Inter Press Service » Globalisation Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 03 Mar 2015 19:09:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Namibian President Wins $5 Million African Leadership Prize Mon, 02 Mar 2015 20:08:52 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

Outgoing Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba was Monday named winner of the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, believed to be the most lucrative individual award in the world.

The award, with an initial $5 million prize and an annual $200,000 gift for life, “recognises and celebrates African leaders who have developed their countries, lifted people out of poverty and paved the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity,” according to organisers the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

The foundation, founded by and named after the Sudanese born philanthropist, grants the award to democratically elected African heads of state or government who have left office democratically in the previous three years, served their constitutionally mandated term, and demonstrated “exceptional leadership.”

At the event in Nairobi, President Pohamba was named just the fourth winner of the prize since its inception in 2007, and the first winner since 2011.

“During the decade of Hifikepunye Pohamba’s Presidency, Namibia’s reputation has been cemented as a well-governed, stable and inclusive democracy with strong media freedom and respect for human rights,” said Salim Ahmed Salim, Chair of the Prize Committee.

“President Pohamba’s focus in forging national cohesion and reconciliation at a key stage of Namibia’s consolidation of democracy and social and economic development impressed the ‎Prize Committee.”

Pohamba became president of Namibia in 2004, and will be succeeded later in March by president-elect Hage Geingob.

On Twitter, the foundation wrote that Namibia has “shown improvement in 10 out of 14 sub-categories of the [Ibrahim Index of African Government],”a framework that calculates good governance in areas including rule of law, human rights, economic opportunity and human development.

Mohamed ‘Mo’ Ibrahim called Pohamba “a role model for the continent.”

“He has served his country since its independence and his leadership has renewed his people’s trust in democracy. His legacy is that of strengthened institutions through the various initiatives introduced during his tenure in office,” he said.

The Ibrahim prize is not awarded unless judges can find a candidate of sufficient quality.

Former Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano was the inaugural winner in 2007, followed by Botswana president Festus Mogae in 2008. The next and most recent winner was Pedro Pires, former president of Cape Verde, in 2011 after judges did not award the prize in 2009 or 2010. Prizes were not awarded in 2012 and 2013.

Nelson Mandela was granted an honorary prize in 2007.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Ibrahim said the prize would only be awarded to deserving candidates.

“It is a prize for excellence in leadership. We are not lowering our standards,” he said.

“If this prize was offered to European presidents and leaders, how many … would have won this prize in the last eight years?”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: Manipulate and Mislead – How GMOs are Infiltrating Africa Sun, 01 Mar 2015 10:29:47 +0000 Haidee Swanby and Maran Bassey Orovwuje “There is no doubt that African small-scale producers need much greater support in their efforts, but GM seeds which are designed for large-scale industrial production have no place in smallholder systems”. Credit: La Via Campesina/2007/Creative Commons

“There is no doubt that African small-scale producers need much greater support in their efforts, but GM seeds which are designed for large-scale industrial production have no place in smallholder systems”. Credit: La Via Campesina/2007/Creative Commons

By Haidee Swanby and Mariann Bassey Orovwuje

The most persistent myth about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is that they are necessary to feed a growing global population.

Highly effective marketing campaigns have drilled it into our heads that GMOs will produce more food on less land in an environmentally friendly manner. The mantra has been repeated so often that it is considered to be truth.

Now this mantra has come to Africa, sung by the United States administration and multinational corporations like Monsanto, seeking to open new markets for a product that has been rejected by so many others around the globe.“It may be tempting to believe that hunger can be solved with technology, but African social movements have pointed out that skewed power relations are the bedrock of hunger in Africa”

While many countries have implemented strict legal frameworks to regulate GMOs, African nations have struggled with the legal, scientific and infrastructural resources to do so.

This has delayed the introduction of GMOs into Africa, but it has also provided the proponents of GMOs with a plum opportunity to offer their assistance and, in the process, helping to craft laws on the continent that promote the introduction of barely regulated GMOs and create investor-friendly environments for agribusiness.

Their line is that African governments must adopt GMOs as a matter of urgency to deal with hunger and that laws implementing pesky and expensive safety measures, or requiring assessments of socio-economic impacts, will only act as obstructions.

To date only seven African countries have complete legal frameworks to deal with GMOs and only four – South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt and Sudan – have approved commercial cultivation of a GM crop.

The drive to open markets for GMOs in Africa is not only happening through “assistance” resulting in permissive legal frameworks for GMOs, but also through an array of “philanthropical” projects, most of them funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

One such project is Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), funded by the Gates Foundation in collaboration with Monsanto. Initially the project sought to develop drought tolerant maize varieties in five pilot countries but, as the project progressed, it incorporated one of Monsanto’s most lucrative commercial traits into the mix – MON810, which enables the plant to produce its own pesticide.

Interestingly, MON810 has recently come off patent, but Monsanto retains ownership when it is stacked with another gene, in this case, drought tolerant.

WEMA has provided a convenient vehicle for the introduction of Monsanto’s controversial product, but it has also used its influence to shape GM-related policy in the countries where it works.

The project has refused to run field trials in Tanzania and Mozambique until those countries amend their “strict liability” laws, which will make WEMA, and future companies selling GMOs, liable for any damages they may cause.

WEMA has also complained to governments about clauses in their law that require assessment of socio-economic impacts of GMOs, saying that assessment and approvals should be based solely on hard science, which is also often influenced or financed by the industry.

African civil society and smallholders’ organisations are fighting for the kind of biosafety legislation that will safeguard health and environment against the potential risks of GMOs, not the kind that promotes the introduction of this wholly inappropriate technology.

About 80 percent of Africa’s food is produced by smallholders, who seldom farm on more than five hectares of land and usually on much less.  The majority of these farmers are women, who have scant access to finance or secure land tenure.

That they still manage to provide the lion’s share of the continents’ food, usually without formal seed, chemicals, mechanisation, irrigation or subsidies, is testament to their resilience and innovation.

African farmers have a lot to lose from the introduction of GMOs – the rich diversity of African agriculture, its robust resilience and the social cohesion engendered through cultures of sharing and collective effort could be replaced by a handful of monotonous commodity crops owned by foreign masters. 

There is no doubt that African small-scale producers need much greater support in their efforts, but GM seeds which are designed for large-scale industrial production have no place in smallholder systems.

The mantra that GMOs are necessary for food security is hijacking the policy space that should be providing appropriate solutions for the poorest farmers.

Only a tiny fraction of farmers will ever afford the elite GM technology package – for example in South Africa, where over 85 percent of maize production is genetically modified, GM maize seed costs 2-5 times more than conventional seed, must be bought annually and requires the extensive use of toxic and expensive chemicals and fertilisers.

What is more, despite 16 years of cultivating GM maize, soya and cotton, South Africa’s food security continues to decline, with some 46 percent of the population categorised as food insecure.

It may be tempting to believe that hunger can be solved with technology, but African social movements have pointed out that skewed power relations – such as unfair trade agreements and subsidies that perennially entrench poverty, or the patenting of seed and imposition of expensive and patented technology onto the world’s most vulnerable and risk averse communities – are the bedrock of hunger in Africa.

Without changing these fundamental power relationships and handing control over food production to smallholders in Africa, hunger cannot be eradicated.

A global movement is growing and demanding that governments support small-scale food producers and “agro-ecology” instead of corporate agriculture, an agricultural system that is based on collaboration with nature and is appropriate for small-scale production, where producers are free to plant and exchange seeds and operate in strong local markets.

Edited by Phil Harris    

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

This opinion piece was originally published by Common Dreams.

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June Election Offers Asia-Pacific a Chance for Greater Influence in ICC Sat, 28 Feb 2015 02:25:22 +0000 Valentina Ieri By Valentina Ieri

The health-related resignation of an International Criminal Court (ICC) judge has paved the way for Asia-Pacific governments to improve their legal representation in the international legal system, said the group Coalition for the ICC on Thursday.

ICC rules on geographical representation offer the Asia-Pacific region the opportunity to put forward candidates for the Hague-based Court, in an election to be held in June. The newly elected judge will hold his role for the remaining nine-year term which began in 2012.

“With this election, Asia-Pacific governments have the opportunity to strengthen peace, justice and the rule of law in international affairs by nominating highly qualified candidates for election to the world’s highest criminal court” said William R. Pace, convenor of the Coalition for the ICC, a global network of civil society organisations, that strengthens cooperation with the Court and ensures its effectiveness and independence.

According to the ICC Rome Statute, there is a framework for judicial elections, which fosters fair competitive elections and transparent gender representation. It includes minimum qualifications for judges, and ensures the representation of all major legal systems.

The Court is the world’s first permanent international court established to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It is composed of 18 judges, representing all regions and principal legal systems of the world.

The current Prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, is responsible for receiving any referrals and information about war crimes, within the jurisdiction of the Court.

“With only ICC member states able to nominate candidates, this election is also a compelling incentive for Asia-Pacific states close to joining the Court to take the final step,” said Amielle Del Rosario, the Coalition’s Asia-Pacific regional coordinator.

“By participating in this election, states such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam could play a meaningful role in shaping the future of the Court,” she said.

Every candidate must have an excellent knowledge of and be fluent in at least English or French- the working languages of the Court.

In the interest of encouraging transparency in the nomination process, the Coalition will help publicise and raise awareness of the candidates put forward by governments, says William Pace. This includes consultations with civil society, professional and national legal associations.

Pace said in a statement, “Since 2003, the Coalition has been promoting informed, merit-based elections by governments by ensuring that the qualifications and expertise of candidates for elections are as well-known as possible.”

Usually, nominated candidates are requested to fill in questionnaires to provide additional information about their qualifications, to hold interviews and to assist to public seminars and debates with the other contestants and experts.

Nominees must be submitted by ICC member states by 31 March 2015.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Better to Die at Sea, than Languish in Poverty Wed, 25 Feb 2015 17:31:46 +0000 Amantha Perera For most Sri Lankans seeking asylum in Australia, there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, just a sad return journey home. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

For most Sri Lankans seeking asylum in Australia, there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, just a sad return journey home. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

Weerasinghearachilage Ruwan Rangana had it all planned out last year in September: the big break that would change his life and those of his extended family had finally arrived.

The Sri Lankan youth in his early twenties was not too worried that the arrangement meant he had to make a clandestine journey in the middle of the night to a beach, board a two-decade-old trawler with dozens of others and be ready to spend up to three weeks on the high seas in a vessel designed to carry loads of fish.

“Besides trade and security, a large driver of the Australian government’s foreign policy is its single-minded focus on ensuring that all asylum seekers or refugees are processed at offshore facilities." -- Human Rights Watch
He and his fellow commuters prayed that the boat would not crack in two before it reached Australian waters, where they all expected to find a pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow.

Rangana told IPS that most of the roughly three-dozen people on board were leaving in search of better economic prospects, though members of the minority Tamil community are known to take the same journey to escape political persecution.

The boat ride was the relatively easy part. After reaching Australia, Rangana would have to seek asylum, land a job and secure an income, before beginning the process of bringing his family there to join him.

“At least, that was the plan,” said the young man who was a contract employee of the state-owned Ceylon Transport Board in the remote village of Angunakolapelessa in Sri Lanka’s southern Hambantota District earning a monthly salary of 12,000 rupees (about 90 dollars) when he took the boat ride.

Half of the plan – the life-threatening part – worked. The other part – the life-changing one – did not.

Despite a leaking hull, the vessel did reach Australian waters, but was apprehended by the Australian Navy, newly emboldened by a policy to turn back boatloads of asylum seekers after fast-tracked processing at sea, sometimes reportedly involving no more than a single phone call with a border official.

By mid-September Rangana was back in Sri Lanka, at the southern port city of Galle where he and dozens of others who were handed over to Sri Lankan authorities were facing court action.

Thankfully he did not have to spend days inside a police cell or weeks in prison. He was bailed out on 5,000 rupees (about 45 dollars), a stiff sum for his family who barely make 40,000 rupees (about 300 dollars) a month.

Now he sits at home with no job and no savings – having sunk about 200,000 rupees (1,500 dollars) into his spot on the rickety fishing boat – and makes ends meet by doing odd jobs.

“Life is hard, but maybe I can get to Australia some day. I did get to the territorial waters; does that mean I have some kind of legal right to seek citizenship there?” he asks, oblivious to the tough policies of the Australian administration towards immigrants like himself.

Clamping down on ‘illegal’ entry

Since Australia launched Operation Sovereign Borders in September 2013 following the election of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, at least 15 boats have been turned back at sea, including the one on which Rangana was traveling, to Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Last year only one boat reached Australia, according to the government.

The programme has resulted in a significant drop in the number of illegal maritime arrivals in Australia. Compared to the one boat that reached Australia in 2014, the 2012-2013 period saw 25,173 persons reaching the country safely.

In the 10 months prior to the controversial military programme, 281 unauthorized boats arrived with a total of 19,578 people on board, according to the Australian Department of Immigration.

Just this past week, Australian authorities interviewed four Sri Lankans at sea, and sent them back to the island. Officials claim that the new screening process saves lives and assures that Australian asylum policies are not abused.

“The Coalition government’s policies and resolve are stopping illegal boat arrivals and are restoring integrity to Australia’s borders and immigration programme. Anyone attempting to enter Australia illegally by sea will never be resettled in this country,” Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s office said in a statement this week.

As of end-January, there were 2,298 persons in immigration detention facilities in Australia, of whom 8.1 percent were Sri Lankans.

The policy has been criticised by activists as well as rights groups, including by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“UNHCR’s position is that they (asylum seekers) must be swiftly and individually screened, in a process which they understand and in which they are able to explain their needs. Such screening is best carried out on land, given safety concerns and other limitations of doing so at sea,” the agency said in a statement earlier this month.

According to the international watchdog Human Rights Watch, “Besides trade and security, a large driver of the Australian government’s foreign policy is its single-minded focus on ensuring that all asylum seekers or refugees are processed at offshore facilities.

“The government has muted its criticism of authoritarian governments in Sri Lanka and Cambodia in recent years, apparently in hopes of winning the support of such governments for its refugee policies,” the rights group added in a statement released last month.

The end of Sri Lanka’s 26-year-long civil conflict and the election of a new, possibly more democratic government in January this year add to Canberra’s justification for turning away those who seek shelter within its borders.

In reality, the risk for asylum seekers is still high. Newly appointed Minister of Justice Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe told IPS that the government was yet to discuss any changes to accepting returnees. “They will face legal action; change in such a policy is not a priority right now,” he added.

Lawyers working with asylum seekers say their clients are unlikely to face extended jail terms, but could be slapped with fines of up to 100,000 rupees (750 dollars), still a lot of money for poor families.

Even if the legal process is swift, and those impounded are able to post bail, their reasons for wanting to leave remain the same.

Take the case of Kanan*, a young man from the war-torn northern town of Kilinochchi. He took a boat in August 2013 after paying a 750-dollar fee, agreeing to pay the remaining 6,750 dollars once he reached Australia.

He never even made it halfway. Six days into the journey, the boat broke down and was towed ashore by the Sri Lankan Navy.

He was fleeing poverty – his home district boasts unemployment rates over twice the national figure of four percent – and possible political persecution, not an unusual occurrence among the Tamil community both during and after Sri Lanka’s civil war.

He knows that very few have gotten to the Australian mainland and that even those whose cases have been deemed legitimate could end up in the Pacific islands of Nauru or Papua New Guinea.

But Kanan still hopes to give his ‘boat dream’ another try. “There is no hope here; even risking death [to reach Australia] is worth it,” says the unemployed youth.

*Name changed on request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Argentina Moves Towards Marriage of Convenience with China Mon, 23 Feb 2015 22:33:52 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet The entrance to Chinatown in Buenos Aires, where a sign promotes the renovation of Argentina’s railways, partly financed by Beijing. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The entrance to Chinatown in Buenos Aires, where a sign promotes the renovation of Argentina’s railways, partly financed by Beijing. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Feb 23 2015 (IPS)

The government of Argentina is building a marriage of convenience with China, which some see as uneven and others see as an indispensable alliance for a new level of insertion in the global economy.

The process forms part of a radical change with respect to Argentina’s diplomacy, which years back involved ties with the United States described as “carnal relations.”

President Cristina Fernández called the new relationship with China an “integral strategic alliance,” after signing a package of 22 agreements with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on Feb. 4.

The accords include areas like space technology, mining, energy, financing, livestock and cultural matters. They cover the construction of two nuclear and two hydropower plants, considered key to this country’s goal of energy self-sufficiency.

“Although they are important, the new agreements and others that were signed earlier are insufficient to gauge the dimension of the bilateral commitment,” said Jorge Castro, the director of the Strategic Planning Institute and an expert on China.

“For Argentina, the relationship with China has elements that are essential for insertion into the international system of the 21st century, along with other countries of the South, headed by Brazil,” he told IPS.

“These ties are between the new fulcrum of the global economy, China-Asia, and Argentina as a nation and as a regional unit,” he said.

Castro pointed out that Asia’s giant is currently South America’s leading trade partner, due to the volume of its purchases of raw materials, which implies a level of interdependence given that “China has placed the food security of its population in the hands of South American countries.”

In the case of Argentina, China is its second-largest trading partner, after neighbouring Brazil – displacing long-time partners like the United States and European countries.

In 2014, exports to China totalled five billion dollars while imports stood at 10.8 billion dollars – a bilateral record which represented 11.5 percent of this country’s trade balance, according to Argentina’s Chamber of Commerce.

Prior accords that cemented the alliance

Before Fernández’s visit to China, the two countries had already signed investment agreements in strategic sectors, such as the one between China’s Sinopec and Argentina’s YPF, two state-owned oil companies, for the exploitation of one of the Loma Campana deposits of unconventional oil and gas resources in Vaca Muerta in southern Argentina.

There was also an accord for China to provide some 2.5 billion dollars in financing for the reconstruction of the railway of the Belgrano Cargas y Logística company, which will transport Argentine and Brazilian agricultural products to Chilean ports on the Pacific ocean.

“The investment agreements with China are important to the extent that they facilitate the conditions to continue generating, for example, the infrastructure for development that Argentina needs, in a scenario” of a shortage of foreign currency, economist Fernanda Vallejos told IPS.

The Chinese space station under construction in the southern Argentine province of Neuquén, rejected by the political opposition of all stripes and social groups. Credit: Courtesy of DesarrolloyDefensa

The Chinese space station under construction in the southern Argentine province of Neuquén, rejected by the political opposition of all stripes and social groups. Credit: Courtesy of DesarrolloyDefensa

In July 2014, Argentina reached an 11 billion dollar currency swap agreement with China, to shore up this country’s weakened foreign reserves, of which it received one billion dollars in December.

The swap “has been a very powerful instrument,” which is added to measures by the government and the Central Bank to promote exchange stability and help slow down inflation, said Vallejos, a member of a group that advises the Ministry of the Economy and Public Finance.

Critical voices

Sectors of the business community are critical of the alliance with Beijing, such as the Argentine Industrial Union (UIA) or the Chamber of Exports, which sounded a warning about the asymmetrical nature of the relationship.

This country’s exports to China are only half of what it imports from the Asian giant, and they are basically raw materials or farm products. A full 75 percent is soy or by-products.

Imports, by contrast, are mainly machinery and electronics, computers, telephones, chemical products, motorcycles or parts for household appliances.

The UIA said the framework agreement on economic cooperation and investment, signed in July 2014 and pending final approval by the legislature, “contains clauses that pose an enormous risk to Argentina’s development.”

“Over the last decade, China’s strategy has pursued two central objectives: to consolidate its transnational companies in global value chains and to obtain commodities and inputs with little value-added, for its growing productive and employment needs,” the UIA said in a communiqué.

“In free trade agreements in this era of globalisation, the essential thing is not trade but investment,” said Castro, who questioned the concept of “asymmetry” and backed the agreement with China.

The China expert said the relationship should be analysed in a broader context. For example, by remembering that in the next 10 years, China’s foreign direct investment is estimated to climb to 1.1 trillion dollars.

“The question is how to manage to be part of China’s flow of investment in industry in the next 10 to 20 years,” Castro said.

The UIA agrees that it is important to be part of that current, but with allocations that would not harm local goods and services, which have no chance of receiving Chinese financing, the business chamber said.

The UIA and some trade unions also worry that Chinese labour power, which is included in several projects, will displace local workers.

“Don’t worry, we continue to defend Argentine workers and the business community’s participation,” said centre-left President Fernández, who urged those sectors to engage in technical discussions about the accords.

The new empire?

Some in Argentina see the China of the 21st century as the new England of the 19th century or the United States of the 20th century, in terms of economic and territorial hegemony and domination.

They also question the construction of a Chinese space tracking and control station in the southern Argentine province of Neuquén, which according to the government will monitor, control and gather data as part of China’s programme of missions to explore the moon and outer space.

Raúl Dobrusin, an opposition legislator from Neuquén, told IPS that the agreement, which grants China the use of 200 hectares for 50 years and is opposed by left-wing groups and social organisations, did not go through the Neuquén provincial legislature, which was not informed of the details of the accord.

So far there is no Chinese military presence in the construction project, said Dobrusin, but in his view, the space station poses “major geopolitical risks.”

“If there is a confrontation between powerful nations, we will be a place to be taken into account by the enemies of China…In short, we are getting into an area where the possibility of deciding whether or not to participate in conflicts is no longer a sovereign decision, they won’t ask us,” he warned.

“The alliance transcends economic matters and forms part of the search for independence, on both the economic and political fronts, which makes it possible to reach economic and social development goals, by breaking the yoke of neoliberalism and the empire-dependence logic,” said Vallejos.

China, in her view, “is far from the voracity of the Western powers…It is part of a new global order that is struggling to be born, where the role of emerging countries is no longer one of colonialism but of assuming the position of builders of our own destiny,” said the economist.

“That does not mean that China isn’t obtaining benefits from its ties with our nations, but that it is possible to build a win-win relationship for all of the parties involved,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: U.S. and Middle East after the Islamic State Thu, 19 Feb 2015 16:38:31 +0000 Emile Nakhleh Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

As the Congress ponders President Barack Obama’s request for an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), U.S. policymakers must focus on the “morning after” before they embark on another potentially disastrous war in the Levant.

The president assured the nation at his press conference on February 11 that IS is on the verge of being contained, degraded, and defeated. If true, the United States and the West must address the future of the region in the wake of the collapse of IS to avoid the rise of another extremist threat and another “perfect storm” in the region.

The evidence so far that Washington will be more successful than during the Iraq war is not terribly encouraging.

The Iraq War Parallel

George Tenet, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, wrote in his book At the Center of the Storm that in September 2002 CIA analysts presented the Bush administration with an analytic paper titled “The Perfect Storm: Planning for Negative Consequences of Invading Iraq.” The paper included “worst-case scenarios” of what could go wrong as a result of a US-led invasion of Iraq.

The paper, according to Tenet, outlined several negative consequences:

  • anarchy and the territorial breakup of Iraq
  • regime-threatening instability in key Arab states
  • deepening Islamic antipathy toward the United States that produced a surge of global terrorism against US interests

The Perfect Storm paper suggested several steps that the United States could take that might mitigate the impact of these potentially negative consequences. These included a serious attempt at solving some of the key regional conflicts and domestic economic and political issues that have plagued the region for decades.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration spent more time worrying about defeating Saddam’s army than focusing on what could follow Saddam’s demise. Ignoring the Perfect Storm paper, as the past decade has shown, was detrimental to U.S. interests, the security of the region, and the stability of some key Arab allies. The U.S. and the region now have to deal with these consequences—anarchy, destruction, and refugees—of the Bush administration’s refusal to act on those warnings."If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture"

The past decade also witnessed the resurgence of radical and terrorist groups, which happily filled the vacuum that ensued. U.S. credibility in the region plummeted as well.

When CIA analysts persisted in raising their concerns about a post-Saddam Iraq, the Pentagon’s Under Secretary for Policy Doug Feith dismissed the concerns as “persnickety.”

If the Obama administration wants to avoid the miscalculations of the previous administration about Iraq, it should make sure the land war against IS in Iraq and Syria does not become “enduring” and that the presence of US troops on the ground does not morph into an “occupation.”

Defeating IS might be the easy part. Devising a reasonably stable post-IS Levant will be more challenging because of the complexity of the issues involved. Before embarking on the next phase of combat, U.S. policymakers should have the courage and strategic vision to raise and answer several key questions.

  1. How will Sunni and Shia Muslims react to the re-entry of U.S. troops on the ground and to the likelihood that US military presence could extend beyond three years?

The “liberation” of Iraq that the Bush administration touted in March 2003 quickly turned into “occupation,” which precipitously engendered anger among the population. Iraqi Sunnis and Shia rose up against the US military. The insurgency that erupted attracted thousands of foreign jihadists from the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world. Bloody sectarianism and vigilantism spread across Iraq as an unintended consequence of the invasion, and it still haunts the region today.

During the Iraq war, the Iraqi Sunni minority, which has ruled the country since its creation in the early 1920s, perceived the United States as backing the Shia majority at the expense of the Sunnis. They also saw the United States as supporting the sectarian policies of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, especially as he excluded Sunnis from senior government positions. This feeling of alienation pushed many Iraqi Sunnis to support the Islamic State.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refused to admit that an insurgency and a civil war were spreading across Iraq. By the time he admitted that both were happening, it became impossible to defend the “liberation” thesis to Iraqis and other Arabs and Muslims.

  1. If the U.S.-led ground war against IS extends to Syria, how will Washington reconcile its announced policy favouring Assad’s downfall with fighting alongside his forces, and how will the Arab public and leaders react to such perceived hypocrisy? 

It’s foolish to argue that the US-led war against IS in Syria is not indirectly benefiting the Assad regime. Assad claimed in a recent BBC interview that the coalition provides his regime with “information” about the fighting. Regardless of the veracity of his claim, Assad has enjoyed a breathing room and the freedom to pursue his opponents viciously and mercilessly, thanks to the US-led coalition’s laser-like focus on IS.

Sunni Arab regimes, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are already urging the Obama administration to increase substantially its military support of the anti-Assad mainstream opposition. These regimes, which are also fighting IS, argue that the United States could simultaneously fight IS and work toward toppling Assad.

If this situation continues and Assad stays in power while IS is being contained, Sunni Arab populations would soon begin to view the United States as the “enemy.” Popular support for radical jihadists would grow, and the region would witness a repeat of the Iraq scenario.

The territorial expansion of IS across Iraq and Syria has for all intents and purposes removed the borders between the two countries and is threatening the boundaries between Syria and Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture. Otherwise, the “Iraq fatigue” that almost crippled U.S. efforts in Iraq in recent years, especially during the Maliki era, will surely be replaced by a “Levant fatigue.”

It will take a monumental effort to redesign a new Levant based on reconciling Sunnis, Shia, Christians, Kurds, and Arabs on the principles of inclusion, tolerance, and respect for human rights, economic opportunity, and good governance. If the United States is not prepared to commit time and resources to this goal, the Levant would devolve into failed states and ungovernable territories.

  1. If radical Sunni ideology and autocracy are the root causes of IS, what should the United States do to thwart the rise of another terrorist organization in the wake of this one?

Since the bulk of radical Sunni theology comes out of Saudi Arabia and militant Salafi Wahhabism, the United States should be prepared to urge the new Saudi leadership, especially the Deputy to the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef, to review the role of Salafi Wahhabi preachers and religious leaders in domestic public life and foreign policy. This also should certainly apply to Saudi education and textbooks.

Whereas in the past, Saudi officials have resisted any perceived foreign interference as an encroachment on their religion, this type of extremist, intolerant ideology has nevertheless given radical jihadists a religious justification for their violence. It now poses an undeniable threat to the national security of the United States and the safety of its citizens in the region.

Autocracy, corruption, repression, and anarchy in several Arab states have left millions of citizens and refugees alienated, unemployed, and angry. Many young men and women in these populations will be tempted to join new terrorist organizations following IS’s demise. The governments violate the rights of these young people at whim, imprison them illegally, and convict them in sham trials—all because of their political views or religious affiliation or both—in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.

In Egypt thousands of political prisoners are languishing in jail. In Bahrain, the regime has been stripping dozens of citizens of their citizenship because of their pro-democracy views. Once their passports are taken away, Bahraini citizens are deprived of most government services and opportunities. When visiting a government office for a particular service, they are required to show the passport, which the government has already taken away, as a proof of identity—a classic case of “Catch 22” leaving these citizens in a state of economic and political limbo.

Partnering with these autocrats in the fight against IS surely will reach a dead end once the group is defeated. Building a new Levant cannot possibly be based on dictatorship, autocracy, and corruption. Iraq and Afghanistan offer stark examples of how not to build stable governments.

The Perfect Storm paper warned the Bush administration about what could follow Saddam if critical questions about a post-Saddam Iraq were not addressed. The Bush White House did not heed those warnings. It would be indeed tragic for the United States if the Obama administration made the same mistake.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Everything You Wanted to Know About Climate Change Thu, 19 Feb 2015 15:39:19 +0000 Manipadma Jena A woman watches helplessly as a flood submerges her thatched-roof home containing all her possessions on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city in India’s eastern state of Odisha in 2008. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A woman watches helplessly as a flood submerges her thatched-roof home containing all her possessions on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city in India’s eastern state of Odisha in 2008. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

So much information about climate change now abounds that it is hard to differentiate fact from fiction. Scientific reports appear alongside conspiracy theories, data is interspersed with drastic predictions about the future, and everywhere one turns, the bad news just seems to be getting worse.

Corporate lobby groups urge governments not to act, while concerned citizens push for immediate action. The little progress that is made to curb carbon emissions and contain global warming often pales in comparison to the scale of natural disasters that continue to unfold at an unprecedented rate, from record-level snowstorms, to massive floods, to prolonged droughts.

The year 2011 saw 350 billion dollars in economic damages globally, the highest since 1975 -- The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)
Attempting to sift through all the information is a gargantuan task, but it has been made easier with the release of a new report by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a think-tank based in New Delhi that has, perhaps for the first time ever, compiled an exhaustive assessment of the whole world’s progress on climate mitigation and adaptation.

The assessment also provides detailed forecasts of what each country can expect in the coming years, effectively providing a blueprint for action at a moment when many scientists fear that time is running out for saving the planet from catastrophic climate change.

Trends, risks and damages

The Global Sustainability Report 2015 released earlier this month at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, ranks the top 20 countries (out of 193) most at risk from climate change based on the actual impacts of extreme climate events documented over a 34-year period from 1980 to 2013.

The TERI report cites data compiled by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) based at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, which maintains a global database of natural disasters dating back over 100 years.

The study found a 10-fold increase to 525 natural disasters in 2002 from around 50 in 1975. By 2011, 95 percent of deaths from this consistent trend of increasing natural disasters were from developing countries.

In preparing its rankings, TERI took into account everything from heat and cold waves, drought, floods, flash floods, cloudburst, landslides, avalanches, forest fires, cyclone and hurricanes.

Mozambique was found to be most at risk globally, followed by Sudan and North Korea. In both Mozambique and Sudan, extreme climate events caused more than six deaths per 100,000 people, the highest among all countries ranked, while North Korea suffered the highest economic losses annually, amounting to 1.65 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

The year 2011 saw 350 billion dollars in economic damages globally, the highest since 1975.

The situation is particularly bleak in Asia, where countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh and the Philippines, with a combined total population of over 300 million people, are extremely vulnerable to climate-related disasters.

China, despite high economic growth, has not been able to reduce the disaster risks to its population that is expected to touch 1.4 billion people by the end of 2015: it ranked sixth among the countries in Asia most susceptible to climate change.

Sustained effort at the national level has enabled Bangladesh to strengthen its defenses against sea-level rise, its biggest climate challenge, but it still ranked third on the list.

India, the second most populous country – expected to have 1.26 billion people by end 2015 – came in at 10th place, while Sri Lanka and Nepal figured at 14th and 15th place respectively.

In Africa, Ethiopia and Somalia are also considered extremely vulnerable, while the European nations of Albania, Moldova, Spain and France appeared high on the list of at-risk countries in that region, followed by Russia in sixth place.

In the Americas, the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia ranked first, followed by Grenada and Honduras. The most populous country in the region, Brazil, home to 200 million people, was ranked 20th.

More disasters, higher costs

In the 110 years spanning 1900 and 2009, hydro-meteorological disasters have increased from 25 to 3,526. Hydro-meteorological, geological and biological extreme events together increased from 72 to 11,571 during that same period, the report says.

In the 60-year period between 1970 and 2030, Asia will shoulder the lion’s share of floods, cyclones and sea-level rise, with the latter projected to affect 83 million people annually compared to 16.5 million in Europe, nine million in North America and six million in Africa.

The U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) estimates that global economic losses by the end of the current century will touch 25 trillion dollars, unless strong measures for climate change mitigation, adaptation and disaster risk reduction are taken immediately.

As adaptation moves from theory to practice, it is becoming clear that the costs of adaptation will surpass previous estimates.

Developing countries, for instance, will require two to three times the previous estimates of 70-100 billion dollars per year by 2050, with a significant funding gap after 2020, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Adaptation Gap Report released last December.

Indicators such as access to water, food security, health, and socio-economic capability were considered in assessing each country’s adaptive capacity.

According to these broad criteria, Liberia ranks lowest, with a quarter of its population lacking access to water, 56 percent of its urban population living in slums, and a high incidence of malaria compounded by a miserable physician-patient ratio of one doctor to every 70,000 people.

On the other end of the adaptive capacity scale, Monaco ranks first, with 100 percent water access, no urban slums, zero malnutrition, 100 percent literacy, 71 doctors for every 10,000 people, and not a single person living below one dollar a day.

Cuba, Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands also feature among the top five countries with the highest adaptive capacity; the United States is ranked 8th, the United Kingdom 25th, China 98th and India 146th.

The study also ranks countries on responsibilities for climate change, taking account of their historical versus current carbon emission levels.

The UK takes the most historic responsibility with 940 tonnes of CO2 per capita emitted during the industrialisation boom of 1850-1989, while the U.S. occupies the fifth slot consistently on counts of historical responsibility, cumulative CO2 emissions over the 1990-2011 period, as well as greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensity per unit of GDP in 2011, the same year it clocked 6,135 million tonnes of GHG emissions.

China was the highest GHG emitter in 2011 with 10,260 million tonnes, and India ranked 3rd with 2,358 million tonnes. However, when emission intensity per one unit of GDP is additionally considered for current responsibility, both Asian countries move lower on the scale while the oil economies of Qatar and Kuwait move up to into the ranks of the top five countries bearing the highest responsibility for climate change.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Should We Celebrate 10 Years of the Global Tobacco Control Treaty? Wed, 18 Feb 2015 16:36:29 +0000 Laurent Huber

Laurent Huber is Director of Framework Convention Alliance, a grouping of nearly 500 organisations worldwide dedicated to global tobacco control.

By Laurent Huber
GENEVA, Feb 18 2015 (IPS)

February 27 will mark the 10th anniversary of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the first global public health treaty.

Today the FCTC has 180 Parties, making it among the most widely-adopted international instruments. About 90 percent of the world’s population falls under the FCTC’s protections.

The creators of the Convention were bold in their intentions – “to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption.”

An anniversary is an opportunity to look back and reflect, and to look forward and plan. Has the FCTC lived up to its lofty goals? Are we on track to end the tobacco epidemic? Is it too soon to judge?

1 billion deaths ahead?

It is no accident that the first global, legally-binding public health effort targeted tobacco. In the absence of action, the world gloomily looked ahead to one billion deaths from tobacco consumption in the 21st century.

In addition to that depressing figure, tobacco has profoundly negative consequences for the wealth of nations and individuals, for human rights, for development and for the environment. In 10 years, have we made a dent?

Yes. The FCTC came into being at a critical time in the history of the tobacco epidemic. Consumption was moving swiftly from the developed to the developing world, and growing overall.

Everywhere, tobacco addiction was becoming a burden on the poorest, most marginalised populations.

Tobacco industry profits were staggering, dwarfing the gross domestic products of most of the countries in which they operated.

This wealth was poured back into marketing, litigation and public influence to ensure the addiction of future generations.

In 2005, when the FCTC came into force, the tobacco industry was put on notice that the world had united against it.

Numerous victories

The public health community can point to specific victories. In 2004, Ireland became the first country to ban smoking in all public and work places. They have been followed by dozens more.

Several countries have struck at the core of the industry’s business model by banning marketing – including the display of products in stores – and corporate social responsibility schemes (Mauritius), and by requiring plain packaging (Australia).

While we have succeeded in convincing health ministries of the importance of tobacco, other government sectors lag far behind.

Scores of countries have introduced graphic warning labels on packaging, and there have been large tobacco tax increases in countries not previously known for their strong tobacco control policies, such as Chile and the Philippines, to name just two.

There is a protocol to address the massive problem (often perpetrated by the industry itself) of illicit trade. An increasing number of governments are using litigation to hold the industry accountable for the consequences of its products.

Mainly health ministries

But – and you knew there was going to be a “but” – sober reflection is also called for. The number of tobacco users and deaths continues to rise. The tobacco industry, the vector of the epidemic, is not on its heels: the profit of the four biggest firms was over US$36 billion in 2013.

While we have succeeded in convincing health ministries of the importance of tobacco, other government sectors lag far behind.

The implementation of the all-important FCTC Article 5.3, calling for governments to refuse to cooperate with the tobacco industry in formulating health policy, is failing miserably in all but a few countries.

And when governments bravely move forward with cutting-edge tobacco control measures, they can expect an avalanche of tobacco industry lawsuits, both domestically and through international trade agreements, chilling the political will of other governments.

Mixed results, to be certain. Should we celebrate? Absolutely! No one expected the FCTC to be an instant cure. At the outset, the curve of the epidemic was simply too steep to believe that, in 10 years’ time, it could be reversed.

We’ve made great strides.

On 27 Feb, if you have been involved in this historic endeavour, take a moment to congratulate yourself and a colleague. And then on the 28th, let’s move forward with purpose to fill in the gaps. The FCTC is the beginning, not the end, of a long and purposeful journey.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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OPINION: Developing Economies Increasingly Vulnerable in Unstable Global Financial System Mon, 16 Feb 2015 08:50:00 +0000 Yilmaz Akyuz

In this column, Yilmaz Akyuz, chief economist at the South Centre in Geneva, argues that emerging and developing economies have become more closely integrated into an inherently unstable international financial system and will probably face strong destabilising pressures in the years ahead.

By Yilmaz Akyuz
GENEVA, Feb 16 2015 (IPS)

After a series of crises with severe economic and social consequences in the 1990s and early 2000s, emerging and developing economies have become even more closely integrated into what is widely recognised as an inherently unstable international financial system. 

Both policies in these countries and a highly accommodating global financial environment have played a role. Not only have their traditional cross-border linkages been deepened and external balance sheets expanded rapidly, but also foreign presence in their domestic credit, bond, equity and property markets has reached unprecedented levels.

Yilmaz Akyuz

Yilmaz Akyuz

New channels have thus emerged for the transmission of financial shocks from global boom-bust cycles.

Almost all developing countries are now vulnerable, irrespective of their balance-of-payments, external debt, net foreign assets and international reserve positions, although these play an important role in the way such shocks could affect them.

Stability of domestic banking and asset markets is susceptible even in countries with strong external positions.

Those heavily dependent on foreign capital are prone to liquidity and solvency crises as well as domestic financial turmoil.

The new practices adopted in recent years – including more flexible exchange rate regimes, accumulation of large stocks of international reserves or borrowing in local currency – would not provide much of a buffer against severe external shocks such as those that may result from the normalisation of monetary policy in the United States. “The surge in capital inflows that started in the early years of the new millennium, and continued with full force after a temporary blip due to the collapse in 2008 of the Lehman Brothers financial services firm, holds the key to the growing internationalisation of finance in developing countries”

And the multilateral system is still lacking adequate mechanisms for an orderly and equitable resolution of external financial instability and crises in developing economies.

This process of closer integration was greatly helped by highly favourable global financial conditions before 2008, thanks to the very same credit and spending bubbles that culminated in a severe crisis in the United States and Europe. The crisis did not slow this process despite initial fears that it could lead to a retreat from globalisation.  Integration has even accelerated since then because of ultra-easy monetary policies pursued in advanced economies, notably in the United States, in response to the crisis.

The surge in capital inflows that started in the early years of the new millennium, and continued with full force after a temporary blip due to the collapse in 2008 of the Lehman Brothers financial services firm, holds the key to the growing internationalisation of finance in developing countries.

It has resulted in a rapid expansion of gross external assets and liabilities of developing economies. More importantly, the structure of their external balance sheets has undergone important changes, particularly on the liabilities side, bringing new vulnerabilities.

The share of direct and portfolio equity in external liabilities has been increasing. An important part of the increase in equity liabilities is due to capital gains by foreign holders. In many developing countries presence in equity markets is greater than that in the United States and Japan.

While still remaining below the levels seen a decade ago as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), external debt build-up has accelerated since the crisis in 2008. This is mainly due to borrowing by the private sector, which now accounts for a higher proportion of external debt than the public sector in both international bank loans and security issues. A very large proportion of private external debt is in foreign currency. There is also a renewed tendency for dollarisation in domestic loan markets.

As a result of a shift of governments from international to domestic bond markets and opening them to foreigners, the participation of non-residents in these markets has been growing. The proportion of local-currency sovereign debt held abroad is greater in many developing countries than in reserve-issuers such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan. It is held by fickle investors rather than by foreign central banks as international reserves.

International banks have been shifting from cross-border lending to local lending by establishing commercial presence in developing countries. Their market share in these countries has reached 50 percent compared with 20 percent in developed countries.

These banks tend to act as conduits of expansionary and contractionary impulses from global financial cycles and increase the exposure of developing economies to financial shocks from advanced economies.

One of the key lessons of history of economic development is that successful policies are associated not with autarky or full integration into the global economy, but strategic integration seeking to use the opportunities that a broader economic space may offer while minimising the potential risks it may entail. This is more so in finance than in trade, investment and technology.

For one thing, the international financial system is inherently unstable in large part because multilateral arrangements fail to impose adequate discipline over financial markets and policies in systemically important countries which exert a disproportionately large impact on global conditions.

For another, the multilateral system also lacks effective mechanisms for orderly resolution of financial crises with international dimensions.

Thus, closer integration of several into the international financial system in the past ten years, after a series of crises with severe economic and social consequences, is a cause for concern.

In all likelihood, these countries will be facing strong destabilising pressures in the years ahead as monetary policy in the United States returns to normalcy after six years of flooding the world with dollars at exceptionally low interest rates.

In weathering a possible renewed instability, they cannot count on the more flexible currency regimes they came to adopt after the last bouts of crises or the reserves they have built from capital inflows or the reduced currency exposure of the sovereign.

It is important that they, as well as the international community, avoid going back to business-as-usual in responding to a new round of financial shocks, bailing out investors and creditors and maintaining an open capital account at the expense of incomes and jobs.

They need to include many unconventional policy instruments in their arsenals to help lower the price that may have to be paid for the financial excesses of the past several years

They should also take the occasion to rebalance the pendulum and to bring about genuine changes in the international financial architecture. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

* This column is based on Internationalization of Finance and Changing Vulnerabilities in Emerging and Developing Economies, South Centre Research Paper 60, January 2015, which is available here.

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Latin American Migrants Suffer Prejudice in Their Own Region Fri, 13 Feb 2015 21:21:35 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet Emiliana Mamani holds up a magazine from the year 2000, which warned of “the silent invasion” of Bolivians in Argentina. The picture was even photoshopped, she said, to make the immigrant look like he was missing a tooth. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Emiliana Mamani holds up a magazine from the year 2000, which warned of “the silent invasion” of Bolivians in Argentina. The picture was even photoshopped, she said, to make the immigrant look like he was missing a tooth. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Feb 13 2015 (IPS)

In the movie “A Day Without a Mexican“, the mysterious disappearance of all Mexicans brings the state of California to a halt. Would the same thing happen in some Latin American countries if immigrants from neighbouring countries, who suffer the same kind of discrimination, went missing?

The response is that the situation is not comparable. But a new report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), only available in Spanish, shows that intraregional migration flows intensified in the 2000-2010 period, growing at a rate of 3.5 percent a year, while migration to the rest of the world slowed down.

There are 28.5 million Latin Americans living outside their countries, 20.8 million of them in the United States.

And of the 7.6 million immigrants in Latin America, 63 percent are from other countries in this region.

Nor are the strict immigration policies of the United States or Europe comparable with those of Latin America, where regional integration accords have facilitated residency for citizens of neighbouring countries and where “the unilateral and restrictive measures of some developed countries” have been rejected, ECLAC says.“Above and beyond progress made in legislation regarding equal treatment for immigrants, full rights, and the elimination of restrictions on migration, there are precedents of xenophobia in all societies in the region – from social actors to political groups and the media.” -- Pablo Ceriani

Nevertheless, Pablo Ceriani, an expert on immigration issues from Argentina, said the hypothetical plot of “A Day Without a Latin American in Latin America” could be based on something that this region shares with the United States, which has come in for so much criticism: expressions of xenophobia.

“Above and beyond progress made in legislation regarding equal treatment for immigrants, full rights, and the elimination of restrictions on migration, there are precedents of xenophobia in all societies in the region – from social actors to political groups and the media,” Ceriani, a member of the U.N. Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, told IPS.

“Our region isn’t much different from other regions in terms of the reproduction of myths and false ideas about migration that are not supported by the statistics and which generate an attitude of rejection that stands in the way of progress in creating new laws,” he added.

According to Ceriani, discrimination is notorious in immigration policies like those of Mexico, “which detained 21,500 children last year and deported them to their home countries: Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala,” the main sources of intraregional migration to Mexico.

But there are also more subtle examples in countries that have migration agreements, such as the one in force in the Southern Common Market (Mercosur, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela), which in 2002 established the right to residency for citizens of any of the bloc’s member countries – all they have to do is present an identity document and prove they have no criminal record.

“They bring crime, they bring their customs, they take our jobs…,” said Ceriani, listing some of the xenophobic myths.

Emiliana Mamani, a Bolivian woman who has been living in Argentina for 30 years, knows all about prejudice.

“You always suffer discrimination for ‘having the wrong face’ – there’s this belief that Bolivians take work away from other people,” Mamani, the president of the Madres 27 de Mayo Association and the cooperative of the same name, the first one run here by Bolivian women, told IPS.

Bolivians are the second-most numerous group of intraregional immigrants in Argentina, after Paraguayans. They are followed by Chileans and Peruvians. In this country of 42 million people, there are 1.8 million foreign nationals, 4.5 percent of the population.

Chart on the percentage of immigrants coming from the rest of the region in 10 Latin American countries, from the ECLAC report “Trends and Patterns in Latin American and Caribbean Migration in 2010 and Challenges for a Regional Agenda”. Credit: Screenshot by IPS

Chart on the percentage of immigrants coming from the rest of the region in 10 Latin American countries, from the ECLAC report “Trends and Patterns in Latin American and Caribbean Migration in 2010 and Challenges for a Regional Agenda”. Credit: Screenshot by IPS

ECLAC reports that the Latin American countries with the largest numbers of immigrants from the rest of the region are Argentina, Venezuela, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, while Brazil and Mexico are the only countries that receive more immigrants from outside of the region – the former from Europe and the latter from the United States.

“Sometimes we have to hear ‘why don’t you go back to your country? Don’t come here to act all macho or to be a wise guy. Why don’t you go home, you dirty drunk Bolivian’,” said Mamani, whose cooperative obtained a soft loan from the Housing Institute, which they used to build an apartment building where 12 Bolivian families live.

Mamani has three children – one born in Bolivia and two in Argentina. The two younger ones are now university students, and say they suffered discrimination in primary school, such as questions about why they were taking part in patriotic events.

They have also experienced discrimination in hospitals, even though by law in Argentina all foreign nationals have the right to receive health care, regardless of their migration status.

“In the hospitals sometimes they say the doctor’s not taking any more patients, or they ask us for our documents when they’re not supposed to…but if a blond gringo goes there, like someone from the United States or Europe, they try hard to understand him, even using sign language,” Mamani said.

Immigrants complain of this situation even though Argentina has had a migration law that is very advanced in terms of protection of human rights for 10 years. And since 2006, the situation of 736,000 Bolivian, Brazilian, Chilean, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Paraguayan, Peruvian, Uruguayan and Venezuelan immigrants has been regularised.

Mamani said that efforts to combat discrimination in society should start in the schools, hospitals and other public institutions, “which would seem to be unfamiliar with the migration laws.”

Another focus should be the media, which reproduce stereotypes, she said.

“For example in a robbery, if there’s one Bolivian or Peruvian in a group of Argentines, the media make it a point to say there was a Bolivian who was stealing,” she said.

These deeply-rooted prejudices based on primitive fears of what is “different take a long time to combat,” an official in the national migration office, who asked to remain anonymous, told IPS.

Ceriani said that in Argentina, as in other Latin American countries, there is an idealised vision of European migration from the 19th and early 20th centuries, when compared to the Latin American migration of today.

But a perusal of the literature or press reports from that time period clearly shows that there was also discrimination against Spanish, Italian and Portuguese immigrants.

“Stereotypes of them as ‘poor’, ‘ignorant’ or ‘thieves’ gradually faded with time,” Ceriani pointed out.

Both then and now, the decision to move to another country was prompted by the aim of finding a better life.

“All we do is work, work, work. When we decide to pack our bags in our country, the idea is to find work. We don’t come for anything else but to work,” said Mamani, who decided to come to Argentina because a friend told her “that in just one year I would make a lot of money.”

With their work, Bolivians in Argentina add to the country’s wealth, said Ceriani, by bringing, for example, original techniques for planting fruits and vegetables.

And in the textile factories, where they often work in sweatshop conditions, they produce clothing for the most upscale brands.

Paraguayans are widely employed in the construction industry and as domestics. Peruvians often work caring for children, the elderly, and the ill. But many Latin American immigrants are skilled workers or professionals.

Examples in the region abound. In northern Brazil, Haitians are working on the construction of megainfrastructure like dams, or in the mining industry.

In Costa Rica, Nicaraguans form a large part of the workforce in the construction industry, agriculture and domestic service, just as Colombians do in Venezuela.

The increased integration will bring many more examples of unrestricted intraregional circulation of people. But economic growth in some countries and stagnation in others will continue to create discriminatory stereotypes.

Ceriani underscores that migration must be addressed in terms of its structural causes. And that is done, he said, by reducing the social and economic gaps between the countries of Latin America.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Patent Examination and Legal Fictions: How Rights are Created on Feet of Clay Tue, 03 Feb 2015 10:13:02 +0000 carlos-m-correa

In this column*, Carlos Correa, the South Centre's special adviser on trade and intellectual property issues, argues that the rights conferred by patents are based on partial and often imperfect factual determinations and it is thus “fuzziness” rather than “definitiveness” that characterises patent grants. This, he says, is not accidental, but deliberately sought by patent applicants to discourage competitors.

By Carlos M. Correa
GENEVA, Feb 3 2015 (IPS)

Industry’s demands and political pressures exerted by developed countries to expand and strengthen patent protection worldwide have been based on the argument that patents promote innovation and thereby contribute to achieve social, political and economic well-being, independently of the level of development of the country where they are granted and enforced.

This view ignores the fact that patents do not have the same impact in countries with different industrial bases, research and development (R&D) capabilities and availability of capital to finance innovation, among others.

Carlos M. Correa

Carlos M. Correa

Significantly, there is a growing body of academic studies challenging the belief that patents are essential to incentivise innovation, even in advanced countries, or to enhance economic growth.

While many scholars call for a substantial reform of the patent system, others go as far as suggesting its abolition.

In a working paper entitled The case against patents, Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine have argued that “in spite of the enormous increase in the number of patents and in the strength of their legal protection we have neither seen a dramatic acceleration in the rate of technological progress nor a major increase in the levels of research and development (R&D) expenditure. There is strong evidence, instead, that patents have many negative consequences.”

“Both of these observations are consistent with theories of innovation that emphasise competition and first-mover advantage as the main drivers of innovation and directly contradict theories postulating that government-granted monopolies are crucial in order to provide incentives for innovation.”

The role of the patent system is thus controversial, particularly in developing countries.“Patents do not have the same impact in countries with different industrial bases, research and development (R&D) capabilities and availability of capital to finance innovation, among others”

In the last 25 years, much emphasis has been put on the concept of intellectual property as ‘truly property’. Different variants of natural rights-based approaches have been articulated to justify developed countries’ relentless efforts to increase the scope and levels of intellectual property protection, notably for patents.

The idea that patents are a piece of property has provided ideological support for an expansion of the protectable subject matter, the extension of the term of protection, the reinforcement of the exclusive rights, and the strengthening of enforcement measures.

Patents confer exclusive rights. They limit the use of knowledge – a public good by its very nature – and competition, which promotes consumer well-being and innovation.

Nobody can produce or commercialise the protected invention during the lifetime of the patent, unless authorised by the patent holder or under compulsory licences, which are rarely granted. Given the exclusionary effects of patents, they have often been characterised as ‘monopolies’.

Yet, the rights conferred by patents are based on partial and often imperfect factual determinations. The examination process does not allow patent offices to reach definitive
judgments on patentability.

There is also uncertainty regarding the validity of patents in the boundaries of what is protected under individual patents. The patent claims are in many cases ambiguous and it is unclear what the actually protected subject matter is. Australian academic Peter Drahos asserts that “patents, unlike blocks of land, do not come with settled boundaries.”

Thus, it is fuzziness rather than definitiveness that characterises patent grants. This is not accidental, but deliberately sought by patent applicants to discourage competitors.

In addition to imprecise disclosures of what is deemed to be the invention, courts interpret patent claims with different theories and methodologies that lead to diverse outcomes with regard to what is deemed protected and eventually infringed.

Another fundamental problem with the patent regime is that it operates on the basis of a limited capacity to examine the patentability of claimed inventions and on a number of legal fictions created by legislators, patent offices or courts.

Such legal fictions are often dogmatically applied, without a critical assessment of their justification and implications.

A patent is granted in most countries after a substantive examination is conducted to determine whether it meets the patentability standard established by national laws which generally require novelty, inventive step (or non-obviousness) and industrial applicability (or utility).

However, some countries (such as Luxembourg and South Africa) confer patents without such a substantive examination or without assessing inventive step (for example, Switzerland and France).

While patent offices in developing countries (except China) receive a number of patent applications much lower than developed countries, some (such as Argentina, India and Thailand) have introduced legislative or other regulatory changes to tighten the application of the patentability requirements and reduce, through a rigorous examination, the proliferation of patents, particularly in the pharmaceutical field.

The intervention of patent offices through substantive examination in the process of creating patent rights gives them an appearance of validity. However, such intervention offers no guarantee in this respect and the public and uninformed business actors may be grossly misled.

The case of South Africa, where no substantive examination is currently made, is illustrative.

Thousands of patents have been registered in South Africa to cover minor or trivial developments that can block local production or importation of lower-priced generic medicines. However, the government of South Africa recently announced its intention to introduce a system of substantive examination, at least for pharmaceutical patents.

This proposal raised stiff opposition from pharmaceutical multinational companies, which were eventually found to finance a covered lobbying operation aimed at derailing the government’s initiative.

On the one hand, it is to be expected that the introduction of such a system would discourage patent applications that may not survive a serious substantive analysis; hence, the number of applications will presumably diminish over time, especially if fees are established at a level that discourages speculative patenting.

On the other, the available information on patent offices in other developing countries suggests that the number of examiners required to review pharmaceutical patent applications is manageable for South Africa even if it opted to rely on internal examiners only.

Unfortunately, many patent offices have tended to work under the assumption that their role is to grant as many patents as possible, and to decide in favour of the applicant in case of doubt. Applicants are often treated as ‘clients’.

As noted by Dominique Foray, patent offices have become extremely pro-patent since the early 1980s. The applicant, formerly considered with suspicion, has become a ‘client’ whose needs must be satisfied by quick, cheap procedures. The result is a total deterioration of examination procedures.

The patent office should function as a steward of the public interest, not as a servant of patent applicants and must protect the public against the issuance of invalid patents that add unnecessary costs and may confer market power. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris    

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

* This column is based on South Centre Research Paper No 58 of December 2014. A full version of the paper is available here.

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Glimmer of Hope for Assange Fri, 30 Jan 2015 19:17:00 +0000 Gustavo Capdevila Julian Assange in one of his rare public appearances in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has been in hiding since June 2012. Credit: Creative Commons

Julian Assange in one of his rare public appearances in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has been in hiding since June 2012. Credit: Creative Commons

By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, Jan 30 2015 (IPS)

There is a window of hope, thanks to a U.N. human rights body, for a solution to the diplomatic asylum of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, holed up in the embassy of Ecuador in London for the past two and a half years.

Authorities in Sweden, which is seeking the Australian journalist’s extradition to face allegations of sexual assault, admitted there is a possibility that measures could be taken to jumpstart the stalled legal proceedings against Assange.

The head of Assange’s legal defence team, former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, told IPS that in relation to this case “we have expressed satisfaction that the Swedish state“ has accepted the proposals of several countries.

The prominent Spanish lawyer and international jurist was referring to proposals set forth by Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador, Slovakia and Uruguay.

The final report by the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), adopted Thursday Jan. 28 in Geneva, Switzerland, contains indications that a possible understanding among the different countries concerned might be on the horizon.

The UPR is a mechanism of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine the human rights performance of all U.N. member states.

The situation of Assange, a journalist, computer programmer and activist born in Australia in 1971, was introduced in Sweden’s UPR by Ecuador, the country that granted him diplomatic asylum in its embassy in London, and by several European and Latin American nations.

The head of the Swedish delegation to the UPR, Annika Söder, state secretary for political affairs at Sweden’s foreign ministry, told IPS that “This is a very complex matter in which the government can only do a few things.”

Söder said that in Sweden, Assange is “suspected of crimes, rape, sexual molestation in accordance with Swedish law. And that’s why the prosecutor in Sweden wants to conduct the primary investigation.

“We are aware of Mr. Assange’s being in the embassy of Ecuador and we hope that there will be ways to deal with the legal process in one way or the other. But it is up to the legal authorities to respond,” she said.

Assange’s legal defence team complains that Sweden’s public prosecutor’s office is delaying the legal proceedings and refuses to question him by telephone, email, video link or in writing.

Garzón noted that parallel to the lack of action by the Swedish prosecutor’s office, there is a secret U.S. legal process against Assange and other members of Wikileaks, the organisation he created in 2006.

“The origin of the U.S. legal proceedings against Assange was the mass publication by Wikileaks of documents, in many cases sensitive ones, which affected the United States,” said Garzón.

Wikileaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and other classified U.S. documents revealed practices by Washington that put it in an awkward position with other governments.

Assange sought refuge in the embassy after exhausting options in British courts to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning related to allegations of rape and sexual molestation, of which he says he is innocent. He has not been charged with a crime in Sweden and is worried that if he is extradited to that country he will be sent to the United States, where he is under investigation for releasing secret government documents.

If the legal process in Sweden begins to move forward, there would be a possibility for him to be able to leave the Ecuadorean embassy, where he took refuge on Jun. 19, 2012, and give up the diplomatic asylum he was granted by the government of Rafael Correa on Aug. 16, 2012.

In the UPR report, Sweden promised to examine recommendations made by other countries and to provide a response before the next U.N. Human Rights Council session, which starts Jun. 15.

Garzón has urged the Swedish government to specify a timeframe for the legal action against Assange, as the delegation from Ecuador recommended in the UPR.

“The Human Rights Committee, another specialised U.N. body, stipulates that precise timeframes must be established for putting a detained person at the disposal of a judge,” he pointed out.

Söder told IPS that Sweden’s legal system does not set any deadline for the prosecutor to complete the pretrial examination phase, as reflected in the Assange case.

Garzón is also asking Sweden to introduce, as soon as possible, “measures to ensure that the legal proceedings are carried out in accordance with standards that guarantee the rights of individuals, concretely the right to effective judicial recourse and legal proceedings without undue delays.”

He also called for the adoption of administrative and judicial measures to make investigations before the courts more effective. With respect to this, he mentioned “the practice of measures of inquiry abroad, in line with international cooperation mechanisms.”

In addition, the international jurist demanded measures to ensure that people deprived of their freedom are provided with legal guarantees in accordance with international standards.

The Swedish delegation agreed to study a recommendation by Argentina to “take concrete measures to ensure that guarantees of non-extradition will be given to any person under the control of the Swedish authorities while they are considered refugees by a third country,” in this case Ecuador.

These should include legislative measures, if necessary.

This is important because Assange is facing the threat that the Swedish or British authorities could accept an extradition request from the United States for charges of espionage, which carry heavy penalties.

In his comments to IPS, Garzón said he was “disappointed” that the Swedish state has not accepted one of Ecuador’s recommendations.

He was referring to the request that Sweden streamline international cooperation mechanisms on the part of the judiciary and the prosecutor’s office in order to ensure the right to effective legal remedy, specifically in cases where the person is protected by the decision to grant asylum or refuge.

It was stressed in the UPR that the right to asylum or refuge is considered a fundamental right, and must be respected and taken into account, making it compatible with the right to legal defence.

The director-general of legal affairs in Sweden’s foreign ministry, Anders Rönquist, argued that there is no international convention on diplomatic asylum.

The only one referring to that issue is the inter-American convention, he said, adding that the International Court of Justice in The Hague does not require recognition of diplomatic asylum.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Cuba and U.S. Skirt Obstacles to Normalisation of Ties Mon, 26 Jan 2015 20:15:35 +0000 Patricia Grogg and Ivet Gonzalez The Cuban (left) and U.S. delegations on the last day of the first round of talks for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Jan. 23, in Havana’s convention centre. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The Cuban (left) and U.S. delegations on the last day of the first round of talks for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, Jan. 23, in Havana’s convention centre. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg and Ivet González
HAVANA, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

The biggest discrepancies in the first meeting to normalise relations between Cuba and the United States, after more than half a century, were over the issue of human rights. But what stood out in the talks was a keen interest in forging ahead, in a process led by two women.

After a meeting with representatives of Cuba’s dissident groups, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson reiterated on Jan. 23 that the questions of democracy and human rights are crucial for her country in the bilateral talks, while stressing that there are “deep” differences with Havana on these points.

But the head of the Washington delegation said these discrepancies would not be an obstacle in the negotiations for restoring diplomatic ties – a goal that was announced simultaneously by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro on Dec. 17.

In her statement to the media after her two-day official visit to Havana, Jacobson added that her country’s new policy towards Cuba is aimed at greater openness with more rights and freedoms.

Nor does independent journalist Miriam Leiva, founder of the opposition group Ladies in White, believe the U.S. focus on defending human rights and supporting dissidents will be a hurdle. “The Cuban government knew that, and they sat down to talk regardless,” she remarked to IPS.

In her view, the important thing is for the normalisation of ties to open up a direct channel of communication between the two governments. “This is a new phase marked by challenges, but also full of hope and opportunities for the people. Of course it’s not going to be easy, and the road ahead is long,” she added.

The Cuban authorities have consistently referred to opposition groups as “mercenaries” in the pay of the aggressive U.S. policy towards Cuba.

Nor are they happy when U.S. visitors to Cuba meet with opponents of the government. And they are intolerant of the relationship between dissidents and the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which is to be turned into the new embassy as part of the process that got underway with the first round of talks in the convention centre in the Cuban capital.

Jacobson and her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, the Foreign Ministry’s chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, addressed the issue of human rights during the talks on Thursday Jan. 22.

The high-level U.S. diplomat described the process of reestablishing bilateral ties as “long” and “complex.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, the head of the Washington delegation in the first round of bilateral talks, between the two countries’ flags. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, the head of the Washington delegation in the first round of bilateral talks, between the two countries’ flags. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

In a written statement distributed to reporters in a no-questions-allowed media briefing, Jacobson said: “As a central element of our policy, we pressed the Cuban government for improved human rights conditions, including freedom of expression.”

Vidal, meanwhile, said “in our exchange, each party laid out their positions, visions and conceptions on the issue of the exercise of human rights.”

She said the word “pressure” – “pressed” was translated into Spanish as “pressured” – did not come up in the discussion, and that “Cuba has shown throughout its history that it does not and will not respond to pressure.”

In the 1990s and early this century, the question of human rights triggered harsh verbal confrontations between Havana and Washington in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and since 2006 in the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Havana complained that the U.S. used the issue as part of its “anti-Cuba” policy.

Vidal said she suggested to Jacobson that they hold a specific expert-level dialogue at a date to be agreed, to discuss their views of democracy and human rights.

Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry's chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, arriving at the convention centre in Havana, where the first round of talks for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Washington was held. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Josefina Vidal, the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s chief diplomat for U.S. affairs, arriving at the convention centre in Havana, where the first round of talks for reestablishing diplomatic relations with Washington was held. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Jurist Roberto Veiga, who leads the civil society project Cuba Posible, told IPS that “the circumstances that have influenced the issue of human rights should be considered in any bilateral talks on the issue, to avoid mistaken judgments that could stand in the way of possible solutions.”

In his view, during the process that led to the 1959 triumph of the revolution, which was later declared “socialist,” there was a “struggle between a vision that put a priority on so-called individual rights to the unnecessary detriment of social rights and inequality,” and one that put the priority on social and collective rights.

As a result, in this Caribbean island nation what has prevailed up to now is “a conception [of human rights] that favours equality and social rights at the expense of certain freedoms, and of this country’s relations with important countries,” he said.

Veiga said Cubans must complete the effort to find a balance between individual rights and social equality. It is important to discuss this issue “for the development of Cuba’s political system and the consolidation of our civil society,” he argued.

The two delegations also addressed possibilities of cooperation in the areas of telecommunications, national security, international relations, people smuggling, care for the environment, responding to oil spills, the fight against drugs and terrorism, water resources, global health, and a joint response to the ebola epidemic in West Africa, among others.

In the first part of the meeting, the two sides analysed the practical steps to be taken for the opening up of embassies, which will basically follow the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in effect since 1964.

Reporting the results of the first meeting, aimed above all at laying the foundations for the process, Vidal stressed that following the Convention “implies reciprocal respect for the political, economic and social system of both states and avoiding any form of meddling in internal affairs.”

The date for the next round of talks was not announced.

The meeting was preceded, on Wednesday Jan. 21, by a round of follow-up talks on the migration accords reached by the two countries in 1994 and 1995.

Most Cubans are sceptical and even incredulous about the surprising decision to “make friends” with the United States.

“I think both sides are demanding a lot of each other,” 37-year-old Ángel Calvo, a self-employed driver, told IPS. “Both countries have completely different politics, which it is best to respect in order to start reaching agreements.”

Manuel Sánchez, 33, who described himself as a worker in the informal economy, said both countries “will make more progress towards improving relations than in the past, but they’ll never have the excellent ties that many people are hoping for.”

What is clear is that the talks led by the two high-level officials in Havana have raised expectations.

As renowned Cuban writer Leonardo Padura wrote in a column for IPS earlier this month, after the historic Dec. 17 announcement, “with our eyes wide open, we can catch a glimpse of the future, trying to see shapes more clearly through the haze.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Banks, Inequality and Citizens Thu, 22 Jan 2015 13:27:17 +0000 Roberto Savio

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that alarming figures on what has gone wrong in global society are being met with inaction. Citing data from Oxfam’s recent report on global wealth, he says that the rich are becoming richer – and the poor poorer – in a society where finance is no longer at the service of the economy or citizens.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 22 2015 (IPS)

Every day we receive striking data on major issues which should create tumult and action, but life goes on as if those data had nothing to do with people’s lives.

A good example concerns climate change. We know well that we are running out of time. It is nothing less than our planet that is at stake … but a few large energy companies are able to get away with their practices surrounded by the deafening silence of humankind.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Another example comes from the world of finance. Since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2009, banks have paid the staggering amount of 178 billion dollars in fines – U.S. banks have paid 115 billion, while European banks 63 billion. But, as analyst Sital Patel of Market Watch writes, these fines are now seen as a cost of doing business. In fact, no banker has yet been incriminated in a personal capacity.

Now we have other astonishing data from Oxfam – if nothing is done, in two years’ time the richest one percent of the world´s population will have a greater share of its wealth than the remaining 99 percent.

The richest are becoming richer at an unprecedented rate, and the poorest poorer. In just one year, the one percent went from possessing 44 percent of the world´s wealth to 48 percent last year. In 2016, therefore, it is estimated that this one percent will possess more than all the other 99 percent combined.

The top 89 billionaires have seen their wealth increase by 600 billion dollars in the last four years – a rise of five percent and equal to the combined budgets of 11 countries of the world with a population of 2.3 billion people.

In 2010, that figure was owned by 388 billionaires, and this striking and rapid concentration of wealth has, of course, a global impact. The so-called middle class is shrinking fast and in a number of countries youth unemployment stands at 40 percent, meaning that the destiny of today’s young people is clearly much worse than that of their parents.“In a world where the value of solidarity has disappeared (Europe’s debate on austerity is a good example), apathy and atomisation have become the reality. We are going back to the times of Queen Victoria, substituting a rich aristocracy with money coming from trade and finance, not production”

It will probably take some time before those figures become part of general awareness but it is a safe bet that they will not lead to any action, as with climate change. U.S. President Barack Obama is the only leader who has announced a tax increase on the rich, although he stands little chance of succeeding with his Republican-dominated Congress.

In a world where the value of solidarity has disappeared (Europe’s debate on austerity is a good example), apathy and atomisation have become the reality. We are going back to the times of Queen Victoria, substituting a rich aristocracy with money coming from trade and finance, not production. But up to a point: 34 percent of today’s billionaires inherited all or part of their wealth, and – interestingly – “inheritance tax is the most avoidable of levies”, as James Moore noted Jan. 20 in The Independent.

The “father of modern times”, late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, saw it clearly when he said that the rich produce richness, the poor produce poverty. So let the rich pay less taxes.

Well, in a just-released report, the U.S. Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy notes that in 2015 the poorest one-fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9 percent of their income in taxes, the middle one-fifth 9.4 percent, and the top one percent just 5.4 percent.

Now, 20 percent of the richest billionaires are linked to the financial sector and it is worth recalling that this sector has grown more than the real economy, and has regulations only at national level. At global level, finance is the only activity which has international body of some kind of governance, as do labour, trade and communications, to name just a few.

Finance is no longer at the service of the economy and citizens. It has its own life. Financial transactions are now worth 40 trillion dollars a day, compared with the world’s economic output of one trillion.

At national level, there are now attempts half-hearted attempts to regulate finance. But let us look what is happening in United States. The new bland regulation is the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, commonly known as the Dodd-Frank, and it does not go as far as restoring the division between deposit banks, which was where citizens put their money and which could not be used for speculation, and investments banks, which speculate … and how!

This separation was abolished during the U.S. presidency of Bill Clinton, and is considered the end of banks at the service of the real economy. In any case, the lobbyists on Wall Street are intent on having the Dodd-Frank chipped away at, little by little.

There is some schizophrenia when we look at the relations between capital and politics. The U.S. Supreme Court has eliminated any limit to contributions from companies to political elections, declaring that the companies have the same rights as individuals. Of course, there are not many individuals who can shell out the same figures as a company, unless you’re one of the 89 billionaires!

Meanwhile, banks are not only responsible for the corruption of the political system, and for the illegal activities which have earned them billions of dollars, they are also responsible for funding only big investors, and leaving everybody else out from easy credit. The efforts of the Chairman of the European Central Bank,  Mario Draghi, to have banks give credit to small companies and individuals has gone largely nowhere.

But a new and imaginative initiative comes from the very stern Dutch bankers. All 90,000 bankers in the Netherlands are now required to take an oath: “I swear that I will endeavour to maintain and promote confidence in the financial sector. So help me God”.

This is not so much oriented towards the customer, and it is very self-serving; and it brings God in as the regulator of the Dutch banking system. Perhaps the Dutch bankers have been paying heed to the words of Goldman Sach’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein who said at the time of the financial crisis in 2009 that bankers were “doing God’s work”.

Well God will have to be actively involved. All the three biggest Dutch banks – Rabobank, ABN Amro and ING Groep – have been involved in scandals that have hurt consumers, or were nationalised during the financial crisis, costing taxpayers more than 140 billion dollars. In one case, Rabobank was fined one billion dollars.

New York’s Wall Street and London’s City are said to be open to the idea of introducing a similar oath.

It is probably only that kind of Higher Power which could turn the tide in this world of growing inequality and lack of ethics. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

The author can be contacted at

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OPINION: For the Good of Humanity – Towards a Culture of Caring Tue, 13 Jan 2015 12:46:56 +0000 Andrew MacMillan

In this column, Andrew MacMillan, former director of the Field Operations Division of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and joint author with Ignacio Trueba of ‘How to End Hunger in Times of Crises’, argues that behind the so-called success of globalisation lie problems that are “taken for granted” and little thought is given to how it can be better managed to serve the interests of people.

By Andrew MacMillan
ROME, Jan 13 2015 (IPS)

About a week ago my wife was taken to hospital and diagnosed with pneumonia. She was promptly treated with antibiotics and, wonderfully, is now on the mend.

What has struck me about this experience is not so much the high professionalism of the health workers or their up-to-date hospital equipment but the fact that she has become immersed in what can best be described as “a culture of caring”.

Andrew MacMillan

Andrew MacMillan

She and the other patients in her ward are looked after round the clock by an extraordinary team of state-employed nurses in a quiet, efficient and courteous way that inspires confidence.

I suppose that there is nothing particularly unusual about this. Caring for others is a very natural human trait. Everywhere, mothers care for their children; sons and daughters care for their aging parents; and neighbours rush to help each other when they hit problems.

Perhaps, however, “modern” societies – if one dares to generalise about them – are driven more by the quest for individual material wealth than by any widely expressed wish to do things for the general good of humanity.

Unless you live in Bhutan, your country’s performance is measured not in terms of the happiness of its people but by the growth of its Gross Domestic Product; bankers and businessmen reward themselves with salary bonuses rather than with extra time with their families; and those who enjoy the highest pinnacles of wealth vie with each other over the size of their fleet of private jets or the tonnage of their personal yachts.

The idiosyncrasies of the super-rich and celebrities would not matter much if they had not become the new role models for people who aspire to “do well” in life and if their wealth did not entitle them to a voice in the corridors of world power. It seems odd that Presidents and Prime Ministers flock each year in January to [the World Economic Forum in] Davos to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, but perhaps this is simply a tacit admission of the influence that the latter have.“I believe that most people, at heart, want to see globalisation bring greater fairness and justice
even if this comes at the partial expense of our own material well-being”

Much of the recent material gains all around the planet is the result of the processes of globalisation that have successfully combined inventiveness, capital, low-cost but increasingly skilled labour and cheap transportation in new ways that have flooded the world’s markets with an amazing array of tantalising goods.

This apparent success of globalisation, however, may distract political attention from the idea that it could perhaps work better in everyone’s interest.

It seems absurd that 6 billion mobile phones have been produced and sold but 800 million people still go hungry every day; that, as people travel further, faster and more frequently, diseases such as Ebola spread more rapidly and more widely but the institutions responsible for protecting us from increased threats remain desperately under-funded; and that governments hesitate to upset their voters by acting to trim greenhouse gas emissions while, as predicted, the increasing frequency of extreme weather events is repeatedly wreaking havoc upon the unfortunate.

We tend to take these problems for granted rather than face up to the need to identify how to best manage globalisation in the interests of humanity.

I believe that most people, at heart, want to see globalisation bring greater fairness and justice even if this comes at the partial expense of our own material well-being.

I do not think that there are many people who, if asked, would want to see others starve for lack of food, who welcome greater weather instability or who think that it is right that their children should suffer from the environmental damage that results from our unsustainable lifestyles.

In a sense, President Lula of Brazil put this idea to the test during his successful 2002 campaign. Breaking out of the normal political mould, he did not promise his voters higher incomes but simply pledged that all Brazilians would enjoy three meals a day by the end of his term in office.

He unveiled his Zero Hunger Programme on his first day as President, with the State assuming the responsibility for assuring that all the poorest families in the country could fulfil their right to food. There was huge outpouring of popular support for his efforts to create the more just and equitable society that has now emerged.

What many of us would like to see is the emergence of a new international consciousness of social justice similar to that proposed by Lula and embraced by Brazilians twelve years ago.

It must be founded on a growing public recognition of the unique role that multilateral institutions have to play in ensuring that globalisation is harnessed to benefit all people, especially the poorest of the poor. It must also assure greater inter-generational fairness in the use of our planet’s scarce resources.

Nowhere is the need for greater fairness more apparent than in the realm of food management – where we face a crazy situation in which, though ample food is produced, the health of more than half the world’s population is now damaged by bad nutrition.

It is fitting that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, should have launched his personal “Zero Hunger Challenge” in Brazil in 2012 when he called for the elimination of hunger “within my lifetime”.

The fact that the current Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – the United Nations agency that that oversees global food management – is José Graziano da Silva, who was the Brazilian architect of Lula’s Zero Hunger Programme, inspires confidence that it will do all in its power to bring about a world without hunger.

We can already see a renewed FAO in action – committed to ending hunger and malnutrition, more focused in its goals, working as one and embracing partnerships for a better present and future. Four more years will allow Graziano da Silva to consolidate the transformations he has begun and realise their full effect to the benefit of the world´s poor and hungry.

Hopefully 2015 will be a year in which the world’s leaders will become the champions of the justice and fairness – the caring society that my wife has experienced – to which so many of us aspire.

At the very least, they should pick up the thought that, as in Brazil, it should be a perfectly normal function of any self-respecting government to ensure that all its people can eat healthily.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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OPINION: Global Citizenship, A Result of Emerging Global Consciousness Sat, 10 Jan 2015 11:56:54 +0000 Arsenio Rodriguez

Arsenio Rodriguez is Chairman and CEO of Devnet International, an association that works to create, promote and support partnerships and exchanges among civil society organisations, local authorities and entrepreneurs throughout the world.

By Arsenio Rodriguez
MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina, Jan 10 2015 (IPS)

Globalisation is an integral feature of modernity. It already has significantly advanced to transform local experiences into global ones, to unify the disparate villages of the world into a global community, and to integrate national economies into an international economy.

At the same time, however, the process of globalisation brings about the loss of cultural identity.

Arsenio Rodriguez

Arsenio Rodriguez

Many young people today grow up and live in a consolidating global world and define themselves as people not belonging to any particular culture. In 2013, 232 million people, or 3.2 per cent of the world’s population, were legal international migrants, compared with 175 million in 2000 and 154 million in 1990.

To these figures one must add at least an estimated 30 million undocumented migrants.

As a result, more people in the world are intermarrying across cultural, ethnic and religious groupings. In Europe, for example, in the period 2008-10, on average one in 12 married persons was in a mixed marriage. Their children are exposed to hybrid cultural settings plus sometimes the host country setting if both parents are immigrants.

In 2013, more than one billion traveled internationally as tourists, thus increasing their firsthand knowledge of the world beyond their own borders. On the other hand, there are nearly three billion Internet users in the world today. More than a billion are connected in social networks across the planet.For many now, home is not bound to a specific location, but rather to a conscious experience of culture.

The interconnectedness of people today is beyond anything that has happened before in history. And to this one must add the ecological, cosmological and modern physics concepts that emphasise interconnectedness in the world at large and our appreciation of being on the same planet, the global village.

For many now, home is not bound to a specific location, but rather to a conscious experience of culture. People living between cultures feel more “natural” in a globalised world because it reflects the combination of different cultures, views and social belongings.

There is, however, as part of the global synthesis and interconnectedness process, a socio-cultural energy of resistance, acting as a counterforce. And although many people define and identify themselves as global citizens, the cultures and societies in which they live do not easily accept their status, and constantly try to place and categorise them.

Wherever they feel at home, they are simultaneously perceived as outsiders, tourists, and as members of a foreign culture. Simultaneously, as the world integration persists, cultural entrenchments, ethnic, religious and parochial groups resist, fearing the dissolving forces of globalisation, manifesting the resistance in fundamentalism, violence and tribal and ethnic wars.

Culture and globalisation have come to be understood as mutually exclusive and antithetical; the former is typically associated with one specific culture while the latter signifies the homogenisation of all cultures into one.

For the global citizen, self-understanding and cultural identity are defined by the lack of belonging to a specific culture. Global citizens lose their sense of belonging and become strangers to society, but in return they gain the freedom of self-expression and self-definition since they are unfettered by the normative constraints of culture and society.

The world is in the midst of a great transition. Prevailing business as usual models are not going to work for a nine billion, highly consumptive society. Scientific, business and government authorities throughout the world agree that we need to align our production and consumption cycles, our markets, with the natural cycles of our life support systems.

And our fragmented approaches are not efficient or effective enough to accomplish this. We need a global consciousness and a global citizenship.

Not a global government but a federated international system based on collaboration and cooperation, rather than competition and hegemony, linking citizenry in their respective communities and countries on issues of common interest and with respect for the cultural diversity.

And it cannot be not just be governments participating in this concerted effort of international cooperation. Private business stands today as the most powerful sector in the planet. However, it has yet to assume a corresponding responsibility in shaping the future of the societal context in which it is embedded and on which it ultimately depends.

A new world-culture is emerging through an integral vision, which is independent of existing traditions and conserved values. It is initiating a new way of thinking in terms of an indivisible totality, and it discards the relative values of comparison in favour of the recognition of the intrinsic worth of everything and everyone.

Increasing numbers of people, communities, even corporate enterprises are increasingly understanding this interconnectedness and the advantage of cooperation and collaboration as a business model.

The movement to global citizenship should be to connect people committed to create a just, peaceful, and sustainable world, to accelerate a cohesive global movement of personal and social transformation, reflecting the unity of humanity.

True global citizens aim to connect caring communities, groups, and individuals at a global level, to promote understanding of humanity’s underlying unity and advance its expression through peace, social justice and ecological balance.

Anyone who transforms his/her perception of the world from one of me against “the other”, of “us” versus “them”, into a unified perception that recognises the interconnectedness of life starts to belong to the global citizenship movement.

This emergence is already happening everywhere as people are becoming conscious at many levels of political organisation, that the functioning of the life support systems that underwrite the well-being and prosperity of humanity is at risk.

There is broad consensus amongst the world’s scientific, business, intergovernmental and non-governmental communities that: (a) we need to align our production and consumption cycles and our markets with the natural regenerative cycles of nature; (b) prevailing business-as-usual models based on intense and wasteful consumption are not going to work for the expected nine billion inhabitants; (c) there is an urgency to change our ways; and (d) piecemeal approaches are not effective or scalable enough.

Sustainable solutions are there, people are already making a difference, making things happen. All we need to do is a wide-range scaling up and a fast acceleration of this process.

We have a systems problem, so we need a systemic solution. There is only one force on earth that is powerful enough to fix this – all of us. We need to collaborate consciously in the largest enterprise, ever to be set in motion; one that contains all others –a truly global citizenry and for this we need a massive cultural change in our consciousness.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Falling Oil Prices Threaten Fragile African Economies Tue, 23 Dec 2014 22:35:42 +0000 Thalif Deen Soldiers patrol an oil field in Paloug, in South Sudan's Upper Nile state. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

Soldiers patrol an oil field in Paloug, in South Sudan's Upper Nile state. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The sharp decline in world petroleum prices – hailed as a bonanza to millions of motorists in the United States – is threatening to undermine the fragile economies of several African countries dependent on oil for their sustained growth.

The most vulnerable in the world’s poorest continent include Nigeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Sudan – as well as developing nations such as Algeria, Libya and Egypt in North Africa."In the long run, governments in these oil-exporting countries should use oil revenues to support productive sectors, employment generation, and also build financial reserves when oil prices are high." -- Dr. Shenggen Fan of IFPRI

Dr. Kwame Akonor, associate professor of political science at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, who has written extensively on the politics and economics of the continent, told IPS recent trends and developments such as the outbreak of Ebola and the fall of global oil prices “shows how tepid and volatile African economies are.”

In 2012, for instance, Sierra Leone and Liberia (two of the hardest hit countries with Ebola) were cited by the World Bank as the fastest growing sub-Saharan African countries, he pointed out.

In a similar vein, countries such as Algeria, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon are considered top performing economies due to the large concentration of their oil and gas reserves.

“But the ramifications of any economic crisis will undoubtedly negatively impact the fortunes of these countries,” said Akonor, who is also director of the University’s Centre for African Studies and the African Development Institute, a New York-based think tank.

The world price for crude oil has declined from 107 dollars per barrel last June to less than 70 dollars last week.

There are multiple reasons for the decline, including an increase in oil production, specifically in the United States; a fall in the global demand for oil due to a slow down of the world economy; and a positive fallout from conservation efforts.

As the New York Times pointed out: “We simply don’t burn as much energy as we did a few years ago to achieve the same amount of mileage, heat or manufacturing production.”

There are also geopolitical reasons for the continued decline in oil prices because Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s largest producers, has refused to take any action to stop the fall.

Despite the crisis, the Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi was quoted as saying, “Why should I cut production?”

This has led to the conspiracy theory it is working in collusion with the United States to undermine the oil-dependent economies of three major adversaries: Russia, Iran and Venezuela.

Besides Saudi Arabia, the fall in prices is also affecting Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Oman.

But they are expected to overcome the crisis because of a collective estimated foreign exchange reserve amounting to over 1.5 trillion dollars.

The drop in oil prices, however, will have the most damaging effects on Africa which has been battling poverty, food shortages, HIV/AIDS, and more recently, the outbreak of Ebola.

The heaviest toll will be on Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa which depends on crude oil for about 80 percent of its revenues, according to the Wall Street Journal. The country’s currency, the naira, has declined about 15 percent since the beginning of the fall in oil prices.

Dr. Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), sees both a positive and negative side to the current oil crisis. He told IPS the recent decline in oil prices will help reduce food prices.

Since oil prices are highly co-related to food prices, high oil prices make agricultural production more expensive and thus cause food prices to increase, he added.

“Now that oil prices are on a downward trend, this is, by and large, good for global food security and nutrition,” he said.

Dr. Fan said poor producers and consumers in developing countries should be able to benefit from this – as long as their purchasing power increases.

However, he cautioned, oil exporting countries may lose government revenues from low oil prices.

Indeed, crude oil producing nations in Africa have felt the pinch of declining oil prices given the dependence of their economies on crude oil, he noted. In the short run, he said, poor people may suffer, if their governments reduce food subsidies.

“In the long run, governments in these oil-exporting countries should use oil revenues to support productive sectors, employment generation, and also build financial reserves when oil prices are high.”

When oil prices are low, these governments should use reserves to ensure that poor people are protected through social safety net programmes, he added.

Dr. Akonor told IPS as impressive as the current and long-term economic projections for Africa might seem, it does not change the precarious and fragile nature of the continent’s economic foundations.

“The high debt overhang and the heavy reliance on raw materials (such as oil) and minerals for exports, makes African economies susceptible to shock and systemic risks,” he noted.

Moreover, he said, the underlying human capital formation, especially amongst the burgeoning unemployed youth population, lacks the requisite skills that could lead to real sustainable growth and transformation.

“What is needed then is the effective implementation of development strategies and policies that would lead to long-term structural transformation and durable human development,” he argued.

One way to achieve this is through closer regional cooperation, given the small size of domestic markets and poor continental infrastructure. Transformative and human needs development must, amongst other things, address Africa’s poor infrastructure, said Dr. Akonor.

According to the African Development Bank, the road access rate in Africa is only 34 percent, compared with 50 percent in other developing regions. Only 30 percent of Africans have access to electricity, compared to 70-90 percent in other developing countries.

“What makes Africa’s development challenges vexing is that there has not been a shortage of autonomous development-related ideas between African leaders and interested publics,” Dr. Akonor said.

One can argue that Africa has debated and produced too many blueprints and programmes for over half a century without any tangible results or follow through, he said.

“Thus the major obstacle to durable economic performance in Africa has not been the ambitious nature of the development targets, but rather the absence of political will by African governments and the lack of consistency, coordination, and coherence at the sub regional, regional and even global levels to implement structural change,” Dr. Akonor declared.

“Transformational development will require that Africa add value to, and diversify, its export commodities. Building a solid industrial base and infrastructural capacity are also necessary prerequisites toward autonomous structural change.”

Dr. Fan told IPS that on the broader issue of the factors that influence food prices, it is important to realise the right price of food is not easy to determine.

What is important is that the prices of food (including the natural resources that are used for food production) fully reflect their economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits in order to send the right signals to all actors along the food supply chain.

“If this causes food prices to increase, social safety nets should be provided to protect poor people in the short term and also to help them move on to more productive activities in the long term,” Dr. Fan said.

In so doing, their food security and nutrition is not compromised, he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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OPINION: Europe Has Lost Its Compass Sat, 13 Dec 2014 09:43:46 +0000 Roberto Savio

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that, with the fall of the Swedish government orchestrated by the far-right and centre-right opposition, a symbol of civic-mindedness and democracy in Europe has fallen, and the grip of an irrational fear of immigrants tightens as Europe’s politicians seek a scapegoat.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 13 2014 (IPS)

The Swedish Social Democrat government, which took office only two months ago, has just resigned. The far-right anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats sided with the four-party centre-right opposition alliance, and new elections will be held in March next year.

In Europe, Sweden has been the symbol of civic-mindedness and democracy – the place where those escaping dictatorship and hunger could find refuge; the country without corruption, where social justice was a national value.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

However, in just a short period, the Sweden Democrat xenophobic party, which wants to close the country to foreigners and is now the third-largest party in parliament, was able to topple the government on Dec. 3.

Similar parties exist in the other Nordic countries – Finland, Norway and Denmark – where they have been similarly able to take a decisive role in national politics. The myth of northern Europe, the modern and progressive Nordic Europe, has vanished.

A few days later, in Dresden (the Florence of Germany) in Saxony, thousands of demonstrators marched to the cry ”Wir sind das Volk” [“We are the people”] – the same battle cry used in protests against the Communist regime in then East Germany 25 years ago, only this time the protest was against immigrants.

A previously unknown activist, 41-year-old Lutz Bachmann, has set up the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, and in seven weeks has been able to rally thousands of people. The local paper, the Sachsische Zeitung, has reported that Bachman has several criminal convictions for burglary, dealing with cocaine and driving without a licence or while drunk.“The fact that without immigrants Europe would grind to a halt and be unable to compete internationally is not matter for a campaign that appeals to politicians. On the contrary, they are flying the flag of defending Europe from a dangerous influx of immigrants”

Such details were irrelevant to the demonstrators. They “miss their country”, demand “protection of the Homeland” and applaud Bachmann’s call for a “clean and pure Germany”.

In Saxony, foreign immigrants account for only two percent of the population, and only a small fraction of those are Muslim. But the announcement that facilities would be opened for some 2,000 refugees from Syria, was the trigger in this town of 530.000 inhabitants. In the last state legislative elections, a new populist party, the Alternative for Germany, took almost 10 percent of the vote.

A similar irrational fear is gripping many European countries.

Italy, for example, now has two major parties (the Northern League and the Five Star Movement), which together account for around 35 percent of the vote, with xenophobic tones, and another major party, Forza Italia (literally Forward Italy) led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is flirting with an anti-European policy. The three more or less openly advocate withdrawal from the Euro.

At the same time, in 2013, only 514.308 children were born (including those of immigrants), 20.000 less than the year before. Between 2001 and 2011, according to ISTAT, the national statistical institute, the number of families formed by one person increased by 41.3 percent, while those with children fell by five percent. Of those with children, 47.5 percent had one child, 41.9 percent two and only 10.6 percent three or more.

If, as is conventionally held, the demographic replacement rate is 2.1, this means that the Italian population, like everywhere in Europe, is on a steep decline.

Of course, having child today is not an easy choice. To put it simply: in 2009, Italy had a budget of 2.5 billion euro for social interventions and, four years later, only one-third of that; in 2009, Italy’s Family Policies Fund stood at 186.5 million euro and is now less than 21 million. No wonder then that 60 percent of the population lives in fear of becoming poor.

The number of NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) rose from 1.8 million in 2007 to 2.5 million in 2013. And while Italy’s young people are being humiliated, its senior citizens are being mistreated – 41.3 percent of pensions are less than 1,000 euro per month.

By the way, 83,000 Italians expatriated in 2013, and the number of young people with a university degree that went to the United Kingdom, for example, was just over 3,000 – but in the same year, 44,000 foreigners also left Italy and while Italy received nearly 355,000 immigrants in 2011, two years later the number was just 280,000. And yet the campaign of xenophobia in Italy has it that there is a dramatic increase in immigrants.

This social decline is happening at different speeds and in different proportions all over Europe. In Germany, the core country, 25 percent of the population fall into the so-called “Hartz IV” category – under the Hartz Committee reform of the German labour market introduced by then Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder – and have to survive on the bare minimum of benefits.

This social decline is being accompanied by an unprecedented increase in social inequality. Two French economists, François Bourguignon and Christian Morrisson, published a study In 2002 on inequality among world citizens, starting from the 19th century, using the Gini index of inequality (where absolute equality = 0). In 1820, the index stood at 50, had risen to 60 in 1910, 64 in 1950, 66 in 1992 and 70 ten years later.

Today the ratio between a minimum wage and a top salary is very simple – the small guy must work 80 years to earn what the big guy earns in a year!

According to a number of sociologists, ‘catching up’ (or the so-called ‘demonstration effect’), is one underlying reason for corruption. It is no accident that the south of Europe has much more corruption than the north (but the Protestant Ethic must also play a role).

In just a few months, the former prime minister of Portugal, José Socrates, has been jailed, former president Nicolas Sarkozy has returned to politics in France to try to escape several accusations and Spaniards are riveted by the revelation of giant webs of corruption that the government is now trying to stymie by changing the judge in charge of the prosecution.

Meanwhile, Romans have awakened to find out that a criminal organisation has been controlling the town council and the administration, and this coming on the heels of a similar discovery in Milan, where individuals who had been already convicted of corruption got back into business and did more of the same in the public works for next year’s Expo.

It is no wonder that, as in every crisis, in a climate fear and uncertainty, there is a need for a scapegoat. The fact that without immigrants Europe would grind to a halt and be unable to compete internationally is not matter for a campaign that appeals to politicians. On the contrary, they are flying the flag of defending Europe from a dangerous influx of immigrants.

This all shows that Europe has lost its compass – and there is nothing on the horizon indicating that it can be recovered soon.

Who is going to provide an answer to Europe’s anguish when those in power escape from reality and look for scapegoats? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Only Half of Global Banks Have Policy to Respect Human Rights Tue, 09 Dec 2014 01:07:33 +0000 Carey L. Biron Children from one of the communities in Ocean Division, southern Cameroon, who lost much of their forestland after the government leased it to a logging company. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

Children from one of the communities in Ocean Division, southern Cameroon, who lost much of their forestland after the government leased it to a logging company. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 9 2014 (IPS)

Just half of major global banks have in place a public policy to respect human rights, according to new research, despite this being a foundational mandate of an international convention on multinational business practice.

Further, of the 32 global banks examined, researchers found that none has publicly put in place a process to deal with human rights abuses, if identified. None has even created grievance mechanisms by which those impacted by potential abuses can complain to the banks.“The findings of this report are quite sobering about what can be expected from self-regulatory principles.” -- Aldo Caliari

The findings, published by BankTrack, an international network of watchdog groups, come three and a half years after the adoption of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These principles, unanimously endorsed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2011, specify a range of actions and obligations for all businesses, including the financial sector.

Yet banks have a unique role in underwriting nearly all of the business activity around the globe, even as they are typically shielded from the impacts of those investments.

“Banks covered in this report have been found to finance companies and projects involving forced removals of communities, child labour, military backed land grabs, and abuses of indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination,” the report, released last week, states.

“Policies and processes, open to public scrutiny and backed by adequate reporting, are important tools for banks to ensure that these kinds of abuses do not happen, and that where they do, those whose rights have been impacted have the right to effective remedy … If these policies and procedures are to be meaningful, the finance for such ‘dodgy deals’ must eventually dry up.”

One of the banks studied in the new report, JPMorgan Chase, is one of the leading U.S. financiers of palm oil, through loans and equity investments. While the bank does have a human rights policy, BankTrack’s researchers find this policy applies only to loans, not investments.

“When it comes to reporting on implementation, the bank falls flat, making the policy little more than window-dressing,” Jeff Conant, an international forests campaigner with Friends of the Earth U.S., a watchdog group that is working on palm-oil financing, told IPS.

“We’ve spoken with JPMorgan Chase about the need to give impacted people an opportunity to file complaints about the human rights impacts of its financing, with the belief that this is a first step towards accountability. Frankly, from the bank’s response, I don’t see them stepping up anytime soon.”

While private finance today facilitates almost the full range of corporate activity, Conant notes, “the finance institutions themselves are wholly unaccountable.”

Sobering results

According to the new study, a few banks appear to be well on their way to conformity with the Guiding Principles. The top-ranked institution, the Dutch Rabobank, received a score of eight out of 12, with Credit Suisse and UBS close behind.

These are the exceptions, however. Against a set of 12 criteria, the average score was only a three.

Many scored at or near zero. While those ranked at the very bottom include several Chinese institutions, they also include banks in the European Union and the United States.

Indeed, Bank of America, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, scored just 0.5 out of 12, receiving a minor bump for having expressed some commitment to carrying out human rights-related due diligence. (The bank failed to respond to request for comment for this story by deadline.)

“The findings of this report are quite sobering about what can be expected from self-regulatory principles,” Aldo Caliari, the director of the Rethinking Bretton Woods Project at the Center of Concern, a Washington think tank, told IPS.

“The Guiding Principles are the bare minimum of any human rights framework in the corporate sector, a framework that has the companies’ consent. So the fact that there is so little [adherence to] such a relatively weak tool, where every effort to court corporations’ support has been made, is, indeed, very telling.”

Despite the spectrum of findings on implementation, the financial services industry as a whole has taken note of the Guiding Principles.

In 2011, four European banks met to discuss the principles’ potential implications for the sector. Three more banks eventually joined what is now called the Thun Group, and in October 2013 the grouping released an initial paper on the results of these discussions, including recommendations for compliance.

A previously existing set of voluntary guidelines for the banking sector, known as the Equator Principles, were also updated in 2013 to reflect the new existence of the Guiding Principles. So far, the Equator Principles have been signed by 80 financial institutions in 34 countries.

“To date, banks’ efforts to implement the UN Guiding Principles have mainly revolved around producing discussion papers on the best way forward,” Ryan Brightwell, the new report’s author, said in a statement.

“BankTrack has welcomed these discussions, but some three and a half years on from the launch of these Principles, it is time to move onto implementation.”

Strengthening accountability

The new findings on lagging implementation will strengthen arguments from those who want to tweak or supplant the Guiding Principles. Some suggest, for instance, that the framework be changed to treat financial institutions differently from other sectors.

“[T]he financial sector requires an exceptional treatment when it comes to the application of the Guiding Principles,” the Center of Concern’s Caliari wrote last year in comments for the Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

“Financial companies, more than other companies, have the potential, with their change of behaviour, to influence the behaviour of other actors. That means they also should be upheld to a greater level of responsibility when they fail to do so.”

Caliari and others are also part of a movement to move beyond voluntary frameworks such as the Guiding Principles (at least in their current form), and instead to see through the creation of a binding mechanism.

This decades-long effort received a significant boost in June, when the U.N. Human Rights Council voted to allow negotiations to begin toward a binding treaty around transnational companies and their human rights obligations. (This same session also approved a popular second resolution, aimed instead at strengthening implementation of the Guiding Principles process.)

The new data on banks’ relative lack of compliance with the Guiding Principles, Caliari says, is one of the reasons the call for a legally binding treaty “has been gaining ground.”

He continues: “It is increasingly clear that mechanisms that rely on the consent of the companies cannot be the total of available accountability mechanisms. More is needed.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

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Africa Laments as Kyoto Protocol Hangs in Limbo Wed, 03 Dec 2014 23:40:32 +0000 Wambi Michael By Wambi Michael
LIMA, Dec 3 2014 (IPS)

African countries fought hard for the Kyoto Protocol not to die on African soil at the 2011 Climate Change Conference in South Africa, but they say it is now languishing in limbo because developed countries are taking what they called “baby steps” towards ratification of the Doha Amendment that gave it a new lease of life.

The African Group and other least developed country negotiators at the ongoing (Dec. 1-12) U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, say they are concerned about the slow progress towards giving a legal force to the international emission reduction treaty.

Nagmeldin El Hassa, Chair of the Africa Group in Lima – “In our view, the developed countries are reneging, abandoning and weakening the Kyoto Protocol”. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Nagmeldin El Hassa, Chair of the Africa Group in Lima – “In our view, the developed countries are reneging, abandoning and weakening the Kyoto Protocol”. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

“We would like to point out that slow ratification of Commitment Period Two of Kyoto by developed countries does not build confidence. In our view, the developed countries are reneging, abandoning and weakening the Kyoto Protocol,” Nagmeldin El Hassan, Chair of the African Group said at the opening of the conference.

He said failure by developed countries to ratify the Doha Amendment was forcing the least developed countries to assume legal commitments while relaxing the legal commitments of the historical greenhouse emitters. “If this is the game that some think we are ready to entertain, we must make it clear that we will not be party to this game,” El Hassan added.

In December 2012, the Doha Amendment to the Protocol was agreed, extending it into a new commitment period running from 1 January 2013 to 31 December 2020. The European Union (EU), its 28 Member States and other developed countries have ratified the protocol.

The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, to which the Kyoto Protocol is linked, requires ratification by 144 countries before it can enter into force.“The responses of rich developed countries show no sense of urgency – they have presented less climate finance than last year, have not raised their pollution targets and have not even legally ratified the Kyoto Protocol as they promised two years ago” – Mithika Mwenda, Secretary-General of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA)

By the end of November 2014, only 20 countries had ratified the Doha Amendment establishing the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Guyana was the latest to ratify as it prepared to join the negotiations in Lima.

El Hassan told IPS that the ratification process needs to be accelerated and clear accounting rules adopted in Lima so that the amendment enters into force by the next Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015.

African environment groups and NGOs are also calling on governments to hasten progress on ratification of the much fought for second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol.

Mithika Mwenda, Secretary-General of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) to which more than 30 Africa-based NGOs belong, told IPS that it was demoralised by the “baby step” speed of the developed countries towards ratification.

“Africans have sent their governments to Lima with urgent and creative demands to face the climate crisis,” said Mwenda. “Yet the responses of rich developed countries show no sense of urgency – they have presented less climate finance than last year, have not raised their pollution targets and have not even legally ratified the Kyoto Protocol as they promised two years ago.”

According to Mwenda, the developed countries are determined to delay their participation in the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period.  “They are letting their national interests trump over the global common good and are opting out of multilateral rules.”

Earlier in the week, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said that both developed and developing country Parties to the Kyoto Protocol needed to save the protocol from languishing in limbo by ratifying it.

“I have said this before and let me say it again. For this international legal framework to enter into force, governments need to complete their ratification process as soon as possible. We need a positive political signal of the ambition of nations to step up crucial climate action,” said Figueres.

The African Group is pushing for ratification of the Doha Amendment because it extends a legal commitment to Annex 1 countries – members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) plus a group of countries whose economies are in transition – to contribute towards a global effort to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

Ram Prasad Lamsal from Nepal, who chairs the LDC Group, told IPS that “ratification is essential for the Kyoto Protocol to continue to serving as a cornerstone of the multilaterally agreed rules-based system under the [Climate Change] Convention and a full reflection of its principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities.”

However, while the African countries are pushing their developed country counterparts to ratify the Doha Amendment, just four of them had ratified it by the end of November – South Africa, Sudan, Morocco and Kenya.

A delegate from European Union speaking on condition of anonymity wondered why the African countries – as well as the LDC Group, the G77 and China – were not ratifying the second commitment period as they mount pressure on developed countries.

Paul Isabirye, Uganda’s UNFCCC Focal Point, told IPS that African countries would easily ratify once the developed countries had taken the lead.

“But even if all the African countries ratified, it still cannot enter into force before our colleagues do it. They have the bulk of the emissions to cut. The issue is not that Africa has lagged behind, the big emitters don’t seem to be coming forward,” said Isabirye.

(Edited by Phil Harris)


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