Inter Press Service » Global Geopolitics News and Views from the Global South Wed, 04 May 2016 17:35:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Is the System Broke or Broken? Wed, 04 May 2016 17:35:19 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Families displaced from their homes in Pakistan’s troubled northern regions returning home. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Families displaced from their homes in Pakistan’s troubled northern regions returning home. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Though the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit may seem timely, it brings up many questions about the world humanitarian system; is it broke or broken?

The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, which takes place in Istanbul on May 23-24, was convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to address the pressing needs of today’s humanitarian problems.

“We believe this is a once in a generation opportunity to address the problems, the suffering of millions of people around the world,” said European Union Ambassador to the United Nations João Vale de Almeida during a press briefing.

More than 125 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance globally. If this were a country, it would be the 11th largest in the world. Over 60 million are forcibly displaced, making it the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Crises now last longer, increasing the average length of displacement to 17 years from 9 years.

However, need has surpassed capacity and resources. As of the beginning of May, almost $15 billion in appeals is unmet for crises around the world including in Nigeria, Central African Republic, and Syria. Approximately 90 percent of UN humanitarian appeals continue for more than three years.

The meeting therefore represents not only a call for action, but also an alarm to reform the increasingly strained humanitarian system.

From the recent earthquake in Ecuador to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, local communities and NGOs are often the first responders due to their proximity.

Among the summit’s core responsibilities is strengthening partnerships and a multi-stakeholder process that puts affected civilians at the heart of humanitarian action.

“The current system remains largely closed, with poor connections to…a widening array of actors,” a summit synthesis report stated following consultations with over 23,000 representatives. “It is seen as outdated.”

Senior Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute’s (ODI) Humanitarian Policy Group Christina Bennett agrees, noting that humanitarian and aid structures have changed very little since it was first conceived.

“It’s still a very top-down, paternalistic way of going about things,” she told IPS.

In an ODI report, Bennett found that the system has created an exclusive, centralised group of humanitarian donors and actors, excluding local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from participating.

In 2014, 83 percent of humanitarian funding came from donor governments in Europe and North America.

Between 2010 and 2014, UN agencies and the largest international NGOs (INGOs) received 86% of all international humanitarian assistance. Meanwhile, less than two percent was directly provided to national and local NGOs.

This has prevented swift and much needed assistance on the ground.

Field Nurse for Doctor of the World’s Greece chapter Sarah Collis told IPS of her time working in the Idomeni refugee camp in Greece, noting the lack of medical resources and basic items such as food and blankets.

“Distribution of blankets only happened at night because the aid agencies were worried about mass crowds,” she told IPS. “This meant that single mothers and young families often had no chance,” she added.

Collis also recalled that there were only two ambulances for the whole region and at times, her team often had to pile six people in an ambulance at once.

The most fast acting groups, Collis said, were the small NGOs and volunteers with direct funding sources and less red tape.

From the recent earthquake in Ecuador to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, local communities and NGOs are often the first responders due to their proximity. They also have better access to hard-to-reach areas, have familiarity with the people and cultures, and can address and reduce risk before disaster strikes.

On the other hand, larger organisations or institutions such as the UN often have difficulty conducting efficient and effective humanitarian operations.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) identified the UN as being at the “heart of the dysfunction” in the humanitarian system. They found that UNHCR’s three-pronged role, as being a coordinator, implementer and donor, led to their poor performance in South Sudan, Jordan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In South Sudan’s Maban county, UNHCR was reportedly slow in response and struggled to mobilise qualified staff.

Their “triple” role also made it difficult for subcontracting NGOs to share implementation challenges and for the agency itself to “admit to bigger problems or to ask for technical assistance from other UN agencies, for fear of losing out on funding or credibility.” This, in turn, impacted the quality of information to make sound decision-making.

Though some funds from UN agencies and INGOs are provided to local NGOs, the relationship is more “transactional” rather than a “genuine, strategic engagement,” Bennett says.

For instance, when aid is provided, it is often determined by the availability of goods and services rather than what people actually need or want on the ground.

“We don’t have more of an alliance…with these organisations as equal players,” Bennett told IPS.

These issues also came to a head during consultations for the World Humanitarian Summit in Geneva.

“Southern NGOs are demanding accompaniment rather than direction,” Executive Director of African Development Solutions (Adeso) Degan Ali told government officials, UN representatives, and civil society. “Be prepared to be uncomfortable.”

Though many acknowledge that there is an important role for INGOs and donor governments in the humanitarian system, there is an emerging understanding that such actors must shift their positions from one that is dominating to one that is enabling.

Organisations such as Oxfam and Adesso have called for the UN and large INGOs to enable local NGOs by directly providing funds. This will not only help them to prepare and improve their responses to crises, but it would also put decision making and power “where it should be,” Oxfam stated.

They have also urged for a target of 20 percent of all humanitarian funding to go directly to local organisations. Already, a charter has been created to commit INGOs to these actions. Among the signatories are Oxfam, Care International and Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Despite these calls to action, Bennett told IPS that she does not believe that the World Humanitarian Summit will lead to change.

“I think it isn’t something on the agenda of the World Humanitarian Summit…partially because they are hard to address and they’re very political—these aren’t easy wins,” she said.

In order to achieve fundamental changes, donor governments and institutions with decision making power must address the underlying assumptions and power dynamics that hold the system back, Bennett remarked.

“Until they move, the system is stuck.”

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Odd Situation in the “Paradise” of Press Freedom Mon, 02 May 2016 16:54:45 +0000 Milla Sundstrom By Milla Sundström
HELSINKI, Finland, May 2 2016 (IPS)

A strange situation has emerged in Finland where some people feel that the press freedom is currently jeopardised. The small Nordic country is a press freedom celebrity leading the index kept by Reporters Without Borders since 2009 and hosting the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

The case is related to the so-called Panama Papers that were recently leaked by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The papers originate from the Panama based law company Mossack Fonseca and include information about over 210,000 companies that operate in fiscal paradises.

The Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) was involved in publishing the leak and fiscal authorities of Finland now insist that the company has to hand the material over to them. The dead line expired on Friday but YLE has refused.

The company is appealing the tax authorities’ decision and stating that it’s basic freedom is to protect the news sources. Besides YLE emphasised that it does not possess the material but a few journalists just have access to it.

What has most surprised both journalists and the public here is the fact that this happens in Finland while no other country whose media is involved in the Panama case has experienced same kind of threat from the authorities.

“We understand very well about why the tax office and politicians are interested in the documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca”, the responsible editors of YLE investigative group, Ville Vilén and Marit af Björkesten, said in their statement referring to the possible tax evasions and their social consequences.

They admit having partly shared purposes with the authorities but refuse to violate old principles that have been followed for decades in the European countries that respect press freedom.

“Despite their wideness the Panama papers are not a reason to endanger the protection of the news source and the possibilities of Finnish journalists to practice influential investigative journalism on a longer run,” they continue.

“Surprisingly we are not here to celebrate press freedom but instead to ponder an amazing situation”, the president on the Finnish Council of Mass Media, Elina Grundström, said Monday on YLE’s morning television.
The Council of Mass Media is an organ of the Finnish media’s self-regulation meant to supervise the ethics of the press from all stakeholders’ angle. Grundström gave her support to YLE’s decision not to give up the Panama papers to the tax authorities.
Susanna Reinboth, the law reporter of the biggest national daily, agreed while Pekka Mervola, editor-in-chief of the regional paper Keskisuomalainen, thinking that the material could be delivered with certain reservations that are meant to protect the sources.
The problem may be at least partly solved on May 9th when the ICIJ has promised to publish part of the Panama material.

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Democratic Corruption Mon, 02 May 2016 16:32:11 +0000 Sakib Sherani By Sakib Sherani
May 2 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

`Chaste to her husband, frank to all beside / A teeming mistress, but a barren bride` – Alexander Pope

From Brazil to Malaysia, democracy around the world is under threat. Not from the march of army columns, but from the greed and corruption of a rapaclous global political elite. While nation-destroying corruption of leaders such as Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko, Sani Abacha, Alberto Fujimori, or Robert Mugabe was the accepted `norm` till the 1990s for a select band of unfortunate Third World countries whose people had been made destitute by their leaders` insatiable greed, the latest wave of democracy was thought to have brought in a newer, and lesstainted, leadership.

From Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan to Cristina Fernandez de Kerchner in Argentina, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela to Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta in Kenya, citizens of newly democratic countries have looked up to young, educated and dynamic leaders to provide salvation from the curse of history. But this was not to be.

Wildly popular leaders elected via freer and fairer elections proved to be a false dawn in most countries much like the lament from Alexander Pope`s Rape of the Lock.

Far from strengthening democracy in their respective countries by building or consolidating institutions, most of these leaders chose to become elected autocrats by dismantling, brick by brick, constitutional checks and balances against misrule and established systems of good governance. Their popularity – born out of a politica dynasty, a successful acting career, leadership in the independence movement or just charismatic demagoguery – combined with the decimation of legitimate democratic opposition and institutional safeguards more often than not has bred a sense of entitlement and a culture of impunity. These are fertile grounds for corruption and misuse of unbridled power.

Hence, the scale, brazenness and pervasiveness of corruption in these countries. Hugo Chavez`s family in Venezuela, Tamil Nadu`s chief minister Jayalalitha, the Rajapakse family in Sri Lanka, are just a handful among a host of other recent popularly elected leadersaccused of amassing untold wealth while in office. Similar accusations dog the family of the prime minister of Bangladesh and the erstwhile prime minister of Thailand, Ms Yingluck Shinawatra.

In Brazil, the leftist President Dilma Rouseff and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva are embroiled in a multi-billion dollar embezzlement scandal involving Petrobras, the country`s stateowned oil producer. Prime Minister Najib Razzak of Malaysia has had the good fortune of `someone` crediting his account with $700 million overnight (linked to Malaysia`s state fund 1MDB), while Turkey`s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is accused of wasting state funds on building a new palace for himself costing over $600m.

Nor is abuse of public office for personal enrichment limited any longer to dirt-poor developing countries. Even in countries with an established, albeit turbulent, tradition of parliamentary democracy, such as Spain and Italy, popularly elected leaders voted into office on a promise of change have quickly become tainted with allegations of corruption.

Closer to home, proceedings of hearings before the US Senate in 1999 provide a detailed account of millions of dollars of funds being moved through Citibank`s private banking centres on behalf of Mr Zardari between 1994 and 1997, including on account of commissions by the Swiss company Cotecna.

Details of beneficial ownership of a web of offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands by the thenprime minister and her spouse is provided in the official record of the proceedings. Further material on beneficial ownership of offshore companies and transactions amounting to millions of dollars during this period is provided in the Global Corruption Report (2004) in the section titled `The hunt for looted state assets: the case of Benazir Bhutto`

Recent revelations about offshore companies and accounts belonging to the prime minister`s family dating to the 1990s a period of intense speculation about corruption involving South Korea`s Daewoo, and in the yellow cabs import scheme that apparently caused a $1 billion loss to Pakistan`s exchequer reinforce the perception that the transition to democ-racy in Pakistan has taken a familiar, and less desirable, path.

Not unlike other parts of the world, where elected kleptocrats have been caught out with their `snouts in the trough` (as the late Ardeshir Cowasjee would put it), Pakistani politicians start crying hoarse about the threat to `the system` whenever their corruption is exposed. Presumably, the system they are out to protect is not one that guarantees education, jobs or basic health services to Pakistan`s teeming poor, but one that allows the entitlement to loot.

However, there is nothing constitutional or democratic about the systematic pillage of state resources for personal enrichment. About the only democratic thing about such large-scale corruption is that, barring the handful who benefit from it, it affects all other Pakistanis indiscriminately, with the poor and the vulnerable bearing the brunt of its pernicious consequences.

These consequences have been on egregious display time and again: when public schools in Azad Kashmir collapsed due to poor construction in the October 2005 earthquake killing thousands of innocent children; when poor Thari children die each year due to lack of basic facilities; when faulty scanners are imported to protect our cities; when expired medicines and vaccines are purchased for public hospitals; when the government does not have the money to pay pensioners, doctors, nurses, teachers and Lady Health Workers their dues for months on end but can cough up $2bn for vanity bus and train projects; when an illfunded and ill-equipped police has to take on wellarmed criminal gangs baclced by powerful politicians; ad nauseam.

True democracy is an aspiration worth pursuing. But passing off large-scale looting and plunder as constitutional democracy does not serve the interest of Pakistan`s citizens or its future generations.

Banay hain ahlay hawwas muda`ee bhi, munsifbhi Kisay vakil karein, kis say munsafi chahein (Faiz)

The writer is a former economic adviser to government, and currently heads a macroeconomic consultancy based in Islamabad.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Free Press a Casualty of Pakistan’s Terror War Mon, 02 May 2016 14:59:49 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai 0 Why we need to stand united against governments cracking down on dissent Thu, 28 Apr 2016 14:33:35 +0000 Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah Police use tear gas and water canons in Istanbul to disperse demonstrators protesting the new Internet bill in February 2014. Credit: Emrah Gurel/IPS.

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

By Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Playing Ping Pong with Disability Thu, 28 Apr 2016 07:53:51 +0000 Silvia Boarini 0 G-77 Should Adopt South-South Climate Change Program of Action: Ambassador Djoghlaf Tue, 26 Apr 2016 18:53:36 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands The beauty of the Paris agreement is that it’s a universal agreement, unlike the Kyoto protocol, said Ambassador Djoghlaf. Credit: Ahmed Djoghlaf.

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

By Lyndal Rowlands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Program of Action in Marrakech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The beauty of the Paris agreement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eastern Europe’s Claims for UN Chief Questioned Tue, 26 Apr 2016 01:17:42 +0000 Thalif Deen A Berlin Wall monument stands next to a Soviet sculpture at United Nations headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

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

By Thalif Deen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer can be contacted at

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Developing Countries Take Lead at Climate Change Agreement Signing Fri, 22 Apr 2016 19:40:13 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands The UN General Assembly hall during the record-breaking signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. UN Photo/Mark Garten

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

By Lyndal Rowlands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Deep Discord at United Nations over Global Drug Policy Wed, 20 Apr 2016 14:41:27 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage A youth smokes diamba (marijuana) at a gang base in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

A youth smokes diamba (marijuana) at a gang base in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

International drug conventions ultimately aim to ensure the health and welfare of humankind, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said here Tuesday at the opening of a special three-day session on drugs known as UNGASS.

Convened by the 193-member UN General Assembly, the meeting brought together government officials, UN agencies and civil society organisations to review the current international drug control regime.

In his address, Eliasson noted the sensitivity of the subject but urged for collaboration and action.

“It is…important that we listen to each other and learn from each others’ experiences, not least of how the well-being of people is affected,” he stated.

“We must base our decisions on research, data and scientific evidence. And we must not shy away from new ideas and approaches – even if these sometimes may challenge traditional assumptions,” Eliasson added.

However, the ongoing discussions reflect a deep discord regarding drug policy within the international community. UNGASS, which was due to be held in 2019, was advanced to 2016 at the request of the leaders of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico, countries that have been at the frontline of drug-related violence.

Ahead of UNGASS, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos remarked on the failure of war on drugs in an opinion editorial for the Guardian.

“Vested with the moral authority of leading the nation that has carried the heaviest burden in the global war on drugs, I can tell you without hesitation that the time has come for the world to transit into a different approach in its drug policy,” he wrote.

“This is not a call for legalisation of drugs. It is a call for recognition that between total war and legalisation there exists a broad range of options worth exploring,” President Santos added.

Since the 1961 UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs, states have focused on the criminalisation and eradication of drugs. However, evidence has shown that this approach has not only failed to reduce the production and consumption of drugs, but it has also negatively impacted human rights, health and development around the world.

In Colombia, production of the world’s supply of coca leaves stood at less than 10 percent up to the 1980s. However, following the United States-led war on drugs in Peru and Bolivia, which funded crop eradication programs and anti-narcotics policing, cocaine production was pushed northward into Colombia. By 2000, the country cultivated an estimated 90 percent of the world’s coca leaves.

Despite US-funded anti-narcotics operations in Colombia in the 1990s, drug-fuelled violence spiked and contributed to the Western hemisphere’s longest war. Approximately 220,000 civilians were killed and more than five million were displaced during the Colombian armed conflict.

Meanwhile, Colombia continues to be a major coca and cocaine producing country.

Public health concerns also arose from the use of glyphosate in aerial spraying campaigns which were conducted for over two decades to eradicate coca crops. In 2015, the World Health Organisation warned that the herbicide could cause cancer.

In the U.S. itself, the criminalisation of drugs has led to unprecedented levels of incarceration. The north American nation currently has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, many of whom have been imprisoned for drug offences.

Mass incarceration and drug-policing disproportionately impacts African American communities.

Though Whites use drugs five times more than African Americans, African Americans are sent to prison for drug offences at 10 times the rate of White drug users, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

This has produced social costs that do not stop until long after prison sentences end, if at all.

A nation-wide study found that the majority of formerly incarcerated individuals were unable to access employment, education and housing. Approximately 67 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals in the study were still unemployed or underemployed five years after their release.

Many families also lose income and struggle to meet basic needs when a family member is incarcerated and unable to earn wages. In the same study, nearly 2 in 3 families with an incarcerated member were unable to meet their family’s basic needs, and 70 percent of those families include children. This perpetuates a vicious cycle of poverty and further incarceration with little if any change in drug consumption and production nationally.

The U.S. has begun to address the issue, implementing changes in its criminal justice system. During the National Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta in March 2016, President Barrack Obama highlighted the need to change drug approaches.

“For too long we’ve viewed drug addiction through the lens of criminal justice,” Obama said at the conference.

“The most important thing to do is reduce demand. And the only way to do that is to provide treatment – to see it as a public health problem and not a criminal problem,” he continued.

In the last two years, Obama has commuted 248 sentences of non-violent drug offenders who were harshly sentenced as a result of the war on drugs. The U.S. Justice Department also plans to release 6000 drug offenders following a drug law reform which reduced punishment for federal drug offences.

The UNGASS has incorporated some of these perspectives, experiences and evidence in its newly and unanimously adopted outcome document which aims to more effectively address the world drug problem.

In the document, the General Assembly has called for alternative measures to conviction and proportionate sentencing for drug-related offences. It also highlights the need to increase access to health services and treatment and address root causes including poverty.

However, many have already criticised the session and outcome document as being insufficient to effectively address the global drug issue.

Global Drug Policy Observatory’s (GDPO) Senior Research Officer Julia Buxton told IPS of her disappointment stating: “The outcome document is shameful – a hapless fudge…it goes against science, reason, evidence, best practice and lessons learned in decades of failed efforts,” she concluded.

She added that the outcome of meeting would move towards not only evidence-based approaches, but also harm reduction based approaches.

Harm reduction includes a set of strategies utilising a social justice lens to reduce negative health consequences associated with drug use.

“It demonstrates how fundamentally out of touch many national bureaucracies and governments are with the urgency of change and tragically, will condemn another generation to violence, disease, overdose, stigmatisation and rights abuses,” she concluded.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), approximately 27 million people are problem drug users. As of 2015, there has been little change in the production, use, and health consequences of illicit drugs.

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Opinion: The Empire’s New Clothes? Conjuring Growth from the TPP Tue, 19 Apr 2016 09:50:13 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo was an Assistant Secretary-General responsible for analysis of economics and development in the United Nations system during 2005-2015, and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought. ]]>

Jomo was an Assistant Secretary-General responsible for analysis of economics and development in the United Nations system during 2005-2015, and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Apr 19 2016 (IPS)

While the main US motivation for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been to counter China’s influence in the region, it has also been used to undermine the Doha ‘Development’ Round of trade negotiations to better advance politically influential US corporate interests. Hence, it has become all the more necessary to legitimize the TPP in terms of its ostensible benefits. Touted as a ‘gold standard’ 21st century trade deal, it is nonetheless necessary to ascertain what gains can really be expected and whether these exceed its costs.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Modest trade gains

The only US government study of the TPP’s likely impacts found very modest growth gains from tariff reductions of only 0.1% over a decade. In fact, all studies so far project negligible direct economic growth gains from TPP trade liberalization.

Instead, the Peterson Institute of International Economics (PIIE) has provided the fig-leaf for the empire’s new clothes with far more inflated projections of supposed gains. In 2012, it projected growth of 0.4% after a decade. In January, the PIIE came up with greater gains from the TPP by claiming more, albeit still modest growth gains from trade, at 0.5% after 15 years. Incredibly, using the same PIIE study, the World Bank’s January 2016 Global Monitoring Report managed to more than double the same study’s growth gains to 1.1%!

If it used more conventional methods for estimating gains from trade, the benefits would have been much more modest, as in the US government study. The PIIE studies claim greater growth gains due to ‘non-trade measures’ (NTMs) and related foreign investment surges.

Cost-benefit analysis?

This is justified by the presumption that the TPP will place all participating countries in the top 10 percent of the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking, despite ambiguous evidence of such effects. The 2012 study arbitrarily assumed that every dollar of FDI within the TPP bloc would generate additional annual income of 33 cents, divided equally between source and host countries, without any theory, modelling procedure or empirical bases for these suppositions.

Provisions allowing foreign investors to sue governments in private tribunals, or those undermining national bank regulation, become trade-promoting cost reductions, ignoring the costs and risks of bypassing national regulations and taxation. The huge gains claimed have little, if any, analytical bases in economics, evidence or experience.

To make the case for the TPP, the PIIE understates costs and risks, while exaggerating benefits. Very diverse TPP provisions were fed into the trade model as simple cost reductions, with little consideration of downside risks and costs. Although such costs and risks are not seriously considered, the projections are nonetheless presented as cost-benefit evaluations.

By understating crucial costs, and exaggerating projected benefits, net gains are overstated. For example, provisions to strengthen, broaden and extend intellectual property rights (IPRs) become simple cost reductions that will increase the trade in services. Such analysis ignores impacts on consumers or on governments subsidizing the prices of medicines to patients.

Paltry benefits

Thus, the PIIE and World Bank studies greatly overstate benefits from the TPP. Tariff-related trade benefits are the only quantifiable benefits consistent with economic theory and evidence, but make up a very small share of the projected gains. Many benefits involve one-time gains, and do not raise the economies’ annual growth rates. Also, these gains need to be compared against the costs ignored by the study as well as the actual details of the final deal.

Even unadjusted, the gains are small relative to the GDPs of TPP partner economies. But even these gains are still modest, and need to be revised downwards as many assumptions made for these projections are not in the final deal. While projected trade benefits will take time, not least because of the TPPA provisions, the major risks and costs will be more immediate.

Also, any impact of the TPP on workers’ incomes is excluded by assuming that all economies operate constantly with full employment while income distribution, trade and fiscal balances remain fixed over time. If the paltry gains from the TPP mainly go to a few big businesses, with the losses borne by others — workers, consumers or tax payers — the TPP would worsen inequality.

Our own study — using a Keynesian macroeconomic policy model, more realistic specifications and the PIIE’s 2012 trade projections — found more modest growth, net job losses, greater pressure on wages, declining labour shares of income and greater income inequality.

Net gain or loss?

The TPP goes much further to redefine the role of government than necessary to facilitate trade. TPP ‘disciplines’ will significantly constrain the policy space needed for governments to accelerate economic development and to protect the public interest. The dubious larger benefits projected by TPP advocates make it all the more critical to consider the nature and scale of costs and risksignored by available modelling exercises. The TPP will impose direct costs, e.g. by extending patents and by blocking generic production and imports.

The TPP’s investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions will enable foreign investors to sue a government in an offshore tribunal if they claim that new policy or regulations reduce expected future profits, even if such regulations are in the public interest. As foreign investors are already well protected by other available means, ISDS provisions are completely unnecessary.

Even advocates of free trade and trade liberalization have criticized inclusion of such non-trade provisions in free trade agreements. Instead of being the regional free trade agreement it is often portrayed as, the TPP seems to be “a managed trade regime that puts corporate interests first”.

Thus, the TPP, offering very modest quantifiable benefits from trade liberalization at best, is really the thin edge of a wedge which will undermine the public interest in favour of powerful corporate interests. Net gains for all in TPP countries are a myth. Only a full, careful and proper accounting based on the full text can determine who benefits and who loses.


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No Easy Outcomes in Brazil’s Political Crisis Mon, 18 Apr 2016 23:00:48 +0000 Mario Osava Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, her back to the camera, receives a hug on Monday Apr. 18 by one of the minority of lower house legislators who voted against her impeachment the day before. Credit: Roberto Stuckert/PR

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, her back to the camera, receives a hug on Monday Apr. 18 by one of the minority of lower house legislators who voted against her impeachment the day before. Credit: Roberto Stuckert/PR

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 18 2016 (IPS)

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff would appear to be, as she herself recently said, “a card out of the deck” of those in power, after the crushing defeat she suffered Sunday Apr. 17 in the lower house of Congress, which voted to impeach her. But Brazil’s political crisis is so complex that the final outcome is not a given.

A total of 367 legislators – 71.5 percent, or 25 more than the two-thirds majority needed – voted to impeach her and she now faces a vote in the Senate. Because the makeup of the Senate is similar to that of the Chamber of Deputies, the president’s fate is apparently sealed.

However, the climate of tension in Brazil has brought new surprises almost every week since last year. And the impeachment trial could drag on for over six months, passing through different stages and procedures, under the shadow of storms like the corruption scandal that threatens more than 300 politicians.

The Senate will have about three weeks to decide whether to go ahead with putting the left-wing president on trial for alleged irregularities in last year’s federal budget.

Since the decision only requires a simple majority of 41 out of 81 senators, the assumption is that the impeachment will move forward. The vote will be based on an assessment of the case by a special 21-senator commission that will have 10 working days to turn in its report.

In the next few weeks, Rousseff – whose first term started on Jan. 1, 2011 – will remain in the presidency. But she will have to step aside for 180 days if the Senate votes in favour of a formal impeachment trial. After that, another special commission will investigate, listen to the defence, and draw up a proposal to find her guilty or absolve her.

The trial by the 81 senators would be presided over by the president of the Supreme Court.

Rousseff would be banned from public office for eight years if two-thirds of the senators – 54 – found her guilty. She would be acquitted if she managed to obtain 28 votes in favour, including abstentions and absences.

There are multiple factors that could modify the script as well as the final outcome.

Demonstrators supporting the removal of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff celebrate Sunday Apr. 17 outside the lower house of Congress in Brasilia after it voted to impeach her. “Chao querida” (Bye-bye dear) reads one of the signs. Credit: Fábio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ Agência Brasil

Demonstrators supporting the removal of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff celebrate Sunday Apr. 17 outside the lower house of Congress in Brasilia after it voted to impeach her. “Tchau, querida” (Bye-bye dear) reads one of the signs. Credit: Fábio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ Agência Brasil

The lawmakers pushing for impeachment, who will take power if Rousseff is removed, have all been implicated by the Operação Lava Jato or Operation Car Wash investigation into corruption and could lose their seats as a result of a trial in the Supreme Court, where sitting politicians are tried.

Facing the greatest threat is the speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, who played a decisive role by speeding things up in the initial phase of the proceedings against Rousseff.

But that role has generated resistance against the impeachment. Cunha, accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes to secure contracts with state oil giant Petrobras, and reported to have illegal bank accounts in Switzerland, is seen as the biggest symbol of corruption, even by some of those who back the president’s removal.

Many members of the Chamber of Deputies took advantage of the moment to accuse Cunha of being a thief or corrupt, when they announced their vote on Sunday. Even some of those who voted in favour of impeachment made an attempt to mark their distance from the speaker of the house.

Deputy Jarbas Vasconcelos, for example, accused Cunha of “casting a stain over” the proceedings and the lower house.

Both of them belong to the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), an ally of the government until last month. If Rousseff is suspended, the party will lead the government and both houses of Congress.

Vice-president Michel Temer, who will become president if Rousseff – reelected to her second term in October 2014 – is impeached, and the president of the Senate, Renán Calheiros, have been signaled as benefiting from the corruption orchestrated by Petrobras, as they both agreed to cooperate with the justice system in exchange for a reduction in any eventual sentence.

The charges and the information provided in the investigation will tend to focus on these three politicians – the vice president and the heads of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate – as they are in line to replace the president.

Rousseff’s supporters stress that she is an exception among the leading protagonists in this battle for power, as the only one who is not facing corruption charges.

Supporters of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff displayed intense disappointment on Sunday Apr. 17 outside the lower house of Congress in Brasilia as the voting reflected an overwhelming majority in favour of impeachment. Credit: Fábio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ Agência Brasil

Supporters of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff displayed intense disappointment on Sunday Apr. 17 outside the lower house of Congress in Brasilia as the voting reflected an overwhelming majority in favour of impeachment. Credit: Fábio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ Agência Brasil

However, she is isolated now because the left-wing ruling Workers Party’s (PT) image has been battered by accusations that it has diverted public funds since it first came to power in 2003 under former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

New charges and lines of investigation by Operation Car Wash, led by the public prosecutor’s office and the federal police, could modify the political landscape, as has happened in the last few months when it investigated favours allegedly received by Lula from leading construction companies that have carried out large-scale oil industry and hydropower projects.

Another source of uncertainty is the current Superior Electoral Court investigation into the 2014 campaign funds that could invalidate the victory by Rousseff and Temer due to the alleged use of illegal donations coming from bribes from Petrobras contractor companies.

If the 2014 elections outcome is challenged, new elections will be held. But experts believe that this ruling will not come until 2017, and in that case it would be Congress that would elect the new president and vice president who would complete the current term until 2018.

The economic crisis, meanwhile, is only expected to get worse, because an interim government would find it hard to adopt the unpopular measures that economists, and Temer himself, see as indispensable for fighting the recession, such as a fiscal adjustment plan.

A truce is also possible, but it would be hard to accommodate the interests of the nearly two dozen parties in the lower house that helped approve the move to impeach Rousseff. The broad majority that was achieved was due to small and medium-sized parties that joined together with the large opposition parties when the president’s defeat began to look likely.

The big fuel for political decisions lately in Brazil has been the prospect of gaining a share of the power.

The corrosion of the new coalition that would take power will be inevitable, due to internal divisions, the recession and subsequent rise in unemployment, new findings by the corruption investigation and demonstrations by Rousseff’s supporters, which will clearly rise in intensity.

The media, which the left accuses of being biased against Rousseff, Lula and the PT, will likely focus their negative news stories on the new holders of power, accentuating the erosion.

The defence of the president, led by Attorney General José Eduardo Cardozo, disparaged the lower house decision on the impeachment, calling it “purely political” and noting that Rousseff is not facing serious accusations but minor charges which, he said, have “absolutely no background or basis.”

Cardozo argued that this is possible in a parliamentary system, but not in Brazil’s presidentialist system. The proceedings have been criticised as unconstitutional, since Rousseff is not accused of any concrete crime, and a president can’t be impeached only for political reasons, he argued.

These arguments are not likely to modify the Senate’s eventual decision, given the president’s isolation, but they could strengthen the movement against her removal.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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A World Drowning in Oil Mon, 18 Apr 2016 12:37:16 +0000 N Chandra Mohan By N Chandra Mohan
DOHA, Qatar, Apr 18 2016 (IPS)

Thanks to tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, major oil producers couldn’t come to an agreement in Doha to freeze their output to January levels to raise oil prices. The current low oil prices have a lot to do with the grim outlook for global economic growth while supply is growing. China, the second largest economy in the world, is slowing down. Not surprisingly, global oil demand is much lower at 94.8 million barrels a day vis-à-vis supply of 96.3 million barrels a day in the first quarter of 2016 according to the International Energy Agency.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

Low prices are no doubt hurting producers like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE and Qatar, forcing them to run huge deficits as their oil revenues shrink while expenditures keep mounting. Iran, which is just free from US sanctions, too, wants to sell as much as possible to modernise its economy. Paradoxically, these talks to curb rather than cut output have failed when major oil producers are pumping as much oil as possible. Saudi Arabia, for instance, produced 10.2 million barrels a day in March, close to previous record highs. How then can prices start rising again?

For such reasons, a freeze – even if it did materialise — is unlikely to have made much of an impact in getting prices back up again. The current levels of Brent crude at $40 a barrel reflect excess supply. The global oil market is nervous that Saudi Arabia’s tension with Iran for dominance in West Asia can get out of hand. Geopolitical tensions in Syria, Libya and Iraq are also fast-escalating. Although prices can spike upwards, they are kept low by excess supply as demand is declining due to weaker global growth. But with lower US shale oil production, supply and demand may balance later this year.

Instead of a freeze, an excess supply situation normally ought to signal to dominant producers like Saudi Arabia or the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to cut production to avoid a build-up of stock and ensure higher prices. But this is exactly what they have chosen not to do for geopolitical reasons. One year ago, Ali Ali-Naimi, Saudi’s oil minister asked “Why should we cut production?” on the sidelights of a climate conference in Lima. The Saudis resistance to lowering oil output is to squeeze out high cost producers and rivals like shale oil producers in the US and Iran.

The House of Saud and allies like Kuwait and the UAE were ready for prices even as low as even $20 a barrel. There is no doubt that low prices adversely affect the economics of oil extraction from shale. The US is now self-sufficient for its energy requirements and has emerged as a major swing producer in the global oil market. But in recent months, there are signs that shale producers in that country are experiencing a boom-bust cycle and the decks are being cleared for a decline in shale oil production. The Saudis expect higher prices to reflect such factors on the ground.

Saudi Arabia’s compulsions of late have changed due to rapidly dwindling coffers and losing out in 9 out of 15 key markets where it sold oil from 2013 to 2015 according to Financial Times. Its share of China’s imports thus has dropped from 19.4 per cent to 15.4 per cent over this period. Today, the Saudis prefer oil prices in the range of $60 to $80 a barrel to encourage demand and discourage supplies from high cost non-OPEC producers. But the contradiction is that they are now stepping up than cutting production to shore up their budgets and contributing to the persistence of global excess supply.

All of this ensures Brent crude prices that are no different from 2015. In any case, a production freeze can only succeed if all the major oil producers, including Iran, agree to do so. Iran, for its part, did not participate in this meeting in Doha. When both oil producers pump up more and more oil, how will prices rise? Saudi Arabia needs oil at $95.8 a barrel for its budget to balance. Iran needs oil at $70.4 a barrel according to the International Monetary Fund. The yawning gap between the current Brent crude and fiscal break-even prices is the difference between reality and unrealistic budgetary hopes.

If global oil prices remain depressed, the Gulf economies need to envision a future beyond oil. as we have written earlier. This is bad news for the millions of expatriate workers from South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal who work in these economies. If the oil revenue-financed boom is over, many of them will be forced to return home. Already there are signs that remittances are declining. A world drowning in oil spells the end of the Gulf dream as major economies register slower growth in the rest of this year and beyond.


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Will the UN’s new leader stand for the powerful or the powerless? Thu, 14 Apr 2016 21:59:30 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands Helen Clark former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Administrator of the UN Development Program is one of four female candidates to be the next UN Secretary-General. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe.

Helen Clark former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Administrator of the UN Development Program is one of four female candidates to be the next UN Secretary-General. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe.

By Lyndal Rowlands

After hundreds of questions were posed to nine candidates vying for the role of United Nations Secretary-General this week, a lasting question remains; will the UN’s new leader stand for the powerful or the powerless?

The selection of the ninth secretary-general of the United Nations has been seen as a chance for change within the 70 year old global organisation. Some see 2016 as the time for the first woman to be chosen to lead the global organisation which represents over 7 billion people. Others believe that it is time for the selection process to become more open so that all of the UN’s 193 member states get a say in who is chosen. Historically it has been the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – which have ultimately decided.

The latter concerns were in part addressed this week, with the nine candidates who have so far announced their candidacies answering questions from the UN’s 193 member states, civil society and the media during an open selection process.

Four of the nine candidates are women, also raising hopes on the gender equality front.

Oxfam Executive Director Winnie Byanyima told IPS that the next Secretary-General should not only be a woman, but that she should also be a feminist.

“It is time for the next Secretary-General of the United Nations to be a woman,” Byanyima told IPS. “She must also be a feminist, promoting women’s rights and gender equality, she must stand up for the poorest and most vulnerable,” said Byanyima.

Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director of the United Nations Association UK agreed that the Secretary-General should be a feminist but said that the process should be open to women and men from all countries, adding that she would still love to see a woman selected. “I think that it’s appalling a sign of how bad the process is that we haven’t had good women seriously considered in the past,” said Samarasinghe.

A custom at the United Nations means that it is considered to be Eastern Europe’s turn to provide the next Secretary-General, however Europe is the only continent which is split into more than one group, making this custom open to challenges. Two of the nine candidates so far are from outside Eastern Europe.

Samarasinghe said that she hoped to see more geographically diverse candidates emerge. “It would be massively remiss of states not to put forward a developing (country) candidate,” she said.

Carne Ross, the director of Independent Diplomat told IPS that the nationality or gender of the candidate is not the most important issue. “What really matters most is somebody who’s strong who’s smart and has got the courage and the judgment to stand up to some of the unhealthily dominant powers at the UN,” said Ross.

Ross said that he believes it is still unclear whether the new more open selection process will ultimately result in a better candidate being selected.

However Samarasinghe said that the more open process was important because it reflected on the UN more broadly.

“There is a huge onus on institutions to become more transparent and inclusive,” said Samarasinghe.

You have the UN which goes around the world promoting good governance having this hugely secretive process, so I think that the process is important,” she said.

Samarasinghe said that many member states feel that “the vast majority of states are sidelined” in the selection process and that the more open process may help rebalance this relationship.

Byanyima also called for greater UN reforms, arguing that the UN needed to help the UN meet unprecedented global challenges “be it confronting protracted conflicts and a massive global displacement crisis, or tackling climate change.”

“The UN and its Security Council must undertake much-needed reforms to become more inclusive, accountable, democratic, effective, and reflective of a world in which political and economic power has shifted,” she said.

The current pool of candidates includes former heads of state and government and several current and former high level UN officials with experience working on issues representing the world’s poor and vulnerable, experience also reflected in their answers this week. For example Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Administrator of the UN Development Program told journalists of her intentions to be a “voice for the voiceless” and Antonio Guterres, of Portugal, former UN High Commissioner for Refugees told journalists of how his experience volunteering with the homeless had inspired his career in politics.

Yet it remains possible that none of the nine candidates who have so far made their campaigns public will ultimately be chosen.

“In the past it was the best strategy for the candidates to hang back and go quietly lobby in the P5 (permanent five members of the Security Council) capitals but this time around I think there is a transparent open process that they cannot ignore,” said Samarasinghe.

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Opinion: Africa, the Need for Greater Integration Tue, 12 Apr 2016 15:17:13 +0000 Roberto Azevedo Roberto Azevêdo is WTO Director-General ]]>

Roberto Azevêdo is WTO Director-General

By Roberto Azevêdo
CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Apr 12 2016 (IPS)

There is a misconception, by some, that the World Trade Organization (WTO) is a barrier to regional integration. It is one of a number of misconceptions that do not match up with the facts like the perception that the WTO is a rich man’s club. Today the WTO has 162 members and rising at all stages of development. 43 of those members are African countries and rising. The organization now covers around 98% of world trade. It is a truly global organization, one where everybody has an equal say. And it is an organization which supports regional integration in Africa. Indeed, I would say that the need for better integration across the continent is indisputable.

Roberto Azevêdo

Roberto Azevêdo

It’s clear in the fact that intra-African trade remains just a tenth of Africa’s total trade. Or in the fact that the cost of moving goods within Africa is twice the global average. Or in the fact that an African company faces an average tariff of 8.7% when selling within Africa, against 2.5% elsewhere.

We need to tackle these barriers. And I would argue that doing this will help drive Africa’s integration globally. The statistics I just quoted show that the vast majority of Africa’s trade is with the rest of the world. And existing WTO rules give a great deal of flexibility for members to pursue regional agreements. This is plain in the proliferation of such agreements that we have seen in recent years. But they are not a new phenomenon.

Indeed, regional initiatives such as the Southern African Customs Union predate the multilateral system by some decades. Different kinds of trade initiatives have always co-existed with the multilateral system. It is important that they are coherent and compatible, so that they can all help to spread the benefits of trade.

The economic map of Africa today is defined by these efforts: from Southern African Development Community (SADC), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the East African Community (EAC) to the Tripartite Free Trade Agreement and, in due course, the Continental Free Trade Area.

The WTO supports these efforts. And the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement provides a very practical mechanism for taking them forward. This Agreement, finalised in 2013, is about simplifying and standardising customs procedures, thereby reducing the time and cost of moving goods across borders. We expect that, when fully implemented, the Agreement could reduce trade costs by an average of 14.5%.

The East African Community has already applied a range of trade facilitation reforms, which have delivered remarkable results in cutting the time and expense of moving goods between countries. Rolling out such measures would unlock the potential of many traders across the continent especially small and medium-sized enterprises. But, in order to benefit from the Agreement, first it must be ratified.

The Trade Facilitation Agreement is notable for the benefits it will deliver but also because it was the first multilaterally agreed deal in the WTO’s history. We held another ministerial conference in December last year, in Nairobi and WTO members agreed to eliminate agricultural export subsidies. This helps to level the playing field, so that farmers in developing countries may compete on better terms.

Of course domestic subsidies still exist, so there is much work still to do. But that doesn’t change the fact that abolishing export subsidies is a big step. This is something which developing countries have been fighting for over many years.

In fact, it is the biggest reform of agricultural trade rules for 20 years. And it is a key target of the United Nations’s new Sustainable Development Goals delivered just three months after the goals were agreed. In the context of regional integration it is important to recognise that results like this could only be delivered at the global level. That’s why we need trade initiatives on all levels to be working well.

And this brings me to the other topic before us today the Doha round of world trade negotiations. This action on export competition was part of the Doha round as were other elements that were delivered in Nairobi, relating to food security and Least Developed Countries (LDCs).Notwithstanding these outcomes, clearly progress on the round as a whole has been too slow. It has not delivered as we had hoped when the round was launched in 2001.

The future of Doha was a major feature of the debate in Nairobi, and in the end members could not agree on a common position. Members are committed to keeping development at the centre of our work. They are also committed to addressing the remaining Doha issues, such as agriculture (particularly domestic subsidies), market access for industrial goods and services.

But, they do not agree on how to tackle them. And, at the same time, some members would like to start discussing other issues, in addition to the remaining Doha issues. Members have wisely decided to reflect on how these differences might be overcome and how we might collectively move the agenda forward.

So we are in a very important period right now. Members are talking to each other about how to advance the Doha issues and, potentially, how to move forward on other issues as well. Of course the economic outlook is tough at present, not least given the slump in commodity prices.

To recall Nelson Mandela’s words, there is much ’wise work’ to be done.


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World Health Day: Rapidly Rising Diabetes Closely Linked to Poverty Thu, 07 Apr 2016 23:46:08 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands Diabetes test, Mauritius. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Diabetes test, Mauritius. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands

Diabetes, which now affects more than 400 million people worldwide, is closely linked to poverty in most regions of the world, World Health Organization Medical Officer Alessandro Demaio told IPS Thursday.

Demaio, who specialises in non-communicable conditions and nutrition, said that poverty is a risk factor for diabetes across low, middle and high income countries, disproportionately affecting poorer populations, apart from the absolute poor who mostly live in low income countries.

In light of the rapid increase in the disease, the WHO made diabetes the theme of this year’s World Health Day on April 7.

“We’ve had an enormous increase in the prevalence of diabetes in the past 30 years,” Francesco Branca, Director of Nutrition for Health and Development at the WHO told IPS.

As of 2014 there were 422 million people living with diabetes, compared to 108 million in 1980. Worryingly, Branca said that “half the people with diabetes don’t know,” particularly in developing countries where diagnoses can be limited and health services may not have the ability to do the required glucose blood tests. In some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, said Branca, health workers have been known to mistake the symptoms of diabetes for malaria which they are more accustomed to diagnosing.

The rapid increase in the prevalence of diabetes is in part due to “dramatic changes in diets around the world”, over the past few decades, said Demaio, as well as “changes in the environmental systems that deliver these foods.”

Many of the people affected are in so-called middle income countries, but they are often the urban poor. For example said, Branca there is “a very dire situation in countries like India” where people have been moving away from the country side to areas where they are exposed to different life conditions and a different diet.

For those in the poorest countries, getting access to treatment can be difficult. Insulin, which is an essential part of diabetes management, isn’t available at all in 23 percent of low income countries, said Branca. Health services in developing countries are also not equipped to treat the complications of diabetes, including limb amputations and kidney dialysis, and, said Branca, diabetes is now the leading cause of blindness.

The high cost of accessing health care for diabetes and the disability it causes means that diabetes can also lead to poverty, said Demaio, describing the relationship between diabetes and poverty as cyclical.

Branca and Demaio said that the sharp rise in non-communicable diseases has resulted in a different approach by the United Nations and the World Health Organization to nutrition and health-related issues.

The U.N. General Assembly recently declared the years 2016 to 2015 as the decade of action on nutrition.

The focus on nutrition now reflects a “a wider conceptualisation of nutrition”, said Demaio, recognising that conditions like obesity and diabetes are also related to poor nutrition.

According to a Lancet study published last week, there are now more people in the world who are obese than underweight. However, Branca added that it is possible to be both overweight and undernourished in important nutrients, particularly iron. There are other connections as well, for example in Latin America it is common for children who are stunted, short for their age, to be overweight.

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OPINION: A Decalogue to Understand Terrorism and Its Consequences Mon, 28 Mar 2016 18:03:19 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio, is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News]]>

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

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Mar 28 2016 (IPS)

The recent Brussels massacre has created a short term reaction, which ignores a long term projection. All the debate is now about security, police reinforcement, new military strategies, as if terrorism can be solved just as a matter of public order.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

It is of critical importance to take a more global and comprehensive approach, and accept that we are facing a problem that needs to be approached from various angles. Given the usual restrictions on length of articles in media outlets, a real analytical piece must wait for another occasion. I therefore request readers to refer to the links to some of my previous, in order to have detailed information on points that I am not able to address adequately in this article.

1) Lack of a political debate. We see the European political leadership mobilized after every incident, making rhetorical declaration of solidarity and expression of horror, but without any effort for a unified, specific response. It is astonishing to see that the French and Belgian authorities have not even tried to link the actions of the terrorists with their backgrounds and previous actions, when clearly a sociological and cultural analysis is fundamental beyond just police’s measures. While this is of critical importance, it is nowhere in the political debate.

2) No effort is made to explain that Muslim terrorism is, before anything, an internal battle in the Muslim world, and Europe is just conveniently used as the playground. Some 88%, of Muslims are Sunnis, the main branch of Islam. But no terrorist has been found beside the so called Wahabism or Salafite branch, born in Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh has constructed more than 1.600 mosques, staffing them with Salafist Imams, and every year more than 80 million dollars is spent to support Sunnis. For Salafis, the other groups in Islam are infidels, like Sufi or Yadhzites. And the Shias are the main enemy. So Iran, where the majority of Shias live, is the main enemy of Saudi Arabia, and they fight each other through proxy’s wars, from Syria to Yemen, with the number of victims much larger than all the Europeans victims of attentates. To make Islam as the promoter of all terrorism, is therefore a dramatic mistake.

3) The fight between Saudi Arabia and Iran, until and unless controlled by Russia and United States, will continue, until the time when Saudi Arabia enters into a serious crisis, due to the fact that its present level of expenditure is not any longer supported by the price of petrol. The International Monetary Fund has already indicated to Riyadh that bankruptcy is imminent within a decade, unless expenditure leveles are brought down. Until now, Saudi Arabia has been supported by all the Western powers, especially the United States of America, for its position of importance as the main oil exporter.

The United Nations panel of experts on Yemen has documented “119 coalition sorties relating to violations of the laws of war”, reported Human Rights Watch, which along with the Amnesty International and other organizations are asking for an arm’s embargo. But Saudi Arabia is the world’s second largest arms importer of the world.

Anyhow, it is very unlikely that Saudi Arabia and it’s allies from the Gulf countries will be able to take on the leadership of the Sunni world, because of its intolerance of a branch of Islam, and in the long run compete with a much larger and developed Iran. But for the moment everybody has been turning a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s role in spreading Salafism.

4) Salafism brings us to ISIS, which follows this branch of Islam as the official religion, even radicalizing it more. However, there is a growing consensus that ISIS is using religion as a tool for enrolment, and pull together all those who are frustrated by secularism and modernization. ISIS, as a tangible entity, according to military experts could be defeated in a couple of weeks, by two mechanized brigades. But it would affect the 600.000 people which are in its territory, and escalate the theory propagated by them that Muslims have always been subjected to the Christian crusaders, who installed the monarchs and Emirs on their thrones, and have effectively run the Arab world in their own interest. The crusaders will never allow a real Arab entity, and will continue to govern through their puppets. This vision and the call for a holy war against the invaders and the Arab governments will continue after the death of ISIS as a territorial entity, and get a responsive chord in the entire Arab world, because it is based on historical facts. So, the ISIS call will survive the Caliphate.

5) Europe’s reaction has been not to intervene seriously against ISIS (and Russia even less), but continue supporting factions in the Syrian war. The continent’s responsibilities in the wave of refugees fleeing Syria and Libya are clear, but of no consequence. Besides, by taking a totally illegal decision on how to deal with refugees, Europe entered in a Faustian pact with Turkey, a country which has turned a blind eye to ISIS, and is clearly against the principles of democracy that Europe advances. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees and Doctors without Borders have withdrawn from Greece, declaring the plan illegal. Of course, in the Arab world, this does not go unnoticed, and the gap with the West is steadily increasing. In the rhetoric of the right wing countries of Europe (Poland Hungary, Slovakia), and of the right wing parties, refugees have become the bearer of terrorism in Europe. Europe has not even been able to implement obvious measures of coordination on terrorism because of the growing jealousy of the governments, and there is no strategy on this issue, beside rhetoric which plays well into the hands of ISIS.

6) The right wing and xenophobic parties are therefore allied with ISIS. It is evident that, without a strategy of awareness and information, discrimination against Arabs will increase, and this is exactly what ISIS is waiting for, asking Arabs who live in Europe to decide on whether to integrate with the West, and become apostates, or help ISIS, by striking everywhere.

7) No terrorists have come from the Arab world. All those involved until now, were Europeans, born and raised in Europe. Most were petty criminals or marginalized people, not at all observant, who become indoctrinated while serving prison terms for their crimes or through social networking. They were in fact nihilist, who found in ISIS dignity and escape from a life without work and a future. Europe has found 6 billion euros to keep the refugees at bay, after spending more than 7 billion in military expenses in the Middle East. If that money would have been invested in the ghettos were Muslims live in Belgium, France and Great Britain, probably terrorism today would have been far less.

8) It is a fact that Europe cannot compete internationally and keep social stability, without immigrants. The working population has been in decline since 2010. Germany needs 800.000 people. In 2060, there will be 50 million people less in Europe, and the pension system, with a much older population, will go broke. At that time, life expectancy will be of 91 for men and 94.3 for women as against today’s 80 for men and 85.7 for women. The average age of the 82% of Syrian refugees is under 34 years, and a study by the Ministry of Interior of Austria found that they are generally more educated that Austrian citizens. The European citizen should therefore look to immigrants as a resource and support. No campaign of awareness on this issue is in place, because it would be politically difficult to say the least.

9) The trend is the opposite. And xenophobic parties are on growth in every election, and they ask for expulsion of immigrants, like Donald Trump is doing in the US. This, beside being an impossible act, is also a gross political error. The animosity against Muslims, without any effort of understanding the complex reality, is playing into the hands of terrorism, and radicalizing immigrants who come to Europe in search of work and live in dignity.

10) The final conclusion is that we are getting into the trap of a clash of civilizations, where we defend a Christian Europe against a hostile Muslim world. This is the worst possible error. It plays well into the hands of the ISIS rhetoric, and like any clash, calls for polarization. It helps the right wing and xenophobe parties to take over Europe, with an increase of fear and insecurity.

Polarization is never helpful for democracy and tolerance. A group of 50.000 militants (in a world of 1.3 billion Muslims), is able to change our lives, reduce our individual privacy and freedom, and increase militarism and surveillance. If we do not get out of this trap of a clash of civilizations, Europe will change deeply and forever, because the phenomenon of terrorism is here to stay with us for generations… It took nearly two centuries for Europe to get rid of the wars of religion. In the 30 years war (1618-1648), 8 million out of a total population of 110 million, the majority of them civilians lost their lives.

Will history help us to face the present?


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Need for an Urgent Revision to Bond Contracts and a Debt Workout Mechanism Sun, 27 Mar 2016 08:22:06 +0000 Yuefen Li]]>

Yuefen Li is Special Advisor on Economics and Development Finance of the South Centre For more information see

By Yuefen Li
GENEVA, Mar 27 2016 (IPS)

Argentina signed an agreement in principle on 29 February 2016 with four “super holdout” hedge funds including NML Capital Ltd, Aurelius Capital, Davidson Kempner and Bracebridge Capital. Buenos Aires would pay them a total of about 4.65 billion dollars, amounting to 75 percent of the principal and interest of all their claims of Argentina’s bonds that were defaulted on during the 2001 debt crisis. This deal would allow the return of Argentina to the international capital market after more than 15 years of exclusion.

Yuefen Li

Yuefen Li

The payment is to be made in cash before 14 April 2016, provided that Argentina’s Congress approves the repeal of Argentina’s domestic laws, namely the Lock Law and the Sovereign Payment Law, which prohibit the country from proposing terms to the holdouts that are better than those Argentina offered to its creditors in earlier restructurings.

The reason to call the four hedge funds as “super holdouts” is because they are the largest, the most combative and the most tenacious holdout creditors. Argentina floated exchange bonds in 2005 and then again in 2010 after it defaulted during the 2001 debt crisis on its bonds that were valued at nearly 100 billion dollars. Ninety-three percent of the holders of Argentine restructured sovereign bonds accepted the exchange proposals at a considerable “haircut” (i.e. discount rate) of about 65%.ed bonds). The remaining 7% of the bond holders turned down the offers.

In 2003, NML Capital Ltd first sued Argentina for repayment of 100% of the face value of the bonds they hold. As a result of the suit, U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa issued his pari passu ruling which prohibited Argentina from servicing its bonds before paying the holdouts. This led Argentina to default on its debt again in 2014.

To end the stalemate, the newly elected President of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, made resolving the holdout dispute a priority and in February 2016 offered to pay 6.5 billion dollars to the group of six hedge fund holdouts. Two of the funds accepted the offer but not NML and three other funds which asked for better terms.

Yet the tactics and the business model the “super holdouts” used to get a windfall out the legal battle as well the legal precedence this case left behind may have potential negative systemic impact on future sovereign debt workout. How to mitigate the negative impact and make future debt workout timely and orderly?

Current efforts have concentrated on making it more difficult for holdouts to rush to the court room through strengthening current contract clauses. However, the financial incentives to be “super holdouts” are immense.
However, NML and other holdout hedge funds have done everything within the law. Purchase of sovereign bonds on the secondary market at discount rates may be legal, but one can say that the business model of specializing in purchasing hugely undervalued bonds for the purpose of resorting to litigation and other means to force the distressed governments to pay the full face value is not ethical because it is at the expense of the ordinary tax payers and the well being of a sovereign state. Additional, Judge Griesa’s pari passu injunction is a strong leverage for the holdouts against the bond issuer. This injunction may still be held as a precedence and be resorted to in the future-a bet for bond issuer to lose the case.

Three approaches may be of value to consider for the purpose of reducing the recurrences of the NML-style “super holdouts”.

One approach is to reduce incentives for holdouts. It is common business practice for goods and services bought at huge discount in retail stores or via internet to have clear stipulations that they are either not refundable or cannot be changed or returned. People take it for granted that it is a lawful and correct business practice. To buy things at Christmas sales and go back to the stores and request for refund of the full original price of the products would be considered as unethical. Why then is it so unlawful to reject the request of the “super holdout” to get paid 100% when the bonds were bought at a fraction of their face value? Because sovereign bond contracts never mention bonds bought at very deep discount at the secondary market would be treated differently at times of debt restructuring, the issuing State then gets bound to respect the bond contract and pay it at face value.

In the absence of a multilateral legal framework on sovereign debt restructuring mechanism, reducing incentives may be done through revising the contractual terms for the bonds. In the case when the bonds were bought at a steep discount, there could be a contractual clause to limit the margin of returns to minimize the likelihood of litigating for 100% repayment. Consideration could be given to add a clause to bond contracts to the effect that “in case of a debt restructuring, the bondholders would be paid back no higher than X% of the purchase price of the bond.” The percentage could be a range and take into consideration the past holdout cases together with haircut levels of historical debt restructuring incidences. The range or specific percentage should allow sufficient profit margin and avoid the possibility of moral hazard of strategic default. In this way, secondary market operations would not be disrupted and hopefully the incentives for super holdout could be diminished.

Other ways of reducing incentives for super holdout should be examined. For instance, the statutory penalty interest rates of some of the bonds Elliott Management holds are exorbitantly high.

According to the Wall Street Journal, these bonds would bring 10-15 times of return to Elliott Management. These kinds of arrangements give insane incentives to holdout bond holders.

Another way out is to explore whether it is really beneficial for the stability of the international financial market not to regulate hedge funds specialized in debt holdout. At a time of increased social responsibilities for the institutions of the real economy, more regulations in the banking sector and more specific codes of conduct for various business sectors, should there also be some regulations and codes of conduct with respect to these hedge funds?

Finally, there have been repeated international efforts to establish an international debt workout regime or legal framework to cope with systemic issues relating to the “too late and too little” phenomenon for debt restructurings as well as the holdout problem. The IMF tried in 2003. The United Nations General Assembly set up an Ad Hoc Committee mandated to create a multilateral legal framework for sovereign debt restructurings in September 2014.

As one outcome, in 2015 the Committee formulated the ‘Basic Principles on Sovereign Debt Restructuring’ based on years of research and consensus building in UNCTAD. However, political resistance from the developed countries has made it difficult for the United Nations to push the work to a more inclusive and substantive phase. The Argentina case has proved once again the need of a debt workout mechanism.


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Argentina, the United States’ New South American Ally Fri, 25 Mar 2016 16:30:36 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet U.S. President Barack Obama (C) and his Argentine counterpart Mauricio Macri (R), next to a monument in Remembrance Park in Buenos Aires with the names of many of the 30,000 victims of forced disappearance under the 1976-1983 military regime. Mar. 24 marked the 40th anniversary of the start of the dictatorship. In his last official speech in the country, Obama criticised Washington’s support for this and other de facto regimes in the region. Credit: Casa Rosada

U.S. President Barack Obama (C) and his Argentine counterpart Mauricio Macri (R), next to a monument in Remembrance Park in Buenos Aires with the names of many of the 30,000 victims of forced disappearance under the 1976-1983 military regime. Mar. 24 marked the 40th anniversary of the start of the dictatorship. In his last official speech in the country, Obama criticised Washington’s support for this and other de facto regimes in the region. Credit: Casa Rosada

By Fabiana Frayssinet
Mar 25 2016

After a decade of bilateral tension, the presidents of Argentina, Mauricio Macri, and the United States, Barack Obama, resumed the friendship between the two countries, which could lead to a free trade treaty and a “universal” alliance.

“The United States stands ready to work with Argentina through this historic transition in any way that we can,” said Obama, in the first official visit by a U.S. president to this South American country since 1995, on Wednesday, Mar. 23 and Thursday, Mar. 24, after his historic three-day visit to Cuba.

Former president George W. Bush (2001-2009) visited in 2005, but to participate in the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, where the United States’ dream of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was buried.

“We see (Obama’s visit) as a gesture of affection, friendship, at a time when Argentina is embarking towards a new horizon and new changes,” Macri said Wednesday in a joint press conference in the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace.

“Please feel at home,” said the centre-right Argentine president, in office since December, setting the tone for the new relations between Buenos Aires and Washington, which he said would be “mature, intelligent, and constructive.”

During the visit, several agreements on security, cooperation in the fight against the drug trade, and investment were signed, in a show of the new era.

By contrast, relations with Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and his wife and successor Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) of the Front for Victory – the left-leaning faction of the Peronist (Justicialist) party – were marked by clashes. In an interview ahead of his visit, Obama said Fernández’s “government policies were always anti-American.”

The tension between the countries peaked during the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata.

“We have to remember that on that occasion, Argentina actually said ‘no’ to the FTAA,” political scientist Juan Manuel Karg, of the University of Buenos Aires, told IPS.

But now Latin America’s third-largest economy and the United States have not only launched a new era of friendship but are seeking to knock down barriers to negotiate, for example, a bilateral free trade deal, as Obama indicated.

“One of the main things made clear was the United States’ interest in Argentina, and in Latin America as a whole, in the search for free trade agreements,” said Karg.

Argentina is a member of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) trade bloc, along with Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Macri clarified that in order to reach an eventual bilateral agreement, it would be necessary to “strengthen Mercosur” before considering “a broader accord.”

“Despite its limitations and the slow pace of the progress it has made, Mercosur is still the most powerful economic bloc in South America, which rejected the FTAA not many years ago, in a context of the search for autonomy and integration among equals,” former foreign minister Jorge Taiana (2005-2010), now a lawmaker and the president of the Mercosur parliament, Parlasur, told IPS.
“The change of government in Argentina and the difficult political and economic situation in Venezuela and Brazil undoubtedly point to a change and a renewed presence of the United States, which wants to have a larger influence in regional decisions again,” he said.

In Karg’s view, “there is a possibility that Argentina will sign a free trade agreement with the United States in the medium term.”

But he said it could be a broader agreement, if there are changes of government in Brazil and Venezuela, or “a flexibilisation in Mercosur, with the aim of making Argentina a fulcrum between that block and the Pacific Alliance (made up of Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico),” which also have agreements with the United States.

In 2015, Argentina had a 4.7 billion dollar deficit in trade with the United States, with imports totalling more than 7.6 billion dollars and exports nearly 3.4 billion.

But now Obama, who was accompanied by a large business delegation, promised to expand investment, given Argentina’s new openness.

“A country that reduces tariffs, opens up to imports, strikes down export taxes, and frees up the market becomes more attractive to foreign investors,” the director of the Southern Cone edition of the Le Monde Diplomatique newspaper, José Natanson, commented to IPS. “I think foreign direct investment will increase.”

“I believe that what we see in this case is obviously a change in the Argentine government’s foreign policy, one of the areas where the difference is the most marked, with respect to ‘Kirchnerism’,” he said.

Under Kirchner and Fernández, a priority was given to relations with partners like China and Russia.

Macri, on the other hand, promised to “insert Argentina in the world.”

Since Macri took office, Argentina has also been visited by the prime minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi, and French President François Hollande.

“With Obama’s visit, Macri has reasserted his interest in privileged ties with the United States, which harks back to the 1990s, when the government of Carlos Menem had a privileged relationship with that country,” Taiana said.

The former foreign minister said the new government’s renegotiation with the “vulture funds” also helped smooth things over.

“Argentina put up resistance to this before, but now Macri decided to pay back the vulture funds. This removes the biggest discrepancy between Argentina and the United States,” he said.

Obama praised Macri’s “constructive approach,” which he said would “stabilise Argentina’s financial relationship internationally” and “heighten Argentina’s influence on the world stage in settings like the G20 (group of advanced and emerging economies).”

But for Obama, who called for Argentina and the United States to become “universal allies,” the alliance could also stretch to the promotion of “civil liberties, independent judiciaries, government transparency and accountability” and even the fight against terrorism.

Referring to the recent attacks in Brussels, “Obama was very emphatic” when he said he would call on U.S. allies “to take measures against the Islamic State,” said Karg.

“By becoming a privileged partner of the United States at this new moment in history, Argentina also has to assume what it means to be an ally at a ‘universal’ level, and especially during a moment of geopolitical turmoil,” he said.

Human rights forced itself onto the agenda

The second and last day of Obama’s visit was Mar. 24, the 40th anniversary of the coup that ushered in Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship, which left 30,000 people “disappeared.”

In the face of protests by human rights groups because Obama’s visit coincided with the anniversary of this dark page in Argentine history, the president decided to spend the afternoon in the tourist city of Bariloche in the country’s southern Patagonian region.

But before flying there, he reiterated his pledge to declassify new intelligence and military archives that can shed light on U.S. support for the Argentine de facto regime.

And the last activity on his official agenda was a visit to Remembrance Park, to pay homage to the victims of Argentina’s “dirty war”.

At the memorial, surrounded by photos and names of the victims of forced disappearance, he criticised the role played by his country in supporting dictatorships in Argentina and other countries in the region, which he described as “those dark days.”

“Democracies have to have the courage to acknowledge when we don’t live up to the ideals that we stand for. And we’ve been slow to speak out for human rights and that was the case here,” Obama said.

“We cannot forget the past,” he said, before stating “when we find the courage to confront it, and we find the courage to change that past, that’s when we build a better future.”

Taiana said “I think this is Obama’s way of trying to show a change in U.S. policy with respect to the repression and its past commitment to the dictatorship.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Peace in Colombia, Shielded by International Support Fri, 25 Mar 2016 03:25:47 +0000 Constanza Vieira 0