Inter Press Service » Global Governance http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sun, 01 May 2016 23:28:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Media Freedom in Africa Remains Under Attackhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/media-freedom-in-africa-remains-under-attack/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=media-freedom-in-africa-remains-under-attack http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/media-freedom-in-africa-remains-under-attack/#comments Sat, 30 Apr 2016 16:24:12 +0000 Zubair Sayed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144916 Journalists in Zambia protest against attacks on the media. Credit: Kelvin Kachingwe/IPS

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

By Zubair Sayed
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 30 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow him on Twitter @zubairsay

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

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

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTA, Apr 29 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Illicit Financial Flowshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/opinion-illicit-financial-flows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-illicit-financial-flows http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/opinion-illicit-financial-flows/#comments Fri, 29 Apr 2016 14:34:23 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144905 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. ]]>

Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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

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

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(End)

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

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

By Lyndal Rowlands
Apr 29 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

By Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Playing Ping Pong with Disabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/playing-ping-pong-with-disability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=playing-ping-pong-with-disability http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/playing-ping-pong-with-disability/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 07:53:51 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144866 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/playing-ping-pong-with-disability/feed/ 0 Why the World Needs a UN Leader Who Stands Up for Human Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/why-the-world-needs-a-un-leader-who-stands-up-for-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-the-world-needs-a-un-leader-who-stands-up-for-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/why-the-world-needs-a-un-leader-who-stands-up-for-human-rights/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 22:03:39 +0000 Anna Neistat http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144855 The Human Rights Council in Geneva. UN Photo/Pierre-Michel Virot.

The Human Rights Council in Geneva. UN Photo/Pierre-Michel Virot.

By Anna Neistat
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 27 2016 (IPS)

Last August, Balla Hadji, a 61-year-old truck driver in Bangui in the Central African Republic, was having breakfast with his wife when they heard shots outside. He ran out to call his daughter inside, but troops were already there, and shot him in the back as he ran away. His 16-year-old son, Souleimane, was also shot when he ran towards his father. Balla died on the spot, his son Souleimane the next day.

The soldiers were neither armed groups nor government forces; they wore the famous blue helmet and vest of United Nations (UN) peacekeepers. Witnesses told Amnesty International that instead of helping the wounded father and son, the peacekeepers – who were meant to protect them – fired another round when the daughter tried to cross the street to reach her injured relatives.

What happened to an organization meant to protect and give voice to the world’s most vulnerable people? This is a question that candidates to succeed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon must address in the process that started at the UN General Assembly earlier this month. In the coming months governments will select the UN’s next leader – who will take up their post in 2017.

This is a crucial turning point for a twentieth century body being shoe-horned into the twenty-first.

The UN showed it can still deliver when it brokered agreements on development and climate goals in 2015, but its response to major crises was woefully inadequate. From its failure to protect civilians in conflicts like Syria and South Sudan to abuses perpetrated by its own forces, the UN is an organization creaking at the seams.

This is largely the fault of governments willfully thwarting UN action aimed at preventing war crimes and crimes against humanity or holding perpetrators to account. The UN Security Council appears less a place where people’s security and rights are protected than a forum where the richest and most powerful countries in the world play politics with their lives.

Four times a Security Council member has vetoed UN efforts to respond to the Syrian conflict. The result: nearly 12 million forced to flee their homes, and more than 250,000 dead.

At the Human Rights Council, Saudi Arabia’s western allies did its bidding, obstructing the establishment of a UN-led inquiry into violations by all sides in the conflict in Yemen, even while the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign commits war crimes. The result: a conflict that has taken the lives of more than 2,800 civilians, 700 of them children.

Even when the Security Council has acted and imposed sanctions and arms embargoes they have not been implemented effectively, for example in Sudan.

This cannot go on. I have seen the consequences on the ground in countries like Syria and Yemen: thousands detained, killed, displaced, and disappeared. When the victims and their families ask me if there is an organization that can help them, I know the answer should be the UN. Today I cannot look them in the eye and promise it will.

Failure to protect human rights will sow the seeds of future crises by fueling the injustice and repression that breed instability. Look at the uprisings in the Arab world five years ago, a palpable example of the link between system failure and governments repressing dissent and human rights.

The UN has not failed, yet. But its ability to fulfill its purpose is in grave jeopardy. The governments who select the next Secretary-General have to answer the critics who question whether the organization is fit for purpose in the twenty-first century.

The world needs someone who will champion marginalized people, protect civilians in conflict and prevent mass violations, combat impunity by supporting the International Criminal Court, fight for gender equality, defend activists against repressive governments and deal with the biggest global refugee crisis in seventy years.

That is a tall order, but essential in a world racked by proliferating conflict, deliberate targeting of civilians by states and armed groups, and rising xenophobia.

The next Secretary-General can do that by putting the protection of human rights front and centre. Human rights are meant to be the UN’s third pillar, along with development, and maintaining peace and security. But they risk becoming the third rail of UN politics: too controversial to touch, and a black mark in the eyes of certain Security Council members.

The new Secretary-General must bring human rights and humanitarian crises before the Security Council. When serious human rights violations occur, he or she should use their powers under Article 99 of the UN Charter to bring threats to international peace and security before the Security Council. This power has not been used for decades.

The next Secretary-General must also restore the reputation of an organisation tarnished by sexual exploitation and abuse committed by its own peacekeepers. The UN’s own statistics show 69 allegations of abuse in 2015, 22 of them from its peacekeeping force in the Central Africa Republic. The UN must make sure peacekeepers are punished when they turn predator.

But a critical first step is to have a fair and transparent process to select a highly qualified next leader for the UN. In the past, powerful governments who felt a strong Secretary-General was not in their interest have had too much control over the final decision. The debates held earlier this month kick started a vital opportunity for governments to reinvigorate the UN.

The election of the UN Secretary-General this year may capture a fraction of the attention of the US presidential campaign. Yet for much of the world who stand to benefit from a dynamic UN, it could be just as significant. If not more.

Anna Neistat is Senior Director for Research at Amnesty International. She has conducted more than 60 investigations in conflict areas around the world, including Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Zimbabwe, Nepal, Kenya, Yemen, Chechnya, Sri Lanka and Haiti. Follow her @AnnaNeistat

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

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The Hypocrisy of the West and Fiscal Paradisehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/the-hypocrisy-of-the-west-and-fiscal-paradise/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-hypocrisy-of-the-west-and-fiscal-paradise http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/the-hypocrisy-of-the-west-and-fiscal-paradise/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 15:17:35 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144853 Roberto Savio, is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News]]>

Roberto Savio, is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Apr 27 2016 (IPS)

The publication of the Panama Papers has now been digested, like any scandal, after just a few days. We are now getting so accustomed to scandals, that it is confusing, and the general public reaction often is: all are corrupt and politics is all about corruption.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

This, of course, plays out well for the right wing, xenophobic parties, numbers of which are ever increasing in every election, from Donald Trump in the United States, to Nigel Farage in Great Britain who promptly asked for the resignation of British prime minister David Cameron, who is among the users of the legal office of Mossack and Fonseca in Panama, which has helped more than 14.000 clients to create 214,488 companies in 21 fiscal paradises.

In some cases, like Iceland, that brought the prime minister to his knees, is a concrete response to the public indignation. By and large the general reaction was similar to the model of Cameron’s style: deny any wrongdoing, and just wait for the fury to go die down.

The Panama Papers had of course a very prominent space in the media, where the issue was alive for several days (but never more than five). The media put very little effort into looking beyond the Panama Papers and to find out the real situation of the fiscal paradise. Had they done so, a very uncomfortable truth would have emerged: the same countries who speak publicly against such paradise, do very little to eliminate them.

For instance, according to the Panama papers, it emerges that more than half of the ghost companies created by Mossack-Fonseca were registered in the British Virgin Islands. It works there like in Panama: a company pays a fee to register and an annual fee after that (always less than 500 US dollars), and by law the company will have to pay taxes only on the activities realized in the country. It suffices to not have any commercial activity in Panama or in any other fiscal paradise to be completely out of the grip of local tax authorities.

It is clear that the Virgin Islands are a British territory, like the Bahamas, Bermuda, Turk and Caicos, and therefore London could oblige these territories to comply with the international laws on transparency and accountability. The Panama Papers are just, “one firm in one place” says the economist Gabriel Zucman, author of “The Hidden Wealth of Nations: The Scourge of Tax Havens.” So, it cannot be representative of what is happening in the whole world”. The total amount of registered firms avoiding taxation is not really known. In fact, Zucman estimates that the tax heavens are now sheltering a staggering 7.6 trillion dollars, or 8% of the world’s financial wealth. And he draws attention to the fact that the United Sates is a major fiscal paradise, just after Switzerland and Hong Kong, according to the Financial Secrecy Index published by the Tax Justice Network, based in Washington.

And here comes a very good example of double standards. After it became evident that Swiss banks were hiding American capital (for which the US Treasury hit them with a heavy fine), in 2010 the US passed the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, which requires all financial firms in the world to surrender details about Americans with offshore accounts. But the US has refused to be part of any agreement for exchanging financial information with other countries.

Edward Kleinbar and Heather A. Lowe, of Global Financial Integrity, say that American Banks are awash with money coming from foreign investors. Kleibard, who was chief of staff of the Congress’s Joint Committee on taxation, declares: “ the United Sates demands that the rest of the world tell it when an American holds an account at a foreign institution, but the US does not return the favour by providing similar information on foreign investors, in US banks to their home jurisdiction”.

But in fact, the secrecy of American banks go beyond that. In fact, several states in the US use their constitutional privileges to shelter their banks also from the central government. Heather A. Lowe, the legal counsel and director of government affairs for Global Financial Integrity, Washington, warned that the problem was in any American state, not just in the more notorious one. ”You can create anonymous companies anywhere in the US: The reason people know about Delaware, Nevada and Wyoming is because those states market themselves internationally”.

For instance, Delaware secretary of State has stressed in his annual reports that this marketing efforts have “helped the state to reach thousands of legal professionals in dozens of countries across the globe, to tell the Delaware story”. And Nevada boasted a similar advertisement on the state’s website: Why incorporate in Nevada? Minimal reporting and disclosing requirement. Stockholders are not public records”.

While the legitimacy of taxes as a concept may be up to personal interpretation, what matters in Hillary Clinton’s use of the so-called Delaware loophole, in particular, is her constant harping on the need for corporations and elite individuals to pay their fair share. In other words, Clinton’s employment of North Orange Street amounts to a telling, Do As I Say, Not As I Do. And, as the Guardian notes, both of “the leading candidates for president – Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – have companies registered at 1209 North Orange, and have refused to explain why.”

John Cassara, a former special agent for the US Treasury Department, reported in the New York Times on April 8where many of the declarations are coming from, about the frustration that fiscal agents have when they try to investigate “who or what is behind that company: you basically strike out. It does not matter if is the FBI, at the federal level, state or local. Even the Department of Justice can’t get the information. There is nothing you can do.” He had to abandon an investigation in Nevada when they found a corporation that had received more than 3700 suspicious wire transfers, totalling over 381 million dollars.

Clearly, one cannot set up rules for global governance, when important rich countries have double standards and cannot even put their own house in order. But the lack of global governance becomes even more evident, when we find out that the debate about global tax negotiations is exclusive to the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and all the other countries of the world are left out. The Group of 77 and China, which has 134 members, has repeatedly asked that the UN must play a greater role in global tax cooperation but to no avail.

And it is a fact that in the list of account holders in Panama there is a large presence of personalities from Arab Countries, China, Nigeria, Brazil and so on. But there is a cultural problem, for which there is no solution. The fiscal authorities of the OECD countries think that on delicate matters, it is better to exclude the developing countries, because it would create a mechanism of negotiations where they could find themselves in the minority. That of course, would be to recognize that global governance can only be effective with a democratic system of consultation and decision. That is not at all the prevailing mood in an increasingly fractured world. Therefore, it would be normal to expect many more scandals, with spotlight for a few days on the names that could emerge, followed by a total relapse, until the next scandal explodes.

How long this can last without damaging the foundations of democracy, it is difficult to predict. And some defenders of the present system are already maintaining that scandals are proof that democracy is alive. But if the citizen’s growing lack of trust in the political and economic elites continues, it is difficult to see how scandals will help nurture democracy.

(End)

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Choose Humanity: Make the Impossible Choice Possible!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/choose-humanity-make-the-impossible-choice-possible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=choose-humanity-make-the-impossible-choice-possible http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/choose-humanity-make-the-impossible-choice-possible/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 15:03:47 +0000 Herve Verhoosel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144850 Herve Verhoosel is the Spokesperson of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to be hosted in Istanbul on May 23-24. He was previously leading the Roll Back Malaria office at the UN in New York and was also Head of External Relations, Advocacy and Communication. In this Op-Ed Verhoosel introduces this major event, the first ever of its kind, which will bring together governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector to propose solutions.]]>

Herve Verhoosel is the Spokesperson of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to be hosted in Istanbul on May 23-24. He was previously leading the Roll Back Malaria office at the UN in New York and was also Head of External Relations, Advocacy and Communication. In this Op-Ed Verhoosel introduces this major event, the first ever of its kind, which will bring together governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector to propose solutions.

By Herve Verhoosel
UN, New York, Apr 27 2016 (IPS)

We have arrived at the point of no return. At this very moment the world is witnessing the highest level of humanitarian needs since World War Two. We are experiencing a human catastrophe on a titanic scale: 125 million in dire need of assistance, over 60 million people forcibly displaced, and 218 million people affected by disasters each year for the past two decades.

Herve Verhoosel

Herve Verhoosel

More than $20 billion is needed to aid the 37 countries currently affected by disasters and conflicts. Unless immediate action is taken, 62 percent of the global population– nearly two-thirds of all of us- could be living in what is classified as fragile situations by 2030. Time and time again we heard that our world is at a tipping point. Today these words are truer than ever before.

The situation has hit home. We are slowly understanding that none of us is immune to the ripple effects of armed conflicts and natural disasters. We’re coming face to face with refugees from war-torn nations and witnessing first-hand the consequences of global warming in our own backyards. We see it, we live it, and we can no longer deny it.

These are desperate times. With so much at stake, we have only one choice to make: humanity. Now is the time to stand together and reverse the rising trend of humanitarian needs. Now is the time to create clear, actionable goals for change to be implemented within the next three years that are grounded in our common humanity, the one value that unites us all.

This is why the United Nations Secretary-General is calling on world leaders to reinforce our collective responsibility to guard humanity by attending the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit.

From May 23rd to the 24th, our leaders are being asked to come together in Istanbul, Turkey, to agree on a core set of actions that will chart a course for real change. This foundation for change was not born overnight. It was a direct result of three years of consultations with more than 23,000 people in 153 countries.

On the basis of the consultation process, the United Nations Secretary-General launched his report for the World Humanitarian Summit titled “One Humanity, Shared responsibility. As a roadmap to guide the Summit, the report outlines a clear vision for global leadership to take swift and collective action toward strengthening the coordination of humanitarian and crisis relief.

Aptly referred to as an “Agenda for Humanity,” the report lays out ground-breaking changes to the humanitarian system that, once put into action, will promptly help to alleviate suffering, reduce risk and lessen vulnerability on a global scale.

The Agenda is also linked to the Sustainable Development Goals, which specifically maps out a timeline for the future and health of our world. Imagine the end of poverty, inequality and civil war by 2030. Is it possible? Undoubtedly so. Most importantly, the Secretary-General has called for measurable progress within the next three years following the Summit.

As such, the Summit is not an endpoint, but a kick-off towards making a real difference in the lives of millions of women, men and children. It’s an unprecedented opportunity for global leaders to mobilize the political will to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. So, how to take action?

The Agenda specifies five core responsibilities that the international community must shoulder if we expect to end our shared humanitarian crises. These core responsibilities offer a framework for unified and concentrated action to Summit attendees, leadership and the public at large. Once implemented, change will inevitably follow.

1. Prevent and End Conflict: Political leaders (including the UN Security Council) must resolve to not only manage crises, but also to prevent them. They must analyse conflict risks and utilize all political and economic means necessary to prevent conflict and find solutions, working with their communities – youth, women and faith-based groups – to find the ones that work.

The Summit presents a unique opportunity to gain political momentum and commitment from leaders to promote and invest in conflict prevention and mediation in order to reduce the impacts of conflicts, which generate 80 percent of humanitarian needs.

2. Respect Rules of War: Most states have signed and implemented international humanitarian and human rights laws, but, sadly, few are respected or monitored. Unless violators are held accountable each time they break these laws, civilians will continue to make up the vast majority of those killed in conflict – roughly 90 percent. Hospitals, schools and homes will continue to be obliterated and aid workers will continue to be barred access from injured parties.

The Summit allows a forum for which leadership can promote the protection of civilians and respect for basic human rights.

3. Leave No One Behind: Imagine being forcibly displaced from your home, being stateless or targeted because of your race, religion or nationality. Now, imagine that development programs are put in place for the world’s poorest; world leaders are working to diminish displacement; women and girls are empowered and protected; and all children – whether in conflict zones or not – are able to attend school. Imagine a world that refuses to leave you behind. This world could become our reality.

At the Summit, the Secretary-General will call on world leaders to commit to reducing internal displacement by 50 percent before 2030.

4. Working Differently to End Need: While sudden natural disasters often take us by surprise, many crises we respond to are predictable. It is time to commit to a better way of working hand-in-hand with local systems and development partners to meet the basic needs of at-risk communities and help them prepare for and become less vulnerable to disaster and catastrophe. Both better data collection on crisis risk and the call to act early are needed and required to reduce risk and vulnerability on a global scale.

The Summit will provide the necessary platform for commitment to new ways of working together toward a common goal – humanity.

5. Invest in Humanity:
If we really want to act on our responsibility toward vulnerable people, we need to invest in them politically and financially, by supporting collective goals rather than individual projects. This means increasing funding not only to responses, but also to crisis preparedness, peacebuilding and mediation efforts.

It also means being more creative about how we fund national non-governmental organizations – using loans, grants, bonds and insurance systems in addition to working with investment banks, credit card companies and Islamic social finance mechanisms.

It requires donors to be more flexible in the way they finance crises (i.e., longer-term funding) and aid agencies to be as efficient and transparent as possible about how they are spending money.

Our world is at a tipping point. The World Humanitarian Summit and its Agenda for Humanity are more necessary today than ever before. We, as global citizens, must urge our leaders to come together at the Summit and commit to the necessary action to reduce human suffering. Humanity must be the ultimate choice.

Join us at http://www.ImpossibleChoices.org and find more information on the Summit at https://www.worldhumanitariansummit.org.
@WHSummit
@herveverhoosel
#ShareHumanity

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Organised Civil Society Increasingly Hemmed In by Global Eliteshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/organised-civil-society-increasingly-hemmed-in-by-global-elites-say-activists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=organised-civil-society-increasingly-hemmed-in-by-global-elites-say-activists http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/organised-civil-society-increasingly-hemmed-in-by-global-elites-say-activists/#comments Tue, 26 Apr 2016 22:55:43 +0000 Constanza Vieira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144845 Tunisian 2015 Peace Prize-winner Ali Zeddini (left), next to Sri Lankan activist Danny Sriskandarajah, secretary general of Civicus, and two other participants in the International Civil Society Week, hosted by Bogotá from Apr. 25-28, with the participation of 900 activists from more than 100 countries. Credit: Constanza Vieira/IPS

Tunisian 2015 Peace Prize-winner Ali Zeddini (left), next to Sri Lankan activist Danny Sriskandarajah, secretary general of Civicus, and two other participants in the International Civil Society Week, hosted by Bogotá from Apr. 25-28, with the participation of 900 activists from more than 100 countries. Credit: Constanza Vieira/IPS

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTA, Apr 26 2016 (IPS)

Collusion, according to the dictionary, means “secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others.” That is what the world’s political and economic elites engage in, according to Danny Sriskandarajah, secretary general of the international civil society alliance CIVICUS.

The reason for this is that they are afraid of dissent, the activist from Sri Lanka said Monday, Apr. 25, the first day of the International Civil Society Week 2016 which has drawn 900 civil society delegates from all continents to the Colombian capital.

This is the first time the biannual CIVICUS event is being held in Latin America.

In Sriskandarajah’s view, this is the reason that protests by young people in every region of the world are cracked down on by the police, often brutally.

He also said this is why civil society organisations are facing a global crisis, with governments that seek to impose their policies.

To do so, more governments are making overseas funding of civil society organisations illegal, while at the same time stepping up state surveillance of their online activities, due to fear of the power of civil society and the social networks to mobilise citizens to protest.

To this is added intimidation and repression which, in many cases, are curbing people’s ability to fight for a broad range of human rights.

Fundamental freedoms are under attack, said organisers and delegates.

CIVICUS tracks threats to basic freedoms of speech, expression and association in over 100 countries. In 2015, it counted 156 murders of human rights defenders worldwide.

Last year, half of the rights violations documented by CIVICUS happened in Latin America, where human rights defenders were the main targets. The most dangerous country was Colombia.

During more than three years of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas, over 500 community organisers and activists have been murdered in Colombia, especially small farmers and rural leaders seeking to reclaim land belonging to their families and communities, as well as human rights activists supporting their struggle.

The global crackdown on activism has continued in 2016. Two high-profile cases were the murders of Honduran human rights activist Berta Cáceres and South African community leader Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe.

Sriskandarajah said “We need to find new ways to defend activists and hold governments to account for these violations as well as the progress they must make in the fight against poverty, inequality and climate change.”

These and other central ideas form part of the Apr. 25-28 international week in Bogotá, whose hashtag is #ICSW2016. The week will culminate in the CIVICUS World Assembly on Friday Apr. 29.

The organisers were expecting 500 delegates at ICSW2016, but 900, from nearly 100 different countries, showed up. They were received by the host organisation, the Colombian Confederation of NGOs, created in 1989 as an umbrella group for non-governmental organisations fighting for economic, social and cultural rights.

Participants have been inspired by the presence of 2015 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Ali Zeddini of the Tunisian Human Rights League, one of the four organisations that joined forces to guide Tunisia’s spontaneous 2010-2011 Jasmine Revolution during the power vacuum left by dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (1987-January 2011) after he fled the North African country.

The Tunisian movement was finally successful in bringing about a transition to democracy, with a new constitution that establishes, in articles that cannot even be rewritten by another constituent assembly, that Tunisia is a civil state based on the people’s will, not the will of God. It also guarantees freedom of belief, conscience and religious practice.

The ICSW2016 will review mechanisms that hold governments accountable for murders of activists and other human rights violations. The delegates will also assess the progress made in the fight against poverty, inequality and adaptation to climate change.

Other participants are José Ugaz of Peru, the chair of Transparency International, and South African activist Kumi Naidoo, former head of Greenpeace and current director of the Africa Civil Society Centre.

The participating organisations include the Community of Democracies, Global Philanthropy Project, Article 19, the International Centre for Non-Profit Law, Amnesty International, the International Land Coalition, Abong – the Brazilian Association of NGOS, Transparency International and ACT Alliance.

One of this week’s workshops will address recent trends in the use of technology to empower and mobilise citizens.

One example is DataShift, a social data platform and Civicus initiative “that builds the capacity and confidence of civil society organisations to produce and use citizen‑generated data.”

A Youth Assembly was held Sunday Apr. 24 ahead of the ICSW2016. The delegates discussed solutions to youth poverty and inequality, as well as adaptation to climate change.

IPS spoke to Jhoanna Cifuentes, a Colombian with a degree in biology who is an activist with Red+Vos, a young people’s network. She is taking part in the ICSW2016 in representation of the Colombian Youth Climate Movement (MCJC).

The MCJC was created in 2014 to participate in the annual climate conferences. That year’s edition was held in Peru.

“We realised there was no space for young Colombians to come together and make their voices heard,” Cifuentes said. “We didn’t know each other, we all worked with different focuses. Our 10 groups organised and joined forces.”

The experience showed her that these civil society meetings are a chance to meet and network with people involved in similar activism. Because, she said, “Our work can’t just be limited to the local level, we have to have a wider influence.”

The Youth Assembly put out a statement on priority issues for young people, such as inclusion, gender and the environment. “But in order for these questions not to remain just on paper, it is the duty of each one of us to develop these initiatives and concerns in the organisations we work with,” Cifuentes said.

“I think a meeting like this one serves that purpose: to share information and make contacts in order to form networks, to work together in the future,” she added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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G-77 Should Adopt South-South Climate Change Program of Action: Ambassador Djoghlafhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/g-77-should-adopt-south-south-climate-change-program-of-action-ambassador-djoghlaf/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=g-77-should-adopt-south-south-climate-change-program-of-action-ambassador-djoghlaf http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/g-77-should-adopt-south-south-climate-change-program-of-action-ambassador-djoghlaf/#comments Tue, 26 Apr 2016 18:53:36 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144835 The beauty of the Paris agreement is that it’s a universal agreement, unlike the Kyoto protocol, said Ambassador Djoghlaf. Credit: Ahmed Djoghlaf.

The beauty of the Paris agreement is that it’s a universal agreement, unlike the Kyoto protocol, said Ambassador Djoghlaf. Credit: Ahmed Djoghlaf.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 26 2016 (IPS)

The 134 members of the Group of 77 and China (G-77) made their mark on the Paris Climate Change Agreement and should now adopt a program of action to implement it, Ambassador Ahmed Djoghlaf told IPS in a recent interview.

Djoghlaf, of Algeria, was co-chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), together with Daniel Reifsnyder, of the United States, a position which allowed him to “witness very closely” the negotiation of the Paris Agreement.

“As the co-chair of the preparatory committee I can tell you that the G-77 has been a major actor during the  negotiation and a major player for the success of the Paris conference,” said Djoghlaf.

Djoghlaf said that the Group of 77 and China made its mark on the Paris agreement by mobilising a diverse range of countries and sub-groups, to “defend the collective interests of the developing countries.”

The group helped to find balance in the agreement “between mitigation issues that are important for developed countries and adaptation issues that are very close to the heart of the developing countries,” said Djoghlaf.

He also said that the group fought for equity, response measures, loss and damage as well as means of implementation, including financing, capacity building and transfer of technology.

“Those that are suffering the most nowadays are those that have less contributed to climate change crisis and they are using their own limited financial resources to address them, to adapt, to adjust to the consequences created by others,” he said.

Program of Action in Marrakech

“I hope that the G-77 through the leadership of Thailand will be able to take the lead and submit to its partners at the next conference of the parties in Marrakech a draft work program on capacity building for the implementation of the Paris agreement,” said Djoghlaf.

The 22nd meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP22) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will be held in Marrakech, Morocco, from 7 to 18 Nov. 2016.

Djoghlaf said the program should address North-South as well as South-South capacity building, which is needed to ensure that developing countries can implement their commitments including on issues related to the finalisation of their nationally determined contributions and preparation of their future contributions.

“It would be important for the developing countries to be able to identify their own capacity building needs and let others do it for them. It will be also important to have a framework to coordinate the South-South cooperation on climate change similar to the Caracas Plan of Action on South-South Cooperation or the Buenos Aires Plan of Action on economic and technical cooperation among developing countries,” he said.

Quoting Victor Hugo Djoghlaf said that “not a single army in the world can stop an idea whose time has come, I do believe when it comes to South-South cooperation on climate change it’s an idea whose time has come also.”

“Within the G-77, the diverse group, you have emerging countries that are now leaders in renewable energy and the energy of tomorrow and the they have I think a responsibility to share their experience and to allow other countries from the same region and the same group to benefit from their experience,” he said.

"It is crystal clear that the Paris agreement will enter into force well before the original expected date of 2020. The clock is ticking and we cannot afford any delay” -- Ambassador Ahmed Djoghlaf

“I also believe that time has come for the G-77 to initiate it’s own program of action on climate change,” he said.

Djoghlaf said that developing countries need capacity building to ensure that they can continue to participate fully in the implementation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Unlike developed countries, which “have fully-fledged ministries dealing with climate change,” he said, “In the South there is not a single country that has a Minister of Climate Change.”

He spoke about how during the negotiations of the Paris agreement many countries of the South had only one focal point and yet sometimes there were 15 meetings taking place at the same time and the meetings also often continued into the night.

It can be difficult for this focal point “to be able to understand and to participate, let alone be heard” when there is a “proliferation of simultaneous meetings,” he said.

Djoghlaf said that countries of the South could help address this disparity by establishing national committees, which include representatives from a number of different ministries.

“There’s not a single sector of activities which is not nowadays affected by the negative impact of climate change,” said Djoghlaf.

“All the sectors need to be engaged and we will succeed to win the battle of climate change when all these ministers, economic ministers and social ministers, will be fully integrating climate change in their planning and in their decision making processes,” he said.

Djoghlaf acknowledged it’s not easy for ministers in developing countries to engage because they have other urgent priorities. “They tend not to see the importance of the impact of climate change because they believe that this is not a priority for them,” he said. Yet there is often evidence that supports a more cross-cutting approach. For example, said Djoghlaf, World Health Organization research, which shows that 7 million people die from air pollution every year, demonstrates that climate change should also be a priority for health ministries.

The beauty of the Paris agreement

Djoghlaf said that the beauty of the Paris agreement is that it’s a universal agreement, unlike the Kyoto protocol. The Paris agreement is “very balanced” and should last for years to come because it takes into in to consideration the evolving capacities and the evolving responsibilities of countries, he said.

“We need a North-South and a South-South global climate solidarity,” said Djoghlaf.

“Without judging the past, who is responsible now, and who is responsible tomorrow, and who is responsible yesterday, I think we are all in the same boat, we are all in the same planet and we have to contribute based on our capacity,” he said.

He described the success of the signing ceremony held here Friday, where in total 175 countries signed and 15 countries deposited their instruments of ratification as “unprecedented”. “This has never happened before,” he said, referring to the developing countries, which also ratified the agreement. “It is a resounding political message and a demonstration of leadership,” he said. “It is crystal clear that the Paris agreement will enter into force well before the original expected date of 2020. The clock is ticking and we cannot afford any delay.”

Djoghlaf also said that he was not concerned about upcoming changes to the United States domestic political situation.

“When you are a party to the Paris agreement you can’t withdraw before three years after its entry into force. In addition I do believe that this historical agreement is in the long term interest of all Parties including the United States of America” he said.

“I believe that this Paris agreement is in the long term strategic interests of every country,” in part because eventually fossil fuel energy is going to disappear.

Investment in renewable energy was six times higher in 2015 than in 2014, he added.

“We tend to ignore the tremendous impact and signal the Paris agreement has already been providing to the business community,” he said.

Another part of the Paris agreement which Djoghlaf is happy about is what he describes as a “fully-fledged article on public awareness and education.”

“It’s to ensure that each and every citizen of the world, in particular the developing countries, are fully aware about the consequences of the climate change and the need for each of us as an individual to make our contribution to address the climate change,” he said.

“There is a need also to educate the people of the world of the need to have a sustainable lifestyle this throw away society can not continue to exist forever and we need to establish a sustainable pattern of production and consumption,” said Djoghlaf.

However Djoghlaf, who was the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said that he was concerned that the negotiations in 2015 didn’t adequately reflect the importance of ecosystems and biodiversity.

“Healthy biodiversity and healthy ecosystems have a major role to play to combat climate change,” said Djoghlaf, adding that 30 percent of carbon dioxide is absorbed by forests and 30 percent by oceans.

“For each breath that we have we owe it to the forests, but also to the ocean, also wetlands have a major contribution to make, the peat lands have a major contribution to make, the land itself, the fertile soil of course has a major contribution to play, so biodiversity is part and parcel of the climate global response,” he said.

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OPINION: World Economy in Serious Difficulty: Call for Bold Measureshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/opinion-world-economy-in-serious-difficulty-call-for-bold-measures-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-world-economy-in-serious-difficulty-call-for-bold-measures-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/opinion-world-economy-in-serious-difficulty-call-for-bold-measures-2/#comments Tue, 26 Apr 2016 15:09:19 +0000 Yilmaz Akyuz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144832 Yilmaz Akyuz is the chief economist of the South Centre, based in Geneva. A longer version of this article was originally published in the Real News network (http://therealnews.com/t2/)]]>

Yilmaz Akyuz is the chief economist of the South Centre, based in Geneva. A longer version of this article was originally published in the Real News network (http://therealnews.com/t2/)

By Yilmaz Akyuz
GENEVA, Apr 26 2016 (IPS)

The US was the cause of the crisis but has come out better than anyone else in the advanced world and better than many developing countries. During the crisis there was a widespread perception that this was the end of US hegemony. It was end of the dollar as the major reserve currency.

Yilmaz Akyuz

Yilmaz Akyuz

When we look back now, we see that the US is strengthened a lot more as a result of this crisis. Not only vis-à-vis other developed countries –“ Europe, European Union or Japan – but developing countries including China, in economic terms. The status of the dollar as a reserve currency today is unchallenged because of the crisis in Europe.

The US economy is also fragile. Usually economic expansions are often followed by contractions. This is part of the capitalist system working in boom bust cycles. The US has had 24 quarters of expansion since the beginning of the crisis. And a lot of people think simply on this observation that after such expansion US recovery or growth is supposed to come to an end on historical evidence.

But apart from that? It is very difficult to get out of the policies that US introduced in response to the crisis. It does not know how to get out of the policy of easy money. It is very hesitant in raising interest rates. But on the other hand if there is a slowdown in the US and a contraction and renewed instability they do not have any ammunition to respond to it, because they used all their ammunition to respond to the last crisis and they are still using the same except in bond purchases

We have not had a serious debt crisis in an emerging economy in the past 10 – 12 years. However, the risks are very serious now. The world is caught in a debt trap today. Why? Because the resolution of the European and American crisis – which was a debt crisis – required cutting debt. But what we have seen is that the policies implemented to resolve that crisis have given rise to the accumulation of additional debt.

In the US, the ratio of public plus private debt to gross domestic product (GDP) increased from 200% to 280%. In Japan it increased to 500%; in the Eurozone and China it doubled. And in developing countries today it is close to 200% of GDP.

The current situation has an uncanny similarity to the 1970s and 1980s. Developing countries had a boom in commodity markets in the 70s which was accompanied by massive international lending by banks recycling petrodollars [oil surpluses]. And this twin-boom in commodities and capital flows to developing countries in the 70s ended up with a bust when the US raised interest rates in 1979 and 1980. And what we had was a debt crisis in Latin America. And the situation now is somewhat similar. We had a twin boom in commodity prices and capital flows and now we have come to the end of this boom even without the US changing its monetary policy in a big way. And the question is will the outcome be the same as in the 1970s?

We are highly vulnerable to the reversal of commodity prices and capital flows. The vulnerability to commodity prices nevertheless varies among developing countries because different types of commodities fell at different rates. Some developing countries benefit from commodity price declines but no developing country would benefit from tightening of the external financial situation. Now we cannot count on reserves. Traditionally we look at the reserve adequacy in terms of their volume relative to short-term external debt, but now there is a strong presence of foreigners in domestic bond, equity and deposit markets and their exit can cause significant turmoil.

Monetary policy now faces a major dilemma. In order to stimulate demand and growth we have to cut interest rates. A cut in interest rates can trigger capital outflows. So there is a dilemma between growth and stability. If we face a liquidity crisis we no longer have enough reserves to meet our imports and stay current on our debt payments and keep the capital account open – what do we do? Business as usual? Borrow from the IMF? Keep the capital account open? Continue allowing capital to run out, using reserves and the borrowing from the IMF and practicing austerity?

Now I think there is a strong misgiving vis-à-vis the IMF among the developing countries. And I am sure they will do their best to avoid going to the IMF in the event of a serious liquidity crisis. I am not referring to a solvency crisis, default – I am talking about simple liquidity crisis when you do not have enough foreign exchange to meet your current account needs and debt payments. Then what do you do?

Of course, the unorthodox response is to use reserves to support one’s economy, imports, not to support capital outflows. Are we prepared to impose controls over capital outflows? Are we prepared to impose temporary debt standstills? Or, are we prepared to impose austerity on creditors and investors rather than austerity on the people? These are the critical issues.

In conclusion, even if we avoid a fully-fledged financial crisis, the prospects are for sluggish, erratic growth and heightened instability in the global economy. Why? Because of financial excesses we have had in the past 8-9 years. And one cannot easily restructure balance sheets; that is the problem. We need to have a better policy mix than we have been using.

A few suggestions. First, stop relying on easy money which is not good except for speculation in advanced economies, abandon fiscal orthodoxy, invest in infrastructure and create jobs and create demand. Secondly, we need better control over international capital flows not only by recipient countries but also by source countries. Because they are most destabilizing. They are at the heart of the current difficulties that we face. Third, we need a mechanism for adequate provision of international liquidity and finally we need effective and equitable debt resolution mechanisms.

Now these issues should be studied and debated extensively, particularly at the current juncture. But unfortunately Bretton Woods institutions are not the best place to do that; neither to consider the fragilities, nor to resolve the problems. The IMF has missed one of the most serious crises in the world since the second world war, the subprime crisis. The IMF at the Secretariat level is not very efficient in providing early warnings to countries about the global economic situation. And this is not just a technical expertise issue; it is also a political issue. Because such an early warning – an effective projection of the difficulties in the world requires a critical examination of the policies of countries which exert significant impact on the world economy. It would require criticizing US and European economic policy. The IMF Secretariat cannot do that. In 20018 and 2009 when we were writing that the rise of the South was a myth, the IMF was promoting that the South was becoming a locomotive for the world economy. And they changed their mind only in 2013.

Secondly the IMF is not very bold in innovation. They are not bold in the reform of the international financial architecture. Why? Because the IMF is part of that architecture and that requires to reform that very same institution…So I believe that these matters should be discussed and debated among developing countries and in other fora such as the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which has a much better record in anticipating these difficulties and providing proposals, which eventually became part of the mainstream.

(End)

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Eastern Europe’s Claims for UN Chief Questionedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/eastern-europes-claims-for-un-chief-questioned/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eastern-europes-claims-for-un-chief-questioned http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/eastern-europes-claims-for-un-chief-questioned/#comments Tue, 26 Apr 2016 01:17:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144826 A Berlin Wall monument stands next to a Soviet sculpture at United Nations headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

A Berlin Wall monument stands next to a Soviet sculpture at United Nations headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 26 2016 (IPS)

As the campaign for a new UN Secretary-General (UNSG) gathers momentum, there is one lingering question that remains unanswered: does the now-defunct Eastern European political alliance have a legitimate claim for the job on the basis of geographical rotation?

Of the nine candidates in the running, seven are from the former Eastern Europe. All previous secretaries-general have come from the four other regional groups, including Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean and Western Europe and Other States.

But none from Eastern Europe, which exists as a geographical entity only within the precincts of the United Nations.

After the end of the Cold War in 1990-1991, Eastern European nations joined either the European Union (EU) or the North Atlantic Organisation (NATO), or both.

These include: Bulgaria (joined the EU in 2007), Croatia (2013), Czech Republic (2004), Estonia (2004), Hungary (2004),Latvia  (2004), Lithuania (2004),Poland  (2004), Romania  (2007), Slovakia (2004) and Slovenia (2004).

And four countries awaiting membership in the EU include: Albania, Montenegro, Serbia and the former Yugolav Republic of Macedonia.

Jayantha Dhanapala, a former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs and a one-time candidate for the post of Secretary-General, told IPS the end of the Cold War has transformed Eastern Europe from a political and geographical entity to a purely geographical group.

“Many of the East European countries are in NATO and the EU and their interests are closely linked to Western Europe – although some strains are showing in the wake of economic pressures and the recent migrant waves.

He said the principle of “geographical rotation” with regard to the UNSG position is therefore less strong than the vitally important gender equality criterion.

“The appointment of a competent and qualified woman as SG is therefore essential,” said Dhanapala, who lost out to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon nine years ago.

Eastern Europe should rightfully be an integral part of Western European and Other States. But the geographical group continues to exist at the UN purely to claim seats, including as non-permanent members of the Security Council, under the banner of Eastern Europe, according to some diplomats.

At elections for subsidiaries of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) last week, Belarus got a seat in the Statistical Commission purely on the basis of its non-existent Eastern European credentials.

So did many others: Estonia in the Commission on the Status of Women; Belarus and Montenegro in the Executive of UN Women; Romania in the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Albania and Moldova in the Executive Board of the UN Development Programme (UNDP)/ UN Population Fund (UNFPA)/UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS).

Since the creation of the UN over 70 years ago, the post of Secretary-General has been held by: Trygve Lie of Norway (1946-1953); Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden (1953-1961); U. Thant of Burma, now Myanmar (1961-1971); Kurt Waldheim of Austria (1972-1981); Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru (1982-1991); Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt (1992-1996); Kofi Annan of Ghana (1997-2006); and Ban Ki-moon of South Korea (2007 through 2016).

The nine candidates for the post of UNSG who made their presentations to delegates recently include: Dr Srgjan Kerim of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; Ms Vesna Pusic of the Republic of Croatia; Dr Igor Luksic of Montenegro; Dr Danilo Turk of Slovenia; Ms Irina Bokova of Bulgaria; Ms Natalia Gherman of the Republic of Moldova and Vuk Jeremić of Serbia – all from the former Eastern Europe.

The two non-Eastern Europeans who are in the running include Helen Clark of New Zealand and Antonio Guterres of Portugal, the former from a Pacific nation and the latter from Western Europe.

When Clark was asked about Eastern European claims, she told reporters: ”When nominations were called for from Member States, they were called for from all Member States”.

“Already one senior representative from outside Eastern Europe has been nominated (Guterres of Portugal). I anticipate there will be other nominations. I judge it to be an open contest and my hope is that Member States will look at what are the challenges that the Secretary-General’s going to have to lead the organisation forward on and who has the best skills for that job.”

Currently, the strongest claims for the jobs are from women candidates.

Although the UN is one of the strongest advocates of gender empowerment, only three women have so far been elected President of the General Assembly, the highest policy making body at the UN: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit of India (1953), Angie Brooks of Liberia (1969) and Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa of Bahrain (2006).

With women comprising half the world’s 7.2 billion people, the move to install a woman is perhaps the most legitimate of the claims.

James Paul, a former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum who monitored the politics of the UN for nearly 19 years, told IPS there is the important question of whether a woman will finally be chosen for the post and the secondary issue of whether the East European bloc will be represented.

As for the longstanding complaints about secrecy, the recently-announced “open process” and “dialogues” with candidates, provide a small step forward in what has always been an outrageously secretive procedure, he said.

“But predictably little attention is directed at the biggest issue of all – a selection still based on the will of a small oligarchic group.”

This year, as in the past, the Secretary General will effectively be chosen by the “P-5,” the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council (the US, UK, France, China and Russia), Paul pointed out.

“As in previous years, there will be little reference to the will of all the other countries, the concerns of the world’s people or the pressing leadership needs of the organisation.  Polite conversation in the General Assembly will not stop the P-5 juggernaut,” he argued.

“The P-5, with Washington always in the lead, has a record of choosing weak and compliant candidates for this post – people who will reliably cater to the interests of the powerful and agree to a weak and relatively inactive UN,” said Paul, an onetime writer and consultant on several projects with Human Rights Watch, Oxford University Press and Physicians for Human Rights.

The selections of Secretary General in 2006 and 2011 showed clearly that strong and dynamic candidates are set aside, that poor performance in the job is no barrier to re-election, and that the overwhelming majority of member states – even those sitting on the Security Council – have almost no influence over the outcome, he declared.

“Could this despotic arrangement be changed in favour of a more democratic process and a far better end-result?,” he asked.

Paul said no small-scale, incremental reforms will do.  Excluded governments and ignored citizens will have to say “no” in this round and again five years from now.

“The public is increasingly fed up with those who govern.  The P-5 will not be able to continue their despotism forever.”

But in the meanwhile, can the UN survive as the climate clock ticks towards midnight?, asked Paul.

Samir Sanbar, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General who headed the Department of Public Information (DPI) told IPS the Eastern European Group was initially a political alliance supporting the former Soviet Union balancing Western Europe and Other States.

While political lines were scrambled with the fall of the Berlin Wall, it seemed politically expedient to interpret it geographically mainly for balancing purposes, he added.

“Some would push the boundaries around to interpret it in general European terms,” he noted.

Geographical rotation was obviously not essential in electing two Scandinavians successively (Trygve Lee and Hammarskjold), he pointed out.

And a third European, an Irish General Assembly President, was in line when an Asian, U Thant became a surprise candidate, by a practical consensus, initially as “acting” UNSG, said Sanbar who served under five different UN secretaries-general.

When U Thant refused a second term “as a glorified clerk” it was not extended to another Asian. Instead Kurt Waldheim of Austria was elected.

While African diplomats presented Salim Salim of Tanzania to succeed him on geographical grounds, a Latin American Javier Perez de Cuellar was elected in a last minute vote in 1982.

As long as geographical groupings remain, however nominally, Eastern European candidates would naturally stake an obvious claim, said Sanbar.

But qualified women from anywhere in the European continent would have a more credible claim, he declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Any Ways to Combat Extremism?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/any-ways-to-combat-extremism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=any-ways-to-combat-extremism http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/any-ways-to-combat-extremism/#comments Mon, 25 Apr 2016 13:45:16 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144817 Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 25 2016 (IPS)

“The objective of extremists is for us to turn on each other [and] our unity is the ultimate rebuke for that bankrupt strategy.”

This is what the UN chief Ban Ki-moon has recently said. “While it may be inevitable to draw on examples, such as Da’esh [also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL] or Boko Haram, “the phenomenon of violent extremism conducive to terrorism is not rooted or confined to any religion, region, nationality or ethnic group.”

“Let us also recognize that today, the vast majority of victims worldwide are Muslims,” Ban on April 8 stressed while addressing the Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism – The Way Forward.

There, Ban stressed, “violent extremism is clearly a transnational threat that requires urgent international cooperation.” Then he explained that his Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism puts forward a comprehensive and balanced approach for concerted action at the global, regional and national levels.

Such Plan was first submitted to the General Assembly on 15 January. Then, on 12 February, the 193-nation body adopted a resolution that welcome Ban’s initiative, pledging to give further consideration to the Plan, including in the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy review in June 2016, as well as in other relevant forums.

So far, so good.

Barely six days after the UN chief’s assertion that the vast majority of victims of extremism are Muslims, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)—which was founded in 1969 being the second largest inter-governmental body after the UN, grouping 57 member states – held its 13th Islamic Summit in Istanbul on 14-15 April to discuss ways on how to combat the escalation of extremism and terrorism and the resulting growing Islamophobia.

How to do this? IPS posed this question in an interview to Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC.

OIC summit in Istanbul. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

OIC summit in Istanbul. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

“The OIC summit agreed on a set of measures to counter Islamophobia. And member states have been also be urged to establish stronger dialogue with the international community at the bilateral and multilateral levels and engage with the West in order to establish stronger cross-cultural and religious ties as a counterweight to polarising sentiment against religious minorities.”

Talebna explained that the Istanbul summit discussed “the need to reinforce the role of religious and social leaders in halting tendencies towards extremism, which sometimes fuel Islamophobia, by encouraging the principles of tolerance, moderation, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.”

Asked what are the key reasons behind on-going wave of Islamophobia in Western countries in general and in Europe in particular, Talebna said “despite the growing social ethics, the Economy in Europe has gone towards the opposite direction, hand-in-hand with populist rhetoric and a resurgence in far-right politics.”

“Negative Stereotypes Against all Muslims”

This coupled with the extremist acts of a few Muslims that have made it easier to generalise negative stereotypes and discrimination against all Muslims to take place, she said.

“Such circumstances inter-mingled with the rising intolerance against Islam and Muslims in western countries, which to a large extent was proliferated by widespread reporting, writings, articles, interviews, commentaries, and editorials in some western print and visual media, including social media and cinema that has resulted in negative stereotyping and racial discrimination and victimization directed against Muslims and distortion of the Islamic faith.”

According to the OIC senior official, “ironically, terrorist groups like DAESH and right-wing extremist groups in the west, and the negative media campaigns feed off each other. Here at the OIC, we are committed to oppose right wing extremists and to combat terrorist groups like DAESH.”

“We also encouraged all OIC Member States to work with the media to promote the understanding of responsible use of freedom of speech, to hold the media accountable for perpetuating hate speech and extremism, and to speed up the implementation of the OIC Media Strategy in Countering Islamophobia, adopted at the Ninth Islamic Conference of Information Ministers held in Libreville, Republic of Gabon, in 2012.”

This requires partnership and mutual trust with the West, and notably advancing cultural rapprochement something the OIC is committed to, Talebna added.

Asked about the role of religious and social leaders in halting tendencies towards extremism, Talebna said “We are setting up an anti-extremism messaging centre that uses leading Islamic clerics, through the International Islamic Fiqh (jurisprudence) Academy, to create religiously sound counter-narratives against extremist propaganda.”

“We will also collaborate with various NGOs and institutions and community leaders advocating and promoting tolerance, moderation and mutual respect and countering extremist rhetoric.”

Empowering Women to Restrain Extremism

The OIC is also making efforts to restrain extremism by taking actions such as empowering women as well as building capacity among the youth in order to promote peace and development in the Muslim world. We expect that such an approach will help easing the problem of extremism in the long run, she said.

Asked how could she explain to lay people the reasons behind the growing trend of Muslim societies, especially in the Middle East, to seek refuge in religion, Talebna said, “If such a trend is indeed taking place, then this is not a trend confined to Muslim societies. Religion is generally on the rise across the developing world.”

She explained that countless surveys have shown that religious people are more law-abiding happier and generally not prone to extremism. “If it makes people happier then more religion and religious practice should be welcomed. Even many people believe that religion could bring about, not only happier, but also healthier life.“

“Religion can play a positive social, political, economic, cultural and spiritual role in society. After all, it has done so for centuries across the Islamic world and led the world in scientific discovery, education, governance and proven conducive to building strong multicultural societies. There is no reason any increased observance of religion in the Islamic world cannot, with the right institutions and intellectual leadership, lead to similarly positive results.”

The OIC Summit planned to adopt a set of “practical” measures “to counter mounting anti-Muslim sentiment, both in Western countries and other regions of the world. How?

“The official communiqué of the Islamic Summit calls on all Member States to increase the role of religious and community leaders to curb tendencies of extremism, and to diminish Islamophobia, which is in fact main factors of extremism,” Talebna said to IPS.

“The conference encouraged all Member States to promote inter-faith and inter-religious dialogues within the OIC Member States to raise awareness about religious interpretations and beliefs, and open space for further discussion about Islam and faith and to initiate relevant projects at the level of United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.”

The OIC also encouraged all Member States to make further efforts to effectively implement of the Action Plan contained in Res. 16/18 of the Human Rights Council that focuses on combatting anti-religious hatred without double standards

“In an attempt to address the root causes of factors giving rise to the resurgence of racism and xenophobia more generally, of which Islamophobia is a part, the OIC expressed support for efforts to galvanize the international community towards re-engaging with the on-going discourse on the negative historic legacies of trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism.”

According to the OIC high official, such a discourse would include the reference to the looting of cultural heritage and artifacts and the related issues of restitution, reparations and atonement for these wrongs, including the need for an agreement on strategies for achieving them.

In this regards, the Istanbul summit further mandated the OIC to support the convening of an international conference to comprehensively discuss the issue of the slave trade, slavery, colonialism, restitution and reparations.

(End)

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Ecosystem Conservation Gives Hope to a Vulnerable Communityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/ecosystem-conservation-gives-hope-to-a-vulnerable-community/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ecosystem-conservation-gives-hope-to-a-vulnerable-community http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/ecosystem-conservation-gives-hope-to-a-vulnerable-community/#comments Mon, 25 Apr 2016 05:55:24 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144803 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/ecosystem-conservation-gives-hope-to-a-vulnerable-community/feed/ 0 South-South Cooperation Needed to Tackle Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/south-south-cooperation-needed-to-tackle-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-south-cooperation-needed-to-tackle-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/south-south-cooperation-needed-to-tackle-climate-change/#comments Sat, 23 Apr 2016 04:09:02 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144782 A wind farm outside Tianjin. China is the world's leading manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels. Credit: Mitch Moxley/IPS

A wind farm outside Tianjin. China is the world's leading manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels. Credit: Mitch Moxley/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 23 2016 (IPS)

As countries came together at the United Nations this week to sign the Paris Climate Change Agreement, partnerships were forged between countries of the global South to support the implementation of the global treaty.

On Thursday, the eve of the signing of the Paris agreement, UN member States, UN officials and civil society representatives met to discuss how South-South cooperation can help developing countries tackle climate change.

“South-South cooperation is a manifestation of solidarity among peoples and countries in the south that contributes to their national well-being, national and productive self-reliance, and the attainment of the internationally agreed development goals,” said Thai Ambassador to the UN and Chair of the Group of 77 and China Virachai Plasai to participants.

This partnership allows and promotes collaboration between developing nations on issues such as climate change, which has particularly catastrophic consequences for the countries of the global South, also known as developing countries.

In Africa, where the majority of civilians rely on rain-fed agriculture, climate change threatens decreased precipitation, which would affect crop production and water access. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), by 2020, crop yields from numerous African nations could be reduced by up to 50 percent, exacerbating food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty. By 2050, approximately 350 to 600 million people in Africa are projected to experience increased water stress due to climate change, IPCC found.

City-dwellers are also increasingly vulnerable to climate impacts. Over 90 percent of all urban areas are coastal, putting populations from Accra to Manila at risk of rising sea levels and devastating storms.

The impact of extreme weather events will also take a mounting toll on city communities as urbanszation and population increases at a rapid rate.

In the Asia-Pacific, half of the region’s population currently lives in urban areas and the urban population is expected to increase to two-thirds by 2050. Already unable to provide basic services, cities are being pushed to its limits, leaving the poorest communities even more exposed to environmental shocks including floods and landslides.

“It is the poorest half of the world’s population living in the Global South that face the most impacts of climate change, the harshest impacts of climate change,” said Executive Director of Oxfam International Winnie Byanyima to delegates.

Developing countries therefore have much to offer one another and the world at large, participants agreed.

Delegates highlighted that South-South and triangular cooperation, where developing nations collaborate with a developed country, will open up channels to share beneficial knowledge, experience and technologies.

China, which is estimated to account for 32 percent of global emissions by 2020, has become the world’s largest investor in renewable energies including solar and wind energies. This has contributed to a decline in renewable energy costs, even dropping below the price of fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, Brazil has successfully reduced deforestation by 70 percent, helping cut emissions.

Though there is no one size fits all model, sharing success stories could help nations and communities localise global agendas.

“Sharing knowledge and experience increases countries’ choices and can help them to more effectively adapt the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris agreement to local contexts,” said UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ (DESA) Assistant Secretary-General Lenni Montiel.

Such alliances can also contribute to the creation of new global norms and standards where developing nations are represented in global policymaking, Montiel added.

One changing norm is the global aid architecture. In 2015, the Chinese Government provided over 3 billion dollars to a South-South Climate Cooperation Fund, helping fellow Global South nations to tackle climate change.

Byanyima called this a “new era of climate finance” where southern nations are seen as “partners” rather than “passive recipients.”

However, South-South partnerships do not substitute North-South cooperation, delegates remarked.

“No South-South initiative will replace the obligations that the Northern countries have,” said Envoy of the Secretary General on South-South Cooperation Jorge Chediek to IPS.

To date, rich countries have pledged $100 billion per year to assist developing countries with the impacts of climate change by 2020. However, according to Carbon Brief, developing countries will need over $3.5 trillion to implement Paris agreement pledges by 2030. Current pledges also fail to limit warming below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as promised.

But by committing to work together, developing nations can expand support structures and meet climate change targets, participants concluded.

During the meeting, Chediek announced the launch of Southern Climate Partnership Incubator (SCPI). Implemented by the Executive Office of the Secretary-General (EOSG) and the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC), SCPI aims to encourage and expand South-South cooperation in the field of climate change. Among the key areas of focus is smart cities and renewable energy.

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Developing Countries Take Lead at Climate Change Agreement Signinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/developing-countries-take-lead-at-climate-change-agreement-signing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=developing-countries-take-lead-at-climate-change-agreement-signing http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/developing-countries-take-lead-at-climate-change-agreement-signing/#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 19:40:13 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144780 The UN General Assembly hall during the record-breaking signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. UN Photo/Mark Garten

The UN General Assembly hall during the record-breaking signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 22 2016 (IPS)

An unprecedented 175 countries signed the Paris Climate Change Agreement here Friday, with 15 developing countries taking the lead by also ratifying the treaty.

The Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Somalia, Palestine, Barbados, Belize, Fiji, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Samoa, Tuvalu, the Maldives, Saint Lucia and Mauritius all deposited their instruments of ratification at the signing ceremony, meaning that their governments have already agreed to be legally bound by the terms of the treaty.

Speaking at the opening of the signing ceremony UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon welcomed the record-breaking number of signatures for an international treaty on a single day but reminded the governments present that “records are also being broken outside.”

“Records are also being broken outside. Record global temperatures. Record ice loss. Record carbon levels in the atmosphere.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
“Record global temperatures.  Record ice loss.  Record carbon levels in the atmosphere,” said Ban.

Ban urged all countries to have their governments ratify the agreement at the national level as soon as possible.

“The window for keeping global temperature rise well below two degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5 degrees, is rapidly closing,” he said.

In order for the Paris agreement to enter into force it must first be ratified by 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions.

The 15 developing countries who deposited their ratifications Friday only represent a tiny portion of global emissions but include many of the countries likely to bear the greatest burden of climate change.

For the treaty to move ahead it is important that some of the world’s top emitters ratify as soon as possible. However unlike in the past, the world’s top emitters now include developing countries, including China, India, Brazil and Indonesia. For these countries, addressing climate change can also help other serious environmental problems including air pollution, deforestation and loss of biodiversity.

According to the World Health Organization air pollution causes millions of deaths every year.

“Air pollution is killing people every day,” Deborah Seligsohn, a researcher specializing in air pollution in China and India at the University of California at San Diego told IPS.

“Countries commitments on climate change will help with air pollution but will be insufficient to reduce air pollution to the levels that we are accustomed to in the West,” she said, adding that not all measures to reduce air pollution necessarily contribute to addressing climate change.

Sunil Dahiya, a Climate & Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace India told IPS that “pollution control measures for power plants, a shift to renewables, more public transport and cleaner fuels as well as eco-agriculture, would not only clean up the air but also reduce our emissions.”

Brazil and India have also found their way into the list of top emitters in part due to deforestation. Peat and forest fires in Indonesia, exacerbated by last year’s severe El Nino, contributed to a spike in global carbon emissions. However while these environmental problems occur in developing countries, the global community also has a responsibility to help address them.

While both developed and developing countries have responsibilities to reduce their emissions, David Waskow, Director of the International Climate Action Initiative at the World Resources Institute (WRI) said that an equitable approach among countries must take into account several factors.

“Questions of equity are threaded through out” the Paris agreement and that these take into account the respective capabilities of countries and their different national circumstances, said Waskow.

Heather Coleman Climate Change Manager at Oxfam America said that the conversation around equity shifted during negotiations in Paris.

“We moved away from talking about rich versus poor countries and the conversation started really evolving around poor versus rich people around the world,” said Coleman.

According to Oxfam’s research, the richest 10 percent of the world’s population are responsible for over half of the global emissions, said Coleman.

“Putting the burden on rich people around the world is where we need to be moving,” she said.

The WRI has developed a climate data explorer which compares countries not only on their commitments, but also their historic emissions and emissions per person, two areas where developed countries tend to far exceed developing countries.

One area that developed countries are still expected to take the lead is in climate finance said Waskow. Finance commitments will see richer countries help poorer countries to reduce their emissions. Financing could potentially help countries like Brazil and Indonesia address mass deforestation while a new Southern Climate Partnership Incubator launched at the UN Thursday will help facilitate the exchange of ideas between developing countries to tackle climate change.

Financing should also help vulnerable countries to better prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change, however Coleman told IPS that the Paris agreement lacks a specific commitment to adaptation financing, and that this omission should be addressed this year.

Despite the records broken at the signing ceremony here Friday Coleman also said it was important to remember that the national commitments made by countries are still “nowhere near enough” to avoid catastrophic climate change.

“We really need to look towards a two degree goal but we need to stretch to 1.5 if we are going to see many vulnerable communities (continue) their very existence,” she said.

Some of the communities most vulnerable to climate change include small island countries and indigenous communities.

For island countries, already threatened by increasingly severe and frequent cyclones and rising sea levels, coral bleaching is a new imminent threat likely to effect the economies which rely on coral reef tourism.

Indigenous communities are also losing their homes to deforestation and have become targets for violence because of their work defending the world’s natural resources.

According to Global Witness at least two people are killed each week for defending forests and other natural resources from destruction, and 40 percent of the victims are indigenous.

However although forests owned by Indigenous people contain approximately 37.7 billion tons of carbon, Indigenous people have largely been left out of national climate plans.

Only 21 countries referred to the involvement of indigenous people in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted as part of the Paris agreement, Mina Setra an Indigenous Dayak Leader from Indonesia said at an event at the Ford Foundation ahead of the signing ceremony.

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Opinion: Panama, Secrecy and Tax Havenshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/opinion-panama-secrecy-and-tax-havens-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-panama-secrecy-and-tax-havens-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/opinion-panama-secrecy-and-tax-havens-2/#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 14:12:15 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144777 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. ]]>

Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Apr 22 2016 (IPS)

Unlike Wikileaks’ exposes, the recent Panama revelations were quite selective, targeted, edited and carefully managed. Most observers attribute this to the political agendas of its mainly American funders. Nevertheless, the revelations have highlighted some problems associated with illicit financial flows, as well as tax evasion and avoidance, including the role of enabling governments, legislation, legal and accounting firms as well as shell companies.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

The political tremors generated by the edited release of 1.1 million documents were swift. Nobody expected Iceland’s prime minister to resign in less than 48 hours, or that the British prime minister would publicly admit that he had benefited from the hidden wealth earned from an opaque offshore company of his late father.

Panama Papers
The Panama documents are from the law firm Mossack Fonseca, which has worked with some of the world’s biggest banks — including HSBC, Société Générale, Credit Suisse, UBS and Commerzbank — to set up 210,000 legal entities, often to circumvent tax and law enforcement authorities worldwide. Just one law firm in Panama is still the tip of a massive iceberg hidden from public view as many such firms in other locations provide similar services.
High net-worth individuals and corporations thus secure a far greater ability to evade taxes by paying tax advisers, lawyers and accountants. Not surprisingly, Mossack Fonseca insists it has never been accused or charged in connection with criminal wrongdoing, only underscoring that Panama’s financial regulators, police, judiciary and political system are part of the system. Similarly, many clients of such firms claim that they have not violated national and international regulations.

‘Offshore’ Tax Havens
Total global wealth was estimated by a 2012 Tax Justice Network (TJN) USA report at US$231 trillion in mid-2011, roughly 3.5 times global GDP of US$65 trillion in 2011. It conservatively estimated that US$21 to US$32 trillion of hidden and stolen wealth has been stashed secretly, ‘virtually tax-free’, in more than 80 secret jurisdictions, with two thirds in the European Union, and a third in UK-linked sites.

After the Panama Papers leak, Oxfam revealed that the top 50 US companies have stashed US$1.38 trillion offshore to minimize US tax exposure. The 50 companies are estimated to have earned some US$4 trillion in profits across the world between 2008 and 2014, but have only paid 26.5 per cent of that in US tax.
More so now than ever before, the term ‘offshore’ for tax havens refers less to physical locations than to virtual ones, often involving “networks of legal and quasi-legal entities and arrangements”. Private banking ‘money managers’ provide all needed services to facilitate such practices, making fortunes for themselves in doing so. Thousands of shell banks and insurers, 3.5 million paper companies, more than half the world’s registered commercial ships over 100 tons, and tens of thousands of ‘shell’ subsidiaries of giant global banks, accounting firms and various other companies operate from such locations.

Reforming Tax Havens?

In recent years, the global tax-haven landscape has shifted under increased public scrutiny. The OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) club of rich nations has been developing a global transparency initiative but Panama is refusing to participate seriously, with the OECD tax chief calling it a jurisdiction “that welcomes crooks and money launderers”.
To get on the OECD’s list of approved jurisdictions, almost 100 countries and other jurisdictions have imposed minimal disclosure requirements. Hence, subject to certain conditions, the Swiss government allows information-sharing about illegal or unauthorized deposits with other countries. Consequently, the flows have moved to new destinations.

Panama, US exceptions
Only a handful of nations have declined to sign on. After all, many countries and institutions actively enable—and profit handsomely from—the theft of massive funds from developing countries. The most prominent is the US. Rothschild, the centuries-old European financial institution, is now moving the fortunes of wealthy foreign clients out of offshore havens subject to the new international disclosure requirements, to Rothschild-run trusts in Nevada, which are exempt. As Panama is another, a large number of accounts have been moving there as well from other signatory tax havens.

The US does not accept a lot of international standards, and can get away with it because of its economic and political clout, but is probably the only country that can continue to do that. To its own advantage, the US has taken steps to keep track of American assets abroad, but not of foreign assets in the US. In his 5 April speech, following the US Treasury’s crackdown on corporate tax ‘inversions’, US President Obama criticized ‘poorly designed’ laws for allowing illicit money transfers worldwide, and noted that “Tax avoidance is a big, global problem…a lot of it is legal, but that’s exactly the problem”.

Following the Panama revelations, most Western government leaders have pledged tough action against tax evasion and avoidance, especially from developing country locations. But since they receive most of the funds in the tax havens in the world, the OECD has limited its efforts. Hence, these same governments have blocked efforts to give the UN a stronger mandate to advance international cooperation on taxation. Meanwhile, as major users of such facilities, many developing country leaders have been conspicuously silent in the face of recent revelations of what they have long enabled and practiced.

What Can Be Done?
Does it really matter that tax avoidance schemes are legal? Just because they are not illegal does not mean it is not a form of abuse, cheating and corruption. To tackle the corruption at the heart of the global financial system, tax havens need to be shut down, not reformed. ‘On-shoring’ such funds, without prohibiting legitimate investments abroad, will ensure that future investment income will be subject to tax.

If not compromised by influential interests benefiting from such flows, responsible governments should support international tax cooperation efforts under UN auspices and enact policies to:
• Detect and deter cross-border tax evasion;
• Improve transparency of transnational corporations;
• Curtail trade mis-invoicing;
• Strengthen anti-money laundering laws and enforcement; and
• Eliminate anonymous shell companies.

(End)

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How the Definition of Development Aid is Being Erodedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/how-the-definition-of-development-aid-is-being-eroded/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-the-definition-of-development-aid-is-being-eroded http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/how-the-definition-of-development-aid-is-being-eroded/#comments Thu, 21 Apr 2016 23:12:22 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144768 Participants at a UN event on Interfaith harmony and the Sustainable Development Goals. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

Participants at a UN event on Interfaith harmony and the Sustainable Development Goals. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 21 2016 (IPS)

The traditional definition of aid is being eroded at the same time that governments have committed to achieving the UN’s ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Jeffrey Sachs special adviser to the UN Secretary-General on development told IPS Thursday.

“A lot of governments have a kind of magical thinking which is, we’re all for the Sustainable Development Goals but don’t come to us if you want to achieve them, go borrow from the private markets,” said Sachs.

Aldo Caliari who represents civil society in UN Financing for Development (FfD) negotiations told journalists here Monday that there has been a “significant shift in the language” in these negotiations towards “a larger presence of the private sector”.

“We are concerned about states withdrawing their responsibility and saying the private sector should do it,” said Caliari who is also director of the Rethinking Bretton Woods Project at the Washington DC-based Center of Concern.

“Loans usually go for commercial projects rather than public service delivery so this is an entirely different way of utilising the financing,” he said.

While private sector financing will provide part of the funds needed to achieve the sustainable development goals, there are definitely some areas where public funds remain essential.

“If you want to achieve universal health coverage in poor countries, which is SDG 3, that is a public sector function and the poor countries do not have enough domestic revenues to achieve that on their own,” said Sachs.

“For the poorest countries the Official Development Assistance should be overwhelmingly in the form of grants because putting absolutely impoverished countries into debt makes no sense,” he said.

Sachs said that there are examples right now where donor governments are reducing funding to development programs in favour of domestic refugee costs, peacekeeping budgets and climate financing.

“I know cases where contributions to The Global Fund (to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria) and GAVI (The Vaccine Alliance) were cancelled in favour of climate financing because the government wanted to check the box on climate financing,” said Sachs.

He said that even Scandinavian countries, which he described as “some of the world’s best donors”, were reallocating their development funds to refugee programs.

Jeroen Kwakkenbos, Policy and Advocacy Manager at the European Network on Debt and Development (EURODAD) expressed concerns that some of the biggest increases in the recently published 2015 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Official Development Assistance (ODA) figures were for areas not traditionally defined as aid.

“One of the largest increases aside from refugee costs was for non-grant financing which is basically loans which increased by 26 percent,” said Kwakkenbos.

Kwakkenbos said that there is a trend towards loans replacing grants in country’s overseas development assistance budgets.

These changes are reflected in donor government aid policies. For example, the Australian government states on its website, that aid represents “an increasingly small proportion of development finance” and that Australia’s aid program will achieve it’s purpose by “supporting private sector development and strengthening human development.”

Kwakkenbos said that the inclusion of refugees in ODA accounting started in the 1990s, “but at the time it was a very small proportion of ODA so everyone just kind of ignored it.”

Overall, the OECD figures showed a small increase in ODA in 2015, without including the refugee costs, although some OECD countries did individually reduce the development assistance in favour of refugee programs.

The OECD told IPS by email that there has “not been any change of rules to allow more refugee costs to be counted as ODA” and that the OECD Development Assistance Committee told donor countries in February they were concerned that refugee costs should not “eat into ODA”.

Despite the small overall increase, most donor countries remain a long way from meeting their commitments to increase aid to 0.7 of one percent of their Gross National Income (GNI).

Kwakkenbos said that the target to reach 0.7 has now been revised to 2030, the same year governments have agreed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

“You have to remember that the original 0.7 target was 1980 and no later than 1985,” he said.

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