Inter Press Service » Gender Violence http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 10:41:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Trauma Still Fresh for Rwanda’s Survivors of Genocidal Rape http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 09:48:37 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133588 Claudine Umuhoza’s son turned 19 this Apr. 1. And while he may be one of at least thousands of children who were conceived during the Rwandan genocide, he’s not officially classified as a survivor of it. But his mother is. Two decades after the massacre — during which almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate […]

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Claudine Umuhoza a survivor of Rwanda’s genocide believes that the country has a positive and united future. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Claudine Umuhoza a survivor of Rwanda’s genocide believes that the country has a positive and united future. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 11 2014 (IPS)

Claudine Umuhoza’s son turned 19 this Apr. 1. And while he may be one of at least thousands of children who were conceived during the Rwandan genocide, he’s not officially classified as a survivor of it. But his mother is.

Two decades after the massacre — during which almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives — most Rwandans are still coping with the trauma of the violence. Most affected are the women who have children born of genocidal rape. It is estimated that between 100,000 and 250,000 women were raped in Rwanda during the genocide."The future of Rwanda will be better, people will be united. That doesn’t mean that people will have forgotten they are Tutsi or Hutu." -- Claudine Umuhoza, genocide survivor

Umuhoza, who lives in Gasabo district, near the Rwandan capital, Kigali, was only 23 when a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was shot down over Rwanda’s capital Kigali on Apr. 6, 1994.

During the conflict that ensued she was raped by seven men — one of whom stabbed her in the stomach with a machete. She was left to die, lying on the floor.

Umuhoza survived only because a Hutu neighbour helped her escape to safety and gave her a fake Hutu identity card.

“The neighbour who saved my life is no longer in Rwanda, his family went to Mozambique. I’d like to say thank you for saving me. I would have died if it was not for him,” she remembered.

She lost four brothers and other family members in the massacre.

Now 43, Umuhoza is infected with HIV and has not yet told her son the origins of his birth.

“I have not being able to disclose to my son how he was born. My son doesn’t know. I got married in September 1994, after the genocide ended.

“I was pregnant when I married and after giving birth my husband realised the child born was not his. He didn’t accept this and as a result he left home,” she told IPS.

Umuhoza never remarried. Rape is a taboo subject in Rwanda’s society.

According to Jules Shell, the executive director and co-founder from Foundation Rwanda, even though this Central African nation has made great strides in rebuilding the country, women who were infected with HIV as a consequence of rape still face severe stigmatisation.

The U.S.-based NGO was established in 2008 and began supporting an initial cohort of 150 children born of rape with their schooling in 2009.

“A disproportionate number of the women who were raped were also infected by HIV,” Shell told IPS, explaining that the exact infection rate was not known but it is estimated that 25 percent of the country’s women are living with HIV.

According to the government, women comprise the majority, 51.8 percent of this country’s population of 11.5 million. However, antiretroviral treatment only became widely available here 10 years ago and is accessible through the national healthcare system.

“We will never know the true number of children born of rapes committed during the genocide.

“As many women are afraid, unable, or understandably unwilling, to acknowledge the circumstance of their children’s birth … we will never know the true number,” Shell said.

The consequences of the genocide still affect the youth who were born after it.

“Many of the young people are experiencing a phenomena common to the children of Holocaust survivors, known as the ‘intergenerational inheritance of trauma’.

“This has resulted from the inability of mothers to speak openly to their children about their experiences and own trauma, which in turn affects them,” explained Shell.

Like Umuhoza, many other women still have not publicly acknowledged that their children were born of rape, though their children are aware that they have fathers who are unknown to their mothers.

This also creates problems for these children when they try to register for national identity cards, which requires the identification of both names of father and mother.

But thanks to Foundation Rwanda, Umuhoza’s son is about to finish high school — something she did not have the opportunity to do. Umuhoza is one of  600 mothers currently supported by Foundation Rwanda, which also provides fees and school material for their children.

“I am very happy that my son is in secondary school. One thing that I pray to god for is to see my son in school … and I have a hope that he will be able to go to university.

Preventing another genocide
There are over 3,000 volunteers in the country using various strategies to bring about reconciliation such as community dialogue, community works, poverty-reduction activities and counselling.

Richard Kananga, director of Peacebuilding and Conflict Management department at the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, said that another genocide could occur if national authorities do not promote inclusive and reconciliation to bring people together.

“Through community dialogues people are being able to talk to one another. Talks have helped to reduce the suspicion promoting trust and healing,” he said.
 

“It is very important for me. I know it is expensive, but I didn’t even think that he would attend secondary school. So doors may open suddenly. I have hope,” she trusted.

Her dream is that her son becomes a lawyer to advocate for poor and marginalised people. However, he has dreams of his own and wants to become a doctor.

“He always sees me going for treatment and feeling a lot of pain and he dreams about being able to treat me,” she explained.

Because of her ill health and the severe stomach pains caused by the machete wound, Umuhoza is only able to perform light housework.

As a survivor she receives medical treatment from the Government Assistance Fund for Genocide Survivors (FARG) — to which the government allocates two percent of its national budget.

And on Apr. 15 she will undergo an operation to repair her wounds in the military hospital in Kigali.

Twenty years after the genocide, the country has not been able to forget its past, remarked Shell. She explained there is still stigma and discrimination against Tutsis, particularly in rural and isolated areas where they are very much a minority.

According to the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) survey, at least 40 percent of Rwandans across the country say they still fear a new wave of genocide.

“Suspicion is still there. Trauma is still an issue. We still have recently-released prisoners who are now in society but not integrated yet,” Richard Kananga, director of the Peacebuilding and Conflict Management department at the NURC, told IPS.

The NURC was created in 1999 to deal with aspects of discrimination among local communities and lead reconciliation in Rwanda.

According to Kananga, reconciliation is a continuous process.

“We can’t tell how long it will take, it’s a long-term process. We have researchers to measure how people perceive this process of human security in the country. We cannot say that in 20 more years we’re going to reach 100 percent [of people who feel secure],” he said.

The children born after the genocide may represent a dark period of Rwanda’s history, but, according to Shell, they also represent the “light and the hope for a brighter future.”

Umuhoza believes it too.

“I have hopes that the future for Rwanda will be good. Comparing how the country was 20 years ago and how it is today. I wish for unity and reconciliation.

“The future of Rwanda will be better, people will be united. That doesn’t mean that people will have forgotten they are Tutsi or Hutu. Rwandans will still know who they are,” said the mother.

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Anger Rises Over Racism in India http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/anger-rises-racist-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anger-rises-racist-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/anger-rises-racist-india/#comments Tue, 25 Mar 2014 09:14:24 +0000 Bijoyeta Das http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133195 L. Khino, 27, vividly remembers Christmas Eve at the Indian capital’s famed Connaught Place shopping hub four years ago: the blinking lights, the buzzing crowd, the winter chill – and the salty taste of her tears. Khino had just arrived in New Delhi from her home in India’s northeastern state of Manipur. “I was so […]

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A photograph of Nido Taniam who was killed in a racist attack is displayed at the Arunachal Bhawan in New Delhi. Credit: Bijoyeta Das/IPS.

A photograph of Nido Taniam who was killed in a racist attack is displayed at the Arunachal Bhawan in New Delhi. Credit: Bijoyeta Das/IPS.

By Bijoyeta Das
NEW DELHI, Mar 25 2014 (IPS)

L. Khino, 27, vividly remembers Christmas Eve at the Indian capital’s famed Connaught Place shopping hub four years ago: the blinking lights, the buzzing crowd, the winter chill – and the salty taste of her tears.

Khino had just arrived in New Delhi from her home in India’s northeastern state of Manipur. “I was so excited. But suddenly a group of men surrounded me. ‘How much do you charge for a night?’ they asked. I yelled, ‘Get away,’ but they pinched my cheek and touched my back,” she tells IPS."We want a comprehensive anti-racism law because most Indians, including the government, deny that racism exists.”

Others giggled, some laughed aloud. A few snapped photos with their cell phones. “Chinki, chinki,” they kept teasing as she fled into a metro station. ‘Chinki’ is an offensive reference to the East Asian features of many people from India’s northeast.

Khino is one of thousands of youngsters who migrate each year from the eight northeastern states to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune and other cities in their quest for “higher education and better opportunities.” She works at a business process outsourcing centre in the capital’s satellite city Gurgaon.

“Enough is enough. They call us ‘chinki’ everyday, assault and harass us. What is this? Just discrimination or racism?” she asks.

According to activists and student groups, people from the northeast have harrowing experiences across India. They are regularly subjected to verbal taunts, slurs, jokes, physical and sexual assaults as well as cheating by landlords and employers.

For years, complaints have been piling up and the fury has been simmering. Matters came to a head this January when Nido Taniam, the 19-year-old son of a legislator from the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, was killed.

A student in Punjab state, Taniam was visiting Delhi. He had stopped at a store to ask for directions when shopkeepers made fun of his dyed blonde hair. This led to a brawl, and he was seriously assaulted. The next day he succumbed to his injuries.

Taniam’s death led to widespread protests across India. Many from the northeastern community are now campaigning for an anti-racism law to deal with apparent hate crimes. The North East India Forum against Racism (NEIFAR) was formed in February.

Phurpa Tsering, spokesperson for NEIFAR, tells IPS that their short-term demand for fast-tracking all pending cases of hate crime has been accepted.

“In the long run we want a comprehensive anti-racism law because most Indians, including the government, deny that racism exists,” says Tsering, who is from Arunachal Pradesh and is a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

A spate of recent attacks on people from India’s northeast has stirred disconcerting questions.

Protesters point out that the identity of mainland India often excludes the northeast, a region often described as far-flung, remote and conflict-ridden. They say northeasterners are frequently stereotyped as morally loose women in skimpy skirts who are sexually available, or good-for-nothing men who are drug addicts or insurgents.

About 86 percent of people from northeast living in Delhi have faced discrimination, according to research by the North East Helpline and Support Centre based in New Delhi. Alana Golmei, the founder, says they receive 20-30 calls a month, and most complain about non-payment of salaries and assaults.

“We have become immune to people calling us chinki, momo, Bahadur, Nepali, chow-chow, king-kong [terms alluding to their physical appearance],” she says. When she calls to negotiate with employers and landlords, she is told she is an outsider. “A strict anti-racism law will give us more negotiating power.”

But can a piece of legislation battle racism?

In 2012, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a directive to punish anyone who calls a northeasterner ‘chinki’ with up to five years in prison under the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The SCs and STs comprise some of India’s most socially marginalised people.

Golmei calls this an “emotional, stray reaction” with little effect – there have been no convictions so far. Many in the northeast are not categorised as SC or ST.

Sanjoy Hazarika, director of the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, wants an amendment and expansion of this Act. “New laws are difficult to make and difficult to push through,” he tells IPS.

Support for anti-racism law depends on a crucial question: if a man from northern or eastern India is beaten up in western India, it is called regionalism; so is it racism when someone from the northeast is attacked?

Hazarika, who is from Assam in the northeast, tells IPS, “We want it to include everybody in the country and all cases of discrimination on the basis of appearance, language, gender, food and attire. Only face is not enough.”

But opinion is divided.

Senti Longchar, assistant professor of psychology at Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi, points out that people from states like Bihar or Assam look the same as anyone from northern India. “Discrimination against them is regionalism but name-calling and attacks on those with a Mongoloid face is racism.”

India signed the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1967. But Longchar cites a Washington Post infographic that uses World Values Survey data to show India and Jordan are the most racially intolerant countries.

Racist hate crimes are only one end of the spectrum of discrimination that people from the northeast encounter, says Kadambari Gladding, spokesperson for Amnesty International, India. She says they are also denied goods and services. “Non-discrimination is not a concession, but a right,” she adds.

Instead of a pan-India law, NEIFAR is advocating legislation specific to the northeast that will deter racist attacks on those with East Asian features, and include positive aspects such as preferential treatment, awareness campaigns, sensitisation of police and inclusion of the northeast’s history in textbooks.

NEIFAR is researching anti-racism laws in other countries, particularly Bolivia, to push for a model that suits India, says Id Gil, a Manipur native who studies in Delhi and works for the forum.

He tells IPS, “Every racial remark has the potential to kill somebody, as we have seen in Nido’s case.”

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Women Seek Stand-Alone Goal for Gender in Post-2015 Agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/women-seek-stand-alone-goal-gender-post-2015-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-seek-stand-alone-goal-gender-post-2015-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/women-seek-stand-alone-goal-gender-post-2015-agenda/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 23:10:58 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133186 The 45-member U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) concluded its annual 10-day session Saturday with several key pronouncements, including on reproductive health, women’s rights, sexual violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and the role of women in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The heaviest round of applause came when the Commission specifically called […]

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Brazilian women have been making headway in traditionally male-dominated areas. Construction workers in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Brazilian women have been making headway in traditionally male-dominated areas. Construction workers in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 24 2014 (IPS)

The 45-member U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) concluded its annual 10-day session Saturday with several key pronouncements, including on reproductive health, women’s rights, sexual violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and the role of women in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The heaviest round of applause came when the Commission specifically called for a “stand-alone goal” on gender equality – a longstanding demand by women’s groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – in the U.N.’s post-2015 development agenda.

Still, the primary inter-governmental policy-making body on gender empowerment did not weigh in on a key proposal being kicked around in the corridors of the world body: a proposal for a woman to be the next U.N. secretary-general (SG), come January 2017.

"A Striking Gap"

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, a former U.N. under-secretary-general who is credited with initiating the conceptual and political breakthrough resulting in the adoption of U.N. Security Council resolution 1325 on women and peace and security, told IPS the annual CSW session is the largest annual gathering with special focus on issues which impact on women, and thereby humanity as a whole.

"It attracts hundreds of government and civil society participants representing their nations and organisations. After the very late night consensus adoption, the agreed conclusions of its 58th session, which focused on the post-2015 development agenda, show a striking gap in firmly establishing the linkage between peace and development in the document," he said.

"The mainstream discussions in this context have always been highlighting the point that MDGs lacked the energy of women's equal participation at all decision making levels and the overall and essential link between peace and development. So, in UN's work on the new set of development goals need to overcome this inadequacy. Somehow this still remains in the outcome of CSW-58.

"Adoption of the landmark U.N. Security Council resolution 1325 boosted the essential value of women's participation. Its focus relates to each of the issues on every agenda of the U.N. There is a need for holistic thinking and not to compartmentalise development, peace, environment in the context of women's equality and empowerment," Ambassador Chowdhury said.

"It is necessary that women's role in peace and security is considered as an essential element in post-2015 development agenda."
“I did not hear it, but it’s a good question to raise given that a major section of the CSW’s ‘Agreed Conclusions’ were on ensuring women’s participation and leadership at all levels and strengthening accountability,” Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, international coordinator at the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), told IPS.

She said that in pre-CSW conversations, she heard the names of two possible candidates from Europe – whose turn it is to field candidates on the basis of geographical rotation – but both were men.

“The question is: Is the United Nations ready for a woman SG?” she asked.

Dr. Abigail E. Ruane, PeaceWomen Programme Manager at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), told IPS the biggest thing at the CSW session was support for a gender equality goal in the post-2015 development agenda and the integration of gender throughout the proposed sustainable development goals (SDGs).

She said the recognition of the link between conflict and development was also important because it is not one that is usually recognised.

Asked about the proposal for a woman SG, she said: “I didn’t hear any discussion of a woman SG in the sessions I participated in.”

Harriette Williams Bright, advocacy director of Femmes Africa Solidarite (FAS), also told IPS the various civil society and CSW sessions she attended did not bring up the discussion of a woman as the next SG.

Still, she said the commitment of the CSW to a stand-alone goal on gender equality is welcomed and “we are hopeful that member states will honour this commitment in the post-2015 development framework and allocate the resources and political will needed for concrete progress in the lives of women, particularly in situations of conflict.”

Antonia Kirkland, legal advisor at Equality Now, told IPS her organisation was heartened that U.N. member states were able to reach consensus endorsing the idea that gender equality, the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls must be addressed in any post-2015 development framework following the expiration of MDGs in 2015.

“Throughout the process there has been broad agreement that freedom from violence against women and girls and the elimination of child marriage and FGM must be achieved,” she said.

“Equality Now believes sex discriminatory laws, including those that actually promote violence against women and girls, should be repealed as soon as possible to really change harmful practices and social norms,” Kirkland added.

Cabrera-Balleza of GNWP said the call for a stand-alone goal on gender equality; women’s empowerment and human rights of women and girls; the elimination of FGM and honour crimes, child, early and forced marriages; protection of women and girls from violence; the protection of women human rights defenders; the integration of a gender perspective in environmental and climate change policies and humanitarian response to natural disasters; “are all reasons to celebrate.”

She regretted the CSW conclusions did not make a link between peace, development and the post-2015 agenda.

The earlier drafts of the Agreed Conclusions were much stronger in terms of defining this intersection, she noted.

“I hate to think delegates see peace and development and gender equality and women’s empowerment as disconnected issues or that peace is an easy bargaining chip. …that there is no text on the intersection of peace, security and development defies logic,” she said. “How can we have development without peace and how can we have peace without development?”

Cabrera-Balleza pointed out that “even as we hold governments accountable to respond to this gap, we need to have a serious dialogue among ourselves too as civil society actors – across issues, across different thematic agendas.”

Dr. Ruane of WILPF told IPS that despite longstanding commitments to strengthen financing to move words to action, including through arms reduction, such as included both in the plan of action at the Earth Summit in Rio (1992) and the Beijing women’s conference (1995), “governments gave in to pressure to weaken commitments and ended up reiterating only support for voluntary innovative financing mechanisms, as appropriate.”

In a statement released Monday, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) said that while the MDGs resulted in a reduction of poverty in some respects, the goals furthest from being achieved are those focused on women and girls – particularly on achieving gender equality and improving maternal health.

Executive Director of U.N. Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said the agreement represents a milestone toward a transformative global development agenda that puts the empowerment of women and girls at its centre.

She said member states have stressed that while the MDGs have advanced progress in many areas, they remain unfinished business as long as gender inequality persists.

As the Commission rightly points out, she said, funding in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment remains inadequate.

Investments in women and girls will have to be significantly stepped up. As member states underline, this will have a multiplier effect on sustained economic growth, she declared.

At the conclusion of the session, CSW Chair Ambassador Libran Cabactulan of the Philippines said “it is critical, important and urgent to appreciate every tree in the forest, and have an agreement on how big, how tall or how fat each tree.

“At the same time, we need to be mindful of the entire forest,” she added, pointing out that “the absence of peace and security in the discourse on post-2015 agenda does not make a whole forest.”

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Executions Rising in Iran http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/executions-rising-iran/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=executions-rising-iran http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/executions-rising-iran/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 10:20:58 +0000 Isolda Agazzi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133106 As many as 700 people were sentenced to death in Iran last year, according to United Nations estimates. Most were charged with drug-related crimes and belonged to ethnic minorities, new studies show. “Despite signs of openness with the election of President (Hassan) Rohani almost a year ago, the human rights situation in Iran has dramatically […]

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By Isolda Agazzi
GENEVA, Mar 20 2014 (IPS)

As many as 700 people were sentenced to death in Iran last year, according to United Nations estimates. Most were charged with drug-related crimes and belonged to ethnic minorities, new studies show.

“Despite signs of openness with the election of President (Hassan) Rohani almost a year ago, the human rights situation in Iran has dramatically deteriorated,” Taimoor Aliassi, U.N. representative of the Association of Human Rights in Kurdistan of Iran – Geneva, told IPS.“Iran is the second executioner country in the world behind China, but the first one per capita." -- Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, executive director of French NGO Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort

At least 687 prisoners have been executed in 2013, 68 percent of them after the presidential election in June 2013, Aliassi said. This is the highest figure in 15 years.

The vast majority, he said, were from ethnic minorities such as Kurds, Baloch and Baha’is. “The repression of these minorities has accentuated.”

Aliassi’s comments followed a report by Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Iran, detailing the executions. The Iranian government labelled the findings “not objective” and “mostly a compilation of unfounded allegations.” It is opposing the renewal of Shaheed’s mandate.

“Last year, there were two executions a day,” Shaheed said at a meeting in Geneva earlier this week on rights in Iran. “Sixty percent of them were related to drug crimes. Many did not have access to lawyers, and confessions were got under torture. Three juveniles were among those hanged.”

Shaheed contested the Iranian government allegation that his report is based on opposition sources, or even terrorists. “Even though I could not get into the country, I talked to 700 people. I do my interviews by Skype. If I was able to go to Iran, there would be government views in my report. It would be in its advantage.”

“Iran is the second executioner country in the world behind China, but the first one per capita,” Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, executive director of the French NGO Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort, told IPS. The NGO was created in 2000 to investigate death penalties. It launched the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty that holds a congress every three years.

“The death penalty is a benchmark for human rights,” Hazan said. “It opens the door to the scrutiny of other human rights violations like juvenile justice, ethnic minorities, public executions, torture and unfair trials. We manage to work with grassroots NGOs in all countries, including China and Iraq, but not in Iran.”

The Iranian government, Hazan said, like North Korea “does not allow local NGOs to come to our congress. Our sources are individuals we identify in the prisons. Last year we counted 687 executions. We know it is more, but this is the figure we are able to prove in our report.” The U.N. report is in line with findings by NGOs.

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, spokesperson of Iran Human Rights, an NGO based in Oslo with members both inside and outside Iran told IPS that “56 percent of the figures included in this report are official, and 44 percent have been confirmed by us independently.”

Last year, he said, the group “documented 59 public executions, all of them announced officially. Children are also watching executions since there is no age limit. But there are so many secret executions in prisons that we need independent investigations.”

According to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Iran, countries that have not abolished the death penalty can impose it only for the most serious crimes.

“Since 2010, more than 1,800 people have been executed on drug-related charges. But is the possession of 30 grams of heroin, morphine, opium or methadone a ‘most serious crime?’” said Hazan.

Other reasons for capital punishment are “corruption on earth”, rebellion, sexual offences including same-sex relations, organised crime, robbery and smuggling, murder and other religious offences. At least 28 women were hanged publicly in 2013, according to the Special Rapporteur.

Some NGOs accuse the government itself of fostering drug addiction for political reasons, particularly in the Kurdish area. “It is practising an anti-Kurdish policy of pushing youth into drugs and then arresting them,” Karen Parker, a human rights attorney based in San Francisco, told IPS.

Gianfranco Fattorini, of the Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l’amitié entre les peuples (MRAP), a French NGO that supports against racism and discrimination, told the meeting in Geneva that 20 Kurdish activists are known to be on death row and 25 Kurdish political activists have been sentenced to death for propaganda against national security and similar charges.

Diane Ala’i, of the Baha’i International Community, an international NGO representing members of the Baha’i faith, says the persecution of Baha’is is engrained in the constitution that recognises only three religious minorities – Christians, Jews and Zoroastrian. Members of the Baha’i religious minority are persecuted from the time they are born till they die, said Ala’i at the meeting in Geneva.

“Children are ostracised at school; youngsters are denied access to university and to jobs in the public sector. Today 136 Baha’is are in prison only because they are Baha’is. The accusation goes from enmity against god, to being spies or belonging to an illegal organisation. Some of these people are elderly; others are young mothers who have to take their children into prison.”

She added that their cemeteries are bulldozed and “it is clear that these horrible acts are condoned by the authorities.” Violent crimes and incitement to hatred are rising against Baha’is and other minorities, but none of these cases have been investigated by judicial authorities. “This is government orchestrated,” she said.

But more and more Iranians are showing solidarity with the Baha’is, she said. Last week, 75 prominent activists asked the head of the judiciary to give the benefit of Islamic law even to “unrecognised religious minorities” like the Baha’is.

Influential personalities like renowned film-maker Asghar Farhadi have signed an open charter to ask for abolition of the death penalty, following a campaign called Legam (step by step abolition of the death penalty) initiated last November.

“Since they are well known, they encounter fewer risks to go to prison. This shows that civil society is advancing. Now it is up to the government to show that it is opening up too,” said Hazan.

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OP-ED: Participation Is Key to Women’s Equality and Empowerment http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-participation-key-womens-equality-empowerment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-participation-key-womens-equality-empowerment http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-participation-key-womens-equality-empowerment/#comments Thu, 13 Mar 2014 17:04:01 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132819 The largest annual gathering with special focus on issues which impact on women and thereby humanity as a whole is now taking place in New York. It is the annual session of the Commission on Status of Women (UN-CSW) under the United Nations umbrella, attracting hundreds of government and civil society participants representing their nations […]

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Mar. 11, 2014 CSW event on accelerating progress on MDGs for women and girls. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Mar. 11, 2014 CSW event on accelerating progress on MDGs for women and girls. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 13 2014 (IPS)

The largest annual gathering with special focus on issues which impact on women and thereby humanity as a whole is now taking place in New York.

It is the annual session of the Commission on Status of Women (UN-CSW) under the United Nations umbrella, attracting hundreds of government and civil society participants representing their nations and organisations.

This is the 58th time that CSW is meeting and over the years, its agenda has evolved in a meaningful way to bring to global attention to women’s equality and their contribution to human progress.

For last few years, equality of women’s participation at all decision making levels has taken a special profile in its deliberations and many parallel events. Participation has emerged as the major area of practical application for women’s agenda.

Courtesy of Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

Courtesy of Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

At the same time, engaging men and boys for gender equality is being seen as an essential component of any proactive strategy.

Adoption of the landmark U.N. Security Council resolution 1325 boosted the essential value of women’s participation. For a long time, the impression has been that women were helpless victims of wars and conflicts.

In reality, women have shown great capacity as peacemakers. They assumed activist roles during conflicts while holding together their families and communities.

At the grassroots and community levels, women have organised to resist militarisation, to create space for dialogue and moderation and to weave together the shattered fabric of society. The contribution and involvement of women in the eternal quest for peace is an inherent reality.

The consensus statement that the Security Council issued on Mar. 8, 2000 formally and for the first time brought to global attention to fact that the contribution women have been making to preventing war, to building peace has remained unrecognised, under-utilised and under-valued.

It finally recognised that “peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men”.

This conceptual and political breakthrough led in October that year to the ground-breaking resolution 1325 of the Council on “Women and Peace and Security”.

Validity of its core message that sustainable peace is possible only with women’s full participation has become increasingly relevant in today’s context when we find women being excluded from peace conferences.

The current international practices that make women insecure and deny their equality of participation, basically as a result of its support of the existing militarised inter-state security arrangements, is disappointing.

I draw your attention to the existing concept of security based on inter-state power structure rather than on human security – security of the people. Human security is rarely a primary consideration in the Security Council’s decision-making.

This should make us determined to ensure that women have more avenues to promote peace, not only at the local level but also at the national, regional and global levels.

By bringing their experiences to the peace table, women can inject in the peace process a practical understanding of the various challenges faced by civilian populations.

The mechanisms and arrangements that come out of such involvement are naturally more sensitive to the needs of common people and, therefore, more purposeful and sustainable.

Recognition that women need to be at the peace tables to make a real difference in transitioning from the cult of war to the culture of peace, I believe, made the passage of 1325 an impressive step forward for women’s equality agenda in contemporary security politics.

This was reflected very eloquently when in 2011 three women were chosen as Nobel laureates. Their citation for the Nobel Peace Prize referred to the Resolution 1325, saying that “It underlined the need for women to become participants on an equal footing with men in peace processes and in peace work in general.”

The Nobel Committee further asserted that, “We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.”

This is the first time when a Nobel Peace Prize citation has mentioned a United Nations resolution so specifically.

The Charter of the United Nations in its Article 25 states that “The Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter.”

Therefore, as a Security Council resolution 1325 is a commitment made by the United Nations, its member-states and the international community in general to take action to comply and work towards its full implementation.

In this context, I will underscore that top priority should be given to energising and supporting the U.N. member states to prepare their respective National Plan of Action (NAP) for 1325 at the country level.

Of 193 U.N. members, so far only 43 have prepared such plans and 10 more are reportedly on the way. A long way to reach 193!

Civil society, in particular women’s organisations, human rights activists and peace groups around the world, need to mobilise their efforts to hold governments accountable for the commitments they made in Resolution 1325.

There needs to be international support to ways and means to enhance women’s participation and role in formal and informal conflict prevention and mediation efforts, including measures for capacity-building support for women’s peace movements in conflict and post-conflict situations.

Coordinated and coherent support by the United Nations system is particularly needed to achieve greater effectiveness of peacemaking and peacebuilding efforts through the increased participation of women and strengthened capacity to address gender issues in peace and post-conflict planning processes.

It is essential that the views of both women and men are equally heard and recognised in society, and in economic and political planning and decision making. Only then can men and women equally and democratically influence progress in society.

My own experience during the course of my different responsibilities – more so during past 20 plus years – has shown that the participation of women in peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace-building assures that their experiences, priorities, and solutions contribute to lasting stability, good governance and sustainable peace.

1325 is a “common heritage of humanity” wherein the global objectives of peace, equality and development are reflected in a uniquely historic, universal document of the United Nations.

We should never forget that when women are marginalised, there is little chance for the world to get sustainable peace in the real sense.

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury was Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (2002-2007), Ambassador of Bangladesh to UN (1996-2001), and initiator of the conceptual breakthrough for UNSCR 1325 as Security Council President in 2000.

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Dangerous Combo: Violence in Pregnancy and HIV in South Africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/dangerous-combo-violence-pregnancy-hiv-south-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dangerous-combo-violence-pregnancy-hiv-south-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/dangerous-combo-violence-pregnancy-hiv-south-africa/#comments Fri, 07 Mar 2014 08:20:13 +0000 Alisa Hatfield http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132528 When Phumzile Khoza* came to the central Johannesburg antenatal clinic on a chilly day in August 2013, she was feeling on edge. Not about the medical procedures – she already had two children – but about talking to the nurse. This was her third pregnancy living with HIV, but the first with a new partner […]

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By Alisa Hatfield
JOHANNESBURG, Mar 7 2014 (IPS)

When Phumzile Khoza* came to the central Johannesburg antenatal clinic on a chilly day in August 2013, she was feeling on edge. Not about the medical procedures – she already had two children – but about talking to the nurse.

One in four South African women experience intimate partner violence during pregnancy. Credit: Alisa Hatfield

One in four South African women experience intimate partner violence during pregnancy. Credit: Alisa Hatfield

This was her third pregnancy living with HIV, but the first with a new partner from whom she had been hiding her status for the past two years.

This pregnancy had been rocky from the start. Khoza had been trying to convince her partner to join her for HIV testing, but he refused. Without couples’ counseling, Khoza was afraid to disclose, and it was becoming harder to take and hide her daily medication of antiretrovirals (ARV).

Khoza’s partner was now regularly slapping her, punching her stomach, and kicking her during arguments.  Khoza feared it would get worse if he learned she was HIV-positive.

Although she wanted help, Khoza imagined the nurses would not have time to talk through her complex situation. Plus, she had seen how angry the nurses became with women who defaulted on ARV treatment.

Looking back on that antenatal visit, Khoza reflected: “I was stressing about the way I lived my life, stressing about my past, stressing about my pregnancy. And I had no one.”

Shocking figures

Khoza’s story is increasingly common. An estimated one in four South African women experience intimate partner violence in the 12 months leading up to childbirth.

Violence in pregnancy is associated with pregnancy loss, miscarriage and neonatal death, higher rates of postpartum depression and poor health gains for infants.

In a systematic review of the literature, Dr Simukai Shamu, a Medical Research Council expert on violence, found that prevalence of violence among pregnant women in Africa is among the highest reported globally, and that a major risk factor for violence is HIV infection.

“Because most studies are cross-sectional, it’s difficult to tell whether violence was a result of demands or changes in life due to pregnancy, or if the pregnancy was the outcome of violence,” Shamu told IPS.

Since early 2013, a team from Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI) has been interviewing women living with violence in Johannesburg.

Lead researcher Nataly Woollett said that many women described pregnancy as a time of greater violence.

Fast Facts about HIV in South Africa

• 18% HIV prevalence among people aged 15-49
• 150,000 women newly infected in 2012
• 14,000 new infections among children in 2012
• 3 million women live with HIV

Source: UNAIDS 2013

“Partly because they had to disclose their HIV status and partly because men use the woman’s antenatal visit –where testing is virtually mandatory – as a proxy for their own HIV status, so they are curious about the results,” she told IPS.

At the same clinic, IPS met Martha Ramphele*, who described the rapid escalation of violence that landed her in hospital while six-months pregnant: “He started telling me that I’m a fool and stupid. And then he strangled me and let his cousin beat me up.”

Ramphele reported the incident to the police, but later withdrew the charges to protect her safety and financial security. She suspected her HIV disclosure led to physical abuse, but she couldn’t be sure.

No one can say precisely what triggers violence, but often the blend of stress associated with pregnancy, the shifting power and control dynamics, coupled with a new HIV diagnosis, are enough to heighten conflict.

The nurses’ response

Violence in pregnancy impacts negatively on the health of HIV positive women.

Sister Marieta Booysen, a senior nurse with the Aurum Institute, a research organisation in Johannesburg, explained that pregnant women in violent relationships are the most likely to quit treatment: “When you tell a patient she is HIV-positive but she is scared to disclose to her partner, it is that very same patient who will default on her medication later.”

The Wits RHI team found that most antenatal nurses interviewed recognised that violence hurts adherence to ARV treatment but few know how to deal with the issue.

The poor health care response can partly be attributed to the lack of training but it may also reflect the fact that many nurses suffer violence at home and are afraid to respond.

Dr Nicola Christofides, an expert on both violence and HIV based at Wits University, explained that “nurses who experience violence in their own lives […] are either very sensitive to the issue of violence in their patients’ lives and very receptive, or the opposite, where they are actually in denial and shut down.”

Antenatal nurses want training to respond to violence, the WITS RHI project found.

IPS talked to Khoza at the antenatal clinic five months after she had first met a Wits RHI nurse of the Safe & Sound project, which identifies violence in pregnancy and provides one-on-one counseling and referrals in three antenatal clinics in Johannesburg.

The nurse referred Khoza to the nearest hospital offering psychological care and counseling.  “It is nice to talk about the difficult things if you have someone who understands the situation and gives you clues,” Khoza said.

Khoza had never spoken about the violence in her life until the antenatal visits. A few months later, she separated from the abusive partner and is finding ways to support her children.

“I still have stress but I don’t put that in my heart. I just tell myself everything is going to work out all right even though it is difficult,” Khoza said.

* Name changed to protect her safety.

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Women Still Walk Two Steps Behind in Arab World http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/women-still-walk-two-steps-behind-arab-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-still-walk-two-steps-behind-arab-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/women-still-walk-two-steps-behind-arab-world/#comments Thu, 06 Mar 2014 20:49:00 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132522 In much of the Arab world, women’s participation in the labour force is the lowest in the world, according to the United Nations, while women in politics are a rare breed both in the Middle East and North Africa. Perhaps one of the few exceptions is Algeria, says Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of U.N. […]

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Women protest in Tunis to demand protection of their rights. Credit: Giuliana Sgrena/IPS

Women protest in Tunis to demand protection of their rights. Credit: Giuliana Sgrena/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 6 2014 (IPS)

In much of the Arab world, women’s participation in the labour force is the lowest in the world, according to the United Nations, while women in politics are a rare breed both in the Middle East and North Africa.

Perhaps one of the few exceptions is Algeria, says Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of U.N. Women."There is no doubt that culture and religion play some role, but the fact remains that over the past 30 years, and particularly in the last decade, we have seen the rising tide of very conservative forces in the region." -- Sanam Anderlini

The North African nation has reached the critical mass of some 30 percent of women parliamentarians, while Saudi Arabia has broken new ground by welcoming women to the Shura council.

Still, with a regional average of female parliamentarians just above 12 percent, the Arab world remains far behind the already low global average of 20 percent, according to U.N figures.

Asked whether this was due to cultural or religious factors, Puri told IPS, “It is not easy to pinpoint a single cause for the low level of women’s participation in the labour force and in politics in the Arab world, and more generally, around the world.”

She said there is no doubt that entrenched gender stereotypes and social norms that condone discrimination against women play a negative role, but other factors also need to be taken into account.

These include, for example, access to and quality of education, opportunities to reconcile professional or political life with family responsibilities, the overall structure of the labour market, and prevalence of violence against women.

When representatives of women’s organisations meet in New York next week, one of the many issues before the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will be the low level of women’s participation in the labour force and in political and social life worldwide.

Women wearing the traditional Hijab attend the Commission on the Status of Women at U.N. headquarters in March 2010. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

Women wearing the traditional Hijab attend the Commission on the Status of Women at U.N. headquarters in March 2010. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

The CSW, scheduled to hold its annual sessions Mar. 10-21, is the primary inter-governmental policy-making body on gender equality and advancement of women.

This year’s session will focus on challenges and achievements in the implementation of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), specifically for women and girls.

Sanam Anderlini, co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) and a senior fellow at the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), told IPS: “We should steer clear of assuming that the low levels of participation in public spaces – political and economic – are ‘entrenched ‘cultural or religious values.’

“There is no doubt that culture and religion play some role, but the fact remains that over the past 30 years, and particularly in the last decade, we have seen the rising tide of very conservative forces in the region – largely supported by regional governments themselves – that are promoting a regressive agenda towards women.”

Let’s not forget that Egypt had a feminist movement in the 19th century, she added.

Puri listed several factors that negatively affect outcomes for women and girls.

These, she pointed out, include family codes and parallel traditional legal and justice systems that deny women property and inheritance rights, access to productive resources, sanction polygamy and early and child marriages, and put women at a disadvantage in marriage and divorce.

At the same time, it is essential to tackle negative misinterpretations of religion or culture that not only condone but perpetuate myths about inherent inequality between men and women and justify gender-based discrimination.

“As we at UN Women have pointed out, along with many faith-based and other organisations, equality between women and men was propounded centuries ago in the Arab region,” Puri said.

At the same time, governments along with all stakeholders, including civil society, need to put in place an enabling environment in order to increase women’s participation in all spheres of life, said Puri.

Anderlini told IPS that in the Arab world – like any other part of the world – there are always different cultural forces at play simultaneously: conservative and progressive.

But in the Arab world, the conservative forces are seeking to erase or discredit the gains made in the past.

“They like to associate ‘women’s rights’ with immorality and westernisation. It is a clear political agenda that is being fomented and we must not fall for the notion that it is ‘cultural’ or religious’,” said Anderlini, who was appointed last year to the Working Group on Gender and Inclusion of the Sustainable Development Network for the U.N.’s post-2015 economic agenda.

She also said Islam calls for equal rights to education for women and men – to equal pay, to women’s rights to inheritance and participation in public life.

“What’s being spread are extreme interpretations of Islam that may be rooted in countries like Saudi Arabia but are newer to Egypt, Tunisia or Lebanon,” she warned.

Asked how women’s participation can be advanced in the Arab region, Puri told IPS, “As elsewhere, achieving the advancement of women’s participation in the political, economic and social spheres in the Arab States requires interventions at multiple levels.”

First, a reform of state constitutions and laws as well as of traditional legal and justice systems and the creation of a conducive policy environment based on international women’s rights norms and instruments, such as the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, needs to be in place.

This environment should not only allow, but also encourage women to participate in the work force and in public life.

It must include temporary special measures, such as quotas in all public institutions. Education, training and skills building is also essential.

In the workplace, reconciling family responsibilities with professional life must be addressed, as women still undertake most of the domestic and care work, said Puri.

This must include effective maternity leave practices and provisions, affordable and accessible childcare and other caregiving structures, as well as incentives for men and boys to play a greater role in undertaking domestic work, such as compulsory paternity leave, she noted.

The policy environment also must focus on preventing violence against women at home, harassment at the workplace and in public spaces, so that women and girls do not fear any repercussions for partaking in public life.

Secondly, she said, there has to be bottom-up change.

“This means changing entrenched patriarchal mindsets and shift from attitudes and beliefs that focus on women’s reproductive role to women’s productive and public roles,” stressed Puri.

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Women On The Move, And In Danger http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/women-move-danger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-move-danger http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/women-move-danger/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 09:13:27 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132189 It was 8.45 pm, and a 22-year-old woman was looking for a cab to go home after a trip to a city mall in India’s Hyderabad city. A cab arrived, and the unsuspecting computer engineer got in, little knowing she was stepping into a trap. Within minutes the driver, accompanied by another man, locked the door […]

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Women join the struggle to board a bus near Hyderabad in India. Travelling by public transport presents a constant danger to women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Women join the struggle to board a bus near Hyderabad in India. Travelling by public transport presents a constant danger to women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
HYDERABAD, India, Feb 28 2014 (IPS)

It was 8.45 pm, and a 22-year-old woman was looking for a cab to go home after a trip to a city mall in India’s Hyderabad city. A cab arrived, and the unsuspecting computer engineer got in, little knowing she was stepping into a trap.

Within minutes the driver, accompanied by another man, locked the door and sped towards a forest on the outskirts of the city. The men tied her hands and raped her for four hours. Then they dropped her at her place and left after threatening to hurt her family if she reported the crime late last year.“Our study shows that women do not trust the police well enough to call for help."

Nearly 25,000 rapes took place in India in 2012, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. About half of these sexual assaults took place in buses, taxis and three-wheeler autorickshaws. A month before the engineer was raped in Hyderabad, a court had sentenced four men to death for raping and murdering a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi, on Dec. 16, 2012.

A judicial committee assigned to recommend ways to curb violence against women in India suggested improvements in public transport vehicles after the Delhi incident.

Thirteen months and many more rapes later, the Indian government devised a plan in January to implement some of those recommendations. With an initial fund of 15 million dollars, the plan includes installing GPS trackers, closed circuit TV (CCTV) cameras and emergency phone call facilities in all public transport vehicles in 32 cities that have a population of one million or more.

According to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), the government proposes to “establish a unified system at the national level and state level in 32 cities of the country with a population of one million or more, over a period of two years.” The plan has been “formulated with the purpose of improving safety and protection of women from violence by using information technology.”

The government move is seen by many as a constructive step.

“This could be the first step towards making roads more secure for women,” Kirthi Jayakumar, a Chennai-based lawyer and founder of Red Elephant, a non-profit organisation raising awareness against gender violence, tells IPS. “It will benefit women in two ways – making their spaces safer and also making more jobs available for women – as surveillance will require a workforce in its own right.”

Jayakumar suggests that the government must create a strong workforce studying video feeds from these cameras.

Defunct surveillance gadgets and poor police vigilance has always been a security concern in India – one reason why some women’s rights activists are sceptical about the road safety scheme.

Rapid population growth and expansion of cities pose a big obstacle to the success of any vigilance and surveillance mechanism, says A.L. Sharada, programme director at Population First, one of the main partners of the United Nations Population Fund in India. Unless the government regulates urban development, violence against women on roads is unlikely to come down, she says.

“Road safety is not about making a few vehicles smart,” Sharada tells IPS. “It’s about making roads safe for women to go out at any time of day or night with confidence. To do that we need better governance, better policing and also a good community-based support system for women. Without these, you can’t change the scenario.”

Sharada cites the example of Mumbai, that has seen a spate of sexual assaults against women on the road of late. “The government has installed CCTVs at most crossroads. But most of these cameras are either defunct or of poor quality. Also, the police patrolling is so inadequate that women are molested and attacked even in broad daylight. Where is the mechanism to ensure that the gadgets are in working condition?”

Some also point to a “gaping hole” in the road safety plan such as the exclusion of trains, used by millions of women every month. There are widespread reports of women being molested, raped and even murdered on trains.

A recent victim was a 23-year-old engineer from Machlipatnam, a city 340 km from Hyderabad. On Jan. 16 her body was found by a road outside Mumbai where she worked for a leading software firm. She had reportedly boarded a train from Hyderabad to Mumbai 12 days earlier.

“Whether in city trains or metros, there are so many instances of horrific violence against women,” says Sandhya Pushppandit, a documentary filmmaker and activist at Akshara, a Mumbai-based NGO. In 2008, Akshara had co-launched India’s first emergency helpline for victims of gender violence aiming to provide an ambulance within 10 minutes of a call.

“But our trains have no helplines and emergency call buttons. One can pull a chain and bring the train to a halt, but this in itself doesn’t guarantee either the victim’s safety or the arrest of the criminal. Besides, in a small public transport vehicle like the auto-rickshaw, the emergency call button might well be deactivated by the rapist,” Pushppandit tells IPS.

One solution, says Anu Maheshwari of Young Leaders Think Tank, a New Delhi-based youth policy research group, is to address the factors that trigger fear among women on the move.

Maheshwari shares some insights from a recent survey that the think tank undertook in 18 Indian states: “From the data we collected, 90 percent of sexual assaults on public transport happen in poorly lit areas. In most cases, the driver of the public transport vehicle violates traffic rules such as jumping the signal or allowing more passengers than the law permits.

“Our study shows that women do not trust the police well enough to call for help. So improving road infrastructure, strict implementation of traffic laws, trust building and sensitisation of the police force have to be an integral part of any road safety scheme.”

But, says Sharada, while laws can only lay down rules, they can’t change mindsets. “To achieve the latter should be a matter of immediate concern for our thinkers.”

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Burned, Bombed, Beaten – Education Under Attack Worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/burned-bombed-beaten-education-attack-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=burned-bombed-beaten-education-attack-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/burned-bombed-beaten-education-attack-worldwide/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 00:46:19 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132240 There was a time when images from war zones featured only battlefields and barracks. As warfare moved into the 20th century, pictures of embattled urban centres and rural guerilla outposts began to make the rounds. Public squares are now common sites of protest and violence, while hospitals treating the wounded are considered fair game during […]

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Naxalite fighters exploded two bombs in Belhara High School, Jharkhand, on the evening of Apr. 9, 2009. One bomb, on the school's lower floor, blasted a hole in the wall between the two classrooms, as well as outside the wall. 
Credit: Bede Sheppard/Human Rights Watch (India)

Naxalite fighters exploded two bombs in Belhara High School, Jharkhand, on the evening of Apr. 9, 2009. One bomb, on the school's lower floor, blasted a hole in the wall between the two classrooms, as well as outside the wall. Credit: Bede Sheppard/Human Rights Watch (India)

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 28 2014 (IPS)

There was a time when images from war zones featured only battlefields and barracks. As warfare moved into the 20th century, pictures of embattled urban centres and rural guerilla outposts began to make the rounds.

Public squares are now common sites of protest and violence, while hospitals treating the wounded are considered fair game during times of political turbulence."An attack is not only felt by the 150 or 200 kids in a particular community school, but by all the kids in the surrounding area." -- Zama Coursen Neff

But perhaps the most disturbing trend in modern warfare is the rise in attacks on educational institutions, the cradles of any country’s future.

In the most exhaustive account of the issue to date, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) Thursday released a 250-page report detailing attacks on schools, universities, teachers, students and academics, by both state and non-state actors.

Covering the five-year period from 2009-2012, and following on the heels of less comprehensive studies put forth by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2007 and 2010, “Education Under Attack 2014” documents threats and the deliberate use of force against those involved in educational activities for “political, military, ideological, sectarian, ethnic or religious reasons.”

The findings are grim: in the last half-decade, hundreds of school children have been killed or maimed, many more kidnapped or forcibly enlisted into armed groups as combatants, sex-slaves or labourers, and hundreds targeted for assassination (as with the now iconic case of 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who survived an attack on her life by the Pakistani Taliban in 2012).

Military Use of Schools and Universities. Source: Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack

Source: Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack

Scores of teachers have been killed or attacked, while thousands of school buildings and other educational institutions either reduced to rubble in bomb blasts, or commandeered by armed groups or military personnel as makeshift shelters and barracks.

The number of students denied the right to an education as a result of such attacks runs into the hundreds of thousands, experts say.

“This is an underestimated phenomenon,” Zama Coursen Neff, executive director of the children’s rights division of Human Rights Watch, told IPS, “especially when you consider the fact that an attack is not only felt by the 150 or 200 kids in a particular community school, but by all the kids in the surrounding area.

Guidelines for Armed Conflict

GCPEA - a coalition comprising the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA), Human Rights Watch, the Institute of International Education, Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict, Save the Children, the Scholars at Risk Network, UNESCO, UNHCR and UNICEF – is now circulating the Draft Lucens Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

Initially compiled in the village of Lucens, Switzerland, in November 2012, the document urges all parties to armed conflict to refrain from utilising schools and universities for military purposes, and encourages use of the Guidelines for responsible practice during times of conflict.

Coursen Neff hopes that members of the U.N. Security Council will use next Friday’s debate on children and armed conflict to speak more forcefully against schools and teachers being targeted as tactics of war.

“It is time states adopted really clear rules that say what militaries can and cannot do,” she stressed.
“We are only just beginning to understand the ripple effects of these attacks.”

She said the report, which drew heavily on a wide range of sources – from U.N. and human rights reports to in-country research – uncovered numerous reasons for attacks, including the desire to discredit a government or exert control over an area; prevent girls from going to school in violation of religious beliefs or cultural practices; block certain languages of instruction; and even to quell teacher trade union activity or academic freedom.

In July 2013, Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Nigeria’s notorious rebel outfit Boko Haram – which literally means ‘Western education is sinful’ in Hausa – said in a video statement reported on by the Associated Press, “School teachers who are teaching Western education? We will kill them! We will kill them!”

Just a few months earlier, some 200 Buddhist nationalists set fire to a Muslim school in Meiktila, in central, Myanmar, beating and torching students and even beheading one. By the time the mob’s fury was spent, 32 students and four teachers lay dead in the schoolyard.

Of the 70 countries identified in the report, 30 showed a pattern of deliberate and systematic attacks on schools, teachers and educational institutions, with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia, Somalia, Sudan and Syria emerging as some of the worst affected countries, recording over 1,000 attacks apiece between 2009 and 2012.

Adding to its list of woes, Colombia now stands as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for teachers – 140 lost their lives in the last four years and 1,086 others received death threats.

Armed groups in Pakistan were responsible for the destruction of 838 school buildings, and the deaths of 20 teachers and 30 students.

Meanwhile the civil war in Syria has interrupted regular schooling for some three million students, with UNICEF reporting that “at least 20 percent of schools inside the country” no longer function as educational institutions.

Countries like Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Libya, Mexico and Yemen fell into the category of “heavily affected”, with anywhere from 500 to 999 reported attacks on educational institutions and personnel.

The largest number of higher education student casualties in the world was recorded in Yemen – in 2011 alone 73 students lost their lives and a further 139 suffered injuries.

The report also highlights various “response and prevention tactics”, including better monitoring, assessment and reporting on attacks; enhanced security on the ground; and community responses to violence and destruction.

While the latter is often a risky undertaking, leaving community members vulnerable to retaliatory attacks, it has also resulted in successful negotiations, according to GCPEA Director Diya Nijhowne.

“In Nepal, school management committees agreed to codes of conduct with Maoist fighters to make schools zones of peace,” she told IPS. “In [the Central African Republic] a priest was involved in facilitating negotiations between rebel forces who targeted schools and government forces which resulted in the rebels returning home. Moreover, negotiations between NGOS and the People’s Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD)  effectively ended the use and occupation of schools in some villages.”

Such efforts are small steps towards a more lasting solution, but have the potential to create a different kind of ripple effect, one that returns education to its sacred place in human society.

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Zanzibar’s Rising Violence Against Women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/zanzibars-rising-violence-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zanzibars-rising-violence-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/zanzibars-rising-violence-women/#comments Wed, 26 Feb 2014 19:01:50 +0000 Kizito Makoye http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132126 The story of Feiza*, an 18-year-old girl who was abducted and raped, is a bleak testament to the worsening plight of women in Tanzania’s semi-autonomous archipelago, Zanzibar. Last month, Feiza was attacked by a knife-wielding man as she walked along a street in northern Zanzibar. He raped her and then fled. “I don’t want to […]

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An old fort building in Stone town, Zanzibar, Tanzania. On average at least one case of gender-based violence, including rape, is reported daily in Zanzibar. Credit: Zuberi Mussa/IPS

An old fort building in Stone town, Zanzibar, Tanzania. On average at least one case of gender-based violence, including rape, is reported daily in Zanzibar. Credit: Zuberi Mussa/IPS

By Kizito Makoye
ZANZIBAR, Tanzania, Feb 26 2014 (IPS)

The story of Feiza*, an 18-year-old girl who was abducted and raped, is a bleak testament to the worsening plight of women in Tanzania’s semi-autonomous archipelago, Zanzibar.

Last month, Feiza was attacked by a knife-wielding man as she walked along a street in northern Zanzibar. He raped her and then fled.

“I don’t want to remember that day, it was horrible,” Feiza tells IPS from her aunt’s home where she lives.

She says that she was rescued by a passersby who phoned her father for help.“The outcome of our research has proved beyond a doubt that violence against women is still rampant in Zanzibar." -- Gladness Munuo, TAMWA

But when her father, who launched a man-hunt to find the rapist, finally apprehended his daughter’s attacker — the only justice he sought was monetary.

It turns out that Feiza’s attacker was the son of a prominent man in the area.

Feiza’s father tells IPS that although he is deeply angered by the assault, the best he can hope for is an out of court settlement to preserve his family’s honour. The legal system, he says, is too corrupt to deliver justice.

“Even if you go to the police, they will arrest the suspect and release him the next day,” he says.

Statistics from the Rape Crisis Intervention Centres here show that on average at least one case of gender-based violence, including rape, is reported daily in Zanzibar.

A study released by the Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA) this month shows that rape, early pregnancies and child marriages are rising at an alarming rate in Zanzibar with 996 cases reported between 2012/13 as compared to the 398 in 2011.

TAMWA’s board member Gladness Munuo tells IPS that despite significant effort by rights activists and international donors to raise awareness about gender-based violence in Zanzibar, incidents have increased.

“The outcome of our research has proved beyond a doubt that violence against women is still rampant in Zanzibar,” she says.

She admits that it is, however, possible that incidents of assault against women are seen to be increasing because society was more enlightened and more readily reported cases. However, only a few reported rape cases ever make their way to court.

Asha Abdul, a TAMWA activist, attributes the increase in violent assaults against women to a number of factors, including the growing impunity of perpetrators.

“The police are the main obstacle, they don’t do their jobs properly while handling rape cases. That’s why most victims are not willing to report these incidents,” she says. As a result, many perpetrators are not even charged or investigated for their crimes.

According to Abdul, poor investigation has exposed rape victims and made them more vulnerable to social stereotypes. In some cases, witnesses have refrained from providing evidence for fear of being isolated by their community.

The police acknowledge that often victims and witnesses of violent assaults do not provide adequate evidence to convict suspects.

Zanzibar Urban-West Regional Police Commander Mkadam Khamis, however, dismissed the allegations of incompetence among the police. He tells IPS in an interview that the police force was working in accordance with the law, and it has the duty to protect all people and their property irrespective of their status.

“Our job is to protect the citizens, we follow legal guidelines when investigating abuse cases. It’s not true that we are not doing our investigations properly,” he says.

TAMWA says that courts, judges and prosecutors lack the skills to handle gender-based violence cases and this leads to trials that last for years, increased intimidation of victims and witnesses, and ultimately results in many cases being dropped.

But Walid Adam, a lawyer with the Zanzibar Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP), tells IPS that rights groups are probably over reacting because lawyers and judges are qualified professionals with vast experience to handle such cases.

“I have no doubt that members of the judiciary are doing their job very well, let’s not underestimate their capabilities,” he says.

Adam points out that there are often cases were people destroyed crucial evidence before reporting a crime. He says often parents of young rape victims bathe their children first.

“Even those who know this is not procedure, they find it very difficult to leave their child in that state. But the moment they bath her, evidence is lost,” he says.

*Name changed to protect identity.

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Poverty Rises Amidst Gold http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/golden-poverty-rises-pacific-islands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=golden-poverty-rises-pacific-islands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/golden-poverty-rises-pacific-islands/#comments Sat, 22 Feb 2014 09:41:52 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131843 Natural reserves such as gold, copper, nickel, gas and timber are being extracted in the western Pacific island states of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands to feed the soaring economies of East and South East Asia. But despite these Pacific nations recording economic growth rates of 6-11 percent over the past seven years, opportunities […]

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Villagers in Papua New Guinea point to their village destroyed in a landslide from a quarry being excavated for a liquefied natural gas project. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS.

Villagers in Papua New Guinea point to their village destroyed in a landslide from a quarry being excavated for a liquefied natural gas project. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS.

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Feb 22 2014 (IPS)

Natural reserves such as gold, copper, nickel, gas and timber are being extracted in the western Pacific island states of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands to feed the soaring economies of East and South East Asia. But despite these Pacific nations recording economic growth rates of 6-11 percent over the past seven years, opportunities for human development have not been grasped.

“There is very little confidence amongst communities in resource extraction projects that governments are operating,” Maureen Penjueli, co-ordinator of the civil society organisation, the Pacific Network on Globalisation in Fiji, told IPS."Customary landowners and civil society groups have not been adequately consulted on the type of development that is appropriate for the Pacific.”

“There is a perception that governments are pro-big business, pro-foreign investment and have paid very little attention to the plight of their own people. Customary landowners and civil society groups have not been adequately consulted on the type of development that is appropriate for the Pacific.”

In Papua New Guinea (PNG) there are at least six mines extracting gold and copper. The nation’s largest resource project, PNG LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas), centred in the highlands is expected to begin supply this year, while generating up to 1.5 billion dollars of annual government revenue for the next 30 years.

The Solomon Islands, an archipelago to the northeast of Australia, has a 50-year history of timber exploitation. Logging currently contributes to 15 percent of state and 60 percent of export revenues.

Natural resource management has brought the interests of corporate developers determined by short-term profit competing with local Melanesian perspectives that prioritise culture, identity and the well-being of future generations.

The PNG government claims a state right to mineral resources, while in the Solomon Islands traditional landowners determine timber extraction. Either way ordinary citizens have experienced no benefits.

Two million in a population of more than seven million in PNG live in poverty, while the under-five mortality rate is a high 75 per 1,000 births. In the Solomon Islands 23 percent of people live below the poverty line, and literacy is 17 percent.

Pacific island governments with shortfalls in capacity and expertise can be disadvantaged in negotiating resource agreements with international investors. An unhealthy alliance between the political elite and foreign companies has served the interests of a few, while negatively impacting the rural majority who suffer inadequate public services and human rights protection.

In the Solomon Islands an influx of Southeast Asian logging companies in the 1980s paralleled escalating corruption and declining regulatory compliance.

“The links between politicians and foreign logging companies are complex and well-entrenched,” a Transparency International spokesperson told IPS in the Solomon Islands  capital, Honiara. “We regularly hear of politicians using their power to protect loggers, influence police and give tax exemptions to foreign businesses; in return loggers fund politicians.”

Solomon Islands landowner Lily Duri Dani said that corruption had resulted in women resource owners being “pushed aside” in decisions about land use.

“Women would make decisions that are honest, open and fair to everybody. We would use the [resource] money to help people at the grassroots,” she declared.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), “poor governance and corruption [in PNG] prevent ordinary citizens from benefitting from resource wealth….large-scale extractive projects have generated environmental and human rights concerns that the government has failed to address.”

The PNG LNG project is set to deliver a windfall to foreign investors that hold 80 percent ownership, including Exxon Mobil and its subsidiary, Esso Highlands.

Social impacts documented by the New Zealand-based Otago University include increased inequality, alcohol consumption, domestic violence and prostitution. Local communities have also faced a 38 percent food price increase and deteriorating education and health services as staff seek more lucrative LNG-related jobs.

In 2012, a devastating landslide from a quarry being excavated by a project sub-contractor buried two villages, Tumbi and Tumbiago, killing an estimated 60 people and destroying 42 homes. Safety concerns about quarry operations had been identified by an independent environmental consultant, D’Appolonia, the previous year. The PNG Government has failed to commission an independent investigation into the disaster, leaving victims deprived of justice.

Tumbi village chief Jokoya Piwako, who lost his entire family in the tragedy, claimed that the government and the companies “are concerned about their income and revenue, but they are not concerned about lives in the communities.”

Non-governmental organisation Jubilee Australia reported last year that “there are serious risks that the revenues generated by the [PNG LNG] project will not mitigate the negative economic and social impacts.”

The Porgera gold mine, located in Enga Province and majority owned by the Canadian company Barrick Gold, has produced 20 billion dollars worth of gold in the past 20 years. Communities in the area live in severe poverty while HRW has reported gang rapes committed at the mine site by private security personnel in 2011.

Last year the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) organised a Pacific conference in Fiji to tackle the question of how natural resource exploitation could translate into improving the lives of ordinary citizens. But the necessary framework of good transparent governance, strong extractive industry regulation, environmental and social protection measures and participation by rural communities in decisions about resource use is yet to emerge in the region.

Penjueli advocates that “a key role for civil society organisations is to mobilise the public to engage with difficult questions of human rights and social justice” in the extractive sector.

Indigenous communities need to be empowered with skills, knowledge about the implications of decisions and alternative livelihoods, and better access to legal support to defend their rights, activists say.

“We have to educate all the landowners because they have to make good decisions,” Judy Tabiru, president of the Isabel Provincial Council of Women in the Solomon Islands, told IPS. “We must create rules to protect our resources for the benefit of our people. That is for the betterment of our generation and that of our children’s children.”

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Growing Inequality Mars 20 Years of Women’s Progress http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/growing-inequality-mars-20-years-womens-progress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=growing-inequality-mars-20-years-womens-progress http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/growing-inequality-mars-20-years-womens-progress/#comments Fri, 14 Feb 2014 22:34:31 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131649 As the world moves closer to the 2015 end mark of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a new U.N. report illuminates how far global society has come, but also how far it still must travel to achieve its objectives. The report tracks the last two decades of progress on issues such as universal access to […]

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Sex education is expelled from Egyptian schools. Credit: Victoria Hazou/IPS

Sex education is expelled from Egyptian schools. Credit: Victoria Hazou/IPS

By Jonathan Rozen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 14 2014 (IPS)

As the world moves closer to the 2015 end mark of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a new U.N. report illuminates how far global society has come, but also how far it still must travel to achieve its objectives.

The report tracks the last two decades of progress on issues such as universal access to family planning, sexual and reproductive health services and reproductive rights, and equal access to education for girls."This report gives us the leverage to take things to the next level, where women, girls and young people will be central to the next development agenda.” -- Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

“We must work with governments to address issues of inequality, which is I think the greatest determinate in terms of the MDGs,” Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), told IPS.

“We expect that as we move into the post-2015 conversation, the evidence we have today will ensure that member states will see that if they are going to make progress…we must put people at the centre of development.”

Since 1994, the year of the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo when 179 governments committed to a 20-year Programme of Action to deliver human rights-based development, UNFPA has identified significant achievements with regard to women’s rights and effective family planning, but also a dramatic increase in inequality.

Maternal mortality has dropped by almost 50 percent and more women than ever before have access to both contraception and family planning mechanisms, supporting a decrease in child mortality. Furthermore, women are increasingly accessing education, participating in the work force and engaged in the political process.

Nevertheless, a gross disparity remains between the developed and developing worlds. In a press conference, Dr.  Osotimehin indicated that while the global average likelihood of a woman dying in childbirth is one in 1,300, this increases to one in 39 when evaluating developing nations specifically.

The report also notes that 53 percent of the world’s income gains have gone to the top one percent of the global population, and that none of these gains have gone to the bottom 10 percent.

It focuses on root factors of these problems and the central influences on women and girls’ ability to make choices about their lives. Child marriage and education are two main factors in this respect.

Source: UNFPA

Source: UNFPA

“It is important to underscore the fact that once girls don’t go to school, once they are married too early and once they have children as children, they cannot be equal to men, and they cannot have the same political and economic power as men,” explained Dr. Babatunde.

The effect of these factors is not limited to the success of the individual. They are also important for the development of nations as a whole.

“Education and access to health, if they are properly planned, allow people to live longer, and add value to the development of the country,” Dr. Osotimehin told IPS.

UNFPA does not work alone on these issues. Other organisations also collect information and cooperate to address problems associated with population and development.

“The report is very important for us because it both reflects what we have done and suggests a way forward that we like to think we have helped to inform,” Suzanne Petroni, senior director of gender, population and development at the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), an organisation which works to identify the contributions and barriers facing women across the world, told IPS.

In 2000, all U.N. member states at the time signed on to the MDGs, all of which are directly addressed in the second ICPD report. They are to be succeeded by the SDGs – the Sustainable Development Goals.

The 1994 Programme of Action was not limited to women’s rights. It also sought to address the individual, social and economic impact of urbanisation and migration, as well as support sustainable development and address environmental issues associated with population changes.

“Ensuring that we have a monitoring mechanism for the implementation of what governments have committed to…that is actually the most important thing going forward,” Dr. Osotimehin stressed to IPS. “We now need to make the commitments count on the ground.”

A key theme in the report is that in areas like South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 percent of the world’s youth are located, there is a massive opportunity for societies to capitalise on their resources and accelerate their development.

But governments must invest in their populations through education, healthcare, access to entrepreneurial opportunities and political participation.

“Civil society, the media, young people and women’s groups can actually work to, in a very positive way, see what [governments] are doing right, and point out where things are not going well…we are seeing that happen around the world,” said Dr. Osotimehin.

“This report gives us the leverage to take things to the next level, where women, girls and young people will be central to the next development agenda.”

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South Africa’s Law to Stop Hate Crimes Against Gays http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/south-africas-law-stop-hate-crimes-love/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-africas-law-stop-hate-crimes-love http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/south-africas-law-stop-hate-crimes-love/#comments Fri, 14 Feb 2014 11:41:05 +0000 Melany Bendix http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131630 “Every day I live in fear that I will be raped,” said Thembela*, one of thousands of lesbians across South Africa being terrorised by the scourge of “corrective rape”. By living openly as a lesbian in Gugulethu township in the Western Cape, Thembela says she is at high risk of being assaulted by men intent on […]

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Thembela, a 26-year-old lesbian from Gugulethu, Cape Town, seldom leaves her home at night for fear of being the victim of “corrective rape”. Credit: Melany Bendix/IPS

Thembela, a 26-year-old lesbian from Gugulethu, Cape Town, seldom leaves her home at night for fear of being the victim of “corrective rape”. Credit: Melany Bendix/IPS

By Melany Bendix
CAPE TOWN, Feb 14 2014 (IPS)

“Every day I live in fear that I will be raped,” said Thembela*, one of thousands of lesbians across South Africa being terrorised by the scourge of “corrective rape”.

By living openly as a lesbian in Gugulethu township in the Western Cape, Thembela says she is at high risk of being assaulted by men intent on “correcting” her sexual orientation through rape.“Lots of my friends have been raped for being lesbian. It’s not an unusual thing.” -- Thembela

“They do it because they hate what we are, because they feel threatened by us,” said the 26-year-old filmmaker for the local documentary television series “Street Talk”

“I live with my partner and we live alone. Many guys in my neighbourhood know this and at any time they can come and kick down our door and rape us. They usually come in gangs and we would be powerless to stop them,” she told IPS.

“Lots of my friends have been raped for being lesbian. It’s not an unusual thing.”

Horrific reports of corrective rape are rife in South Africa, but just how many women and men have been raped and even murdered due to their sexual orientation is still unknown.

It is this dearth of data on hate crime that the country’s Department of Justice and Constitutional Development hopes to address with the “Policy Framework on Combating Hate Crimes, Hate Speech and Unfair Discrimination”.

The policy is the foundation for what will later become law and aims to “send a clear message that hate crimes will not be tolerated in South Africa,” according to Justice and Constitutional Development Deputy Minister John Jeffery.

He said the new law would create a separate criminal category for hate crimes.

Although it was created in direct response to the increase of hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in South Africa, the policy covers all forms of hate crimes, including xenophobic and racist attacks and hate speech.

During a briefing in late January, Jeffery said the policy framework had been “largely finalised” and would be released for public debate “shortly”.

Cobus Fourie of the South African Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation told IPS that having hate crimes as a separate category would shed light on how serious the issue was.

Ingrid Lynch, research, advocacy and policy coordinator for the Cape Town-based LGBTI lobby group Triangle Project, said the new legislation would meet the “desperate need” to monitor the extent of LGBTI-related violence and hate crimes.

“Without a crime category that recognises the influence of homophobic prejudice in violence against LGBTI people, we have no hope of systematic data collection and monitoring of the problem,” she told IPS.

“What we currently know is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Law Cannot Change “Hateful Attitudes”

While lauding the policy as a “symbolic” move to recognise and protect marginalised individuals’ plight, constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos cautioned that law alone will “not change people’s hateful attitudes”.

He pointed out that South Africa already had several progressive laws protecting the rights of LGBTI people, including the legalisation of same-sex marriage. However, in practice these laws do little to protect LGBTI people increasingly faced with violence and victimisation.

“It will take much more than a new piece of legislation to address hate crimes,” added Lynch, who said “being able to experience [constitutional] rights continues to be the main challenge for LGBTI people in South Africa.”

Sibusiso Kheswa, advocacy coordinator for Gender Dynamix, the first African organisation focusing solely on transgender rights, argued that it was pointless introducing new laws, however well intended, if the criminal justice system could not implement them effectively.

Kheswa told IPS the root of the problem was that the system was “not victim friendly”, starting with the South African Police Service (SAPS) – a victim’s first point of contact.

Lynch agreed and said her research had found that LGBTI survivors of assault and rape are “typically confronted with humiliation, dismissal and even direct victimisation by the police because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Kheswa said this resulted in victims not reporting crimes out of “fear of secondary victimisation by the police and other players in the criminal justice system”.

“‘It would be a mistake to think that we can achieve better outcomes for survivors of LGBTI hate crimes within a broken criminal justice system,” warned Lynch. “We need structural transformation of the entire system, along with specific attention to LGBTI concerns.”

Education is Key

Fourie and de Vos both believe that education is key to reducing hate crime against LGBTI people in the long term.

“There should be far more vigorous education against prejudice, from basic school level right up to the government departments,” said de Vos. “But for that to happen you need political will.”

Johan Meyer, health officer for Johannesburg-based LGBTI advocacy group OUT, was upbeat that there was a good measure of political will behind the policy framework.

“There is always concern that the hate crime law might be like South Africa’s other progressive laws that are supposed to protect LGBTI people.

“But I do believe that in this case things are different, since there is real and committed involvement on national level from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, as well as from the SAPS and the National Prosecuting Authority,” he told IPS.

Back in Gugulethu where Thembela and her partner triple bolt their doors and seldom venture out at night for fear of being attacked, she too is hopeful that the fledgling law will one day allow her to live free of fear.

“If we had our own law to protect us, a law that really punishes these guys for raping us, it might make them think twice. And if they think twice, maybe they will stop and I can stop being scared all the time.”

*Surname withheld to protect identity.

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Prosecution of Forced Sterilisations in Peru Still Possible http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/prosecution-forced-sterilisations-case-peru-still-possible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=prosecution-forced-sterilisations-case-peru-still-possible http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/prosecution-forced-sterilisations-case-peru-still-possible/#comments Mon, 03 Feb 2014 22:27:23 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131135 Shelving the case of the forced sterilisations of more than 2,000 women in Peru during the Alberto Fujimori regime was a surprise move by the prosecutor in charge. What happened? An IPS investigation found that legal avenues to pursue justice have not been exhausted. On Jan. 24, prosecutor Marco Guzmán announced an end to the […]

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Alfonso Ramos (left) shows a newspaper reporting the death of his sister Celia in Piura due to forced sterilisation. Micaela Flores (centre) and Sabina Huillca are sterilisation victims from Cusco. All three have been waiting for justice for 17 years. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Alfonso Ramos (left) shows a newspaper reporting the death of his sister Celia in Piura due to forced sterilisation. Micaela Flores (centre) and Sabina Huillca are sterilisation victims from Cusco. All three have been waiting for justice for 17 years. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Milagros Salazar
LIMA, Feb 3 2014 (IPS)

Shelving the case of the forced sterilisations of more than 2,000 women in Peru during the Alberto Fujimori regime was a surprise move by the prosecutor in charge. What happened? An IPS investigation found that legal avenues to pursue justice have not been exhausted.

On Jan. 24, prosecutor Marco Guzmán announced an end to the investigation of forced sterilisations carried out in Peru between 1996 and 2000. He said he would not pursue criminal charges against Fujimori (1990-2000), three former health ministers and other officials accused of being responsible for the crime."The doors were padlocked. They carried me off on a stretcher, tied my feet and cut me.” -- Micaela Flores

“They took us in trucks. We got in quite innocently and contentedly. But then we heard screams and I ran… The doors were padlocked. They carried me off on a stretcher, tied my feet and cut me,” Micaela Flores, then a mother of seven from Anta province in the southern region of Cusco, told IPS.

On that occasion about 30 women went to the health centre, duped by a campaign offering general check-ups, she said.

Guzmán has decided to prosecute only health personnel in the northern department of Cajamarca. The sterilisations were part of the Voluntary Surgical Contraception Programme (AQV – Anticoncepción Quirúrgica Voluntaria), created by Fujimori and his government to bring about a drastic reduction in the birth rate in the poorest parts of the country, especially among rural Quechua-speaking women.

Guzmán, as head of the second supraprovincial prosecutor’s office, took over the case in July 2013 after the investigation was reopened in November 2012.

There are currently 142 volumes of evidence in this longstanding case. In May 2009 the prosecution shelved the probe into the former ministers and other officials for the first time, in spite of repeated urging for its completion from the inter-American human rights system.

In 2003, the Peruvian state signed a friendly settlement agreement before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in the case of Mamérita Mestanza, who died in 1998 as a result of a poorly performed tubal ligation procedure done without her consent.

The government promised to pay an indemnity to her family and investigate and bring to trial the government officials who devised and implemented the forced sterilisation campaign.

After years of delays and foot-dragging, human rights organisations had their hopes raised when Guzmán showed interest in investigating Fujimori’s command responsibility for the generalised, systematic practice of sterilisations.

In late November the prosecutor said there were “indications of the alleged participation of Alberto Fujimori in the crimes,” and expanded the investigation into the cases of Mestanza and others.

Rossy Salazar, a lawyer with the women’s rights organisation DEMUS who is representing the victims, told IPS that this statement by the prosecutor appears on page 60277 of the file as part of a report on the case addressed to Víctor Cubas, the prosecutor who coordinates all human rights cases.

In an interview with IPS, Guzmán acknowledged having said “there were indications that Fujimori had participated.” At that point he had interviewed over 500 victims, mainly in the northwestern department of Piura and in Cusco, he said, although in his latest 131-page decision he states he only interviewed around one hundred.

Guzmán was also in possession of evidence that the programme had targets, incentives, and even sanctions for personnel who did not fulfill sterilisation quotas, according to documents obtained by government agencies that investigated the facts of the case.

DEMUS invoked these official documents in an appeal against the prosecutor’s decision to shelve the case, which it presented Jan. 28 before the Office of the Public Prosecutor.

The appeal refers to four letters from the former health minister, Marino Costa, to Fujimori in 1997. In one document the minister reports to the president on the increased numbers of AQV operations performed and says “by the end of 1997 our total production should be fairly close to the target.”

IPS asked Guzmán: “After determining in November that there were indications of Fujimori’s participation, why did you absolve him from responsibility so soon afterwards?”

“In order to examine him I had to interrogate him. I went to interrogate Fujimori and he answered some questions, but not others. For some he invoked the right to silence. Then his defence lawyer gave me a number of documents. This was important because Fujimori had never been questioned about this case before,” he said.

Fujimori’s interrogation on Jan. 15 in the Barbadillo prison, where he is serving a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses, lasted less than three hours. One week later, Guzmán closed the case against the ex-president.

“Was your interview with Fujimori decisive for determining whether he participated in the crimes?” persisted IPS.

“It was taken into consideration, but it was not decisive. The decisive thing is the legal package I have to apply… There is no legal support for imputing guilt,” Guzmán said.

The prosecutor argued that Peruvian law does not provide for the crime of forced sterilisation, and therefore there is no legal support. In his decision he said the victims’ complaints would not be classed as crimes against humanity, which refer to generalised or systematic attacks on a civilian population and have no statute of limitation.

In international terms, the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, does recognise the crime of forced sterilisation. The statute entered into force in Peru in July 2002, after the sterilisations were carried out and denunciations were initiated, but “the international community has regarded forced sterilisation as a crime since the early 1990s,” Salazar said.

In its appeal, DEMUS argues that the prosecutor’s decision “should not halt the criminal investigation.” It is “only the first step in the search for truth” and does not end the evidence collection phase. DEMUS asks for a higher level prosecutor to bring charges so that the case can continue. Another means of re-opening the case would be for another victim to bring a new complaint.

DEMUS also plans to bring the case to the attention of the IACHR in March.

On Jan. 31, an article by Guzmán was published in the newspaper El Comercio, saying that “the only way Fujimori could be held responsible is by demonstrating command responsibility, and according to the Constitutional Court the requirements for this are not fulfilled, because there is no rigid vertical structure involved, and doctors cannot be obliged to operate against their will.”

“They are isolated cases,” he told IPS.

According to the Health ministry, 346,219 sterilisations were performed on females and 24,535 on males between 1993 and 2000, 55.2 percent of them in the period 1996-1997 alone. During that period an average of 262 tubal ligations were carried out a day.

More than 2,000 persons were documented to have been deceived or threatened into undergoing sterilisation. Women in Cusco were among the worst affected, because on average nearly five operations a day were performed there, according to Health ministry figures and the testimony of victims.

Sabina Hillca, from Huayapacha in the Cusco region, told IPS that she set out for the health centre in Anta when she was due to give birth to her daughter, Soledad, but the birth happened on the way.

The nurses told her she should stay to be “cleansed” and avoid infection. The next day she woke up crying, with sharp pain, an incision close to her navel, and tied to the bed. Afterwards she fled to her village, cleaned the wound with soap and water, removed the stitches as best as she could, and went to her mother for herbal treatments.

“Now I have cancer because dry blood collected in my ovaries,” she said, showing the dark scar on her abdomen.

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Dalit Women Face Multiplied Discrimination http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/dalit-women-face-multiplied-discrimination/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dalit-women-face-multiplied-discrimination http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/dalit-women-face-multiplied-discrimination/#comments Mon, 03 Feb 2014 07:35:23 +0000 Mallika Aryal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131103 Maya Sarki, a resident of Belbari in eastern Nepal, was returning home one summer evening last year when she was attacked. She was forced down on the ground and her attacker attempted to rape her. She screamed. Locals came to her rescue and the attempt was thwarted. Sarki recognised the voice of her attacker as that […]

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Protests over discrimination against Dalits in Nepal are delivering little. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS.

Protests over discrimination against Dalits in Nepal are delivering little. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS.

By Mallika Aryal
KATHMANDU, Feb 3 2014 (IPS)

Maya Sarki, a resident of Belbari in eastern Nepal, was returning home one summer evening last year when she was attacked. She was forced down on the ground and her attacker attempted to rape her.

She screamed. Locals came to her rescue and the attempt was thwarted. Sarki recognised the voice of her attacker as that of a neighbour and filed a police complaint.

The next day Sarki was met by a mob, led by her alleged attacker, at the village market. She was called derogatory names, her clothes were torn, and soot was smeared on her face. She was garlanded with shoes, beaten, and paraded around town. After the incident, Sarki fled the village.

In Dailekh in western Nepal, Sushila Nepali, 28, was raped by a local schoolteacher for years. She was forced to abort twice, but got pregnant again and gave birth to two children. Disowned by her family, Nepali has been living on the streets and begging for shelter and food.“Dalit women are at the bottom of the caste and gender hierarchy in Nepal."

Sarki and Nepali are from different parts of the Himalayan nation, but what is common between them is their caste group – both belong to the socially marginalised Dalit community. Sarki’s attacker and Nepali’s rapist were both high caste Hindus.

There are an estimated 22 Dalit communities in Nepal. Researchers and Dalit organisations say they make up 20 percent of the country’s 27 million population. Dalits are considered to be at the bottom of Nepal’s 100 caste and ethnic groups.

They bear a much bigger burden of poverty, with 42 percent Dalits under the poverty line as opposed to 23 percent non-Dalits.

After a long political impasse, Nepal went back to polls in November. After two long months of negotiations, new assembly members are now finally sitting down and writing a new constitution. But experts say even in the new assembly, the Dalit community is the most under-represented, with only seven percent, or 38, of the 575 Constituent Assembly members being Dalit.

Rajesh Chandra Marasini, programme manager at the Jagaran Media Centre, an alliance of Dalit journalists formed to fight caste-based discrimination, worries that Dalit related issues would, once again, not get priority in the new constitution.

“I am concerned that the new Dalit assembly members would take the party line and become a mere physical presence,” he told IPS. “I fear that Dalit advocacy would become an afterthought.”

Nepal’s Civil Code 1854 had legalised the caste system and declared the Dalit community as ‘untouchable’. In a Hindu hierarchical structure, such a label dictates where Dalits can live, where they can study and where they can socialise.

In 1963, caste-based discrimination was abolished in Nepal and the National Dalit Commission was formed. In 2011, the Caste Based Discrimination and Untouchability Act was passed.

Yet, Dalits continue to be marginalised.

“Violence against the Dalit community is ignored or often goes unreported and unnoticed in Nepal,” said Padam Sundas, chair of Samata Foundation Nepal, a research and advocacy organisation that works for the rights of the marginalised community in Nepal.

Dalits are still barred from community activities such as worshipping in same temples as higher caste Nepalis. The higher castes don’t eat the food touched by members of the Dalit community or even use the same community tap that Dalits use for water. And women are the worst affected.

“Dalit women are at the bottom of the caste and gender hierarchy in Nepal,” said Bhakta Bishwokarma, president of the Nepal National Dalit Social Welfare Organisation (NNDSWO), which works to eliminate caste-based discrimination in Nepal.

“Dalit women’s suffering is triple-fold – society discriminates against them because they are women, then they are discriminated against because they belong to the Dalit community, and within their own community they suffer all over again for being women,” Bishwokarma told IPS.

Women’s rights activists say Dalit women are the most vulnerable.

“If you study the cases of women who are accused of being ‘witches’, they are usually Dalit women. They are the ones to be trafficked easily, they are the ones who work in terrible conditions,” said Durga Sob of the Feminist Dalit Organisation (FEDO) that works closely with the government on Dalit gender issues.

Activists say when Dalit victims of violence want to file a police complaint, they are discouraged.

“They are told that getting the law enforcement authorities involved would disturb social harmony, and victims are encouraged to informally reconcile,” said Bishwokarma. “No one is held accountable for any discriminatory acts against Dalits.”

News of the attack on Sarki received wide media coverage, and the attack and was severely condemned. A few days after the story broke activists gathered in front of the offices of Nepal’s policymakers and organised a protest. It saw a handful of women’s rights activists and allies standing with banners, demanding that the government act.

“The activists stood there for a few days, handed a memorandum to the government and the issue died down,” said Bindu Thapa Pariyar of the Association for Dalit Women’s Advancement of Nepal (ADWAN).

Researchers say there are major reasons why Dalit issues don’t get noticed.

“We have all kinds of acts and laws in place, but they are never implemented and even when we have tried to implement them, victims don’t get justice,” said Sob of FEDO.

She recommends that the legislation be made simple and local law enforcement authorities be trained, so they understand the rights of Dalit people.

Some activists say the Dalit movement has lost its momentum.

“We cannot think of Dalit activism with a ‘donor supported project implementation’ approach,” said Pariyar of ADWAN. “When the project money runs out, we move on but that doesn’t necessarily mean we have achieved what we set out to do.”

In Sarki’s case, for instance, there were issues of her rehabilitation, psychological trauma counselling, the safety of her family and her safe return home.

“Rights activists need to think long-term, a protest only nudges policymakers, real work happens with the victims in the field,” said Pariyar.

She calls for a stronger leadership in Dalit advocacy.

“The Dalit lawmakers may be under pressure from their parties, but we need watchdogs outside the assembly so that we can keep pushing them to make the right decision,” said Pariyar.

“If we don’t push now, when a new constitution for the nation is being written, we will never do it,” she said.

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Cyber Bullies Target Kenya’s Women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/cyber-bullies-target-kenyas-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cyber-bullies-target-kenyas-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/cyber-bullies-target-kenyas-women/#comments Thu, 30 Jan 2014 16:43:32 +0000 David Njagi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130967 For a seasoned politician like Kenya’s Rachael Shebesh, few things hold her back from rallying for women’s rights. But when it comes to furthering her platform on social media – it is the one thing that this Nairobi County women’s representative avoids. Like all women hooked on technology here, this hardliner politician has not been […]

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A teenage girl surfs the internet at a resource centre in Nairobi. But cyber crime and bullying against Kenyan women is on the rise. Credit: David Njagi/IPS

A teenage girl surfs the internet at a resource centre in Nairobi. But cyber crime and bullying against Kenyan women is on the rise. Credit: David Njagi/IPS

By David Njagi
NAIROBI, Jan 30 2014 (IPS)

For a seasoned politician like Kenya’s Rachael Shebesh, few things hold her back from rallying for women’s rights. But when it comes to furthering her platform on social media – it is the one thing that this Nairobi County women’s representative avoids.

Like all women hooked on technology here, this hardliner politician has not been spared the muck of cyber bullying.

She has endured demeaning attacks suggesting that she is a feminist “not fit for leadership” and also comments full of sexual innuendo on social media sites.Kenya’s office of the Director of Public Prosecutions acknowledges that women who are victims of cyber crime and bullying very rarely report the crime.

“Cyber crime [and bullying] is targeting everybody. I am a politician and I know we get targeted and that is why I keep off social media,” Shebesh tells IPS.

According to the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet), a multi-stakeholder platform for people and institutions interested and involved in ICT policy and regulation, cyber crime and bullying against Kenyan women is on the rise.

The organisation says that this involves incidents of cyber stalking, sexual harassment, persistent abusive mobile messages, sex trafficking and humiliating comments that reinforce gender stereotypes.

There have also been cases of professional sabotage, identity theft and incidents where intimate photos and videos have been used to blackmail women.

“They seem to go hand-in-hand with women and girls’ lack of knowledge of the risks and the extent of the damage that they continue to sustain through cyber crime,” says a KICTANet report released in June 2013 titled, “Women and Cybercrime: the Dark Side of ICTs”.

This East African nation lacks legislation to police cyber crime. Last year, the Business Daily Africa reported that the country’s cyber security remained one of the weakest in the world and that experts were able to “intercept [mobile phone] voice traffic and obtain temporary secret keys for some subscribers, revealing the high level exposure.”

Currently, Kenya’s laws are unable to effectively prosecute cyber crime and online hate speech. This is why the Kenya Internet Governance Forum Steering Committee (KIGFSC) is now pushing for the draft Cyber-Crime and Computer Related Offences Bill 2014 to be signed into law. The draft will only be presented to parliament in March.

KIGFSC chairperson, Alice Munyua, tells IPS that the legislation is expected to protect all Kenyans, but there is a need to specifically protect women from cyber attacks.

“Cyber crime affects women differently,” argues Munyua. “The cyber security bill should have a few clauses that deal specifically with how cyber crime affects women.”

However, not everyone is convinced that Kenya can deliver on this legislation. The Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK), the agency charged with drafting the bill, refuses to share details of the legislation with the public.

And the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) believes that Kenya should first engage in finalising the African Union Convention on Cyber Security, which covers issues of e-transaction, cyber security, personal data protection and combating cyber crime.

According to IAWRT, once African countries become signatories to the convention, they will be bound by international law to have their own legislation in place.

“The convention is expected to serve as a blueprint and guide countries to develop cyber security legislations,” Grace Githaiga, IAWRT vice-chairperson, tells IPS.

Githaiga says that the convention was originally meant to have been signed this month, but the process was postponed until June because of Kenya’s involvement with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto have been charged by the ICC for crimes against humanity, which occurred during the country’s disputed 2007 elections. Ruto is already on trial while Kenyatta’s case has been postponed.

However, the Kenya Police Service insists that cyber violence against women is classified as a serious crime.

“Officers have been trained on cyber investigation at the Criminal Investigation Department and are well equipped to handle such cases,” Marcela Wanjiru Andaje, the superintendent of police in charge of community policing, gender and child protection, tells IPS.

However, Kenya’s office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) acknowledges that  women who are victims of cyber crime and bullying very rarely report the crime. The DPP receives more cases of child pornography than ones of cyber crime and intimidation against women.

But Shebesh believes that government agencies like the CCK and the Kenya Police Service can easily contain this emerging crime.

But, she says, the process of seeking justice is too lengthy for anyone’s comfort.

“Today, if you want to catch someone who has abused you through social media you can. But you have to go through a process that is too taxing for the ordinary Kenyan and so they normally leave it,” says Shebesh.

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Human Trafficking Survivors Urge U.S. to Take Action http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/human-trafficking-survivors-urge-u-s-take-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-trafficking-survivors-urge-u-s-take-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/human-trafficking-survivors-urge-u-s-take-action/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 22:55:24 +0000 Bryant Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130894 Advocacy groups and some legislators are calling on the U.S. government to mandate an increase in corporate supply chain transparency, with the aim of cutting down on the estimated 14,000 to 17,000 people trafficked into the United States each year and the tens of millions enslaved globally. “Human trafficking is a 32-billion-dollar industry, second only […]

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Child labourers rescued in Delhi waiting to be sent back to their villages. Credit: Bachpan Bachao Andolan/IPS

Child labourers rescued in Delhi waiting to be sent back to their villages. Credit: Bachpan Bachao Andolan/IPS

By Bryant Harris
WASHINGTON, Jan 28 2014 (IPS)

Advocacy groups and some legislators are calling on the U.S. government to mandate an increase in corporate supply chain transparency, with the aim of cutting down on the estimated 14,000 to 17,000 people trafficked into the United States each year and the tens of millions enslaved globally.

“Human trafficking is a 32-billion-dollar industry, second only to drug trafficking as an organised crime,” Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), a coalition of human rights groups, told a briefing on Capitol Hill on Monday. “Between 21 and 30 million people are enslaved worldwide.” “We’ve seen kids work for 20 cents a day to buy a couple of potatoes when they go home after a full day of heavy manual labour." -- Karen Stauss

ATEST and its member organisations are working to address one of the underlying mechanisms in forced labour: global corporate supply chains. The coalition is urging lawmakers to adopt legislation that would require companies earning over 100 million dollars per year to file reports on their supply chain and labour management practices, both with U.S. regulators and on their websites.

Because of the complexity of global supply chains, companies are often unaware of coercive labour practices carried out by suppliers and subsidiaries.

“We’ve found that vulnerability to forced labour is pretty pervasive in a number of industries,” Quinn Kepes, the research programme manager for Verite, an NGO focused on labour issues in global supply chains, told IPS. “A large number of companies are at a high risk of having trafficking in their supply chains.”

Businesses often turn to labour brokers at all levels of the supply chain. These brokers, who face very little regulation, can charge workers exorbitant recruitment fees and have received widespread criticism for misrepresenting the work that the people they recruit will be doing.

“Labour recruitment has been a huge issue if you look at the construction of U.S. Army installations in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Karen Stauss, the director of programmes for Free the Slaves, a Washington-based advocacy group, told IPS. “There’s been a lot of documentation of trafficking of workers from South Asia to the Middle East for low-cost construction.”

The U.S. mainland is also not immune to unethical labour recruiters.

In 2012, Omelyan Botsvynyuk, a Ukrainian, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for smuggling Ukrainian citizens to the United States under false pretences. Although Botsvynyuk and his brothers had promised the men that they would be paid 500 dollars a month, they were forced to clean major retail store chains, such as Target and Walmart, without pay.

Botsvynyuk reportedly told the men that they could not leave until they had worked off their debts, ranging to as high as 50,000 dollars.

Such debt bondage is a common tactic used by exploitative recruiters and businesses. Employers can directly levy debts on employees for the use of living facilities and tools needed for the job, such as mining equipment.

“In some cases, debt bondage is happening to people who are not literate and don’t understand how debt and interest accumulates,” said Stauss. “They’re not even aware themselves of how debt is illegally exploited.”

Stauss says that the extraction of so-called conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo has also been found to rely heavily on child labour. Such materials are key components in modern consumer goods.

“We’ve seen kids work there for 20 cents a day to buy a couple of potatoes when they go home after a full day of heavy manual labour,” Stauss said. “Those minerals connect to many different things like laptops, cell phones and electronics.”

Child labour is equally present in the manufacturing sector. A new report from Harvard University found 1,406 specific cases of child labour in the Indian carpet-making industry, which exports extensively to the United States and other industrialised countries.

The Harvard researchers estimate that forced labour makes up 45 percent of the industry’s work force, with child labour specifically accounting for around a fifth.

Encouraging transparency

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama named January the National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. “As we work to dismantle trafficking networks and help survivors rebuild their lives, we must also address the underlying forces that push so many into bondage,” the president stated.

Although currently proposed legislation would not compel companies to take any actual action on questionable supply chain practices, the groups say public pressure is building.

“Right now we don’t have a piece of legislation introduced,” ATEST’s Sperber told IPS. “But [two representatives] in the House of Representatives are supportive of an introduction of legislation that has already been introduced in past Congresses.”

A House of Representatives bill that would require greater transparency for third parties bringing foreign workers to the U.S. is currently sitting in committee.

This proposal “would combat human trafficking, forced labour and exploitation by requiring that workers coming to the United States receive accurate information about the job, visa and working conditions,” Shandra Woworuntu, an anti-trafficking lobbyist, told Monday’s briefing. “The bill also ensures that no recruitment fee is charged to the workers and requires the recruitment agency to register with the Department of Labour.”

Woworuntu herself was flown to the U.S. by a third party agency promising her a job at a hotel in Chicago. After paying a recruitment fee and arriving in the United States, she says the man who picked her up confiscated her passport and forced her into sexual slavery until she was able to escape.

While Congress has not taken action on transparency legislation at the federal level, the state of California has already introduced similar legislation. Yet while that law, known as SB-657, was slated to take effect starting at the beginning of 2012, advocates note that the state has yet to fully implement the law.

“Two years later, [SB-657] hasn’t been implemented,” Ima Matul, a coordinator for the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), told IPS. “We’ve been asking the California attorney-general for those corporations and businesses to release any trafficking or slavery involved in their supply chains.”

In the meantime, CAST has endorsed a website called Know the Chain, which catalogues corporations and their supply chains, allowing consumers to better ascertain whether or not forced labour is involved in the products they buy.

“While some companies have not yet posted disclosure statements, others have taken an important first step by posting a statement addressing the majority of SB-657 requirements,” Know the Chain states on its website.

Thus, while California’s state law lacks enforcement, some companies are voluntarily disclosing information on their supply chains and labour practices.

“Kmart, for example, just joined the movement and promised not to have slavery involved in their supply chain,” says Matul.

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Political Duels Collapse Into Sexist Squabbles http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/political-duels-collapse-sexist-squabbles/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=political-duels-collapse-sexist-squabbles http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/political-duels-collapse-sexist-squabbles/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 02:55:30 +0000 Marwaan Macan-Markar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130864 Supaa Prordeengam, a 48-year-old businesswoman, came to take part in the anti-government rallies that have been continuing in the Thai capital for nearly three months now. But disturbed by the sexist speeches emanating from the protest platforms, she said, “We need to be critical, not invade women’s rights.” The favourite target of the vitriol spewed […]

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Political protests in Thailand have led to gender attacks on the Prime Minister. Credit: Kalinga Seneviratne/IPS.

Political protests in Thailand have led to gender attacks on the Prime Minister. Credit: Kalinga Seneviratne/IPS.

By Marwaan Macan-Markar
BANGKOK, Jan 28 2014 (IPS)

Supaa Prordeengam, a 48-year-old businesswoman, came to take part in the anti-government rallies that have been continuing in the Thai capital for nearly three months now. But disturbed by the sexist speeches emanating from the protest platforms, she said, “We need to be critical, not invade women’s rights.”

The favourite target of the vitriol spewed by the opposition-led agitation is Yingluck Shinawatra, the country’s first woman prime minister. The 46-year-old leader of the governing Pheu Thai Party has been called all sorts of abusive names by the opposition that has occupied five busy intersections here.“Sexism has been prevalent in Thailand for a long time, but it has lately become a part of political tactics."

It is such words that prompted reflection by Supaa, who is from Samut Sakhon, a province that borders the Thai capital. She was here to join tens of thousands of protestors on the streets and on Blue Sky, the television station that amplifies the views of the opposition Democrat Party.

“They are very emotional, the speeches,” she told IPS. “But it is not right to talk about sexual stuff.”

Many like her have been witness to how the original rallying cry – against government corruption, abuse of parliamentary majority and disrespect of the country’s revered monarch – has morphed into demagogy.

Those making the speeches are from Thailand’s educated class that is being tapped by Suthep Thaugsubana, former Democrat Party deputy chief and leader of the street agitators. The political veteran of over 30 years is eyeing them for his pool of “good people” to serve in his non-elected “People’s Councils” that, he believes, should govern the country for at least a year.

The open comments at the Bangkok rallies, and the rapturous applause they receive, have prompted some soul-searching in the Southeast Asian kingdom about the spectre of ugly sexism in the male-dominated political landscape.

It has taken a while, but Thailand’s mainstream women’s rights groups have finally broken their silence.

“When a network of women’s rights groups issued a statement denouncing a medical doctor for his ugly sexist attacks on caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, I admit I felt quite relieved,” wrote Sanitsuda Ekachai, a columnist on social justice issues with the English language Bangkok Post. Going by her weekly commentaries, she is certainly no fan of the Yingluck administration.

“For a long time I’ve been wondering why women’s rights groups have remained silent about the slew of degrading, sexist tirades made against Ms. Yingluck by various detractors.”

Among the few groups that have raised the red flag are the Coalition of Democracy and Sexual Diversity Rights. It has berated the “use of sexist, misogynist and denigrating language” as a political weapon. “The continuation of this rhetoric of violence, discrimination and hate cannot be permitted,” it said in a statement.

Yingluck’s rise as the country’s first woman leader has served as a reality check for Thailand’s feminist and women’s rights advocates. The latter gave her a cold shoulder when she led the Phue Thai Party to a thumping win at the July 2011 general elections to become, at 44, the youngest prime minister in 60 years.

Her position, they argued, was not the result of her own doing but the machinations of her elder brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, the twice-elected former prime minister who was deposed in a military coup in September 2006. Statements by Thaksin, who lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption, did not help.

When he plucked Yingluck out of her career as a businesswoman and nominated her to head the Phue Thai weeks before the poll, he publicly declared that the younger Shinawatra was his “clone”.

The typical display of Thaksin’s arrogance was grabbed by the largely Bangkok-based women’s groups known for being closer to the Democrats, who have not won a parliamentary majority in 20 years.

“How can we be proud? The whole world knows it’s about Thaksin,” commented a leading figure at the Gender and Development Research Institute in a newspaper report, under the headline, “Thailand’s first female PM no victory for feminism”.

“It is worth noting that while many leading Thai feminists are lukewarm at best or dismissive at worst at Yingluck’s sudden rise to power, men seem more willing to withhold judgement at this early stage,” Kaewmala, a prolific Thai blogger who comments on social issues, wrote at the time. “As most observers are tentative of the kind of leadership Ms. Yingluck will offer, her current support comes more often from men.”

By August last year, when Yingluck marked her second anniversary as premier, she was receiving kudos for a non-confrontational and consultative style of leadership that had managed to usher a sense of normalcy on Bangkok’s streets. Comparisons were made between her elected administration and the two-and-a-half-year administration that preceded her – a coalition government led by the Democrats that came to power through a backroom deal hatched by the powerful military.

The Democrat administration was tainted by the bloody showdown on Bangkok’s streets in May 2010 during a clash between pro-Thaksin protesters and the military. It left 91 people dead, at least 80 of them civilians, and more than 2,000 injured.

Yingluck’s beleaguered administration has avoided a hawkish response, enabling the would-be revolutionaries rallying to topple her government to lay siege on many government buildings. Confrontations with the riot police, clashes between the agitators and pro-Thaksin sympathisers, sporadic shootings and grenades lobbed at rally sites have resulted in nine deaths, with over 550 injured since November.

But what is really different since the 2010 showdown on Bangkok’s streets is the “sexist war” – perhaps reflecting the growing frustration of the agitators and a new low in Thailand’s political turmoil that has steadily divided the country since the 2006 coup.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai academic at the Southeast Asian Centre at Kyoto University in Japan told IPS, “Sexism has been prevalent in Thailand for a long time, but it has lately become a part of political tactics. It has intensified since Yingluck become prime minister. I have never seen anything like this, on this scale.”

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When the Suicide Pilots Said Goodbye http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/suicide-pilots-said-goodbye/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=suicide-pilots-said-goodbye http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/suicide-pilots-said-goodbye/#comments Sun, 26 Jan 2014 04:19:42 +0000 Suvendrini Kakuchi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130769 They were known as the Kamikaze who swooped down on enemy ships with their bomb-laden planes – with the pilots inside. A museum here is now planning to register the last letters of Japan’s famed World War II suicide bombers as a Unesco Memory of the World document. The museum is calling these records “symbolic” […]

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A kamikaze plane on display at the Peace Museum of Kamikaze Pilots in Chiran in Japan. Credit: Suvendrini Kakuchi/IPS.

A kamikaze plane on display at the Peace Museum of Kamikaze Pilots in Chiran in Japan. Credit: Suvendrini Kakuchi/IPS.

By Suvendrini Kakuchi
CHIRAN (Japan), Jan 26 2014 (IPS)

They were known as the Kamikaze who swooped down on enemy ships with their bomb-laden planes – with the pilots inside. A museum here is now planning to register the last letters of Japan’s famed World War II suicide bombers as a Unesco Memory of the World document. The museum is calling these records “symbolic” of the country’s commitment to peace.

The move comes amid continuing political tension between Japan and its former East Asian colonies, China and the Korean peninsula, over its war past.

The Kamikaze pilots were a special task force assigned to protect their country from Western Allied forces at the tail end of World War II. The official number of Kamikaze deaths is 1,036.“Goodbye. I have nothing more than wishes for your happiness.”

Storytellers employed by the Peace Museum of Kamikaze Pilots describe them as brave young men who sacrificed themselves to protect Japan from the invading Western colonial powers.

“The last letters written by the Kamikaze before they took off on their planes show that remarkably they did not hate their enemy but rather only wanted to serve their country and protect their families,” said Satoshi Yamaki, the curator.

“The registering of their messages as a world document is to recognise their courage and Japan’s pledge to never enter a war again. Their letters are symbolic of Japan’s commitment to peace.”

Yamaki heads the impressive Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots launched in 1988. It nestles among the quiet green hills of Chiran town in Kagoshima prefecture on the island of Kyushu.

Chiran was host to a former airstrip where the Kamikaze took off in 1944 to dive with their planes into American naval ships approaching Okinawa. The southernmost island is the site of the only land battle fought in Japan before surrender on Aug. 15, 1945.

“Goodbye. I have nothing more than wishes for your happiness,” 23-year-old Capt Toshio Anazawa wrote to his sweetheart. “Forget the past. Live in the present,” Lieutenant Aihana Shoi Heart wrote in a letter.

Funded by the local Southern Kyushu government, the museum hosts more than 700,000 visitors annually.

The move to resurrect the Kamikaze stories, almost 70 years after Japan surrendered to U.S. forces and pledged to become a nation of peace, symbolises the mixed emotions and the continuous struggle of the Japanese to come to terms with their nation’s fractured war past, say analysts.

“The story of the Kamikaze is tragic and courageous and there is a national yearning for world recognition. But the Japanese mourning has become increasingly sinister against the [backdrop of] political exploitation of Japan’s war past,” said Yoshio Hotta, an expert on Japan-U.S. relations.

A prominent visit in December by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a nationalist, to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where war criminals are enshrined among the dead, exposes vividly how the country remains mired in its difficult past.

While Abe declared he went “simply to pay respects to Japan’s war dead” and also to pledge not to wage war again, the visit provoked condemnation by Chinese and South Korean leaders who accuse Japan of continuing to be unrepentant of its past aggression in Asia.

Japan occupied northern China in the 1930s and is also held responsible for the infamous Nanking massacre in 1937 when the Japanese army was accused of raping and killing civilians and of pillage.

The Korean peninsula was invaded from 1910 to 1945. Japan imposed a brutal leadership, including a ban on the local language and culture. During World War II, tens of thousands of Koreans were conscripted into the Japanese army and as forced labour for Japanese companies.

The controversial system of “comfort women” – mostly young Korean women and also others in Chinese Manchuria and other parts of Asia who had to provide sex to Japanese soldiers – remains a simmering bilateral issue.

Abe’s Yasukuni decision has led to greater volatility between Japan and China, which are already clashing over territorial claims. The Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea are claimed by both countries. The Chinese name for the islands is Daiyou.

Reflecting historical bitterness, a scheduled meeting between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Abe to discuss the comfort women issue was cancelled last month by Korea. The United States also took the unprecedented step of criticising the visit.

But old timers remember the Kamikaze with reverence.

Sho Horiyama, 91, a former Kamikaze who visits the Chiran museum every May to pay respects to his former colleagues, expresses frustration over the long unresolved clash with Japan’s neighbours over war history.

“When I heard Emperor Hirohito declare Japan’s surrender on Aug. 15, I cried that I had not died for my country,” he told IPS. “Why cannot Japan be proud of the Kamikaze after their incredible sacrifice?”

Horiyama was 22 in 1945 and ready for his mission that was thwarted when his country was defeated. More than a million people died, including 250,000 Japanese soldiers, during the war, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

Takeshi Kawatoko, 86, a storyteller at the Chiran museum, says, “Can we not respect their bravery and commitment to their country?”

He told IPS that the Kamikaze represent the Japanese samurai traits of putting loyalty over personal needs, a character that is deeply embedded in the national psyche.

“This is what I want the world to understand. It fills me with sadness when we cannot explain the past to Japan’s younger generation that has grown up hardly knowing the brave deeds of their ancestors.”

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New Leader in CAR, Same Human Rights Crisis? http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/new-leader-car-violent-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-leader-car-violent-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/new-leader-car-violent-crisis/#comments Wed, 22 Jan 2014 20:22:37 +0000 Bryant Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130572 The appointment of a new transitional president, Catherine Samba-Panza, in the Central African Republic (CAR) is generating optimism in some quarters that the country’s first female leader will manage to quell mounting ethnic strife. President Samba-Panza was appointed on Monday, in the midst of inter-communal violence between Muslim Seleka and Christian militias. “As CAR’s first […]

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Since the Seleka coalition of rebels took power last March, over 200 000 people have been uprooted from their homes due to conflict. Credit: EU/ECHO/M.Morzaria/cc by 2.0

Since the Seleka coalition of rebels took power last March, over 200 000 people have been uprooted from their homes due to conflict. Credit: EU/ECHO/M.Morzaria/cc by 2.0

By Bryant Harris
WASHINGTON, Jan 22 2014 (IPS)

The appointment of a new transitional president, Catherine Samba-Panza, in the Central African Republic (CAR) is generating optimism in some quarters that the country’s first female leader will manage to quell mounting ethnic strife.

President Samba-Panza was appointed on Monday, in the midst of inter-communal violence between Muslim Seleka and Christian militias.“Right now the country’s on the brink of total anarchy.” -- Philippe Bolopion

“As CAR’s first woman head of state since the country’s independence, and with her special background in human rights work and mediation, [Samba-Panza] has a unique opportunity to advance the political transition process, bring all the parties together to end the violence, and move her country toward elections not later than February 2015,” John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, said Tuesday.

Yet some analysts here have quickly pushed back on the idea that the appointment of the new president offers a renewed chance for peace.

“There’s a predatory elite that has more or less sucked the country dry,” J. Peter Pham, the director of the Africa Centre at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, told IPS. “Unfortunately they’ve just elected a member of that elite to be the interim head of state.”

While Samba-Panza is a Christian, she enjoyed close ties to the previous president, Michel Djotodia.

“She’s one of the Christian politicians who had thrown in their lot with the Seleka,” Pham says. “She has never been elected so much as a dogcatcher.”

Djotodia appointed Samba-Panza mayor of Bangui, the capital, in April, shortly after seizing the presidency. Although Samba-Panza was technically elected transitional president, the election took place within the National Transition Council, which is comprised of members appointed exclusively by Djotodia.

Pham believes that a Samba-Panza presidency raises questions about the international community’s long-term commitment to CAR.

“There’s no appetite in the international community, so there’s no long-term plan for the mission,” he says. “So I’m afraid what we’re actually facing is this so-called election spun in as positive a light as possible and used to cover an ignominious withdrawal.”

For the time being, the United States is still sending financial aid to help alleviate the crisis. On Monday, the government announced an additional 30 million dollars in relief funding for CAR, bringing the total U.S. contribution to humanitarian efforts in the country to approximately 45 million dollars.

That’s in addition to 101 million dollars designated for restoring security and 7.5 million dollars to support reconciliation efforts.

“One fifth of Bangui is now living in a vast, miserable encampment as terrified citizens seek safety from violence and looting,” Nancy Lindborg, an official with USAID, Washington’s main foreign aid arm, said Monday after a two-day trip to CAR.

“The U.S. government has urgently ramped up our assistance to help deliver lifesaving food, water, and medical help to the more than 2.6 million women, children and men in urgent need throughout the country.”

Inter-communal violence

CAR’s current crisis erupted when the Seleka seized control of Bangui, ousting former president Francois Bozize and installing Djotodia in April.

“Since the Seleka took over power in March they have unleashed a wave of killings, burning entire villages, looting and viciously attacking civilians on a pretty large scale,” Philippe Bolopion, the United Nations director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), a watchdog group, tells IPS. “They descend on a village, kill a few people, chase everyone out of their houses, loot everything they can, burn the houses and move on.”

President Djotodia attempted to dissolve the Seleka because of the extremity of their war crimes and attacks on civilians.

“In late September, Djotodia decided he would dismiss [the Seleka] because they were getting out of control, and that’s when things went downhill,” the Atlantic Council’s Pham says. “He dismissed them but they had no place to go, and he never had the loyalty of the people on whom he hoisted himself.”

The Seleka continue to operate outside of government control and target civilians, which has led to clashes with the predominantly Christian militias. While former president Bozize initially created these militias – known as anti-balaka – to combat banditry, they began responding to Seleka abuses on Christians with similar attacks on Muslims, rapidly escalating the violence.

“They have targeted Muslim civilians only because they are Muslim. Their attacks are just as brutal and as vicious as the Seleka attacks were,” says HRW’s Bolopion. “When I was in CAR in November I talked to a Muslim villager who described how anti-balaka came to his house in the morning to take his grandkids, kids, and two wives out and slit every one of their throats.”

Although the conflict in CAR appears to be purely sectarian on the surface, the appointment of a Christian to the presidency by other Djotodia appointees indicates that the conflict is more nuanced. Pham posits that the violence is ethnic, rather than religious.

“The political elite have never had religion as a divisive issue, so religion isn’t really a source of conflict,” he says. “It’s not a religious conflict but religion marks people’s ethnic groups.”

The Seleka themselves have even killed Muslims living in majority Christian areas.

Tensions between the Seleka and anti-balaka reached a boiling point in December, as clashes between the two groups and their attacks on civilians drastically increased. Even though President Djotodia resigned on 10 January in an attempt to alleviate the chaos, the violence continues to raise fears of genocide.

“The situation has not stabilised at all on the ground, and we are very worried about mass retaliations against the Muslim population now that the Seleka are on the run,” says Bolopion. “Right now the country’s on the brink of total anarchy.”

Two-track solution

As the violence continues, analysts have made proposals to help end the conflict.

“We think you need a two-track approach,” explains Bolopion. “One track is to bolster the capacity of civilian power on the ground. But we must also work on many tasks to reconstruct the country such as the longer-term solution of rebuilding the army, justice system and basic function of administration.”

France currently has 1,600 troops on the ground in CAR, while the European Union is expected to offer 500 soldiers to supplement French forces.

“They need all the help they can get because it’s very difficult,” Bolopion says.

Pham notes that the United Nations has authorised a force of up to 10,000, but states that nowhere near that number has materialised. “What we’re seeing in CAR is simply the evaporation of what few institutions there were,” he says.

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