Inter Press Service » Global Governance http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 16 Jan 2017 17:01:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.14 Inequality (I): Half of World’s Wealth, in the Pockets of Just Eight Menhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-i-half-of-worlds-wealth-in-the-pockets-of-just-eight-men/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-i-half-of-worlds-wealth-in-the-pockets-of-just-eight-men http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/inequality-i-half-of-worlds-wealth-in-the-pockets-of-just-eight-men/#comments Mon, 16 Jan 2017 06:17:39 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148511 Article I of a three-part series focuses on the alarmingly deepening inequality. Part II deals with the staggering impact of inequality on women, and Part III with the future and quality of jobs. ]]> Credit: Marianela Jarroud / IPS

Credit: Marianela Jarroud / IPS

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 16 2017 (IPS)

Just eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, according to a major new report by an international confederation of 19 organisations working in more than 90 countries.

Oxfam International’s report, ‘An economy for the 99 per cent’, which was released on Jan.16, shows that the gap between rich and poor is “far greater than had been feared.”

“The richest are accumulating wealth at such an astonishing rate that the world could see its first trillionaire in just 25 years. To put this figure in perspective – you would need to spend 1 million dollars every day for 2738 years to spend 1 trillion dollars.”

These Are the World’s 8 Richest People:

1. Bill Gates: America founder of Microsoft (net worth $75 billion)
2. Amancio Ortega: Spanish founder of Inditex which owns the Zara fashion chain (net worth $67 billion)
3. Warren Buffett: American CEO and largest shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway (net worth $60.8 billion)
4. Carlos Slim Helu: Mexican owner of Grupo Carso (net worth: $50 billion)
5. Jeff Bezos: American founder, chairman and chief executive of Amazon (net worth: $45.2 billion)
6. Mark Zuckerberg: American chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Facebook (net worth $44.6 billion)
7. Larry Ellison: American co-founder and CEO of Oracle (net worth $43.6 billion)
8. Michael Bloomberg: American founder, owner and CEO of Bloomberg LP (net worth: $40 billion)

Oxfam’s calculations are based on global wealth distribution data provided by the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Data book 2016.

The wealth of the world’s richest people was calculated using Forbes' billionaires list last published in March 2016.

The report details how big business and the super-rich are fuelling the inequality crisis by dodging taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics.

“New and better data on the distribution of global wealth – particularly in India and China – indicates that the poorest half of the world has less wealth than had been previously thought.”

Had this new data been available last year, the report adds, it would have shown that nine billionaires owned the same wealth as the poorest half of the planet, and not 62, as Oxfam calculated at the time.

Obscene!

On this, Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said: “It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than 2 dollars a day. Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy.

“Across the world, people are being left behind. Their wages are stagnating yet corporate bosses take home million dollar bonuses; their health and education services are cut while corporations and the super-rich dodge their taxes; their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite.”

Oxfam’s report shows “how our broken economies are funnelling wealth to a rich elite at the expense of the poorest in society, the majority of who are women.” (See Part II of IPS series).

Tax Dodging

OXFAM’s report also tackles the critical issue of tax dodging.

Corporate tax dodging, it informs, costs poor countries at least 100 billion dollars every year.

“This is enough money to provide an education for the 124 million children who aren’t in school and fund healthcare interventions that could prevent the deaths of at least six million children every year.”

The report outlines how the super-rich use a network of tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of tax and an army of wealth managers to secure returns on their investments that would not be available to ordinary savers.

Contrary to popular belief, many of the super-rich are not ‘self-made’. Oxfam analysis shows over half the world’s billionaires either inherited their wealth or accumulated it through industries, which are prone to corruption and cronyism.

It also demonstrates how big business and the super-rich use their money and connections to ensure government policy works for them.

World Income Inequality in Focus at UNU-WIDER – United Nations University. Photo: Ted McGrath. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (cropped).

World Income Inequality in Focus at UNU-WIDER – United Nations University. Photo: Ted McGrath. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (cropped).

A Human Economy?

“Governments are not helpless in the face of technological change and market forces. If politicians stop obsessing with GDP [Gross Domestic Product], and focus on delivering for all their citizens and not just a wealthy few, a better future is possible for everyone.”

Oxfam’s blueprint for a more human economy includes a series of measures that should be adopted by governments to end the extreme concentration of wealth to end poverty.

These include increasing taxes on both wealth and high incomes to ensure a more level playing field, and to generate funds needed to invest in healthcare, education and job creation; to work together to ensure workers are paid a decent wage; and to put a stop to tax dodging and the race to the bottom on corporate tax.

These steps also include supporting companies that benefit their workers and society rather than just their shareholders.

As well, governments should ensure economies work for women, and must help to dismantle the barriers to women’s economic progress such as access to education and the unfair burden of unpaid care work.

Does Anybody Care?

Here, a key question arises: national governments, the UN, the EU, and major civil society and human rights organisations, all know about the on-going, obscene inequality. How come that nothing effective has been done do far to prevent it or at least reduce it?

On this, Anna Ratcliff, OXFAM’s International’s Media officer, Inequality and “Even It Up Campaign,” comments to IPS that “tackling inequality properly will mean breaking with the economic model we have been following for thirty years.”

“It will also mean taking on and overcoming the powerful interests of the super-rich and corporations who are benefiting from the status quo. So it is not surprising that despite global outcry at the inequality crisis, very little has changed.”

Nevertheless, says Ratcliff, some governments are bucking the trend, and managing to reduce inequality, listening to the demands of the majority not the minority.

Asked for specific examples, Ratcliff says that some governments, like Namibia’s, have managed to decrease inequality by taxing the rich more and spending it on things such as free secondary education that help reduce the gap between rich and poor.

“These countries show that another world is possible, if we can reject this broken economic model and stop the undue influence of the rich.”

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Populist Leaders Endanger Human Rights: Advocacy Organisationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/#comments Thu, 12 Jan 2017 22:56:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148492 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/feed/ 0 Free Trade Agreements Promote Corporate Interestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/free-trade-agreements-promote-corporate-interests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-trade-agreements-promote-corporate-interests http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/free-trade-agreements-promote-corporate-interests/#comments Thu, 12 Jan 2017 10:02:26 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148488 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. ]]> Trump's ‘Put America First’ alternative of negotiating bilateral trade deals will be problematic for its negotiating partners, especially smaller and developing countries with modest negotiating capacity. Credit: IPS

Trump's ‘Put America First’ alternative of negotiating bilateral trade deals will be problematic for its negotiating partners, especially smaller and developing countries with modest negotiating capacity. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 12 2017 (IPS)

So-called free-trade agreements (FTAs) are generally presumed to promote trade liberalization, but in fact, they do much more to strengthen the power of the most influential transnational corporations of the dominant partner involved. While FTAs typically reduce some barriers to the international trade in goods and services, some provisions strengthen private monopolies and corporate power.

Not surprisingly, FTA processes are increasingly widely seen as essentially corrupt. They are typically opaque, especially to the producer and consumer interests affected. The eventual outcomes are often poorly understood by the public and often misrepresented by those pretending to be experts.

For example, many economists from the Peterson Institute of International Economics and the World Bank have continued to claim very significant growth gains from trade liberalization due to the TPPA which have been refuted by US government economists from the Department of Agriculture and International Trade Commission.

And while many in the transnational elite who benefit remain committed to yet more FTAs as means to extend and expand their power and interests, public trust and hope have declined as people become aware of some of their most onerous provisions and likely consequences.

Thus, people are voting against the politicians held responsible for supporting FTAs regardless of their party affiliations. Brexit and the election of Mr. Trump are examples of such global trends.

Do FTAs promote freer trade?
While FTAs may increase trade and trade flows, but are they worth the effort, considering the paltry growth gains generated? There are considerable doubts that some FTA provisions — e.g., those strengthening intellectual rights (IPRs) or investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) rules unaccountable to national judiciaries — enhance international trade, economic growth or the public interest.

Greater trade and trade liberalization may potentially improve the welfare of all as well as accelerate growth and structural transformation in developing countries. But such outcomes do not necessarily follow, but need to be ensured through complementary policies, institutions and reforms.

Furthermore, trade liberalization on false premises has also undermined existing productive and export capacities and capabilities without generating new ones in their place, i.e., causing retrogression rather than ensuring progress. Such effects have not only set back economic development, but often, also food security, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Freer and fairer trade without FTAs
More people now realize that trade expansion compatible with welfare and development aspirations can happen without FTAs, e.g., through unilateral measures. This was evident when the US trade embargo on Cuba was dropped, and will happen if US trade relations with Iran improve. Similarly, US-Vietnam trade should expand rapidly in the absence of decades-long discriminatory and onerous US legislation imposed on Vietnam following the end of the War in 1975.

During the recent US presidential campaign, both presidential aspirants attributed the US trade deficit with China to the latter’s alleged currency manipulation. While many developing countries, especially in East Asia, manage their currencies for various reasons, the recent market consensus is that the renminbi has been reasonably aligned for some time, while the currencies of some other countries, mainly US allies in East Asia, are more significantly undervalued. US trade negotiators have long complained that they cannot get enforceable currency rules into any FTA as it is so easily prone to abuse.

More fundamentally, such a solution does not address the underlying problems of the international monetary system which confers an ‘exorbitant privilege’ on the US. With greatly liberalized capital accounts in recent decades, many ‘emerging market economies’ have experienced large and sudden outflows of capital. Hence, they have resorted to the expensive and contractionary practice of so-called ‘self-insurance’, by accumulating huge foreign exchange reserves in case of need for emergency deployment.

This has had substantial opportunity costs for emerging economies as these reserves could have been used more productively instead of keeping them in low-yield US Treasury bonds. Besides transferring seigniorage gains (to the currency issuing government due to the difference between the face value of currency and their production costs) to the US, emerging countries are, in effect, helping to finance US deficits and expenditure.

Multilateralism still best option
If President-elect Trump lives up to his campaign rhetoric, all plurilateral and multilateral free trade agreements will be affected. But his ‘Put America First’ alternative of negotiating bilateral trade deals favourable to the US is also hugely problematic because of the heavy demands it will place on the US as well as its negotiating partners, especially smaller and developing countries with modest negotiating capacity.

And while Trump’s main preoccupations have been with the goods trade and US jobs, there has been no indication so far that he will not continue to promote US corporate interests more generally, e.g., on intellectual property, investor rights, financial liberalization and dispute settlement, as part of ostensible comprehensive trade negotiations. Such concerns have been reinforced by the choice of recent appointees to senior trade-related positions in the new administration.

Determinants of trade flows and patterns are many and varied, including incomes (or, purchasing power), growth rates, tariffs, non-tariff barriers, exchange rates as well as import and export rules. The World Trade Organization (WTO) and other existing multilateral institutions can do much to facilitate greater trade in the interest of all if given a chance to succeed.

Worryingly, there has been no indication so far that the next US administration will not undermine multilateral trade negotiations under WTO auspices. Unfortunately, the current Doha Round of trade negotiations has been prevented by powerful corporate interests and the governments. Concluding a truly progressive trade agreement would not only meet developmental aspirations as well as advance national, public, consumer and producer interests, but would also help ensure a more balanced and robust global economic recovery.

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Mário Soares, a Rebel with a Cause – Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/mario-soares-a-rebel-with-a-cause-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mario-soares-a-rebel-with-a-cause-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/mario-soares-a-rebel-with-a-cause-freedom/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 08:07:08 +0000 an IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148456 Photo: Mario Soares attending a rally to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, 25 April 2014 in Lisbon. Photo: FraLiss. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Photo: Mario Soares attending a rally to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, 25 April 2014 in Lisbon. Photo: FraLiss. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

By an IPS Correspondent
LISBON, Jan 10 2017 (IPS)

Hardly a leader could reap so much respect, even from most relentless political rivals, both throughout his life and after his death on Jan 7 at the age of 92, like Portuguese Mário Soares.

Characterised as “an indefatigable political animal,” by the New York Times, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres hailed the commitment to freedom and democracy that made Soares “one of those rare political leaders of true European and global stature.”

The UN chief, who is himself Portuguese, said Soares has left an “indelible mark” on political life in Portugal, the result of his “steadfast and courageous political commitment and the principles and values that he consistently pursued throughout his life. Liberty was always his foundational value.”

Soares Legacy Goes Far Beyond Portugal – UN Chief

To a great extent, Guterres said, we are indebted to him for the democracy, the freedom and the respect for fundamental rights that all Portuguese have been able to enjoy in recent decades, and that are today established values in our country.”

Paying tribute to Soares, “who will, I am certain, remain in our memory and in the history of our country as a man of freedom, who wanted all to live in liberty, and fought for his entire life to realize that hope,” the UN Secretary-General added that the late leader’s legacy goes far beyond Portugal.

Indeed, this is not only because Soares was responsible for Portugal’s full integration into the international community, “but also because his commitment to freedom and democracy make him one of those rare political leaders of true European and global stature,” concluded Guterres.

Mário Soares was Prime Minister of Portugal from 1976 to 1978 in the aftermath of the Carnation Revolution that ended decades of right-wing dictatorship. He returned as PM in the early 1980s, and served as Portugal’s president between 1986 and 1996.

After flirting briefly with communism at university and then embracing Portugal’s democratic movement as a Socialist, Soares was jailed 12 times and then exiled for his political activities during the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.

The Carnation Revolution

Soares played a key role after the 1974 Carnation Revolution –a military-led coup that soon turned in a massive popular movement of civil protest characterised by carnations that were handed out and placed in the barrels of soldiers’ rifles and tanks—that put an end to 48 years of Salazar rule.

A fierce critic of the military Junta that ruled Portugal for the next two years, Soares in 1976 became the first post-war democratically elected prime minister.

Soares spearheaded the country’s entry into the European Union. But, in recent years, he became a vocal critic of the austerity policies associated with the massive euro-zone bailout Portugal sought in 2011.

He left the presidency in 1996 after the maximum tenure in the office permitted under the constitution, with his popularity at a peak. For years, he remained one of the country’s most influential politicians.

He ran again for president in 2006 at the age of 82, but finished in third.

“President Mário Soares was born and graduated to be a fighter, to have a cause to fight – freedom,” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said. “Soares never gave up on a free Portugal, a free Europe, a free world and what was decisive… he was always victorious.”

IPS President and Member of International Board of Trustees

As part of his unflagging commitment to freedom –in this case freedom of expression—lawyer, historian and politician Mário Soares, chaired the International Board of Trustees of Inter Press Service (IPS).

He graduated in Historical-Philosophical Sciences in 1951 and in Law in 1957 at Lisbon University. He taught at a private secondary school and was director of the Colégio Moderno, in Lisbon.

Soares practised law for some years and during his exile in France he was “Chargé de Cours” at Vincennes University and at the Sorbonne. He was associate professor at the Faculty of Arts of Haute Bretagne (Rennes).

More recently, he was guest professor in International Relations at the School of Economics of the University of Coimbra.

Mário Soares was the fourth president of IPS International Board of Trustees, succeeding the agency’s founder, Roberto Savio; former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, and former Prime Minister of Japan, Toshiki Kaifu. UNESCO’s former director general, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, succeeded Mario Soares as president of IPS International Board of Trustees.

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Oceans, Tuberculosis and Killer Robots – the UN’s Diverse Agenda in 2017http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/oceans-tuberculosis-and-killer-robots-the-uns-diverse-agenda-in-2017/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oceans-tuberculosis-and-killer-robots-the-uns-diverse-agenda-in-2017 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/oceans-tuberculosis-and-killer-robots-the-uns-diverse-agenda-in-2017/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 02:12:25 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148445 200 million people worldwide rely on fishing and related industries for their livelihoods. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS.

200 million people worldwide rely on fishing and related industries for their livelihoods. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 10 2017 (IPS)

UN member states hope to reach agreement on a diverse range of global issues in 2017, from managing the world’s oceans to banning killer robots to stopping tuberculosis, one of the world’s deadliest diseases.

In recent years the UN has tackled big issues including ebola, the global migration crisis, financing for development and climate change, with varying degrees of success.

Many pressing environmental, humanitarian and development issues continue to fill the UN’s agenda – even as incoming President of the United States has argued that things will be different at the UN after his inauguration on 20 January.

Trump has suggested that the UN “is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.” However UN discussions have led the 71 year old organisation with 193 member states to create more than 560 international treaties.

Oceans and Life Below Water

One of the biggest meetings on the UN’s agenda this year is focused on the oceans or more specifically Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.

“The United Nations has the opportunity to drive profound change for the oceans in 2017,” Elizabeth Wilson, director, international ocean policy at the Pew Charitable Trusts told IPS.

In recent years the UN has tackled big issues including ebola, the global migration crisis, financing for development and climate change, with varying degrees of success.

“This event will provide UN member states an opportunity to assess progress on ocean conservation, make new commitments, and create meaningful partnerships,” she said.

The meeting – which will take place in New York from 5 to 9 June – is considered to be of global importance for many reasons. For example, according to a 2016 World Economic Forum report, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by the year 2050. Declining fish stocks will effect the more than two billion people worldwide who rely on fish as a source of protein. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation also estimates that 200 million people worldwide rely on fishing or related activities for their livelihoods, the vast majority of whom live in developing countries.

Another important related issue on the UN’s agenda in 2017 will be working towards creating a treaty to protect the high seas, the areas of the global oceans, which fall beyond any country’s sea borders, said Wilson.

Tuberculosis

The UN General Assembly has only ever convened special high-level meetings on two global health threats, HIV/AIDS and antimicrobial resistance. However in 2018, the General Assembly will meet to discuss Tuberculosis.

Although the decision to convene the special meeting has been welcomed, it will not come soon enough for the nearly two million people who will likely die of tuberculosis in 2017.

“The tuberculosis burden is much higher than we expected and the measures to be taken must be much more focused and serious than before,” Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership told IPS.

A series of global meetings will be held in 2017, in preparation for the 2018 meeting however, said Ditiu who also noted that these global meetings should not be seen as a silver bullet.

Although tuberculosis is treatable, the emergence of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in recent years is a major cause for concern. Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis is just one example of antimicrobial resistance – a serious health problem which world leaders addressed at the UN General Assembly in 2016.

Banning Nuclear Weapons and Killer Robots

Possibly the most ambitious item on the UN’s agenda in 2017 will be an attempt to create an international treaty for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The first session of the UN conference to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination will take place in New York from 27 to 31 March.

The treaty will be a more ambitious iteration of the already existing Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

However proponents of total abolition of nuclear weapons will face an even more challenging political context in 2017, with US President-elect Donald Trump appearing to have unpredictable views on nuclear weapons potentially at odds with the existing non-proliferation treaty which bans new countries from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Another, more contemporary issue on the UN’s agenda in 2017 will be killer robots. UN member states have agreed to begin talks to ban killer robots this year. According to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots the talks will “(bring) the world another step closer towards a prohibition on the weapons.” A similar agreement back in 1995, led to government agreeing to pre-emptively ban lasers that would permanently blind, according to the campaign.

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Trump, the Banks and the Bombhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-the-banks-and-the-bomb/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-the-banks-and-the-bomb http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-the-banks-and-the-bomb/#comments Sat, 07 Jan 2017 07:59:40 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148435 Nuclear weapon test at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: United States Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

Nuclear weapon test at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: United States Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 7 2017 (IPS)

When pro-nuclear disarmament organisations last October cheered the United Nations decision to start in 2017 negotiations on a global treaty banning these weapons, they probably did not expect that shortly after the US would elect Republican businessman Donald Trump as their 45th president. Much less that he would rush to advocate for increasing the US nuclear power.

The United Nations on Oct. 27, 2016 adopted a resolution to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons, putting an end to two decades of paralysis in world nuclear disarmament efforts.

At a meeting of the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and international security matters, 123 nations voted in favour of the resolution, 38 against it and 16 abstaining.

The resolution will set up a UN conference beginning in March 2017, which will be open to all member states, to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. The negotiations will continue in June and July this year.

The Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a civil society coalition active in 100 countries, hailed the adoption of the resolution as a major step forward, marking a “fundamental shift in the way that the world tackles this paramount threat.”

“For seven decades, the UN has warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons, and people globally have campaigned for their abolition. Today the majority of states finally resolved to outlaw these weapons,” said ICAN’s executive director, Beatrice Fihn.

Despite arm-twisting by a number of nuclear-armed states, the resolution was adopted in a landslide. A total of 57 nations were co-sponsors, with Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa taking the lead in drafting the resolution.

European Parliament’s Resolution

The UN vote came just hours after the European Parliament adopted its own resolution on this subject – 415 in favour, 124 against, 74 abstentions– inviting European Union member states to “participate constructively” in the 2017 year’s negotiations, ICAN noted.

Nuclear weapons remain the only weapons of mass destruction not yet outlawed in a comprehensive and universal manner, despite their well-documented catastrophic humanitarian and environmental impacts, the anti-nuke campaign chief warned.

“A treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons would strengthen the global norm against the use and possession of these weapons, closing major loopholes in the existing international legal regime and spurring long-overdue action on disarmament,” said Fihn.

“Today’s [Oct. 27, 2016] vote demonstrates very clearly that a majority of the world’s nations consider the prohibition of nuclear weapons to be necessary, feasible and urgent. They view it as the most viable option for achieving real progress on disarmament.”

Biological weapons, chemical weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions are all explicitly prohibited under international law. But only partial prohibitions currently exist for nuclear weapons.

ICAN also recalls that nuclear disarmament has been high on the UN agenda since the organisation’s formation in 1945. “Efforts to advance this goal have stalled in recent years, with nuclear-armed nations investing heavily in the modernisation of their nuclear forces.”

Other pro-nuclear disarmament organisations also welcomed the UN resolution. They included PAX, a partnership between IKV (Interchurch Peace Council) and Pax Christi; Soka Gakai International (SGI), a community-based Buddhist organisation that promotes peace, culture and education centered on respect for the dignity of life; and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), just to mention a few.

US Must Greatly Strengthen, Expand Its Nuclear Capability – Trump

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.  Photo: Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Wikipedia

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Wikipedia

The global ani-nuke movment, however, soon saw its joy being frustrated by the US president-elect Donald Trump, who in a tweet on Dec. 22, 2016, wrote:

Donald J. Trump Verified account ‏@realDonaldTrump : “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.

Trump’s announcement, if materialised, would imply one of the most insourmountable hardles facing the world anti-nuclear movement.

Is Your Bank Funding Nuclear Bombs?

Meanwhile, the international campaign to prevent private banks and financial companies from funding the production and modernisation of nuclear weapons has achieved a further step forward.

“Governments have decided to negotiate a nuclear weapons ban treaty in 2017, and now is the time for banks, pension funds and insurance companies to get ready and end financial relations with companies involved in nuclear weapons,” says Susi Snyder from PAX and author of a the Hall of Fame report.

“Around 400 private banks, pension funds and insurance companies continue to fund –with their clients’ money– the production of nuclear weapons.”

According to this study, 18 banks, controlling over 1.7 trillion Euros, are ready not to collaborate in the funding of atomic weapons, with policies that strictly prohibit any investment of any type in any kind of nuclear weapon-producing company.

These 18 banks are profiled in the Hall of Fame of the Don’t Bank on the Bomb 2016 edition, which was issued on Dec. 7, 2016. These Hall of Fame institutions are based in Australia, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The report also shows there are another 36 financial institutions with policies that specifically name nuclear weapons as a concern, and limit investment in some ways.

“Even though these policies have loopholes, they still demonstrate there is a stigma associated with investments in nuclear weapons. PAX calls on these institutions to strengthen their policies and Don’t Bank on the Bomb offers tailored recommendations for each financial institute in the Runners-Up.”

Investments are not neutral, warns the report. “Financing and investing are active choices, based on a clear assessment of a company and its plans. Institutions imposing limitations on investing in nuclear weapons producers are responding to the growing stigma against these weapons, designed to kill indiscriminately.”

All of the nuclear-armed countries are modernising their nuclear weapon arsenals, and Don’t Bank on the Bomb details how 27 private companies are producing key components to make nuclear weapons as well as the 390 banks, insurance companies and pension funds that still invest in nuclear weapon-producing companies, the report adds.

“As a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons is to be negotiated in 2017, states should include a prohibition on financing to provide an added incentive for the financial industry to exclude nuclear weapon associated companies from their investment universe, and raise the economic cost of nuclear weapons deployment, stockpiling and modernisation.”

Some Striking Facts about Nukes

The International Campaign against Nuclear Weapons summarises the most striking facts about this weapon of mass destruction:

Which countries have nuclear weapons and how many?

What are their effects on health and the environment?

Who supports a global ban on nuclear weapons?

What are the most significant events of the nuclear age?

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Threat of Famine Looms in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/threat-of-famine-looms-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=threat-of-famine-looms-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/threat-of-famine-looms-in-yemen/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 20:27:44 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148420 On 6 May 2016 in Yemen, a baby is screened for malnutrition at the UNICEF- supported Al-Jomhouri Hospital in Sa’ada. Credit: UNICEF/UN026928/Al-Zekri

On 6 May 2016 in Yemen, a baby is screened for malnutrition at the UNICEF- supported Al-Jomhouri Hospital in Sa’ada. Credit: UNICEF/UN026928/Al-Zekri

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

Millions of Yemenis could soon face widespread famine if no action is taken to improve food access through humanitarian or trade means, an early warning system has said.

Up to eight million Yemenis are severely food insecure while another 2 million are facing food insecurity at emergency levels, just one phase below famine, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) has found. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that the food-insecure population in the Middle Eastern nation could be even higher at up to 14.4 million, representing half of the population.

This has contributed to rising acute malnutrition and risk of mortality. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), almost 4.5 million are in need of treatment for malnutrition, including over 2 million children.

The ongoing conflict between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis has largely driven the food crisis in Yemen, which FEWS Net describes as the “largest food security emergency in the world.” The two-year civil war has left thousands dead and 3 million displaced, limiting humanitarian access and food availability on the market.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded system highlighted the need to improve humanitarian access in order to continue and increase much needed food and nutrition assistance.

Prior to the conflict, Yemen imported approximately 90 percent of its food.

Though current food assistance from organisations such as the World Food Program (WFP) is helping mitigate the crisis, FEWS NET noted that such operations alone have been insufficient to meet the country’s needs.

Action is also needed to ensure sustained commercial food trade. Prior to the conflict, Yemen imported approximately 90 percent of its food. The unrest has since disrupted the government and private sector’s ability to import food. Most recently, wheat imports were suspended in December, a staple grain for Yemenis.

Without such imports, humanitarian actors will also be unable to ensure local food availability.

Though food is still available on local markets, increased prices and reduced income have limited access to goods. WFP found that prices of red bean, sugar and onion were respectively 48 percent, 24 percent and 17 percent higher in November than in the pre-crisis period.

A major reduction in food import levels will only serve to worsen food security in the country.

“In a worst-case scenario, where food imports drop substantially for a sustained period of time or where conflict persistently prevents the flow of food to local markets, famine is possible,” FEWS NET reported.

In 2016, the UN requested almost $1.7 billion towards Yemen’s Humanitarian Response Plan. Approximately 40 percent remains unfunded.

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January Brings Changes for UN Security Councilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/january-brings-changes-for-un-security-council/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=january-brings-changes-for-un-security-council http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/january-brings-changes-for-un-security-council/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 01:55:53 +0000 Andy Hazel and Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148419 UN Secretary-General Anto—nio Guterres with Olof Skoog of Sweden, President of the UN Security Council for the month of January Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

UN Secretary-General Anto—nio Guterres with Olof Skoog of Sweden, President of the UN Security Council for the month of January Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

By Andy Hazel and Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

Five of the UN Security Council’s 15 seats were filled by new members this week, but a bigger shift in the council is expected later this month under the new US administration.

Sweden, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Italy replaced outgoing non-permanent members Spain, Malaysia, New Zealand, Angola and Venezuela.

They will join the other five non-permanent members – Japan, Egypt, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay – as well as the five permanent members of the council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The council’s five permanent members are considered to be the most powerful, since they hold the ability to veto any vote they disagree with.

This is why the change in the United States administration may signal a greater political shift in the council than the rotation of non-permanent members.

The possible change was foreshadowed by President-elect Trump in December following a controversial vote on Israeli settlements.

The United States took the surprise decision to abstain from the vote condemning Israeli settlements in the disputed territory of the West Bank, rather than using its veto power.

“As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th,” Trump tweeted shortly after the vote took place.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power – a member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet – defended the abstention saying, “Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 undermines Israel’s security, harms the viability of a negotiated two-state outcome, and erodes prospects for peace and stability in the region.”

Power is expected to be replaced by Trump’s pick for the council, Nikki Haley, the current Governor of South Carolina, after Trump’s inauguration on January 20.

However Sweden’s Ambassador to the UN, Olof Skoog downplayed the political implications of the change in US administration for the Security Council.

“I haven’t spoken with anyone from the administration of the President-elect, but I expect that when they come to look at the work we’re doing they’ll see it is in the interests of the United States,” Skoog told journalists on Tuesday.

With January bringing a new US president, a changed Security Council and a new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Skoog said that he hoped to harness this “spirit of newness” to spur momentum into the Council’s work.

However Skoog said he was not expecting particular challenges to the Security Council’s work to come from the incoming US administration, with whom he said he looked forward to collaborating.

Skoog described Power as a strong voice with whom he shares many views. He said he also had a working relationship with Haley, but would not be drawn on possible changes regarding Israeli-Palestinian policy within the council.

Sweden has officially recognised the state of Palestine, putting it at odds with Trump’s pro-Israel stance.

Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that he hoped Italy could bring the Israel-Palestine conflict “to the forefront of the United Nations’ agenda,” during their month as president in November. Migration from the Middle East and Syria are also expected to be among the issues Italy will prioritise. Italy will be represented by Ambassador Sebastiano Card.

In a new and unusual step, Italy will share its security council seat with the Netherlands due to an impasse vote in the UN General Assembly for the final European seat. Italy will sit on the council in 2016 and the Netherlands in 2017. Gentiloni described the move as “a message of unity between European countries.”

2016 will be the first time that Kazakhstan will sit on the Security Council. The Central Asian country – which is keen to be seen as a major international power – will be represented by the ex-Ambassador to the United States Mr Kairat Umarov.

Kazakhstan – a part of the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone – may also bring a different perspective to Security Council discussions on nuclear non-proliferation. President-elect Trump’s comments on nuclear weapons have signalled that this may be an area high on the UN’s agenda in 2017.

Succeeding Venezuela as the Latin American representative, and holding a seat on the Council for the first time since 1979, is Bolivia. The plurinational state is represented by the Sacha Llorenti, a published author who spent two years at the President of Bolivia’s Permanent Assembly for Human Rights and was a minister in the government of Evo Morales.

Llorenti resigned from the ministry in 2011 following a violent police response to protesters marching against the building of a road through the Amazon rainforest. This was not the first time Llorenti was involved in clashes between indigenous populations and infrastructure.

Ethiopia replaces Angola and joins Senegal as an African representative on the Council. Ethiopia has become a major contributor of over 8,000 troops to UN peacekeeping operations. However in 2016, Ethiopia faced political instability within its own borders amid crackdowns on protestors.

In its first month on the council, Sweden has also taken up the rotating position of President. Skoog told press on Tuesday that the council’s priorities for January would include Syria, South Sudan and the Congo.

Skoog also highlighted massive population displacement, diminishing resources and rise of Boko Haram in Lake Chad region as detailed by Oxfam in a report entitled Lake Chad’s Unseen Crisis, which draws parallels between climate change, terrorism and national security.

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Lessons from the Demise of the TPPhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/lessons-from-the-demise-of-the-tpp/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-the-demise-of-the-tpp http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/lessons-from-the-demise-of-the-tpp/#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2017 14:23:32 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148416 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. ]]> Rrealistic macroeconomic modelling  has suggested that almost 800,000 jobs could be lost over a decade. Already, many US manufacturing jobs have been lost to US corporations’ automation and relocation abroad. Credit: IPS

Rrealistic macroeconomic modelling has suggested that almost 800,000 jobs could be lost over a decade. Already, many US manufacturing jobs have been lost to US corporations’ automation and relocation abroad. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jan 5 2017 (IPS)

President-elect Donald Trump has promised that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) on the first day of his presidency. The TPP may now be dead, thanks to Trump and opposition by all major US presidential candidates. With its imminent demise almost certain, it is important to draw on some lessons before it is buried.

Fraudulent free trade agreement
The TPP is fraudulent as a free trade agreement, offering very little in terms of additional growth due to trade liberalization, contrary to media hype. To be sure, the TPP had little to do with trade. The US already has free trade agreements, of the bilateral or regional variety, with six of the 11 other countries in the pact. All twelve members also belong to the World Trade Organization (WTO) which concluded the single largest trade agreement ever, more than two decades ago in Marrakech – contrary to the TPPA’s claim to that status. Trade barriers with the remaining five countries were already very low in most cases, so there is little room left for further trade liberalization in the TPPA, except in the case of Vietnam, owing to the war until 1975 and its legacy of punitive legislation.

The most convenient computable general equilibrium (CGE) trade model used for trade projections makes unrealistic assumptions, including those about the consequences of trade liberalization. For instance, such trade modelling exercises typically presume full employment as well as unchanging trade and fiscal balances. Our colleagues’ more realistic macroeconomic modelling suggested that almost 800,000 jobs would be lost over a decade after implementation, with almost half a million from the US alone. There would also be downward pressure on wages, in turn exacerbating inequalities at the national level.

Already, many US manufacturing jobs have been lost to US corporations’ automation and relocation abroad. Thus, while most politically influential US corporations would do well from the TPP due to strengthened intellectual property rights (IPRs) and investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms, US workers would generally not. It is now generally believed these outcomes contributed to the backlash against such globalization in the votes for Brexit and Trump.

Non-trade measures

According to the Peterson Institute of International Economics (PIIE), the US think-tank known for cheerleading economic liberalization and globalization, the purported TPPA gains would mainly come from additional investments, especially foreign direct investments, due to enhanced investor rights. However, these claims have been disputed by most other analysts, including two US government agencies, i.e., the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and the US International Trade Commission (ITC).

Much of the additional value of trade would come from ‘non-trade issues’. Strengthening intellectual property (IP) monopolies, typically held by powerful transnational corporations, would raise the value of trade through higher trading prices, not more goods and services. Thus, strengthened IPRs leading to higher prices for medicines are of particular concern.

The TPP would reinforce and extend patents, copyrights and related intellectual property protections. Such protectionism raises the price of protected items, such as pharmaceutical drugs. In a 2015 case, Martin Skrelly raised the price of a drug he had bought the rights to by 6000% from USD12.50 to USD750! As there is no US law against such ‘price-gouging’, the US Attorney General could only prosecute him for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme.

“Medecins Sans Frontieres” warned that the agreement would go down in history as the worst “cause of needless suffering and death” in developing countries. In fact, contrary to the claim that stronger IPRs would enhance research and development, there has been no evidence of increased research or new medicines in recent decades for this reason.

Corporate-friendly
Foreign direct investment (FDI) is also supposed to go up thanks to the TPPA’s ISDS provisions. For instance, foreign companies would be able to sue TPP governments for ostensible loss of profits, including potential future profits, due to changes in national regulation or policies even if in the national or public interest.

ISDS would be enforced through ostensibly independent tribunals. This extrajudicial system would supercede national laws and judiciaries, with secret rulings not bound by precedent or subject to appeal.

Thus, rather than trade promotion, the main purpose of the TPPA has been to internationally promote more corporate-friendly rules under US leadership. The 6350 page deal was negotiated by various working groups where representatives of major, mainly US corporations were able to drive the agenda and advance their interests. The final push to seek congressional support for the TPPA despite strong opposition from the major presidential candidates made clear that the main US rationale and motive were geo-political, to minimize China’s growing influence.

The decision by the Obama administration to push ahead with the TPP may well have cost Hillary Clinton the presidency as she came across as insincere in belatedly opposing the agreement which she had previously praised and advocated. Trade was a major issue in swing states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, where concerned voters overwhelmingly opted for Trump.

The problem now is that while the Obama administration undermined trade multilateralism by its unwillingness to honour the compromise which initiated the Doha Development Round, Trump’s preference for bilateral agreements benefiting the US is unlikely to provide the boost to multilateralism so badly needed now. Unless the US and the EU embrace the spirit of compromise which started this round of trade negotiations, the WTO and multilateralism more generally may never recover from the setbacks of the last decade and a half.

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Poor Darwin – Robots, Not Nature, Now Make the Selectionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/poor-darwin-robots-not-nature-now-make-the-selection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poor-darwin-robots-not-nature-now-make-the-selection http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/poor-darwin-robots-not-nature-now-make-the-selection/#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2017 13:56:01 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148413 TOPIO ("TOSY Ping Pong Playing Robot") is a bipedal humanoid robot designed to play table tennis against a human being. TOPIO version 3.0 at Tokyo International Robot Exhibition, Nov 2009. Photo: Humanrobo. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

TOPIO ("TOSY Ping Pong Playing Robot") is a bipedal humanoid robot designed to play table tennis against a human being. TOPIO version 3.0 at Tokyo International Robot Exhibition, Nov 2009. Photo: Humanrobo. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 5 2017 (IPS)

When British naturalist Charles Darwin published in 1859 his theory of evolution in his work On the Origin of Species, he most likely did not expect that robots, not nature, would someday be in charge of the selection process.

In his On the Origin of Species, (more completely: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life), Darwin introduced the scientific theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection.

Now the so-called ”fourth industrial revolution” comes to turn Darwin’s theory upside down, as the manufacturing process has been witnessing such a fast process of automation that machines will more and more replace human workers.

So fast that it is estimated that by the year 2040, up to 40 per cent of the production process will be handled by robots.

Moreover, the robotising trend is now being perfected in a way that machines are gradually able to solve problems posed by other machines.

Oxford University predicts that machines and robots will perform nearly half of US jobs within the next 20 years.

And the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says in its report “Future of Work in figures” that some studies argue that 47 per cent of US employment is subject to substitution (39 per cent in Germany, 35 per cent in the UK). "By the year 2040, up to 40 per cent of the production process will be handled by robots"

“The assumptions of what tasks are replaceable are key, but the undisputed fact is that the occupational structure will change and the tasks required to carry out jobs will also change,” says the OECD while trying to inject some optimism: “Substitution may mean the destruction of certain jobs, but not the destruction of employment.”

This process of “substitution” could not come at a tougher time, as the so-called job market is already much too precarious.

Just an example: this organisation grouping nearly one fifth of all countries –those considered most developed—in a report titled “Employment and unemployment in figures,” says that there are now over 40 million unemployed in the OECD area — that’s around 8 million more than before the crisis, i.e., one million jobs lost yearly over the last 8 years.

Add to this, the fact that 1 in 3 jobs are considered precarious in the industrialised countries, and that workers now earn between 15 and 20 per cent less than in the year 2009.

These figures, however, are viewed in a positive light by the business sector as they imply a growing reduction of the costs of production.

What to Do With Humans Then?

Politicians, likely propelled by big business pundits, have just started to think now of how to face this challenge.

One of the trendiest formulae is now to give a basic income to citizens.

Such a basic income (also called unconditional basic income, citizen’s income, basic income guarantee, universal basic income or universal demo-grant) implies that all citizens or residents of a country regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, in addition to any income received from elsewhere.

According to its defenders, this would be financed by the profits of publicly owned enterprises. But it will be a difficult exercise given that the private sector has been taking over the roles of the state, which has been gradually dismantled.

Many citizens’ first reaction to this formula would be –is– “… sounds great… getting money without even working is a dream!”

The realisation of such a dream poses, however, a number of questions and concerns.

For instance: where will governments find the resources needed for such basic incomes? From which national budget items will these amounts be deducted?

Will governments continue anyway to provide social services, such as public health care, education, unemployment subsidies, pension funds? Are such services sentenced to privatisation?

Will this mean the elimination of the 20 billion dollars that the OECD countries dedicate every year to the employment funds, which are aimed at promoting the creation of job opportunities?

And how can unemployed people contribute with their basic income to replenishing the retirement funds of the elderly, whose lives are already long and expected to get longer and longer?

Let alone infrastructure like public transport, roads and highways, subsidies to alternative sources of energy, and a long et cetera.

In other words, will such basic income without even working lead to the definite dismantlement of the already rapidly shrinking social welfare?

Most likely it will be so. After all, it would be about a step further in the very process of robotising the very lives of human beings.

This way, the citizens will be kept alive, will complain less about the evident failure of governments to create job opportunities, while doing what they are expected to do: that’s to consume what industries produce and, by the way, continue playing their role as voters (not electors, mind the difference).

The Rule of the Multimillionaires

This trend, which seems to be unavoidable, will likely receive a giant push pretty soon—as soon as the new United States administration, lead by Donald Trump, takes office in January 2017.

An administration, by the way, made of multi-millionaires who are highly unlikely to have the sensibility of average citizens and workers.

The effects on Europe will be immediate in view of the irresistible rise of the extreme right in countries like Germany, France and Italy — which will go through elections in 2017 – as well as the Netherlands, Austria, Hungry and even Greece, to mention a few.

Inequality, That Dangerous Gap

Add to all of the above the fact that growing unemployment will deepen the already considerable inequality.

Roberto Savio, Founder of IPS and of Other News, in a recent master lecture at the Diplomatic Academy of Chile, compiled the following shocking data: six years ago, 388 persons possessed the same wealth as 3.2 billion people; in 2014, their number was of just 80, and in 2015 only 62.

These figures, added to the fact that, according to the International Labour Organization, 600 million new jobs need to be created by 2030 just to keep pace with the growth of the working age population, will leave more millions behind, forcing massive displacements, especially from developing countries, as survival migrants.

“The factory of the future will have only two employees: a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.”

This is how Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, a private company that “makes software for people who make things,” described the current, unstoppable process of automation.

Bass’ comment was quoted by Xavier Mesnard in an article titled “What happens when robots take our jobs?” which was published in the World Economic Forum.

Most probably Darwin would have never expected that the current artificial selection process –propelled by an irrepressible greed and subjected to the financial interests of big private corporations exercising full control without any regulation mechanism, amid short-sighted politics — would replace his great theory of evolution and natural selection.

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Ban Ki-moon’s Mixed Legacy as UN Secretary-Generalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ban-ki-moons-mixed-legacy-as-un-secretary-general/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ban-ki-moons-mixed-legacy-as-un-secretary-general http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/ban-ki-moons-mixed-legacy-as-un-secretary-general/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2017 22:15:14 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148409 Ban Ki-moon with Korean pop singer Psy in 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

Ban Ki-moon with Korean pop singer Psy in 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 4 2017 (IPS)

Ban Ki-moon ended his ten years as UN Secretary-General at midnight on New Year’s Eve with his last official duty – dropping the ball at New York’s Times Square.

“I’ll be in Times Square for the ball drop. Millions of people will watch me lose my job.” Ban wrote beforehand on Twitter, hinting at possible relief that years of ribbon-cutting, handshaking and selfie-taking were finally over.

Ban – a former foreign minister of South Korea and career diplomat – seemed to embrace these ceremonial duties tirelessly during his two terms as Secretary-General.

However, when it came to some of the bigger responsibilities of the role, some critics argue he could have done more.

UN Secretaries-General have to tread a delicate path of diplomacy and bureaucracy. They are servants to the UN’s 193 member states, but they also have a responsibility to be a “true voice” of the UN Charter, Stephen Lewis, co-founder of international advocacy organisation AIDS-Free World, told IPS.

“Ban is a traditional diplomat to his bone marrow. He always felt that offending big powers was a taboo,” -- Richard Gowan.

“With the world in the state it now is in, we need a Secretary-General who speaks truth to power, who speaks his mind, who takes strong positions, and that has not been characteristic of the last several year of Ban Ki-Moon’s tenure,” said Lewis, who is also a former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF and a former Canadian Ambassador to the UN.

Lewis said that Ban could have done more to follow in the footsteps of former Secretaries-General such as Kofi Annan of Ghana or Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden, two Secretaries-General admired for their ability to stand up to UN member states when needed.

“It’s the difference between someone who’ll use the middle ground to try and satisfy everyone and someone who says, my job is to lead this world in a principled way, upholding the charter and telling the member states when they’re wrong and when their human rights are being violated,” said Lewis.

The charter is the founding document of the United Nations which was established in 1945 in the wake of the Second World War.

UN expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations Richard Gowan agreed that Ban chose to be diplomatic rather than disagree with UN member states.

“Ban is a traditional diplomat to his bone marrow.  He always felt that offending big powers was a taboo,” said Gowan.

However Gowan – who has followed Ban’s tenure closely – noted that over time Ban began to take stronger positions.

“I do think Ban got better over time. After the 2009 Sri Lanka crisis he felt compelled to highlight serious human rights abuses. He is a moral man.”

However overall, Gowan said that Ban was considered too cautious in the face of major crises facing the UN. These include ongoing conflicts in Syria and South Sudan.

“The constant refrain I have heard from UN officials over the last decade has been that Ban has been too cautious and too concerned about protecting his own position in the face of major crises,” said Gowan.

However while Ban may have only had limited influence over the UN member states’ responses to the world’s protracted disasters he did have responsibility for how the UN responded to them.

This includes oversight for UN peacekeepers – whose numbers swelled to over 100,000 during Ban’s tenure.

UN peacekeepers have faced scandals, including allegations of sexual abuse, however it is the UN’s tepid response under Ban’s leadership to problems within peacekeeping that has attracted the most criticism.

Gowan argues that the UN’s responses under Ban seemed in part to reflect his lack of understanding of the operational intricacies of the UN.

“Secretaries-General are not magicians.  The UN bureaucracy is hard to manage, and peace operations are especially difficult to control,” said Gowan. “But Ban never seemed to have a detailed operational sense of what the UN has been doing on the ground on his watch.”

“When a big crisis hit a UN mission, or a sexual abuse scandal blew up, he always seemed to be on the back foot. I credit him with trying to do the right thing over cholera in Haiti, but he was slow.”

UN peacekeepers from Nepal responding to the 2010 earthquake bought cholera to Haiti in part because untreated sewage from a UN base ran into local water sources.

At the beginning of December 2016, soon before ending his time as Secretary-General, Ban apologised for cholera outbreak, but stopped short of accepting the UN’s role in bringing cholera to Haiti.

“His apology was very much characteristic of the middle ground that satisfied only part of his role,” said Lewis. “He never accepted the responsibility for the UN bringing cholera to Haiti. He only ever apologised for the consequences of the cholera. In other words he stopped short of embracing an important matter of principle.”

This may have been because a full apology could potentially open the UN and its member states to paying reparations to the people of Haiti, thousands of whom have already died due to the cholera outbreak.

Nevertheless, many saw Ban’s apology as an attempt to make amends for one of the darkest aspects of his ten years as Secretary-General.

His tenure did see progress made in other areas, for example Ban was considered to have progressed LGBTI rights within the UN by openly showing his support.

Ban’s successor Antonio Guterres, the former Prime Minister of Portugal, took office on 1 January, beginning his five year term with a message of peace to the world.

“We’re hoping that Guterres will be a Hammarskjold,” said Lewis, referring to the Swedish Secretary-General who is admired by many UN aficionados for his dedication to the UN charter.

Ban is widely considered to be vying for the Presidency of South Korea.

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New UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Takes Officehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/new-un-secretary-general-antonio-guterres-takes-office/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-un-secretary-general-antonio-guterres-takes-office http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/new-un-secretary-general-antonio-guterres-takes-office/#comments Tue, 03 Jan 2017 20:38:52 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148392 UN Secretary-General Anto—nio Guterres (centre) arrives at UN headquarters. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

UN Secretary-General Anto—nio Guterres (centre) arrives at UN headquarters. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 3 2017 (IPS)

Antonio Guterres of Portugal officially took up his position as ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations Tuesday morning, beginning his duties by addressing UN staff in New York.

Guterres emphasised the urgency of addressing the plight of refugees and displaced populations, calling out richer nations for their negligence in addressing their global responsibilities, an issue many expect him to target upon taking office.

“We live in a world in which conflicts multiply and are interlinked with this new phenomenon of global terrorism,” said Guterres. “Conflicts in which international humanitarian law is not respected, situations in which we see massive human rights violations, even refugee law is no longer as respected as it was few years ago. I remember the times when mostly borders would be open and now we see borders closed, now people do not even have the right to be a refugee in many parts of the world.”

“We live in a world where problems became global and there is no way they can be solved on a country by country basis" -- Antonio Guterres

In his speech Guterres also emphasised the importance of multilateralism to address global problems.

“When one looks at the global mega-trends of population growth, climate change, and other aspects that are interlinked, we see that we live in a world where problems became global and there is no way they can be solved on a country by country basis.”

Prior to becoming Secretary-General – a role he will initially hold for five years – Guterres was the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from 2005 to 2015.

He oversaw the UNHCR during a time when the number of displaced persons worldwide grew to its highest number since World War II, exceeding 65 million. He is recognised for having managed the UNHCR’s response to the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Africa while also cutting staff and administrative costs and instituting wide-ranging reform of the organisation. He has pledged to bring a similar approach to the UN.

A number of key positions appointed by Guterres embraces diverse representation in the upper echelons of the organisation, and address the lack of gender parity to which previous Secretaries General had pledged to reform.

Nigeria’s Minister for the Environment Amina J. Mohammed was appointed Deputy Secretary-General. Under-Secretary for Asia and the Pacific at the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti becomes Chef de Cabinet. Guterres created the role of Special Adviser on Policy, Kyunga-wha Kang of South Korea who has previously served as Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator. The role of Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination in the Executive Office will be filled by Fabrizio Hochschild, former Deputy Special Representative for the UN Mission in the Central African Republic.

Spokesman for the Secretary General Stéphane Dujarric told a press conference that Guterres’ biggest challenge was to work with member states on achieving peace. “Many people are suffering from war and man-made disasters. He will focus on trying to meet the expectations that people have of this organisation (the UN).”

Dujarric also hinted that Guterres would be an open Secretary General. “As you’ll have seen if you’ve observed his career for the last ten years, he does hold press conferences frequently.”

Guterres was also quick to recognise the scale of the problems and the need for unity among the UN’s 193 member states to address them.

“I think it is useful to say that there are no miracles, and I am sure I am not a miracle-maker. And the only way for us to be able to achieve our goals is to really work together as a team, and to be able to deserve to serve the noble values enshrined in the Charter, that are the values of the UN, that are the values that unite mankind.”

The outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon described Guterres as a “wonderful choice” to lead the United Nations. “He is perhaps best known where it counts most: on the frontlines of armed conflict and humanitarian suffering.” Guterres inherits a complicated Syrian peace process; the highest number of migrant populations since the 1940s; increased tension between Israel and Palestinian; and a renewed push to admonish countries projected to fail to reach agreed climate change targets.

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2017 — A Thunderous Clash of Politics, Economies and Policieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/2017-a-thunderous-clash-of-politics-economies-and-policies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=2017-a-thunderous-clash-of-politics-economies-and-policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/2017-a-thunderous-clash-of-politics-economies-and-policies/#comments Mon, 02 Jan 2017 12:24:49 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148380 The Paris agreement, which was adopted in December 2015 and which came into force in record time in October 2016 as a demonstration of international concern over climate change, may face a major test and even an existential challenge in 2017, if Trump fulfils his election promise to pull the US out. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS.

The Paris agreement, which was adopted in December 2015 and which came into force in record time in October 2016 as a demonstration of international concern over climate change, may face a major test and even an existential challenge in 2017, if Trump fulfils his election promise to pull the US out. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS.

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Jan 2 2017 (IPS)

Yet another new year has dawned.   But 2017 will be a year like no other.

There will be a thunderous clash of policies, economies and politics worldwide.   We will therefore be on a roller-coaster ride, and we should prepare for it and not only be spectators on the side-lines in danger of being swept away by the waves.

With his extreme views and bulldozing style, Donald Trump is set to create an upheaval if not revolution in the United States and the world.

He is installing an oil company chief as the Secretary of State, investment bankers in key finance positions, climate sceptics and anti-environmentalists in environmental and energy agencies and an extreme rightwing internet media mogul as his chief strategist

US-China relations, the most important for global stability, could change from big-power co-existence with a careful combination of competition and cooperation, to outright crisis.

Trump, through a phone call with Taiwan’s leader and subsequent remarks, signalled he could withdraw the longstanding US adherence to the One China policy and instead use Taiwan as a bargaining card when negotiating economic policies with China.  The Chinese perceive this as an extreme provocation.

He has appointed as head of the new National Trade Council an economist known for his books demonising China, including “Death by China: Confronting the Dragon”.

Trump seems intent on doing an about-turn on US trade and investment policies, starting with ditching the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement and re-negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Other measures being considered include a 45% duty on Chinese products, extra duties and taxes on American companies located abroad, and even a 10% tariff on all imports.

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

Thus 2017 will see a rise in protectionism in the US, the extent still unknown.  That is bad news for those developing countries whose economies have grown on the back of exports and international investments.

Europe in 2017 will also be preoccupied with its own regional problems.  The Brexit shock of 2016 will continue to reverberate and several European countries facing elections will see challenges to their traditional values and established order from xenophobic and narrow nationalist parties.

As Western societies become less open to the world and more inward looking, developing countries should revise their development strategies and rely more on domestic and regional demand and investments.

As North-South economic relations decline, this should also be the moment for expanding South-South cooperation, spurred as much by necessity as by principles.

2017 may be the year when resource-rich China, with its huge Road and Belt initiative and its immense financing capacity, fills in the economic void created by western trade and investment protectionism.

But this may not be sufficient to prevent a finance shock in many developing countries now beginning to suffer a reversal of capital flowing back to the US, attracted by the prospect of higher interest rates and economic growth.

Several emerging economies which together received many hundreds of billions of dollars of hot money in recent years are now vulnerable to the latest downturn phase of the boom-bust cycle of capital flows.

Some of these countries opened up their capital markets to foreign funds which now own large portions of government bonds denominated in the domestic currency, as well as shares in the equity market.

As the tide turns, foreign investors are expected to sell off and transfer back a significant part of the bonds and shares they bought, and this new vulnerability is in addition to the traditional external debt contracted by the developing countries in foreign currencies.

Some countries will be hit by a terrible combination of capital outflow, reduced export earnings, currency depreciation and an increased debt servicing burden caused by higher US interest rates.

As the local currency depreciates further, the affected countries’ companies will have to pay more for servicing loans contracted in foreign currencies and imported machinery and parts, while consumers suffer from a rapid rise in the prices of imports.

On the positive side, the currency depreciation will make exporters more competitive and make tourism more attractive, but for many countries this will not be enough to offset the negative effects.

Thus 2017 will not be kind to the economy, business and the pockets of the common man and woman.  It might even spark a new global financial crisis.

The old year ended with mixed blessings for Palestinians. On one hand they won a significant victory when the outgoing President Obama allowed the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories by not exercising a veto.

The resolution will spur international actions against the expansion of settlements which have become a big obstacle to peace talks.

On the other hand the Israeli leadership, which responded defiantly with plans for more settlements, will find in Trump a much more sympathetic President.  He is appointing a pro-Israel hawk who has cheered the expansion of settlements as the new US ambassador to Israel.

With Trump also indicating he will tear up the nuclear power deal with Iran, the Middle East will have an even more tumultuous time in 2017.

Some countries will be hit by a terrible combination of capital outflow, reduced export earnings, currency depreciation and an increased debt servicing burden caused by higher US interest rates.
In the area of health care, the battle for affordable access to medicines will continue, as public frustration grows over the high and often astronomical prices of patented medicines including for the treatment of HIV AIDS, hepatitis C, tuberculosis and cancers.

There will be more powerful calls for governments to curb the excesses of drug companies, as well as more extensive use of the flexibilities in the patent laws to counter the high cost of medicines.

Momentum will also increase to deal with antibiotic resistance which in 2016 was recognised by political leaders meeting at the United Nations to be perhaps the gravest threat to global health.

All countries pledged to come up with national action plans to counter antibiotic and anti-microbial resistance by May 2017 and the challenge will then be to review the adequacy of these plans and to finance and implement them.

The new year will also see its fair share of natural disasters and a continued decline in the state of the environment.  Both will continue to be major issues in 2017, just as the worsening of air pollution and the many earthquakes, big storms and heat-waves marked the previous few years.

Unfortunately low priority is given to the environment.  Hundreds of billions of dollars are allocated for highways, railways and urban buildings but only a trickle for conservation and rehabilitation of hills, watersheds, forests, mangroves, coastal areas, biodiversity or for serious climate change actions.

2017 should be the year when priorities change, that when people talk about infrastructure or development, they put actions to protect and promote the environment as the first items for allocation of funds.

This new year will also be make or break for climate change.  The momentum for action painfully built up in recent years will find a roadblock in the US as the new President dismantles Obama-initiated policies and measures.

The Paris agreement, which was adopted in December 2015 and which came into force in record time in October 2016 as a demonstration of international concern over climate change, may face a major test and even an existential challenge in 2017, if Trump fulfils his election promise to pull the US out.

But Trump and his team will face resistance domestically including from state governments and municipalities which have their own climate plans, and from other countries determined to carry on without the US on board.

Indeed if 2017 will bring big changes initiated by the new US administration, it will also generate many counter actions to fill in the void left in the world by a withdrawing US or to counter its new unsettling actions.

Many people around the world, from politicians and policy makers to citizen groups and community organisers are already bracing themselves to come up with responses and actions.

Indeed 2017 will be characterised by the Trump effect but also the consequent counter-effects.

There are opportunities to think through, alternatives to chart and reforms to carry out that are anyway needed on the global and national economies, on the environment, and on geo-politics.

Most of the main levers of power and decision-making are still in the hands of a few countries and a few people, but there has also been the emergence of many new centres of economic, environmental and intellectual capabilities and community-based organising.

2017 will be a year in which ideas, policies, economies and politics will all clash, thunderously, and we should be prepared to meet the challenges ahead and not only be spectators.

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More Than 50 Internet Shutdowns in 2016http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/more-than-50-internet-shutdowns-in-2016/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=more-than-50-internet-shutdowns-in-2016 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/more-than-50-internet-shutdowns-in-2016/#comments Fri, 30 Dec 2016 06:16:31 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148353 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/more-than-50-internet-shutdowns-in-2016/feed/ 0 Reporting from Inside a Refugee Detention Centrehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/reporting-from-inside-a-refugee-detention-centre/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reporting-from-inside-a-refugee-detention-centre http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/reporting-from-inside-a-refugee-detention-centre/#comments Thu, 29 Dec 2016 23:01:17 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148350 Journalist and asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani is detained indefinitely by the Australian government on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. Credit: Aref Heidari.

Journalist and asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani is detained indefinitely by the Australian government on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. Credit: Aref Heidari.

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 29 2016 (IPS)

Despite being locked up in an Australian detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, Kurdish-Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani has continued reporting – gaining bylines and media attention around the world.

Journalism is the reason Boochani was forced to flee his home country of Iran, and – like the other 900 men detained indefinitely on Manus Island – seek refuge in Australia.

“When the Australian government exiled me to Manus Island I found out that they are basing their policy on secrecy and dishonesty,” Boochani told IPS.

“In my first days here I started to work to send out the voice of people in Manus. Why did I start? Because the Australian government’s policy of indefinite detention is against my principles and values, and against global human values.”

“I know that I am a refugee but I'm a journalist and writer too. I have been denied my identity as a journalist because of this refugee concept and most of the media don't care about that." -- Behrouz Boochani

Boochani worked as a freelance writer in Iran and founded the magazine Werya, devoted to exploring Kurdish politics, culture and history. In February 2013 the offices of Werya were raided by the paramilitary agency the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, also known as Sepah, classified by the US government as a terrorist organisation.

Boochani was in a different city when 11 of his colleagues were arrested. The story he wrote about the raid on the website Iranian Reporters quickly went global and put him in the government’s sights and he fled.

Boochani spent his first two years in detention writing and publishing articles under a fake name, for fear of losing the mobile phone that has been his lifeline since arriving on Manus Island.

“We were not allowed to have phones until April this year,” he explains. “The guards twice searched my room looking for my phone. After two years of sending out my work in this way I felt that I had become part of Australian society and with the support of (international organisations) PEN International and Reporters Without Borders, I started to use my real name. I would never say that I’m not scared, but I say that fear is not powerful enough to stop me or prevent me from working on my mission. It’s my duty to document all of what happens here.”

What has been happening on Manus Island has attracted global condemnation. In May the UN Human Rights Council condemned the detention centre and Papua New Guinea affirmed that it would be shut down. Since then, the Australian government have declared the centre ‘open’, meaning that inmates can come and go freely though they cannot leave the island. Boochani and other detainees have spoken of being encouraged to accept residency in Papua New Guinea, despite attacks on detainees from both local residents and police forces. Returning to Iran, Boochani says, is not an option.

“PEN International and a coalition of human rights groups launched an international campaign on behalf of Mr Boochani in September 2015. The campaign called for Mr Boochani’s request for asylum to be processed by Australian immigration officials as soon as possible and urged the Australian government to abide by their obligations to the principle of non-refoulement—as defined by Article 33 of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Despite numerous approaches to the Australian government and relevant ministers and departments, by the campaign coalition and its supporters, there has been no response from senior government officials.”
– PEN International letter to Australian Minister of Immigration Hon. Peter Dutton MP, November 3, 2016

“The political situation in Iran does not change especially for Kurdish people. There are about 20 journalists still in prison there. In November, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution against the Iranian regime for violating human rights. Last year they hanged more than 1,000 people. How can I go back?”

Since arriving in Manus Island, Boochani has written for Australian and international newspapers and radio programs and co-directed the feature length documentary about life on Manus Island Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time. He has continued to write articles about Kurdish culture and politics for Kurdish media, published poetry and essays, contributed to two forthcoming books and completed his first novel, due in mid-2017.

One of the greatest challenges facing Boochani is what he calls “the refugee concept”, the willingness of Australian and international media to use his insight and words but to cast him as a “broken man” or a refugee.

“This is a big form of censorship,” he says. “I know that I am a refugee but I’m a journalist and writer too. I have been denied my identity as a journalist because of this refugee concept and most of the media don’t care about that. When I have found a subject for a story and provided information and documents to other journalists sometimes they have ignored me, or other times they published a story on the basis of my information but denied my identity by referring to me only as a refugee. I’m doing the same job as other journalists in Australia or anywhere else, but I am always called a refugee.”

Overcoming the international concept of Australia as a peaceful, law-abiding nation with a relaxed attitude to life also presents a difficulty to Boochani as a journalist. “We are being tortured by a western country and the media and human rights organisations find it hard to believe that a country like Australia is implementing policies that are the same in many ways as Iran or Saudi Arabia,” he says. “I am a prisoner like the others here. It’s hard to work in this situation. I have to endure prison and torture and at the same time work as a journalist or human rights defender.”

The Manus Island detention centre holds around 900 men, most of whom are refugees intercepted en route to Australia having fled conflicts in countries such as Sudan or Syria, or persecution as is the case with Rohingyas from Myanmar.

The detention centre is a key part of a multi-billion-dollar bilateral agreement between the Papua New Guinean and Australian governments. Condemnation of Australia’s offshore detention of asylum seekers has come from several branches of the United Nations including the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee Against Torture, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the Special Rapporteur on torture and the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

While identifying as a journalist and writer, Boochani is not motivated by profit.

“If I do work for money, I will lose my way. The important thing is to send out a voice from Manus and let people know the reality.”

“I am a journalist, I am a writer, I am a prisoner. The history of this prison is written in my hand … I am here with only a phone and my tongue and say:  I am more than you know. The Australian government made a mistake exiling a journalist to this prison and keeping him as hostage.  Writing is my mission, my work, it is me.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article said that the UN Human Rights Council had declared Manus Island Detention Centre illegal. The council condemned the centre, and in response the PNG government declared it illegal.

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Islamic Nations to Host Pledging Conference on Aid to Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen/#comments Thu, 29 Dec 2016 10:35:15 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148344 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 29 2016 (IPS)

While the international community remains intensely pre-occupied with the six-year-old civil war ravaging Syria, the ongoing military conflict in Yemen has triggered a relatively neglected humanitarian crises threatening to explode.

OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef

OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef

Since the conflict began in March 2015, an estimated 21 million people in Yemen are reported to be in need of assistance, including 10.3 million in desperate straits, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Responding to the crisis, the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is taking the lead in organizing a pledging conference for humanitarian assistance and development aid to one of the poorest countries in the Middle East devastated by a 22-month conflict which has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and caused considerable damage to homes, schools and medical facilities.

Addressing a preparatory meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on December 18, Rashid Khalikov, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Partnerships with Middle East, said only $150 million had been received so far out of the total of about $1.6 billion pledged by international donors in 2016.

The proposed conference is being backed by the United Nations, the World Bank, the Yemeni government, member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and several international donors, including the US, Germany, Sweden, Japan and UK.

According to the OIC, UN findings in Yemen include: 21.2 million in need of humanitarian aid; 19.3 million with no access to safe drinking water; 14.1 million facing food shortages; and 2.2 million children suffering from acute malnutrition.

As of November, more than 7,000 people have been killed and over 43,000 injured, including more than 3,200 children killed or injured. Additionally, over 600 health facilities and 1,600 schools remain closed due to conflict-related damages, according to OCHA.

OIC Secretary General, General Yousuf Al-Othaimeen, said the aim of the conference “ is to find ways to support the Yemeni people” and the need to “bridge the huge gap in the required financing for humanitarian action in Yemen”.

The pledging conference is likely to take place in early 2017 but the venue is yet to be decided.

In an interview with IPS, OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef, said the primary objective of the conference is to “convene the international community to help in addressing the needs of the people of Yemen, boost the capacity for urgent humanitarian response and address the medium-term developmental needs in Yemen.”

“However, other aspects will also be considered and we are currently discussing other issues that can be considered in side events on the margins of the Conference. We will also work on finding ways to coordinate aid effort more effectively“.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Is it largely a pledging conference seeking funds? Or does the proposed agenda also include negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the ongoing conflict?

Hesham Youssef: Yes, it is largely a pledging Conference. But it will also involve widening the scope of consultations the OIC has already begun with member states, civil society and international organizations in order to exchange information, enhance follow-up mechanisms and unify visions among partners on how to address the humanitarian and developmental needs of the people of Yemen.

Supporting the people of Yemen also means trying to find a resolution to the current crisis – something the OIC will continue to urge – but this is not the objective of this Conference.

That means calling for a comprehensive national reconciliation through the resumption of the political process within the framework of the Gulf Initiative, the outcomes of the 2014 Comprehensive National Dialogue conference, the 2015 Riyadh Declaration and the United Nations Security Council resolution 2216 (2015).

Q: Do you have a proposed target in terms of funding? And how confident are you that the conference will meet that target?

Hesham Youssef: Any target for funding depends very much on a thorough needs assessment. A UN detailed report will be ready in early January that will identify the needs on-the-ground.

Q: The UN has already complained that only $150 million has been received although international donors had pledged as much as $1.6 billion as humanitarian assistance to Yemen. Do you think the wide gap between pledges and deliveries may be due to the global economic recession?

Hesham Youssef: While domestic economic obstacles may well contribute to delays in delivery of donor pledges, it is imperative international donors appreciate that the cost of crises like that in Yemen could prove far costlier in the medium term.

Just as the Syria conflict has led to millions of refugees and regional instability, so too could the spill-over from the Yemen conflict adversely affect the international community in ways that costs it far more in future then it would to prevent such fallout now.

We also do not see huge complaints about how the global recession is affecting the massive military spending that supports military action on a global level, so the global downturn must not be used an excuse to not help those in need.

Q: Are there any countries that have already made pledges in advance of the conference?

Hesham Youssef: This is an ongoing process. Many donors have already supported the humanitarian relief efforts in Yemen and indicated a willingness to provide financial support. For example, at a bilateral level, the UAE has already provided around $1.6 billion to Yemen, Saudi Arabia has provided $274 million, plus one billion Saudi riyals, Kuwait is providing $100 million, along with assistance from the US, the European Union and U.K.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Arms Trade Treaty Falling Down in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/arms-trade-treaty-falling-down-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arms-trade-treaty-falling-down-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/arms-trade-treaty-falling-down-in-yemen/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2016 21:06:42 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148319 A campaign in support of the Arms Trade Treaty argued that weapons were subject to fewer regulations than bananas. Credit: Coralie Tripier / IPS.

A campaign in support of the Arms Trade Treaty argued that weapons were subject to fewer regulations than bananas. Credit: Coralie Tripier / IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 27 2016 (IPS)

Two years after the UN Arms Trade Treaty entered into force many of the governments which championed the treaty are failing to uphold it, especially when it comes to the conflict in Yemen.

“In terms of implementation, the big disappointment is Yemen,” Anna Macdonald, Director of Control Arms, a civil society organisation dedicated to the treaty, told IPS.

“The big disappointment is the countries that were in the forefront of calling for the treaty – and indeed who still champion it as a great achievement in international disarmament and security – are now prepared to violate it by persisting in their arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” she added.

The Saudi-led international coalition has been responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia is known to have violated humanitarian law by bombing civilian targets, including hospitals.

The conflict in Yemen – the poorest country in the Middle East – has displaced over 3 million people since it began in March 2015 according to the UN.

However many countries, including the United Kingdom, United States and France, that have signed up to the Arms Trade Treaty continue to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, despite this violating their commitments under the treaty.

“The big disappointment is the countries that were in the forefront of calling for the treaty ... are now prepared to violate it by persisting in their arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” Anna Macdonald, Control Arms.

Currently 90 UN member states are parties to the treaty, which Macdonald says is a relatively high number for such a new and complex treaty, but the goal remains universalisation, she adds. The treaty entered into force on 24 December 2014. However while the U.K. and France have ratified the treaty, the U.S. has only signed the treaty.

Parties to the treaty are obligated to ensure that weapons they sell will not be used to violate international humanitarian law, commit genocide or commit crimes against humanity.

The U.K.’s sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia has been the subject of intense debate in British parliament.

Saudi authorities recently confirmed that they have used UK-made cluster munitions in Yemen.

“Evidence of cluster munition use has been available for almost a year, but the U.K. has ignored and disputed it, trusting instead in the Saudi-led coalition’s denials,” said Macdonald.

“The UK is continuing to ignore the vast amount of information of violations of human rights and the laws of war in Yemen, (recent developments) make even plainer how unfeasible such a position is.”

The UK which sold the weapons to Saudi Arabia in 1989 has since signed up to the Cluster Munitions Convention, which prohibits the sale of cluster munitions because of their indiscriminate nature, Macdonald added.

Meanwhile recent reports suggest the United States is curtailing at least some of its arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

“The U.S. has said it will halt the sale of precision-guided aerial bombs to Saudi Arabia because they have seen “systemic, endemic problems with Saudi Arabia’s targeting” that the U.S. says has led to high numbers of civilian casualties in Yemen,” said Macdonald.

However she noted that it is hard to know what effect this will have on policies under the incoming Trump Republican administration.

According to research published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) the world’s top three arms exporters are the United States, Russia and China.

India, Saudi Arabia and China are the world’s top three arms importers.

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US Heads for Political Showdown with UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/us-heads-for-political-showdown-with-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-heads-for-political-showdown-with-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/us-heads-for-political-showdown-with-un/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2016 16:16:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148317 United Nations Secretariat Building

United Nations Secretariat Building

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 27 2016 (IPS)

The United States has had a longstanding love-hate relationship with the United Nations ever since 1952 when the world body began operations in New York city on an 18-acre piece of land which housed an abattoir where cattle was being trucked daily for slaughter.

The late Republican Senator Jesse Helms, a fulltime chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a part-time UN basher, once said “providing funds to the UN was like pouring money into a rat hole.”

Former New York city Mayor Ed Koch used a five-letter word to describe the UN: a “sewer”. And one of his successors, Rudolph Giuliani, said he will not miss the UN if it decides to pack up and leave New York.

When the 193-member UN General Assembly voted some of the world’s “repressive regimes” as members of the Human Rights Commission (now the Human Rights Council), Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (Republican of California) hollered: “The inmates have taken over the asylum. And I don’t plan to give the lunatics any more American tax dollars to play with.”

And now, US President-elect Donald Trump, peeved over a Security Council resolution last week chastising Israel over its continued settlements in the occupied territories, has signaled an implicit warning he will review his relationship with the United Nations.

Having been rebuffed by outgoing President Barack Obama who refused to accede to Trump’s appeal to veto the resolution, the incoming President, who will take office on January 20, challenged the effectiveness of the world body and dismissed it as “a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

Immediately after the resolution was adopted by a vote of 14–nil, with the US abstaining, he held out a warning: “As to the UN, things will be different after January 20.”

Currently, the US is the biggest single contributor accounting for 22 percent of the UN’s regular biennium budget, followed by Japan (9.7 percent), China (7.9 percent), Germany (6.7 percent) and France (4.8 percent) – all based on a country’s “capacity to pay”.

The UN’s 2016-2017 regular biennium budget amounts to about $5.4 billion, excluding its peacekeeping budget and voluntary contributions to UN Funds and Programmes.

Following the Security Council vote on Friday, Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina) said he plans to form a bipartisan coalition to either suspend or reduce US funding for the UN.

And Senator Tom Cotton (Republican-Arkansas) warned that the UN and “nations supporting the resolution (against Israel) have now imperiled all forms of US assistance.”

While the US withheld its veto and abstained on the vote, the other four veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, namely, the UK, France, China and Russia, voted for the resolution, along with the 10 non-permanent members, namely, Angola, Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal, Spain, Ukraine, Uruguay and Venezuela.

A defiant Israel was livid, and in retaliation, threatened to build another 5,600 settlements in occupied Jerusalem thereby isolating itself further from the international community.

Jim Paul, former Executive Director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, and who closely monitored the politics of the world body for over 19 years, told IPS the US threat of withholding its dues to the UN has been around for a long time – since the 1980s when it was first proposed by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

“This threat is effective only if it is believed and acted on by frightened UN officials or member states, who rush to adopt the latest requirements by the bully-state,” he noted.

“It actually might be healthy if the US dues were reduced and the UN were not so dependent on US financing, he added.

Paul pointed out that Swedish Prime Minister the late Olaf Palme once suggested that the UN’s dues structure should be changed so that no single country would pay more than 10 percent of the total budget(s).

“The cost to other states would not be very burdensome and the change might produce some real policy benefits,” said Paul, a well-known speaker and writer on the UN and global policy issues.

Over the years, successive US administrations have manipulated the UN to its own advantage as an extension of US foreign policy.

Paul pointed out that some delegates from governments who are out-of-favour in Washington are constrained to live within a specified distance from the city and some cannot travel beyond that distance in the US without special permission.

Every once in a while, he said, a head of state or other high official will be denied entry and thus an opportunity to speak at the UN.

“How important is this harassment and what does it tell us?”, he asked. It is short of horrendous and well past acceptable.

“We can conclude that Washington likes to remind the other states – and the UN as an institution – that it can do what it pleases and impose its will whether others like it or not.”

In Washington, they like to call this behavior “leadership” but “bully” might be the most appropriate term, said Paul, who frequently served as Chair or Vice Chair of the NGO Working Group on the Security Council.

Despite the 1947 Headquarters Agreement between the US and the UN, which calls on Washington to facilitate the functioning of the UN, the US has denied visas to several heads of governments planning to visit the UN to address the General Assembly or accredited as diplomats.

Palitha Kohona, a former Chief of the UN Treaty Section, told IPS the US was a key player in the creation of the UN and the organisation has served US interests well over the years.

“One might even say that the US has manipulated the UN to serve its global interests,” he argued.

Against this background, to return to the confrontational attitudes of the early 90s, when the US withheld its dues, would be self-defeating, said Kohona, a former Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN.

He said the US is no longer the only country with overwhelming financial clout.

“To threaten the UN with financial sanctions would only result in the further waning of US influence in the UN and globally. All countries, especially countries like the US, must continue to work together to make the world a better place,” he declared.

Although complaints against the UN have been never ending – including unpaid parking tickets, and tax–free and duty-free privileges for high-ranking UN-based diplomats – US politicians have rarely admitted the political and economic advantages of the presence of the UN on American soil.

And a new report released recently by the Office of the New York city Mayor points out that the UN generates $3.69 billion in total economic output to New York city’s economy.

The 15,890 individuals directly employed by the UN Community took home household earnings of approximately $1.64 billion. These household earnings and the operating expenses of the UN Community helped create and sustain 7,940 jobs for New Yorkers.

Titled “The United Nations Impact Report 2016”, it was released by the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs Penny Abeywardena

In 1946, New York City competed with cities from London to San Francisco to host the official headquarters of the UN.

Unlike past Mayors, the current Mayor of New York city Bill de Blasio has been a strong supporter of the UN. “New York City is not only an economic and cultural capital, but a diplomatic one. We are proud to be the host city to the United Nations headquarters and the largest diplomatic community in the world,” he said following the release of the new report.

“The impact of the United Nations stretches far beyond New York City and this study reflects the city’s enduring commitment to supporting this critical institution,” he added

Still the political benefits of the UN to the United States have not been as clearly highlighted.

Kohona told IPS the US, with its vast economic and political influence, has without reluctance, manipulated the UN to justify its actions, including military interventions.

One recalls (former US Secretary of State) Colin Powell’s efforts, with videos and photographs, to convince the Security Council of the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq or the intense phone calls to diplomats whose countries were members of the Human Rights Council when a US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka was being taken up for vote at the Council.

He said evidence is also now emerging of the blatant US manipulation of the global media, including with manufactured news, with the objective of influencing diplomatic outcomes.

The current Secretary-General, whose interventions, have generally been on the side of the US, also tends to be influenced by the US and the New York media.

His home being in New York is a factor in this outcome. Perhaps the Secretary-General should rotate his residence around the capitals of the P-5, including in the UK, France, China and Russia.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Threats to Freedom of Expression in the Social Networkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/threats-to-freedom-of-expression-in-the-social-networks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=threats-to-freedom-of-expression-in-the-social-networks http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/threats-to-freedom-of-expression-in-the-social-networks/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2016 02:53:32 +0000 Franz Chavez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148308 Experts and adolescents during a workshop about the risks of internet for children and young people, as part of the 2016 Internet Governance Forum (IGF2016), held in Zapopan, in eastern Mexico. Credit: Franz Chávez /IPS

Experts and adolescents during a workshop about the risks of internet for children and young people, as part of the 2016 Internet Governance Forum (IGF2016), held in Zapopan, in eastern Mexico. Credit: Franz Chávez /IPS

By Franz Chávez
ZAPOPAN, Mexico, Dec 27 2016 (IPS)

Email surveillance, blocking of websites with content that is awkward for governments, or the interruption of services such as WhatsApp are symptoms of the threat to freedom of expression online, according to Latin American activists.

Representatives of organisations in the region participated this month in Zapopan, on the outskirts of the Mexican city of Guadalajara, in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF 2016), an initiative formally established by the United Nations Organisation in 2006. They discussed the problems facing freedom of speech on the social networks.

A total of 12 Mexican civil society organisation highlighted the situation in their country, which is similar to that of other countries in the region.“There are no hegemonic standards or models of legislation for the information society. Every region, country, government and key actor makes decisions in accordance with their own financial and technical possibilities, political will and digital culture, which it is necessary to work on.” -- J. Eduardo Rojas

In a statement they denounced the interception of communications and the use of malware “to silence journalists and political opponents”.

“Mexican authorities intercept private communications” and 99 percent of the geolocalisation and obtaining of people’s digital identity (metadata) ”are done without a judicial order,” they stated in the document, issued by the Mexican branch of Article 19, a Paris-based international organisation for the defence of freedom of expression.

“Civil society actors are very worried” with regard to the surveillance that the new technologies allow “and the possibility of intercepting our computers and telephones, where we leave a digital fingerprint when we look for news or use our email,” Edison Lanza, special rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, told IPS.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in force since 1948, states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

“Three years ago, someone hacked into my email account and made my list of contacts public,” Martha Roldos complained to IPS. She is executive director of the Ecuadorian Foundation 1000 Pages, which researches and promotes accountability of civil servants towards the community.

She described challenges faced by activists, including espionage or interception of email messages, and mentioned government actions such as employing facial and voice recognition equipment for people involved in journalism or environmental activism.

In Brazil, the mobile text messaging app WhatsApp was interrupted on four occasions over the last two years by judges who demanded that conversations be revealed as part of investigations – a measure that was condemned by Artigo 19, Articulo 19’s local branch.

“The court ruling is disproportionate and is a direct attack on freedom of expression. The measure represents a blatant violation of principles and of the proportionality that judicial rulings should have,” said Artigo 19 in defense of millions of Brazilian citizens who use the popular app.

Ana Ortega, the head of the Freedom of Expression Committee (C-Libre) in Honduras, told IPS that among the many incidents against freedom of expression was the arrest of and prosecution against Elvin Francisco Molina for allegedly spreading false information on his Facebook page about the country’s banking system.

Accused of causing “financial panic in the social networks,” Molina was investigated by order of the National Council of Defence and Security. C-Libre expressed concern over the “criminalisation” of the use of social networks in the draft of a new Criminal Code which is being debated by the National Congress.

In Honduras, “there is no law to protect internet users and we take refuge under the right to freedom of expression and the 2006 law on access to information,” explained Ortega.

The report “Surf Freely”, carried out by the Venezuelan Press and Society Institute in several of that country’s states before and after the December 2015 parliamentary elections, concluded that web pages that were blocked belonged to companies that had provided information about the exchange rate of the dollar.

It was also established that other blocked websites were media outlets and blogs critical of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela and the administration of President Nicolás Maduro.

Yvana Novoa, a lawyer for the Peruvian organisation Anti corruption and Freedom of Information (Liber), documented cases in which users were blocked from accessing the Facebook account of the city of Lima. Also, “some public officials such as ministers have blocked users who criticise them on Twitter,” she told IPS.

Article 2 of Peru’s constitution recognises the right to freedom of information, opinion, expression and dissemination of thought through written or oral means, or images, through any social means of communication, without previous authorisation or censure.

But “there is no criminal penalty when a user is blocked by official social networks accounts,” said Novoa.

The blocking of sites as a form of censorship on the Internet is not very effective because the message will just be multiplied over the social networks, said Javier Pallero, an Argentine analyst for the international digital rights defence organisation, Accessnow.

Beyond that, it represents an action that stifles the debate needed to strengthen democracy, he told IPS.

Censorship on the internet “is a deplorable act by people who fear the power of information,” said David Alonso Santivañez, a Peruvian expert on digital legislation.

In any case, in his opinion, the capacity of social networks to multiply a message some 60 million times in a minute calls into question the possibility of true censorship of people’s communication.

What is needed, the expert told IPS, is to create laws that guarantee the use of the service, offer security and are the result of teamwork between civil society, legal experts and governments.

“Judges and prosecutors are the ones that have to investigate these kinds of abuses and interference in the private lives of journalists, activists and political leaders. If they detect illegal interference with no judicial order, without any legitimate objective, they must sanction this kind of offence,” urged IACHR rapporteur Lanza.

In a world dominated by the information society, the paradigm of self-regulation makes it necessary for “multi sectoral stakeholders to establish an informed and intelligent dialogue in order to define approaches, methods and techniques to face the challenges of an increasingly digitalised society,” J. Eduardo Rojas, a Bolivian expert who heads the Networks Foundation, told IPS.

“There are no hegemonic standards or models of legislation for the information society. Every region, country, government and key actor makes decisions in accordance with their own financial and technical possibilities, political will and digital culture, which it is necessary to work on,” he said.

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A “Selective” Concern for Universal Human Rights?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/a-selective-concern-for-universal-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-selective-concern-for-universal-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/a-selective-concern-for-universal-human-rights/#comments Mon, 26 Dec 2016 12:04:17 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148306 Singers wearing hats advocating "No Torture" line up before performing at a Human Rights Day event outside of Mogadishu Central Prison in Somalia on Dec. 10, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Singers wearing hats advocating "No Torture" line up before performing at a Human Rights Day event outside of Mogadishu Central Prison in Somalia on Dec. 10, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Dec 26 2016 (IPS)

As Human Rights Day approached this Dec. 10, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) issued a statement urging all governments to join in the fight for universal equality and justice.

The OHCHR emphasised the fundamental importance of the adoption and construction of an international human rights system based upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 68 years ago. The statement described the progressive declaration as “the greatest achievement of the international community since World War II”.

Since its initial implementation, the universal human rights system has relentlessly provided aid and defense to vulnerable communities and individuals under threat the world over.

However, the OHCHR is aware that any significant progress made for universal human rights can be swiftly reversed. Today, the rise of manipulative populist movements has legitimized xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, and other forms of divisive discrimination. Intrusive governments have destabilized and weakened the power of civil society.

Hate speech is on the rise, inciting violence and hostility. “A chill wind is blowing through much of the world and the very notion of human rights is under increasing attack,” the OHCHR report warned.

However, three special procedures mandate holders critiqued the statement issued by the predominantly Western OHCHR “human rights experts,” stating that it was a “far cry from reality”. While mandate-holders acknowledge the importance of “experts” on the issues surrounding sexual minorities, hate speech and homophobia, they believe the statement excluded the views of many other minority groups.

Currently, there are 43 thematic mandates and 14 mandates related to countries and territories, with 80 mandate holders. Special procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

In response to what they considered to be a “selective and imbalanced” text, the dissatisfied mandate holders issued a “complementary opinion” with the sole objective of “putting the issue of human rights in the proper perspective”. The three mandate-holders call for a “full overhaul of the UN Human rights mechanism”.

On Dec. 21, the three special procedures mandate holders released a media statement urging the international community and universal human rights mechanisms to engage in a constructive debate. The mandate holders considered the most pressing concerns to be the right to development, food security, clean water and sanitation, education, and sovereign debt restructuring.

The media statement was signed by the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas; the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism, Ikponwosa Ero; and the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, Idriss Jazairy.

The authors of the complementary opinion consider it imperative to evaluate and assess the root causes of conflict and inequality, not merely skim the surface by placing the blame on the resultant outcomes of unrest and instability. The mandate-holders consider this essential in the prevention of further human rights violations.

“It is not helpful to condemn ‘populism’ if one is not willing to recognize that populists are merely filling the vacuum left by governments that for decades have been insensitive to the needs of the people, who have continued ‘business as usual’, and not listened,” the complimentary opinion said.

The complimentary statement further condemned the “selective” empathy for victims of social phobias.

“There is need also to reflect on the reasons for those multiple phobias, offering guidance as to how to defuse them in a manner consistent with human rights and human dignity,” the statement continued.

The mandate holders also believe that it is precarious to condemn the rise of “hate speech” and “incitement to violence” without clearly defining what they mean. “Interpretation of ‘hate speech’ cannot be left to the discretion of governments and prosecutors, as this would open the door to arbitrariness contrary to the rule of law and tantamount to censorship,” the media statement explained.

The mandate holders asked the international community to recommit to the upholding all human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of Dec. 10, 1948 and in all related Covenants and Treatises. On the occasion of New Year 2017, they urged the world to avoid “privileged selectivity” and consider all rights to be of equal importance.

“As proclaimed in the Vienna Declaration of 25 June 1993 on Human Rights: “The international community must treat human rights globally, in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing and with the same emphasis,” the statement concludes.

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