights violations and hold them accountable.

Further, Burundi’s close development partners, particularly Belgium, France and the Netherlands, should condemn the attacks on civil liberties and urge the government to instil an enabling environment in which a free and fair political process can take place while journalists and civil society activists can perform their responsibilities without fear.  (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris    

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Riches in World’s Oceans Estimated at Staggering 24 Trillion Dollarshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/riches-in-worlds-oceans-estimated-at-staggering-24-trillion-dollars/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=riches-in-worlds-oceans-estimated-at-staggering-24-trillion-dollars http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/riches-in-worlds-oceans-estimated-at-staggering-24-trillion-dollars/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 23:35:35 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140283 Coral reef ecosystem at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Coral reef ecosystem at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)

The untapped riches in the world’s oceans are estimated at nearly 24 trillion dollars – the size of the world’s leading economies, according to a new report released Thursday by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Describing the oceans as economic powerhouses, the study warns that the resources in the high seas are rapidly eroding through over-exploitation, misuse and climate change.“The ocean feeds us, employs us, and supports our health and well-being, yet we are allowing it to collapse before our eyes. If everyday stories of the ocean’s failing health don’t inspire our leaders, perhaps a hard economic analysis will." -- Marco Lambertini of WWF

“The ocean rivals the wealth of the world’s richest countries, but it is being allowed to sink to the depths of a failed economy,” said Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International.

“As responsible shareholders, we cannot seriously expect to keep recklessly extracting the ocean’s valuable assets without investing in its future.”

If compared to the world’s top 10 economies, the ocean would rank seventh with an annual value of goods and services of 2.5 trillion dollars, according to the study,

Titled Reviving the Ocean Economy, the report was produced by WWF in association with The Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

After nine years of intense negotiations, a U.N. Working Group, comprising all 193 member states, agreed last January to convene an inter-governmental conference aimed at drafting a legally binding treaty to conserve marine life and genetic resources in what is now considered mostly lawless high seas.

Dr. Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative who co-chaired the Working Group, told IPS the oceans are the next frontier for exploitation by large corporations, especially those seeking to develop lucrative pharmaceuticals from living and non-living organisms which exist in large quantities in the high seas.

“The technically advanced countries, which are already deploying research vessels in the oceans and some of which are currently developing products, including valuable pharmaceuticals, based on biological material extracted from the high seas, were resistant to the idea of regulating the exploitation of such material and sharing the benefits,” he said.

According to the United Nations, the high seas is the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) – amounting to 64 percent of the ocean – and the ocean seabed that lies beyond the continental shelf of any country. 

These areas make up nearly 50 percent of the surface of the Earth and include some of the most environmentally important, critically threatened and least protected ecosystems on the planet.

The proposed international treaty, described as a High Seas Biodiversity Agreement, is expected to address “the inadequate, highly fragmented and poorly implemented legal and institutional framework that is currently failing to protect the high seas – and therefore the entire global ocean – from the multiple threats they face in the 21st century.”

According to the WWF report, more than two-thirds of the annual value of the ocean relies on healthy conditions to maintain its annual economic output.

Collapsing fisheries, mangrove deforestation as well as disappearing corals and seagrass are threatening the marine economic engine that secures lives and livelihoods around the world.

The report also warns that the ocean is changing more rapidly than at any other point in millions of years.

At the same time, growth in human population and reliance on the sea makes restoring the ocean economy and its core assets a matter of global urgency.

The study specifically singles out climate change as a leading cause of the ocean’s failing health.

At the current rate of global warming, coral reefs that provide food, jobs and storm protection to several hundred million people will disappear completely by 2050.

More than just warming waters, climate change is inducing increased ocean acidity that will take hundreds of human generations for the ocean to repair.

Over-exploitation is another major cause for the ocean’s decline, with 90 per cent of global fish stocks either over-exploited or fully exploited, according to the study.

The Pacific bluefin tuna population alone has dropped by 96 per cent from unfished levels, according to the WWF report.

“It is not too late to reverse the troubling trends and ensure a healthy ocean that benefits people, business and nature,” the report says, while proposing an eight-point action plan that would restore ocean resources to their full potential.

Among the most time-critical solutions presented in the report are embedding ocean recovery throughout the U.N.’s proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), taking global action on climate change and making good on strong commitments to protect coastal and marine areas.

“The ocean feeds us, employs us, and supports our health and well-being, yet we are allowing it to collapse before our eyes. If everyday stories of the ocean’s failing health don’t inspire our leaders, perhaps a hard economic analysis will. We have serious work to do to protect the ocean starting with real global commitments on climate and sustainable development,” said Lambertini.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Talk of Death Squads to Combat New Wave of Gang Violence in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/talk-of-death-squads-to-combat-new-wave-of-gang-violence-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=talk-of-death-squads-to-combat-new-wave-of-gang-violence-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/talk-of-death-squads-to-combat-new-wave-of-gang-violence-in-el-salvador/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 19:00:23 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140280 The funeral of Justo Germán Gil, a member of the police Maintaining Order Unit killed by gang members in the town of San Juan Opico in eastern El Salvador on Jan. 10, 2015. Credit: Vladimir Girón/IPS

The funeral of Justo Germán Gil, a member of the police Maintaining Order Unit killed by gang members in the town of San Juan Opico in eastern El Salvador on Jan. 10, 2015. Credit: Vladimir Girón/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)

The resurgence of violent crime in El Salvador is giving rise to a hostile social environment in El Salvador reminiscent of the country’s 12-year civil war, which could compromise the country’s still unsteady democracy.

After recent attacks by gangs against police and soldiers, there is talk in the legislature of declaring a state of siege in the most violent urban areas, and the government ordered the creation of three quick response battalions, similar to the ones that operated during the 1980-1992 civil war.

These military units were responsible for a number of massacres of civilians, such as the 1981 mass killing in the village of El Mozote in the northern department of Morazán, where more than 1,000 rural villagers were killed by members of the Atlacatl battalion.

Meanwhile, police and local residents are openly discussing the creation of groups to exterminate gangs, along the lines of far-right paramilitary death squads active in the country from the 1970s until the end of the armed conflict in 1992.“This escalation of violence could have been avoided if an attempt had been made to hold talks including the gangs.” -- Félix Arévalo

“It is extremely dangerous to be talking about a state of siege and all that, because it could affect the country’s democratic process,” the coordinator of the ecumenical Pastoral Initiative for Peace and Life (IPAZ), Félix Arévalo, told IPS.

IPAZ brings together leaders from different religious faiths seeking a negotiated solution to the problem of gang violence plaguing this impoverished Central American nation of 6.3 million.

If approved by parliament, the state of siege would suspend constitutional guarantees such as freedom of assembly and free passage, while militarising areas with high murder rates.

The last time a state of siege was declared in El Salvador was during the November 1989 guerrilla offensive known as “To the limit”, in the midst of the armed conflict that left 75,000 people dead and 8,000 “disappeared”.

The country is now governed by one of the former guerrilla leaders, Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which became a political party after the 1992 peace accords and has been in power since 2009.

His government says the new wave of violence is part of a backlash by the gangs against the Feb. 14 transfer of their leaders from a medium to a maximum security prison known as Zacatraz, located in the city of Zacatecoluca, 41 km east of San Salvador.

The transferred prisoners included several of the heads of the MS13 and Barrio 18, the two gangs that reached a truce in March 2012 which led to a sharp drop in the number of murders.

Raúl Mijango, who helped broker the truce, told IPS that as a result of the decision to isolate the leaders, younger, more fanatic members who have made violence a way of life now lead the gangs’ activities.

“The last thing these young men are thinking about is stopping this conflict,” he said.

The truce collapsed in May 2013, when then President Mauricio Funes (2009-2014) of the FMLN was forced to remove the minister of justice and security, General David Munguía, one of the main drivers of the talks from within the government, over a technicality.

As of Monday Apr. 20, the gangs had killed – besides civilians – 20 police officers, six members of the military, one prosecutor and six prison guards in an undeclared war also fuelled by the police and military response that has left dozens of gang members dead in clashes.

On Apr. 18, nine gang members were shot by a military squadron in Uluapa Arriba, in the city of Zacatecoluca.

Some police have even openly talked about killing gang members.

“When they (the gang members) run into us, we’re going to kill them,” one police officer wearing a face mask told a local TV station.

And circulating on the social networks are amateur videos of police and locals urging people to kill the “mareros” – members of the gangs or “maras” as they are known in Central America – the same way death squads killed left-wing opponents during the war.

In March, the number of homicides shot up. That month was the most violent so far in the last decade, according to police figures: 481 homicides, an average of 16 murders a day, 56.2 percent more than in March 2014.

If that tendency holds steady, by the end of this year more than 5,000 murders will have been committed, for a homicide rate of 86 per 100,000 population, far above the already high 2014 rate of 63 per 100,000.

El Salvador is one of the world’s most violent countries, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The average Latin American murder rate is 29 per 100,000 inhabitants and the global average is 6.2.

The driving force behind the call for a state of siege are lawmakers from the right-wing Great Alliance for National Union, which holds 11 of the 84 seats in the single-chamber legislature whose term begins May 1, after the March elections.

“This escalation of violence could have been avoided,” said Arévalo, “if an attempt had been made to hold talks including the gangs” – an idea that is staunchly opposed by most political factions, due to society’s outrage against the gangs, which have an estimated combined total of 60,00 members.

In January the government of Sánchez Cerén cut off any possibility of dialogue with the gangs.

Roberto Valent, resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), told IPS that the scaling up of gang activity was in part a response to the state’s attempt, through a stepped-up police presence, to reassert control over territory in the hands of gangs.

Police action is important, he said, to pave the way for prevention, rehabilitation and socioeconomic reinsertion in those areas.

“It’s clearly a reaction to what the state is doing,” said Valent, who was technical coordinator of the National Council for Citizen Security and Coexistence.

The Council, set up by the president in September 2014, was tasked with setting forth proposals for fighting crime, with the participation of different segments of society and technical support from international donors.

In January, the Council proposed 124 measures that the government plans to adopt to fight the wave of crime and violence. Part of the two billion dollars needed to implement a five-year plan have been obtained.

The programme will include educational, healthcare and recreational initiatives, while creating 250,000 jobs for at-risk youngsters.

But in practice, the government has demonstrated more interest in stiffening its policy of cracking down on crime by stepping up police and military action.

The president has announced a restructuring and strengthening of the police, as well as the creation of more elite units to combat the gangs.

IPAZ’s Arévalo said it should be the other way around: “less police action and more prevention and reinsertion.”

“We have stirred up a hornet’s nest; the government acted mistakenly, you can’t implement a plan with corpses falling every which way,” he argued.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Two Years After Rana Plaza Tragedy, Rights Abuses Still Rampant in Bangladesh’s Garment Sectorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/two-years-after-rana-plaza-tragedy-rights-abuses-still-rampant-in-bangladeshs-garment-sector/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-years-after-rana-plaza-tragedy-rights-abuses-still-rampant-in-bangladeshs-garment-sector http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/two-years-after-rana-plaza-tragedy-rights-abuses-still-rampant-in-bangladeshs-garment-sector/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 20:21:13 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida and Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140264 Most of the roughly four million people employed in Bangladesh’s garment industry are women. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

Most of the roughly four million people employed in Bangladesh’s garment industry are women. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida and Naimul Haq
DHAKA/UNITED NATIONS, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)

Some say they were beaten with iron bars. Others confess their families have been threatened with death. One pregnant woman was assaulted with metal curtain rods.

These are not scenes typically associated with a place of work, but thousands of people employed in garment factories in Bangladesh have come to expect such brutality as a part of their daily lives.

“I have faced many cases, and been arrested and jailed seven times [...]. The only charge they bring against me is raising my voice in favour of the workers." -- Mushrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers’ Unity Forum
Even if they don’t suffer physical assault, workers at the roughly 4,500 factories that form the nucleus of Bangladesh’s enormous garments industry almost certainly confront other injustices: unpaid overtime, sexual or verbal abuse, and unsafe and unsanitary working conditions.

Two years ago, when all the world’s eyes were trained on this South Asian nation of 156 million people, workers had hoped that the end of systematic labour abuse was nigh.

The event that prompted the international outcry – the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory on the morning of Apr. 24, 2013, killing 1,100 people and injuring 2,500 more – was deemed one of the worst industrial accidents in modern history.

Government officials, powerful trade bodies and major foreign buyers of Bangladesh-made apparel promised to fix the gaping flaws in this sector that employs four million people and exports 24 billion dollars worth of merchandise every year.

Promises were made at every point along the supply chain that such a senseless tragedy would never again occur.

But a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster has found that, despite pledges made and some steps in the right direction, Bangladesh’s garments sector is still plagued with many ills that is making life for the 20 million people who depend directly or indirectly on the industry a waking nightmare.

Based on interviews with some 160 workers in 44 factories, predominantly dedicated to manufacturing garments sold by retailers in Australia, Europe and North America, the report found that safety standards are still low, workplace abuse is common, and union busting – as well as violence attacks and intimidation of union organisers – is the norm.

Violation of labour laws

Last December the Bangladesh government raised the minimum wage for factory workers from 39 dollars a month to 68 dollars. While this signified a sizable increase, it was still less than the 100-dollar wage workers themselves had demanded.

Bangladesh exports 24 billion dollars of garments every year. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

Bangladesh exports 24 billion dollars of garments every year. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

Furthermore, implementation has been slow. According to Mushrefa Mishu, president of the Garment Workers’ Unity Forum representing 80,000 workers, only 40 percent of employers comply with the minimum wage law.

She told IPS that women, who comprise the bulk of factory workers, form the “lifeblood” of this vital industry that accounts for 80 percent of the country’s export earnings and contributes 10 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP); yet they have fallen victim to “exploitative wages” as a result of retailers demanding competitive prices.

Indeed, many factories owners concur that pressure from companies who place bulk orders to scale up production lines and improve profit margins contributes to the culture of cutting corners, since branded retailers seldom factor compliance of safety and labour regulations into their costing.

“[These] financial costs [are] heavy for the factory owners,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told IPS. “They argue that a small compromise on the profit margin can go a long way in helping Bangladesh factories achieve compliance.”

Wherever the blame for non-compliance lies, the negative consequences for workers – especially the women – are undeniable: an April 2014 survey by Democracy International found that 37 percent of workers reported lack of paid sick leave, while 29 percent lacked paid maternity leave.

Workers who are unable to meet production targets have their salaries docked, while HRW’s research indicates that “workers in almost all of the factories” complained of not receiving wages or benefits in full, or on time.

Forced overtime is exceedingly common, as are poor sanitation facilities and unclean drinking water.

Collective bargaining – a risky business

Faced with such entrenched and systematic violations of their rights, many garment workers are aware that their best chance for securing decent working conditions lies in their collective bargaining power.

Although the Bangladesh government raised the minimum wage for garment workers to 68 dollars a month, activists say only 40 percent of employers comply. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

Although the Bangladesh government raised the minimum wage for garment workers to 68 dollars a month, activists say only 40 percent of employers comply. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

But union busting and other anti-union activity are rampant across the garments sector, with many organisers beaten into submission and scores of others terrorised into keeping their heads down.

Although Bangladesh has ratified International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining, those who try to exercise these rights face harsh reprisals.

“I have faced many cases, and been arrested and jailed seven times but later released because they found no [evidence] against me,” Mishu, of the Garment Workers’ Unity Forum, told IPS. “The only charge they bring against me is raising my voice in favour of the workers. Whenever we raise our voices against the garments factory owners, instead of negotiating with us they apply force to silence us.”

Mishu’s testimony finds echoes in numerous incidents recorded in HRW’s report, including an attack in February last year on four activists with the Bangladesh Federation for Workers Solidarity (BFWS) that left one of their number so badly injured he had to spend 100 days in hospital.

Their only crime was helping employees at the Korean-owned Chunji Knit Ltd. Factory fill out union registrations forms.

Other incidents include a woman being hospitalised after an attack by men wielding cutting shears, activists threatened with death or the death of their families, and one organiser being accosted on his way home and slashed so badly with blades he had to be admitted to hospital.

“We find that factory owners […] use local thugs to intimidate and attack union organisers, often outside the factory premises,” HRW’s Ganguly explained. “And then they blithely disclaim responsibility by saying that the attacks had nothing to do with the factory.”

In one of the worst examples of anti-union activity, HRW reported that an activist named Aminul Islam was “abducted, tortured and killed in April 2012, and to date his killers have not been found.”

Although hard-won reforms have raised the number of unions formally registered at the labour department from just two in 2011-2012 to 416 in 2015, overall representation of workers remains low: union exist in just 10 percent of garment factories across Bangladesh.

Factory safety

Ganguly told IPS that because the Bangladesh garment industry grew very rapidly, “a lot of factories were set up bypassing safety and other compliance issues.”

Between 1983-4 and 2013-14, the sector mushroomed from just 120,000 employees working in 384 factories to four million workers churning out garments at a terrific rate in 4,536 factories, which run the gamut from state-of-the-art industrial operations to “backstreet workshops” and everything in-between.

Unchecked expansion in the 80s and 90s meant that many of these buildings were disasters waiting to happen. While incidents like the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse and the 2012 Tazreen factory fire, which killed 112 people, have largely taken the spotlight, a string of similar calamities both before and after suggest that Bangladesh has a long way to go to ensure worker safety.

Figures quoted by the Clean Clothes Campaign point out that between 2006 and 2010, 500 workers died in factory fires, 80 percent of which were caused by faulty wiring.

Since 2012, 68 factory fires have claimed 30 lives and left 800 workers injured, according to the Solidarity Center.

Atiqul Islam, president of the industry’s leading trade body, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), told IPS that factory owners are taking far more precautions now to ensure that preventable or ‘man-made’ disasters remain a thing of the past.

Before the Rana Plaze incident, he said, there were only 56 inspectors overseeing thousands of factories. Now, there are over 800 inspectors, trained by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to keep a check on the many operations around the country.

Indeed, regulations like the Accord on Fire and Building Safety, an initiative carried out on behalf of 175 retailers based primarily in Europe, which is overseeing improvements in over 1,600 factors, as well as the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety that is looking into improvements in 587 factories at the behest of 26 North American retailers, indicate progress.

But as Ganguly said, “Much more needs to be done to ensure worker rights.”

For a start, experts say that proper compensation must be paid to survivors, or families of those who lost their lives due to negligence in the Rana Plaza and Tazreen Fashions disasters.

As of March of this year, only 21 million dollars of the estimated 31 million dollars’ compensation has so far been pledged or disbursed. HRW also found that “15 companies whose clothing and brand labels were found in the rubble of Rana Plaza by journalists and labour activists have not paid anything into the trust fund established with the support of the ILO to manage the payments.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Saudis Compensate Civilian Killings with 274 Million in Humanitarian Aid to Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/saudis-compensate-civilian-killings-with-274-million-in-humanitarian-aid-to-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=saudis-compensate-civilian-killings-with-274-million-in-humanitarian-aid-to-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/saudis-compensate-civilian-killings-with-274-million-in-humanitarian-aid-to-yemen/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 19:45:14 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140265 Morocco is also participating in Operation Decisive Storm, with at least six fighter aircraft. Credit: ra.az/cc by 2.0

Morocco is also participating in Operation Decisive Storm, with at least six fighter aircraft. Credit: ra.az/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)

Saudi Arabia’s right hand does not know what its left foot is up to, belittles an Asian diplomat, mixing his metaphors to describe the political paradox in the ongoing military conflict in Yemen.

The Saudis, who are leading a coalition of Arab states, have been accused of indiscriminate bombings resulting in 1,080 deaths, mostly civilians, and nearly 4,352 injured – and triggering a large-scale humanitarian crisis in Yemen.“Repeated airstrikes on a dairy factory located near military bases shows cruel disregard for civilians by both sides to Yemen’s armed conflict.” -- HRW's Joe Stork

As if to compensate for its sins, Saudi Arabia this week announced a 274-million-dollar donation “for humanitarian operations in Yemen”, according to the United Nations.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia temporarily halted its nearly month-long air attacks, presumably under pressure from the United States, which was seriously concerned about the civilian killings.

Asked why the United States intervened to pressure the Saudis to halt the bombings, an unnamed U.S. official was quoted by the New York Times as saying: “Too much collateral damage” (read: civilian killings).

The attacks, which demolished factories and residential neighbourhoods, also hit a storage facility belonging to the London-based charity Oxfam, which said the contents were humanitarian supplies with no military value.

Oxfam welcomed the announcement that “Operation Decisive Storm” in Yemen has ended. However, it warned that the work to bring aid to millions of Yemenis is still only beginning.

Grace Ommer, Oxfam’s Country Director for Yemen, told IPS the airstrikes and violence during the past 27 days have taken as many as 900 lives. More than half of these were civilians.

“The news that airstrikes have at least temporarily ended is welcome and we hope that this will pave the way for all parties to the current conflict to find a permanent negotiated peace,” she said.

“The news will also come as a massive relief to our 160 Yemeni staff throughout the country as well as the rest of the civilian population all of whom have been struggling to survive this latest crisis in their fragile nation,” Ommer added.

With instability and insecurity rife throughout the country and fighting continuing on the ground, all parties to the conflict must allow aid agencies to deliver much needed humanitarian assistance to the millions currently in need, Ommer said.

Oxfam also pointed out that Yemen is the Middle East’s poorest country where 16 million – over 60 percent of the population – are reliant on aid to survive.

The recent escalation in violence has only added to the unfolding humanitarian disaster, it said.

The Saudi air strikes were in support of ousted Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi whose government was overthrown by Houthi rebels.

Sara Hashash of Amnesty International told IPS more than 120,00 people have been displaced since the Saudi-Arabian-led military campaign began one month ago “leading to a growing humanitarian crisis.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters the Saudi donation will support the needs of 7.5 million Yemenis in the coming three months.

“This funding will provide urgently-needed lifesaving assistance including food assistance for 2.6 million people, clean water and sanitation for 5 million people, protection services to 1.4 million people and nutrition support to nearly 79,000 people,” he added.

The air attacks also struck a dairy factory last week, killing about 31 workers, and flattened a neighbourhood, leaving 25 people dead.

“Repeated airstrikes on a dairy factory located near military bases shows cruel disregard for civilians by both sides to Yemen’s armed conflict,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“The attack may have violated the laws of war, so the countries involved should investigate and take appropriate action, including compensating victims of unlawful strikes,” he added.

While civilian casualties do not necessarily mean that the laws of war were violated, the high loss of civilian life in a factory seemingly used for civilian purposes should be impartially investigated, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, in a statement released here.

“If the United States provided intelligence or other direct support for the airstrikes, it would as a party to the conflict share the obligation to minimize civilian harm and investigate alleged violations.”

According to HRW, the Saudi-led coalition, which is responsible for the aerial attacks, includes Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, and United Arab Emirates.

“If the U.S. is providing targeting intelligence it is a party to the conflict and is obligated to abide by the laws of war,” Stork said.

“Even if not, in backing the coalition the US will want to ensure that all airstrikes and other operations are carried out in a way that avoids civilian loss of life and property, which have already reached alarming levels.”

Asked about reports of civilian killings, Dujarric said “obviously, just at first glance, these kinds of reports are extremely disturbing when you see a probability of a high level of civilian casualties.”

“But I think all… all the violence that we’ve seen over the weekend, I think, serves as a reminder for the parties to heed the Secretary‑General’s call on Friday for cessation of hostilities and for a ceasefire, which he talked about in Washington,” he added, 24 hours before the temporary cease-fire.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Water Politics Polarised in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/water-politics-polarised-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=water-politics-polarised-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/water-politics-polarised-in-mexico/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 15:04:08 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140241 Greenpeace activists on the Santiago river, in the western Mexican state of Jalisco, protesting against industrial pollution of water courses in 2014. Credit: Courtesy of Greenpeace

Greenpeace activists on the Santiago river, in the western Mexican state of Jalisco, protesting against industrial pollution of water courses in 2014. Credit: Courtesy of Greenpeace

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Apr 22 2015 (IPS)

Laura Romero has piped water in her home for only a few hours a day, and at least once a week she is cut off completely. Like the rest of the residents in her neighbourhood in the north of the Mexican capital, she has to store water in containers like drums or jerrycans.

“When there is no water, they send out water trucks. We insist they should mend the leaks in the infrastructure, but they tell us they have to draw up preliminary specifications” in order to calculate costs, Romero, a member of the Frente de Organizaciones Sociales en Defensa de Azcapotzalco (Front of Social Organisations in Defence of Azcapotzalco), complained to IPS.

The Front manages public funds to build low-cost social housing on preferential terms in Azcapotzalco, a middle-class neighbourhood. In December a batch of these houses was completed, but the Mexico City government’s water authorities refused to connect the water supply, and the Front fears the same will happen with another of their construction projects.

“The government says that each person must pay 8,000 pesos (about 350 dollars) to be connected (to the water supply),” Romero said.

In contrast, there are at least six shopping malls and one entertainment centre in the area that have a permanent water supply.

Issues related to availability, quality, pollution, monopoly and overuse are putting water resources under pressure in this Latin American country of 118 million people. World Water Day was celebrated Sunday Mar. 22, with the theme for this year being Water and Sustainable Development.

In Mexico water assets are regarded as a national public resource, supervised by the National Water Commission (CONAGUA) and administered by the central government, state and municipal governments, which are empowered to grant distribution and management concessions, including handing over water resources to the industrial and agricultural sectors.

A constitutional reform in 2012 defined water as a human right, but there has been no improvement in the water situation in the country as a result of this change.

“Many bodies of water are polluted, and many communities have problems with water supply,” said Omar Arellano, coordinator of the Ecotoxicology group, part of the Union of Scientists Committed to Society’s (UCCS) Social and Environmental Observatory Programme.

Arellano, an academic at the Biomedical Research Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), told IPS that “in recent years a number of river diversion schemes have put local settlements at risk and altered water cycles.” These schemes, he said, were one of the causes of the problems.

Arellano is one of the authors of the 2012 study “La contaminación en la cuenca del río Santiago y la salud pública en la región” (Pollution in the Santiago river basin and public health in the region), which found that 280 companies dump toxic effluents into the river.

They reported that this river in the western state of Jalisco is contaminated with 1,090 hazardous pollutants and poses a health and environmental risk for some 700,000 people living along its banks. The situation in this river basin is just one example of what is happening in other parts of Mexico.

Employees of the state water and sanitation agency in the city of Toluca in Mexico state, 66 kilometres from Mexico City, carry out maintenance work at a water treatment plant. Credit: Courtesy of Organismo Agua y Saneamiento de Toluca

Employees of the state water and sanitation agency in the city of Toluca in Mexico state, 66 kilometres from Mexico City, carry out maintenance work at a water treatment plant. Credit: Courtesy of Organismo Agua y Saneamiento de Toluca

There is water, but not for everyone

The National Water Resources Plan for 2014-2018 indicates that average natural water availability per capita in Mexico fell from 18,035 cubic metres a year in 1950 to 3,982 cubic metres in 2013.

In spite of this reduction, water availability is not the main problem. United Nations guidelines state that countries with less than 1,000 cubic metres per capita per year suffer from water scarcity, and those with between 1,000 and 1,700 cubic metres per person face water stress.

In absolute terms, Mexico has an average annual water availability of 471 billion cubic metres, according to CONAGUA’s Water Atlas 2013, including surface and underground water as well as water imported from the United States under bilateral treaties.

However, nearly 14 million people have no water in their homes. The problem is greatest in the states of Veracruz (southeast), Guerrero (southwest), and Mexico state (centre) adjacent to the nation’s capital.

Moreover, 34 million people depend for their water on aquifers that are gradually drying out.

The National Water Resources Plan recognises that ethnic minorities and women, especially in rural and peri-urban areas, suffer the most from lack of drinking water and sanitation.

Claudia Campero, the Latin America representative for the Canadian NGO Blue Planet Network, told IPS that the constitutional reform “is an opportunity to change the paradigm: we want a sustainable vision for the future of water.”

Mexico was supposed to amend its 1992 General Water Law, to bring it into line with the 2012 constitutional reform, by February 2013, but this has not yet happened.

Meanwhile, water disputes among users, communities, organisations, the government and private interests have been exacerbated by the presentation of two contradictory bills.

On Feb. 9 a coalition of social organisations and academics presented a citizens’ proposal for a new General Water Law that would guarantee water for human consumption and economic activities, systematic recycling, local management at the river basin level and the creation of a special fund.

Earlier, in March 2014, CONAGUA sent a bill to Congress but the text raised massive negative reactions and was removed from the parliamentary agenda on Mar. 9, 2015.

De facto privatisation

The organisations and academics blocked the CONAGUA bill because they viewed it as a water privatisation measure that commodifies the resource, bans research into water quality and levels of pollution, and favours diversion of the flow of rivers and the construction of dams and other works.

“The risk is that inequality will increase. We need comprehensive management of water resources,” said Arellano.

De facto privatisation of water services has continued to advance slowly in Mexico in a number of different ways.

In the city of Saltillo, north of Mexico City, and in Aguascalientes in the centre of the country, water management is in private hands. In the Mexican capital itself, four private concessions have been granted for metering water consumption and collecting water rates.

Breweries, dairy producers, water bottling plants, makers of soft drinks, mining companies and even investment funds have obtained water concessions, according to studies by several academic authors.

Agua para Tod@s, Agua para la Vida (Water for All, Water for Life) is a network made up of more than 400 researchers and 30 NGOs that has created a map of water conflicts sparked by deforestation, overuse, pollution and other causes.

In 2013 the volume of water handed over in concession for use in agriculture and industry surpassed 82 billion cubic metres, 51 billion of which came from surface sources and 31 billion from aquifers.

“There is a lack of transparency about which companies have benefited from privatisation. There is no need to wait 20 years to see its effects,” Campero said.

Mexico is highly vulnerable to climate change, which is causing temperature fluctuations, drought, anomalous rainfall and variations in river flow. It is predicted that by 2030, availability of surface and underground water in the country will be affected.

By 2030 – in 15 years’ time – demand is forecast to increase to over 91 billion cubic metres while supply will only reach 68 billion cubic metres, a gap between supply and demand for which innovative solutions have still not been envisaged.

“We want water; it is not fair that the state should deny us access to it,” complained Romero in the Azcapotzalco neighbourhood of Mexico City.
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Shift to Renewables Seems Inevitable, But Is It Fast Enough?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/shift-to-renewables-seems-a-forgone-conclusion-but-is-it-fast-enough/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shift-to-renewables-seems-a-forgone-conclusion-but-is-it-fast-enough http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/shift-to-renewables-seems-a-forgone-conclusion-but-is-it-fast-enough/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 18:34:24 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140258 Canada’s Erie Shores Wind Farm includes 66 turbines with a total capacity of 99 MW. Credit: Denise Morazé/IPS

Canada’s Erie Shores Wind Farm includes 66 turbines with a total capacity of 99 MW. Credit: Denise Morazé/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

Climate change may be one of the most divisive issues in the U.S. Congress today, but despite the staunch denialism of Republicans, experts say the global transition from fossil fuels to renewables is already well underway.

A new book published by the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute finds that a steep decline in the price of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels (by three-fourths between 2009 and 2014, to less than 70 cents a watt) has helped the industry grow 50 percent per year."If they truly want to keep their own jobs, our elected leaders will soon see ties with coal, oil and gas as a serious political liability.” -- Kyle Ash of Greenpeace USA

Wind power capacity grew more than 20 percent a year for the last decade, now totalling 369,000 megawatts, enough to power more than 90 million U.S. homes.

In China, electricity generation from wind farms now exceeds that from nuclear plants, while coal use appears to be peaking.

“Wind farms and solar PV systems will likely continue to anchor the growth of renewables,” Matthew Roney, a co-author of “The Great Transition”, told IPS. “They’re already well established, with costs continuing to drop, and their ‘fuels’ are widespread and abundant.”

With international initiatives like the U.N. Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All and new development goals in the offing, donors and policy-makers are looking to massively scale up these tried-and-true clean technologies.

“One of solar’s advantages is that not only is it increasingly competitive with the average cost of grid electricity around the world, it can make economic sense for many of the 1.3 billion people who do not yet have access to electricity,” Roney said.

The book also notes that 70 countries now have feed-in tariffs, a policy mechanism designed to accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies by offering long-term contracts to renewable energy producers. Another two dozen have renewable portfolio standards (RPS), 37 countries offer production or investment tax credits for renewables, and 40 countries are implementing or planning carbon pricing.

In the U.S., reliance on coal is dwindling – it fell 21 percent between 2007 and 2014 – and more than one-third of the nation’s coal plants have already closed or announced plans for future closure.

But according to Greenpeace and other civil society watchdog groups, the industry is trying to get a new lease on life by pushing so-called carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) – where waste carbon dioxide (CO2) is captured from large point sources, such as power plants, and transported to a storage site — what Greenpeace has dubbed a “Carbon Capture Scam.”

The Barack Obama administration advocates CCS as part of its “all of the above” energy strategy, the group says in a recent analysis, even though the government’s own projections show that it would cost almost 40 percent more per kilogramme of avoided carbon dioxide than solar photovoltaic, 125 percent more than wind and 260 percent more than geothermal.

“The most fair-weather politician, if honest, should agree that advocating for renewables is a winning campaign strategy,” Greenpeace USA legislative representative Kyle Ash told IPS.

“Do they really care about jobs? Do they really care about U.S. competitiveness and energy independence?” he asked. “The president and Congress have no shortage of reasons to acknowledge renewables are the only path forward when it comes to energy production. If they truly want to keep their own jobs, our elected leaders will soon see ties with coal, oil and gas as a serious political liability.”

The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon rule requires that new coal plants capture CO2, and emphasises the CO2 be used to augment oil extraction. Oil rigs then pump the carbon dioxide underground so the oil expands and more is forced up the well.

Greenpeace says that rather than actually storing carbon, it comes right back up the well with the oil. Every major power plant CCS project in the United States intends to sell the scrubbed carbon to the oil extraction industry.

“We don’t just have statistics, technology, and climate science on our side – we have a growing body politic that is opposing fracking, tar sands, coal exports, and other ways an archaic industry is trying to hold on,” Ash said.

“CCS is really the last gasp of the political pandering to coal, an industry widely known to have been horrible to workers and horrible for the environment. What we should soon see is more pandering to workers and the environment.”

The Obama administration has won kudos from environmental groups, including Greenpeace, for at least acknowledging the problem. In a videotaped statement for Earth Day this year, the U.S. president declared that “Today, there’s no greater threat to our planet than climate change.”

The million-dollar question, most scientists say, is whether the transition to renewables will be fast enough to restrict warming to the benchmark two-degree increase by 2020, beyond which the consequences could be catastrophic.

“Although the adoption of renewable energy worldwide is moving in the right direction, more quickly than virtually anyone predicted even five years ago, the race is definitely not over yet,” Roney said. “Cutting into oil use by electrifying the transport sector is key, but electric vehicle adoption is not yet moving quickly enough to have a big impact.”

He noted that batteries, a major part of the price tag for an EV, are set to come down by half by 2020, according to UBS, making EVs fully competitive with conventional cars.

“At that point, buying an EV over a car that runs on gasoline will be a no-brainer, with up to 2,400 dollars in anticipated annual savings on gas. More broadly, pricing carbon would likely be the most effective way to accelerate the shift fast enough to keep climate change from spiraling out of control,” Roney said.

“The good news is that some 40 countries now have implemented or plan to implement carbon pricing, through a cap and trade system or carbon tax, including China. When its anticipated national cap and trade system begins in 2016, roughly a quarter of global carbon emissions will be priced—not nearly enough, but a decent start.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The U.N. at 70: A View from Outer Spacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/the-u-n-at-70-a-view-from-outer-space/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-a-view-from-outer-space http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/the-u-n-at-70-a-view-from-outer-space/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 09:44:08 +0000 Nandasiri Jasentuliyana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140227

Dr. Nandasiri Jasentuliyana is President Emeritus of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL), Formerly Deputy Director-General, United Nations Office at Vienna and Director, Office for Outer Space Affairs, United Nations.

By Dr. Nandasiri Jasentuliyana
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

When the founding fathers of the United Nations met in San Francisco 70 years ago, an American banker named Beardsley Ruml made a remark:

Courtesy of Dr. Nandasiri Jasentuliyana

Courtesy of Dr. Nandasiri Jasentuliyana

“At the end of five years, you will think the United Nations is the greatest vision ever realized by man. At the end of 10 years, you will find doubts within yourself and all throughout the world.

“At the end of 50 years, you will believe the United Nations cannot succeed. You will be certain that all the odds are against its ultimate life and success. It will be only when the United Nations is 100 years old that we will know that the United Nations is the only alternative to the demolition of the world.”

At 70, the United Nations perhaps is in a transitional phase from the pessimistic to the optimistic stage of expectations. In the interim, it has dealt with the entire gamut of human activity, and therefore not surprisingly in outer space activities ever since man ventured into outer space nearly 60 years back.

At the beginning, in the context of the Cold War, the concern of the United Nations was in preventing an extension of the arms race into outer space.  Since its establishment by the General Assembly in 1959, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space has been the focal point of international political and legal discussions and negotiations aimed at promoting international cooperation in space, and thus limiting an arms race in space.Opportunities are quite clear as space-faring nations are pursuing ambitious new projects at a cost of many millions of dollars and new technologies emerge, enabling exciting applications such as harnessing solar power.

By an imaginative and innovative effort at international legislation within the United Nations, and through the arduous work painstakingly carried out over a period of time by the Committee, the General Assembly elaborated a set of multilateral treaties and legal principles, which provide the framework of international space law and policy that governs space activities.

The treaties embodied fundamental principles establishing that exploration and use of outer space shall be the province of all mankind and that outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation.

They banned the placement of nuclear weapons and any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction in outer space, thus preventing an arms race in space. They have provided for international responsibility of States for national activities in outer space, liability for damage caused by space activities, the safety and rescue of astronauts, freedom of scientific investigation and the exploration of natural resources in outer space, as well as the settlement of disputes.

They encouraged the international cooperation in space activities and promotion of peaceful uses of space technology for the benefit all mankind.

The fact that these treaties were negotiated and concluded among rival space-faring nations during the Cold War, ratified by as large a number of states as any international treaty, and kept order in space for over half a century, is indeed no mean achievement.

The end of the Cold War and the subsequent changes in the international security environment raised new possibilities for the utilisation of space technology to promote international peace, security and stability.

The rapid advancement of space technology in the in the post-Cold War era, the increasingly widespread use of that technology for essential economic and social services, and the new international political environment led the international community to seize the opportunity to ensure that space technology is effectively used to promote security in all its forms – political, military, economic and environmental – for the benefit of all countries.

The United Nations and the specialised agencies developed new policies and programmes for the innovative use of space technologies for communications, information gathering, environmental monitoring and resource development for the benefit of all people.

Recognition that through its global reach and global perspective, space technology can make a vital contribution to promoting international security and those new initiatives should be taken to ensure that all countries have access to the benefits of space activities, led to the convening of three Global Conferences on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE Conferences).

They offered the opportunity for all nations to share information on the possibilities of utilising space technology applications for developmental purposes. They also made all countries keenly aware of the dangers of dual use technologies and to take measures to promote peaceful applications ensuring international security.

The conferences, which were held at periodic intervals, helped assess the state of space science and technology with a view to taking a fresh look at their potential, especially for benefiting the developing countries. These global conferences laid down an agenda for nations to follow in the interim periods. They also established or revitalised existing programmes and mechanisms for sharing the benefits of space technology applications by all countries.

The United Nations itself took the leadership in the education and training of specialists in developing countries to enable them to establish or continue operating space applications programmes and institutions that are suitable to the countries concerned.

Seven Regional Space Education and Training Centers were established in Asia, Africa and Latin America that continue to operate with much success. A database was established to enable the dissemination of information on space applications for the use of developing countries.

A treaty-based register of space objects launched into space was established and all states launching space objects register their launchings with the the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs which is operating the register, thereby establishing their ownership as well as liability for such objects.

More recently, the ‘United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response’ (UN-SPIDER) was established to ensure that all countries have access to and develop the capacity to use all types of space-based technologies and information to support humanitarian and emergency response during disaster management.

The United Nations through the specialised agencies has developed and operates several other programmes to assist nations in the orderly development of space technology applications.

At the inception, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) established the World Weather Watch which pioneered the use of space technology for weather forecasting. International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has developed and operates a detailed regulatory regime for the allocation of frequency and orbital slots for communication satellites and thus avoiding interference in satellite operations.

Other agencies have established operational programmes for the use of space technology such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for the use of remote sensing satellites in monitoring agriculture, desertification, deforestation; the International Maritime Organization (IMO) enabling the operations of the maritime industry in operating maritime satellites; and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) facilitating civil aviation operations through its air navigation system.

Much has been achieved so far, but much remains to be done in the next few decades as the United Nations look forward with optimism towards its century.

Opportunities are quite clear as space-faring nations are pursuing ambitious new projects at a cost of many millions of dollars and new technologies emerge, enabling exciting applications such as harnessing solar power, and commercial utilisation of the space station in producing newer forms of pharmaceuticals and hitherto unknown forms of materials.

At the same time, we are presented with new challenges as countries face mounting pressure regarding Earth’s environment and climate as traditional weather patterns are disturbed, with devastating floods and hurricanes killing thousands of people with the developing countries bearing the brunt of such disasters; and misuse or abuse of natural resources is a serious problem threatening food security.

These are compelling reasons for international cooperation in space activities as space technology is daily providing us with new tools in dealing with those challenges and opportunities, and the United Nations will have to continue its vital role as facilitator of that vital cooperation so that all nations can benefit from space exploration.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Tailings Ponds Pose a Threat to Chilean Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/tailings-ponds-threaten-chilean-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tailings-ponds-threaten-chilean-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/tailings-ponds-threaten-chilean-communities/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 07:39:50 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140244 The Ojancos tailings dam abandoned by the Sali Hochschild mining company, which spilled toxic waste after the late March thunderstorm that caused flooding in northern Chile. The waste reached the Copiapó river and the water supply on the outskirts of the city of Copiapó. Credit: Courtesy Relaves.org

The Ojancos tailings dam abandoned by the Sali Hochschild mining company, which spilled toxic waste after the late March thunderstorm that caused flooding in northern Chile. The waste reached the Copiapó river and the water supply on the outskirts of the city of Copiapó. Credit: Courtesy Relaves.org

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

Chile lives under the constant threat of spillage from tailings ponds, which became even more marked in late March after heavy rains fell in the desert region of Atacama leaving over two dozen people dead and missing and thousands without a home.

Copiapó, capital of the region of the same name, 800 km north of Santiago, is in an area full of tailings dams, Henry Jurgens, the founder of the non-governmental organisation Relaves (Tailings), told Tierramérica.

He explained that pollution with heavy metals “was already a reality” before the recent thunderstorm and flooding, but that the catastrophe “made this reality visible and more severe.”

In early April, the organisation detected tailings pond spills when it took water and mud samples in different parts of the Atacama region. But the government’s National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin) reported that the tailings impoundments that hold toxic waste are in stable condition.

The Atacama desert, the world’s driest, was the main natural area affected by the flooding caused by the Mar. 23-24 heavy rainfall, which dropped the equivalent of one-quarter of a normal year’s precipitation on the area.

Experts say the rain may have stirred up heavy metals lying quietly in abandoned ponds.

Tailings, the materials left over after valuable minerals are separated from ore, contain water, chemicals and heavy metals such as cyanide, arsenic, zinc and mercury, deposited in open-air ponds or impoundments.

These toxic substances build up in the body and cause serious health problems.

Arsenic, for example, has no color, odor or taste, which makes it undetectable by people who consume it. Experts warn that long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer of the skin, lungs or bladder.

The main source of wealth in this mining country is copper. In 2014 alone, this country of 17.5 million people produced 5.7 billion tons of copper, 31.2 percent of the world total.

But for each ton of fine copper produced, 100 tons of soil with toxic by-products must be removed and stored.

There are 449 identified tailings ponds in this country, according to official figures. But there are dozens of others that have not been “georeferenced,” another member of Relaves, Raimundo Gómez, complained to Tierramérica.

The dusty exterior of the División de El Teniente, the world’s biggest copper mine, located in the Andes mountains 150 km south of Santiago. Solid and liquid waste products are treated in the mine and sulfur emissions are controlled. But that is not the case in all of the country’s mines. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The dusty exterior of the División de El Teniente, the world’s biggest copper mine, located in the Andes mountains 150 km south of Santiago. Solid and liquid waste products are treated in the mine and sulfur emissions are controlled. But that is not the case in all of the country’s mines. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“There is no real register of abandoned tailings ponds in the country,” said Gómez. “Sernageomin estimates that there are 90 of these toxic deposits in the Atacama region alone. That is really a lot.”

He also noted that “there is a great lack of information about the issue; communities do not know that they are living next to tailings ponds, and people are unaware of the danger that they pose to health and that they pollute the water.”

“We can see the profits left by mining. But we don’t see the negative effects, which we all end up paying in the end,” Gómez said. “It’s like when you go to a dinner and you talk about how delicious it was, but you don’t tell what you did in the bathroom afterwards.”

The earthquake that shook Chile on Feb. 27, 2010 caused the collapse of an abandoned tailings pile that buried an entire family under tons of toxic sludge.

The victims, a couple and their two children, worked on the farm where Jurgens and his family lived for six years near the southern town of Pencahue, unaware that they were living next to a toxic, unstable tailings pile.

“It wasn’t till then that I found out what it was, and all the things that could happen,” he said.

“People are totally ignorant about this. They’re often drinking polluted water and aren’t warned by the relevant institutions….That’s just humiliating and terrible,” Jurgens said.

Although experts say the worst risk is posed by abandoned tailings dumps, the ones that are still in use can also be dangerous.

That is the case of Caimanes, a town of 1,000 located near the El Mauro tailings dam of the company Los Pelambres, the sixth-largest copper producer in Chile, which belongs to the Luksic’s, the richest family in the country.

El Mauro, which in the Diaguita indigenous language means the place where the water spouts, is located eight km upriver from Caimanes.

The seven km-long dam, with a wall 270 metres high, is the biggest chemical waste dump in Latin America.

The dump has hurt the local biodiversity and polluted the water used by the people of the town.

The main study on water pollution by tailings ponds, carried out in 2011 by Andrei Tchernitchin at the University of Chile, found high levels of heavy metals in a number of rivers.

“At the Caimanes bridge, the iron level was 50 percent higher than the limit and the manganese sample was nearly double the level permitted for drinking water,” Tchernitchin told Tierramérica.

He returned to take more samples for a second study, in February 2012. In a small pond, a few centimetres above a swamp, he found levels of manganese far above the internationally accepted limit.

“The limit is 100 micrograms of manganese per litre, and we found 9,477 micrograms. The iron level was also 30 percent above the limit,” he said.

He warned that if this severe level of pollution continued, the effects on the health of the local population would be serious. “Long-term exposure to manganese can cause diseases of the central nervous system such as psychosis, Parkinson’s disease and dementia,” Tchernitchin said.

On Mar. 6, a local court accepted a lawsuit brought by the Caimanes Defence Committee on Dec. 19, 2008 and ordered the tailings pond to be removed.

The mining company appealed, and the regional Appeals Court is to hand down a ruling shortly.

Jurgens and Gómez called for a law on tailings that would indicate how many impoundments exist in the country, how many have been abandoned, and what chemicals they contain.

“A strict law is needed, on one hand, and informed citizens on the other. We have neither of these,” Gómez argued.

“It is really paradoxical that we consider ourselves a mining country and always talk about how much copper we’re going to export, but no one is aware of the amount of waste we’re going to produce,” he said.

“We have to learn how to assess the negative aspects of mining and to raise awareness of that and of the large number of tailings ponds and waste that is literally dumped throughout the country,” he said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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From Slavery to Self Reliance: A Story of Dalit Women in South Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/from-slavery-to-self-reliance-a-story-of-dalit-women-in-south-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-slavery-to-self-reliance-a-story-of-dalit-women-in-south-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/from-slavery-to-self-reliance-a-story-of-dalit-women-in-south-india/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 07:19:07 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140247 BhagyaAmma, a Madiga Dalit woman and former ‘devadasi’ (temple slave), has found economic self-reliance by rearing goats in the Nagenhalli village in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

BhagyaAmma, a Madiga Dalit woman and former ‘devadasi’ (temple slave), has found economic self-reliance by rearing goats in the Nagenhalli village in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
BELLARY, India, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

HuligeAmma, a Dalit woman in her mid-forties, bends over a sewing machine, carefully running the needle over the hem of a shirt. Sitting nearby is Roopa, her 22-year-old daughter, who reads an amusing message on her cell phone and laughs heartily.

The pair leads a simple yet contented life – they subsist on half a dollar a day, stitch their own clothes and participate in schemes to educate their community in the Bellary district of the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka.

But not so very long ago, both women were slaves. They have fought an exhausting battle to get to where they are today, pushing against two evils that lurk in this mineral-rich state: the practice of sexual slavery in Hindu temples, and forced labour in the illegal mines that dot Bellary District, home to 25 percent of India’s iron ore reserves.

Finally free of the yoke of dual-slavery, they are determined to preserve their hard-won existence, humble though it may be.

Still, they will never forget the wretchedness that once defined their daily lives, nor the entrenched religious and economic systems in India that paved the way for their destitution and bondage.

From the temple to the open-pit mine

“Walk into any Dalit home in this region and you will not meet a single woman or child who has never worked in a mine as a ‘coolie’ (labourer)." -- Manjula, a former mine-worker turned anti-slavery activist from the Mariyammanahalli village in the Indian state of Karnatake
“I was 12 years old when my parents offered me to the Goddess Yellamma [worshipped in the Hindu pantheon as the ‘goddess of the fallen’], and told me I was now a ‘devadasi’,” HuligeAmma tells IPS.

“I had no idea what it meant. All I knew was that I would not marry a man because I now belonged to the Goddess.”

While her initial impressions were not far from the truth, HuligeAmma could not have known then, as an innocent adolescent, what horrors her years of servitude would hold.

The devadasi tradition – the practice of dedicating predominantly lower-caste girls to serve a particular deity or temple – has a centuries-long history in South India.

While these women once occupied a high status in society, the fall of Indian kingdoms to British rule rendered temples penniless and left many devadasis without the structures that had once supported them.

Pushed into poverty but unable to find other work, bound as they were to the gods, devadasis in many states across India’s southern belt essentially became prostitutes, resulting in the government issuing a ban on the entire system of temple slavery in 1988.

Still, the practice continues and as women like HuligeAmma will testify, it remains as degrading and brutal as it was in the 1980s.

She tells IPS that as she grew older a stream of men would visit her in the night, demanding sexual favours. Powerless to refuse, she gave birth to five children by five different men – none of whom assumed any responsibility for her or the child.

After the last child was born, driven nearly mad with hunger and despair, HuligeAmma broke away from the temple and fled to Hospet, a town close to the World Heritage site of Hampi in northern Karnataka.

It did not take her long to find work in an open-cast mine, one of dozens of similar, illicit units that operated throughout the district from 2004 to 2011.

For six years, from dawn until dusk, HuligeAmma extracted iron ore by using a hammer to create holes in the open pit through which the iron could be ‘blasted’ out.

She was unaware at the time that this back-breaking labour constituted the nucleus of a massive illegal mining operation in Karnataka state, that saw the extraction and export of 29.2 million tonnes of iron ore between 2006 and 2011.

All she knew was that she and Roopa, who worked alongside her as a child labourer, earned no more than 50 rupees apiece (about 0.7 dollars) each day.

One of hundreds of illegal open-pit iron ore mines in the Bellary District in India that operated with impunity until a 2011 ban put a stop to the practice. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

One of hundreds of illegal open-pit iron ore mines in the Bellary District in India that operated with impunity until a 2011 ban put a stop to the practice. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

In a bid to crack down on the criminal trade, police often raided the mines and arrested the workers, who had to pay bribes of 200-300 rupees (roughly four to six dollars) to secure their release.

In a strange echo of the devadasi system, this cycle kept them indebted to the mine operators.

In 2009, when she could no longer tolerate the crushing workload or the constant sexual advances from fellow workers, contractors and truckers, who saw the former temple slave as ‘fair game’, HuligeAmma threw herself on the mercy of a local non-governmental organisation, Sakhi Trust, which has proved instrumental in lifting both her and her daughter out of the abyss.

Today all her children are back in school and Roopa works as a youth coordinator with Sakhi Trust. They live in Nagenhalli, a Dalit village where HuligeAmma works as a seamstress, teaching dressmaking skills to young girls in the community.

Caste: India’s most unsustainable system

The story may have ended happily for HuligeAmma and Roopa, but for many of India’s roughly 200 million Dalits, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Once considered ‘untouchables’ in the Indian caste system, Dalits – literally, ‘the broken’ – are a diverse and divided group, encompassing everyone from so-called ‘casteless’ communities to other marginalised peoples.

Under this vast umbrella exists a further hierarchy, with some communities, like the Madiga Dalits (sometimes called ‘scavengers’), often discriminated against by their kin.

Historically, Madigas have made shoes, cleaned drains and skinned animals – tasks considered beneath the dignity of all other groups in Hindu society.

Most of the devadasis in South India hail from this community, according to Bhagya Lakshmi, social activist and director of the Sakhi Trust. In Karnataka alone, there are an estimated 23,000 temple slaves, of which over 90 percent are Dalit women.

Lakshmi, who has worked alongside the Madiga people for nearly two decades, tells IPS that Madiga women grow up knowing little else besides oppression and discrimination.

The devadasi system, she adds, is nothing more than institutionalised, caste-based violence, which sets Dalit women on a course that almost guarantees further exploitation, including unpaid labour or unequal wages.

For instance, even in an illegal mine, a non-Dalit worker gets between 350 and 400 rupees (between five and six dollars) a day, while a Dalit is paid no more than 100 rupees, reveals MinjAmma, a Madiga woman who worked in a mine for seven years.

Yet it is Dalit women who made up the bulk of the labourers entrapped in the massive iron trade.

“Walk into any Dalit home in this region and you will not meet a single woman or child who has never worked in a mine as a ‘coolie’ (labourer),” Manjula, a former mine-worker turned anti-slavery activist from the Mariyammanahalli village in Bellary District, tells IPS.

Herself the daughter and granddaughter of devadasis, who spent her childhood years working in a mine, Manjula believes the systems of forced labour and temple slavery are connected in a matrix of exploitation across India’s southern states, a linkage that is deepened further by the caste system.

She, like most official sources, is unclear on the exact number of Dalits forced into the iron ore extraction racket, but is confident that it ran into “several thousands”.

Destroying lives, and livelihoods

Annually, India accounts for seven percent of global iron ore production, and ranks fourth in terms of the quantity produced after Brazil, China and Australia. Every year, India produces about 281 million tonnes of iron ore, according to a 2011 Supreme Court report.

Karnataka is home to over 9,000 million tonnes of India’s total estimated reserves of 25.2 billion tonnes of iron ore, making it a crucial player in the country’s export industry.

Bellary District alone houses an estimated 1,000 million tonnes of iron ore reserves. Between April 2006 and July 2010, 228 unlicensed miners exported 29.2 million tonnes of iron ore, causing the state losses worth 16 million dollars.

With a population of 2.5 million people relying primarily on agriculture, fisheries and livestock farming for their livelihoods, Bellary District has suffered significant environmental impacts from illicit mining operations.

Groundwater supplies have been poisoned, with sources in and around mining areas showing high iron and manganese content, as well as an excessive concentration of fluoride – all of which are the enemies of farming families who live off the land.

Research suggests that 9.93 percent of the region’s 68,234 hectares of forests have been lost in the mining boom, while the dust generated through the processes of excavating, blasting and grading iron has coated vegetation in surrounding areas in a thick film of particulate matter, stifling photosynthesis.

Although the Supreme Court ordered the cessation of all unregistered mining activity in 2011, following an extensive report on the environmental, economic and social impacts, rich industrialists continue to flout the law.

Still, an official ban has made it easier to crack down on the practice. Today, from the ashes of two crumbling systems – unlawful mining operations and religiously sanctioned sexual abuse – some of India’s poorest women are pointing the way towards a sustainable future.

From servitude to self-reliance

Their first order of business is to educate themselves and their children, secure alternative livelihoods and deal with the basic issue of sanitation – currently, there is just one toilet for every 90 people in the Bellary District.

Dalit women and their children, including young boys, are working together to end the system of ‘temple slavery’ in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Dalit women and their children, including young boys, are working together to end the system of ‘temple slavery’ in the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

The literacy rate among Dalit communities in South India has been found to be as low as 10 percent in some areas, but Madiga women are making a massive push to turn the tide. With the help of the Sakhi Trust, 600 Dalit girls who might have missed out on schooling altogether have been enrolled since 2011.

Today, Lakshmi Devi Harijana, hailing from the village of Danapura, has become the first Madiga woman in the region to teach in a college, while a further 25 women from her village have earned their university degrees.

To them, these changes are nothing short of revolutionary.

While some have chosen to travel the road of intellectual advancement, others are turning back to simple skills like sewing and animal husbandry.

BhagyaAmma, once an exploited temple slave who also worked in an illegal mine for several years, is today rearing two goats that she bought for the sum of 100 dollars.

She tells IPS she will sell them at the market during the holy festival of Eid al-Adha – a sacrificial feast for which a lamb is slaughtered and shared among family, neighbours and the poor – for 190 dollars.

It is a small profit, but she says it is enough for her basic needs.

Although the government promised the women of Bellary District close to 30 billion rupees (about 475 million dollars) for a rehabilitation programme to undo the damages of illegal mining, the official coffers remain empty.

“We have received applications from local women seeking funds to build individual toilets, but we have not received any money or any instructions regarding the mining rehabilitation fund,” Mohammed Muneer, commissioner of the Hospet Municipality in Bellary District, tells IPS.

Not content to wait around, the women are mobilising their own community-based, which allocates 15,000 rupees (about 230 dollars) on a rolling basis for families to build small toilets, so that women and children will not be at the mercy of sexual predators.

Also in the pipeline are biogas and rainwater harvesting facilities.

As Manjula says, “We want to build small models of economic sustainability. We don’t want to depend on anyone – not a single person, not even the government.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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To Defend the Environment, Support Social Movements Like Berta Cáceres and COPINHhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 19:06:36 +0000 Jeff Conant http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140238 Berta Cáceres. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize

Berta Cáceres. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize

By Jeff Conant
BERKELEY, California, Apr 20 2015 (IPS)

The 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for Central and South America has been awarded to Berta Cáceres, an indigenous Honduran woman who co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, known as COPINH.

If there is one lesson to be learned from the events that earned Cáceres the prize it is this: to defend the environment, we must support the social movements.COPINH’s leadership has made it a driving force in preserving the country’s cultural and environmental heritage – and earned it the ire of loggers, dam-builders, palm oil interests, and others whose wealth depends on the depredation of the natural world and its defenders.

Like many nations rich in natural resources, Honduras, in the heart of Central America, is a country plagued by a resource curse. Its rich forests invite exploitation by logging interests; its mineral wealth is sought by mining interests; its rushing rivers invite big dams, and its fertile coastal plains are ideal for the industrial cultivation of agricultural commodities like palm oil, bananas, and beef.

Honduras is also the most violent country in the Western Hemisphere. The violence is largely linked to organised crime and to a political oligarchy that maintains much of the country’s wealth and power in a few hands. With the country’s rich resources at stake, environmental defenders are frequently targeted by these interests as well.

Some of the best preserved areas of the country fall within the territories of the Lenca indigenous people, who have built their culture around the land, forests and rivers that have supported them for millennia.

In 1993, following the 500th anniversary of Colombus’ “discovery of America,” at a moment when Indigenous Peoples across the Americas began to form national and international federations to reclaim their sovereignty, Lenca territory gave birth to COPINH, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras.

In the 22 years since, COPINH’s leadership in the country’s popular struggles has made it a driving force in preserving the country’s cultural and environmental heritage – and earned it the ire of loggers, dam-builders, palm oil interests, and others whose wealth depends on the depredation of the natural world and its defenders.

Since the early 1990’s, COPINH has forced the cancellation of dozens of  logging operations; they have created several protected forest areas; have developed municipal forest management plans and secured over 100 collective land titles for indigenous communities, in some cases encompassing entire municipalities.

Most recently, in the accomplishment that won Berta Caceres, one of COPINH’s founders, the Goldman Environmental Prize, they successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder, the Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro, to pull out of the construction of a complex of large dams known as Agua Zarca.

Berta became a national figure in Honduras in 2009 when she emerged as a leader in the movement demanding the re-founding of Honduras and drafting of a new constitution. The movement gained the support of then-president Manuel Zelaya, who proposed a national referendum to consider the question.

But the day the referendum was scheduled to take place, Jun. 28, 2009, the military intervened.  They surrounded and opened fire on the president’s house, broke down his door and escorted him to a former U.S. military base where a waiting plane flew him out of the country.

The United Nations and every other country in the Western Hemisphere (except Honduras itself) publicly condemned the military-led coup as illegal. Every country in the region, except the United States, withdrew their ambassadors from Honduras. All EU ambassadors were withdrawn from the country.

With the democratically-elected president deposed, Honduras descended into increasing violence that continues to this day. But the coup also gave birth to a national resistance movement that continues to fight for a new constitution.  Within the movement, Berta and COPINH have devoted themselves to a vision of a new Honduran society built from the bottom up.

Since the 2009 coup, Honduras has witnessed a huge increase in megaprojects that would displace the Lenca and other indigenous communities. Almost 30 percent of the country’s land is earmarked for mining concessions; this in turns creates a demand for cheap energy to power the future mining operations.

To meet this need, the government approved hundreds of dam projects. Among them is the Agua Zarca Dam, a joint project of Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and Chinese state-owned Sinohydro, the world’s largest dam developer. Slated for construction on the Gualcarque River, Agua Zarca was pushed through without consulting the Lencas—and would cut off the supply of water, food and medicine to hundreds of Lenca familes.

COPINH began fighting the dams in 2006, using every means at their disposal: they brought the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, lodged appeals against the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank which agreed to finance the dams, and engaged in non-violent civil disobedience to stop the construction.

In April 2013, Cáceres organised a road blockade to prevent DESA’s access to the dam site. For over a year, the Lenca people maintained a heavy but peaceful presence, rotating out friends and family members for weeks at a time, withstanding multiple eviction attempts and violent attacks from militarised security contractors and the Honduran armed forces.

The same year, Tomás Garcia, a community leader from Rio Blanco and a member of COPINH, was shot and killed during a peaceful protest at the dam office. Others have been attacked with machetes, imprisoned and tortured. None of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.

In late 2013, citing ongoing community resistance and outrage following Garcia’s death, Sinohydro terminated its contract with DESA. Agua Zarca suffered another blow when the IFC withdrew its funding, citing concerns about human rights violations. To date, construction on the project has come to a halt.

The Prize will bring COPINH and Honduras much-needed attention from the international community, as the grab for the region’s resources is increasing.

“This award, and the international attention it brings comes at a challenging time for us,” Berta told a small crowd gathered to welcome her to California, where the first of two prize ceremonies will take place.

“The situation in Honduras is getting worse. When I am in Washington later this week to meet with U.S. government officials, the President of Honduras will be in the very next room hoping to obtain more than one billion dollars for a series of mega-projects being advanced by the governments of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and the United States — projects that further threaten to put our natural resources into private hands through mines, dams and large wind projects.

“This is accompanied by the further militarisation of the country, including new ultra-modern military bases they are installing right now.”

Around the world, the frontlines of environmental defence are peopled by bold and visionary social movements like COPINH and by grassroots community organizers like Berta Cáceres.

“In order to fight the onslaught of dams, mines, and the privatisation of all of our natural resources, we need international solidarity,” Berta told her supporters in the U.S. “When we receive your solidarity, we feel surrounded by your energy, your hope, your conviction, that together we can construct societies with dignity, with life, with rebellion, with justice, and above all, with joy.”

If the world is to make strides toward reducing the destructive environmental and social impacts that too often accompany economic development, we need to do all we can to recognise and support the peasant farmers, Indigenous Peoples, and social movements who daily put their lives on the line to stem the tide of destruction.

Learn more about Berta Cáceres and COPINH in this video celebrating her Goldman Prize award.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Pillar of Neoliberal Thinking is Vacillatinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-pillar-of-neoliberal-thinking-is-vacillating/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-pillar-of-neoliberal-thinking-is-vacillating http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-pillar-of-neoliberal-thinking-is-vacillating/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 14:27:03 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140225

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the latest figures from the IMF only confirm what many citizens already know – that the economic situation is worsening. However, he notes, what is new that there are now signs that the IMF has woken up to reality, indicating that “an important pillar of neoliberal thinking is vacillating”.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Apr 20 2015 (IPS)

This month’s World Economic Outlook released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) only confirms that consequences of the collapse of the financial system, which started six years ago, are serious. And they are accentuated by the aging of the population, not only in Europe but also in Asia, the slowing of productivity and weak private investment.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Average growth before the financial crisis in 2008 was around 2.4 percent. It fell to 1.3 percent between 2008 and 2014 and now the estimates are that it will stabilise at 1.6 percent until 2020, in what economists call the “new normal”. In other words, “normality” is now unemployment, anaemic growth and, obviously, a difficult political climate.

For the emerging countries, the overall picture does not look much better. It is expected that potential growth is expected to decline further, from an average of about 6.5 percent between 2008 and 2014 to 5.2 percent during the period 2015-2020.

The case of China is the best example. Growth is expected to fall from an average 8.3 percent in the last 10 years to somewhere around 6.8 percent. The result is that the Chinese contraction has worsened the balance of exports of raw materials everywhere.

The crisis is especially strong in Latin America, and in Brazil the fall in exports has contributed to worsening the country’s serious crisis and increasing the unpopularity of President Dilma Rousseff, already high because of economic mismanagement and the Petrobras scandal.“Progressive parties were able to build their success during economic expansion but the Left has not developed much economic science on what to do in period of crisis”

This, by the way, opens up a reflection which is fundamental. From Marx to Keynes, redistribution theories were all basically built on stable or expanding economies.

Progressive parties were able to build their success during economic expansion but the Left has not developed much economic science on what to do in period of crisis. What it tends to do is mimic the receipts and proposals from the Right and, when the crisis is over, it has lost its identity and has declined in the eyes of the electorate.

From this perspective, the situation in Europe is exemplary. All those right-wing xenophobic parties which have sprouted up – even in countries long held to be models of democracy such as the Nordic countries – have developed since 2008, the beginning of the financial crisis. In the same period of time, all progressive parties have lost weight and credibility. And now that the IMF sees some improvement in the European economy, it is not the traditional progressive parties that are the beneficiaries.

The term that the IMF gives to the current economic moment is “new mediocrity” – which is a franker way of saying “new normal” – and it observes that in the coming five years, we will face serious problems for public policies like fiscal sustainability and job creation.

In fact, every day, the macroeconomic figures, which have become the best way to hide social realities, are becoming less and less realistic if we go back to microeconomics as we have done during the last 50 years.

The best example is the United Kingdom, which is the champion of liberalism. Each year it has cut public spending and now claims to have growth in employment, with 600,000 new jobs in the last year. The only problem is that if you look into the structure of those jobs, you will find that the large majority are part-time or underpaid, and employment in the public sector is at its lowest since 1999.

A clear indicator is the number of people who visit the food banks created to meet the needs of the indigent. In the world’s sixth largest economy, their numbers have grown from 20,000 before the crisis seven years ago to over one million last year. And the same has happened all over Europe, albeit to a lesser extent in the Nordic countries.

U.K. economists have published studies on how austerity has affected growth. According to the Office for Budgetary Responsibility, established by the U.K. government, austerity blocked economic growth by one percent between 2011 and 2012. But, according to Simon Wren-Lewis of Oxford University, the figure is actually about five percent (or 100 billion pounds).

In other words, fiscal austerity reduces growth, and this creates large deficits which call for more fiscal austerity. It is a trap that Nobel laureate Keynesian economists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman have described in detail to no avail. We are all following the “liberal order” of Germany, which think its reality should be the norm and that deviations should be punished.

Now, while we can all agree that much of this is obvious to the average citizen in terms of its impact on everyday life, what is important and new is that the IMF, the fiscal guardian which has imposed the Washington Consensus (basically a formula of austerity plus free market at any cost) all over the Third World with tragic results, has woken up to reality.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not implying that the IMF is becoming a progressive organisation, but there are signs that an important pillar of neoliberal thinking is vacillating.

Of course, those responsible for the global crisis – bankers – have come out with impunity. The world has exacted over three trillion dollars from its citizens to put banks back on their feet. The over 140 billion dollars in fines that banks have paid since the beginning of the crisis is the quantitative measure of illegal and criminal activities.

The United Nations calculates that the financial crisis has created at least 200 million new poor, several hundred millions of unemployed, and many more precarious jobs, especially for young people. And, yet, nobody has paid, while prisons are full of people who are there for minor theft, the social impact of which is infinitesimal by comparison.

In 2014, James Morgan, the boss of Morgan Stanley, cashed in 22.5 million dollars, Lloyd Blanfein, the boss of Goldman Sachs, 24 million, James Dimon, the boss of J.P. Morgan, 20 million. The most exploited of all, Brian Moynihan of the Bank of America, a paltry 13 million. Nobody stops the growth of bankers.

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Giving African Artists Their Nameshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/giving-african-artists-their-names/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=giving-african-artists-their-names http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/giving-african-artists-their-names/#comments Sun, 19 Apr 2015 07:18:28 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140219 By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Apr 19 2015 (IPS)

Quick now, can you name a famous African sculptor from the 1800s or even the early 20th century?

Anyone able to answer positively is part of a select minority – most museum-goers have become used to seeing traditional African carvings without knowing the name of the artist.

Artwork by Kuakudili on display at the ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’ exhibition, currently running at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, where visitors can see the forms that inspired Western artists such as Picasso, Braque and other adherents of Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Artwork by Kuakudili on display at the ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’ exhibition, currently running at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, where visitors can see the forms that inspired Western artists such as Picasso, Braque and other adherents of Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

But some experts are taking steps to change this, with the most extensive exhibition devoted to identifying Africa’s expert sculptors now on in Paris at the Quai Branly Museum – a venue devoted to the indigenous art of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas that is sometimes criticised for having “colonial undertones”.

The exhibition, titled ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’, features nearly 330 historical and contemporary works and artefacts, and runs until Jul. 26. It comes at a time when the market for traditional African art is at its highest in decades, with pieces fetching record prices, amid debate about whether these objects should be “returned” to Africa.

The show pays tribute to the remarkable artistry of the sculptors, who were often given the title of “master” in their homeland; and the timeless splendour of some of the objects will help to explain the current collecting craze. But the exhibition may also add fuel to the discussion about who should own works that reflect a region’s cultural heritage.

“Art really has no fatherland,” says the exhibition’s co-curator Eberhard Fischer, an ethnologist and Director Emeritus of the Rietberg Museum in Zurich, Switzerland.

“The interest of the artist might not be the same as the interest of the nation. Museums are responsible to the artist, and should honour them in the right way,” he added. “African art, European art, Indian art should be seen all over the world. We’re in the 21st century.”

He told IPS that what was “special” about the exhibition is the attempt to reveal the creators “behind the masterpieces”, in contrast to the objects being presented in a general context as tribal art created by anonymous makers.“Too often considered in the West as an artisanal production only involved in ritual activities, African art – just like Western art – is produced by individual artists whose works display great artistic and personal skill” – Notes to the ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’ exhibition

“My aim is to put these masters on a pedestal and to say ‘these were great men’,” Fischer said. “They were never given the same status as Western artists, and it’s time their individual skills were highlighted.”

In the notes to the exhibition, Fischer and co-curator Lorenz Homburger state that “African sculpture has a central place in the history of art”, and they indicate that the identification of traditional artists contributes to the recognition of this role.

“Too often considered in the West as an artisanal production only involved in ritual activities, African art – just like Western art – is produced by individual artists whose works display great artistic and personal skill,” the curators stress.

The Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) was one of the most important regions for African art production, and the exhibition “invites” visitors to discover the different “masters” of the various ethnic groups – artists who were held in “high esteem” by their communities. Some sculptors are designated only by their region, but many others do have names that are now becoming known.

Museum-goers will learn about Sra (“the creator”) who was born circa 1880 and died in 1955. He was the most famous sculptor of western Ivory Coast, according to the curators, creating “prestige objects and masks for many Dan and Mano chieftains in Liberia and for important members of the Dan and We community in Ivory Coast.”

Sra was renowned for his female figures, and visitors can admire these objects as well as his striking mother-and-child depictions. One of his contemporaries, Uopié, came from a different area but was also part of the Dan culture – in north-western Ivory Coast – and produced “bewitchingly beautiful” smiling masks, of the kind known as déanglé.

Putting a face and name to unsung African artists – photo of Kuakudili, an Ivory Coast artist who carved sacred masks both for masquerade dancers in neighbouring villages as well as for his own people. Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Putting a face and name to unsung African artists – photo of Kuakudili, an Ivory Coast artist who carved sacred masks both for masquerade dancers in neighbouring villages as well as for his own people. Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Alongside the objects, the curators give verbal snapshots of the artists whom they have been able to name: Tompieme was a “small, rather athletic, cheerful man” who was a successful farmer as well as singer and musician; Si was a hunter and youth instructor who, for many decades “circumcised boys and led the initiation camp … where he showed his initiates the art of carving.”

Then there is Tame (circa 1900 to 1965), a “handsome young man, a successful wrestler and the lover of many women.” He was the nephew of Uopié, who taught him to carve.  While there is no picture to allow visitors to judge Tame’s purported good looks for themselves, the exhibition does provide a photo of Kuakudili, the first Ivory Coast artist to have his “own face” in the show.

A picture of this sculptor is available thanks to Hans Himmelheber, a German anthropologist, art collector and Fischer’s step-father, who met the artist in 1933. The photo shows Kuakudili as a thin, serious man. He carved sacred masks both for masquerade dancers in neighbouring villages as well as for his own people, and in his work, visitors can see the forms that inspired Western artists such as Picasso, Braque and other adherents of Cubism.

Away from the exhibition, masks such as these and other objects from “African masters” are currently in great demand on the international art market, especially in Paris, New York and Brussels.

Jean Fritts, director for African and Oceanic Art at the Sotheby’s auction house, says that the median price for African art has doubled over the past decade.

“There has been tremendous growth since 1999,” she told IPS. “Part of this is related to a broader appreciation of African art.”

It is also related to some of the first collectors dying, and their heirs selling the objects, dealers have said. Many pieces have come from former colonialists in Belgium, for instance, and museums as well as private collectors are snapping up the objects that they believe were acquired by “honest” means.

Fritts said that 25 percent of the art on the market is being bought by collectors in the Middle East, with some of the works destined for the Louvre Abu Dhabi as well as the National Museum of Qatar, set to open in 2016.

In Africa, businesspeople such as Congolese entrepreneur Sindika Dokolo have also been buying on the market, with the aim of bringing some of Africa’s art back home. Dokolo had a representative at a recent Sotheby’s auction in Paris, where a coveted mask fetched 3.5 million euros (it went to another bidder).

Regarding the identity of the artists, Fritts and other dealers acknowledged that there is an “issue” because historically there has not been “much data collected about the carver”.

Given that provenance and exhibition history are important for art collectors (along with artistic quality and “rarity”), the Quai Branly show may help to add value to objects identified as being carved by a particular “master”. Fischer, the curator, sees no problem with that.

“A lot of these art pieces are sold as antiques and this is a wrong concept,” he says. “The market wants to keep them in some cloud of anonymity, but why shouldn’t African art fetch the same high prices that collectors pay for Western art? These artists have not been honoured enough.”

He sees the exhibition as the first step for these artists to have a place in prestigious museums such as the Louvre in Paris. Perhaps one day, Sra will be as internationally known as Picasso.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Tribunal Ruling Could Dent “Monster Boat” Trawling in West African Watershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/tribunal-ruling-could-dent-monster-boat-trawling-in-west-african-waters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tribunal-ruling-could-dent-monster-boat-trawling-in-west-african-waters http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/tribunal-ruling-could-dent-monster-boat-trawling-in-west-african-waters/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 07:35:37 +0000 Saikou Jammeh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140214 Bakau fish market, The Gambia. The plight of Gambian and other West African artisan fishers could soon see a change for the better following an historic ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Photo credit: Ralfszn - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

Bakau fish market, The Gambia. The plight of Gambian and other West African artisan fishers could soon see a change for the better following an historic ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Photo credit: Ralfszn - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

By Saikou Jammeh
BANJUL, The Gambia, Apr 18 2015 (IPS)

It was five in the afternoon and Buba Badjie, a boat captain, had just brought his catch to the shore. He had spent twelve hours at sea off Bakau, a major fish landing site in The Gambia.

Inside the trays strewn on the floor bed of his wooden boat were bonga and catfish. Scores of women crowded around, looking to buy his catch.

“This is just enough to cover my expenses,” he tells IPS, indicating the squirming silvery creatures. “I went up to 20-something kilometres and all we could get was bonga.

“I spent more than 2,500 dalasis (60 dollars) on this one trip,” he confessed.

Badjie, 38, is not a native Gambian. Originally from neighbouring Senegal, he came here as a teenager looking for work. But the sea he has been fishing for almost two decades is no longer the same, he says somberly.

“This trade is about win and loss,” he added. “But nowadays, we have more losses. Recently, I went up to 50-something kilometres to another fishing ground but still no catch.

“The problem is the variations in the weather pattern. Also, we encounter huge commercial trawlers in the waters. Sometimes, they threaten to kill us when we confront them. When we spread our nets, they ruin them.”

But Badjie’s plight and that of thousands of other artisan fishers could soon see a change for the better.“The problem of oversized fleets using destructive fishing methods is a global one and the results are alarming and indisputable” – Greenpeace

In an historic ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea – the first of its kind by the full tribunal – the body affirmed that “flag States” have a duty of due diligence to ensure that fishing vessels flying their flag comply with relevant laws and regulations concerning marine resources to enable the conservation and management of these resources.

Flag States, ruled the tribunal, must take necessary measures to ensure that these vessels are not engaged in illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fishing activities in the waters of member countries of West Africa’s Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SFRC). Further, they can be held liable for breach of this duty. The ruling specifies that the European Union has the same duty as a state.

West African waters are believed to have the highest levels of IUU fishing in the world, representing up to 37 percent of the region’s catch.

“This is a very welcome ruling that could be a real game changer,” World Wildlife Fund International Marine Programme Director John Tanzer was reported as saying. “No longer will we have to try to combat illegal fishing and the ransacking of coastal fisheries globally on a boat by boat basis.”

The SRFC covers the West African countries of Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The need for an advisory opinion by the Tribunal emerged in 1993 when the SRFC reported an “over-exploitation of fisheries resources; and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing of an ever more alarming magnitude.” Such illegal catches were nearly equal to allowable ones, it said.

Further, “the lost income to national economies caused by IUU fishing in Wet Africa is on the order of 500 million dollars per year.”

The apparent theft of West Africa’s fish stocks has been denounced by various environmental groups including Greenpeace, which described “monster boats” trawling in African waters on a webpage titled ‘Fish Fairly’.

“For decades,” Greenpeace wrote, “the European Union and its member states have allowed their industrial fishing fleet to swell to an unsustainable size… In 2008, the European Commission estimated that parts of the E.U. fishing fleet were able to harvest fish much faster than stocks were able to regenerate.’’

“The problem of oversized fleets using destructive fishing methods is a global one and the results are alarming and indisputable.”

Unofficial sources told IPS that there are forty-seven industrial-sized fishing vessels currently in The Gambia’s waters, thirty-five of which are from foreign fleets.

Meanwhile, artisanal fishers, on whom the population depends for supply, say they are finding it hard to feed the market. Prices have risen phenomenally and shortages in the market are no longer a rarity.

“Our waters are overfished,” said Ousman Bojang, 80, a veteran Gambian fisher.

Bojang learnt the fishing trade from his father when he was young, but later switched gears to become a police officer.

After 20 years, he retired and returned to fishing. Building his first fishing boat in 1978, he became the president of the first-ever association of fishers in the country.

“Fishing improved my livelihood,” he told IPS. “While I was in the service, I could not build a hut for myself. Now, I have built a compound. I’ve sent my children to school and all of them have graduated.

“I transferred my skills to them and they’ve joined me at sea. I have 25 children; 10 boys and 15 girls. All the boys are into fishing. Even the girls, some know how to do hook and line and to repair net.”

Other hopeful trends for the artisanal fishers include the recognition by the Africa Progress Panel, headed by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, that illegal fishing is a priority that the continent must address.

Another is the endorsement by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations of guidelines which seek to improve conditions for small-scale fishers.

Nicole Franz, fishery planning analyst at FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture department in Rome, told IPS that the small-scale fisheries guidelines provide a framework change in small-scale fisheries. “It is an instrument that looks not only into traditional fisheries rights, such as fisheries management and user rights, but it also takes more integrated approach,” she said.

“It also looks into social conditions, decent employment conditions, climate change, disaster risks issues and a whole range of issues which go beyond what traditional fisheries institutions work with. Only if we have a human rights approach to small-scale fisheries, can we allow the sector to develop sustainably.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Latin America Slow to Pledge Emissions Cutshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/latin-america-slow-to-pledge-emissions-cuts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-slow-to-pledge-emissions-cuts http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/latin-america-slow-to-pledge-emissions-cuts/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 07:28:04 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140208 Climate change is causing violent storms, prolonged droughts and temperature extremes. In August 2014, at the height of summer, a hailstorm turned the yard white in this house in the south of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Climate change is causing violent storms, prolonged droughts and temperature extremes. In August 2014, at the height of summer, a hailstorm turned the yard white in this house in the south of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Apr 18 2015 (IPS)

Latin America is making heavy weather of setting targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction, which all countries must present ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference later this year.

Shortfalls in the national mechanisms for funding these voluntary action plans for adapting to climate change and mitigating or reducing polluting emissions are largely responsible for holding up the process.

By Mar. 31, the first deadline for registering Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), only Mexico had done this. In the rest of the world, Switzerland, the European Union as a bloc, Norway, the United States, Gabon and Russia, in that order, had also filed their plans.

“The time taken by international negotiations and the debate over who is responsible for climate change should not be an excuse” for Latin American countries “not to make progress with risk prevention” in regard to climate change, said María Marta di Paola, a researcher with the Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN), an Argentine NGO.

Di Paola criticised the “marginal role” assigned to climate change by public policies in Argentina, which are merely “reactive in nature,” kicking in only when flooding or droughts occur as a result of the phenomenon, she told Tierramérica.

Brazil , the region’s foremost producer of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, emits nearly 1.5 billion tonnes a year of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Mexico follows, with 608 million tonnes a year, and then Venezuela with 401 million tonnes.

Argentina emits 180 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, Colombia 75 million tonnes and Chile 72 million tonnes.

The main sources of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions in the region are deforestation due to change of land use, farming, energy generation and fuel use.

The region’s position at international forums is that responsibility for climate change is common but differentiated, and Latin America is particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon, experiencing intense storms, devastating drought, wide temperature oscillations, a rise in sea levels and the melting of Andean glaciers, with high human, social and economic costs.

In Mexico’s INDC the country committed itself to a 25 percent reduction in total emissions by 2030, compared to its 2013 emissions as the baseline. It proposes to do this by achieving a 22 percent reduction in greenhouse gases and a 51 percent reduction in black carbon (inorganic carbon in soot) produced from diesel-fuelled transport vehicles and fuel oil fired electricity generation.

The climate action plan includes having carbon dioxide emissions peak in 2026. According to the document, it would be possible to cut emissions by 40 percent by 2030 if additional finance and technology transfer were made available as part of a global agreement.

The main sectors involved are energy, industrial processes and final fuel consumption, agriculture, waste products, land use change and forests, but no details are given and there is no road map for the fulfilment of the targets.
“The key to their achievement lies in concrete mechanisms: where the funding will come from, inter-governmental coordination, and overcoming the lack of local technical capabilities,” said Javier Garduño of the Mexican office of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, an NGO.

For instance, he told Tierramérica, “in transport, there is no legal framework to align mobility with sustainability.”

At the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP 19) to the UNFCCC, held in Warsaw in 2013, it was decided that each state party would have until October 2015 to submit their INDC, which will be analysed at COP 21, due to be held in Paris in December.

Ahead of the climate conference, the UNFCCC will write a report on the voluntary commitments undertaken, calculate whether they will be sufficient to reduce emissions to the levels proposed by climate experts, and suggest how to incorporate them into a new binding global treaty on climate change, to be approved in Paris for entry into force in 2020.

Research from the NewClimate Institute for Climate Policy and Global Sustainability, based in Germany, for the UNFCCC and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) found that of the 13 Latin American and Caribbean countries accounted for in the results, 33 percent have initiated a national discussion, the first stage of preparing their INDC.

Another 25 percent of countries have proceeded to the technical design of their plans and 17 percent are conducting political debate, while nearly 17 percent have not yet begun to prepare the measures and eight percent have completed internal debates.

Latin American countries identified, among the challenges they face in the preparation of their INDC, limited expertise for the assessment of technical options, lack of certainty on what to include, and the short timeframe available for the process.

They also reported lack of coordination and of understanding (e.g. between ministries); lack of agreement on priority mitigation options; difficulty with engaging relevant stakeholders; lack of internal agreement on desired ambition level; and conflict with other political priorities.

Except for Chile and Mexico, countries repeatedly complained of lack of consultation and of inclusion of civil society in the plans.

“Colombia’s actions should be transparent, inclusive and participatory,” Milena Bernal, a researcher with the Colombian NGO Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad (Environment and Society Association), told Tierramérica.

This is particularly necessary, in her view, “when determining specific contributions from the forestry sector, land use, energy generation, and management of financial resources that may be received by the country.”

Most Latin American countries have legislation on climate change, or related to it. Mexico passed laws in 2012 stipulating emissions reduction of 30 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2050, as well as creating the Special Programme on Climate Change.

Argentina is preparing its Third Communication on Climate Change, an inventory of emissions to present to UNFCCC, and since 2011 the National Strategy on Climate Change.

Chile has had a national plan for adaptation to climate change since December, with specific policies for the forestry, agriculture and livestock sector; biodiversity; fisheries and aquaculture; health; infrastructure; cities; tourism; energy; and water resources.

Colombia is drawing up its National Climate Change Policy, which is likely to include its INDC, according to experts.

“In Argentina there are laws linked to the subject, such as the laws on native forests, glaciers and renewable energy, but they are poorly enforced and the budgets for the different programmes are declining,” di Paola said.

In Bernal’s view, mechanisms need to be defined for the achievement of the INDC commitments made this year.

“It is to be hoped that ambitious contributions will be put forward, in the sense of defining not only the percentages of emissions reductions, but also the actions to be taken with the resources available, and additional actions that could be taken if there is a greater flow of finance from international funding sources,” she said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Instead of Scaling up Funding for Education, Major Donors Are Cutting Backhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/instead-of-scaling-up-funding-for-education-major-donors-are-cutting-back/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=instead-of-scaling-up-funding-for-education-major-donors-are-cutting-back http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/instead-of-scaling-up-funding-for-education-major-donors-are-cutting-back/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 03:11:20 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140210 A child stands outside a classroom at a rural school in Nicaragua. Credit: Oscar Navarrete /IPS

A child stands outside a classroom at a rural school in Nicaragua. Credit: Oscar Navarrete /IPS

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 18 2015 (IPS)

Despite commitments by the international community to achieve universal primary education by 2015, funds for education have been decreasing over the past ten years, according to a report released Friday by the global advocacy campaign ‘A World at School’.

Figures from a Donor Scorecard show that nine of the top 10 donor governments, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France, have been reducing their aid since 2010. Norway is the only major donor that showed a five-percent increase in education funding over the past four years.

The scorecard will be presented on the first day of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s spring meetings, scheduled to run from Apr. 17-19 in Washington DC, to highlight the need for international financial institutions (IFIs) to target their funds towards nations with the most number of out-of-school children, and specifically towards hard to reach populations.

According to the report, “In 2011, the bank provided 20 percent — the smallest share — of its total aid to basic education to low-income countries. More than 70 percent of funding went to countries with less than 20 percent of the out-of-school population.

Sarah Brown, co-founder of A World at School, remarked that it is “unacceptable” that aid for basic education has fallen every year since 2010, which means that “just when leaders should have been stepping up to achieve the 2015 target, they were pulling back.”

According to the Donor Scorecard, while investments in health have risen by 58 percent, those in education have fallen by 19 percent.

The report comes in the wake of worldwide “attacks” on education in 2014 and 2015, with war, conflict and terrorism destroying schools and interrupting the education of thousands of school going kids in places like Kenya, Pakistan, Syria, the Central African Republic and Gaza. The kidnapping of students in Nigeria and South Sudan are also major causes for concern.

According to a report released recently by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), about 58 million children are out of schools, and 100 million children do not complete primary education.

The UNESCO document also says education is still under-financed, affecting the poorest children, as many governments are not prioritising education as part of their national budgets.

There is an annual financing gap of 22 billion dollars over the 2015-2030 period for achieving quality pre-primary, primary and lower secondary education in lower- and middle-income countries, the report stated.

Campaigners with A world at School are calling for concrete aid strategies for basic education, which include the creation of a humanitarian fund for financing education in emergencies, and increasing aid initiatives for children in war-torn countries.

As Brown explained, “It is crucial that we reverse the decline in funding for education. The alternative is leaving 58 million children behind, particularly those hit hardest by conflict and emergencies, such as Syrian refugees and children out of school in countries affected by Ebola.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Foreign Fighter Recruits: Why the U.S. Fares Better than Othershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 20:13:37 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140205 Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

More than 25,000 fighters seeking to wage “jihad” or an Islamic holy war have left home to join terrorist networks abroad.

The foreign fighters, mostly bound for Islamic extremist groups like the Syria-based al-Nusra Front and the self-titled Islamic State (also in Iraq), come from more than 100 countries worldwide, according to a United Nations report released earlier this month.“Here, for the most part, Muslims feel they are part of the system and part of the country…they don’t feel alienated." -- analyst Emile Nakhleh

While the highest numbers are from Middle Eastern and North African countries, Western countries have also seen foreign recruits.

Out of the top 15 source-Western countries listed in February by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (I.C.S.R.), France, as well as Germany and the United Kingdom have had the highest numbers (1,200 and 500-600 respectively). Only 100 foreign fighters have come from the United States.

Why has the U.S. seen such a lower number of recruits compared to its Western European allies?

Integration vs. alienation

“In this country, the law enforcement authorities have worked much more closely with Muslim communities so that now, some elements within the Muslim community follow the phrase ‘see something, say something,’” Emile Nakhleh, who founded the Central Intelligence Program’s (C.I.A.) Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program, told IPS.

“Here, for the most part, Muslims feel they are part of the system and part of the country…they don’t feel alienated,” said Nakhleh, a scholar and expert on the Middle East who retired from the C.I.A. in 2006.

While the majority of Muslims worldwide reject violent extremism and are worried about increasing rates in their home countries, American Muslims—an estimated 2-6 million who are mostly middle class and educated—reject extremism by larger margins than most Muslim publics.

A 2011 Pew Survey of Muslim Americans, the most current of its kind, found more than eight-in-10 American Muslims saw suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets as never justified (81 per cent) or rarely justified (5 per cent) to defend Islam from its enemies. That’s compared to a median of 72 per cent of Muslims worldwide saying such attacks are never justified and 10 per cent saying they are rarely justified.

Unlike their European counterparts, Muslim Americans come from more than 77 home countries, in contrast with Western European countries where Muslims are mainly from two or three countries.

Muslims in America—who make up a smaller percentage relative to the population than their counterparts in France and the U.K.— are also not dominated by a particular sect or ethnicity.

A 2007 Pew Survey also found that Muslim Americans were more assimilated into American culture than their Western European counterparts.

A majority of Muslim Americans expressed a generally positive view of the larger society and said their communities are excellent or good places to live. Seventy-two percent of them agreed with the widespread American opinion that hard work can help you succeed.

Western European Muslims are conversely generally less well off and frustrated with the lack of economic opportunities.

Ripe for recruitment

An estimated 1,200 fighters have left France to become jihadists in Syria and Iraq, according to the U.K.-based I.C.S.R., which has been tracking fighters in the Iraqi-Syrian conflicts since 2012. More British men have joined Islamic extremist groups abroad than have entered the British armed forces.

Ideologically centered recruitment—particularly online and through social media—and discontent with perceived domestic and foreign policies affecting Muslims, are the primary causes of Islamic radicalisation in Western countries, especially where Muslim communities are isolated from others.

The sense of alienation, especially among the youth of Muslim immigrants, mixed with antipathy toward their country’s foreign policy makes some Muslims prime targets for foreign recruiters.

“Algerian French-Muslim immigrants or South Asian Muslims in the U.K. feel excluded and constantly watched and tracked by the authorities,” said Nakhleh.

While surveillance programmes targeting Muslims are also in effect in the U.S.—more than half of the Muslim Americans surveyed by Pew in 2011 said government anti-terrorism policies singled them out for increased surveillance and monitoring—Muslim Americans have not expressed the same level of discontent with their lives as those in Western European countries such as France and the United Kingdom.

Indeed, the Muslim Americans surveyed by Pew in 2011 who reported discrimination still expressed a high level of satisfaction with their lives in the United States.

Conversely, French Muslims in particular complain of religious intolerance in the generally secular society.

The French law banning Islamic face coverings and burqas, which cover the entire body, resulted in a series of angry protests and clashes with police. Muslim groups have also complained of increasing rates of violent attacks since the ban became law in 2010.

A nine-month pregnant woman was beaten last month in southern France by two men who tore off her veil, saying “none of that here.” Another Islamophobic attack in 2013 resulted in a French Muslim woman in Paris suffering a miscarriage.

Obama embraces U.S. Muslims

But the U.S. government has been working to prevent its Muslim communities from feeling discriminated against and isolated.

Throughout his two terms in office, U.S. President Barack Obama has repeatedly distinguished between Islamic extremism and Islam as a religion.

“We are not at war with Islam, we are at war with those who have perverted Islam,” said Obama Feb. 18 at the White House-hosted Summit to Counter Violent Extremism.

He has also encouraged religious tolerance while calling for Muslim community leaders to work more closely with the government in rooting out homegrown extremism.

“Here in America, Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding,” said Obama.

“If we’re going to solve these issues, then the people who are most targeted and potentially most affected — Muslim Americans — have to have a seat at the table where they can help shape and strengthen these partnerships so that we’re all working together to help communities stay safe and strong and resilient,” he said.

The Jan. 7 terrorist attack in Paris, where two gunmen executed 11 staffers at the Charlie Hebdo magazine for what they considered deeply offensive portrayals of Islam, have put Western countries on heightened alert for so-called “lone-wolf” attacks, where individuals perpetuate violence to prove a point or for a cause.

The U.S. has not seen a similar major terror attack since April 2013, when two Chechnyan-American brothers deployed pressure-cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others.

But with sophisticated foreign-terrorist recruitment efforts on the rise, Washington has increased its counter-terrorism measures at home and worldwide.

While the Islamic State and similar groups could plan attacks on U.S. soil if they see the U.S. as directly involved in their battles, according to Nakhleh, their primary goal at the moment is to recruit foreigners as combatants.

“The more Western Jihadists they can recruit, the more global they can present themselves as they seek allegiances in Asian countries, and in North Africa,” he said.

“This is how they present themselves as a Muslim global caliphate.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Struggles to Cope with New Humanitarian Crisis in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 19:05:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140203 On Apr. 14, 2015, the Security Council adopted resolution 2216 (2015), imposing sanctions on individuals it said were undermining the stability of Yemen. Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany (centre), Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen to the UN, addresses the Council. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

On Apr. 14, 2015, the Security Council adopted resolution 2216 (2015), imposing sanctions on individuals it said were undermining the stability of Yemen. Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany (centre), Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen to the UN, addresses the Council. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations, which is providing humanitarian aid to over 50 million refugees worldwide, is struggling to cope with a new crisis in hand: death and destruction in Yemen.

In an urgent appeal for 274 million dollars in international aid to meet the needs of some 7.5 million people affected by the escalating conflict, the U.N.’s Humanitarian Coordinator Johannes Van Der Klaauw said Friday, “The devastating conflict in Yemen takes place against the backdrop of an existing humanitarian crisis that was already one of the largest and most complex in the world.”“Obviously, in order for humanitarian aid to get in safely, we need a pause and we need an end to the violence." -- U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric

“Thousands of families have now fled their homes as a result of the fighting and air strikes. Ordinary families are struggling to access health care, water, food and fuel – basic requirements for their survival,” he warned.

Asked about the severity of the crisis in relation to the humanitarian disaster in Syria where over 220,000 have been killed in a continuing civil war, Jens Laerke, the Geneva-based spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told IPS, “We tend not to compare crises.”

“We have just launched the flash appeal [for 274 million dollars] and hope the response will be generous,” he said.

Responding to a question, he said: “There is, to my knowledge, no current plans for a humanitarian pledging conference for Yemen.”

Last month, a U.N. pledging conference on humanitarian aid to Syria, hosted by the government of Kuwait, raised over 3.8 billion dollars.

But the United Nations is appealing for more funds to reach its eventual target of 8.4 billion dollars by the end of 2015.

According to the United Nations, the conflict in Yemen escalated significantly last month, spreading to many parts of the country. Air strikes have now affected 18 of Yemen’s 22 governorates. And in the south, conflict has continued to intensify, particularly in Aden, where widespread fighting continues, including in residential neighbourhoods.

“Hospitals, schools, airports and mosques have been damaged and destroyed across the country and there are reports of serious violations of human rights and International Humanitarian Law,” the U.N. statement said

The conflict is taking a significant toll on civilians: 731 people were killed and 2,754 injured, including a large number of civilians.

The number of food insecure people has increased from 10.6 million people to 12 million; at least 150,000 people have been displaced; food prices have risen by more than 40 percent in some locations; and fuel prices have quadrupled. Lack of fuel and electricity has triggered a breakdown in basic water and sanitation services, according to the latest figures from OCHA.

“The humanitarian community in Yemen continues to operate and deliver assistance, including through Yemeni national staff and national partners,” said Van Der Klaauw. “But to scale up assistance, we urgently need additional resources. I urge donors to act now to support the people of Yemen at this time of greatest need.”

The most urgent needs include medical supplies, safe drinking water, protection, food assistance as well as emergency shelter and logistical support, he said.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters, “Obviously, in order for humanitarian aid to get in safely, we need a pause and we need an end to the violence.”

He said the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and others have managed to get planes in. Bit it’s very difficult in an active combat zone, he added.

“We will continue… we will continue to do what we can and bring aid in to alleviate the suffering of the people of Yemen.”

“What is obviously critical in order to enable our humanitarian colleagues and our humanitarian partners to do their work is for all the parties involved in this to halt the violence and to create an atmosphere, not only where they can go back to the political table, but also to allow humanitarian aid to go in,” he added.

A coalition of Arab nations, led by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, has continued with its air attacks on Yemen, where the country’s president has been ousted by rebel forces.

Early this week, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution by 14 votes in favour and one abstention (Russia), placing an embargo on arms and related materiel to rebel forces, primarily the Houthis.

The Council demanded that all warring parties, in particular the Houthis, immediately and unconditionally end the violence and refrain from further unilateral actions that threatened the political transition.

The 14 members of the Council also demanded that the Houthis withdraw from all areas seized during the latest conflict, relinquish arms seized from military and security institutions, cease all actions falling exclusively within the authority of the legitimate government of Yemen and fully implement previous Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid al Hussein, appealed to the warring parties to ensure that attacks resulting in civilian casualties are promptly investigated and that international human rights and international humanitarian law are scrupulously respected.

The High Commissioner said a heavy civilian death toll ought to be a clear indication to all parties to this conflict that there may be serious problems in the conduct of hostilities. The High Commissioner also warned that the intentional targeting of civilians not taking direct part in hostilities would amount to a war crime.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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