Inter Press Service » IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 06 Mar 2015 20:57:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 From the Mountains to the Sea, Timorese Women Fight for Morehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/from-the-mountains-to-the-sea-timorese-women-fight-for-more/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-the-mountains-to-the-sea-timorese-women-fight-for-more http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/from-the-mountains-to-the-sea-timorese-women-fight-for-more/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 20:57:02 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139539 1.	Women in rural Timor-Leste work hard but still fall behind. Credit: © Alexia Skok

1. Women in rural Timor-Leste work hard but still fall behind. Credit: © Alexia Skok

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 6 2015 (IPS)

In Timor-Leste, the gap between rich and poor is most keenly felt by rural women and children. But while women are working hard to help rebuild Timor-Leste, their contributions are not always recognised, in a country where men’s narratives still heavily dominate.

Ahead of International Women’s Day, IPS looks at some of the challenges and achievements Timorese women have experienced since the small island country gained independence in 2002.“Wawata Topu are the living example that women's roles are not marginal at all." -- Enrique Alonso

From the mountains

Timor-Leste is an island nation, with its heart in its sacred mountains, known as the ‘foho’. The foho were home to Timor-Leste’s resistance fighters who defended their country during 24 years of violent Indonesian occupation.

Bella Galhos was one of those resistance fighters. After her brothers were murdered and her father tortured by the Indonesians, she infiltrated their army, gaining their trust until they sent her as a student ambassador to Canada. Once in Canada she defected, travelling through North America and raising awareness about the atrocities in her home country.

Since returning home in 1999, Galhos has become an advocate for Timor-Leste’s women and children, as well as the environment.

She is speaking Friday in the national capital Dili at a special event ahead of International Women’s Day on Mar. 8.

Galhos spoke with IPS about her new project, a green school in the mountain village of Maubisse. “I have very profound reasons why I came to Maubisse,” Galhos told IPS in a phone interview earlier this week. “First is because of my mother who passed away last year, she was a great teacher.”

“This place where I actually started this project, was known to be the first female school in the area. I didn’t want to lose that value that my Mum started (here) a long long time ago,” Galhos said. “Growing up in this country I’m also aware very much that the issue of environment is not considered an important issue. And I’m afraid that in the long run we are actually going to have a big problem in this country.”

For this reason, Galhos has started her environmental project in Maubisse, using a social-enterprise model.

“I want to give the kids a place where they can come and learn about growing fruits and vegetables,” she told IPS. She also hopes to teach them “life skills such as peace, love, kindness, not only towards our environment but also towards people.”

WAWATA TOPU – Mermaids of Timor-Leste [Trailer English Sub.] from David Palazón on Vimeo.

Galhos says that women in rural Timor-Leste face many challenges, including a lack of access to the information they need, a lack of health care services and domestic violence.

She said that poverty in the rural areas where most people still live a subsistence lifestyle can be seen at many levels.

“The children’s malnutrition, you can really look at them and see that these people do not have enough food or they do not have food with protein or vitamins. You can really see it in the way they look,” she said.

Galhos says that an office job in the capital Dili is not for everyone, as can already be seen with many rural people coming to the capital struggling to find work.

She hopes that her project will become self-sustaining as a social enterprise, by capitalising on the areas beauty and international eco-tourism potential.

However, she is disappointed that the government has not responded to her requests for financial support, after eight months of submitting her proposals to many different departments.

“It’s not easy at all. There are huge obstacles. As a woman in a country that’s male dominated, basically I do not have a place where I can turn to,” she said.

2.Wawata Topu are the women spear fishers of Timor-Leste. Credit: David Palazón.

Wawata Topu are the women spear fishers of Timor-Leste. Credit: David Palazón.

Timor-Leste’s government has set aside revenue from the country’s share of oil reserves in the Timor Sea, to help fund the country’s development.

However, there are concerns that the funds from the oil are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few and are not reaching the rural poor, or women.

Galhos has so far funded the green school project with her own salary and with support from her friends overseas. She is disappointed her requests for funding from the government have not been taken seriously.

“I don’t see many Timorese women trying to do what I’m doing, being successful in getting government support,” she said. “Though I still have a very pessimistic feeling towards the current government I am still working on getting them to see.”

This is real social and economic development for the benefit of all people, especially for people in the Maubisse area, she said.

To the sea

In another part of Timor-Leste women divers are challenging dominant narratives, that don’t value women’s work.

The women divers of Adara on Atauro island have reached a worldwide audience through the short film Wawata Topu. The film was last week awarded best foreign documentary at the American Online Film Awards in New York.

IPS spoke with Enrique Alonso, who co-directed and co-produced the film, along with David Palazón.

“If you review the available bibliography on the role of women in the Timor-Leste fisheries sector, you will find that women are missing,” Alonso told IPS. “Some reports developed in the last years shed some light, but for the most part (the women) were totally invisible.

“All along the country you might find that women in the fishing communities have a crucial role in households’ income management, livestock rearing and craft making, post harvest and fish drying, they participate in seasonal shore fishing (such as the sea worms harvest) and mostly in shellfish gathering and reef gleaning.

“There is one specific report of a study conducted in the east side of the main island where the researchers define women’s roles in the fisheries as ‘marginal’.”

“Wawata Topu are the living example that women’s roles are not ‘marginal’ at all,” Alonso said. “The film shows that their work is of primary importance not only in regards the provision of food but also in the market chain.”

Alonso says that the women of Adara have to walk for hours every Saturday to get to the market to sell their fish.

“They are the ones who transport and sell the fish, caught also by men, to the market every week. They are the brokers upon which the incomes of many families depend. The kids have to walk around one hour to get to the school through the rugged coastline. If it rains it is too risky for them to go,” he said.

“These are tough conditions. Within this context, these diver women are among the most vulnerable groups.”

The film documents how the women of Adara have adapted to the tough conditions and broken down gender barriers by becoming spear fishers themselves.

“As Maria the pioneer diver explains in the film, she started to fish because she was hungry. She challenged the social barriers and joined men in speargun fishing,” Alonso explained.

The film has helped women by giving them narrative with which to challenge unfair power structures.

“Through the film (women) raised their voice and got heard,” Alonso said.

“Power is also about discourse and narrative, and in challenging power the narrative games are crucial,” he said.

The film has been screened widely, including at International Women’s Day events around the world.

The most important event occurred at the National Day of Timorese Women, Alonso said.

“That day, the Secretary of State for Promotion of Equality granted Maria Cabeça and the Wawata Topu with the Women of the Year Award. In a way, the film has contributed to put Atauro Island and the Wawata Topu on the map.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: A Legally-Binding Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weaponshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-legally-binding-treaty-to-prohibit-nuclear-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-legally-binding-treaty-to-prohibit-nuclear-weapons http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-legally-binding-treaty-to-prohibit-nuclear-weapons/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 17:10:29 +0000 Ray Acheson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139533 The Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) holds its second session at the United Nations Office in Geneva. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

The Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) holds its second session at the United Nations Office in Geneva. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Ray Acheson
NEW YORK, Mar 6 2015 (IPS)

Five years after the adoption of the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Action Plan in 2010, compliance with commitments related to nuclear disarmament lags far behind those related to non-proliferation or the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Yet during the same five years, new evidence and international discussions have emphasised the catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons and the unacceptable risks of such use, either by design or accident.It is past time that the NPT nuclear-armed states and their nuclear-dependent allies fulfill their responsibilities, commitments, and obligations—or risk undermining the very treaty regime they claim to want to protect.

Thus the NPT’s full implementation, particularly regarding nuclear disarmament, is as urgent as ever. One of the most effective measures for nuclear disarmament would be the negotiation of a legally-binding instrument prohibiting and establishing a framework for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Not everyone sees it that way.

In fact, ahead of the 2015 Review Conference (scheduled to take place in New York April 27-May 22), the NPT nuclear-armed states and some of their nuclear-dependent allies have argued that any such negotiations would “undermine” the NPT and that the Action Plan is a long-term roadmap that should be “rolled over” for at least another review cycle.

This is an extremely retrogressive approach to what should be an opportunity for meaningful action. Negotiating an instrument to fulfill article VI of the NPT would hardly undermine the Treaty.

On the contrary, it would finally bring the nuclear-armed states into compliance with the legal obligations.

Those countries that possess or rely on nuclear weapons often highlight the importance of the NPT for preventing proliferation and enhancing security.

Yet these same countries, more than any other states parties, do the most to undermine the Treaty by preventing, avoiding, or delaying concrete actions necessary for disarmament.

It is past time that the NPT nuclear-armed states and their nuclear-dependent allies fulfill their responsibilities, commitments, and obligations—or risk undermining the very treaty regime they claim to want to protect.

Their failure to implement their commitments presents dim prospects for the future of the NPT. The apparent expectation that this non-compliance can continue in perpetuity, allowing not only for continued possession but also modernisation and deployment of nuclear weapon systems, is misguided.

The 2015 Review Conference will provide an opportunity for other governments to confront and challenge this behaviour and to demand concerted and immediate action. This is the end of a review cycle; it is time for conclusions to be drawn.

States parties will have to not only undertake a serious assessment of the last five years but will have to determine what actions are necessary to ensure continued survival of the NPT and to achieve all of its goals and objectives, including those on stopping the nuclear arms race, ceasing the manufacture of nuclear weapons, preventing the use of nuclear weapons, and eliminating existing arsenals.

The recent renewed investigation of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons is a good place to look for guidance. The 2010 NPT Review Conference expressed “deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.”

Since then, especially at the series of conferences hosted by Norway, Mexico, and Austria, these consequences have increasingly become a focal point for discussion and proposed action.

Governments are also increasingly raising the issue of humanitarian impacts in traditional forums, with 155 states signing a joint statement at the 2014 session of the UN General Assembly highlighting the unacceptable harm caused by nuclear weapons and calling for action to ensure they are never used again, under any circumstances.

The humanitarian initiative has provided the basis for a new momentum on nuclear disarmament. It has involved new types of actors, such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and a new generation of civil society campaigners.

The discussion around the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons should be fully supported by all states parties to the NPT.

The humanitarian initiative has also resulted in the Austrian Pledge, which commits its government (and any countries that wish to associate themselves with the Pledge) to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.”

As of February 2015, 40 states have endorsed the Pledge. These states are committed to change. They believe that existing international law is inadequate for achieving nuclear disarmament and that a process of change that involves stigmatising, prohibiting, and eliminating nuclear weapons is necessary.

This process requires a legally-binding international instrument that clearly prohibits nuclear weapons based on their unacceptable consequences. Such a treaty would put nuclear weapons on the same footing as the other weapons of mass destruction, which are subject to prohibition through specific treaties.

A treaty banning nuclear weapons would build on existing norms and reinforce existing legal instruments, including the NPT, but it would also close loopholes in the current legal regime that enable states to engage in nuclear weapon activities or to otherwise claim perceived benefit from the continued existence of nuclear weapons while purporting to promote their elimination.

NPT states parties need to ask themselves how long we can wait for disarmament. Several initiatives since the 2010 Review Conference have advanced the ongoing international discussion about nuclear weapons.

States and other actors must now be willing to act to achieve disarmament, by developing a legally-binding instrument to prohibit and establish a framework for eliminating nuclear weapons. This year, the year of the 70th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is a good place to start.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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World Misses Its Potential by Excluding 50 Percent of Its Peoplehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/world-misses-its-potential-by-excluding-50-per-cent-of-its-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-misses-its-potential-by-excluding-50-per-cent-of-its-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/world-misses-its-potential-by-excluding-50-per-cent-of-its-people/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 22:08:07 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139526 A scene from the 57th Commission on the Status of Women. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

A scene from the 57th Commission on the Status of Women. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 5 2015 (IPS)

The meeting is billed as one of the biggest single gatherings of women activists under one roof.

According to the United Nations, over 1,100 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and more than 8,600 representatives have registered to participate in this year’s session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).“This is a reality check on the part of the member states." -- Mavic Cabrera-Balleza of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders

Described as the primary intergovernmental body mandated to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women, the 45-member CSW will hold its 59th sessions Mar. 9-20.

About 200 side events, hosted by governments and U.N. agencies, are planned alongside official meetings of the CSW, plus an additional 450 parallel events by civil society organisations (CSOs), both in and outside the United Nations.

Their primary mission: to take stock of the successes and failures of the 20-year Platform for Action adopted at the historic 1995 Women’s Conference in Beijing. The achievements are limited, say CSOs and U.N. officials, but the unfulfilled promises are countless.

The reason is simple, warns Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “We cannot fulfill 100 percent of the world’s potential by excluding 50 percent (read: women) of the world’s people.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein says the U.N.’s 193 member states have to go beyond “paying lip service” towards gender equality.

They should “genuinely challenge and dismantle the power structures and dynamics which perpetuate discrimination against women.”

But will they?

Yasmeen Hassan, global executive director of Equality Now, told IPS in the Beijing Platform for Action, 189 governments pledged to “revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex”.

Twenty years later, just over half of the sex discriminatory laws highlighted in three successive Equality Now reports have been revised, appealed or amended, she said.

“Although we applaud the governments that took positive action, we are concerned that so many sex discriminatory laws remain on the books around the world,” Hassan noted.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, international coordinator at Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, a programme partner of the International Civil Society Action Network, told IPS she was happy to see the latest draft of the Beijing + 20 Political Declaration, presented by the Bureau of the CSW, expressing “concern that progress has been slow and uneven and that major gaps and obstacles remain in the implementation of the 12 critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform for Action.”

“And it [has] recognized that 20 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women [in Beijing], no country has achieved equality for women and girls; and that significant levels of inequality between women and men persist, and that some women and girls experience increased vulnerability and marginalization due to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.”

“This is a reality check on the part of the member states, which is welcomed by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders and the rest of civil society,” she added.

Speaking specifically on reproductive health, Joseph Chamie, a former director of the U.N. Population Division, told IPS the work of the CSW is important and it has contributed to improving women’s lives.

Pointing out the important areas of health and mortality, he said, when the CSW was established seven decades ago, the average life expectancy at birth for a baby girl was about 45 years; today it is 72 years, which, by any standards, is a remarkable achievement.

With respect to reproductive health, he said, great strides have been achieved.

In addition to improved overall health and lower maternal mortality rates, most women today can decide on the number, timing and spacing of their children.

“Simply focusing attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities and biases that women and girls encounter, while largely ignoring those facing men and boys, will obstruct and delay efforts to attain true gender equality and the needed socio-economic development for everyone,” Chamie warned.

According to U.N. Women, only one in five parliamentarians is a woman.

Approximately 50 per cent of women worldwide are in paid employment, an increase from 40 per cent more than 20 years ago, with wage inequality persistent.

At the present rate of progress, said U.N. Women, it will take 81 years for women to achieve parity in employment.

In 2000, the groundbreaking Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security recognised the need to increase women’s role in peacebuilding in post-conflict countries. Yet, from 1992 to 2011 only 4 per cent of signatories to peace agreements and nine per cent of negotiators at peace tables were women.

Hassan told IPS there are still laws that restrict women’s rights in marriage (women not allowed to enter and exist marriages on the same basis as men; appointing men as the head of a household; requiring wife obedience; allowing polygamy; setting different ages of marriage for girls and boys).

There are also laws that give women a lower personal status and less rights as citizens (women not being able to transmit their nationality to husbands and children; women’s evidence not equal to that of a man; restriction on women traveling).

And women being treated as economically unequal to men (less rights to inheritance or property ownership; restrictions on employment); and laws that promote violence against women (giving men the right to rape their wives; exempting rapists from punishment for marrying their victims; allowing men to chastise their wives).

“The fact that these laws continue to exist shows that many governments do not consider women to be full citizens and as such it is not possible to make progress on the goals set 20 years ago,” Hassan said.

Cabrera-Balleza told IPS the CSW political declaration also states that member states reaffirm their “political will and firmly commit to tackle critical remaining gaps and challenges and pledge to take concrete further actions to transform discriminatory social norms and gender stereotypes,” among other very good promises.

This is where the crux of the matter lies, she said.

“We’ve heard these promises many times before from past CSW sessions and yet recent data, such as those from the World Health Organisation (WHO), indicate the following:

– 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime;

– on average, 30 percent of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner.”

Globally, she said, as many as 38 percent of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.

She predicted that issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights will remain contentious in this CSW, as in previous years.

“It also worries me that while thousands of women have died and many more continue to suffer because of ongoing conflicts as well as violent extremism around the world, none of this is addressed in the political declaration.”

Sadly, the U.N. continues to operate in silos, she said. The Security Council remains disconnected with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) under which the CSW functions.

“Having said all of this, I want us, in civil society, to push the envelope as far as possible in this 59th CSW session,” she added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Bridging the Gap – How the SDG Fund is Paving the Way for a Post-2015 Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-bridging-the-gap-how-the-sdg-fund-is-paving-the-way-for-a-post-2015-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-bridging-the-gap-how-the-sdg-fund-is-paving-the-way-for-a-post-2015-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-bridging-the-gap-how-the-sdg-fund-is-paving-the-way-for-a-post-2015-agenda/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 10:56:55 +0000 Paloma Duran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139515

Paloma Duran is Director of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG Fund).

By Paloma Duran
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 5 2015 (IPS)

The countdown has begun to September’s Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with world leaders discussing the 17 goals and 169 targets proposed by the United Nations Open Working Group.

The post-2015 development agenda will focus primarily on strengthening opportunities to reduce poverty and marginalisation in ways that are sustainable from an economic, social and environmental standpoint.

Courtesy of Paloma Duran/UNDP

Courtesy of Paloma Duran/UNDP

How shall the world set the measure for all subsequent work?

The SDG Fund, created by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with an initial contribution from the government of Spain, has been designed to smoothen the transition from the Millennium Development Goals phase into the future Sustainable Development Goals.

The rationale of the joint programme initiative is to enhance the development impact of technical assistance by combining inputs from various U.N. entities, each contributing according to its specific expertise and bringing their respective national partners on board.

To illustrate, we are currently implementing joint programmes in 18 countries addressing challenges of inclusive economic growth for poverty eradication, food security and nutrition as well as water and sanitation.

The majority of our budget is invested in sustainable development on the ground and is directly improving the lives of more than one million people in various regions of Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, Arab States and Africa.The main objective of the SDG fund is to bring together U.N. agencies, national governments, academia, civil society and businesses to find ways in which we can reduce poverty, improve nutrition and provide access to affordable water and sanitation.

National and international partners provide approximately 56 percent of these resources in the form of matching funds.

Each programme was originally chosen through a selection process including the review by thematic and development independent experts.

In addition, we ensure that local counterparts engage in the decision-making processes from programme design to implementation and evaluation. More than 1,500 people were directly involved in designing the various programmes.

The main objective of the SDG fund is to bring together U.N. agencies, national governments, academia, civil society and businesses to find ways in which we can reduce poverty, improve nutrition and provide access to affordable water and sanitation.

Drawing from extensive experience of development practice as well as the former Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund, we are continually seeking better ways in which to deal with challenges that present themselves.

Gender equality, women’s empowerment, public-private partnerships and sustainability are cross-cutting priorities in all areas of our work.

It is noteworthy to point out that we are focusing our efforts on forging partnerships with the private sector as we recognise the importance of actively engaging with businesses and ensuring their full participation in the development process.

It is in this vein that a Private Sector Advisory Group will be established this spring, consisting of representatives from various industries worldwide with the aim to collaborate and discuss practical solutions pertaining to the common challenges of contemporary sustainable development.

Together we will work diligently to identify areas of common interest and promote sustainability of global public goods.

As an example of how we work on the ground, we are setting into motion programme activities that relate to alleviating child hunger and under-nutrition as well as projects that promote sustainable and resilient livelihoods for vulnerable households, especially in the context of adapting to climate change.

To illustrate, in Peru we are contributing towards establishing an inclusive value chain in the production of quinoa and other Andean grains, so that the increase of demand in the international market can convert into economic and social improvements on the ground.

In addition, we are supporting programme activities that promote the integration of women in the labour market as it is key to equitable, inclusive and sustainable development. We are conscious of the fact that gender equality and the full realisation of human rights for women and girls have a transformative effect on development and is a driver of economic growth.

To illustrate, the SDG Fund is currently financing five joint programmes in Africa that address some of the most pressing issues in the region, and seek to achieve sustainable development through inclusive economic growth.

In Ethiopia, rural women lag behind in access to land property, economic opportunities, justice system and financial assets. Female farmers perform up to 75 per cent of farm labour and yet hold only 18.7 per cent of agricultural land in the country.

We are taking a multifaceted approach to generate gender-sensitive agricultural extension services, support the creation of cooperatives, promote the expansion of women-owned agribusiness and increase rural women’s participation in rural producer associations, financial cooperatives and unions.

To conclude, we are looking forward to making a significant impact in the coming years with the hope to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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42 Human Rights Groups Slam Indonesia’s Death Penaltyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/42-human-rights-groups-slam-indonesias-death-penalty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=42-human-rights-groups-slam-indonesias-death-penalty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/42-human-rights-groups-slam-indonesias-death-penalty/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 22:27:42 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139511 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

More than 40 human rights groups from around the world have penned an open letter to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, pleading for the halting of 10 imminent executions.

The letter, published by the International Federation for Human Rights on Tuesday, “condemn[s] in the strongest possible terms” the planned execution by firing squad of a group of prisoners in Nusakambangan prison, in central Java.

A total of 42 human rights and anti-death penalty groups from countries as far afield as Cameroon, France, Iran, Laos, India, Switzerland, Italy, Vietnam and Nigeria have signed the letter, criticising Indonesia’s execution policy and calling for urgent review of the group scheduled to be killed.

The group includes two Australians, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, who have been in Indonesian custody since 2005 after leading the so-called “Bali Nine” drug gang who attempted to smuggle eight kilograms of heroin from Indonesia to Australia.

The pair, sentenced to death in February 2006, have languished on death row ever since, with an exhaustive series of appeals and reviews all ultimately unsuccessful.

Chan and Sukumaran had their clemency appeals recently rejected by Widodo, despite intense lobbying from the Australian government. The affair has strained ties between Indonesia and Australia.

The letter claims the rationale behind executions for drug-related crimes are based on “an outdated and criticized” Indonesian study, saying the impact of drugs on Indonesian society was vastly overstated and that there is no evidence that executing those involved with narcotics has any deterrent effect.

Widodo has stood behind the death sentence for Chan and Sukumaran against mounting international pressure, claiming the lives of 4.5 million Indonesians are “in ruin” because of drugs.

The condemned group said to also include Brazilian, Filipino, Ghanaian, Nigerian and French citizens - was expected to be executed in coming days. However, in an interview with Al-Jazeera, Widodo said the executions would not take place this week. The execution date is tipped to be revealed on Friday.

Your decision to authorize more executions in the coming weeks and months has tarnished Indonesia’s international image and risks damaging bilateral relations between Jakarta and capitals of abolitionist countries, which represent 70% of the international community,” the letter states.

“Executions are against Article 28(a) of the Indonesian Constitution, which guarantees everyone’s right to life. They are also in breach of Indonesia’s international legal obligations under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which recognizes every human being’s inherent right to life.

The letter calls for Indonesia to halt and commute all planned executions and instate a moratorium on further sentences, and abolish the death penalty altogether.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: Let’s Grant Women Land Rights and Power Our Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 15:20:12 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139496 Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Monique Barbut
BONN, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

Women are not only the world’s primary food producers. They are hardworking and innovative and, they invest far more of their earnings in their families than men. But most lack the single most important asset for accessing investment resources – land rights.

Women’s resourcefulness is astonishing, but they are no fools. They invest their income where they are most likely to see returns, but not in the land they have no rights to. Land tenure is the powerful political tool that governments use to give or deny these rights. We are paying a high price for the failure to grant land rights to the women who play a vital role in agriculture.

Courtesy of UNCCD

Courtesy of UNCCD

Women produce up to 80 per cent of the total food and make up 43 per cent of the labour force in developing countries. Yet 95 per cent of agricultural education programmes exclude them. In Yazd, the ‘desert capital’ of Iran, for example, women have invented a method to produce food in underground tunnels.

In Asia and Africa, a woman’s weekly work is up to 13 hours longer than a man’s. Furthermore, women spend nearly all their earnings on their families, whereas men divert a quarter of their income to other expenses. But most have no rights to the land they till.

Land rights level the playing field by giving both men and women the same access to vital agricultural resources. The knock-on effect is striking. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries, and increase a country’s total agricultural production by up to 4 per cent.

This is critical at a time when we are losing 12 million hectares of fertile land each year, but need to raise our food production by up to 70 per cent by 2050 due to population growth and consumption trends – not to mention climate change.

But what is land tenure exactly? Land tenure works like a big bundle of sticks, with each stick representing a particular right. There are five important sticks in the bundle; the sticks to access, to use, to manage land independently, to exclude and to alienate other users. The more sticks a land user has in the bundle, the more motivated they are to nourish and support the land.Women are grimly aware that without land rights, they could lose their land to powerful individuals at any moment. Where, then, is the incentive to invest in the land; especially if you’re hungry now?

The failure to grant these rights, not just to poor, rural land users, but to women as well, means fertile land is exploited to barrenness. With rising competition over what little is available, conflicts are inevitable.

In rural Latin America, only 25 per cent of the land holdings are owned by women. This drops to 15 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and to less than 5 per cent in western Asia and northern Africa. These are shocking figures, and yet they may be even more optimistic than the reality.

A recent study in Uganda, for instance, shows that even when men and women nominally jointly own land, the woman’s name may not appear in any of the documentation. If a husband dies, divorces or decides to sell the land, his wife has no recourse to asserting her land rights.

Women are grimly aware that without land rights, they could lose their land to powerful individuals at any moment. Where, then, is the incentive to invest in the land; especially if you’re hungry now? Instead, those without rights take what they can from the land before they move to greener pastures. This adds to the unfortunate, yet preventable, spiral of land degradation.

At least 500 million hectares of previously fertile agricultural land is abandoned. And with less than 30 per cent of the land in developing world under secure tenure, there is little hope that these trends will change. The lack of secure land tenure remains a vital challenge for curbing land degradation in developing countries.

Among the rural poor, men are often the main beneficiaries. But granting land rights to both men and women will narrow inequalities and benefit us all.

In Nepal, women with strong property rights tend to be food secure, and their children are less likely to be underweight. In Tanzania, women with property rights are earning up to three times more income. In India, women who own land are eight times less likely to experience domestic violence. The social gains from secure land tenure are vast.

For years, women have dealt with land degradation and fed the world without the support they need. Imagine how granting them land rights could power our future. Let’s mark this year’s International Women’s Day by shouting the loudest for the land rights of rural women.

Edited By Kitty Stapp

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Syrians “Have No Faith” in International Community to Solve Human Rights Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/syrians-have-no-faith-in-international-community-to-solve-human-rights-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrians-have-no-faith-in-international-community-to-solve-human-rights-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/syrians-have-no-faith-in-international-community-to-solve-human-rights-crisis/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 13:41:23 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139493 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

Syrian citizens “have no faith” in the international community to solve the chaos and war raging across their country, according to a prominent human rights defender.

Yara Bader, Managing Director of the Syrian Center For Media and Freedom of Expression, made the claim at United Nations headquarters in New York on Tuesday, at a panel discussion on arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance in Syria, co-sponsored by Amnesty International and the German Mission to the United Nations.

Bader, her husband Mazen Darwish, and a dozen of their colleagues at the center were detained in 2012. Bader and some colleagues were soon released, but her husband remains imprisoned.

Speaking on the panel, she called her country “an arena of fighting over sectarian issues.”

“The situation is horrible. The international community has failed to find a solution to these cases,” Bader said through a translator.

“Syrian citizens would have no faith in the international community for solutions to the crisis. We all have to work to regain the confidence of the Syrian individual.”

In February, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) estimated “tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands” of people have passed through Syrian detention facilities. OHCHR “called on the Syrian authorities to release all detainees held without due process by government forces and militias,” citing “quite dire conditions” including a lack of food and medical attention, ill treatment and torture, and prison overcrowding.

Syrian human rights lawyer Anwar Al-Bunni also spoke as part of Tuesday’s panel, claiming that there are at least 150,000 people who have gone missing, and detailing the treatment received by an estimated 50,000 people currently in detention.

“There are 22 methods of torture, including beatings, electric shocks, rape, starvation, total deprivation of medical care,” he said through a translator.

“Imagine that, during this meeting, two detainees would have died through torture.”

Ambassador Harald Braun, Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations, told the panel a referral to the International Criminal Court was “long overdue.”

Neil Sammonds, Syria researcher for Amnesty International, called on the global community to keep monitoring the Syrian conflict and not to let the situation be pushed to the background by other international crises.

“It’s getting harder and harder. Maybe from fatigue, or the other horrible things in the world, there is less attention on Syria,” he said.

“We’re all hard-pressed to think of any human rights catastrophe which has been so well-documented. I’m not sure what more can be done [to raise awareness of the situation]. It’s for the media to do.”

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: It’s Time to Step It Up for Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-its-time-to-step-it-up-for-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-its-time-to-step-it-up-for-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-its-time-to-step-it-up-for-gender-equality/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 19:09:58 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139478 Girls attend school in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Girls attend school in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 3 2015 (IPS)

If we look at the headlines or the latest horrifying YouTube clip, Mar. 8 – International Women’s Day – may seem a bad time to celebrate equality for women.

But alongside the stories of extraordinary atrocity and everyday violence lies another reality, one where more girls are in school and more are earning qualifications than ever before; where maternal mortality is at an all-time low; where more women are in leadership positions, and where women are increasingly standing up, speaking out and demanding action.How much would it really cost to unlock the potential of the world’s women? And how much could have been gained!

Twenty years ago this September, thousands of delegates left the historic Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on a high. The overwhelming feeling was that women had won a great victory. We had indeed – 189 world leaders had committed their countries to an extraordinary Platform for Action, with ambitious but realistic promises in key areas and a roadmap for getting there.

If countries had lived up to all those promises, we would be seeing a lot more progress in equality today than the modest gains in some areas we are currently celebrating. We would be talking about equality for women across the board – and we might be talking about a saner, more evenly prosperous, more sustainably peaceful world.

Looking today at the slow and patchy progress towards equality, it seems that we were madly ambitious to expect to wipe out in 20 years a regime of gender inequality and outright oppression that had lasted in some cases for thousands of years.

Then again – was it really so much to ask? What sort of world is it that condemns half its population to second-class status at best and outright slavery at worst? How much would it really cost to unlock the potential of the world’s women? And how much could have been gained! If world leaders really saw the Beijing Platform for Action as an investment in their countries’ future, why didn’t they follow through?

Some women are taking a seat at the top table. There were 12 female Heads of State or Government in 1990, and 19 in 2015. But the rest are men. Eight out of every 10 parliamentarians worldwide are still men.

Maternal mortality has fallen by 45 per cent; but the goal for 2015 was 75 per cent. There are still 140 million women with no access to modern family planning: the goal for 2015 was universal coverage.

More girls are starting school and more are completing their education; countries have largely closed the “gender gap” in primary education. Many more girls are entering secondary school too, but there is a wide gap between girls’ and boys’ attainments.

More women are working: Twenty years ago, 40 per cent of women were in waged and salaried employment.  Today that proportion has grown to some 50 per cent. But at this rate, it would take more than 80 years to achieve gender parity in employment, and more than 75 years to reach equal pay.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

This year marks a great opportunity for the world’s leaders, and a great challenge. When they meet at the United Nations in New York in September, they will have the opportunity to revisit and re-commit to the goals of Beijing.

Today, we call on those leaders to join women in a great partnership for human rights, peace and development. We call on them to show an example in their own lives of how equality benefits everyone: man, woman and child. And we call on them to lead and invest in change at a national level to address the gender equality gaps that we know still persist.

We must have an end point in sight. Our aim is substantial action now, urgently frontloaded for the first five years, and equality before 2030. There is an urgent need to change the current trajectories. The poor representation of women in political and economic decision-making poses a threat to women’s empowerment and gender equality that men can and must be part of addressing.

If the world’s leaders join the world’s women this September; if they genuinely step up their action for equality, building on the foundation laid in the last 20 years; if they can make the necessary investments, build partnerships with business and civil society, and hold themselves accountable for results, it could be sooner.

Women will get to equality in the end. The only question is, why should we wait? So we’re celebrating International Women’s Day now, confident in the expectation that we will have still more to celebrate next year, and the years to come.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Gaza Reconstruction, Hampered by Israeli Blockade, May Take 100 Years, Say Aid Agencieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/gaza-reconstruction-hampered-by-israeli-blockade-may-take-100-years-say-aid-agencies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gaza-reconstruction-hampered-by-israeli-blockade-may-take-100-years-say-aid-agencies http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/gaza-reconstruction-hampered-by-israeli-blockade-may-take-100-years-say-aid-agencies/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 18:07:51 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139469 Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. Credit: UN Photo

Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 3 2015 (IPS)

Despite all the political hoopla surrounding an international pledging conference in Cairo last October to help rebuild Gaza, the reconstruction of the Israeli-devastated territory is apparently moving at the pace of paralytic snail.

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director, Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS the reconstruction of Gaza has been so inadequate that at current rates, aid agencies calculate it will take 100 years just to import enough construction materials.“It is utterly deplorable that the international community is once again failing the people of Gaza when they need it most." -- Catherine Essoyan of Oxfam

“The blockade of Gaza is collective punishment, and donors to Gaza should not just fulfill their pledges but pressure Israel to lift it and Egypt to stop supporting it,” she said.

In several cases, Whitson said, children have died from hypothermia in winter storms due to lack of shelter and heating.

Oxfam International, reaffirming the time frame, said it could take “more than 100 years to complete essential building of homes, schools and health facilities in Gaza — unless the Israeli blockade is lifted.”

Quoting aid agencies on the ground, the London-based charity said Gaza needs more than 800,000 truckloads of construction materials to build homes, schools, health facilities and other infrastructure required after repeated conflicts and years of blockade.

Yet in January, only 579 such trucks entered Gaza. This is even less than the 795 trucks that entered the previous month, Oxfam said, in a statement released here.

Around 100,000 people – more than half of them children – are still living in shelters, temporary accommodation or with extended family after their homes were destroyed. Tens of thousands more families are living in badly damaged homes.

Catherine Essoyan, Oxfam’s regional director, said, “Only an end to the blockade of Gaza will ensure that people can rebuild their lives. Families have been living in homes without roofs, walls or windows for the past six months.”

She said many have just six hours of electricity a day and are without running water. Every day that people are unable to build is putting more lives at risk.

“It is utterly deplorable that the international community is once again failing the people of Gaza when they need it most,” Essoyan said.

Last week, 30 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and humanitarian aid agencies – including Oxfam, ActionAid, Save the Children International, Norwegian Refugee Council, Movement for Peace and Handicap International – said six months have passed since the August 2014 ceasefire ended over seven weeks of fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip.

In a joint statement titled “We must not fail Gaza”, they said: “As UN agencies and international NGOs operating in Gaza, we are alarmed by the limited progress in rebuilding the lives of those affected and tackling the root causes of the conflict.”

The Israeli-imposed blockade continues, the political process, along with the economy, are paralysed, and living conditions have worsened, the groups warned.

Reconstruction and repairs to the tens of thousands of homes, hospitals, and schools damaged or destroyed in the fighting has been woefully slow. Sporadic rocket fire from Palestinian armed groups has resumed.

Overall, the lack of progress has deepened levels of desperation and frustration among the population, more than two-thirds of whom are Palestinian refugees, they said.

The 30 organisations also included U.N. agencies such as UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), U.N. Women, World Food Programme (WFP), World Health Organisation (WHO), the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR).

When the 54-day conflict between Hamas and Israel ended last August, there were 1,976 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 459 children who were killed largely by aerial bombings. In contrast, 66 Israelis were killed, including two soldiers.

The hostilities also left about 108,000 people homeless, completely destroyed 26 schools and four primary health centres, and destroyed or damaged 350 businesses and 17,000 hectares of agricultural land, according to a U.N. assessment. Additionally, about 7,000 homes were destroyed and 89,000 damaged.

Unemployment in Gaza, already at 45 percent, climbed even higher since the fighting, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported.

Meanwhile, the aid agencies also complained little of the 5.4 billion dollars pledged in Cairo has reached Gaza.

Cash assistance to families who lost everything has been suspended and other crucial aid is unavailable due to lack of funds. A return to hostilities is inevitable if progress is not made and the root causes of conflict are not addressed.

The funds were pledged mostly by the European Union (568 million dollars) and oil-blessed Gulf nations, including Qatar (1.0 billion dollars), Saudi Arabia (500 million dollars, pledged before the conference), United Arab Emirates and Kuwait (200 million dollars each) and the United States (212 million dollars).

The aid agencies said Israel, as the occupying power, is the main duty bearer and must comply with its obligations under international law. In particular, it must fully lift the blockade, within the framework of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009).

“The fragile ceasefire must be reinforced, and the parties must resume negotiations to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. All parties must respect international law and those responsible for violations must be brought to justice.”

Accountability and adherence to international humanitarian law and international human rights law are essential prerequisites for any lasting peace, the group said.

Also imperative, Egypt needs to open the Rafah Crossing, most urgently for humanitarian cases, and donor pledges must be translated into disbursements.

Under the blockade, Oxfam said, exports of agricultural produce from Gaza have fallen in the last year to just 2.7 percent of the level before the blockade was imposed.

Fishermen are still restricted to an enforced fishing limit of six nautical miles – far short of where most fish are – and farmers are restricted from accessing much of the most fertile farmland.

Gaza continues to be separated from the West Bank, and most people are still prevented from leaving. The border with Egypt has also been shut for most of the past two months, preventing thousands of people from travelling.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Women Leaders Call for Mainstreaming Gender Equality in Post-2015 Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-leaders-call-for-mainstreaming-gender-equality-in-post-2015-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-leaders-call-for-mainstreaming-gender-equality-in-post-2015-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-leaders-call-for-mainstreaming-gender-equality-in-post-2015-agenda/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 18:01:22 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139467 Chilean President Michelle Bachelet during the closing ceremony of the international meeting “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”. On the podium, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Credit: Government of Chile

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet during the closing ceremony of the international meeting “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”. On the podium, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Credit: Government of Chile

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Mar 3 2015 (IPS)

Women leaders from every continent, brought together by U.N. Women and the Chilean government, demanded that gender equality be a cross-cutting target in the post-2015 development agenda. Only that way, they say, can the enormous inequality gap that still affects women and children around the world be closed.

“We celebrate that there has been progress in these last twenty years (since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing) in this area…and the evidence is all the people around who came, shared their experiences, the good, the bad, the struggle ahead, the challenges ahead,” U.N. Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri told IPS.

And while “some countries have made no progress at all, some countries, some progress, and some countries better progress, no country has reached what we should need to reach,” she added.“At the current pace of change, it will take 81 years to achieve gender parity in the workplace, more than 75 years to reach equal remuneration between men and women for work of equal value, and more than 30 years to reach gender balance in decision-making.” – Santiago Call to Action

“If you’re talking about poverty, you need voice, participation and leadership for women, if you’re talking about economy, you need voice and participation, if you’re talking education, you need women – both education for voice, participation and leadership, capacity-building, and you need them to be leaders in education,” she said.

“Similarly health: you want women leaders in the health sector. Just as they need to have a voice in the design of the health sector and services,” said Puri, from India. “Women in the media is another critical area – you need voice, participation and leadership for women in the media, otherwise you will never get past the inequality and the negative stereotyping of women and their role in the media.”

The high-level event, “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”, held Feb.27-28 in the Chilean capital, assessed the advances made towards gender equality in the last 20 years and what still needs to be done.

One example raised at the meeting was the failure to reach the goal on gender balance in leadership positions.

The participants also discussed the route forward, towards the Sustainable Development Goals, for the period 2015-2030, designed to close gaps, build more resilient societies, and move towards sustainable prosperity for all.

The SDGs will replace the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which set out the international community’s collective development and anti-poverty targets for the 2000-2015 period.

The women leaders meeting in Santiago demanded that gender equality be mainstreamed into the 17 projected SDGs to prevent the progress from being slow and uneven, as it has been in the last 20 years in the case of the Beijing Platform for Action agreed at the Fourth World Conference on Women in September 1995.

U.N. Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the high-level international event “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”, held Feb. 27-28 in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

U.N. Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri at the high-level international event “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”, held Feb. 27-28 in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“At the current pace of change, it will take 81 years to achieve gender parity in the workplace, more than 75 years to reach equal remuneration between men and women for work of equal value, and more than 30 years to reach gender balance in decision-making,” reads the Call to Action document produced by the conference in Santiago, part of the activities marking the 20 years since Beijing.

Puri pointed out that in the future SDGs, number five will promote “gender equality and empowerment of women and girls.”

But she said it is equally important for “the other SDGS to have gender-sensitive targets and indicators that capture on one hand the impacts and needs of women, and that also capture the agency of women,” she said.

“How can you get health for all without health for women and by women and for women; similarly how can you get education for all, and sustainable energy for all. So all of those SDGs are intimately related to this, to the realisation and achievement of the gender equality goal.”

“I was looking at an IPS article about the gender goal which said it is not a wish-list but a to-do list, so then I used it for the call to action (in Santiago),” she said.

The Santiago call to action calls for a renewed political commitment to close remaining gaps and to guarantee full implementation of the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action by 2020.

This includes balanced representation of women and men in all international decision-making processes, including the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the SDGs, financing for development and climate change processes.

It also includes the empowerment of women, the realisation of human rights of women and girls, and an end to gender inequality by 2030 and to the funding gap on gender equality, as well as the matching of commitments with means of implementation.

The executive director of Oxfam International, Winnie Byanyima of Uganda, told IPS that in the post-2015 agenda, “gender equality should be measured in all the goals, in other words, each goal must be measured for how it is achieved for men and for women, in different ethnic groups, in cities, in rural areas….so that we will know that each sustainable development goal has been achieved not only for men but also for women, not only for boys but also for girls, rather than averages.”

She stressed that “the technical groups working within…the United Nations must make sure that they select standards and indicators that are going to be measurable in a gender disaggregated way so that all countries are able to collect gender disaggregated data to enable monitoring progress for men and women.”

In the conference’s closing event, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said that “for those of us who have taken part in this gathering, it is not possible to think of a successful development agenda that does not have at its heart the central aim of achieving equality between boys and girls, and men and women.”

“We need the banner of equality to wave soon in all nations, and we must be optimistic, because we have a real possibility to make every place on earth more humane, more just, more dignified, for each person who lives there,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Families See Hope for Justice in Palestinian Membership of ICChttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/families-see-hope-for-justice-in-palestinian-membership-of-icc/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=families-see-hope-for-justice-in-palestinian-membership-of-icc http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/families-see-hope-for-justice-in-palestinian-membership-of-icc/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 07:38:58 +0000 Khaled Alashqar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139457 Sahar Baker (left), with Ahed Baker (right) and sister-in-law in front of their beach camp house, with photographs of the four cousins killed by Israeli gunboats in summer 2014 while playing football on the beach in Gaza. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Sahar Baker (left), with Ahed Baker (right) and sister-in-law in front of their beach camp house, with photographs of the four cousins killed by Israeli gunboats in summer 2014 while playing football on the beach in Gaza. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Khaled Alashqar
GAZA CITY, Mar 3 2015 (IPS)

“I have lost all meaning in life after the death of my child, I will never forgive anyone who caused the tearing apart of his little body.  I appeal to all who can help and stand with us to achieve justice and punish those who killed my child.”

As the tears rolled down her cheeks and with a rattle in her voice, 47-year-old Sahar Baker recalled the last moments of her ten-year-old son Ismail, who was killed along with three of his cousins after being targeted by Israeli gunboats while they were playing football on the beach during the Israeli attacks on Gaza last summer."We will not forget how our children were killed in cold blood without any reason. We hope that the Israeli army commanders will be tried before international justice and that they will be punished for the killing of the children" – Ahed Baker

Sahar’s plea for justice may soon be one step nearer now that the Palestine Government is set to formally join the International Criminal Court (ICC), which deals with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty, on Dec. 31, after the U.N. Security Council rejected a Palestinian attempt to set a deadline for Israel to end its occupation of territories it captured in 1967. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said the Palestinians will formally join the ICC on Apr. 1.

Mohammad Shtayyeh, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), is reported as having said that a first complaint will be filed against Israel at the ICC on Apr. 1 over the Israeli war against Gaza last year and Israeli settlement activity.

Palestinian membership of the ICC “provides an opportunity to raise the issues on Israel’s use of force based on occupation and crimes against the people and the land in Palestine, where we did not have the capacity before to sue Israel for its crimes against the Palestinians,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki told the press during a visit to Brazil to attend the inauguration ceremony of President Dilma Rousseff at the beginning of January.

The Baker family, who live in a beach camp in Gaza, is now hoping that Palestinian membership of the ICC will open the door for the prosecution of Israeli leaders and army officers for their crimes.

Sahar’s cousin Ahed Baker, father of Zakaria (10) and grandfather of Ahed Atif (9), shares her pain and bitterness. He is still looking for a way to bring the Israeli army to trial for the murder of his son and grandson, another two of the four young cousins killed on the beach. He told IPS that he and his family would do everything possible to ensure that their case makes its way to the ICC.

Sahar Baker holds a photograph of her ten-year-old son Ismail, killed along with three of his cousins during the Israeli attacks on Gaza in summer 2014. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Sahar Baker holds a photograph of her ten-year-old son Ismail, killed along with three of his cousins during the Israeli attacks on Gaza in summer 2014. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

“We will not forget how our children were killed in cold blood without any reason,” said Ahed. “We hope that the Israeli army commanders will be tried before international justice and that they will be punished for the killing of the children.”

Palestinian leaders have long waved the card of membership of the ICC as a form of pressure on the Israeli government in their attempt to secure a Palestinian state.

However, apart from its political and legal benefits, Palestinian membership of the international court has created some serious implications for the Palestinians.

Israel has already frozen the transfer to the Palestinian Authority of tax funds owed to it. These funds are generally allocated for the salaries of Palestinian public employees and government operating expenses in Gaza and the West Bank, and the freeze is hampering the functioning of the Palestinian Unity Government and undermine the already weak public sector in Palestine.

Israel has also indicated that further ‘punitive’ steps will be taken soon against the Palestinians as a result of joining the ICC. Membership of the ICC thus appears to be the start of a new lengthy battle for Palestinians.

Some Palestinian human rights centres, including the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza City, are now working against the clock to compile documentation on the numerous cases of civilians who were killed during last summer’s Israeli war against Gaza, to be able to submit all the documents required for the ICC to investigate war crimes in Gaza and hold Israel accountable.

“Over the long years of occupation, there has been no equity for civilian victims and this, in my point of view, was a key reason that Israel waged three wars in less than five years. In fact, it has been due to the absence of justice and a sense that occupation is immune to accountability,” Issam Younis, Director of the Al Mezan Centre told IPS.

“Going to the ICC will bring justice to victims through international justice and ensure that there are no repeated offences of occupation without accountability,” he said.

According to Palestinian human rights advocates, membership of the ICC carries two overlapping purposes for Palestinian people and their leaders.

For the Palestinian people, of Gaza in particular, it not only opens an important door to achieving justice but also helps to criminalise the entire Israeli occupation establishment and its vicious atrocities against humanity.

For the Palestinian leadership, on the other hand, it seeks to strengthen the political, legal and diplomatic status of Palestine at the international level and pressure Israel to accept the creation of an independent Palestinian state in future negotiations.

What underpins the two goals is a historical desire for real justice and protection. Whether the ICC can deliver, only time will tell.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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U.N. Member States Accused of Cherry-Picking Human Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-member-states-accused-of-cherry-picking-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-member-states-accused-of-cherry-picking-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-member-states-accused-of-cherry-picking-human-rights/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 21:38:24 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139454 Protestors gather outside the White House to demonstrate against torture on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the U.S. prison facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Charles Davis/IPS

Protestors gather outside the White House to demonstrate against torture on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the U.S. prison facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Charles Davis/IPS

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

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has criticised member states for ‘cherry-picking’ human rights – advocating some and openly violating others – perhaps to suit their own national or political interests.

Despite ratifying the U.N. charter reaffirming their faith in fundamental human rights, there are some member states who, “with alarming regularity”, are disregarding and violating human rights, “sometimes to a shocking degree,” he said.

“One Government will thoroughly support women’s human rights and those of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, but will balk at any suggestion that those rights be extended to migrants of irregular status. Another State may observe scrupulously the right to education, but will brutally stamp out opposing political views." -- United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
Addressing the opening session of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council (HRC) Monday, Zeid faulted member states for claiming “exceptional circumstances” for their convoluted decisions.

“They pick and choose between rights,” he pointed out, without identifying any member state by name.

“One Government will thoroughly support women’s human rights and those of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, but will balk at any suggestion that those rights be extended to migrants of irregular status.

“Another State may observe scrupulously the right to education, but will brutally stamp out opposing political views,” he noted.  “A third State will comprehensively violate the political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights of its people, while vigorously defending the ideals of human rights before its peers.”

Asked for her response, Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) told IPS, “Prince Zeid has hit the nail on the head.”

If every government that professed a commitment to human rights followed through consistently, she added, “we’d have a much different – and better – world.”

In an ironic twist apparently proving Zeid’s contention, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lashed out at the “appalling human rights record” of several nations, blasting Syria and North Korea while singling out human rights violations in Crimea and by separatists in Ukraine.

But he did not condemn the devastation caused by Israel’s 50-day aerial bombardments of Palestinians in Gaza last year nor the rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas.

The death toll in the Gaza bombings was 1,976 Palestinians, including 1,417 civilians and 459 children, according to figures released by the United Nations, compared with the killing of 66 Israelis, including two soldiers.

The Palestinians have accused Israel of war crimes and are pushing for action by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague: a move strongly opposed by the United States.

Kerry told the HRC the United States believes that it can continue to make progress and help the U.N. body fulfill its mandate to make the world a better and safer place.

“But for that to happen, we have to get serious about addressing roadblocks to our own progress. And the most obvious roadblock, I have to say to you, is self-inflicted,” he said.

“I’m talking, of course, about HRC’s deeply concerning record on Israel,” Kerry added.

“No one in this room can deny that there is an unbalanced focus on one democratic country,” he said, as he openly advocated the cause of Israel, one of the closest political and military allies of the United States.

And no other nation, he said, has an entire agenda item set aside to deal with it. Year after year, there are five or six separate resolutions on Israel, he told delegates.

This year, he said, there was a resolution sponsored by Syrian President Bashar al Assad concerning the Golan (which has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 war).

“How, I ask, is that a sensible priority at the very moment when refugees from Syria are flooding into the Golan to escape Assad’s murderous rule and receive treatment from Israeli physicians in Israeli hospitals?”

Kerry referred to the Council’s “obsession” with Israel, which, he argued, “actually risks undermining the credibility of the entire organisation.”

Zeid told the HRC the only real measure of a Government’s worth is not its place in the “solemn ballet of grand diplomacy” but the “extent to which it is sensitive to the needs – and protects the rights – of its nationals and other people who fall under its jurisdiction, or over whom it has physical control.”

Some policy-makers persuade themselves that their circumstances are exceptional, creating a wholly new reality unforeseen by the law, Zeid said, adding that such logic is abundant around the world today.

“I arrest arbitrarily and torture because a new type of war justifies it. I spy on my citizens because the fight against terrorism requires it. I don’t want new immigrants, or I discriminate against minorities, because our communal identity is being threatened now as never before. I kill without any form of due process, because if I do not, others will kill me,” he noted.

“And so it goes, on and on, as we spiral into aggregating crises,” Zeid declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Everyone Benefits from More Women in Powerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/everyone-benefits-from-more-women-in-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=everyone-benefits-from-more-women-in-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/everyone-benefits-from-more-women-in-power/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 18:38:47 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139448 Group photo at the high-level international meeting on Women in Power held Feb. 27-28 in Santiago, Chile, which analysed the human rights of women, as part of the major events held worldwide 20 years after the World Conference on Women in Beijing. Credit: Ximena Castro/Government of Chile

Group photo at the high-level international meeting on Women in Power held Feb. 27-28 in Santiago, Chile, which analysed the human rights of women, as part of the major events held worldwide 20 years after the World Conference on Women in Beijing. Credit: Ximena Castro/Government of Chile

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Mar 2 2015 (IPS)

Women’s participation in decision-making is highly beneficial and their role in designing and applying public policies has a positive impact on people’s lives, women leaders and experts from around the world stressed at a high-level meeting in the capital of Chile.

“It is not about men against women, but there is evidence to show through research that when you have more women in public decision-making, you get policies that benefit women, children and families in general,” Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, told IPS.

“So women tend, when they’re in parliament, for example, to promote women’s rights legislation. When women are in sufficient numbers in parliaments they also promote children’s rights and they tend to speak up more for the interests of communities, local communities, because of their close involvement in community life,” she added.

Byanyima, from Uganda, is one of the more than 60 women leaders and government officials who met Friday Feb. 27 and Saturday Feb. 28 at the meeting “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”, organised by U.N. Women and the Chilean government in Santiago.“There is already enough evidence in the world to show the positive impact of women's leadership. Women have successfully built and run countries and cities, economies and formidable institutions.” -- Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

The conference was led by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who was the first executive director of U.N. Women (2010-2013), and her successor, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka of South Africa. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also took part in the inauguration of the event.

The meeting kicked off the activities marking the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in September 1995 in the Chinese capital, where 189 governments signed the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which contained a package of measures to bolster gender equity and women’s empowerment.

Two decades later, defenders of the human rights of women recognise that progress has been made, although they say it has been slower and more limited than what was promised in the action plan.

In terms of women’s access to decision-making, representation remains low.

In 1995, women accounted for 11.3 percent of the world’s legislators, and only the parliaments of Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden had more than 30 percent women. And only three women were heads of state and seven were heads of government.

Today, women represent 21.9 percent of parliamentarians globally, and 39 lower houses of Congress around the world are made up of at least 30 percent women. In addition, 10 women are heads of state and 15 are heads of government.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, one of every four legislators is a woman, and in the last 23 years, six women were elected president of their countries, four of them in the last decade. And three of them were reelected.

In March 2014 Bachelet took office for a second time, after her first term of president of Chile in 2006-2010. In Brazil, Dilma Rousseff began her second consecutive term on Jan. 1. And in Argentina, Cristina Fernández has been president since 2007, and was reelected in 2011.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, during her participation in the high-level event “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”,in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, during her participation in the high-level event “Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world”,in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“Women in power and decision-making: Building a different world” was attended by a number of high-level women leaders, such as Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaité, First Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia Vesna Pusic, several vice presidents, and ministers from around the world.

Speakers mentioned achievements as well as multiple political, cultural, social and economic barriers that continue to stand in the way of women’s access to positions of power.

There are still countries that have not made progress, said Byanyima, of Oxfam, one of the world’s leading humanitarian organisations.

Tarcila Rivera, a Peruvian journalist and activist for the rights of indigenous women, told IPS that when assessing the progress made in the last two decades, “it should be made clear that we have advanced but have only closed some gaps.”

Rivera, the founder of the Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Cultures of Peru, said the progress made has been uneven for native and non-native women, while there are continuing gaps in education, participation, violence and economic empowerment.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), one of every two women in the region is outside the labour market, and one of every three does not have her own income, while only one of every 10 men is in that position.

Another study by the United Nations regional body concluded that if women had the same access to employment as men, poverty would shrink between one and 14 percentage points in the countries of Latin America.

“There is already enough evidence in the world to show the positive impact of women’s leadership,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka, who prior to heading U.N. Women served as South Africa’s first female vice president (2005-2008).

“Women have successfully built and run countries and cities, economies and formidable institutions,” she added.

But she said “We know that this is not happening enough, and we know that there can be both overt and subtle resistance to women’s leadership. We also know the devastating impact of leaving things as they are. We know that for women’s leadership to thrive, and for change to happen, all of us need greater courage and decisiveness.

“According to available data, it will be some 50 years before gender parity is reached in politics. Unless political parties take bolder steps,” she said.

Mlambo-Ngcuka recounted that during a Thursday Feb. 26 meeting with Chilean civil society representatives she called on a pregnant woman set to give birth in six weeks.

“I reminded everyone that her unborn daughter will be 50 before her world offers equal political opportunity. And that baby will be 80 before she has equal economic opportunity.”

According to the female leaders and experts meeting in Santiago, change cannot continue to be the sole responsibility of civil society groups that defend the rights of women, but requires action by the authorities and those in power – both men and women.

“The heirs of Beijing are the heirs of voices that call on us and urge us to put equality on the political agenda,” said Alicia Bárcena of Mexico, the executive secretary of ECLAC.

“Twenty years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, women know what is needed to reach gender equality. Now it is time to act,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: War on Wildlife Crime – Time to Enlist the Ordinary Citizenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-war-on-wildlife-crime-time-to-enlist-the-ordinary-citizen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-war-on-wildlife-crime-time-to-enlist-the-ordinary-citizen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-war-on-wildlife-crime-time-to-enlist-the-ordinary-citizen/#comments Sun, 01 Mar 2015 14:46:38 +0000 Dr. Bradnee Chambers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139432 Dead addax (white antelope) hunted by soldiers in Chad – “We should not underestimate the seriousness of wildlife crime”. Credit: John Newby/SCF

Dead addax (white antelope) hunted by soldiers in Chad – “We should not underestimate the seriousness of wildlife crime”. Credit: John Newby/SCF

By Bradnee Chambers
BONN, Mar 1 2015 (IPS)

It is no exaggeration to say that we are facing a “wildlife crisis”, and it is a crisis exacerbated by human activities, not least criminal ones.

Whatever our definition of wildlife crime, it is big business. In terms of annual turn-over it is up there narcotics, arms and human trafficking – and the proceeds run into billions of dollars each year, helping to finance criminal gangs and rebel organisations waging civil wars.“Whatever our definition of wildlife crime, it is big business. In terms of annual turn-over it is up there with narcotics, arms and human trafficking – and the proceeds run into billions of dollars each year”

With seven billion people on the planet, it is tempting to shrug one’s shoulders and ask “What difference can any one individual make?”  Such an attitude means that we are in danger of repeating the “tragedy of the commons” – everyone making seemingly rational decisions in their own immediate interests – but this is a short-sighted approach that undermines the common good and ultimately sows the seeds of its own downfall.

With seven billion people on the planet, it is also tempting to say that people’s need for food, shelter and well-being should take precedence over nature conservation, but the two are not necessarily irreconcilable.  In fact far from it – the two often go hand in hand and are totally compatible – non-consumptive use of wildlife, such as whale-watching and safaris, provide sustainable livelihoods for thousands of people.

Extinction has been an ever-present phenomenon, with a few species losing their specialised niche or being edged out to a more aggressive competitor or, in the case of dinosaurs, being wiped out by a meteorite strike.

The number of species going extinct is increasing fast, at a rate that cannot be attributed to natural causes and it is clear that there is a human foot pressing down heavily on the accelerator pedal.

South Africa reports record numbers of rhinos killed for their horn; demand for ivory is pushing the elephant to the brink; tiger numbers might have risen in India of late but the wild population and the range occupied by the cats are a fraction of what they were at the beginning of the twentieth century.

And we are not just losing vital pieces in the elaborate jigsaw puzzle of ecosystems; we are losing elements of our natural heritage that contribute to human culture and society, and the lifeblood of sustainable activities that create employment in the tourism sector, generating foreign exchange and significant tax revenues.

Wildlife crime is not an abstract. It affects us all and there is more that individuals can do to make a difference than they perhaps imagine.  Understanding the consequences of killing the animals and highlighting the connection between the increased poaching and organised criminal gangs and terrorists have been extremely helpful in strengthening  political messages and in persuading  the public to demand that more be done.

The gangs care little about the fate of the animals – either the individuals they kill or the survival of the species.  They think nothing of shooting the rangers who stand in their way.  They do care about their profits and high demand for ivory in East Asian markets has sent the price through the roof – not that the poacher in the field or the craftsman in the backstreet workshop receive much of a share.

If demand evaporates, the price will fall and killing elephants for their ivory will no longer be a viable business. The gangs will have to find some other source of income, but they would have to do this soon anyway, as current levels of poaching mean that there will not be any elephants left in 30 years.

The maxim “get them while they are young” applies to many things, not least the environment and junior members of the household often influence the family’s behaviour with regard to recycling, saving energy and water, food purchases and a range of other “green issues”. So raising awareness among the younger generation of the need to tackle wildlife crime is crucial.

The fight against wildlife crime has to be conducted on several fronts.  It does register on governments’ radar and pressure from civil society can help keep it high on the agenda.  The public has a vital role to play in keeping pressure on governments, either individually or through local pressure groups and NGOs. People can also modify their own behaviour by minimising their footprint on the planet.

We should not underestimate the seriousness of wildlife crime, but nor should we dismiss the potential impact of the actions of individuals as consumers, customers or voters.

Edited by Phil Harris  

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Bamboo – An Answer to Deforestation or Not in Africa?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/bamboo-an-answer-to-deforestation-or-not-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bamboo-an-answer-to-deforestation-or-not-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/bamboo-an-answer-to-deforestation-or-not-in-africa/#comments Sat, 28 Feb 2015 19:37:14 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139394 Bamboo nursery in Africa. There is debate over whether commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent. Credit: EcoPlanet Bamboo

Bamboo nursery in Africa. There is debate over whether commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent. Credit: EcoPlanet Bamboo

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Feb 28 2015 (IPS)

Deforestation is haunting the African continent as industrial growth paves over public commons and puts more hectares into private hands.

According to the Environmental News Network, a web-based resource, Africa loses forest cover equal to the size of Switzerland every year, or approximately 41 000 square kilometres.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is also on record as saying the African continent loses over four million hectares (9.9 million acres) of natural forest annually, which is twice the world’s average deforestation rate. And deforestation, according to UNEP, accounts for at least one-fifth of all carbon emissions globally.

The dangerous pace of deforestation has triggered a market-based solution using bamboo, a fast-growing woody grass that grows chiefly in the tropics.“If grown in the right way, and under the right sustainable management system, in certain areas, bamboo can play a role in reversing ecosystem degradation” – Troy Wiseman, CEO of EcoPlanet Bamboo

“The idea of bamboo plantations is a good one, but it triggers fear of widespread starvation as poor Africans may be lured into this venture for money and start ditching food crops” – Terry Mutsvanga, Zimbabwean human rights activist

EcoPlanet Bamboo, a multinational company, has been expanding its operations in Africa while it promotes the industrialisation of bamboo as an environmentally attractive alternative fibre for timber manufacturing industries that currently rely on the harvesting of natural forests for their raw resource. The company’s operations extend to South Africa, Ghana and Nicaragua.

For EcoPlanet and some African environmentalists, commercially-grown bamboo could help reverse the effects of deforestation and land degradation that has spread harm across the African continent.

“If grown in the right way on land that has little value for other uses, and if managed under the right sustainable management system, bamboo can play a role in restoring highly degraded ecosystems and connecting remnant forest patches, while reducing pressure on remaining natural forests,” Troy Wiseman, CEO of EcoPlanet Bamboo, told IPS.

Happison Chikova, a Zimbabwean independent environmentalist who holds a Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Geography and Environmental Studies from the Midlands State University here, agreed.

“Bamboo plants help fight climate change because of their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide and act as carbon sinks while the plants can also be used as a source for wood energy, thereby reducing the cutting down of indigenous trees, and also the fact that bamboo can be used to build shelter, reduces deforestation in the communal areas where there is high demand of indigenous trees for building purposes,” Chikova told IPS.

But land rights activists are sceptical about their claims.

“The idea of bamboo plantations is a good one, but it triggers fear of widespread starvation as poor Africans may be lured into this venture for money and start ditching food crops,” Terry Mutsvanga, an award-winning Zimbabwean human rights activist, told IPS.

Mutsvanga’s fears of small sustainable farms losing out to foreign-owned export-driven plantations were echoed by Nnimmo Bassey, a renowned African environmentalist and head of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, an ecological think-tank and advocacy organisation.

“No one can seriously present a bamboo plantation as a cure for deforestation,” Bassey, who is based in Nigeria, told IPS, “and unfortunately the United Nations system sees plantations as forests and this fundamentally faulty premise gives plantation owners the latitude to see their forest-gobbling actions as something positive.”

“If we agree that forests are places with rich biodiversity, it is clear that a plantation cannot be the same as a forest,” added Bassey.

Currently, bamboo is widely grown in Africa by small farmers for multiple uses. The Mount Selinda Women’s Bamboo Association, an environmental lobby group in Chipinge, Zimbabwe’s eastern border town, for example, received funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) through the Livelihood and Economic Development Programme in order to create sustainable rural livelihoods and enterprises by using bamboo resources.

Citing its many benefits, IFAD calls bamboo the “poor man’s timber.”

Further, notes IFAD, bamboo contributes to rural poverty reduction, empowers women and can be processed into boats, kitchen utensils, incense sticks, charcoal and footwear. It also provides food and nutrition security as food and animal feed.

Currently, EcoPlanet Bamboo’s footprint in Africa includes 5,000 acres in Ghana in a public-private partnership to develop commercial bamboo plantations. In South Africa’s Eastern Cape, certification is under way to convert out of production pineapple plantations to bamboo plantations for the production of activated carbon and bio-charcoal to be sold to local and export markets.

Environmentalist Bassey worries whether all these acres were unutilised, as the company claims. “Commercial bamboo, which will replace natural wood forests and may require hundreds of hectares of land space, may not be so good for peasant farmers in Africa,” Bassey said.

EcoPlanet Bamboo, however, insists it does not convert or plant on any land that could compete with food security.

“(We) convert degraded land into certified bamboo plantations into diverse, thriving ecosystems, that can provide fibre on an annual basis, and yet maintain their ecological integrity,” said Wiseman.

Wiseman’s claim, however, did not move long-time activist Bassey and one-time winner of the Right Livelihood Prize, an alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize, who questioned foreign ownership of Africa’s resources as not always to Africa’s benefit.

“Plantations are not owned by the weak in society,” said Bassey. “They are owned by corporations or rich individuals with strong economic and sometimes political connections. This could mean displacement of vulnerable farmers, loss of territories and means of livelihoods.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/ Phil Harris   

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Opinion: Goals for Gender Equality Are Not a ‘Wish List’ – They Are a ‘To Do List’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-goals-for-gender-equality-are-not-a-wish-list-they-are-a-to-do-list/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 22:49:39 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139408 A women-led village council in rural Bangladesh prepares a “social map” of the local community. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A women-led village council in rural Bangladesh prepares a “social map” of the local community. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
SANTIAGO, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

This weekend, at the invitation of President Michelle Bachelet and myself, women leaders from across the world are meeting in Santiago de Chile. We will applaud their achievements. We will remind ourselves of their contributions. And we will chart a way forward to correct the historical record. History has not been fair to women – but then, women usually didn’t write it.

This meeting will be an opportunity to take a hard look at the world that is, and the world that will be. The case is urgent, not only for individual women and their human right to equality, but for everyone. The “perfect storm of crises” as one expert has called it, threatens food, energy and water supplies. It threatens political and economic stability in all our countries. It could upend any prospects for balanced and sustainable development.

On the other hand, mobilising the potential of women and maximising their contribution will turn aside some of the worst effects of climate change and help ensure food and water supply; will help correct massive economic inequality between the few and the many; will mitigate conflict and political instability, and help to build lasting peace. Women’s rights are human necessities.

At the heart of our discussion is how to put more women in positions of power. Across the 192 U.N. member countries:

  • Only 19 women are heads of state or government;
  • One in five parliamentarians are women;
  • One in 20 city mayors are women;
  • One in four judges and prosecutors, and
  • Fewer than one in 10 police officers are women.

Women leaders are just as hard to find in economic life – only one in five board seats in major companies are held by women. And this is despite evidence of increased company earnings when women are on the board!

So how do we get there from here? We already have a road map. It was agreed by 189 world leaders back in 1995, at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Countries have made a good start with better overall education and health care for women; but they haven’t followed through on the rest of the package, especially political participation and economic empowerment. At the present rate of progress, it will take 81 years for women to achieve parity in employment. Women, and their countries, can’t wait that long.

This year, the 20th anniversary of the Beijing conference, the year when the U.N. will adopt sustainable development goals for the next 15 years, offers a unique opportunity to make a new start.

First of all, today’s leaders must make a personal commitment to increase women’s presence in decision-making – not just in their numbers, but in their contributions. There are many ways to do this – quotas and numerical targets for women’s participation; training and mentorship to boost women’s confidence and capacity; private-sector engagement matching public-sector initiatives. Countries will find their own ways, if the will is there.

Employers must ensure equal hiring, payment and promotion policies; support to balance work-life conditions, and give women the opportunity to lead. Managers must learn to welcome women’s input and contribution.

Leaders who lead by example in their daily lives will win allies in every aspect of their work for gender equality. They can win allies in the media too – at least to avoid reflexive disparagement, negative stereotyping and casual sexism; and at best to celebrate the positive and constructive contribution of women leaders, even in the toughest environments.

Then there are many women who struggle and suffer every day. They are the everyday heroines of our age, and their fight for equality deserves a wider audience. We shouldn’t have to wait for another vicious attack or another assassination before we learn their names.

These measures sound ambitious, but they are fully realistic. We know from our own experience in leadership, that we can achieve them all. The 1995 Beijing platform for action is not a “wish list”; it’s a “to do list.” If today’s leaders front-load gender equality, if they start now to make good on those 20-year-old promises, we can look forward to serious progress by 2020, and gender equality by 2030.

“The arc of the moral universe is long,” said Martin Luther King, “but it bends toward justice.” Where women are concerned, we have to bend that arc a lot faster now, to make up for all the years it didn’t bend at all. At stake are not only justice and human rights but also perhaps survival itself.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Despite U.N. Treaties, War Against Drugs a Losing Battlehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/despite-u-n-treaties-war-against-drugs-a-losing-battle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-u-n-treaties-war-against-drugs-a-losing-battle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/despite-u-n-treaties-war-against-drugs-a-losing-battle/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 21:10:23 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139383 Less than eight per cent of drug users worldwide have access to a clean syringe programme. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

Less than eight per cent of drug users worldwide have access to a clean syringe programme. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

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

As the call for the decriminalisation of drugs steadily picks up steam worldwide, a new study by a British charity concludes there has been no significant reduction in the global use of illicit drugs since the creation of three key U.N. anti-drug conventions, the first of which came into force over half a century ago.

“Illicit drugs are now purer, cheaper, and more widely used than ever,” says the report, titled Casualties of War: How the War on Drugs is Harming the World’s Poorest, released Thursday by the London-based Health Poverty Action."This approach hasn’t reduced drug use or managed to control the illicit drug trade. Instead, it keeps drugs profitable and cartels powerful." -- Catherine Martin of Health Poverty Action

The study also cites an opinion poll that shows more than eight in 10 Britons believe the war on drugs cannot be won. And over half favour legalising or decriminalising at least some illicit drugs.

The international treaties to curb drug trafficking include the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

But over the last few decades, several countries have either decriminalised drugs, either fully or partially, or adopted liberal drug laws, including the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

These countries include the Netherlands, Portugal, Czech Republic, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Honduras and Mexico, among others.

According to the report, the governments of Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala seek open, evidence-based discussion on U.N. drugs policy reform.

And “both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS not only share this view, but have called for the decriminalisation of drugs use.”

Asked if the United Nations was doing enough in the battle against drugs, Catherine Martin, policy officer at Health Poverty Action, told IPS, “The problem is that the U.N. is doing too much of the wrong things, and not enough of the right things.”

She pointed out that an estimated 100 billion dollars worldwide is poured into drug law enforcement every year, driven by U.N. conventions on drug control.

“However, this approach hasn’t reduced drug use or managed to control the illicit drug trade. Instead, it keeps drugs profitable and cartels powerful (fuelling corruption); spurs violent conflict and human rights violations; and disproportionately punishes small-scale drug producers and people who use drugs,” she added.

The report says UK development organisations have largely remained silent, while calls for drugs reform come from Southern counterparts, British tycoon Sir Richard Branson, current and former presidents, Nobel prizewinning economists and ex-U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan.

The charity urges the UK development sector to demand pro-poor moves as nations prepare for the U.N. general assembly’s special session on drugs next year.

Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including British groups, have no lead contact or set process for participating in the session, says the report.

The report claims many small-scale farmers grow and trade drugs in developing countries as their only income source.

And punitive drug policies penalise farmers who do not have access to the land, sufficient resources and infrastructure that they would need to make a sustainable living from other crops.

Alternative crops or development programmes often fail farmers, because they are led by security concerns and ignore poor communities’ needs, the report notes.

The charity argues the militarisation of the war on drugs has triggered and been used to justify murder, mass imprisonment and systematic human rights violations.

The report stresses that criminalising drugs does not reduce use, but spreads disease, deters people from seeking medical treatment and leads to policies that exclude millions of people from vital pain relief.

Less than eight per cent of drug users have access to a clean needle programme, or opioid substitution therapy, and under four per cent of those living with HIV have access to HIV treatment.

In West Africa, people with conditions linked to cancer and AIDS face severe restrictions in access to pain relief drugs, amid feared diversion to illicit markets, according to the study.

Low and middle-income countries have 90 per cent of AIDS patients around the globe and half of the world’s people with cancer, but use only six per cent of morphine given for pain management.

Health Poverty Action states the war on drugs criminalises the poor, and women are worst hit, through disproportionate imprisonment and the loss of livelihoods.

Drug crop eradication devastates the environment and forces producers underground, often to areas with fragile ecosystems.

Asked what the U.N.’s focus should be, Martin told IPS the world body should focus on evidence-based, pro-poor policies that treat illicit drugs as a health issue, not a security matter.

These policies must protect human rights and end the harm that current policies do to the poor and marginalised, she said.

“Drug policy reform should support and fund harm reduction measures, and ensure access to essential medicines for the five billion people worldwide who live in countries where overly strict drug laws limit access to crucial pain medications,” Martin said.

Meanwhile, the report says that drug policy, like climate change or gender, is a cross-cutting issue that affects most aspects of development work: poverty, human rights, health, democracy, the environment.

And current drug policies undermine economic growth and make development work less effective, the report adds.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Mobile Technology a Lever for Women’s Empowermenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/mobile-technology-a-lever-for-womens-empowerment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mobile-technology-a-lever-for-womens-empowerment http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/mobile-technology-a-lever-for-womens-empowerment/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 13:39:49 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139367 For Cherie Blair (left), founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, “empowering women and girls to access education isn’t an option, isn’t a nice thing to do, it’s an imperative”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

For Cherie Blair (left), founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, “empowering women and girls to access education isn’t an option, isn’t a nice thing to do, it’s an imperative”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

Providing women with greater access to mobile technology could increase literacy, advance development and open up much-needed educational and employment opportunities, according to experts at the fourth United Nations’ Mobile Learning Week conference here.

“Mobile technology can offer learning where there are no books, no classrooms, even no teachers. This is especially important for women and girls who drop out of school and need second chances,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women.

The agency, which focuses on gender equality and the empowerment of women, joined forces with its “sister” organisation, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to host the Feb. 23-27 conference this year.“Mobile technology can offer learning where there are no books, no classrooms, even no teachers. This is especially important for women and girls who drop out of school and need second chances” – Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women

The aim, UNESCO said, was to give participants a venue “to learn about and discuss technology programmes, initiatives and content that are alleviating gender deficits in education.”

Participants from more than 70 countries shared so-called best practices and presented a range of initiatives to address the issue, including reducing the costs of access to mobile services in some developing countries, and providing training and free laptops to women teachers in countries such as Israel.

“There is still a persistent gender gap in access to mobile technology,” said keynote speaker Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In an interview on the side-lines of the conference, she told IPS that “anything that encourages the education of girls is important” and that it was “particularly significant” that UNESCO and UN Women had joined forces to work together in this area to achieve results.

“We need to encourage women to use technology and we also need to involve men to provide support,” Blair said. She cited research showing that a woman in a low- or middle-income country is 21 percent less likely than a man to own a mobile phone. In Africa, the figure is 23 percent less likely, and in the Middle East and South Asia 24 percent and 37 percent respectively.

“The reasons women cite for not owning a mobile phone include the costs of handsets and data plans, lack of need and fear of not being able to master the technology,” Blair said.

Yet, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), mobile phones are the “most pervasive and rapidly adopted technology in history”, with six billion of the world’s seven billion people now having access.

If there existed gender parity in this access, women could benefit from the technology in a number of ways, including getting information about healthcare and other services, experts said.

They could also potentially follow massive open online courses (MOOCS) such as those offered by an increasing number of universities and other institutions, despite on-going controversy about their benefits. Currently, the majority of students enrolled in MOOCs are men, and often from wealthy backgrounds, surveys suggest.

Whether women live in low-income or rich countries, learning how to use technology could have future benefits especially regarding employment, said Mark West, a UNESCO project officer.

“Ninety percent of jobs in the future are going to require ICT skills,” he told IPS in an interview. “So any idea that it’s not socially or culturally acceptable for women to use technology is extremely dangerous.”

He said the fact that 25 percent fewer women than men currently access the Internet “was alarming” and that changes needed to occur early in education so that girls were not left out of future jobs.

“We don’t often realise how gendered our perceptions of technology are,” he added. “Women are taught from a young age to not like technology, taught that maths and science are not for them, and this is a big problem.”

At university level, only about 20 percent of female students are pursuing careers in computer science, and in the technology sector, only six percent of CEOs are women, according to the ITU.

“We should do more to get women in STEM fields,” said Doreen Bogdan, ITU’s Chief of Strategic Planning and Membership Department, referring to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Some participants highlighted current programmes to keep girls interested in science, such as camps run by the California-based semiconductor company Qualcomm, which brings sixth-grade female students together to learn coding and tech skills, and does follow-up work with them as they continue their education.

“All of the tech companies are fighting for the same talent pool and there are not enough females in that talent pool because not enough girls are studying it,” said Angela Baker, a senior manager at Qualcomm.

“There’s a ton of research that shows that when you have more women in the industry, companies tend to do better … so we have a vested interest in building that pipeline of girls and women,” she told IPS.

Apart from the STEM fields, girls have made great strides in education over the past 30 years, but there is “still a long way to go,” said experts, who cited U.N. figures showing that globally there are seven girls to every 10 boys in school.

Both UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova and Cherie Blair described education as a “human rights imperative” as well as a development and security imperative.

They stressed that the goal of achieving gender equality in education will continue for the post-2015 development agenda, and that technology has an important role to play.

“Empowering women and girls to access education isn’t an option, isn’t a nice thing to do, it’s an imperative,” Blair said.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Indigenous Storytelling in the Limelighthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/indigenous-storytelling-in-the-limelight/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 09:33:21 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139362 María Mercedes Coroy, first-time lead actress in ‘Ixcanul Volcano’, winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 2015 Berlinale. The film, directed by Guatemalan Jayro Buscamante, emerged from a community-media storytelling project involving local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Credit: © La Casa de Producción

María Mercedes Coroy, first-time lead actress in ‘Ixcanul Volcano’, winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 2015 Berlinale. The film, directed by Guatemalan Jayro Buscamante, emerged from a community-media storytelling project involving local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Credit: © La Casa de Producción

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

In recent years, the Berlin International Film Festival, known as the Berlinale, has established a European hub for indigenous voices across a number of platforms, including its NATIVe – A Journey into Indigenous Cinema series and Storytelling-Slams in which indigenous storytelling artists share their stories before opening the floor to contributions from the audience.

This year’s Berlinale, with a focus on Latin America, dabbed a rainbow of native flair to Berlin’s greyest month, with a chorus of voices and perspectives from indigenous people, including Guarani, Hicholes, Xavante, Wichi, Kuikuro, Mapuche, Tzotzil and Quechua.

And it was an indigenous story from Guatemala – ‘Ixcanul Volcano’ by Jayro Buscamante (37), set among the Maya community in the Pacaya volcano region – which took home the Berlinale’s Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize this year for a film that “opens new perspectives on cinematic art”."I wanted to reveal the state of impotence, the real situation faced by indigenous women who have no power, told from their own perspective, in their own language” – Jayro Buscamante, director of ‘Ixcanul Volcano’

Ixcanul Volcano is the story of Maria, a 17-year-old Mayan girl from a coffee-farming community in the volcano’s foothills, who is torn between an arranged marriage to the local foreman and her attraction to a young local man, Pepe, who seduces her with his dreams of a different life, beyond the volcano, up north.

Following a botched-up elopement attempt, Maria finds herself bearing the consequences of an unwanted teenage pregnancy. The young girl and her mother, played by Maria Telon, a Mayan community theatre actress-activist, are soon engulfed in a precipice of dramatic circumstances.

Based on true events, Ixcanul Volcano emerged from a community-media storytelling project where Buscamante involved local women in discussion groups and script writing workshops in Kaqchikel, one of the 12 regional Mayan languages. Inevitably, the story came to reflect the glaring nexus among human rights abuses, poverty and powerlessness.

“I wanted to reveal the state of impotence, the real situation faced by indigenous women who have no power, told from their own perspective, in their own language,” explained Buscamante, who learnt Kaqchikel growing up among the Maya.

It was his mother, a community health worker, who first told him about the scourge surrounding child-trafficking practices, one of the darkest chapters of Guatemala’s long civil war (1960-1996), involving public health employees and state authorities.

The United Nations has reported a staggering 400 cases of abductions of Mayan children and minors per year, a human rights scandal carried out with impunity.

“There is an insidious social-legal framework which can chain and cheat the poorest of the poor even while pretending to help them out. This leads to a state of impotence and submission, sometimes the only response left available,” explained Buscamante.

Yet, in Berlin, Maria Telon and the hauntingly beautiful, first-time lead, María Mercedes Coroy,  spoke of their gratitude for “liking our story” and for being heard and appreciated, something which, Telon said, is not always the case for indigenous women and communities.

The horrors and human rights crimes perpetrated by the massacre of the Mayan population, which accounted for 85 percent of the victims of the Guatemalan civil war, are outlined in a report by Guatemala’s Historical Clarification Commission’s report titled Memory of Silence”, drafted by three rapporteurs, including German jurist Christian Tomuschat, professor of public international law at Berlin’s Humboldt University.

Memory was the thread linking native perspectives on water, the crucial element sustaining life on the planet and the subject of The Pearl Button (El boton de nazar), Chilean film director Patricio Guzman’s documentary, which took home a Berlinale Silver Bear Prize for Best Script.

Countries which deny their past remain stuck in collective amnesia and Guzman, for whom “a country without documentary cinema is like a family without a family album,” applies this conviction to Chile’s denial of its colonial history and the extermination of its native inhabitants.

The documentary’s title refers to the legend of Jemmy Button, a Yagan teenager who was sold off to a British naval captain in 1830 for the price of a pearl button.

It pays tribute to three of the all but extinguished Yacatan original inhabitants, the “water nomads” of the Patagonian estuary, and to the native wisdom of those who navigated these waters which sustained human existence for centuries.

Interviewed by Guzman, who endured 15 days of detention in Pinochet’s infamous torture stadium in 1973 and is internationally acclaimed for the documentary trilogy ‘The Battle of Chile’ (1975-1978), Gabriela Paterito recalled a 600-mile voyage aged 12 with her mother to collect fresh water.

Asked to translate Spanish words into her own native Kawesquar, Paterito recalls many words including “water”, “sun” and “button” and, pushed to find the equivalent for “police”, she nods replying: “No, we don’t need that.” And as far as God is concerned, her response comes as a resolute: “No, there is no God.”

The fate of Gabriela’s people was sealed in Chile’s colonial past. Five distinct ethnic groups tied to the water environment of the archipelagos were exterminated by Catholic missionaries and conquistadores.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recognises that “indigenous knowledge is the local knowledge that is unique to a culture or society” and that knowledge of the natural world cannot be confined to science because it represents the accumulated knowledge which has sustained human societies in their interaction with the natural world across the ages.

Another protagonist in The Pearl Button explains how the government denies him the use of his handmade canoe,  and consequently access to his own traditional livelihood, ostensibly for  his own protection – a disturbing disconnect in a country which exterminated its native maritime inhabitants and was never able to make use of the  potential of its 2,670 miles of coastline.

“Ixcanul is a significant step for a native, Latin American film. With 80 percent of our screens spewing out U.S. blockbusters it leaves a small niche for alternatives from Europe and a tiny one for Latin American films, Leo Cordero of Mexico’s Mantarraya Distribucion told IPS. “Paradoxically, it is only if the film is well received in Europe and around the world that we can take a chance on it.”

Strongly committed to the Guatemalan peace process and the emancipation of the Maya people, Ixcanul Volcano comes at a time when indigenous media are flourishing with a new understanding of the native retelling of history and film-making as a “common good”.

Bolivia and Ecuador have acknowledged the world view of indigenous people based on a sacred conception of the Law of Rights of mother Earth – the concept of Pachamama, which prioritises the collective good over individual gain.

At the Berlinale’s NATIVe Storytelling-Slam, indigenous perspectives were centre stage.  David Alberto Hernandez Palmar, a Venezuelan video artist and producer of the documentary Owners of Water about an indigenous campaign to protect an Amazonian river, insisted that the Kueka stone, which originated in Venezuela’s Gran Sabana nature reserve in the Pemom Indian lands, should be returned from Berlin’s central park, the Tiergarten. “Mother Earth is sad,” he said.

Whether or not Berlin will become involved in a case of restitution of indigenous property is unsure but, increasingly, indigenous arts, media and communications are building bridges.

“The medium of film can provide a crucial path towards understanding because you have to open up to the perspectives of others,” said Buscamante, who stressed his interest in the relationships among different cultures and ethnic groups.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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A New Forensic Weapon to Track Illegal Ivory Tradehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/a-new-forensic-weapon-to-track-illegal-ivory-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-new-forensic-weapon-to-track-illegal-ivory-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/a-new-forensic-weapon-to-track-illegal-ivory-trade/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 21:01:37 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139356 Protected from external dangers, an elephant family roams peacefully in the Mikumi National Park in Tanzania. Credit: UN Photo/B Wolff

Protected from external dangers, an elephant family roams peacefully in the Mikumi National Park in Tanzania. Credit: UN Photo/B Wolff

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

The wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, is deploying a new forensic weapon – DNA testing – to track illegal ivory products responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of endangered elephants in Asia and Africa.

Widely used in criminal cases, forensic DNA examination (Deoxyribonucleic acid) can help identify whether the elephant tusk is from Asia or Africa.“The ability to use DNA and other forensic expertise provides great support to law enforcement." -- Adisorn Noochdumrong

Asked whether this is a first, Dr Richard Thomas, global communications coordinator at the UK-based TRAFFIC, told IPS: “It’s the first time I’m aware of when it’s been used to test ivory items for sale to prove their (illegal) provenance.”

However, he added, it’s worth noting that at the March 2013 meeting of CITES (the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), State Parties to the Convention were instructed that forensic information should routinely be gathered from all large-scale seizures of ivory (500kg).

Hence this is also an important demonstration of one technique that can be employed in the fight against the illegal trade in endangered species, he said.

The current project is a collaborative effort between Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) and TRAFFIC, to battle the widespread illegal trade of ivory in Thailand.

Asked whether African countries have similar projects in collaboration with TRAFFIC, Dr. Thomas told IPS, “Not currently, although the scope of DNA and stable isotope analysis of ivory are being examined by others as means to determine the geographic origin of ivory within Africa.”

He also pointed out that any wildlife product, by definition, is associated with life and therefore open for DNA examination.

“So, in theory it could be a very widely employed technique in addressing wildlife trafficking.”

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Sri Lankan and Sumatran elephants are on a list of endangered species, along with the black rhino, mountain gorilla, Bengal tiger, the blue whale and the green turtle, among others.

WWF says the global illicit wildlife trade is estimated at over 10 billion dollars annually and is controlled by criminal networks.

Specifically on the ivory trade, Dr Thomas told IPS, “We’re very wary about speculating over black market prices – in part, because they’re black market and therefore unverifiable, but more because of anecdotal evidence that high prices quoted in the media can lead to interest from the criminal fraternity in getting involved in trafficking.”

In a report released here, TRAFFIC said 160 items of small ivory products legally acquired by researchers, primarily from retail outlets in Bangkok, were subjected to DNA analysis at the DNP’s Wildlife Forensics Crime Unit (WIFOS Laboratory).

The aim of the exercise was to determine whether the ivory products were made from African elephant or Asian elephant tusks.

The African elephant Loxodonta africana is found in 37 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Asian elephant Elephas maximas is found in Thailand and 12 other Asian countries.

The study also said forensic results show that African elephant ivory accounted for a majority of the items tested.

“Whilst the relatively small number of samples cannot be considered as representative of the entire ivory market in Thailand, it indicates that African elephant ivory is prominently represented in the retail outlets in Bangkok,” it noted.

This capability supports the enforcement component of Thailand’s revised National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) submitted to CITES in September 2014.

The plan was developed to control ivory trade in Thailand and strengthen measures to prevent illegal international trade and includes a strong focus on law enforcement and regulation, including the execution of a robust ivory registration system, according to the report.

“The ability to use DNA and other forensic expertise provides great support to law enforcement,” said Adisorn Noochdumrong, acting deputy director general of DNP.

“We are deeply concerned by these findings which come just at the moment a nationwide ivory product registration exercise is being conducted pursuant to recently enacted legislation to strengthen ivory trade controls in Thailand,” he added.

The report said the Thai government last month passed new legislation to regulate and control the possession and trade of ivory that can be shown to have come from domesticated Asian Elephants in Thailand.

With the passing of the Elephant Ivory Act B.E. 2558 (2015), anyone in possession of ivory – whether as personal effects or for commercial purposes – must register all items in their possession with the DNP from Jan. 22 until Apr. 21, 2015.

Penalties for failing to do so could result in up to three years imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of Thai Baht 6 million (nearly 200,000 dollars).

“We remind anyone registering possession of raw ivory or ivory products under Thailand’s new laws that African Elephant ivory is strictly prohibited and ineligible for sale in Thailand,” said Noochdumrong.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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