Inter Press Service » IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 03 Jun 2015 08:18:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Despite Setbacks, Global Sanitation Makes Progress, Says Fundhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/despite-setbacks-global-sanitation-makes-progress-says-fund/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-setbacks-global-sanitation-makes-progress-says-fund http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/despite-setbacks-global-sanitation-makes-progress-says-fund/#comments Tue, 02 Jun 2015 21:10:44 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140940 An open drainage ditch in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery, Madagascar. Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

An open drainage ditch in Ankorondrano-Andranomahery, Madagascar. Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 2 2015 (IPS)

When the United Nations hosted a panel discussion last year urging its partners to “break their silence” on open defecation, Singapore’s deputy permanent representative Mark Neo was outspoken in his characterisation: “Open defecation is a euphemism. What we are talking about is shitting in the open.”

And over one billion people worldwide do so every day.“This is a crucial step towards achieving better health, reducing poverty and ensuring environmental sustainability for the most marginalized people in the world.” -- Chris Williams

In India alone, there are nearly 600 million people (out of a total population of over 1.2 billion) without access to sanitation, according to the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) based in Geneva.

Currently, about 35 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia, fall into that category, including Niger, Sierra Leone, Mali, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Guinea, Liberia, Bangladesh, Madagascar, Nepal, Angola, Pakistan, Myanmar, Cambodia, Congo, India and Laos, among many others.

A new study by the Geneva-based Global Sanitation Fund (GSF), released Tuesday, says 2.5 billion people, or 40 percent of the global population, lack access to decent sanitation, including more than a billion who defecate in the open.

Still there is progress: nationally-led sanitation programmes supported by the GSF have enabled 4.2 million people to have improved toilets; seven million people and more than 20,500 communities to be free of open-defecation; and eight million people with handwashing facilities.

“These results prove that we are moving closer to our vision of a world where everybody has sustained sanitation and hygiene, supported by safe water,” said Chris Williams, executive director of WSSCC.

“This is a crucial step towards achieving better health, reducing poverty and ensuring environmental sustainability for the most marginalised people in the world.”

The study says diarrheal disease, largely caused by poor sanitation and hygiene, is a leading cause of malnutrition, stunting and child mortality, claiming nearly 600,000 under-five lives every year. Inadequate facilities also affect education and economic productivity and impact the dignity and personal safety of women and girls.

The governments of Australia, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom have contributed to the GSF since its establishment by WSSCC in 2008.

Close to 105 million dollars has been committed for 13 country programmes, and aimed at reaching about 36 million people.

The GSF says the results have been achieved due to the work of more than 200 partners, including executing agencies and sub-grantees composed of representatives from governments, international organisations, academic institutions, the United Nations and civil society.

One of the strongest success factors in the GSF approach is that it allows flexibility for countries to develop their programmes within the context of their own institutional framework and according to their own specific sanitation and hygiene needs, sector capacity and stakeholders, says a press release.

This implementation methodology is used to reach large numbers of households in a relatively short period of time and is vital for scaling up safe sanitation and hygiene practices.

The GSF has been described as ” a pooled financing mechanism with the potential to further accelerate access to sanitation for hundreds of millions of people over the next 15 years.”

Between 2013 and 2014 alone, the GSF reported an almost 90 percent increase in the number of people living open-defecation free in target regions of 13 countries across Africa and Asia.

During this same period, the GSF also supported a 55 percent increase in the number of people with access to improved toilets in those same areas.

The United Nations system has identified global funds as an important tool to enable member countries to achieve their national development targets, including those for sanitation and hygiene.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Why the US-Iran Nuclear Deal May Still Failhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-why-the-us-iran-nuclear-deal-may-still-fail/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-the-us-iran-nuclear-deal-may-still-fail http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-why-the-us-iran-nuclear-deal-may-still-fail/#comments Tue, 02 Jun 2015 09:56:10 +0000 Prem Shankar Jha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140924

Prem Shankar Jha is an eminent Indian journalist based in New Delhi. He is also the author of numerous books, including ‘The Twilight of the Nation State: Globalisation, Chaos and War’ (2006).

By Prem Shankar Jha
NEW DELHI, Jun 2 2015 (IPS)

The euphoria that spread though the world after the Iran nuclear agreement reached in Lausanne in April this year with the United States, Russia, China, France, United Kingdom and Germany, plus the European Union, is  proving short-lived.

Republicans in the U.S. Congress have made it clear that they will spare no effort to block it.  Hilary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s presidential hopeful, is keeping her options open. Whispers are escaping from European chancelleries that the sanctions on Iran will only be lifted in stages. Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani have responded by insisting that they must be lifted “at once”.

Prem Shankar Jha

Prem Shankar Jha

But the agreement’s most inveterate enemy is Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel. In the week that followed the Lausanne agreement, he warned the American public in three successive speeches that the agreement would “threaten the survival of Israel” and increase the risk of a “horrific war”. This is a brazen attempt to whip up fear and war hysteria on the basis of a spider’s web of misinformation.

Netanyahu is not new to this game. At the U.N. General Assembly in 2012, he unveiled a large cartoon of a bomb and drew a red line across it, just below the neck. This was how close Iran was to making a nuclear bomb, he said. It could get there in a year. Only much later did the world learn that Mossad, Netanyahu’s own intelligence service, had told him that Iran was very far from being able to build a bomb.

Mossad probably knew what a U.S. Congress Research Service (CRS) report revealed two months later:  that although Iran already had enough five percent, or low-enriched,  uranium in August 2012 to build  five to seven bombs, it had not enriched enough of it to the intermediate level of  20 percent to meet the requirement for even one  bomb. The CRS had concluded from this and other evidence that this was because  Iran had made no effort to revive its nuclear weapons programme after stopping it ‘abruptly’ in 2003.“[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is following a two-pronged strategy: first to get the U.S. Congress to insert clauses in the nuclear treaty draft that Iran will be forced to reject, and second to take advantage of the spike in paranoia that will follow to push the West into an attack on Iran”

Another of Netanyahu’s deceptions is that he only wants to punish Iran with sanctions until it gives up trying to acquire not only nuclear weapons but any nuclear technology that could even remotely facilitate this in the future. However, he knows that no government in Iran can agree to this, so what he is really trying to steer the world towards is the alternative – a military attack on Iran.

What is more, because he also knows that destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities will not destroy its capacity to rebuild these in the future, he does not want the attack to end until it has destroyed Iran’s infrastructure (as Israel destroyed southern Lebanon’s in 2006), its industry, its research facilities and its science universities.

He knows that Israel cannot undertake such a vast operation without the United States. But there is one stumbling block – President Barack Obama – who has learned from his recent experience that, to put it mildly, U.S. interests do not always tally with those of its allies in the Middle East.

So Netanyahu is following a two-pronged strategy: first to get the U.S. Congress to insert clauses in the nuclear treaty draft that Iran will be forced to reject, and second to take advantage of  the spike in paranoia that will follow to push the West into an attack on Iran.

He has been joined in this endeavour by another steadfast friend of the United States – Saudi Arabia. At the end of February, Saudi Arabia quietly signed an agreement with Israel that will allow its warplanes to overfly Saudi Arabia on their way to bombing Iran. This has halved the distance they will need to fly. Then, four weeks later, on Mar. 26,  it declared war on the Houthis in Yemen, whom it has been relentlessly portraying as a tiny minority bent upon taking Yemen over through sheer terror, with the backing of  Iran.

This is a substantial oversimplification, and therefore distortion, of a complicated relationship.

Iran may well be helping the Houthis, but not because they are Shias.  The Houthis, who make up 30 percent of Yemen’s population, are Zaidis, a very different branch of Shi’a-ism than the one practised in Iran, Pakistan and India. They inhabit a region that stretches across Saada, the northernmost district of Yemen, and three adjoining principalities, Jizan, Najran and Asir, that Saudi Arabia annexed in 1934.

The internecine wars that Yemeni Houthis have fought since the 1960s have not been sectarian, or even against the Saudis specifically, but in quest of independence and, more recently, a federal state. This is a goal that several other tribes share.  

The timing of Saudi Arabia’s attack, four weeks after its overflight agreement with Israel, and its incessant portrayal of the Houthis as proxies of Iran, hints at a deeper understanding between it and Israel. The Houthis’ attacked Sana’a, the Yemeni capital, in September last year. So why did Saudi Arabia wait until March this year before sending its bombers in?

Iran has kept out of the conflict in Yemen so far, but the manifestly one-sided resolution passed by the U.N. Security Council and the immediate resignation of the U.N. special envoy for Yemen, Jamal Benomar, who had been struggling to bring about a non-sectarian resolution of the conflict in Yemen and been boycotted by the country’s president Abed Rabo Mansour Hadi for his pains, cannot have failed to raise misgivings in Tehran.

Iraqi President Haydar Abadi’s sharp criticism of the Saudi attack in Washington on the same day reflects his awareness of how these developments are darkening the prospect for Iran’s rehabilitation, and therefore Iraq’s future.

To stop this drift Obama needs to tell his people precisely how far, under Netanyahu’s leadership, Israel’s interests have diverged from those of the United States, and how single-mindedly Israel has used its special relationship with the United States to push it into actions that have imperilled its own security in the Middle East.

Instead of dwelling on how the nuclear treaty will make it practically impossible for Iran to clandestinely enrich uranium or produce plutonium, he needs to remind Americans of what Netanyahu has been carefully neglecting to mention: that a nuclear device is not a bomb, and that to convert it into one Iran will need not only to master the physics of bomb-making and reduce its weight to what a missile can carry, but conduct at least one test explosion to make sure the bomb works. That will make escaping detection pretty well impossible.

Finally, the White House needs to remind Americans that Iranians also know the price they will pay if they are caught trying to build a bomb after signing the agreement. Not only will this bring back all and more of the sanctions they are under,  but it will vindicate Netanyahu’s apocalyptic predictions and make a pre-emptive military strike virtually unavoidable.

Should a  military strike, whether deserved or undeserved,  destroy Iran’s economy, it will add tens of thousands of Shi’a Jihadis to the Sunni Jihadis already spawned in Libya, Somalia, Chechnya and  the other failed states and regions of the world. The security that Netanyahu claims it will bring will turn out to be a chimera.

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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Corporate Tax Dodging Cheats Africa Out of 6 Billion Dollars, Says Oxfamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/corporate-tax-dodging-cheats-africa-out-of-6-billion-dollars-says-oxfam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corporate-tax-dodging-cheats-africa-out-of-6-billion-dollars-says-oxfam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/corporate-tax-dodging-cheats-africa-out-of-6-billion-dollars-says-oxfam/#comments Tue, 02 Jun 2015 06:23:55 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140900 By Sean Buchanan
LONDON, Jun 2 2015 (IPS)

G7-based companies and investors cheated Africa out of an estimated six billion dollars in a year through just one form of tax dodging, according to a new Oxfam report ‘Money talks: Africa at the G7’, released Jun. 2.

This is equivalent to three times the amount needed to plug the healthcare funding gap in the Ebola-affected countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and at-risk Guinea Bissau.

According to an Oxfam briefing paper release in April this year, an estimated 1.7 billion dollars is required to close the healthcare funding gap to improve dangerously inadequate health systems in these countries. This figure is based on raising spending to the recommendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) that 86 dollars per capita is required to achieve the minimum package of essential services.“Multinational companies, many with headquarters in the United Kingdom and other G7 countries, are cheating African countries out of billions of dollars in vital tax revenues that could help vulnerable people get decent healthcare and send their children to school” – Nick Brye, Oxfam’s Head of U.K. Campaigns

The new Oxfam report comes as G7 leaders prepare to meet their African counterparts at the annual summit in Bavaria, Germany from Jun. 8 to 9. African leaders from Ethiopia (Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn), Liberia (President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf), Nigeria (President Muhammadu Buhari) and Senegal (President Macky Sall) are scheduled to join an outreach session on Jun. 8.

Oxfam is calling for the leaders of the G7 countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom and United States – to include action for ambitious tax reform in discussions about how the group can support economic growth and sustainable development on the continent.

In the United Kingdom, Oxfam is part of a coalition that has been calling on the recently elected new British government to show leadership by introducing a Tax Dodging Bill, which would make it harder for U.K. companies to avoid paying tax in the countries in which they operate – practices which currently cost some of the world’s poorest countries billions each year.

The coalition, which includes ActionAid and Christian Aid in addition to Oxfam, is currently running a Tax Dodging Bill campaign.

According to Oxfam, a well-crafted Tax Dodging Bill would also make it harder for big companies to avoid paying tax in the United Kingdom, and could bring in at least 3.6 billion pounds (5.4 billion dollars) a year to the U.K. Treasury, the equivalent of 600 pounds (910 dollars) for every household living below the poverty line.

“Multinational companies, many with headquarters in the United Kingdom and other G7 countries, are cheating African countries out of billions of dollars in vital tax revenues that could help vulnerable people get decent healthcare and send their children to school,” said Nick Brye, Oxfam’s Head of U.K. Campaigns.

“To fund the fight against poverty and to tackle worsening extreme inequality, we need action to ensure big companies pay their fair share, here and in the world’s poorest nations.”

Oxfam also notes that existing international efforts to tackle corporate tax dodging, such as the BEPS (Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) process, led by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation (OECD) for the G20 group of the world’s major economies, will leave gaping tax loopholes.

It warns that these loopholes can continue to be exploited by multinational companies across the developing world and that many African nations have been shut out of discussions on BEPS reform and will not benefit from them as a result.

Oxfam is also calling for British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne to attend July’s Financing for Development Conference in Ethiopia which will play host to heads of states and finance ministers from around the world.

The talks, which will focus on how the international community will fund development over the next two decades, are an opportunity for governments to work together to start shaping a more democratic and fairer global tax system.

In 2010, the last year for which data are available, Oxfam says that companies and investors based in G7 countries avoided paying tax on 20 billion dollars of income through a practice called trade mispricing – where a company artificially sets the prices for goods or services sold among its subsidiaries to avoid taxation.

With corporate tax rates in Africa averaging 28 percent, this equates to nearly six billion dollars in lost revenues. In addition, developing countries as a whole lose around 100 billion dollars a year through tax avoidance schemes involving tax havens, according to the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

“Reforming global corporate tax rules so that African governments can claim the money owed to them is vital to tackle extreme poverty and inequality and boost economic growth, said Brye. “That’s why Oxfam has been calling for a U.K. Tax Dodging Bill that would ensure U.K. companies do their bit to help poor families at home and in developing countries.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Countries Commit to Protecting Education During Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/countries-commit-to-protecting-education-during-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=countries-commit-to-protecting-education-during-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/countries-commit-to-protecting-education-during-conflict/#comments Tue, 02 Jun 2015 00:19:50 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140914 A school girl during a class break at the school run by the by the Hawa Abdi Centre for displaced Somalis. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

A school girl during a class break at the school run by the by the Hawa Abdi Centre for displaced Somalis. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 2 2015 (IPS)

With thousands worldwide being denied education due to attacks on schools and universities, and the use of school buildings by armed groups, 37 countries have committed to protecting students and their education during armed conflict.

An international Safe Schools Declaration was the result of a process initiated in 2012 by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, and led by the governments of Norway and Argentina since 2014. The Coalition is a committee of organisations, including the United Nations Children’s Fund and Human Rights Watch, taking action on education in conflict.

“Targeted attacks on education are robbing a generation of the chance to realize their potential, with a huge long-term social cost,” said Diya Nijhowne, the director of the Coalition. “The countries adopting the Safe Schools Declaration are making a commitment to take concrete action to protect students and their education in times of conflict.”

The Coalition called for armed forces to reject the use of school and university buildings as barracks, places to store military equipment, training grounds, or detention centres. The group note that not only do these uses force students out, but they can make the buildings a military target.

The countries including Brazil, Palestine and Jordan have agreed to endorse and use new ‘Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict’.

The Guidelines say universities and schools “should not be used by the fighting forces of parties to armed conflict in any way in support of the military effort.”

Speaking at the conference was Ziauddin Yousafzai, the U.N. special adviser on global education, and the father and teacher of Malala Yousafzai. He applauded the countries that attended the conference for putting the hope generated by education ahead of the despair resulting from violence.

The countries committed to ensuring the continuation of education during armed conflict, and supporting the re- establishment of educational facilities which had been destroyed.

A recent study by the Coalition found schools and universities had been used for military purposes by government forces and non-state armed groups in 26 countries since 2005. Most of these instances were during periods of conflict in the country.

“The countries supporting the Safe Schools Declaration are making it clear that protecting education is a priority and that the work starts here to turn words into action,” said Nijhowne. The declaration is still open to those countries who have not yet joined.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Despite Ukraine Cease-Fire, Civilians Still Living in Fearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/despite-ukraine-cease-fire-civilians-still-living-in-fear/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-ukraine-cease-fire-civilians-still-living-in-fear http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/despite-ukraine-cease-fire-civilians-still-living-in-fear/#comments Mon, 01 Jun 2015 16:38:22 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140903 Independence Square in Kiev in February 2014 following mass protests. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/IPS

Independence Square in Kiev in February 2014 following mass protests. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 1 2015 (IPS)

The civilian population in Ukraine continues to suffer serious human rights abuses, intimidation and harassment by armed groups, including summary executions, as well as torture and ill-treatment by authorities in detention, according to the latest report from the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine released Monday.

For more than a year, a climate of insecurity and impunity has prevailed in Ukraine, says the report, where at least 6,417 people have died in the conflict.

Accountability for gross human rights violations committed during the Maidan protests, during which at least 117 people died and more than 2,295 were wounded, and in the May 2, 2014 violence in Odesa, when 48 people died, is still pending.

The unrest began some 15 months ago in eight eastern and southern provinces of Ukraine. In several cities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, armed men, declaring themselves local militia, seized government buildings, police and special police stations in several cities of the regions, and held unrecognised status referendums.

In February 2015, after a summit hosted in Belarus, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko negotiated a ceasefire with the separatist troops. This included conditions such as the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the front line and decentralisation of rebel regions by the end of 2015.

It also included Ukrainian control of the border with Russia in 2015 and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Ukrainian territory.

However, the U.N. report says the current ceasefire in eastern Ukraine is not fully respected.

“The shelling has not stopped, nor have armed hostilities between Ukrainian armed forces and armed groups, meaning that civilians continue to live in fear,” the human rights office said in a statement released with its report, which focuses on the three months leading up to May 15.

“Even with the decrease in hostilities, civilians continue to be killed and wounded,” High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stressed. “We have documented alarming reports of summary executions by armed groups and are looking into similar allegations against Ukrainian armed forces.

“Millions of ordinary women, men and children in Ukraine have suffered tremendous hardship, violence and have been living in fear for more than a year now,” the High Commissioner said. “Too many have had their homes and livelihoods destroyed and their lives torn apart, with no sign of justice, accountability, compensation or redress.”

“I urge all parties involved in the hostilities to seek common ground, through sustained dialogue, to fully implement the 12 February Package of Measures, to end the fighting, and to ensure that all violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are investigated, regardless of the perpetrators,” he said.

More than 1.2 million people, who have been internally displaced since the onset of the conflict, also suffer from impeded access to healthcare, housing and employment.

Meanwhile, the proliferation of arms, the lack of job opportunities, limited access to medical care and psycho-social services for demobilised soldiers and a deep anxiety that the ceasefire may not hold have a serious impact on the population and the prospects for reconciliation.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Thousands Rally to Demand Freedom for Puerto Rican Activisthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/thousands-rally-to-demand-freedom-for-puerto-rican-activist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thousands-rally-to-demand-freedom-for-puerto-rican-activist http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/thousands-rally-to-demand-freedom-for-puerto-rican-activist/#comments Mon, 01 Jun 2015 15:46:25 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140880 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/thousands-rally-to-demand-freedom-for-puerto-rican-activist/feed/ 0 Latin America’s Relative Success in Fighting Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-americas-relative-success-in-fighting-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-americas-relative-success-in-fighting-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/latin-americas-relative-success-in-fighting-hunger/#comments Fri, 29 May 2015 23:35:52 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140868 Food distribution in a town in the Mexican state of Tabasco through one of the many government programmes created in Latin America in the last 15 years to fight hunger. Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS

Food distribution in a town in the Mexican state of Tabasco through one of the many government programmes created in Latin America in the last 15 years to fight hunger. Credit: Mauricio Ramos/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, May 29 2015 (IPS)

The Latin American and Caribbean region is the first in the world to reach the two global targets for reducing hunger. Nevertheless, more than 34 million people still go hungry.

“This is the region that best understood the problem of hunger, and it’s the region that has put the greatest emphasis on policies to assist vulnerable groups. The results achieved have been in accordance with that emphasis,” FAO regional representative Raúl Benítez told IPS.

According to The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) 2015 report, released Wednesday by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), hunger affects 5.5 percent of the population of Latin America – or 34.3 million people.

That means the region has met the target of halving the proportion of hungry people from 1990 levels, established by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the international community in 2000, with a 2015 deadline.

These statistics also show that the region has lived up to what was agreed at the 1996 World Food Summit.

According to SOFI, 28 percent of the population of Latin America, estimated at a total of 605 million people, lives in poverty, compared to 44 percent in 2002. By contrast, the progress in reducing extreme poverty stalled two years ago.

With respect to the eradication of hunger, SOFI reports that South America made the greatest progress between the periods of 1990-1992 and 2012-2016. But South America, which accounts for 66 percent of the region’s total population, also has the largest number of undernourished people.

In that period, Central America also managed to reduce the number of hungry people, from 12.6 million to 11.4 million. However, the reduction in hunger has slowed down since 2013.

The Caribbean is lagging the most, with 7.5 million hungry people. That is mainly due to the situation in Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere, where 75 percent of the Caribbean’s malnourished people live, the report states.

Haiti’s problems are deep-rooted, Eve Crowley, FAO deputy regional representative, said Thursday during the launch of the report at the agency’s regional office in Chile. They date back centuries and are linked to colonialism and land distribution, she added.

“The recent problem of political instability is a very important factor that has had a negative impact on economic growth,” she said. “Historical problems take a long time to fix.”

On the other hand, more than 30 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean have overcome hunger in the last 20 years, “revealing in the process a valuable repertoire of public policies that can serve as a basis for other contexts and regions,” the report says.

FAO regional representative Raúl Benítez at his office in the agency’s regional office in Santiago. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

FAO regional representative Raúl Benítez at his office in the agency’s regional office in Santiago. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

According to FAO, the improvements in food and nutritional security in the region were largely due to the “positive macroeconomic backdrop in the region during the last decade as well as the political commitment to fighting food insecurity exhibited by the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.”

The most recent expression of this commitment, Benítez told IPS, was the approval of the Food Security, Nutrition and Hunger Eradication Plan of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

The plan, a pioneer at the international level, proposes eliminating hunger by 2025 – a goal that encompasses several challenges, like mitigating the effects of climate change that mainly affect small-scale family farmers and the poor, who live in more complex, fragile ecosystems, Benítez said.

The task then is adaptation to climate change to achieve sustainable food production systems.

The challenges also include successfully weathering the economic slowdown that is not only affecting this region.

“The dangers of backsliding are always latent,” the FAO representative warned. “We have to raise awareness about the fact that this continues to affect millions of women, men and children in the region.

“Hunger deprives people of education, of health, even of citizenship, but it principally deprives people of freedom, and this affects all of us: the hungry and those who have full stomachs. We can’t allow any one of our Latin American or Caribbean sisters or brothers to continue to go hungry,” he added.

Benítez pointed out that in Latin America and the Caribbean the problem is not a lack of food, but the fact that the poor can’t afford it.

“It’s a problem of access, not production,” he stressed.

“Hunger is much more than a plate of food on a table, and it’s still a problem that affects all of us. It’s a regional problem, which means it needs a regional-level solution.”

Benítez said that “while all countries have been reducing the proportion of people who have managed to overcome the problem of hunger, some have done so faster than others.

“That means countries with more experience or the richest countries in the region have to help other countries, in order for them to speed up the process of eradicating hunger.”

Francisca Quiroga, a public policy expert at the University of Chile, told IPS that this new stage must be spearheaded by a change in model, from the current “extractivist” model to a new one based on more suitable forms of development and higher-quality public policies.

“Many social policies implemented by countries in the region with the aim of meeting the MDGs were focused on improving indicators or reducing the gaps based on statistics, but they failed to focus on issues that are so important for this region, such as inequality,” she said.

New problems have also arisen, such as the impact of climate change or access to the development of natural resources, or the poor quality of food, which means the new model must be sustainable, the academic added.

At the end of this year the MDGs will be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), where the reduction of hunger is accompanied by other challenges involving food, such as the dangerous increase in obesity, which is becoming a major new global problem, Benítez said.

“The problem of obesity is something that we cannot stop analysing, because it has a severe impact on our populations,” she said. “It’s not as serious yet as the problem of hunger, but it threatens to become so.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Scores of Sri Lankan Tamils Still Living Under the ‘Long Shadow of War’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/scores-of-sri-lankan-tamils-still-living-under-the-long-shadow-of-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=scores-of-sri-lankan-tamils-still-living-under-the-long-shadow-of-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/scores-of-sri-lankan-tamils-still-living-under-the-long-shadow-of-war/#comments Fri, 29 May 2015 23:14:27 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140864 A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, May 29 2015 (IPS)

In many ways, Jayakumari Balendran epitomizes the plight of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka’s northern and eastern provinces, both during and after the island nation’s 26-year-long civil conflict.

Her oldest son was shot dead in 2006 while working in the coastal town of Trincomalee, about 300 km east of the capital, Colombo, by ‘unidentified killers’.

“We are just trying to remind the government that there are people, communities, hundreds of thousands of families, waiting for justice." -- Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute
Abandoning her husband, she was forced to flee to Kilinochchi, a town in the north, which, at the time, served as the administrative nerve-centre for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the rebel group battling the government’s armed forces for an independent state for the country’s minority Tamil population.

Three years on, in May 2009, as the war dragged to a bloody finish, her second son was also killed – one of dozens who perished in the shelling of the Puthukkudiyiruppu hospital, an attack the army denies responsibility for.

Both boys were 19 years old at the time of their deaths.

Her third and final son, who was forcibly conscripted into the LTTE’s ranks as a child soldier, reportedly surrendered to government forces later that same month after the army overran LTTE-controlled areas and declared a decisive win over the rebels.

However, she has neither seen nor heard from him since, an ominous sign in a country where enforced disappearances are a common occurrence.

And her troubles did not end there. While protesting his disappearance, Jayakumari was arrested and imprisoned in the notorious Boosa prison, an institution that has become synonymous with torture.

Following presidential elections in January 2015 that saw the ouster of long-time president Mahinda Rajapaksa and the transfer of power to his former health minister Maithripala Sirisena, Jayakumari was released, in a move that activists took as a sign of safer and more just times to come.

But after returning to find her humble home ransacked and her possessions looted, Jayakumari was forced to place her daughter in an ashram for her own safety, while she herself move into a hut, the only place she could afford as a single mother – her husband died of cancer in 2012 – and where she now ekes out a rough living.

The converging issues that have defined her life over the past 10 years – war, disappearances, detention, displacement and abject poverty – are now the subject of an independent inquiry by a U.S. think-tank, the first of its kind to be released after the guns fell silent in 2009.

Titled ‘The Long Shadow of War’, the 37-page report by the California-based Oakland Institute (OI) details the unhealed wounds that still plague the former war zone, preventing civilians like Jayakumari from moving on with their lives.

During a press conference call Thursday, OI Executive Director Anuradha Mittal outlined some of the biggest hurdles to reconciliation, including continued heavy militarisation of the north and east, systematic erasure of Tamil history and culture, and the inability of the government to implement an effective mechanism to investigate alleged war crimes – for which both the government and the LTTE stand accused – committed during the last phase of the conflict.

Although Sirisena’s government has taken steps towards demilitarization, appointing a non-military civil servant as governor of the northern province in place of the former security forces commander who previously held the post, the presence of one soldier for every six civilians is a thorn in the side of many war-weary residents.

OI’s report quotes Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene as saying, as recently as February, that the government has no intention of removing or scaling down army formations in the Jaffna peninsula.

Furthermore, as Mittal pointed out Thursday, the army is not a passive presence. Rather, “it is engaged in property development, running luxury tourist resorts, whale-watching excursions, farming and other business ventures on land seized from local populations.”

Land and property have been major sticking points since 2009, with 90,000 of an estimated 480,000 people displaced during the last months of fighting still living in makeshift shelters, according to 2014 statistics published by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

The situation has been particularly difficult for war widows, who are thought to number between 40,000 and 55,000, now tasked with providing single-handedly for their families.

For women like Jayakumari, poverty and unemployment combine with uncertainty over missing relatives to create a culture of fear, and stillborn grief.

Citing data from the United Nations as well as religious institutions on the ground in the Vanni – a vast swathe of land in the north and east – OI estimates the number of missing people to be between 70,000 and 140,000.

“So many mothers like me are wandering from place to place in search of their children,” Jayakumari said in a statement to the press this past Thursday.

“We need answers. The government should at least arrange a place where we can go and visit our children. I want my child,” she asserted.

Her demand strikes at the heart of what could well be the defining challenge for the present government: implementing a national reconciliation process centered on a credible investigation into wartime abuses.

In March last year, the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) agreed on a resolution that would have launched a war crimes inquiry, but the then-government barred independent researchers from entering the country.

Despite these roadblocks, the world body was set to release its findings earlier this year, but agreed to the fledgling government’s request to delay publication for six months – leading to criticisms over a perceived watering down of U.N. mandates to suit the whims of electoral politics.

“Given the past records of government inaction, international pressure is critical for any decisive action,” Mittal asserted. “Instead of pursuing their geostrategic interests, the U.S., India and other countries should demand the release of the U.N. inquiry.”

She clarified that urgent tone of the report is not an attack on the new government, but should rather serve as a reminder of the severity of the situation for ordinary Tamil people.

“We are just trying to remind the government that there are people, communities, hundreds of thousands of families, waiting for justice,” she noted.

The death toll during the war’s last stages remains a hotly contested figure, both within Sri Lanka and among the international community. U.N. data suggest that 40,000 people died, but the previous government insisted the number of dead did not exceed 8,000.

Meanwhile, a new book by the eminent research body University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) says the true death toll could be closer to 100,000.

This is one of just many unanswered questions that could be put to rest by a just reconciliation process.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Leaked Internal Documents Show U.N. Ignored Child Abusehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/leaked-internal-documents-show-u-n-ignored-child-abuse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=leaked-internal-documents-show-u-n-ignored-child-abuse http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/leaked-internal-documents-show-u-n-ignored-child-abuse/#comments Fri, 29 May 2015 20:07:08 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140861 Anders Kompass, Director for Field Operations and Technical Cooperation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, was asked to resign after leaking the report on child abuse by French peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

Anders Kompass, Director for Field Operations and Technical Cooperation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, was asked to resign after handing the report on child abuse by French peacekeepers in the Central African Republic to French authorities. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, May 29 2015 (IPS)

Leaked United Nations documents show high-level staff knew of abuses by soldiers in the Central African Republic and failed to act, all while planning the removal of U.N. whistleblower Anders Kompass.

Twenty-three soldiers from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea are implicated in the abuse, according to one of the reports.

The documents, released Friday by the organisation AIDS-Free World as part of their Code Blue campaign, implicate the U.N. in making no attempt to stop the ongoing crimes or protect children, and then scrambling to cover up inaction.

“The documents indicate a total failure of the U.N. to act on claims of sexual abuse, even when they know that U.N. involvement might be the surest route to stopping crimes and ensuring justice,” said Paula Donovan, AIDS-Free World’s co-director, in a statement.

Included in the leak is Anders Kompass’ own account of the events, which shows his claim that he was asked to resign by the High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who was acting on a request from the head of U.N. Peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous.

Another revelation is an email chain involving Joan Dubinsky, Director, U.N. Ethics Office; Susana Malcorra, Chef de Cabinet, Executive Office of the Secretary-General; Carman Lapointe, Under Secretary General for Office for Internal Oversight Services; and Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, High Commissioner for Human Rights, with the subject “CONFIDENTIAL — Call from DPR Sweden regarding Anders Kompass”, dated Apr. 7-10, 2015, detailing discussions across U.N. departments about Kompass’ case.

AIDS-Free World suggested that the latest documents bring into question the independence of the U.N.’s Office for Internal Oversight Services and Ethics Office, which is supposed to operate at arm’s length from the rest of the U.N. system, to ensure accountability.

The documents show that the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had evidence of abuse by the soldiers on May 19, 2014. Then, during a June 18 interview, a 13-year-old boy said he couldn’t number all the times he’d been forced to perform oral sex on soldiers but the most recent had been between June 8 and 12, 2014 – several weeks after the first UNICEF interview.

“By agreeing to be interviewed by the UN, the children expected the abuse to stop and the perpetrators to be arrested. When children report sexual abuse, adults must report it to the authorities. A child needs protection and, by definition, does not have the agency to decide whether to press charges. They deserved the protection they assumed they would receive once the UN knew of their abuse,” AIDS-Free World said in a statement.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Relief Organisation Urges Mandatory Funding for Humanitarian Appealshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/relief-organisation-urges-mandatory-funding-for-humanitarian-appeals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=relief-organisation-urges-mandatory-funding-for-humanitarian-appeals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/relief-organisation-urges-mandatory-funding-for-humanitarian-appeals/#comments Fri, 29 May 2015 13:47:37 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140848 UNICEF estimates that 3.5 million children in Pakistan suffer from acute malnutrition. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

UNICEF estimates that 3.5 million children in Pakistan suffer from acute malnutrition. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 29 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations is not only overwhelmed by a spreading humanitarian crisis, largely in Africa and the Middle East, but also remains hamstrung by a severe shortfall in funds, mostly from Western donors.

In conflict-ridden South Sudan, a major crisis point, about 40 percent of the country’s 11.4 million population is facing “alarming levels of hunger,” according to the Rome-based World Food Programme (WFP)."The system is overwhelmed and assistance often arrives too little and is too late." -- Shannon Scribner of Oxfam America

But lack of funding and shrinking access are compromising the agency’s ability to meet humanitarian needs.

Currently, the funding shortfall for WFP amounts to 230 million dollars for food and nutrition assistance.

Overall, the number of people requiring critical relief has more than doubled since 2004, to over 100 million today, according to the United Nations.

And current funding requirements for 2015 stand at a staggering 19.1 billion dollars, up from 3.4 billion dollars in 2004.

The United Nations considers four emergencies as “severe and large scale”: Central African Republic, Iraq, Syria and South Sudan.

And these crises alone have left 20 million people vulnerable to malnutrition, illness, violence, and death, and in need of aid and protection.

“Yet there is not enough funding to meet the needs,” Shannon Scribner, Humanitarian Policy Manager at Oxfam America, told IPS.

She said the current humanitarian system is led by the United Nations, funded largely by a handful of rich countries, and managed mostly by those actors, large international non-governmental organisations (including Oxfam), and the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement.

This system has saved countless lives over the past 50 years and it has done so with very little funding, she said, and less than what the world’s major donors spend on subsidies to their farmers.

“However, the system is overwhelmed and assistance often arrives too little and is too late,” she pointed out.

So strengthening the capacity of local actors to prevent, prepare and respond to emergencies in the first place makes sense, as well as increasing assistance to disaster risk reduction (DRR) that can have a high rate of return in saving lives and preventing damage to communities and infrastructure, as seen in South Asia, Central America, and East Africa.

However, between 1991 and 2010, only 0.4 percent of total official development assistance (ODA) went to DRR, Scribner said.

Last week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed a high-level U.N. panel to address the widening gap between resources and financing for the world’s pressing humanitarian efforts.

Oxfam has recommended the panel looks at having U.N. member states make mandatory payments to humanitarian appeals – similar to what is done for U.N. peacekeeping missions, in which funding is received by mandatory assessments charged to member states.

Currently, the United Nations and its key agencies are funded by assessed contributions from the 193 member states and based on the principle of “capacity to pay”, with the United States the largest single contributor at 22 percent of the U.N.’s regular budget. All of these are mandatory payments.

Additionally, U.N. agencies also receive “non core” resources which come from voluntary contributions from member states.

Over the last decade, Ban said, the demand for humanitarian aid had risen “dramatically” amid an uptick in water scarcity, food insecurity, demographic shifts, rapid urbanisation and climate change.

“All these and other dynamics are contributing to a situation in which current resources and funding flows are insufficient to meet the rising demand for aid,” he declared.

“Humanitarian actors expected to stay longer and longer in countries and regions impacted by long-running crises and conflicts.”

Over the past 10 years, the global demand for humanitarian aid has, in fact, risen precipitously, he pointed out.

Oxfam said 12.2 million people are in need of assistance in Syria, almost 4 million refugees and 7.6 million internally displaced people.

In Yemen, two out of three Yemenis needed humanitarian assistance before current crisis. And in both countries, the U.N. appeal is only 20 percent funded

Scribner told IPS one way to address the ongoing problem of assistance being too little and arriving too late is to invest more in humanitarian action led by governments in crisis-affected countries, assisted and held accountable by civil society, as it is often faster and more appropriate, and can even save more lives.

Yet, during 2007-2013, just 2.4 percent of annual humanitarian assistance went directly to local actors.

Meanwhile, the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing will be co-chaired by the Vice President of the European Commission, Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria, and Sultan Nazrin Shah of Malaysia.

The Panel will also include Hadeel Ibrahim of the United Kingdom; Badr Jafar of the United Arab Emirates; Trevor Manuel of South Africa; Linah Mohohlo of Botswana; Walt Macnee of Canada; Margot Wallström of Sweden; and Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah of Sri Lanka.

The United Nations said the panel is expected to submit its recommendations to the Secretary-General in November 2015 which will help frame discussions at next year’s World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.N. Security Council Takes “Historic” Stand on Killings of Journalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/u-n-security-council-takes-historic-stand-on-killings-of-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-security-council-takes-historic-stand-on-killings-of-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/u-n-security-council-takes-historic-stand-on-killings-of-journalists/#comments Fri, 29 May 2015 13:14:57 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140846 Protesters in Moscow demand that authorities investigate an attack on prominent Russian journalist Oleg Kashin on Nov. 6, 2010. Credit: Yuri Timofeyev/cc by 2.0

Protesters in Moscow demand that authorities investigate an attack on prominent Russian journalist Oleg Kashin on Nov. 6, 2010. Credit: Yuri Timofeyev/cc by 2.0

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, May 29 2015 (IPS)

When war breaks out, most non-combatants run the other way. But a handful of courageous reporters see it as their duty to tell the world what’s happening on the ground. And many pay a high price.

Since 1992, 1,129 journalists have been killed on the job, 38 percent of them in war zones, according to figures compiled by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). And increasingly, they are being deliberately targeted."As excellent as it may be, there is no certainty that a new resolution will in and of itself be enough to resolve the problem." -- Christophe Deloire of Reporters Without Borders

In an explicit recognition of the key role of the media in peace and security, the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday unanimously adopted a resolution condemning all violations and abuses committed against journalists and deploring impunity for such acts.

“Recent killings of journalists have been given extensive and welcome attention around the world, including the brutal murders of Western media representatives in Syria,” said U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson.

“Yet we must not forget that around 95 per cent of the killings of journalists in armed conflict concern locally-based journalists, receiving less media coverage,” he added.

Syria remains the deadliest place for journalists, with at least 80 killed there since the conflict erupted in 2011. The second and third places in journalist deaths were shared by Iraq and Ukraine.

According to CPJ, about one quarter of the journalists killed last year were members of the international press, double the proportion the group has documented in recent years.

Eliasson urged member states to implement the U.N. Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, endorsed by the U.N. Chief Executives Board on Apr. 12, 2012.

Its measures include the establishment of a coordinated inter-agency mechanism to handle issues related to the safety of journalists, as well as assisting countries to develop legislation and mechanisms favourable to freedom of expression and information, and supporting their efforts to implement existing international rules and principles.

But this call may fall on deaf ears in some quarters. In March, a military spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition conducting air strikes in Yemen openly stated that media organisations associated with the Houthi rebels and former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh are legitimate targets.

On Mar. 18, Abdul Kareem al-Khaiwani a Yemeni journalist from Sana’a, was shot and killed by assailants on motorbikes after representing a Houthi group in a conference on Yemen’s future, while on Mar. 26 Shi’ite Houthi militiamen overran the Sana’a headquarters of three satellite television channels: Al-Jazeera, Al-Yaman-Shabab (Yemen-Youth), and Yemen Digital Media.

On Apr. 20, journalist and TV presenter Mohammed Shamsan and three other staff members of Sana’a-based television station Yemen Today were killed in an airstrike that appears to have deliberately targeted the broadcaster’s office.

Christophe Deloire, director-general of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, said Wednesday that, “It’s historic that the Security Council should make a link between the right to freedom of expression and the need to protect journalists, even though it may seem obvious.”

But Deloire noted that hundreds of journalists have been killed since the last resolution was adopted in 2006 – 25 this year alone – and “as excellent as it may be, there is no certainty that a new resolution will in and of itself be enough to resolve the problem.”

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power singled out Colombia, once considered the most dangerous country for journalists in South America, as taking positive action by establishing a 160-million-dollar annual fund to protect 19 groups, including journalists.

Earlier this week, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with representatives of CPJ in Bogota and the Colombian press freedom group Foundation for a Free Press (FLIP) and pledged to prioritise combating impunity in attacks against the press.

While the security situation in Colombia has improved in recent years, impunity is entrenched and threats and violence against journalists continue, according to CPJ research.

“I envision a normal country where journalists won’t need bulletproof cars and bodyguards and will not need any protection,” said Santos, himself a former journalist and one-time president of the freedom of expression commission for the Inter-American Press Association.

“But for now we need to make sure that the programme is properly funded and effective,” he added.

Launched in 2011, the journalist protection programme provides protection for around 7,500 at-risk people, including human rights activists, politicians, and journalists, at a total cost of 600,000 dollars per day.

But the delegation recommended that it also focus on preventing attacks from occurring in the first place.

Colombia ranked eighth on CPJ’s 2014 Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and their killers go free.

Iraq ranked number one, followed by Somalia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Syria, Afghanistan and Mexico.

At the Security Council meeting, Deloire from Reporters Without Borders called for the creation of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the protection of journalists in order to increase the prominence of the issue within the U.N system.

He stressed that a staggering 90 percent of crimes against journalists go unpunished.

“Such a high impunity rate encourages those who want to silence journalists by drowning them in their own blood,” Deloire said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Humanitarian Crisis in South Sudan Continues to Worsenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/humanitarian-crisis-in-south-sudan-continues-to-worsen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crisis-in-south-sudan-continues-to-worsen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/humanitarian-crisis-in-south-sudan-continues-to-worsen/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 22:22:13 +0000 Ann-Kathrin Pohlers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140844 Oxfam estimates that 800,000 people in South Sudan have reached “emergency levels” of hunger. Credit: Ann-Kathrin Pohlers/IPS

Oxfam estimates that 800,000 people in South Sudan have reached “emergency levels” of hunger. Credit: Ann-Kathrin Pohlers/IPS

By Ann-Kathrin Pohlers
MUNICH, Germany, May 28 2015 (IPS)

After peace talks failed earlier this month, the ongoing conflict in South Sudan between government forces and opposition forces that began at the end of 2013 is having a severe impact on the country’s food security and civilian safety.

While fighting continues, widespread burning, destruction, and looting of property have aggravated the efforts of both sides to gain control of the oilfields in the north of the country.

"South Sudan is locked in a horrible cycle of conflict and abuse and there has been absolutely no accountabillity whatsoever for any of these horrific abuses." -- Skye Wheeler, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Researcher for Sudan and South Sudan
“South Sudan is locked in a horrible cycle of conflict and abuse and there has been absolutely no accountabillity whatsoever for any of these horrific abuses,” Skye Wheeler, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Researcher for Sudan and South Sudan, based in Nairobi, told IPS.

To date, 10,000 people have been killed and two million forced to flee their homes.

Aid organisations are calling this a severe humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has decried the brutal violence against civilians and children, including the burning down of entire villages and the rapes and murders of women, and children as young as seven years old, over the past few weeks.

The states of Unity and Jonglei are the worst affected. It is unclear exactly who is responsible for the violence and destruction of property.

An estimated 13,000 children under 15 years of age have been recruited by both government and opposition forces, an act that constitutes a war crime, not only in South Sudan but also according to international law.

Another concern is the displacement of civilians and destruction of agriculture.

“People should be planting crops right now, instead they are fleeing,” Pawel Krzysiek, a staff member of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, told IPS.

With the rainy season fast approaching, farming communities in Unity State need to plant their crops now to ensure decent harvests, something they cannot do due to the fighting. Many people have little choice but to depend on food aid.

According to Oxfam,  two-thirds of the population is now food insecure, with 7.8 million people in “Phases 2, 3 and 4 of food insecurity.”

The number of hungry people is projected to rise to 4.6 million by the end of July, accounting for 40 percent of the population. The rights group further estimates that 800,000 people have reached “emergency levels of hunger, facing extreme and dangerous food shortages.”

An Oxfam statement released Wednesday cautioned that this latest analysis “was undertaken before the recent escalation of the war, so it is expected that for thousands of people in South Sudan, the outlook is now even worse.”

Hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan have been cut off from food and medical supplies by fresh bouts of fighting. Credit: Ann-Kathrin Pohlers/IPS

Hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan have been cut off from food and medical supplies by fresh bouts of fighting. Credit: Ann-Kathrin Pohlers/IPS

Children have been badly hit, with malnutrition at a “critical level” in 80 percent of all counties in the Greater Upper Nile, Warrap and Northern Bahr El Ghazal states.

Dependence on food aid will only increase now with worsening displacement – gaining access to those most in need is becoming increasingly difficult, aid workers say.

“ICRC is providing food and medicine for about 120,000 people. Many of them are displaced as a result of the fighting, which is challenging our aid workers,” Krzysiek says.

More than two million people are displaced, about 500,000 of them are completely cut off from services.

Besides civilians, aid organisation now find themselves affected, with ongoing violence limiting both the options and capacity of various humanitarian groups.

According to Krzysiek, medical facilities in Unity State and Jonglei State were attacked, targeted and detroyed. Aid organisations were forced to evacuate staff to ensure security.

ICRC was forced to move its base from the city of Kodok to Oriny to the disadvantage of civilians.

“The hospital of Kodok is the only one in its region and therefore very important. People now have even more limited access to health services and food because of the country‘s insufficient infrastructure,” Jean-Yves Clemenzo, based at the ICRC headquarters in Geneva, told IPS.

Humanitarian organisations putting their operations on hold could spell disaster for the roughly 50 percent of South Sudan’s 12 million who are almost entirely dependent on the delivery of aid supplies.

UNICEF estimates it will distribute aid to meet the humanitarian needs of children alone to the tune of 165 million dollars by the end of 2015.

Human Rights Watch is very concerned about the continous deterioration of the conflict. Over the last couple of months, dozens of cases have been documented in which civilians were arrested arbitrarily, beaten up or tortured by unidentified forces.

“It looks like we are seeing a repeat of late 2013, when government forces moved through these areas burning, looting and destroying large parts of it,” Wheeler told IPS.

South Sudan became an independent state in 2011, in a moment that marked the end of a two-decade-long war for independence, which claimed 2.5 million lives. But peace was short-lived.

In December 2012 a power struggle between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his then-vice president Riek Machar escalated after Machar was accused of attempting to depose Mayardit.

War broke out once again on Dec. 15, 2013, and since then the world’s ‘newest country’ has been consumed by a tide of violence.

Back in March 2015, peace talks hosted by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa failed.

In response, the United Nations security council imposed sanctions on the country, in a resolution that threatened travel bans and asset freezes on individuals or entities “responsible for, complicit in, or engaged directly or indirectly in actions or policies threatening the peace, security or stability of South Sudan.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Internet Should be Common Heritage of Humankind – Part IIhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-internet-should-be-common-heritage-of-humankind-part-ii/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-internet-should-be-common-heritage-of-humankind-part-ii http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-internet-should-be-common-heritage-of-humankind-part-ii/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 20:55:06 +0000 Branislav Gosovic http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140841 Srun Srorn, a trainer for the E-learning project, walks teachers at Koh Kong High School in Cambodia through a new online sexual education curriculum. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

Srun Srorn, a trainer for the E-learning project, walks teachers at Koh Kong High School in Cambodia through a new online sexual education curriculum. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

By Branislav Gosovic
VILLAGE TUDOROVICI, Montenegro, May 28 2015 (IPS)

The Internet – and the applications that it has spawned – is the single most important technological innovation that has brought together and interlinked humankind in a real, tangible and interactive way.

Among other benefits, it has:While having a universal presence in each country and in the life of the majority of humankind that enjoys its amenities, the Internet is untouchable, controlled by someone somewhere who is invisible and unknown.

  • Made possible instantaneous worldwide communication and interaction
  • Simplified and facilitated many previously time consuming, onerous and costly tasks
  • Enabled a networking that can serve as a means for building a global community, and developing understanding and cooperation
  • Created the “Internet dependence” for the well-being and functioning of society, economy, and daily life and existence of individuals, which has generated a common and shared interest in keeping the Internet functioning, in good order, and continuously improving it.

The Internet has meant a “great leap” forward for humankind and made it possible for it to “leap-frog” and “short-circuit” many of the obstacles and challenges that it had faced earlier on its road to a shared but uncertain future.

However, this great technological communication advance has not been accompanied by a corresponding socio-political leap of systemic change, and the Internet has been weighed down by the legacies of the past and the nature of the existing world order.

Rather than aiming to place the promise and capabilities of the Internet at the disposal of enlightened, common global objectives of humankind and to subject it to democratic multilateral governance, some of the key actors seem to view it primarily as their own property.

They want to be in charge of it and use it for their own strategic ends and objectives, for global expansion and dominance, and the exploitation of new technological possibilities to harvest the planet for what amounts to unlimited creation of wealth, including via virtual means, and massive “invisible” transfer of resources to the core countries of the North.

The resulting situation has been depicted aptly in the recent draft, “Tunis Call for a People’s Internet”, circulated at the Workshop “Organizing an Internet Social Forum – A Call to Occupy the Internet”, held at the April 2015 World Social Forum. It merits to be quoted:

“The Internet today has become an integral and essential part of our daily lives, more and more of our activities are organized through and around the virtual spaces, the networks, online services and the technology it comprises.  It has restructured the very way in which we live, work, play and organise our societies. In many aspects, this is so even for people who at present have no direct Internet access.

At the same time, we are alarmed to see how both our private and public spaces are being co-opted and controlled for private gain; how private corporations are carving the public internet into walled spaces; how our personal data is being manipulated and proprietised; how a global surveillance society is emerging, with little or no privacy; how information on the Internet is being arbitrarily censored, and people’s right to communicate curtailed; and how the Internet is being militarized. Meanwhile, decision-making on public policy matters relating to the Internet remains dangerously removed from the mechanisms of democratic governance.”

The Internet has become controversial not only because of the hegemonic attitude of the key country and because of the free hand given to its monopolistic global Internet-based corporations, but also because it is rooted in and fueled by larger controversies, including decades-old, unresolved development issues.

This includes the questions of transfer of science and technology, intellectual property regimes, and international regulation of transnational corporations, all of which have been on the international agenda for five decades without any visible progress having been made.

There is also the question of “ownership” and “participation”. There is a complete dependence on the Internet worldwide, an addiction that cannot be shaken off. While having a universal presence in each country and in the life of the majority of humankind that enjoys its amenities, the Internet is untouchable, controlled by someone somewhere who is invisible and unknown.

This dependencia when it comes to the Internet governance and control exercised by the interlinked centres in the North, which include military and security apparatus as well as cyber-corporations, produces a palpable feeling of discomfort, frustration, helplessness, exposure and loss of sovereignty, especially but not only in the developing countries.

Drawing on past experiences, principles of the U.N. Charter, and the developing countries’ initiatives for the establishment of a New International Economic Order (NIEO) and New International Information Order (NIIO), one can arrive at some conclusions and recommendations regarding a reform of the Internet and the bolstering of its usefulness to the international community and its common goals, including improved functioning of human society.

The aim should be to defuse the mounting conflict and discontent through political and conceptual liberation of the Internet by making it into a global public good and service within the U.N. framework, with specific objectives and functions directed at satisfying the needs of humankind and helping to overcome problems and challenges, including those stemming from past history and uneven progress and development of the international community.

The Internet should be declared as the common heritage of humankind, a global public good and service embedded within the framework of the United Nations.  This implies and requires, among other things:

  • That the Internet becomes part of the U.N. family by creating a UNINTERNET organization in the framework of the U.N. General Assembly, one inspired by democratic governance and solidarity of humankind
  • That the Internet management and innovation be shared and participatory, and that they involve both public and private entities in cooperative endeavours
  • That current international intellectual property regime undergoes a major review and fundamental modifications
  • That income generated by the Internet, including by global taxation of profits made by services that it enables, be used for global causes of public good within the framework of the United Nations and that in this manner the Internet becomes a major source of international funding for public purposes, including those related to overcoming poverty, sustainable development and climate change, food security, education and health, which now get a few drops from these massive global flows via philanthropic gestures of some who have become enormously wealthy thanks to the Internet
  • That the Internet global infrastructure be public property of the international community and that international non-profit enterprises be established under the U.N. auspices to provide Internet services, software and applications that would be in the public domain
  • That new modes of international accounting and regulation be evolved, as a means to obtain a global overview and control of the financial flows and services via the Internet
  • That a set of goals and objectives of the Internet be elaborated and adopted as the U.N. Declaration or Charter on the Internet, which would serve as the basic reference and guide for the Internet’s future development, management and operation.

Given the recent developments on the world scene, the overall context seems to be ripening for advocating the above approach, which implies a major departure from the present practices and would be a serious competitor to the existing North- and private corporations-dominated Internet.

It would also represent a return to the basic values embodied in the U.N. Charter and the decades-long U.N.-based efforts to evolve democratic and equitable world economic and political order.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Sri Lankan Women Stymied by Archaic Job Markethttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankan-women-stymied-by-archaic-job-market/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lankan-women-stymied-by-archaic-job-market http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/sri-lankan-women-stymied-by-archaic-job-market/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 20:40:44 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140833 The few Sri Lankan women who seek employment find that the system does not work in their favour. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The few Sri Lankan women who seek employment find that the system does not work in their favour. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MIRIGAMA, Sri Lanka , May 28 2015 (IPS)

Wathsala Marasinghe, a 33-year-old hailing from the town of Mirigama, just 50 km from Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, once had high hopes that the progressive education and employment policies of this South Asian island nation would work in her favour. Today, she feels differently, believing that “an evil system” has let her down.

As a young girl, she attended one of the best schools in the area and was selected to attend a state university. “I went there with so much hope,” she tells IPS – but apparently with little knowledge of her true job prospects.

"Paternity leave, child care, crèche services at workplaces, and better and safer public transport facilities for women could be [provided] by the private and public sectors in order to incentivise women to join the labour market." -- Anushka Wijesinha, a consultant to Sri Lankan government ministries
As an undergraduate she studied Buddhism and her native tongue, Sinhala. Her plan was to secure a government job, possibly in teaching or in the public service, and preferably close to home.

But when it came time to job-hunt, she found herself coming up against one wall after another.

“I kept applying and going for interviews but never got a job except as a secretary at a small factory,” she says.

This post did not come close to her employment aspirations, and she was forced to quit after a month. “The salary was 8,000 rupees (about 59 dollars) – I had to spend half of that on traveling,” she explains. The average monthly income in Sri Lanka is about 300 dollars.

She continued to apply, but each time she found herself sitting among a crowd of applicants that seemed to get younger and younger.

The stark reality of the situation has now become clear to her, and she has given up going for interviews altogether, embarrassed to be in the company of other hopefuls who “look like my daughters.”

Marasinghe’s conundrum is not rare in Sri Lanka, despite the country’s purported efforts to achieve targets on gender equality and visible signs of progress on paper.

In 2012, the Gender Gap Report produced by the World Economic Forum ranked Sri Lanka 39th out of 135 countries surveyed, an unsurprisingly strong placement given that the country of 20 million people has a female adult literacy rate of 90 percent. This rises to 99 percent for female youth in the 15-24 bracket.

Furthermore, girls outnumber their male counterparts at the secondary level, indicating a dedication to gender equality across the social spectrum.

However this has not translated into equitable employment opportunities, or wage parity between men and women.

Government labour statistics indicate that 64.5 percent of the 8.8 million economically active people in Sri Lanka are men, while just 35.5 percent are women. Of the economically inactive population, just 25.4 percent are men, and 74.6 percent are women.

The female unemployment rate in Sri Lanka is over two-and-a-half times that of the male rate, and almost twice the national figure. According to government data, only 2.9 percent of men entering the labour market remain unemployed, while the corresponding figure for women is 7.2 percent. The national unemployment rate is 4.2 percent.

The same government figures indicate that education and skills do not necessarily help females secure employment – on the contrary, they could result in a lifetime of frustrations.

“The problem of unemployment is more acute in the case of educated females than educated males,” said the latest labour force survey compiled by the Census and Statistics Department.

Experts say there are a multitude of structural and social reasons behind the high rate of female unemployment.

For starters while nearly three in four males enter the job market, it is the reverse for women, with just 35 percent of working-age females actually seeking employment, resulting in a skewed supply chain.

Economist Anushka Wijesinha, who works as a consultant to international organisations, says that women who seek higher education also have higher job aspirations, but the job market has not grown fast enough to cater to such needs.

“Aspirations are shifting away from working in the industrial sector as before – more women are keen to work in services like retail […] but jobs in this sector haven’t grown fast enough to cater to the changing aspirations. So we are seeing ‘queuing’, women waiting for those jobs and not getting them,” he tells IPS.

Sri Lankan women say that improved transport, childcare and crèche facilities would create a more favorable employment environment. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Sri Lankan women say that improved transport, childcare and crèche facilities would create a more favorable employment environment. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, an economist who heads the Point Pedro Institute of Development, shares that analysis, but believes that female unemployment levels should be adjusted to include the roughly 600,000 Sri Lankan women working overseas, the bulk as domestic workers.

He is also an advocate of placing an economical value on women who are fully occupied with looking after households.

Currently, the single largest employer of women is the agricultural sector at 33.9 percent, while the services sector employs around 42 percent of women, while industries employ around 24 percent.

There are other reasons why women stay away from work. Nayana Siriwardena, a 35-year-old mother of two, used to work till she had her first child. After the government-stipulated three months’ maternity leave ran out, she had to return to work.

“What I found problematic was that the workplace could not be flexible enough to address my situation,” she said.

She worked in bookkeeping and tried to impress upon her employers that some of the work could be done from a remote location.

“But they did not understand that, which I found surprising because the company was quite progressive in other areas and also because young mothers are not a rare occurrence in any establishment.”

Wijesinha feels that maternal benefits themselves, which legally must be provided for three months, can act as a deterrent to some companies.

“Maternal benefits have to be paid in full by the employer. This means that employers may be deterred [from] hiring young women, because they know they likely have to pay maternal benefits,” he said.

Sarvananthan says that security for women – at the work place, during the commute, and for their offspring – could play a huge role in changing employment figures.

“In order to boost labour force participation by women, a carrot-and-stick approach could be pursued by the state. Paternity leave, child care, crèche services at workplaces, and better and safer public transport facilities for women could be [provided] by the private and public sectors in order to incentivise women to join the labour market,” he argues.

He also believes the government should ink an equal opportunities law that legally undermines discriminatory policies. Currently, the constitution stipulates that no one should be discriminated based on sex, but there is no law that provides for equal pay for the same work.

Having more women in the workplace is not only a current problem but could also be a future crisis, as Sri Lanka’s working population ages. Currently, 17 percent of the population is above the age of 55, while 25 percent is below 15 years, meaning only around 50 percent are believed to be in the working age group.

“Given that women comprise just over half of the population, and our working age population peak is beginning to wane, it is critical that we have maximum participation from women in the workforce,” Wijesinha states.

Many believe a higher portion of women in decision-making positions could right these imbalances.

Women’s political representation remains low, with less than 6.5 percent women in parliament, less than six percent in provincial councils, and fewer than two percent in local government.

As the country moves towards elections, activists and rights groups are calling for a 30 percent quota for women in the 20th amendment to the constitution.

If this goal is realised, it could spell change for people like Marasinghe, who, after a decade of searching for her elusive dream job, has all but given up hope.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Let’s End Chronic Hungerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-lets-end-chronic-hunger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-lets-end-chronic-hunger http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-lets-end-chronic-hunger/#comments Thu, 28 May 2015 16:43:36 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140834

Jomo Kwame Sundaram is the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organization and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, May 28 2015 (IPS)

At the 1996 World Food Summit (WFS), heads of government and the international community committed to reducing the number of hungry people in the world by half. Five years later, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) lowered this level of ambition by only seeking to halve the proportion of the hungry.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: Abdul Ghani Ismail

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: Abdul Ghani Ismail

The latest State of World Food Insecurity (SOFI) report for 2015 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Programme and International Fund for Agricultural Development estimates almost 795 million people—one in nine people worldwide—remain chronically hungry.

The number of undernourished people—those regularly unable to consume enough food for an active and healthy life—in the world has thus only declined by slightly over a fifth from the 1010.6 million estimated for 1991 to 929.6 million in 2001, 820.7 million in 2011 and 794.6 million in 2014.

With the number of chronically hungry people in developing countries declining from 990.7 million in 1991 to 779.9 million in 2014, their share in developing countries has declined by 44.4 per cent, from 23.4 to 12.9 per cent over the 23 years, but still short of the 11.7 per cent target.

Thus, the MDG 1c target of halving the chronically undernourished’s share of the world’s population by the end of 2015 is unlikely to be met at the current rate of progress. However, meeting the target is still possible, with sufficient, immediate, additional effort to accelerate progress, especially in countries which have showed little progress thus far.With high levels of deprivation, unemployment and underemployment likely to prevail in the world in the foreseeable future, poverty and hunger are unlikely to be overcome by 2030 without universally establishing a social protection floor for all.

Progress uneven

Overall progress has been highly uneven. All but 15 million of the world’s hungry live in developing countries. Some countries and regions have seen only slow progress in reducing hunger, while the absolute number of hungry has even increased in several cases.

By the end of 2014, 72 of the 129 developing countries monitored had reached the MDG 1c target — to either reduce the share of hungry people by half, or keep the share of the chronically undernourished under five per cent. Several more are likely to do so by the end of 2015.

Instead of halving the number of hungry in developing regions by 476 million, this number was only reduced by 221 million, just under half the earlier, more ambitious WFS goal. Nevertheless, some 29 countries succeeded in at least halving the number of hungry. This is significant as this shows that achieving and sustaining rapid progress in reducing hunger is feasible.

Marked differences in undernourishment persist across the regions. There have been significant reductions in both the share and number of undernourished in most countries in South-East Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean—where the MDG target of halving the hunger rate has been reached.

While sub-Saharan Africa has the highest share of the chronically hungry, almost one in four, South Asia has the highest number, with over half a billion undernourished. West Asia alone has seen an actual rise in the share of the hungry compared to 1991, while progress in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Oceania has not been sufficient to meet the MDG hunger target by 2015.

Efforts need to be stepped up

Despite the shortfall in achieving the MDG1c target and the failure to get near the WFS goal of halving the number of hungry, world leaders are likely to commit to eliminating hunger and poverty by 2030 when they announce the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the United Nations in September.

To be sure, there is enough food produced to feed everyone in the world. However, hundreds of millions of people do not have the means to access enough food to meet their dietary energy needs, let alone what is needed for diverse diets to avoid ‘hidden hunger’ by meeting their micronutrient requirements.

With high levels of deprivation, unemployment and underemployment likely to prevail in the world in the foreseeable future, poverty and hunger are unlikely to be overcome by 2030 without universally establishing a social protection floor for all. Such efforts will also need to provide the means for sustainable livelihoods and resilience.

The Second International Conference of Nutrition in Rome last November articulated commitments and proposals for accelerated progress to overcome undernutrition. Improvements in nutrition will require sustained and integrated efforts involving complementary policies, including improving health conditions, food systems, social protection, hygiene, water supply and education.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The U.N. at 70: Drugs and Crime are Challenges for Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-drugs-and-crime-are-challenges-for-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-drugs-and-crime-are-challenges-for-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-drugs-and-crime-are-challenges-for-sustainable-development/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 21:25:27 +0000 Yury Fedotov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140824 Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "The magnitude of the problems we face is such that it is sometimes hard to imagine how any effort can be enough to confront them. But to quote Nelson Mandela, 'It always seems impossible until it is done'. We must keep working together, until it is done" – Yury Fedotov. Credit: Courtesy of UNODC

Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "The magnitude of the problems we face is such that it is sometimes hard to imagine how any effort can be enough to confront them. But to quote Nelson Mandela, 'It always seems impossible until it is done'. We must keep working together, until it is done" – Yury Fedotov. Credit: Courtesy of UNODC

By Yury Fedotov
VIENNA, May 27 2015 (IPS)

With terrorism, migrant smuggling and trafficking in cultural property some of the world’s most daunting challenges, “the magnitude of the problems we face is such that it is sometimes hard to imagine how any effort can be enough to confront them. But to quote Nelson Mandela, ‘It always seems impossible until it is done’. We must keep working together, until it is done.”

The words are those of U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Yury Fedotov, who was speaking at the closing of the 24th Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (Crime Commission) held in the Austrian capital from May 18-22.

Earlier this month, IPS Editor-in-Chief Ramesh Jaura interviewed Fedotov on how the challenges facing the United Nations’ drugs and crime agency translate into challenges on the sustainable development front.“The share of citizens experiencing bribery at least once in a year is over 50 percent in some low-income countries. Many detected human trafficking movements are directed from poor areas to more affluent ones. Research also suggests that weak rule of law is connected to lower levels of economic development” – UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov

Q. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), established in 1997, understands itself as “a global leader in the fight against illicit drugs and international crime”. At the same time, you have taken up the cudgels on behalf of sustainable development. What role does the UNODC envisage for itself in achieving sustainable development goals to be agreed at the U.N. summit to adopt the post-2015 development agenda in September?

A. Crime steals from countries, families and communities and hampers development while exacerbating inequality and violence, especially in vulnerable countries. Trafficking in diamonds and precious metals, for instance, diverts resources from countries that desperately need the income.

The share of citizens experiencing bribery at least once in a year is over 50 percent in some low-income countries. Many detected human trafficking movements are directed from poor areas to more affluent ones. Research also suggests that weak rule of law is connected to lower levels of economic development. These are just some of the many challenges that the international community faces around the world that are related to crime.

UNODC’s broad mandate includes stopping human traffickers and migrant smugglers, as well as tackling illicit drugs. It encompasses promoting health and alternative livelihoods and involves battling corruption, illicit financial flows, money laundering and terrorist financing. Our work confronts emerging and re-emerging crimes, including wildlife and forest crime, and cybercrime, among others, all of which hinder sustainable development.

Currently the United Nations is making the transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In Goal 16, the Open Working Group, responsible for identifying the development goals stressed the need to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, and to provide access to justice for all, as well as building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions. Justice is also one of the six essential elements identified by the Secretary-General in his own Synthesis Report on this subject.

Goal 3, which focuses on “ensuring healthy lives”, underlines the importance of strengthening prevention and treatment of substance abuse. These goals – justice and health – go to the very heart of UNODC’s mission. I am hopeful that when the U.N. Heads of State Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2015 takes place these goals will remain.

Q. UNODC organised its Thirteenth Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice from Apr. 12 to 19 in Doha, Qatar. The 13-page Doha Declaration contains recommendations on how the rule of law can protect and promote sustainable development. Is that the reason that you described Doha as a “point of departure”?

A. The Doha Declaration was passed by acclamation at the 13th Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, and contains crucial recommendations on how the rule of law can protect and promote sustainable development. The declaration is driven by the principle that these issues are mutually reinforcing and that crime prevention and criminal justice should be integrated into the wider U.N. system.

At the 24th Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (May 18-22), there were nine resolutions before the Commission and they pave the way for the Doha Declaration to go before the U.N. General Assembly and ECOSOC for approval. The other resolutions, for instance on cultural property and standard rules on the treatment of prisoners, seek to implement the principles of the Doha Declaration.

It is for this reason that I described the 13th Crime Congress in Doha as a significant “point of departure”. Doha is the first, but not the last step in the process of implementing the Declaration and ensuring that we turn fine words into spirited and dedicated action in the areas of crime prevention and criminal justice – action that can benefit the millions of victims of crime, illicit drugs, corruption and terrorism.

If we do this, we have an opportunity to energise the 60-year legacy of Crime Congresses and give it the power to shape how we tackle crime and promote development for many years to come. Indeed, I see a strong, visible thread between the recent Crime Congress, September’s UN Summit on Sustainable Development and the 14th Crime Congress in Japan in five years’ time.

Q. The Doha Declaration also pleads for integrating crime prevention and criminal justice into the wider United Nations agenda. This suggestion comes at a point in time when the United Nations is turning 70. Are there some issues which the United Nations has ignored until now or is there a range of issues that have emerged over previous decades?

A. Member States are increasingly affected by organised crime, corruption, violence and terrorism. These challenges undercut good governance and the rule of law, threatening security, development and people’s lives.

Sustainable development can be safeguarded through fair, human and effective crime prevention and criminal justice systems as a central component of the rule of law. As stated by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “There is no peace without development; there is no development without peace; and there is no lasting peace and sustainable development without respect for human rights.”  We need to break down the walls between these activities and integrate the various approaches.

UNODC is well placed to assist. We work closely with regional entities, partner countries, multilateral and bilateral bodies, civil society, academia and the private sector to support the work on development. We can also offer our support at the global, regional, and local levels, through our headquarters and network of field offices.

Q. Do you find willingness on the part of all countries around the world to agree on national, regional and international legal instruments, to combat all forms of crime, and their willingness to pull on the same string when it comes to implementation?

A. Our work is founded on the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and its three protocols, the Convention against Corruption, international drug control conventions, universal legal instruments against terrorism and U.N. standards and norms on crime prevention and criminal justice.

Almost all of these international instruments have been universally ratified by the international community. Why? Because countries recognise that crime today is too big, too powerful, too profitable for any one country to handle alone. Countries recognise that, today, crime not only crosses country borders, but regional borders. It is a global problem that warrants comprehensive, integrated global solutions.

The UNODC approach to this unique challenge is threefold. First, we are building political commitment among Member States. Second, we deliver our activities through our integrated regional programmes across the world. Third, we are working with partners, both within and outside the United Nations, to ensure that our delivery is strongly connected to other activities at the field level.

In support of this action, and to give just one example, UNODC is networking the networks. Today’s criminals have widespread networks and vast resources; if we are to successfully confront them, we need to ensure greater cross-border cooperation, information sharing and tracking of criminal proceeds.  The initiative is part of an interregional drug control approach developed by UNODC to stem illicit drug trafficking from Afghanistan and focuses on promoting closer cooperation between existing law enforcement coordination centres and platforms.

Q. UNODC has assigned itself a wide range of tasks. Which are your priorities in the biennium ending this year, during which you have 760.1 million dollars at your disposal?

A. I would mention two matters that are of international importance. First, smuggling of migrants not just in the Mediterranean or the Andaman seas, but also elsewhere. We are witnessing unprecedented movements of people across the globe, the largest since the Second World War. People are leaving because of conflict, insecurity and the desire for a better life. They are falling into the arms of unscrupulous smugglers and many of them are dying, while trying to make the dangerous journey across deserts and seas.

Second, the nexus of transnational organised crime and terrorism is a major threat to global peace and security, and has been recognised as such in recent Security Council resolutions. Every extremist and terrorist group requires sustainable funding. The most reliable, and sometimes the only, means of achieving this is through illicit funds gained from transnational organised crime, including cybercrime, drug trafficking, people smuggling and many other crimes.

Information on the magnitude and exact nature of such relationships remains incomplete, and more research is needed. Based on data and analysis, however, for some regions, we can follow the funding in support of violent extremism and terrorism. In Afghanistan, for example, the Taliban could be receiving as much as 200 million dollars annually as a tax on the drug lords.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: A Critical Moment to Fortify Nuclear Test Banhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-a-critical-moment-to-fortify-nuclear-test-ban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-critical-moment-to-fortify-nuclear-test-ban http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-a-critical-moment-to-fortify-nuclear-test-ban/#comments Wed, 27 May 2015 19:12:26 +0000 Lassina Zerbo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140821 Dr. Lassina Zerbo. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Dr. Lassina Zerbo. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Lassina Zerbo
VIENNA, May 27 2015 (IPS)

The 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference wrapped up last week in New York without agreeing on an outcome document. While this is unfortunate, it is important to remember that the future of the nuclear non-proliferation regime will be determined by more than whether the Review Conference participants produced a document addressing all that currently ails the NPT-based regime.

At the same time, all NPT Member States not only affirmed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) as an effective non-proliferation and disarmament measure that complements and reinforces the NPT, they also identified a legally binding test ban as an urgent priority.The CTBT is too important to let the rolling tides of history determine its fate.

The total cessation of nuclear test explosions has been an objective of the international community since just after the dawn of the nuclear age. Negotiated after the end of the Cold War and amidst fresh optimism over prospects for nuclear disarmament, the CTBT prohibits explosive nuclear testing by anyone, anywhere, without exception.

At the height of the Cold War, nearly 500 nuclear tests were carried out every decade. But since the CTBT opened for signature in 1996, only three countries have carried out nuclear tests. In fact, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the only country in the world to have tested a nuclear device in more than 15 years. This is clear proof that the Treaty has been a resounding success in effectuating an end to nuclear testing.

The CTBT is not simply a handshake agreement between countries that they will promise to abide by the test ban. The Treaty is buttressed by a global network of over 300 monitoring stations constantly scanning the planet for signs of a nuclear explosion.

For those with any doubt that the CTBT is internationally and effectively verifiable, at 90 percent complete, the Treaty’s verification regime already provides a detection capability far better than what was thought to be attainable 20 years ago. We have succeeded in establishing the most sophisticated and extensive global verification regime ever conceived.

The determination to end nuclear testing has also played a decisive role in the NPT review process. The agreement to complete CTBT negotiations was one of the essential decisions that paved the way for the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995. In 2000, NPT States Parties identified the entry into force of the CTBT as the first of 13 practical disarmament steps.

While NPT members are fractured on how to resolve many of the problems eroding the non-proliferation regime, securing a legally binding test ban is an unequivocal priority for all countries considering the statements from over 100 individual countries, as well as from various groups.

For instance, the statement from the 117 members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) which are Party to the NPT – the largest group of countries – delivered by Iran, stressed the “significance of achieving the universal adherence to the CTBT and realizing its entry into force” and “strongly support[ed] a comprehensive ban on all forms of nuclear-weapon tests without exception, as well as any nuclear explosion, and reaffirm[ed] the importance of such a ban in the realization of objectives of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

The European Union (EU) Foreign Policy Chief (and member of the CTBT’s Group of Eminent Persons) Federica Mogherini, on behalf of the 28 countries of the EU and nine other countries, confirmed that the “CTBT remains a top priority.”

The 14 members of the Caribbean Community affirmed, “the elimination of the testing of nuclear weapons remains a critical element in the overall process of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation,” and urged the eight remaining States required to bring the Treaty into force to sign and/or ratify “immediately and unconditionally.”

In addition to the views of non-nuclear-weapon States, the five NPT-acknowledged nuclear weapon States also demonstrated their commitment to the CTBT in a joint statement which included “efforts to bring the CTBT into force at an early date.” They also reaffirmed their own moratoria on testing, called on other States to the same and confirmed the CTBT as an effective disarmament and non-proliferation measure.

It seems, then, that countries which failed to agree at the Review Conference do come together over the test-ban treaty. However, in light of last week’s outcome, mere words of support without real action are both insufficient and dangerous.

Bringing the CTBT into force is the responsibility of all countries. CTBT State Signatories benefit daily from the CTBTO’s monitoring assets which are at the disposal of the international community to support national security needs.

One advantage of the CTBT is its special mechanism for promoting its entry into force. For the seventh time, States Signatories (even those which have yet to ratify), intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organisations will convene this September to determine how to achieve this at the so-called Article XIV Conference in New York.

To ensure a robust and effective plan of action, I encourage all parties to consider the following: First, how to engage the remaining eight States required for the test ban to become legally binding so that they sign and/or ratify the CTBT; and second, what specific steps can current States Signatories take to advance the Treaty’s entry into force.

Of equal importance are concrete proposals to complete the unique, robust and unparalleled international verification system, as well as ensuring sustainable resources to remain ahead of the curve in maintaining this essential international verification system that delivers security, scientific, environmental, and many other benefits to its Member States every day.

In a complex and constantly changing world, a legally-binding and verifiable prohibition on nuclear testing provides for a degree of stability, and encourages multilateral cooperation and confidence building towards an enhanced regional and international security environment. The CTBT is too important to let the rolling tides of history determine its fate.

The coming weeks and months are crucial for countries to coalesce around the foundational assets within the broader NPT regime which is worth protecting and advancing. We are doing our part. We now look to the international community to step up to the plate and do their part. Together, we cannot afford to miss another opportunity.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Terror Groups May Be Winning Digital War on Extremist Ideologyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/terror-groups-may-be-winning-digital-war-on-extremist-ideology/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=terror-groups-may-be-winning-digital-war-on-extremist-ideology http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/terror-groups-may-be-winning-digital-war-on-extremist-ideology/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 21:10:07 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140813 Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 26 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations is quick to point out the increasing pace at which digital technology is racing across the world.

Six out of every seven people are armed with mobile phones – and more than three billion, out of the world’s 7.1 billion people, have access to the Internet.In February, ISIL posted a polished, 50-page guide online called “The Hijrah to the Islamic State,” that instructs potential recruits how to make the journey to its territory – including everything from finding safe houses in Turkey, to what kind of backpack to bring, and how to answer questions from immigration officials without arousing suspicion.

Still, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warns that while advanced technologies are accelerating progress, there are also emerging threats.

“Extremist groups are using social networks to spread their hateful ideologies,” he told a Digital Forum in South Korea last week.

And despite the wide digital divide, he said, information and communication technologies (ICTs) are fast shaping the U.N.’s future sustainable development agenda.

“Our food agency uses mobile phones to help farmers set prices. Our relief operations communicate emergency information over online networks. And our messages go directly to the global public over Twitter and Facebook,” he said.

But there is also an increasing downside to the wide use of Twitter and Facebook: the world’s terror networks have been more adept at spreading their politically-loaded messages of hatred and religious extremism through the use of modern communication technologies – and keeping one step ahead of the governments pursuing them.

Ambassador Samantha Power, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told the Security Council last month that groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and Al Shabaab are using the latest tools of modern technology to boost their cause.

“ISIL is showing increased sophistication in recruiting young people, particularly in virtual spaces,” Power said.

She said the group disseminates around 90,000 tweets each day, and its members and supporters routinely co-opt trending hashtags to disseminate their messages.

Nick Ashton-Hart, executive director of the Internet & Digital Ecosystem Alliance (IDEA), a Swiss non-governmental organisation (NGO), told IPS winning the digital argument, with those whose objective is the destruction of open, pluralistic societies, is a challenge.

“But online or offline it always has been,” he added.

Winning that argument requires demonstrating that secure, pluralistic societies have a better future to offer. “With respect to digital security, frankly, we are failing,” he said.

“Just look at basic international cooperation to protect people in their daily lives, from crime, fraud, and identity theft – as well as crimes like terrorism.”

The United States, he pointed out, has a backlog of more than 11,000 requests for legal assistance on all kinds of crime from the law enforcement officials of countries worldwide – and it is far from alone.

The international mutual legal assistance (MLAT) framework is simply not fit for digital purpose, said Ashton-Hart, the senior permanent representative of the technology sector to the U.N., its member-states, and the international organisations in Geneva.

Powers said ISIL even reportedly developed a Twitter app last year that allows Twitter subscribers to hand over control of their feed to ISIL – allowing ISIL to tweet from the individual subscriber’s account, exponentially amplifying the reach of its messages, Power said.

In February, ISIL posted a polished, 50-page guide online called “The Hijrah to the Islamic State,” that instructs potential recruits how to make the journey to its territory – including everything from finding safe houses in Turkey, to what kind of backpack to bring, and how to answer questions from immigration officials without arousing suspicion, she said.

“And it’s not just ISIL that is aggressively targeting children and youth – but al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, and other groups,” Power told delegates.

Last week, ISIL released a 34-minute video, purportedly from its recluse leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in which he appealed to Muslims to either join ISIL or carry out attacks in their home countries.

The online recording, the New York Times reported, was translated into English, French, German, Russian and Turkish, “an unusual move suggesting that the group was hoping for maximum exposure.”

According to the United Nations, some 600 million people were victims of cybercrimes two years ago.

And U.N. experts estimate these crimes will cost the global economy about 400 billion dollars every year.

Ashton-Hart told IPS the main global crime prevention treaty, the Convention on Transboundary Organised Crime, is starved of the funding necessary to fully implement it.

“Senior judges in the Hague tell me they cannot get the cooperation they need in basic digital evidence-gathering integral to prosecute monstrous crimes, in some cases the most grave crimes in existence.”

“If the international framework that ISIL want to tear down cannot manage these fundamentals, how can we expect to win the broader argument over extremism?” he asked.

He also said creating the practical measures that underpin trust between societies in basic law enforcement and baseline cybersecurity is not optional “and yet we still have more than 200 processes related to these issues without any structured, effective coordination between them to ensure sustainable, win-win outcomes.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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The U.N. at 70: A Glass Half Fullhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-a-glass-half-full/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-a-glass-half-full http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-a-glass-half-full/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 20:34:07 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140810

Dr. Palitha Kohona is former Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
COLOMBO, May 26 2015 (IPS)

As the U.N. enters its 70th year, it is legitimate to ask whether it has been a success so far. Over the years, the media, in particular the Western media, has tended to highlight the U.N.’s failures.

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

The still unfinished business in the Korean Peninsula, the morass that was Congo, the impotency in Vietnam, it’s ineffectiveness during much of the cold war, the paralysis in Rwanda, it’s inability to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end, and many such unedifying instances have tended to garner the headlines.

But as Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold so succinctly proclaimed, the U.N. was not created to send humanity to heaven, simply to stop it from going to hell. Likewise, it has been said that if the U.N. did not exist we would have had to invent it.

Given the current global suspicions and rivalries, it is unlikely that we would succeed in creating a U.N. today from scratch. Despite all the criticisms for its failures, it has achieved much in its 70 years of existence. It could be described as the most successful and truly global political organisation ever created.

One of the key goals of the United Nations, created on the ashes of the devastating Second World War, was to prevent another world war. In this it has succeeded. The major powers have not battled each other militarily in the last 70 years. While innumerable regional, bilateral, and internal conflicts and proxy wars have caused millions of deaths and inestimable property damage, a global conflagration has been avoided.The end of the Cold War brought hope that the world body would be able to make useful progress on many fronts. But the rekindling of confrontational attitudes again among the major powers has introduced a new era of uncertainty.

The U.N. has been described as a private club. Its members decide what the club should do. Although the world at large may have other higher expectations, the U.N. is able to do only what it’s membership and the Charter would permit it to do. The most effective results are achieved where a consensus is obtained.

The way it’s constitution (the Charter) is formulated ensures that it’s powers are strictly constrained. (More about this later). At the same time the rights and privileges of those who won the Second World War are well and truly entrenched in a blatantly undemocratic manner, causing much disenchantment in a world where the political, economic and social power centres have shifted significantly.

Due to the manner it was designed, especially due to the power of veto conferred on the P5 in the Security Council, its freedom of action is limited to situations where the veto wielders agree. The Cold War paralyzed the U.N. substantially hobbling it during those dangerous years of East -West confrontation.

The end of the Cold War brought hope that the world body would be able to make useful progress on many fronts. But the rekindling of confrontational attitudes again among the major powers has introduced a new era of uncertainty.

Similarly, North South relations have always been clouded by suspicions traceable to the colonial experience. This constraint continues to influence attitudes and is not helped by an overbearing, “we know best” approach of the West. The Group of 77, originally intended to be the platform of developing countries on economic and social issues, is no longer 77. Taking in China (a P5 country), it has grown to 134. Not all of its members are poor developing countries.

Similarly, the Non Aligned Movement, originally intended to be the force not aligned to the East or the West, has tended to pull in different directions with no cohesive non aligned focus. Some have dropped out of this group. The growing tendency of the Security Council to adopt decisions binding on all member states on a range of issues that should properly be the responsibility of the General Assembly, has also come in for criticism.

The Security Council, dominated by the P5, has taken upon itself the task of legislating to the entire international community in certain situations, denying the vast majority of Member States any opportunity to influence such law making.

On the positive side, the human, social and economic rights standards of the world have improved substantially due to the work of the United Nations. From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the Organisation has progressively adopted a range of multilateral conventions setting standards on civil and political rights, social, economic and cutural rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, indegenous rights, disabled persons’ rights, racial discrimination, etc.

With these globally agreed benchmarks in place, the world is certainly a better place today than it was in 1945. Admittedly, the conclusion of a multilateral treaty or becoming party to a treaty does not per se advance the condition of individual persons. But the very existence of these universally accepted standards, creates the incentive to strive for those higher goals. some times with a little bit of added pressure.

The U.N. has been mainly responsible for the unprecedented development of the international rule of law. The secretary-general’s office is the repository of over 550 multilateral treaties, the vast majority of them negotiated under the auspices of the U.N.. They cover almost every aspect of human interaction, including the environment, the oceans, aviation, trade, human rights, disarmament, terrorism, organised crime, the outer space, shipping, road rules, etc.

The complex network of rules encompassed in these treaties have established standards for the conduct of individual states as never before. The international rule of law thus established, seeps down to national level in many areas influencing the development of the rule of law within countries.

The U.N. and its agencies have been successful in mobilising the international community on various issues of common interest. As the scourge of terrorism surged across borders and became a threat to many countries, the U.N. was able to mobilize states and resources to address this threat.

Expertise was assembled, resources were mobilised, training was provided to countries that needed it, and awareness was raised to a high level. In the absence of the U.N. and it’s agencies, it is doubtful if these advances could have been achieved. Much more remains to be done.

Similarly, the global response to health threats such as the AIDS pandemic, the swine flu and avian flu threats that had the potential to cause havoc and the more recent Ebola epidemic were countered due to the existence of the U.N. and it’s agencies. The U.N. has developed an impressive ability to raise awareness rapidly and mobilise member states to respond quickly to threats of this nature.

The manner that the world body has responded to natural and man made disasters has saved countless lives and alleviated much misery. The U.N.’s ongoing work in the areas of the environment, the oceans and sustainable development will bring further benefits to humankind.

The U.N. has been successful in restoring normalcy to a number of global situations that threatened to continue causing untold violence and misery. Cambodia has emerged as a stable and increasingly prosperous country after a decade of conflict largely as a consequence of the U.N. brokered peace and the subsequent peacekeeping operation.

Timor Leste, after a quarter century of conflict, has established itself as a peaceful member of the international community. The U.N. prodded and cajoled Mozambique and Angola to a new era of peace.

South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy and majority rule was painstakingly facilitated by the U.N. The role of the world organisation in guiding the Former Yugoslavia’s successor states to peace, after the initial explosion of violence, was not insignificant. Even the complex legal question of succession was dealt with imaginatively by the world body.

This brings us on to a vital and expanded area of U.N. activity – peacekeeping. Since its first peacekeeping operations on the borders of Israel and between India and Pakistan, its peacekeeping role has expanded substantially, with peacekeepers being given multidimensional mandates.

Today the U.N. is actively engaged in peacekeeping operations in 16 countries. It has over 122,000 staff performing peacekeeping functions, including civilian, police and military personnel, contributed voluntarily by 122 Member States.

The cost of peace keeping exceeds 7.1 billion dollars, making it the costliest segment of U.N. operations. Now, U.N. peacekeepers may be permitted to play an offensive role to defend their mandates, including the protection of civilians.

While there are impressive success stories, peacekeeping related criticisms also abound. The U.N.’s peacekeeping efforts may meet with greater success if their mandates are formulated with better information originating at ground level and following more structured consultations, including with host governments, if the mandates are clearly defined and the peace keeping troops are better briefed, equipped and selected on the basis of experience and training, if operations are regularly reviewed and exit strategies are well defined. Unfortunately, there has been a tendency for some missions to be extended indefinitely.

As the world moves forward there is an increasing clamour to reform the United Nations to reflect contemporary political and economic circumstances. The most difficult challenge will be to reform the Security Council which substantially reflects the power structures of the post World War world. Two of the P5 are Europeans and members of the EU. It is quite likely that two elected members would also be members of the EU.

At the moment, the WEOG group in the Security Council with New Zealand has six members out of 15. Africa has three of the elected members, Latin America and the Caribbean two and Asia two plus the Permanent seat (China).

This imbalance in the Security Council structure can not be sustained. While an entity that reflects the privileges of the victors of a war concluded 70 years ago may not be modified by another war. But dramatically altered global socio-economic realities might help to introduce change.

Making the international civil service of the U.N. truly effective has been another challenge. Constantly criticised by the major contributors, it has chugged along for 70 years. While intermittent efforts have been made under different SGs to make it more dynamic and responsive to contemporary needs, it is probably the time to approach this task in a comprehensive manner. The Organisation must be able to deliver on its mandates efficiently to the satisfaction of member states.

By Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Tobacco Taxes Too Effective to Overlook in Financing for Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-tobacco-taxes-too-effective-to-overlook-in-financing-for-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-tobacco-taxes-too-effective-to-overlook-in-financing-for-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-tobacco-taxes-too-effective-to-overlook-in-financing-for-development/#comments Tue, 26 May 2015 10:14:49 +0000 Katie Dain http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140807 A woman smokes a cigarette branded ‘Fortune’ at a campaign rally for Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, a smoker who has said he has no intention of quitting the habit. The Philippines has the second highest number of smokers in South-east Asia. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

A woman smokes a cigarette branded ‘Fortune’ at a campaign rally for Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, a smoker who has said he has no intention of quitting the habit. The Philippines has the second highest number of smokers in South-east Asia. Credit: Kara Santos/IPS

By Katie Dain
NEW YORK, May 26 2015 (IPS)

Governments are in the midst of tough talks in New York over the text of the Addis Ababa Accord, which is scheduled to be adopted at the end of the Third Conference on Financing for Development (FfD) , to be held in Ethiopia in July.

However at last report, negotiators continued to downplay a powerful mechanism that governments could use to help achieve and finance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in September: tobacco taxes.Tobacco use killed 100 million people in the 20th century and, if trends do not change, it will kill one billion people this century.

According to a recent estimate, increasing specific excise taxes on tobacco worldwide, in order to double prices, would raise about 100 billion dollars per year in revenues, in addition to the approximately 300 billion that the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates governments already collect on tobacco.

Tobacco use is the world’s leading preventable cause of death, and the one risk factor common to four major non-communicable diseases (NCDs): cancers, cardiovascular and lung disease, and diabetes.

Tobacco use killed 100 million people in the 20th century and, if trends do not change, it will kill one billion people this century. The proposed SDGs recognise the devastating impact of NCDs and the tobacco use risk factor, and set targets for reducing the deadly impacts of both.

Fear of trampling on governments’ right to decide on taxation is reportedly at the heart of the negotiators’ reluctance to recommend taxation in general as a way to generate funding for sustainable development.

Yet, 180 of the world’s governments have already agreed that tobacco taxation is an important tool to both generate revenue and save lives. Meeting as the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), these governments have even agreed on guidelines that set out how to tax tobacco as effectively as possible.

Notably, these guidelines, to the FCTC’s Article 6, represent the first time that governments have agreed on what makes – and what doesn’t make – good tobacco tax policy.

Raising tobacco taxes, and subsequently tobacco prices, is good for health because it reduces the amount of tobacco consumed in three ways:

• Some existing smokers quit entirely;
• Some people, mostly teenagers, are deterred from starting to use tobacco;
• Some people continue to use tobacco, but reduce how much they use each day.

As a result, tobacco sales decline; however the revenue generated by the higher taxes on the remaining products sold more than makes up for lower sales. That is why increasing tobacco taxes is a win-win for governments: good for health and good for the bottom line.

Most of the revenue would initially be generated in rich countries, as taxes and prices there are much higher to begin with, but developing countries could still raise substantial revenue.

For example, the Philippines hiked specific excise taxes in 2013, raising the average price per cigarette pack by 48 percent. Sales declined and the number of smokers dropped from 28.3 percent of adults in 2009 to 25.4 percent in 2013, while government revenue from tobacco taxes more than doubled from 702 million dollars in 2012 to 1.5 billion in 2013 .

To be effective, tobacco tax increases must be accompanied by other measures, as FCTC Article 6 guidelines point out. Governments should also:

• Implement the simplest, most efficient tax systems;
• Make regular adjustments so that tobacco products become less affordable over time;
• Tax all tobacco products consistently to avoid substitution;
• Phase out tax-free and duty-free products; and,
• Set long-term policies, which could include a tax target.

Parties to the FCTC are not alone in recognising the potential of tobacco taxation. In their recent paper on financing for sustainable development, Jeffrey Sachs and Guido Schmidt-Traub praise tobacco taxes:

“Consumption taxes on tobacco products have been shown to have a very positive impact on reducing tobacco use and improving health. Higher tobacco taxes are particularly effective at reducing consumption by vulnerable populations, particularly youth. In many countries, tobacco taxation is also an important source of government revenue and is dedicated to tobacco control activities, hospital services and other health prevention or promotion services.”

The authors also refer to a 2011 report that Bill Gates presented to a meeting of G20 leaders.

In the executive summary Gates wrote: “Among the revenue proposals I have examined, tobacco taxes are especially attractive because they encourage smokers to quit and discourage people from starting to smoke, as well as generate significant revenues. It’s a win-win for global health.”

Gates continued: “Tobacco taxes are already ubiquitous. Ninety percent of countries have some form of them. And they work. In Thailand, as cigarette taxes rose from 1994 to 2007, revenues doubled even though the number of smokers went down significantly.”

The Sustainable Development Goals provide the roadmap for creating a healthier, more equitable and prosperous world, and as such are extremely ambitious. Considerable resources will be needed for these goals to be realised in the next 15 years.

Already endorsed by a large majority of the world’s governments, and with a clear road map for implementation, tobacco taxation should be highlighted in the Addis Ababa Declaration as an effective domestic tool for financing sustainable development.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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