Inter Press Service » Global Governance http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 31 Jul 2014 15:44:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Human Rights Low on U.S-Africa Policy Summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/human-rights-low-on-u-s-africa-policy-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-low-on-u-s-africa-policy-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/human-rights-low-on-u-s-africa-policy-summit/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 15:38:37 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135855 LGBT activists, human rights observers and police officers wait outside a courtroom in Uganda's constitutional court on Jun 25, 2012. Four activists had brought a case against Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

LGBT activists, human rights observers and police officers wait outside a courtroom in Uganda's constitutional court on Jun 25, 2012. Four activists had brought a case against Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo. Credit: Will Boase/IPS

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 31 2014 (IPS)

As the White House prepares to host more than 40 African heads of state for the upcoming U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, civil society actors from the U.S., Africa and the international community are urging the Barack Obama administration to use the summit as an opportunity to more thoroughly address some of Africa’s most pressing human rights violations.

“While President Obama has unveiled specific initiatives to strengthen U.S. development work on the continent and connect it to core national security objectives, he has not done the same for human rights and the rule of law,” Sarah Margon, Washington director of Human Rights Watch,  said in the group’s 2014 Human Rights in Africa report.“Evangelical extremists from the U.S. have contributed to making society more dangerous than it ever was before." -- Richard Lusimbo

Although the policy agenda for next week’s summit has received praise for its proactive stance on energy, security and economic development, human rights advocates from both Africa and the U.S. are specifically condemning the agenda’s lack of concern over two critical humanitarian issues: freedom of expression and rights for the LGBT community.

“On the two issues we’re discussing today, the administration should be more straightforward, open and critical about these issues occurring in many countries in Africa,” Santiago A. Canton, director of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, an advocacy group here, told IPS.

Canton spoke Wednesday about these issues alongside fellow human rights advocates, as well as African journalists and LGBT activists, who collectively agreed that the current state of both press freedom and LGBT equality across Africa is “unacceptable.”

“Right that leads to other rights”

Citing terrorism laws, access to funding, and discrimination against independent media  as some of Africa’s  main obstacles to free expression, Wednesday’s panel spoke first and foremost about the need for press freedom to be recognised as not only a human right, but also as a key factor in development.

“This is a right that leads to other rights,” Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, said Wednesday.

Within his plea for governments to take a more active stance on freedom of expression and provide for more internet access, La Rue stated that 90 percent of young men in rural Africa already know how to use the internet, while 90 percent of rural women, who tend to be forbidden from the cyber cafes where such knowledge circulates, do not.

“If not everyone is convinced that freedom of expression and access to technologies are important development goals, then we cannot talk about things like education and access to health, especially women’s health…we need to first allow access to information,” he said.

In addition to urging that such freedoms be integrated into the next set of Sustainable Development Goals, La Rue has requested that the U.N. hire more legal and communications personnel to defend freedom of expression, adding that the understaffed office receives up to 25 cases per day.

Yet for Wael Abbas, a prominent Egyptian journalist, blogger and human rights activist, the blame rests primarily on the U.S. government alone.

“Egypt is the biggest country that receives U.S. aid – some in military, some in development – but if Egypt is  a dictatorship, and there is no regulation of how this money is being spent, than the U.S. is just bribing a corrupt regime and dumping huge amounts of money into the ocean,” Abbas told IPS.

Explaining how the Egyptian state is “waging a war against [independent journalists] and trying to destroy [their] credibility and presence,” Abbas argues that independent journalists like himself, who show “what is really going on in Egypt,” need assistance and attention paid to the fact that most media outlets are owned by corrupt businessmen.

Arthur Gwagwa, a Zimbabwean human rights defender and freedom of expression advocate, agrees that the U.S. should take more initiative in protecting freedom of expression and ensuring governmental compliance in Africa, informing IPS of a set of policy recommendations to address at next week’s summit.

A fundamental, not special, human right

Related to this call for a greater focus on freedom of expression in the press is the need for a more active U.S. role in protecting Africans’ freedom of sexual expression and identity.

“This is a time that we have to think about how we’re addressing sexual minorities’ rights overseas,” Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, said in Wednesday’s discussion.

Citing Africa’s passage of an anti-gay law and the recent comment by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni that “gays are disgusting,” Kennedy expressed disappointment that there has been “no real pushback” from the U.S. on LGBT rights in Africa. She said a concerted U.S. effort “could have helped a lot,” and that there are now many LGBT individuals in Africa who are afraid to attend HIV clinics for treatment.

Tom Malinowski, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, considers such discrimination to be ironic on a continent that is diverse as Africa.

He spoke of the challenges posed by authoritarian leaders, both in Africa and around the world, who have called LGBT equality part of a “Western sexual agenda,” and believes it is extremely important for not only governments, but also artists, celebrities and business leaders, to challenge such a characterisation.

“This is a fundamental human right, not a special human right…everyone has the right to not be persecuted for who we are as human beings,” Malinowski said.

Lip service?

In addition to Kennedy’s suggestion that the U.S. pass legislation to create a special envoy for LGBT rights, Malinowski is calling on his government to provide “direct assistance” to people, such as doctors and lawyers, who serve on “the front line of the struggle,” and to continue to put LGBT equality “front and centre” in its diplomatic engagements.

Yet HRW’s Sarah Margon warns that the U.S. has sent “mixed signals” on this issue, and suggests that that the U.S. government is “simply paying lip service to human rights.”

Indeed, Richard Lusimbo, representative of Sexual Minorities Uganda, has similarly urged the U.S. to speak out more strongly, calling on Washington to “hold homophobic people responsible” for the subsequent discrimination in Africa.

“Evangelical extremists from the U.S. have contributed to making society more dangerous than it ever was before…and because we have no opportunities to go to radio and TV to show our side of the story, it makes things very difficult,” he noted.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at hotzj@union.edu

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Cameroon’s Muslim Clerics Turn to Education to Shun Boko Haram http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/cameroons-muslim-clerics-turn-to-education-to-shun-boko-haram/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cameroons-muslim-clerics-turn-to-education-to-shun-boko-haram http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/cameroons-muslim-clerics-turn-to-education-to-shun-boko-haram/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 08:34:44 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135844 Sheik Oumarou Malam Djibring, a member of Cameroon’s Council of Imams, called on the country’s Muslims to be vigilant against the extremist group Boko Haram and to report any strange and suspicious-looking individuals. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

Sheik Oumarou Malam Djibring, a member of Cameroon’s Council of Imams, called on the country’s Muslims to be vigilant against the extremist group Boko Haram and to report any strange and suspicious-looking individuals. Credit: Ngala Killian Chimtom/IPS

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
YAOUNDE, Jul 31 2014 (IPS)

Motari Hamissou used to get along well with his pupils at the government primary school in Sabga, an area in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s North West Region.

In the past, Hamissou also lived in peace with his neighbours. No one was bothered by his long, thick beard or the veil his wife, Aisha Hamissou, wore, or the religion they followed.

According to the 2010 general population census, Muslims constitute 24 percent of this Central African nation’s 21 million people, most of whom live in Cameroon’s Far North, North and Adamawa Regions; all on the border with Nigeria. Cameroon’s north western boarder runs along the length of Nigeria’s eastern boarder, stretching all the way to Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north — a stronghold of the Nigerian extremist group, Boko Haram.

But the intermittent attacks and abductions perpetrated by Boko Haram in Cameroon’s North West Region has destroyed the peace and accord that Hamissou enjoyed with his pupils and neighbours.

The most recent attack by the group was on Jul. 27 when the wife of Cameroon’s Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali was kidnapped in the northern town of Kolofata. The group is said to have increased its attacks from Nigeria into neighbouring Cameroon. Since the group first took up arms five years ago for a Muslim state in Nigeria, more than, some 12,000 people in that West African nation have died in the crisis, according to figures from Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.

Now Hamissou’s own pupils call him “Boko Haram” in reference to the group. The name, Boko Haram, means “Western education is a sin” in the local Nigerian dialect, Hausa.

“They see our beards or the veils our wives [wear] and immediately link us to the sect,” Hamissou tells IPS.

“I am a teacher. I teach Western education. How can I teach Western education and at the same time say that it is forbidden? That’s incomprehensible,” he adds.

Arlette Dainadi, a 12-year-old schoolgirl who attends the same primary school that Hamissou teaches at, tells IPS some of her peers have gone as far as taking off her veil and shouting: “Boko Haram! Boko Haram!”

Aisha Hamissou tells IPS that even adults have taken to name-calling.

“I can’t move and interact freely with other people without being called names. People call me Boko Haram,” she explains, almost bursting into tears.

In a concerted effort to distance themselves from the extremist group, Muslim groups and leaders in Cameroon, including the Association of Muslim Students and the Cameroon Council of Imams, have been organising workshops, seminars and public demonstrations to sensitise the general public about their stance against the extremist sect.

Sheik Oumarou Malam Djibring, a member of Cameroon’s Council of Imams, tells IPS that Boko Haram’s campaign against Western education, as well as the atrocities it exacts on innocent people, has nothing to do with Islam.

“Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. Departing from these precepts is actually against Islam,” he says.

Members of the Cameroon Council of Imams and Muslim leaders have embraced “Boko Halal”,”an Hausa idiomatic expression which means education is allowed or permitted as contained in the Quran.

Islamic teacher and religious leader Sheik Abu Oumar Bin Ali tells IPS that Muslim scholars have been major drivers of education.

“Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi was a leading Muslim scholar who founded the branch of mathematics known as algebra… So it’s stupid for anyone to link Muslim with a hatred for Western education,” he says.

But Ahmadou Moustapha, a traditional Muslim ruler in Cameroon’s Far North Region, tells IPS that Boko Haram has definitely been recruiting young Muslims in the region.

“They come here and forcefully whisk away our young people,” Moustapha explains.

“I believe they go and intoxicate them with their hate beliefs.”

According to Professor Souaibou Issa, from the University of Ngaoundere in Cameroon’s Adamawa Region, the group is even more dangerous because “you never know what their linkages are, you don’t know what exactly their focus is, and you don’t know who the actors are. There is widespread suspicion, and the states are fighting invisible enemies.”

Mallam Djibring called on the country’s Muslims to be vigilant and report any strange and suspicious-looking individuals.

Editing by: Nalisha Adams

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World Bank Board Declines to Revise Controversial Draft Policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 01:11:09 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135842 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jul 31 2014 (IPS)

A key committee of the World Bank’s governing board Wednesday spurned appeals to revise a  draft policy statement that, according to nearly 100 civil-society groups, risks rolling back several decades of reforms designed to protect indigenous populations, the poor and sensitive ecosystems.

While the Committee on Development Effectiveness did not formally endorse the draft, it approved the document for further consultation with governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and other stakeholders over the coming months in what will constitute a second round a two-year review of the Bank’s social and environmental policies.“The proposed ‘opt-out’ for protections for indigenous peoples, in particular, would undermine existing international human rights law." -- Joji Carino

At issue is a draft safeguard framework that was designed to update and strengthen policies that have been put in place over the past 25 years to ensure that Bank-supported projects in developing countries would protect vulnerable populations, human rights, and the environment to the greatest possible extent.

“The policies we have in place now have served us well, but the issues our clients face have changed over the last 20 years,” said Kyle Peters, the Bank’s vice president for operations policy and country services.

He stressed that the draft provisions would also broaden the Bank’s safeguard policies to include promoting social inclusion, anti-discrimination, and labour rights, and addressing climate change.

But, according to a number of civil-society groups, the draft, which was leaked over the weekend, not only fails to tighten key safeguards, in some cases, it weakens them substantially.

“The World Bank has repeatedly committed to producing a new safeguard framework that results in no-dilution of the existing safeguards and which reflects prevailing international standards,” according to a statement sent to the Bank’s executive directors Monday by Bank on Human Rights (BHR), a coalition of two dozen human-rights, anti-poverty, and environmental groups that sponsored the letter.

“Instead, the draft safeguard framework represents a profound dilution of the existing safeguards and an undercutting of international human rights standards and best practice,” the coalition, which includes Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the NGO Forum of the Asia Development Bank, among other groups, said.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of that dilution is a provision that would permit borrowing governments to “opt out” of the Indigenous Peoples Standard that was developed by the Bank to ensure that Bank-funded projects protected essential land and natural-resource rights of affected indigenous communities.

“We have engaged with social and environmental safeguard development with the World Bank for over 20 years and have never seen a proposal with potential for such widespread negative impacts for indigenous peoples around the world,” said Joji Carino, director of the Forest Peoples Programme.

“The proposed ‘opt-out’ for protections for indigenous peoples, in particular, would undermine existing international human rights law and the significant advances seen in respect for indigenous peoples rights in national laws,” she added.

But Mark King, the Bank’s chief environmental and social standards officer, insisted that the draft’s provisions represented a “strengthening of existing policy” that, among other provisions, introduces “Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous Peoples” in all Bank-supported projects.

“In exceptional circumstances when there are risks of exacerbating ethnic tension or civil strife or where the identification of Indigenous Peoples is inconsistent with the constitution of the country, in consultation with people affected by a particular project, we are proposing an alternative approach to the protection of Indigenous Peoples,” he said, adding that any such exception would have to be approved by the Bank’s board.

The Bank, which disburses as much as 50 billion dollars a year in grants and loans, remains a key source of project funding for developing countries despite the rise of other major sources over the past 20 years, notably private capital and, more recently, China and other emerging economies, which have generally imposed substantially fewer conditions on their lending.

Faced with this competition, the Bank has been determining how to make itself more attractive to borrowers by, for example, streamlining operations and reducing waste and duplication. But some critics worry that it may also be willing to exercise greater flexibility in applying its social and environmental standards – a charge that Bank officials publicly reject, despite the disclosure of recent internal emails reflecting precisely that concern.

Under prodding by NGOs and some Western governments in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Bank had established itself as a leader in setting progressive social and environmental policies.

More recently, however, “it has fallen behind the regional development banks and many other international development institutions in terms of safeguarding human rights and the environment,” according to Gretchen Gordon, BHR’s co-ordinator.

“The Bank has an opportunity to regain its position as a leader in the development arena, but unfortunately this draft backtracks on the last decade of progress,” she told IPS. “We hope that the [next round of] consultations will be robust and accessible to the people and communities who are most affected, and that at the end of the day, the Bank and its member states adopt a strong safeguard framework that respects human rights.”

While welcoming the Bank’s new interest in issues such as discrimination and labour rights, the BHR statement criticised what it called the framework’s movement from “one based on compliance with set processes and standards, to one of vague and open-ended guidance…”

According to the statement, the draft threatens long-standing protections for people who may be displaced from their homes by Bank-backed mega-projects and may permit borrower governments and even private “intermediary” banks to use their own standards for assessing, compensating and resettling affected communities “without clear criteria on when and how this would be acceptable.”

In addition, according to BHR, the draft fails to incorporate any serious protections to prevent Bank funds from supporting land grabs that have displaced indigenous communities, small farmers, fishing communities and pastoralists in some of the world’s poorest countries to make way for major agro-industrial projects.

“We had hoped that the new safeguards would include strong requirements to prevent governments like Ethiopia from abusing its people with Bank funds,” said Obang Metho, executive director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, a group that has brought international attention to Bank-backed land grabs in his home country. “But we are shocked to see the Bank instead opening the flood-gates for more abuses.”

The draft was based on a five-month-long consultation involving more than 2,000 people in more than 40 countries and a review of other multilateral development banks’ environmental and social standards, according to the Bank.

In a teleconference with reporters, King denied that the Bank was lowering its existing standards. In addition to broadening existing standards, he said, the Bank will “use as much as possible the borrower country’s own existing systems to deliver social and environmental outcomes that are consistent with our values.”

He and Peters also stressed that more attention will be paid to assessing and addressing the risks of social and environmental damage during project implementation, as opposed to the more “up-front approach” the Bank has taken in the past.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at ipsnoram@ips.org

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Land Grabbing – A New Political Strategy for Arab Countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/land-grabbing-a-new-political-strategy-for-arab-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=land-grabbing-a-new-political-strategy-for-arab-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/land-grabbing-a-new-political-strategy-for-arab-countries/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 22:57:26 +0000 Mona Alami http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135839 By Mona Alami
BEIRUT, Jul 30 2014 (IPS)

Food price rises as far back as 2008 are believed to be the partial culprits behind the instability plaguing Arab countries and they have become increasingly aware of the importance of securing food needs through an international strategy of land grabs which are often detrimental to local populations.

Between 2007 and 2008, rises in food prices caused protest movements in Egypt and Morocco. “This has become an important concern for countries in the Arab region which want to meet the growing demands of their populations,” notes Devlin Kuyek, a researcher at GRAIN, a non-profit organisation supporting small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems.Arab countries ... have become increasingly aware of the importance of securing food needs through an international strategy of land grabs which are often detrimental to local populations

Arab countries, which appear to have started losing confidence in normal food supply chains, are now relying on acquisitions of farmland around the world. Globally, land deals by foreign countries were estimated at about 80 million ha in 2011, according to figures provided by the World Bank.

The 2008 international food price crisis caused alarm among policy-makers and the public in general about the vulnerability of Arab countries to potential future food supply shocks (such as, for example, in the event of closure of the Straits of Hormuz) as well as the perceived continued sharp increase in international food prices in the long term, explains Sarwat Hussain, Senior Communications Officer at the World Bank.

Increasing food prices are caused by entrenched trends that include population growth combined with high urbanisation rates, depleting freshwater sources, increased demand for raw commodities and biofuels, as well as speculation over farmland.

To face such threats, Arab countries have worked on buying or leasing farm land in foreign countries. “Investment in land often takes the form of long-term leases, as opposed to outright purchases, of land. These leases often range between 25 and 99 years,” says Hussain.

Currently, the United Arab Emirates accounts for around 12 percent of all land deals, followed by Egypt (6 percent) and Saudi Arabia (4 percent), according to GRAIN.

“It is however very difficult to estimate the total value of land grabbed today because most deals remain in the negotiations phase and are, for the most, very obscure ,” adds Hussain.

Land acquisitions are becoming institutionalised as clear strategies are developed by governments, which also rely on the private sector and international organisations, explains Kuyek.

Some governments of member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – have adopted explicit policies to encourage their citizens to invest in food production overseas as part of their long-term national food security strategies.

Such policies cover a variety of instruments, including investment subsidies and guarantees, as well as the establishment of sovereign funds focusing exclusively on investments in agriculture overseas.

Countries falling victims of the land acquisition mania range from Western countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Romania to countries in Latin America, Asia or Africa.

Globally, the largest targeted countries are Brazil with 11 percent by land area; Sudan with 10 percent; Madagascar, the Philippines and Ethiopia with 8 percent each; Mozambique with 7 percent; and Indonesia with 6 percent, according to the World Bank.

“The main driving force seems to be biofuels expansion, with exceptions in Sudan and Ethiopia, which are seeing a trend towards growth of food from Middle Eastern and Indian investors,” Hussain points out.

Governments, often through sovereign wealth funds, are negotiating the acquisition or lease of farming land. According to GRAIN, the Ethiopian government has made deals with investors from Saudi Arabia, as well as India and China among others, giving foreign investors control of half of the arable land in its Gambela region.

Powerful Saudi businessmen are pursuing deals in Senegal, Mali and other countries that would give them control over several hundred thousand hectares of the most productive farmlands. -“The [Saudi Arabian] al-Amoudi company has acquired ten thousand hectares in south western Ethiopia to export rice,” notes Kuyek.

Besides food security concerns, it appears that such acquisitions are increasingly perceived by international companies as a useful investment tool allowing for diversification. A number of investment companies and private funds have been acquiring farmland around the globe.  These include Western heavyweights such Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, but also Arab players such as Citadel Capital, an Egyptian private equity fund.

Kuyek explains that large land acquisitions are triggering debates in developing countries and can become electoral issues.  Land grabs can have adverse repercussions on indigenous populations which find themselves evicted from the land they have used over generations for cultivation and irrigation.

“People are concerned by the sale of their local resources,” adds Kuyek.

This has translated into the creation of local groups that are challenging large land sale deals negotiated by their governments. As an example, farmers in Serbia have made formal complaints about the purchase of farmland by an Abu Dhabi company, Al Rawafed Agriculture, according to The National newspaper.

Small opposition groups will nonetheless face increasing difficulty in fighting-off governments and institutions, for which food security has become a matter of political survival.

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China’s ‘Left-Behind Girls’ Learn Self-Protection http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/chinas-left-behind-girls-learn-self-protection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chinas-left-behind-girls-learn-self-protection http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/chinas-left-behind-girls-learn-self-protection/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 22:15:58 +0000 IPS Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135833 By IPS Correspondents
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2014 (IPS)

A normally quiet second-grade student, Yuan Yuan* suffers from a mild mental disorder that impacts her ability to learn and communicate. Her father, also mentally disabled, left her several years ago to find work in the city and his family hasn’t heard from him since. Unable to support the family, her mother also left and never returned.

Yuan Yuan’s paternal grandparents have been caring for her since. But they are not always there.

“I am scared of that man… he laughed at me and touched me. I don’t like him,” eight-year-old Yuan Yuan admitted during a visit from Zhang Xinyu, a programme officer with the Beijing Cultural Development Centre for Rural Women (BCDC), after a local Women’s Federation referred her complaint that a 70-year-old neighbour had sexually assaulted her.

In Yuan Yuan’s case, BCDC paid for her medical treatment and worked together with the local Women’s Federation to ensure they could respond and prevent any further attempts of the neighbour to access the child.

Yuan Yuan is among more than 2,500 girls being helped by a programme funded by the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, which is managed by UN Women on behalf of the U.N. system

The programme has brought together teachers, guardians, local police officers and health-care providers to protect China’s “left-behind girls”.

China’s rapid economic growth, driven by manufacturing industries on the eastern side of the country, combined with high unemployment and low wages in the central and western regions have driven China’s incredible internal migration of an estimated two million people moving from the rural countryside to its industrial cities.

“To protect ourselves and learn how to say NO to strangers is very important,” says Xiao Mei, a student in the 7th grade.
In many cases, parents are compelled to migrate to the cities without their children because of the hukou (household registration) system, which stipulates that children access public schooling only in their home town or village.

According to a 2012 report by the All-China Women’s Federation, the number of left-behind children totals over 61 million, with the number of girls totaling over 28 million.

Close to 33 per cent of all left-behind children are raised by their grandparents, while 10.7 per cent are raised by other villagers or relatives, and at least 3.4 per cent are forced to fend for themselves.

In addition to funds, the UN Trust Fund, UN Women provides technical assistance to BCDC on reducing the risk of sexual violence against rural children, with a particular focus on girls whose parents have migrated to the cities. The programme seeks to increase girls’ sexual knowledge and self-protection; ensure that both guardians and the community are willing and able to provide the guidance needed to reduce their vulnerability to sexual abuse; and to alter the social environment that promotes sexual violence and empower women and girls.

“To protect ourselves and learn how to say NO to strangers is very important,” says Xiao Mei, a student in the 7th grade. She says she was very proud that she could share a training manual and her learned self-protection skills with her siblings. “My older sister said to me that she was very shy and never had this information in the past.”

By the end of 2013, 500 local teachers, 5,000 students and 2,200 guardians had participated in training programmes on awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse and 210 ‘backbones’ – women and men leaders active in the community – had participated in trainings on the dangers of child sexual abuse.

The programme implemented by BCDC has set up six resource centres (three community-based and three in schools) to protect children and prevent sexual violence.

In villages, they establish managerial groups and in schools, teachers organise activities around the themes of left-behind girls’ safety, such as reading activities, lectures and performances to raise awareness of prevention of child sexual abuse.

Furthermore, with the funding from the UN Trust Fund, technical support from UN Women and national experts, a series of handbooks on girls’ safety education, covering everything from knowledge about sex and sexual abuse to gender-based violence, were produced and disseminated.

Shen Xiaoyan, a primary school teacher in Suizhou, a city in central China, recalls a remark by a colleague when she was preparing a presentation for a student sexual safety training in 2013: “These things [sexual education materials] appear so normal to me [now]. Why did I feel embarrassed about them only a few years ago?”

The programme has changed attitudes and removed barriers of silence, with several stakeholders reporting cases of sexual abuse.

“After training and project activities, local residents and government officials have become willing to seek out all possible resources to help victims of child sexual abuse,” said the BCDC’s Xinyu.

“In the past, this kind of information was considered secret, deterring victims and family from revealing it to other people.”

In a testament to the growing attention to the plight of left-behind children and the sexual abuse against left-behind girls, proposals influenced by the programme were submitted in 2012 by the Women’s Federation to the People’s Congress and the People’s Political Consultative Conference in Suizhou.

In 2013, the Educational Department in Suizhou issued a policy document requiring the strengthening of safety education for students in all primary and middle schools.

(END)

*Name changed to protect her identity.

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This article is published under an agreement with UN Women. For more information, check out the In Focus editorial package on The Girl Child on the new Beijing+20 campaign website.

 

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Is Europe’s Breadbasket Up for Grabs? http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/is-europes-breadbasket-up-for-grabs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-europes-breadbasket-up-for-grabs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/is-europes-breadbasket-up-for-grabs/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 21:29:03 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135828 Ukraine is the world’s third-largest exporter of cotton and the fifth-largest exporter of wheat. Credit: Bigstock

Ukraine is the world’s third-largest exporter of cotton and the fifth-largest exporter of wheat. Credit: Bigstock

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Jul 30 2014 (IPS)

Amidst an exodus of some 100,000 people from the conflict-torn eastern Ukraine, ongoing fighting in the urban strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk between Ukrainian soldiers and separatist rebels, and talk of more sanctions against Russia, it is hard to focus on the more subtle changes taking place in this eastern European nation.

But while global attention has been channeled towards the political crisis, sweeping economic reforms are being ushered in under the leadership of the newly elected president Petro Poroshenko, who recently brokered deals with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund that have rights groups on edge.“These reforms sound good on paper, but when you look more closely you see they are actually designed to benefit large multinational corporations over workers and small-scale farmers." -- Frédéric Mousseau

Even before Poroshenko assumed office on Jun. 7, international financial institutions (IFIs) were rushing emergency missions into the country, with IMF European Department Director Reza Moghadam declaring on a Mar. 7 visit, “I am positively impressed with authorities’ determination, sense of responsibility and commitment to an agenda of economic reform.”

After years of dangling a 17-billion-dollar loan – withheld in part due to ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to implement a highly contested pension reform bill that would have raised the retirement age by 10 years, and his insistence on curbing gas price hikes – the IMF has now released its purse strings.

The World Bank followed suit, announcing a 3.5-billion-dollar aid package on May 22 that the Bank’s president, Jim Yong Kim, said was conditional upon the government “removing restrictions that hinder competition and […] limiting the role of state control in economic activities.”

While these reforms include calls for greater transparency to spur economic growth, experts are concerned that Ukraine’s rapid pivot to Western neoliberal policies could spell disaster, particularly in the immense agricultural sector that is widely considered the ‘breadbasket of Europe.’

A quiet land-grab

Ukraine is the world’s third-largest exporter of cotton and the fifth-largest exporter of wheat. Agriculture accounts for about 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), with vast fields of fertile soil yielding bumper harvests of grain and cereals each year.

According to a 2013 forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ukraine is poised to become the world’s second biggest grain exporter in the world (after the U.S.), shipping over 30 million tonnes of grain out of the country last year.

The World Bank estimates that farmers and agricultural workers made up 17 percent of the country’s labour force as of 2012. And according to the Centre for Eastern Studies, agricultural exports soared in the last decade, from 4.3 billion dollars in 2005 to 17.9 billion dollars in 2012.

Lush soil and a rich agrarian culture do not immediately add up to nationwide dividends. Potential investors have cited“red tape” and “corruption” as hindrances to development, as well as a communist legacy that forbids the sale of land.

But the past decade has seen an abrupt change in Ukraine’s agricultural sector, with foreign investors and agri-business hugely expanding ownership and influence in the country.

According to a report released Monday by the U.S.-based Oakland Institute, over 1.6 million hectares of land have been signed over to multinational companies since 2002, including “over 405,000 hectares to a company listed in Luxembourg, 444,800 hectares to Cyprus-registered investors, 120,000 hectares to a French corporation, and 250,000 hectares to a Russian company.”

A deal brokered between China and Yanukovych prior to the political crisis – now disputed under the present regime – granted Beijing control over some three million hectares of prime farmland in the east, an area about the size of Belgium that totals five percent of Ukraine’s arable land.

This changing climate has been a boon for investors and corporations, with Michael Cox, research director at the investment bank Piper Jaffray, referring to Ukraine as one of the “most promising growth markets for farm-equipment giant Deere, as well as seed producers Monsanto and DuPont.”

Such statements have raised a red flag among researchers and trade watchdogs.

OI Executive Director Anuradha Mital told IPS, “IFIs are imposing Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) in Ukraine, which we know – from the experience of the Third World – will undoubtedly lead to severe austerity measures for the people and increase poverty among the Ukrainians.”

“Ukraine is also one of the 10 pilot countries in the World Bank’s new Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture (BBA) project,” Mittal told IPS, referring to a brand new initiative, still in the development stage, which is connected to the Bank’s controversial Doing Business rankings.

This index has been criticised by numerous groups including the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) – comprised of over 176 million members hailing from 161 countries – for favouring low taxes for transnational corporations and lowering labour standards in developing countries as a means of attracting foreign investment.

The Bank itself says the BBA will largely serve as a tool for improving agricultural output.

“The world needs to feed nine billion people by 2050,” a World Bank spokesperson told IPS.

“For small-scale farmers to be more productive and far more competitive, they need access to land, finance, improved seed, fertiliser, water, electricity, transport and markets.

“By identifying and monitoring policies and regulations that limit access of smaller producers to these critical components of success, BBA is being designed as a tool to foster an enabling environment that boosts local and regional agribusinesses,” she concluded.

David Sedik, senior policy officer at the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) regional office for Europe and Central Asia, believes such an initiative is sorely needed in Ukraine, where “the primary beneficiaries of subsidies granted by the agricultural VAT system are… large agri-holding companies, the overwhelming majority of which are Ukrainian.”

“The list of needed reforms is quite long, and could start with building a more transparent land market,” he told IPS. “A first step in this direction could be the lifting of the moratorium on land sales.”

“The BBA project seems to support the construction of a transparent and inclusive system of agricultural regulation, something Ukraine lacks,” Sedik added.

But the OI report’s co-author Frédéric Mousseau says initiatives like the BBA and others exist primarily to pry open Ukraine’s doors, hitherto sealed by its socialist traditions, to foreign capital.

“These reforms sound good on paper, but when you look more closely you see they are actually designed to benefit large multinational corporations over workers and small-scale farmers,” Mousseau told IPS.

“Ranking systems like the BBA push for contract farming, which entails farmers working for corporations, instead of as subsistence producers. We are denouncing this rhetoric, and its attendant struggle between different foreign interests over Ukraine’s resources.”

Research into the impacts of the Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ rankings in eight countries – including Mali, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and the Philippines – has yielded similar results: sharp increases in foreign investments and land-grabbing in a bid to appear more ‘business friendly’.

Further, Mousseau said, arrangements such as the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine offer glimpses into an agricultural future steered by corporate interests.

“Until now, Ukraine had banned the use of GMOs in the agriculture sector,” Mousseau stated. “So when we anaylsed the EU Association Agreement we were surprised by article 404, which states very clearly that both parties agree to expand the use of biotechnologies.”

Such clauses, experts say, could strengthen existing initiatives such as Monsanto’s Ukraine-based ‘Grain-basket of the Future’ project (which offers 25,000-dollar loans to rural farmers) and Cargill’s 200-million-dollar stake in UkrLandFarming, the eighth largest land cultivator in the world.

These developments give weight to the title of OI’s report, ‘Walking on the West Side’, a reference to the role of Western interests in Ukraine’s unfolding political crisis.

“It is necessary to see this in context of the U.S.– Russia struggle over Ukraine,” Joel Kovel, U.S. scholar and author of over 20 books on international politics, told IPS.

“Geostrategic politics and neoliberal economics fit together within the overall plan …in which global finance capital under American control and neoconservative leadership imposes austerity, seeks dominion over the easternmost portion of Europe, and continues the policy of encircling Russia,” he stated.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at kanyaldalmeida@gmail.com

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Israel Lobby Galvanises Support for Gaza War http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/israel-lobby-galvanises-support-for-gaza-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-lobby-galvanises-support-for-gaza-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/israel-lobby-galvanises-support-for-gaza-war/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 18:06:52 +0000 Mitchell Plitnick http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135825 National Security Adviser Susan Rice was interrupted by a protester who shouted “End the siege on Gaza." Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

National Security Adviser Susan Rice was interrupted by a protester who shouted “End the siege on Gaza." Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Mitchell Plitnick
WASHINGTON, Jul 30 2014 (IPS)

Pro-Israel activists assembled a huge crowd and a long list of congressional leaders and diplomats to declare their unconditional support for Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip on Monday, largely downplaying  tensions between Jerusalem and Washington.

Key congressional figures from both the Republican and Democratic Parties echoed similar views: that Israel was exercising its inherent right of self-defence, that the entire blame for the hostilities lies with Hamas, and reminding the audience, in a thinly veiled message to U.S. President Barack Obama, that Hamas is backed by Iran.Many of the speakers brought up Iranian sponsorship of Hamas, despite the fact that the relationship between them splintered after Hamas declared its support for the rebels in Syria.

Obama was represented at the event here, dubbed the National Leadership Assembly for Israel, by his national security adviser, Susan Rice.

Her address was interrupted by a protester, Tighe Berry, who shouted “End the siege on Gaza,” and held up a sign with the same words. Berry was joined by a handful of protesters outside the building from the pro-peace activist group, Code Pink.

After the protester was removed by force, Rice delivered the White House view that a ceasefire was of the utmost urgency in Gaza and Israel.

“The United States supports an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire,” Rice said. “That humanitarian ceasefire should lead to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the agreement of November 2012.”

That statement was distinct from the Israeli stance and that of almost all of the speakers at this event. Although Israel accepted an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire several weeks ago along similar lines, it is now insisting on first eliminating any tunnels in Gaza which lead into Israel and taking steps to disarm Hamas before halting its operations.

Robert Sugarman, the chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which spearheaded this gathering, set the tone with his opening remarks to the overflow crowd.

“We must continue to support the decisions of the government [of Israel], whatever our personal views may be,” Sugarman said. “And we must continue to urge our government to support [the decisions of the Israeli government] as well.”

While most of the speakers did not state any direct opposition to the Obama administration’s policy, virtually all of them stressed the view that Hamas must be disarmed and that the Netanyahu government must have unqualified U.S. support.

John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and one of President Obama’s leading political opponents, came closest to squarely criticising the president, by tying the crisis in Gaza to Iran.

“We will continue to push this administration to address root cause of conflict in the Middle East,” Boehner said. “What we’re seeing in Gaza is a direct result of Iran sponsored terrorism in the region. This is part of Iran’s long history of providing weapons to Gaza-based terror organizations, which must come to an end. Israel’s enemies are our enemies. As long as I’m Speaker, this will be our cause.”

Many of the speakers brought up Iranian sponsorship of Hamas, despite the fact that the relationship between them splintered after Hamas declared its support for the rebels in Syria, fighting against Iran’s key ally in the region, Bashar al-Assad.

Nonetheless, for many of the speakers, the connection provided a bridge to connect the fighting in Gaza to Congress’ scepticism about diplomacy with Iran over the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme.

But ongoing tensions between the Obama administration and the government of Israel inevitably made their way into the room.

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Dermer tried to balance a conciliatory tone with Israel’s determination to continue its operations in Gaza despite calls from the United States and most of the international community for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

“Israel has uncovered dozens of tunnels whose sole purpose is to facilitate attacks on Israeli civilians. Israel will continue to destroy these tunnels and I’m sure the Obama administration understands this,” Dermer said.

“Everyone understands that leaving these tunnels is like seizing 10,000 missiles and handing them back to Hamas. That is not going to happen. We will not stop until that job is done. Israel believes that a sustainable solution is one where Gaza is demilitarized, rockets are removed, and the tunnels destroyed so Hamas cannot rearm in another year or two. We appreciate that all U.S. leaders have supported us.”

But Dermer also delivered a message of moderate conciliation in the wake of very harsh criticism in Israel of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after the alleged text of a ceasefire proposal from Kerry was leaked to the Israeli media.

“I am speaking now for my prime minister,” Dermer said. “The criticism of Secretary Kerry for his good faith efforts to advance a ceasefire is unwarranted. We look forward to working with the United States to advance goal of a ceasefire that is durable.”

Rice also addressed the criticism of Kerry. “We’ve been dismayed by some press reports in Israel mischaracterising [Secretary Kerry’s] efforts. We know these misleading reports have raised concerns here at home as well.

“The reality is that John Kerry, on behalf of the United States, has been working with Israel every step of the way to support our shared interests. Both in public and private, we have strongly supported Israel’s right to defend itself. We will continue to do so and continue to set the record straight when anyone distorts facts.”

Rice’s defence of Kerry did not seem to ruffle many feathers in the audience. But the next day, a new controversy arose in Israel when several Israeli radio stations reported on a leaked transcript of a phone call between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama. Israel’s Channel 1 reported that Obama “behaved in a rude, condescending and hostile manner” toward Netanyahu in the call.

Both the White House and the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office flatly denied the reports.

“[It is] shocking and disappointing [that] someone would sink to misrepresenting a private conversation between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister in fabrications to the Israeli press,” said an official statement from the Prime Minister’s Twitter account.

Identical language was employed by the United States National Security Council over their own Twitter account. “The…report is totally false,” added White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at plitnickm@gmail.com

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Oil Alliance Between China and Costa Rica Comes to Life Again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-alliance-between-china-and-costa-rica-comes-to-life-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oil-alliance-between-china-and-costa-rica-comes-to-life-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-alliance-between-china-and-costa-rica-comes-to-life-again/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 02:22:47 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135822 The presidents of China, Xi Jinping, and Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís, both at their microphones during a Jul. 17 meeting in Brasilia. Credit: Presidencia de Costa Rica

The presidents of China, Xi Jinping, and Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís, both at their microphones during a Jul. 17 meeting in Brasilia. Credit: Presidencia de Costa Rica

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Jul 30 2014 (IPS)

China’s plan to become Costa Rica’s main energy ally through the joint reconstruction of an oil refinery has been revived after the presidents of the two countries agreed to review the conditions of the project during a meeting in the Brazilian capital.

The two countries initially signed a framework accord in 2008, including Chinese participation in oil projects, especially the upgrade and expansion of the Moín refinery on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, with an investment of 1.5 billion dollars.

But criticism from public institutions, political leaders and social organisations brought the initiative to a halt.

The Costa Rican president’s office stated in a communiqué that Beijing had accepted its request to renegotiate the project, with the aim of “resolving inconsistencies in the contract,” in which each country has invested 50 million dollars so far.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González said in a Jul. 22 press conference that “we have no deadline” for that review, which all of the involved institutions will take part in.

President Luis Guillermo Solís participated in the news briefing, although he did not specifically refer to the refinery.

Under the microscope

A year ago, the comptroller general’s office ordered Soresco, the joint venture, not to use the 1.8 million dollar feasibility study due to a conflict of interest, because it was conducted by a subsidiary of the Chinese partner CNPCI.

The study saddled Recope with costs from Soresco, such as land, fuel tanks, environmental damages and the expansion of the oil pier.

The comptroller general’s office ruled that the 16.28 profit margin established could be too high. A second consultancy, the U.S.-based Honeywell, also questioned that figure.

While the agreement creating Soresco stated that each partner would pay its own workers involved in the project, Recope paid half of the wages of the Chinese employees, as well as bonuses and incentives. Recope is seeking to be repaid 12 million dollars.

Solís held a bilateral working meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Jul 17 in Brasilia, during a summit of presidents of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) with Xi, after the sixth summit of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping.

The upgrade of the Moín refinery, which belongs to the state oil refinery Refinadora Costarricense de Petróleo (Recope), would increase its processing capacity from 18,000 to 60,000 barrels a day of crude. The company controls Costa Rica’s oil imports, and since 2011 it has had to purchase only refined products, because the plant was shut down.

The joint refinery project, or “Chinese refinery” as it is referred to locally, was criticised by politicians and a large part of organised civil society from the start.

“We have always defended the construction of a refinery, whether it was with China, Russia or France,” said Patrick Johnson, a leader of the oil workers’ union, the Sindicato de Trabajadores Petroleros Químicos y Afines.”We want the confusion to be cleared up…and if the project is beneficial, then it should go ahead because the country needs a refinery,” he told IPS.

In June 2013, the office of the comptroller general brought the initiative to a halt arguing that there were serious problems with a key feasibility study. Since then, the project has been on hold.

The renegotiations should overcome the first real hurdle that China has run into in Costa Rica. In 2007, this country became the first in Central America to establish diplomatic relations with China, in a part of the world that continues to have ties with Taiwan – incompatible with relations with China.

“Having an embassy here makes it easier to deal with matters with Central America,” Patricia Rodríguez, an expert on China who was an official in Costa Rica’s embassy in Beijing from 2008 to 2010, told IPS.

China is now Costa Rica’s second-biggest trading partner after the United States. This country’s sales to the Asian giant climbed from 91 million dollars in 2000 to 1.5 billion in 2011, when a free trade treaty signed in 2010 went into effect.

In strategic terms, the joint refinery between Recope and the state-run China National Petroleum Corporation International (CNPCI) is China’s star project in the country, and the joint venture Sociedad Reconstructora Chino Costarricense (Soresco) was set up in 2009 to carry it out.

The investment is to amount to 1.5 billion dollars, of which Soresco would receive 900 million in loans from the China Development Bank. The rest will come from the partners. The construction and remodeling of the plant will absorb 1.2 billion dollars of that total.

The work was to begin early this year and was to last 42 months. The comptroller general’s office’s decision to put it on hold was due, among other things, to the fact that the feasibility study was carried out by a subsidiary of CNPCI, which it said subverted the evaluation.

The resolution had the effect of “completely paralysing the refinery upgrade process by leaving it without the technical studies necessary for it to continue,” explained Recope in a lawsuit brought against the comptroller general’s office in response to the measure.

Despite the ruling by the comptroller general’s office, the administration of conservative President Laura Chinchilla (2010-May 2014) continued to defend the refinery modernisation project. But the centre-left Solís promised during the election campaign to renegotiate the agreement, because he considered several aspects of the contract negative for the country.

The request to renegotiate the contract had the support of political sectors and in particular of lawmaker Ottón Solís, an economist and university professor who was one of the first to speak out against certain facets of the agreement.

“We have enormous bargaining power here because China is desperate to open up negotiations with Costa Rica and this country has prestige,” Deputy Solís, of the governing Citizen Action Party, told IPS.

“If we insinuate that it’s impossible to negotiate with China because they take advantage of you with unfair contracts, the whole world will be put on the alert and other countries won’t want to negotiate with them,” and that gives Costa Rica bargaining power, he said.

One of the promises made was that the upgrade of the refinery will bring down fuel costs for consumers, who currently pay 41 percent extra in taxes and profit margins for service stations and Recope’s operating costs.

Petrol currently costs 1.48 dollars a litre in Costa Rica, which makes it the most expensive gasoline in Central America. Official figures from 2012 indicate that oil consumption in the country stood at 53,000 barrels per day.

“Fuel is a fundamental element for price stability because there are public services that depend on its price, like public transportation and electricity, and the same is true in the case of the productive apparatus,” the president of Costa Rica’s consumers association, Erick Ulate, told IPS.

During the meeting with President Solís, Xi also agreed to expand the timeframe for carrying out studies for the project of widening the road connecting San José with the Caribbean port of Limón, where 90 percent of the country’s exports are shipped out. The expansion of the road will be financed with a 395 million dollar loan from Beijing.

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Ticking Diplomatic Clock a Cover for Israeli Assaults on Gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/ticking-diplomatic-clock-a-cover-for-israeli-assaults-on-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ticking-diplomatic-clock-a-cover-for-israeli-assaults-on-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/ticking-diplomatic-clock-a-cover-for-israeli-assaults-on-gaza/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 23:19:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135819 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to journalists on the hostilities in Gaza Jul. 28, reiterating his call for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in the conflict. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to journalists on the hostilities in Gaza Jul. 28, reiterating his call for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in the conflict. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

As the death toll in Gaza keeps climbing – and charges of alleged war crimes against Israel keep mounting – the most powerful political body at the United Nations remains ineffective, impotent and in a state of near paralysis.

Perhaps by choice.

The 15-member U.N. Security Council (UNSC), the only body representing the international community armed with legally-binding powers, has failed to adopt a single resolution on the three-week- old conflict in Gaza which continues to result in the merciless killings of Palestinians and widespread destruction of homes and schools.U.S. military, financial, and veto power at the Security Council controls what can be done, even in such extreme moments of carnage.

After an unusual midnight meeting, ostensibly meant to display a false sense of urgency, the UNSC agreed Monday to release a so-called presidential statement, dismissed by some diplomats here as a morbid joke.

“Nobody, least of all the warring parties, takes these UNSC statements seriously,” said an Asian diplomat.

A mildly worded draft resolution, co-sponsored by Jordan and the Arab states, has been in circulation for weeks now, but failed to garner enough support to reach the negotiating table.

Mouin Rabbani, co-editor of Jadaliyya, an e-zine produced by the Arab Studies Institute, told IPS that from the outset of the latest assault on the Gaza Strip, Israeli leaders have been clear that their ability to sustain their attacks is dependent on international support.

“It’s what they call ‘the ticking of the diplomatic clock’, meaning the slaughter can continue with impunity only so long as the West remains prepared to extend it political cover,” he said.

The refusal of the UNSC to send a clear message to Israel that the slaughter must stop and there will be consequences if it doesn’t, therefore in practice extends the grace period allotted to Israel to continue its massive bombardments of the Gaza Strip, said Rabbani, who is also a contributing editor to the Washington-based Middle East Report.

This, of course, primarily reflects the support of permanent members U.S., UK and France – but also other members – for Israel’s actions, he said.

All three Western nations in the UNSC have predictably remained supportive of Israel and would not approve any resolutions either accusing Israel of war crimes, imposing a no-fly zone over Gaza or calling for an international commission of inquiry into civilian killings.

Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, has warned that Israel’s continued military assault on Gaza may amount to war crimes, while criticising Hamas for “indiscriminate attacks”.

“There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay said last week.

The 47-member Human Rights Council last week voted for an international inquiry into alleged war crimes in the Gaza conflict. But Israel has refused to cooperate in implementing the resolution which was opposed by a single country: the United States.

Abba A. Solomon, author of ‘The Speech, and Its Context: Jacob Blaustein’s Speech: The Meaning of Palestine Partition to American Jews’, told IPS, “The United States will not act against Israel in the Security Council because of the well-established leverage of the pro-Israel lobby, both in the U.S. Congress and Senate.”

He said the administration of President Barack Obama is working in a situation in which the U.S. House and Senate passed unanimous resolutions of full support for Israeli military action against Gaza earlier in July.

Since the 1940s, he pointed out, American Jewish organisations have cultivated relationships with elected officials, in the process of seeking and giving political and financial support.

“These organisations have accepted that advocacy for Israeli positions is part of their duties,” Solomon said.

In times of crisis, these relationships are golden for the Israeli government, he added.

In this case, customary U.S. deferral to Israel obstructs what would be humanitarian action, a UNSC resolution to protect a besieged civilian population, said Solomon.

Historically, he noted, U.S. assent to U.N. condemnations of offensive Israeli military actions has been argued against because it would “embolden” whatever Arab opponent Israel is contesting with.

In cases where condemnation is unavoidable, “pairing” with condemnation of Arab actions is insisted upon, said Solomon,
who has done years of archival research on the ways that American Zionism has gained and maintained so much power since the 1940s.

Rabbani told IPS at a time when Israeli leaders are explicitly stating their objective is to inflict such massive damage upon the Gaza Strip that the population will turn against Hamas – and killing civilian non-combatants by the bucketful in what can only be characterised as a pre-meditated and deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure – these states prioritise Israel’s purported right to self-defence above all else.

“To speak of an Israeli right to self-defence under such circumstances, when over 1,000 Palestinian civilian non-combatants have been killed in what can only be characterised as a pre-meditated and deliberate act of mass murder, and when the vast majority of Israeli casualties have been uniformed combatants, is well beyond obscene,” he said.

“It constitutes active support, and therefore direct complicity, in Israeli war crimes – even without taking into consideration the manifold other direct and indirect ways such states are supporting Israel.”

These include massive military, economic and political support, giving settlement products preferential access to their markets, and permitting their citizens to commit war crimes in Israeli uniform, he added.

Rabbani said the role of the UNSC is to preserve and protect international peace and security, and it has once again failed miserably in this task.

And it has done so once again on the question of Palestine, a conflict for whose creation and resolution the U.N. bears a unique responsibility, he added.

“Indeed, this demonstrates once more the incapacity of the UNSC to serve as a meaningful guardian of international peace and security in its current form,” Rabbani said.

Solomon told IPS the U.S. administration has the imperative to avoid accusations in the Senate and House that it has “betrayed” the “most important strategic ally in the Mideast” – Israel.

He said direct Israeli connections with U.S. political figures across the party divide require care in any State Department response to Israeli bombardments of Gaza civilians.

And Republican and Democratic aspiring politicians are taken on Israeli “fact-finding” tours.

He pointed out Palestinian advocacy organisations have not established anything like this degree of ongoing cooperation in the U.S. political scene.

U.S. military, financial, and veto power at the Security Council controls what can be done, even in such extreme moments of carnage.

U.S. cooperation with a binding U.N. attempt to rein in Israeli military action would mean a challenge to a long-established system of beneficial relationships in the American political scene, Solomon declared.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: How to End the Gaza War http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-how-to-end-the-gaza-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-to-end-the-gaza-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-how-to-end-the-gaza-war/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 18:24:27 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135812 A Palestinian family on the street in Beit Lahia in north Gaza after Israel's 2012 bombardment of the besieged coastal enclave. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

A Palestinian family on the street in Beit Lahia in north Gaza after Israel's 2012 bombardment of the besieged coastal enclave. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

As the killing and destruction rages on in Gaza, and as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Hamas leadership exchange recriminations and threats, key regional and world players must accept a central truism: No peace can be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians without including Hamas. The quicker they internalise this fact, the faster the cycle of violence can be broken.

The Gaza wars have failed to liquidate Hamas; on the contrary, Hamas has emerged stronger and better equipped despite the pummeling it frequently receives from Israel.The current Israeli war on Gaza plus the two previous ones in 2008-9 and 2012 have not really been about the perceived existential threat Hamas poses to Israel. These conflicts have been rooted in the failure of the so-called peace process.

At the same time, Israel’s assault on Gaza reflects Tel Aviv’s concern about the region as a whole, not just about Hamas. Such concerns are driven by the rise of Islamic radicalism in Gaza and across the region, the growing influence of right-wing radical Jewish groups and political movements in Israel, the brutal civil war in Syria, the collapsing state structures in Libya and Yemen, a failing state in Iraq, the marginalisation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership in Ramallah, and the fragile political systems in Lebanon and Jordan.

Israeli worries also stem from a resurgent Iran, a potential nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, and the perceived diminishing influence of the United States across the region. Unable to influence these “seismic shifts” in the region, Israel has resisted any long-term workable accommodation with the Palestinians as well as ending its occupation of Arab lands.

The Obama administration and other governments must work to end the 47-year-old occupation of the West bank and the blockade of Gaza. The Gaza Strip is considered the world’s largest open-air prison, blockaded on three sides by Israel and on one side by Egypt. This economic and political encirclement must be broken if the economic and social conditions of Gazan residents are to improve.

Poverty, unemployment, poor health and hygiene, and a lack of power and clean water have generated anger and hopelessness, which have often resulted in the frequent firing of rockets toward Israel. While mostly ineffective, these rockets have terrorised Israeli residents in the southern part of the country. This too must stop.

The bloody confrontations between West Bank Palestinians and the Israeli forces in Jerusalem at the Kalandia crossing, and between Arabs in Israel and Israeli police demonstrate that the Gaza war has spread to other parts of Palestine. This bodes ill for Israel and neighbouring countries.

Israel’s glee at the Egyptian government and media’s enmity toward Hamas is ephemeral and transitory. The Sisi autocratic regime would be unable to withstand its people and other Arabs’ anger at what they view as Israeli aggression against the Palestinians.

Having followed this conflict, including the rise of Hamas, for decades, both in academia and in government, and having briefed senior officials on these issues for years, I argue that long-lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians will remain elusive unless regional and global leaders begin to re-examine their decades-old assumptions about the conflict.

Such a step would be severely criticized by partisans from, and on behalf of, both sides, including many in the U.S. Congress. Therefore, courage, perseverance, and new thinking are needed to empower stakeholders to push the process forward.

Hamas and Israel

Destroying Gaza, killing thousands of innocent civilians, blowing up Hamas tunnels, and liquidating its leaders will not eradicate Hamas or silence its drive against the Israeli blockade. Hamas draws strength not from its religious ideology but from its resistance to the encirclement, which has strangled and impoverished most of the 1.6 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The current Israeli war on Gaza plus the two previous ones in 2008-9 and 2012 have not really been about the perceived existential threat Hamas poses to Israel. These conflicts have been rooted in the failure of the so-called peace process.

The asymmetry between Israel’s military might and Hamas’ weaponry, which includes homemade and home-upgraded rockets, cannot possibly allow Hamas to pose a credible mortal threat to Israel.

The terrorising of civilians along the Gaza-Israel border is abhorrent and must not be tolerated, but it is also not an existential threat to Israel, nor does it justify Israel’s massive bombardment of residential neighbourhoods, hospitals, and schools in Gaza City and across the strip. Israel could easily destroy the tunnels on both sides of the border without destroying thousands of homes and reducing Gaza to rubble.

The Israeli assault could also be seen as a response to the recent reconciliation between the PA administration in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza and the formation of a Palestinian national unity government of technocrats. The support the U.S. and EU showed for the new Palestinian government concerned Netanyahu deeply, and he proceeded to torpedo it. Netanyahu’s Gaza war belies his claim that he was genuinely looking for a so-called Palestinian “partner.”

Precursor to Hamas’ Tunnels

The Bush administration and the Israeli government supported holding elections in Gaza in January 2006, which Hamas won fairly and convincingly. Both Washington and Tel Aviv were stunned by the results and proceeded to delegitimise the election results and torpedo the new Hamas administration.

Gazans voted for Hamas not because of its religious ideology but because of its community service and resistance to the Israeli blockade. The legendary corruption of the PA administration in Ramallah also underpinned the vote for Hamas.

The morning after the election, a few senior members of the Bush administration advocated giving Hamas a chance to engage Israel on practical issues, including travel permits, the power grid, water, and commerce. If Hamas failed to do so within a couple of months, these officials argued, the United States and Israel would pull the rug from under Hamas.

That argument, which according to media reports at the time, was favoured by President Bush, lasted for one day. The counter argument favouring an immediate isolation of Hamas, which was strongly advocated by neoconservatives in the United States and in Israel, carried the day.

The Gaza wars in 2008-9, 2012, and now are arguably a direct result of the refusal of Israel and the United States to accept the 2006 election results and engage Hamas. Had engagement occurred, the living standards of Gazans would have improved markedly; there would have been no need for a “tunnel economy” or a “tunnel military.”

Unfortunately, Israeli politicians today seem to be viewing Hamas and the continued occupation and encirclement through the same narrow prism of 2006.

The Way Forward

In a recent article I argued the two-state solution was dead and called for new thinking. The same applies to the current conflict.

After 47 years of occupation, nine years of blockading Gaza, two intifadas, and three wars, Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States must accept the fact that war, terrorism, and occupation cannot solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

With the death of the two-state option, the peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River can only be achieved through a new paradigm grounded in justice, human dignity, equality, and tolerance.

Including Hamas in talks for an enduring end to the conflict could be done through a joint Palestinian delegation comprised of the PA, Hamas, and other factions. For this approach to succeed, however, it must include an end to the blockade of Gaza.

Once the two peoples living together embark on this path, they will reject the logic of occupation and terrorism and focus on building a more hopeful future.

For its part, the United States should jettison all futile attempts to push for a so-called peace process. Rather, we should begin serious efforts to help the two peoples operationalise the new paradigm.

Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

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Trade Facilitation Will Support African Industrialisation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/trade-facilitation-will-support-african-industrialisation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trade-facilitation-will-support-african-industrialisation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/trade-facilitation-will-support-african-industrialisation/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 07:46:05 +0000 Roberto Azevedo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135805

In this column, Roberto Azevêdo, Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), argues that the Trade Facilitation Agreement delivered by the Bali package in December last year will support regional integration in Africa, complement the African Union's efforts to create a continental free trade area and will begin to remove some of the barriers which prevent full integration into global value chains.

By Roberto Azevedo
GENEVA, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

In the 1960s, there were high hopes for the development of the newly-independent sub-Saharan African countries but these hopes were quickly dashed following a series of shocks which began in the mid-70s, with the first oil price spikes, followed by a severe decline in growth and increase in poverty in the 80s and early 90s. However, by the mid-1990s, economic growth had resumed in certain African countries. Economic reform, better macroeconomic management, donor resources and a sharp rise in commodity prices were having a positive effect.

WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo. Credit: WTO/CC BY SA-2.0

WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo. Credit: WTO/CC BY SA-2.0

In the 2000s, many African countries witnessed high economic growth performance and during that period some of the world’s fastest growing economies were in sub-Saharan Africa. Angola, Nigeria, Chad, Mozambique and Rwanda all recorded annual growth of over 7 percent.

In 2012 Africa’s exports and imports totalled 630 billion dollars and 610 billion dollars respectively, ­ a fourfold increase since the turn of the millennium. And the long term prospects for growth are good. The Economist Intelligence Unit has forecast average growth for the regional economy of around 5 percent yearly from 2013-16.

Despite all this, the continent still plays a marginal role in the global market, accounting for barely 3 percent of world trade. One significant reason – although, of course there are others – is that African economies are still narrowly based on the production and export of unprocessed agricultural products, minerals and crude oil.“There is little doubt that the regional [African] market offers good scope for African firms to diversify their production and achieve greater value addition”

Now, due to relatively low productivity and technology, these economies have low competitiveness in global markets – apart from crude extractive products. The low productivity of traditional agriculture and the informal activities continue to absorb more than 80 percent of the labour force. And growth remains highly vulnerable to external shocks.

This story of half a century of struggle, set-backs and progress shows two things:

One, the road to meaningful and inclusive development still seems long.

Two, we are in a better position than ever to make real, sustainable progress.

Many countries are striving to do more in turning their strength in commodities into strengths in other areas,­ using commodities as a means of spurring growth across various sectors. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa’s 2013 Economic Report echoes this ­ calling for the continent’s commodities to be used to support industrialisation, jobs, growth and economic transformation.

In line with this, I think there are a number of essential steps to take:

- diversification of economic structure, namely of production and exports;

- enhancement of export competitiveness;

- technological upgrading;

- improvement of the productivity of all resources, including labour; and

- reduction of infrastructure gaps.

Only by delivering in these and other areas can policymakers ensure that growth enhances human well-being and contributes to inclusive development. But how can we take these steps?

Of course I should say that although African countries share some common features, no unique set of policies, including those on trade and industrial policy, could ever fit for all in a uniform way. Even among the least-developed countries (LDCs), some are already exporters of manufactured products, although often they rely on a single product  while others are more dependent on commodities. Nevertheless, I think it is clear that some preconditions of success are universal.

African regional integration is of course very high on the policy agenda. There is little doubt that the regional market offers good scope for African firms to diversify their production and achieve greater value addition. Already now, manufactures constitute as much as 40 percent of intra-African exports, compared with 13 percent of Africa’s exports to the rest of the world.

The Bali Package, which World Trade Organisation members agreed in December last year, will help to resolve some problems. Inclusive, sustainable development was at the heart of the whole Bali project ­ and our African members played a crucial role in making it a success. It brought some progress on agriculture. It delivered a package to support LDCs. It provided for a Monitoring Mechanism on special and differential treatment.

And, in addition, Bali delivered the Trade Facilitation Agreement and this is a direct answer to some of the problems of fragmentation. Costly and cumbersome border procedures, inadequate infrastructure and administrative burdens often raise trade-related transaction costs within Africa to unsustainable levels, creating a further barrier to intra-African trade.

This Agreement will help to address some of these bottlenecks. It will support regional integration, and therefore complement the African Union’s efforts to create a continental free trade area. And it will begin to remove some of the barriers which prevent full integration into global value chains. As such it will create an added impetus for industrialisation and inclusive sustainable development.

And it is worth noting here that the Trade Facilitation Agreement broke new ground for developing and least-developed countries in the way it will be implemented.

Another vital issue here is the importance of agricultural development in industrialisation, and the role of industrial collaboration through regional cooperation. The contribution of the agriculture sector is of utmost importance for the establishment of a sound industrial base. It can provide a surplus to invest in industrial capacity building, and supply agricultural raw materials as inputs to the production process, especially for today’s highly specialised food processing industry.

Moreover, it can also significantly contribute to industrialisation by providing an ample supply of food products. This is because food constitutes a large share of what wage earners in African countries spend their money on. Its availability at low prices contributes to increase the purchasing power of wages, and therefore raise the competitiveness of a country in international markets. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

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People Before Borders http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/people-before-borders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=people-before-borders http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/people-before-borders/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 07:37:05 +0000 Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135803 By Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu
ROME, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

With Italy having taken over presidency of the European Union (EU) until December 2014, questions remain regarding Europe’s migration policies as reports of migrants dying at sea while trying to reach Italy regularly make the headlines.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that since the beginning of 2014, 500 migrants have died in the Mediterranean Sea and almost 43,000 have been rescued by the Italian Navy.

However, Italy’s “Mare Nostrum operation has gone a long way towards addressing the issue of saving people’s lives,” says Anneliese Baldaccini, Amnesty International’s Senior Executive Officer for Asylum and Migration.

Mare Nostrum – the Italian search-and-rescue operation – was launched following the tragedy of October 2013, when 366 migrants died as the boat in which they were travelling sank off the coast of Lampedusa, an Italian island which is closer to Tunisia than Italy.“The EU needs to do more to create legal channels for asylum seekers and migrants” … at the moment, "the EU is focused almost exclusively on strengthening its borders” – Gregory Maniatis, advisor to the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration

Italy is the lone sponsor of the search-and-rescue initiative, investing an estimated nine million euros every month.

In an interview with IPS, Baldaccini highlighted the unsustainability of this operation, arguing that this is why “Amnesty is calling on the European Union to act in a concerted way to support Italy in these operations”. So far, she continued, “the EU has proved reluctant in doing so.”

“With its Mare Nostrum operation, Italy has been pushing for a collective humanitarian response,” said Gregory Maniatis, Senior Policy Fellow at the Migration Policy Institute and advisor to Peter Sutherland, U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration. “But what is missing at the EU level is a common vision of the problem,” he told IPS.

“The EU needs to do more to create legal channels for asylum seekers and migrants,” Maniatis explained. At the moment, “the EU is focused almost exclusively on strengthening its borders.”

Maniatis also argued that the EU does not have a sustained focus “to improve asylum processing to create a truly common European system, to increase its capacity to receive refugees, and to establish ways for people to apply for asylum without undertaking the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.”

According to Amnesty International, there is a dichotomy between the “EU’s aspiration to promote human rights and the reality of human rights violations in member states.” In its recommendations to the Italian EU presidency, Amnesty International stated that currently, “border control measures expose migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers to serious harm.

Their detention is systemic, rather than exceptional. And their lack of agency makes them vulnerable to abject exploitation and abuse.”

Amnesty International has calledon Italy, in view of its presidency of the European Union, “to show leadership and steer the Union in the direction of human rights, putting people before politics”.

The European Council Summit held on June 26-27 agreed broad guidelines for Europe’s migration and asylum strategy but these “do not change the current status quo” according to Amnesty’s migration expert Baldaccini. They “even represent a setback,” she told IPS. Overall, said Baldaccini, they “show a lack of political commitment.”

She went on to explain that the Secretariat of the European Council has partly blamed the recent rise of far-right parties at the last European Parliament elections as being the reason why no progress was made in terms of migration policies.

In general, states – and not only far-right parties – are reluctant to “mention human rights as it could be perceived as encouraging more arrivals to Europe,” Baldaccini said.

Many organisations have called on the European Union to change its approach to migration policies. The Lampedusa tragedy is only one example of a long series of similar events, said Elena Crespi, Western Europe Programme Officer at the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), an NGO representing 178 organisations throughout the world.

“Despite repeated commitments to change,” Crespi told IPS, “EU migration policies remain security driven, and aim at reinforcing border control while migrants’ rights are given little attention.”

One such example, she argued, is the increasing presence of FRONTEX, the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union.

Crespi explained that the intensification of FRONTEX operations has not resulted in fewer incidents, nor better respect for migrants’ and asylum-seekers’ rights. On the contrary, an increased number of allegations have been made regarding human rights violations at the Union’s external borders, which remain unaddressed.

FRONTEX has turned down the recommendation by the E.U. Ombudsman to put in place a mechanism to allow alleged violations to be investigated.

This, said Crespi, raises questions regarding the compatibility of FRONTEX’s operations in terms of human rights.

The presence of the European Border Agency is not sufficient to prevent people from dying at sea, she noted. Instead, enhanced border control pushes more and more people into taking increasingly dangerous routes into Europe, thus putting their lives at risk.

Italy is now pushing for FRONTEX to assume the costs of the Mare Nostrum operations, explained Simona Moscarelli, a legal expert for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Rome. But to do this, the “FRONTEX mission will have to be revised because its mandate does not include search-and-rescue operations.”

“FRONTEX’s role is not to save lives but rather to prevent and deter migrants from coming into Europe,” Crespi told IPS.

Moreover, “the vast majority of migrants travelling across the Mediterranean Sea are Syrian and Eritrean nationals and should be entitled to asylum,” Moscarelli told IPS.

According to the UNHCR, the number of Syrians reaching Europe by sea increased in 2013. Last year, Italy rescued an estimated 11,307 Syrians in the Mediterranean.

“The European Union must overhaul its approach to migration, and put respect for migrants’ and asylum seekers’ rights at its centre. Opening new channels for regular migration, enhancing reception capacity including by increasing responsibility sharing for migrants coming into Europe and investigating human rights violations are some steps that could be taken in the right direction,” said Crespi.

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In Turbulent Iraq, Children Bear the Brunt of War http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/in-turbulent-iraq-children-bear-the-brunt-of-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-turbulent-iraq-children-bear-the-brunt-of-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/in-turbulent-iraq-children-bear-the-brunt-of-war/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 22:45:38 +0000 Chau Ngo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135800 In January, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the Kawrgosik Refugee Camp near Erbil, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where more than 200,000 refugees from Syria are being hosted by the regional government. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

In January, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the Kawrgosik Refugee Camp near Erbil, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where more than 200,000 refugees from Syria are being hosted by the regional government. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Chau Ngo
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

As the ambulance stopped in Iraq’s northern city of Kirkuk, people rushed in to help. They unloaded six children, from several months to 11 years old, all injured allegedly by an air attack in the neighbouring town of Tuz Khurmatu.

“The situation in Iraq is grave,” said Tirana Hassan, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch, recalling a scene she witnessed during a recent research trip there.“Families, including those with children, are stuck in the middle of an increasingly violent war and they are paying the price." -- Tirana Hassan

“Families, including those with children, are stuck in the middle of an increasingly violent war and they are paying the price,” she told IPS.

Nearly two months since the outbreak of violence between Islamist militants and Iraqi government forces, civilian casualties have surged. In June alone, 1,500 people were killed, the highest in a month since 2008, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said.

“In all conflict-affected areas, child casualties due to indiscriminate or systematic attacks by armed groups and by government shelling on populated areas have been on the rise,” said UNAMI.

Activists have also reported child casualties caused by government airstrikes against fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).

“We documented multiple cases of barrel bombs being used in Fallujah that had killed children and women,” Hassan said. “Using indiscriminate weapons in areas where children and their families are living is a violation of international law.”

Iraq has now become one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a child. UNAMI said it has also documented “systematic and egregious violations” by the Islamic State against children, including sexual violence and rape, killing and physical violence, forced recruitment.

The newly reported violence and casualties are the continuation of children’s suffering in Iraq in the past decade. More than 7,800 civilians were killed last year, the highest since the U.N. started a systematic count of civilian casualties in the country in 2008, according to a U.N. report.

Among these casualties, 248 were children, which were caused by the Islamic State and Al-Qaida in Iraq, the U.N. said. According to the Iraqi government, the number could be even higher, with 335 children killed and 1,300 injured.

By early June, at least 1.2 million Iraqis had fled their homes because of the violence, most seeking refuge in temporary housing, internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camps or with local host families, according to the U.N.

“A large number of IDP children are in dire need of assistance,” Alec Wargo, programme officer at the Office of the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, told IPS.

He added that there have been reports of children who have been recruited by the insurgents and armed groups being killed or injured in fighting. The U.N. and the Iraqi government have been working to deal with the situation, he said.

So far there has been no official report about the situation of the children in areas under the Islamic State’s control, but Wargo said it “does not look good.” In the areas controlled by the government, the U.N. has said it is seriously concerned over the government’s inadequate attention to the impact of the conflict on children.

According to the U.N., violence against children in Iraq could be underreported, especially abduction cases, due to the difficulties in collecting information and the families’ reluctance to report to the police.

There are no official statistics on the number of children recruited as soldiers, but UNAMI said it has received reports of children being recruited by all sides of the conflict, including by government-affiliated forces. They have been used as informants, in some cases as suicide bombers, for manning checkpoints and for fighting, it said.

“Even though the government of Iraq does not have control over some of the country, it still has a prime responsibility to respect and protect the rights of children, and prevent their unlawful military recruitment and use,” Richard Clarke, Director of Child Soldiers International, told IPS.

The London-based organisation works to prevent the recruitment of children as soldiers and support their rehabilitation.

“The government must take all necessary legal, policy and practical measures to end and prevent child recruitment by the forces under its control and should seek the assistance of international organizations to achieve this,” Clarke said.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at ngocchau4009@gmail.com

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For Many Asian LGBT Youth, Homophobia Starts at Home http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/for-many-asian-lgbt-youth-homophobia-starts-at-home/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-many-asian-lgbt-youth-homophobia-starts-at-home http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/for-many-asian-lgbt-youth-homophobia-starts-at-home/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 00:30:57 +0000 Jassmyn Goh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135778 Two marchers in Taiwan`s 11th annual LGBT Pride March in Taipei City Oct. 26 affirm that "I am proud to be gay; I'm not a sex refugee!" Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

Two marchers in Taiwan`s 11th annual LGBT Pride March in Taipei City Oct. 26 affirm that "I am proud to be gay; I'm not a sex refugee!" Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

By Jassmyn Goh
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

To teenagers, running away can seem like the easiest answer to problems at home, but for Alex* it was his only option when his family refused to accept that he identified as a transgender male.

Although physically born a female, Alex always knew that he was a boy, but he grew up in an extremely homophobic and transphobic environment in Malaysia."I felt betrayed. It was the time when I needed my parents the most and they were not there for me. They chose to turn their backs on me." -- Alex

“One of my first memories was of my grandmother when she sort of chastised me for peeing standing up. She kept beating me and saying ‘Be like a girl, be like a girl’,” Alex told IPS.

Alex and people in Asia who identify as lesbian, gaym, bisexual, or transsexual (LGBT) often find themselves victims of violence from family members, who in fact are often the main perpetrators, according to a recent report by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).

The report interviewed people from Malaysia, Japan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Philippines over three years.

The high level of violence from family members was one of seven key findings and had the greatest impact on the victims. This violence was not only physical, but also emotional and sexual.

At 17, when Alex’s parents found out he had a girlfriend, they restricted his movements and took to physical abuse.

“They started controlling my movements, and Internet and phone usage. I could not go anywhere without somebody knowing where I was going and it was very saddening,” the 27-year-old student said.

“When my dad found out about my new passport, he confronted me and slapped me. He said it was his house and his rules. If I could not follow them then I should leave, and I did because I could not take it anymore.”

Grace Poore, IGLHRC’s Asia programme coordinator and the main coordinator of the research project, said that because of the violence from family along with discrimination from outside perpetrators there was no relief for the individuals.

“What stood out was that in countries that had a dominant religion, and where it was being enforced in a way where people’s dignity, people’s rights and ability to be different [was not respected], there was definitely greater violence. Whatever was going on outside the family seemed to be mirrored or reflected back within the family,” Poore told IPS.

“At the time I felt betrayed, it was the time when I needed my parents the most and they were not there for me. They chose to turn their backs on me,” Alex said.

The report also found that there is limited to no counselling or sheltering services for LGBT people in each country. Shelters that are LGBT-friendly cannot openly advertise as such for fear of being shut down by the government and facing a possible backlash from the community.

In Malaysia, the government has an official religious department where monitors roam the streets to oversee and enforce Sharia and Islamic law for Malay people. Pakistan also has religious police, as do at least 15 other countries worldwide.

“The education ministry of each state [in Malaysia] asks teachers to identify effeminate boys. They are then rounded up and sent to camps for religious instruction,” Poore said.

More than 70 countries have laws that criminalise homosexuality, with punishment ranging from imprisonment to execution.

Malaysia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka all have laws that criminalise same-sex relations. Though Japan and the Philippines do not, the Philippines has vague provisions for homosexual relations.

The Philippines also has an equal protection clause in the Bill of Rights that technically protects all citizens. The other countries have no laws prohibiting violence and discrimination against a person due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a statement on May 15 calling for LGBT equality and highlighted the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights’s (OHCHR) “Free and Equal Campaign”.

“Human rights are for everyone, no matter who you are or whom you love,” Ban said.

Toiko Kleppe, a human rights officer for OHCHR on LGBT, told IPS that the campaign that was launched in July 2013 is the U.N.’s first against homophobia for LGBT equality.

“Its purpose is for public information and education. The message we are getting out is that LGBT people are like anybody else. The only difference is how they feel about specific things, who they choose to spend their life with or how they identify their gender,” Kleppe said.

U.N. human rights treaty bodies have also confirmed discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal under international human rights law.

Since the release of the report in May there has been a high level of shock from readers about the results, Poore said. IGLHRC plans to keep raising awareness and education about the issue through webinars, cross-country and multi-city tours.

After spending six years overseas, Alex returned to Malaysia in 2011 and found a supportive circle within the LGBT community. However, he is still estranged from his father.

“It has been nearly nine years and whenever I go back [home] my dad pretends I don’t exist. He rarely talks to me,” Alex said.

*Name has been changed to protect his identity.

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Thousands of New Yorkers Protest Gaza Killings http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/thousands-of-new-yorkers-protest-gaza-killings/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thousands-of-new-yorkers-protest-gaza-killings http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/thousands-of-new-yorkers-protest-gaza-killings/#comments Sun, 27 Jul 2014 14:41:54 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135759 The Israeli offensive in Gaza has killed 1,050 people, mostly civilians, as of Jul. 26, 2014. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

The Israeli offensive in Gaza has killed 1,050 people, mostly civilians, as of Jul. 26, 2014. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Jul 27 2014 (IPS)

Thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets in multiple protests this past week against the Israeli offensive in Gaza, which has left at least 1,049 Palestinians dead and over 6,000 injured since Jul. 8.

Among demonstrators’ many demands was that the U.S. government end its massive flow of aid and arms to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), one of the world’s most powerful militaries.

The Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation estimates that the United States has shelled out over 100 billion dollars’ worth of military and economic aid since 1949.

Protests on Thursday, Jul. 24 drew over a thousand people, holding signs proclaiming U.S. complicity in the war on Gaza. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

Protests on Thursday, Jul. 24 drew over a thousand people, holding signs proclaiming U.S. complicity in the war on Gaza. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

In 2007, the U.S. government pledged to provide 30 billion dollars worth of weapons to Israel in the decade 2009-2018. This year, according to the FY2015 budget submitted to Congress, the Barack Obama administration set aside three billion dollars for military aid.

The protests also had particular significance for New York City, whose former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, announced in 2011 his support for a 100-million-dollar partnership between Cornell University and Israel’s Institute of Technology (the Technion) that would allow the construction of a state-of-the-art new complex on Roosevelt Island.

 

Thousands of U.S. citizens have called on the government to end military aid to Israel. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

Thousands of U.S. citizens have called on the government to end military aid to Israel. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

An alliance known as New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT) says the Technion is “complicit in Israeli’s violation of international law and the rights of Palestinians”, namely its mandate to develop and design weapons and technologies that are used to enforce the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza.

Among other ‘achievements’, students at Technion were instrumental in creating the remote-controlled Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer, the IDF’s weapon of choice in demolishing Palestinian homes; and its Autonomous Systems Program (TASP) was responsible for developing the so-called ‘stealth drone’, capable of carrying two 1,100-pound ‘smart bombs’ for a distance of up to 2,000 miles.

Highly visible at both protests were members of the organisation known as ‘Neturei Karat International: Jews Against Zionism’, who carried signs proclaiming, “Jews reject the Zionist state of Israel and its atrocities”.

A statement prepared by the organisation 'Jews Against Zionism' appeals to world leaders to "stop the latest ongoing cruelty and the attack on the people of Gaza." Credit: Kanya DAlmeida/IPS

A statement prepared by the organisation ‘Jews Against Zionism’ appeals to world leaders to “stop the latest ongoing cruelty and the attack on the people of Gaza.” Credit: Kanya DAlmeida/IPS

Others waved placards claiming “New York Jews Say ‘Not in Our Name’.”

Thursday’s action, which brought out over 2,000 people, was part of the National Day of Action for Gaza, endorsed by over 55 U.S.-based human rights groups. The protest followed on the heels of a demonstration by Jewish Voice for Peace on Jul. 22, which saw the arrest of nine Jewish activists for occupying the office of The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in Manhattan.

The Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has cost Israel billions of dollars in investments. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

The Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has cost Israel billions of dollars in investments. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

One of the co-organisers of the march, Adalah-NY, handed out leaflets urging demonstrators to support the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel, a non-violent civil society-based campaign modeled on the international boycott movement that was instrumental in dismantling apartheid in South Africa.

Roadside vendors joined a massive protest on Friday, Jul. 25, that snaked through lower Manhattan. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

Roadside vendors joined a massive protest on Friday, Jul. 25, that snaked through lower Manhattan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

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OPINION: The Affinity Between Iraqi Sunni Extremists and the Rulers of Saudi Arabia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-the-affinity-between-iraqi-sunni-extremists-and-the-rulers-of-saudi-arabia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-affinity-between-iraqi-sunni-extremists-and-the-rulers-of-saudi-arabia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-the-affinity-between-iraqi-sunni-extremists-and-the-rulers-of-saudi-arabia/#comments Sun, 27 Jul 2014 11:58:06 +0000 Peter Custers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135767 By Peter Custers
LEIDEN, Netherlands, Jul 27 2014 (IPS)

Which story line sounds the more credible – that linking the rebel movement ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) to policies pursued by Iran or that linking the Sunni extremist force to Iran’s adversary Saudi Arabia?

In June this year, fighters belonging to ISIS – a rebel movement that had previously established its foothold in the oil-rich areas of north-eastern Syria – succeeded in capturing Mosul, a city surrounded by oil fields in northern Iraq. Ever since, commentators in the world’s media have been speculating on the origins of the dreaded organisation’s military success.

It is admitted that the occupation of Mosul and vast tracts of the Sunni-dominated portion of Iraq would not have been possible except for the fact that ISIS forged a broad grassroots’ alliance expressing deep discontent by Iraq’s minority Sunnis with the policies of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s government. Nor would Mosul have fallen but for the dramatic desertion by top-officers of Iraq’s state army.

Peter Custers

Peter Custers

Yet various observers have meanwhile focused on the political economy behind the advance of ISIS. Some experts from U.S. think tanks have discussed the likely sources of ISIS’ finance, pinpointing private donors in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Other writers instead have connected ISIS’ reliance on black market sales of oil in Kurdish territory with Iranian exports of crude, described as “illegal”.

I propose putting the spotlight on the methods of war financing used by ISIS, but first it is necessary to highlight the movement’s complete sectarianism.

Soon after the occupation of Mosul, rebels blew up and bulldozed shrines and mosques in the city belonging to Shia Muslims. Pictures on the demolition of these buildings were circulated widely by the world’s mainstream media. Unfortunately, few Western journalists cared to draw attention to the role which destruction of shrines has played in the history of Islam.

Contrary to Catholicism, the veneration of saints at Sufi and Shia tombs and shrines basically reflects heterodox tendencies within the Islamic faith. On the other hand, Sunni orthodoxy and especially its Saudi variety, Wahhabism, either condemns intercession or, at the least, considers the worshipping of saints at tombs to be unacceptable. Islam’s minority of Shias, and its mystical current of Sufism, freely engage in such worship – and this throughout the Muslim world.“ISIS is … a ‘religiously inspired’ Sunni extremist organisation with an utterly secular objective: to control the bulk of oil resources in two Middle Eastern states in order to re-establish acaliphat, an all-Islamic state-entity guided by a central religious authority”

ISIS’ work of demolition in Iraq can in no way be equated with practices of Iran’s Shia rulers. Instead, they express the extremist movement’s affinity with policies long championed by Saudi Arabia. Ever since the founding of the Saudi state, numerous Shia and Sufi shrines have been rased to the ground at the behest of this country’s Wahhabi dynasty.

What does the political economy behind ISIS’ military advance in Syria and Iraq tell us about the organisation’s affinities? First, in one sense, the ISIS strategy might be interpreted as rather novel.

Whereas the extraction of raw materials is a war strategy pursued by numerous rebel movements in the global South – see, for example, UNITA’s extraction of diamonds in the context of Angola’s civil war, and the trade in coltan by rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo – rarely has a Southern rebel movement succeeded in turning crude oil into its chief source of revenue.

Indeed, whereas ISIS originally relied on private funders in Saudi Arabia to build up a force of trained fighters, the organisation has consciously targeted regions in Syria and Iraq harbouring major oil fields and (in the case of Iraq) oil refineries. By laying siege to the oil refinery at Baiji, responsible for processing one-third of oil consumed in Iraq, ISIS hoped to undermine the state’s control of oil resources.

Further, some 450 million dollars was stolen by ISIS fighters from a subsidiary of Iraq’s central bank after the occupation of Mosul. This reportedly was all income from oil extraction. Some observers put the cash income which ISIS derives from smuggled oil at one million dollars a day!

ISIS is thus a ‘religiously inspired’ Sunni extremist organisation with an utterly secular objective: to control the bulk of oil resources in two Middle Eastern states in order to re-establish acaliphat, an all-Islamic state-entity guided by a central religious authority.

Yet though ISIS’ methodology of reliance on oil for financing of its war campaigns is novel for a rebel movement, such use of oil is not unique in the context of the Middle East. Ever since the 1970s, most oil-rich countries of the region have squandered a major part of their income from the exports of crude by (indirectly) exchanging their main natural resource against means of destruction – weapon systems bought on the international market.

And while Iran under the Shah was equally enticed into opting for this form of trade in the 1970s, – it is the Wahhabi kingdom of Saudi Arabia which all the way through from the oil crisis of 1973 onwards and up to today has functioned as the central axe of such a trade mechanism.

Witness, for instance, the 1980s oil-for-arms (!) ‘barter deal’ between the Saudi kingdom and the United Kingdom, the so-called ‘Al Yamamah’ deal, and the 60 billion dollar, largest-ever international arms’ agreement between Saudi Arabia and the United States clinched in 2010.

Forward to 2014, and an Iraq desperately struggling to survive. A section of the world’s media has already announced its impending demise, predicting a split of the country into three portions – Sunni, Kurdish and Shia. On the other hand, some commentators have advised that the United States should now change gear and line up with Iran, in order to help the Iraqi government overcome its domestic political crisis.

Yet the United States and its European allies for long, too long, have bent over to service the Wahhabi state. Even as Western politicians loudly proclaimed their allegiance to democracy and secularism, they failed to oppose or counter Saudi Arabia’s oppression of, and utter discrimination against, Shia citizens.

For over 40 years they opted to close their eyes and supply Saudi Arabia with massive quantities of fighter planes, missiles and other weaponry, in exchange for the country’s crude. Playing the role of a wise elderly senior brother, the United States has recently advised Iraq’s prime minister al-Maliki, known for his sectarian approach, that he should be more ‘inclusive’, meaning sensitive towards Iraq’s minority Sunni population.

But has the United States’ prime Middle Eastern ally Saudi Arabia ever been chastised over its systematic discrimination of Shias? Has it ever been put to task for its cruel oppression of heterodox Muslims? And has the United States ever pondered the implications of the trading mechanism of disparate exchange it sponsored – for the future of democracy, food sovereignty and people’s welfare in the Middle East?

 

*  Peter Custers, an academic researcher on Islam and religious tolerance  with field work in South Asia, is also a theoretician on the arms’ trade and extraction of raw materials in the context of conflicts in the global South. He is the author of ‘Questioning Globalized Militarism’. 

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South Stymies North in Global Trade Talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/south-stymies-north-in-global-trade-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-stymies-north-in-global-trade-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/south-stymies-north-in-global-trade-talks/#comments Sat, 26 Jul 2014 22:23:04 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135757 By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Jul 26 2014 (IPS)

A group of developing countries brought a tectonic shift at the World Trade Organization on Friday by turning the tables against the industrialised countries, when they offered a positive trade agenda to expeditiously arrive at a permanent solution for food security and other development issues, before adopting the protocol of amendment of the contested Trade Facilitation Agreement.

Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba and India inflicted a huge blow on the dominant actors in global trade by refusing to join consensus on the protocol required for full implementation of the TFA that is being pushed through the WTO with carrots and sticks.

“This is unimaginable, that New Delhi would decide the fate of decisions at the WTO, which has been a preserve of the United States and the European Union for the last 50 years,” said a trade envoy from a Western country.The mismatch, in terms of progress, between the TFA on one side, and lack of credible movement in agriculture and development on the other, especially in arriving at a permanent solution for public stockholding programmes, has come into the open at various meeting in Africa and elsewhere

Only seven months ago, the industrialised countries were triumphant at the WTO’s ninth ministerial meeting in Bali, Indonesia, after having succeeded in clinching the TFA. At one go, that agreement would harmonise customs procedures in the developing world on a par with the industrialised countries. It would offer enhanced market access for companies in the rich and leading developing countries such as China, Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore.

According to former WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, the TFA would cut tariffs in developing countries by 10 percent

The developing and poor countries, in return, were offered half-baked outcomes in the Bali package on agriculture and development, including an interim mechanism for public stockholding for food security with a promise of a permanent solution in four years, an agreement on general services in agriculture, transparency-related improvements in what are called tariff rate quota administration provisions, and most trade-distorting farm export subsidies and export credits.

The poorest countries, as part of the “development” dossier, secured a set of best endeavour promises concerning preferential rules of origin for exporting to industrialised countries, preferential treatment to services and services suppliers of least developed countries, duty-free and quota-free market access for least-developed countries, and a final monitoring mechanism for special and differential treatment flexibilities.

The TFA has witnessed perceptible progress since the Bali meeting, while other issues raised by developing and poor countries have taken a back seat at the WTO.  The mismatch, in terms of progress, between the TFA on one side, and lack of credible movement in agriculture and development on the other, especially in arriving at a permanent solution for public stockholding programmes, has come into the open at various meeting in Africa and elsewhere.

“Even seven months after Bali, we do not have the required confidence and trust that there will be constructive engagement on issues that impact the livelihood of a very significant part of the global population,” Indian Ambassador Anjali Prasadtold WTO’s General Council, which is the organisation’s highest decision-making body, during the ministerial meetings, on Friday.

Prasad said “the Trade Facilitation Agreement must be implemented on as part of a single undertaking including the permanent solution on food security.” Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela took the same stand as India that all issues in the Bali package have to be implemented on the same and equal footing.

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed in the Bali package,” India’s trade minister Nirmala Sitaraman told the Financial Times last Friday.

Against this backdrop, India finally pulled the plug at the General Council meeting by saying that “the adoption of the trade facilitation protocol be postponed until a permanent solution on public stockholding for food security is found.”

Without the protocol, it is difficult to undertake rapid liberalisation of customs procedures as set out in the TFA.  Effectively, the Indian stand has put paid to an early adoption of the trade facilitation protocol.

“Today, we are extremely discouraged that a small handful of Members in this organization [WTO] are ready to walk away from their commitments at Bali, to kill the Bali agreement, to kill the power of that good faith and goodwill we all shared, to flip the lights in this building back to dark,” Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Punke lamented at the General Council meeting.

Trade envoys from Japan, the European Union and a group of 25 industrialised and developing countries slammed India for its move to oppose the TFA until all other issues, particularly, the permanent solution on food security, are resolved.

“But the TFA cannot be divorced from the other issues, including food security, which need to be converted into a binding agreements on a priority basis,” India’s former trade envoy Ambassador Jayant Dasgupta told IPS Saturday.

Dasgupta, who played a major role in providing the rationale for exempting public distribution programmes for food security from WTO disciplines, offered several reasons why food security must trump over the hard core mercantile trade agenda embodying the TFA.

First, he said, ” the debate on food security exposed the insensitivity of trade negotiators of some major industrialised countries (pushed by seven or eight transnational corporations that dominate global food trade) to address food security issues, arising out of static interpretations of trade rules framed many decades ago, when such problems were not conceived.”

Second, the objections raised by the United States, Canada and Australia in addressing food security  are unacceptable because they do not want to concede that there has been more than 650 percent inflation in India since 1986-88.

The WTO agreement on agriculture uses the references prices of 1986-88 for determining domestic support commitments. “Any economist worth his salt would be aghast at the idea that the calculation of subsidies should take place without reference to the current market prices but to market prices which existed twenty six to twenty eight years,” the former Indian trade official argued.

Third, the problem of public procurement and stockholding for food security purposes is resorted to by not only India, but China, Indonesia, Philippines, Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, Nigeria, Kenya and many other developing countries.

“Because of the way the agreement on agriculture provisions is worded, most of these developing countries could be held to be in violation of the WTO rules,” said Dasgupta, pointing out that “India is articulating not only its own problems but also those of other developing countries.”

And fourth, “by seeking to push India into a corner on this extremely sensitive issue for many developing countries, the United States and its handful of supporters are seriously jeopardising the credibility of the WTO in terms of latter’s ability to correct its mistakes and to be sensitive to the needs of a majority of its developing members.”

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Positive Outlook For Agricultural Prices But Not For World’s Poorest http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/positive-outlook-for-agricultural-prices-but-not-for-worlds-poorest/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=positive-outlook-for-agricultural-prices-but-not-for-worlds-poorest http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/positive-outlook-for-agricultural-prices-but-not-for-worlds-poorest/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 16:25:19 +0000 Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135749 By Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu
ROME, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

The official outlook for agriculture up to 2023 carries optimistic forecasts for agricultural productivity and commodity prices but it is unlikely that the benefits will be shared by the world’s poorest.

The mix of good and bad news comes in the 2014-2023 Agricultural Outlook, issued jointly by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) this month.

The OECD/FAO Agricultural Outlook examines trends regarding prices, dietary habits and other influencing factors such as production and demand, in addition to assessing the major policy challenges facing the sector."We still face a challenge with access to food. Higher food prices imposed undeniable hardship on the world’s poorest people, who spend a large share of their incomes on food. They also did more harm than good to poor farmers, who are more often than not net buyers of food staples" – OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría

This year’s Agricultural Outlook, which is the 20th of its kind, “looks at the prospects for developing countries under the assumption that average weather patterns and current policies persist”, according to Holger Matthey, an economist at the Trade and Markets Division of FAO and team leader for the Agricultural Outlook.

“It gives an overview of the global market within the next 10 years, assuming that there are no disturbances”, Matthey told IPS

Crop prices are expected to stabilise significantly below recent peaks, although they will likely remain above pre-2008 levels, while meat and dairy prices will have reached record highs in 2013/14.

“We are very positive regarding the agricultural outlook for developing countries because they have the resources to expand production and are also expected to maintain strong growth rates in terms of consumption”, said Matthey.

Under the assumptions of this outlook, he added, it was found that “more than 80% of additional production will originate from developing countries and 50% of both the additional production and consumption over the next decade will take place in Asia.”

But there are still many obstacles in the way of ensuring that everyone can reap the benefits of increased agricultural productivity.

“We still face a challenge with access to food. Higher food prices imposed undeniable hardship on the world’s poorest people, who spend a large share of their incomes on food. They also did more harm than good to poor farmers, who are more often than not net buyers of food staples,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said at the launch of the report.

Among others, he said, there is a need “to extend social protection to cushion the effects of price shocks and help farmers manage risks and continue to invest in agricultural productivity so that farmers can respond effectively to price signals”, but tackling these challenges “in ways that are both inclusive and sustainable is a formidable challenge.”

This year’s Agricultural Outlook focuses on the case of India, the world’s second most populous country and home to the largest number of food-insecure people, for which the report portrays a “relatively optimistic” scenario, saying that the country is “projected to sustain production and consumption growth of food.”

In 2013, India adopted a National Food Security Act (NFSA), designed to ensure greater access to adequate and affordable food. The NFSA entitles more than 800 million people to 60 kg of food grain per person each year at prices that are 90 percent more economical than current retail prices.

According to FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, the NFSA – the world’s largest right-to-food programme – is something that will have an impact for food security around the globe.

However, the Agricultural Outlook also warns that implementation of the programme will be challenging.

“While there is enough food being produced, the access to food, the distribution of food and the healthy utilisation of food [in terms of adequate diet and access to clean water, sanitation and healthcare] are challenges that remain,” said Peter Kenmore, FAO representative in India.

For example, according to the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 48 percent of children in India are stunted as a result of chronic malnutrition, a condition that has long-term physical and mental development consequences, such as weakening the immune system and decreasing productivity in adulthood.

The challenge is also to be more efficient in terms of infrastructure, including storage and transportation as well as means of delivery.

“The circuit of producing, procuring, storing and distributing food to those who lack access, all completed locally, as is accomplished in many places covered by the Zero Hunger Programme in Brazil, is worth pursuing,” Kenmore told IPS.

The Zero Hunger Programme was launched in 2003 by the Brazilian government with the aim of eliminating hunger and poverty.

However, Kenmore warned that “the fact that the price of subsidised food grains is 90 percent cheaper also represents a strong incentive for opportunists to obtain this subsidised food and resell it on the open market.”

“At the moment there are millions that are benefiting from the Public Distribution System that is being expanded under the NFSA but many that are not. Exclusion, discrimination and sub-optimal implementation are key concerns”, he told IPS.

There is a need to improve accountability and grievance mechanisms to allow people to make a complaint in case they cannot access subsidised food to which they would otherwise be entitled and, said Kenmore, these mechanisms “must not merely be notional but also effective.”

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Oil Lubricates Equatorial Guinea’s Entry into Portuguese Language Community http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/oil-lubricates-equatorial-guineas-entry-into-portuguese-language-community/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 16:10:59 +0000 Mario Queiroz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135748 Equatoguinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has sidestepped accusations of human rights violations and won his country membership in the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). Credit: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Equatoguinean President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has sidestepped accusations of human rights violations and won his country membership in the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). Credit: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Mario Queiroz
LISBON, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

Evidently, oil talked louder. By unanimous resolution, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) admitted Equatorial Guinea as a full member, in spite of the CPLP’s ban on dictatorial regimes and the death penalty.

At the two-day summit of heads of state and government that concluded on Wednesday Jul. 23 in Dili, the capital of East Timor, Portugal was the last nation to hold out against the inclusion of the new entrant. Portuguese prime minister, conservative Pedro Passos Coelho, finally yielded to pressure from Brazil and Angola, the countries most interested in sharing in the benefits of Equatorial Guinea’s oil wealth.

The CPLP is made up of Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

“Obiang never thought entry to the CPLP would be possible, but in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, all the president’s goals are possible." -- Ponciano Nvó, a lawyer and distinguished defender of human rights
Between its independence in 1968 and the onset of oil exploration, Equatorial Guinea was stigmatised as a ferocious dictatorship.

But when the U.S. company Mobil began drilling for oil in 1996, the dictatorship of President Teodoro Obiang, in power since 1979, was afforded the relief of powerful countries “looking the other way.”

Gradually, the importance of oil took precedence over human rights and countries with decision-making power over the region and the world became interested in sharing in crude oil extraction. Oil production in Equatorial Guinea has multiplied 10-fold in recent years, ranking it in third place in sub-Saharan Africa behind Angola and Nigeria.

“The kleptocratic oligarchy of Equatorial Guinea is becoming one of the world’s richest dynasties. The country is becoming known as the ‘Kuwait of Africa’ and the global oil majors – ExxonMobil, Total, Repsol – are moving in,” said the Lisbon weekly Visão.

Visão said this former Spanish colony has a per capita GDP of 24,035 dollars, 4,000 dollars more than Portugal’s, but 78 percent of its 1.8 million people subsist on less than a dollar a day.

In the view of some members of the international community, “Since 1968 there have been two Equatorial Guineas, those before and after the oil,” Ponciano Nvó, a lawyer and distinguished defender of human rights in his country, told IPS during a three-day visit to Portugal at the invitation of Amnesty International.

In spite of average economic growth of 33 percent in the last decade, the enormous wealth of Equatorial Guinea has not brought better economic conditions for its people, although it has lent a certain international “legitimacy” to the regime, crowned now with the accolade of membership in the CPLP.

Since Equatorial Guinea’s first application in 2006, the CPLP adopted an ambiguous stance, restricting it to associate membership and setting conditions – like the elimination of the death penalty and making Portuguese an official language – that had to be met before full membership could be considered.

“Portugal should not accept within the community a regime that commits human rights violations; it would be a political mistake,” and also a mistake for the CPLP, Andrés Eso Ondo said in a declaration on Tuesday Jul. 22.

He is the leader of Convergencia para la Democracia Social, the only permitted opposition party, which has one seat in parliament. The other 99 seats are held by the ruling Partido Democrático de Guinea Ecuatorial.

In Portugal, reactions were indignant. The president himself, conservative Aníbal Cavaco Silva, remained wooden-faced in his seat in Dili while the other heads of state welcomed Obiang to the CPLP with a standing ovation. Meanwhile, in Lisbon, prominent politicians were heavily critical of the government’s accommodating attitude.

Socialist lawmaker João Soares said allowing Equatorial Guinea to join the CPLP is “shameful for Portugal and a monumental error,” while Ana Gomes, a member of the European Parliament for the same party, said it was unacceptable that the community should admit “a dictatorial and criminal regime that is facing lawsuits in the United States and France for economic and financial crimes.”

“The dead are not only those who have been sentenced to death in a court of law, some 50 persons executed by firing squad after being convicted; we should multiply that number by 100 to reach the figure for the people who have disappeared,” and who were victims of repression, Nvó told IPS.

In the 46 years since independence, “during the first government of Francisco Macías Nguema, all the opposition leaders were murdered in prison, without trial, having been accused of attempts against the president. The ‘work’ was carried out by the current president, when he was director of prisons and carried out a cleansing, before overthrowing his uncle,” he said.

Before oil was discovered, “Obiang never thought entry to the CPLP would be possible, but in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, all the president’s goals are possible,” he complained.

In Nvó’s view, joining the CPLP “is another step in Obiang’s strategy of belonging to as many international bodies as possible for the sake of laundering his image. He used to belong to the community of Hispanic nations, but then he came to believe that he would never get anywhere with Spain; then he joined La Francophonie, but that did not last because of his son’s troubles with the French courts.”

Now, however, the CPLP has been satisfied with a moratorium on the death penalty, which remains on the statute books. Its enforcement depends only on the fiat of the head of state. “It’s an intellectual hoax,” Nvó said.

The Equatoguinean foreign minister, Agapito Mba Mokuy, told the Portuguese news agency Lusa on Tuesday that his country “was colonised for a longer period by Portugal than by Spain (307 years under Portugal compared to 190 under Spain), so that the ties to Portuguese-speaking countries are historically very strong.”

“Joining the CPLP today is simply coming home,” he said.

In a telephone interview with IPS, former president of East Timor José Ramos-Horta said, “I agree with the forceful criticisms denouncing the death penalty and serious human rights violations that are committed in that country.” In his view the denunciations of the regime made by international organisations are to be credited.

However, Ramos-Horta believes that “concerted, intelligent, prudent and persistent action by the CPLP upon the regime in Equatorial Guinea will achieve the first improvements after some time.”

In exchange for admission, Ramos-Horta recommended the CPLP should establish an agenda to force Obiang to eliminate the death penalty, torture, arbitrary detentions and forcible disappearances.

It should also include, he said, improved facilities and treatment for prisoners; access to inmates by the International Red Cross; and later on, the opening of an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Malabo.

One of the most critical voices raised against the events in Dili was that of political sciences professor José Filipe Pinto, who asserted that a sort of “chequebook diplomacy” had prevailed there, with Malabo offering to make investments in CPLP countries, relying on its resource wealth.

In his opinion, “an organisation must have interests and principles,” and he regretted that “some elites and the crisis conspired to exempt the latter.”

(END)

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AIDS Conference Mourns the Dead, Debates Setbacks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/aids-conference-mourns-the-dead-debates-setbacks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aids-conference-mourns-the-dead-debates-setbacks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/aids-conference-mourns-the-dead-debates-setbacks/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 15:22:41 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135746 Messages of sympathy adorn a street in Melbourne. Credit: Diana G Mendoza/IPS

Messages of sympathy adorn a street in Melbourne. Credit: Diana G Mendoza/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MELBOURNE, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

The 20th International AIDS Conference concluded today as the first in its history that remembered not just the 39 million people worldwide who have died of AIDS but also those who lost their lives in the crashed MH17 flight carrying six of its delegates, one of whom was the past president of the International AIDS Society (IAS).

The double memorial, however, did not hamper 12,000 scientists, researchers, advocates, lobbyists, and activists from 200 countries, including 800 journalists, from scrutinising a few advances and disturbing setbacks in HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention, treatment to prolong and improve the quality of life of people living with HIV, and compassion and care to those infected and people close to them.

The IAS and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said that globally, there are about 35 million people living with HIV in 2013, but 19 million of them do not know that they have the virus. Also in 2013, around 2.1 million became newly infected, and 1.5 million died of an AIDS-related illness.

"We will not stand idly by when governments, in violation of all human rights principles, are enforcing monstrous laws that only marginalise populations that are already the most vulnerable in society.” -- Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, president of the International AIDS Society (IAS)
But the good news is that HIV transmission has slowed down worldwide, according to Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, and that millions of lives are being saved by antiretroviral drugs that suppress and slow down the replication of the virus, but do not eradicate it.

An estimated 13 million people are taking antiretroviral therapy that has resulted in a 20 percent drop in HIV-related deaths between 2009 and 2012. In 2005, there were only 1.3 million who were accessing ART.

Sidibé said at least 28 million people are medically eligible for the drugs. Currently, according to UNAIDS, spending on HIV treatment and prevention is around 19 billion dollars annually, but this needs to be scaled up to at least 22 billion dollars next year.

“We have done more in the last three years than we have done in the previous 25,” said Sidibé, who warned that these advances are disturbed by a few setbacks that are difficult to battle, such as laws against gay people in Africa and the crackdown on intravenous drug users in Russia.

In other countries, new policies have also emerged, criminalising homosexual behaviour and the use of intravenous drugs, and penalising those who engage in sex work.

Activists and experts say these policies help HIV to thrive by driving homosexuals, injecting drug users and male and female sex workers underground, where they have no access to preventative services.

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, IAS president and chair of the conference who co-won the Nobel Prize for helping discover the virus that causes AIDS, said, “We will not stand idly by when governments, in violation of all human rights principles, are enforcing monstrous laws that only marginalise populations that are already the most vulnerable in society.”

The upsurge of anger was also obvious in the Melbourne Declaration that delegates were urged to sign early on, which demanded tolerance and acceptance of populations under homophobic and prejudiced attack.

The Melbourne Declaration called on governments to repeal repressive laws and end policies that reinforce discriminatory and stigmatising practices that increase the vulnerability to HIV, while also passing laws that actively promote equality.

Organisers believe that over 80 countries enforce unacceptable laws that criminalise people on the basis of sexual orientation and HIV status and recognise that all people are equal members of the human family.

The conference also called on health providers to stop discriminating against people living with HIV or groups at risk of HIV infection or other health threats by violating their ethical obligations to care for and treat people impartially.

Bad news for Asia-Pacific

Another setback is that while HIV infections lessened in number globally, some countries are going the other way. Sharon Lewin, an Australian infectious disease and biomedical research expert who co-chaired the conference with Barre-Sinoussi, said Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines are experiencing epidemics in their vulnerable populations with “worryingly high” proportions in 2013.

“While new infections continue to decrease globally, we are unfortunately seeing a very different pattern in Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines with increasing numbers of new infections in 2013,” Lewin said during the conference opening.

She cited men who have sex with men (MSM), sex workers, people who inject drugs and transgender persons as the most at-risk populations in the three countries.

Remembering the Dead

In all the speeches, activities, and cultural events that happened inside and outside the Melbourne Convention Centre, reflections were dedicated to the six delegates who died in the plane crash and did not make it to the conference: former IAS president and professor of medicine, Joep Lange; his partner and Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development public health official, Jacqueline van Tongeren; AIDS lobbyists, Pim de Kuijer and Martine de Schutter; director of support at the Female Health Company, Lucie van Mens; and World Health Organisation media coordinator, Glenn Thomas.

Red ribbons that have been globally worn to symbolise AIDS advocacy were tied to panels of remembrance around the conference site.

Flags in several buildings around Melbourne and the state of Victoria were flown at half-mast at the start of the conference. A candlelight vigil was held at the city’s Federation Square a day before the conference concluded.
Lewin said that while sub-Saharan Africa remains accountable for 24.7 million adults and children infected with HIV, Asia-Pacific has the next largest population of people living with HIV, with 4.8 million in 2013, and new infections estimated at 350,000 in 2013.

This brought the rate of daily new infections in the region to 6,000; 700 are children under 15 while 5,700 were adults. But 33 percent of them were young people aged 15-24.

Aside from Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines, she said Thailand and Cambodia are also causes for concern because of their concentrated epidemics in certain populations, while India remains a country with alarmingly high infections, accounting for 51 percent of all AIDS-related deaths in Asia. Indonesia’s new HIV infections, meanwhile, have risen 48 percent since 2005.

Meanwhile, the U.N. predicts that AIDS will no longer exist by 2030. UNAIDS’ Sidibé introduced the “90-90-90 initiative” that aims at reducing new infections by 90 percent, reducing stigma and discrimination by 90 percent, and reducing AIDS-related deaths by 90 percent.

“We aim to bring the epidemic under control so that it no longer poses a public health threat to any population or country. No one must be left behind,” Sidibé stressed.

The conference also saw a few hopeful solutions such as the portable HIV and viral load testing devices presented by pharmaceutical and laboratory companies that joined the exhibitors, and radical approaches to counselling and testing that involve better educated peer counsellors.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) issued consolidated guidelines on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care designed to assist health providers and policymakers develop HIV programmes that will increase access to HIV testing, treatment and reduce HIV infection in five key populations vulnerable to infection – men who have sex with men (MSM), people who inject drugs, sex workers, transgender people and people in prison and other closed settings – who make up 50 percent of all new infections yearly.

Part of the guidelines recommend that MSM – one of the most at-risk groups for new infections – consider pre-exposure prophylaxis or taking anti-retroviral medication even if they are HIV negative to augment HIV prevention, but they are asked to still used the prescribed prevention measures like condoms and lubricants. The prophylaxis that prevents infection can reduce HIV among MSM by 20 to 25 percent.

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