Inter Press Service » Headlines http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 03 Sep 2014 01:34:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 ISIS Carrying Out Ethnic Cleansing on “Historic Scale”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/isis-carrying-out-ethnic-cleansing-on-historic-scale/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=isis-carrying-out-ethnic-cleansing-on-historic-scale http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/isis-carrying-out-ethnic-cleansing-on-historic-scale/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 00:27:56 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136462 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 3 2014 (IPS)

While the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama ponders broader actions against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Amnesty International Tuesday accused the group of carrying out ethnic cleansing in Iraq on a “historic scale.”

In a 26-page report, which was based on on-site investigations and interviews with victims and witnesses of mass executions and abductions, the London-based rights group said the threats to ethnic minorities in the areas under ISIS’s control “demand a swift and robust response … to ensure the protection of vulnerable communities who risk being wiped off the map of Iraq.”

“The group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS) has carried out ethnic cleansing on a historic scale in northern Iraq,” the report said. “Amnesty International has found that the IS has systematically targeted non-Arab and non-Sunni Muslim communities, killing or abducting hundreds, possibly thousands, and forcing more than 830,000 others to flee the areas it has captured since 10 June 2014.”

Amnesty’s report was released as another major international rights organisation, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), charged ISIS with executing between 560 and 770 men – all or most of them Iraqi army soldiers – in Tikrit after it took control of that city on June 11 as part of its stunning drive across northern and central Iraq. The following day, ISIS itself claimed to have executed 1,700 “Shi’a members of the army.”

The new HRW estimate, which was based on testimony from a survivor and analyses of videos and satellite imagery, was triple the death toll HRW had reported at the end of June. The group said the imagery confirmed the existence of three more mass execution sites in and around Tikrit in addition to the two it had reported earlier.

“Another piece of this gruesome puzzle has come into place, with many more executions now confirmed,” said Peter Bouckaert, HRW’s emergencies director. “The barbarity of the Islamic State violates the law and grossly offends the conscience.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council voted Monday to send a fact-finding team to Iraq to investigate possible war crimes by ISIS.

“The reports we have received reveal acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale,” Flavia Pansieri, the deputy high commissioner for human rights, told the Council.

The Amnesty and HRW reports came as ISIS posted a video purporting to show its beheading of a U.S. reporter, Steven Sotloff, who had been kidnapped in August 2013 while he was covering the civil war in Syria for Time magazine and the Christian Science Monitor, among other publications.’

The grisly video, which is certain to add pressure on the Obama administration to expand recent U.S. airstrikes against ISIS to include targets in Syria, as well as in Iraq, followed the release of a video of the beheading by ISIS two weeks ago of another U.S. reporter, James Foley. It also came after an emotional videotaped appeal aired last week by Sotloff’s mother to ISIS’ leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to spare her son.

Sotloff had appeared in the Foley video, with the purported executioner, who is believed to be a British national, warning that Sotloff would be next to be killed unless Obama ceased conducting air strikes against ISIS positions around Mt. Zinjar and convoys approaching Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan.

Obama, however, has since broadened the U.S. target list. Dozens of air strikes have been carried out in coordination with ground attacks by Iraqi special forces, Shi’a militias, and Kurdish peshmerga fighters in a counteroffensive that initially recaptured the giant Mosul dam from ISIS forces and, more recently, reportedly broke the group’s siege of the largely Shi’a Turkomen town of Amerli.

“I’m back, Obama,” the same masked executioner said on the latest video. “I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy toward the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings.”

“We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone,” he added, while standing over yet another unidentified captive who is believed to be a British citizen.

For its part, the White House released a statement noting that it had seen the video and that the intelligence community was working to determine its authenticity. “If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”

Obama, who left Tuesday for the NATO summit in Wales later this week, is expected to urge other members of the alliance to adopt a coordinated strategy of diplomatic, economic, and military pressure against ISIS, which spread from its base in eastern Syria into Iraq’s Al-Anbar province in early 2014 before its sweep down the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys into northern and central Iraq beginning in June.

Among other measures, Washington wants its European allies to adhere to U.S. and British policies against ransom payments to free citizens who are captured by ISIS – a practice that has reportedly become a major source of income for the group.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel are also scheduled to visit key allies in the Middle East next week, especially in the Sunni-led Gulf states, to persuade them to crack down harder against their citizens who fund or otherwise support ISIS, offer greater support to a new government in Baghdad, and possibly contribute direct support for expanded international military efforts against the group.

Like the administration itself, U.S. lawmakers, who return here from their summer recess next week, are divided on how aggressively Washington should take military action against ISIS.

While many Republicans are urging Obama to conduct air strikes – and even deploy ground forces – against the group in Syria, as well as Iraq, many Democrats are concerned that such an escalation could well lead to Washington’s becoming bogged down in yet more Middle Eastern conflicts.

Some key Democrats, however, are becoming more hawkish, a process that is likely to strengthen as a result of Sotloff’s execution.

“Let there be no doubt we must go after ISIS right away because the U.S. is the only one that can put together a coalition to stop this group that’s intent on barbaric cruelty,” said Florida Sen. Bill Nelson Tuesday in announcing legislation that would give Obama legal authority to strike ISIS in Syria.

In its report, Amnesty detailed mass killings last month by ISIS forces of hundreds of non-Sunni Muslim men and boys as young as 12 in the predominantly Yazidi regions in Nineveh Province, as well as the mass abductions of women and children, many of whom, according to the report, are being held in Mosul, Tal ‘Afar, and Bi’aj under pressure to convert to Sunni Islam. Many others remain unaccounted for.

“The Islamic State is carrying out despicable crimes and has transformed rural areas of Sinjar into blood-soaked killing fields in its brutal campaign to obliterate all trade of non-Arabs and non-Sunni Muslims,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty’s senior crisis response adviser currently based in northern Iraq.

In addition to Yezidis, targeted groups include Assyrian Christians, Turkmen Shi’a, Shabak Shi’a, Kakai and Sabean Manaeans, as well as many Arabs and Sunni Muslims who are believed to oppose ISIS, according to the report which also called for Iraq’s government to disband Shi’a militias, some of which are believed to have targeted Sunni communities in the region.

“Instead of aggravating the fighting by either turning a blind eye to sectarian militias or arming Shi’a militias against the Islamic State as the authorities have done so far, Iraq’s government should focus on protecting all civilians regardless of their ethnicity or religion,” according to Rovera.

Edited by Stephanie Wildes

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Criminalisation of Homelessness in U.S. Criticised by United Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/criminalisation-of-homelessness-in-u-s-criticised-by-united-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=criminalisation-of-homelessness-in-u-s-criticised-by-united-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/criminalisation-of-homelessness-in-u-s-criticised-by-united-nations/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 22:41:08 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136460 Men line up to receive food distributed by Coalition for the Homeless volunteers at 35th St, FDR Drive, in New York City. Credit: Zafirah Mohamed Zein/IPS

Men line up to receive food distributed by Coalition for the Homeless volunteers at 35th St, FDR Drive, in New York City. Credit: Zafirah Mohamed Zein/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 2 2014 (IPS)

A United Nations panel reviewing the U.S. record on racial discrimination has expressed unusually pointed concern over a new pattern of laws it warns is criminalising homelessness.

U.S. homelessness has increased substantially in the aftermath of the financial downturn, and with a disproportionate impact on minorities. Yet in many places officials have responded by cracking down on activities such as sleeping or even eating in public, while simultaneously defunding social services.

The new rebuke comes from a panel of experts reviewing the United States’ progress in implementing its obligations under a treaty known as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, commonly referred to as CERD or the race convention.

“The Committee is concerned at the high number of homeless persons, who are disproportionately from racial and ethnic minorities,” the CERD panel stated in a formal report released on Friday, “and at the criminalization of homelessness through laws that prohibit activities such as loitering, camping, begging, and lying in public spaces.”

This was only the second time that the United States’ record on race relations and discriminatory practices, and particularly the federal government’s actions in this regard, have been formally examined against the measuring stick of international law.

The panel not only called on the U.S. government to “abolish” laws and policies that facilitate the criminalisation of homelessness, but also to create incentives that would push authorities to focus on and bolster alternative policy approaches.

The CERD findings were actually the second time this year that new U.S. laws around the criminalisation of homelessness have been criticised at the international level. Similar concerns were expressed by the Human Rights Committee, which warned the cumulative effect was “cruel, inhuman, and degrading”.

“These are human rights experts who have seen human rights abuses all over the globe, but still when they hear about these issues in the United States it boggles their mind,” Eric S. Tars, a senior attorney with the National Law Center on Poverty & Homelessness, told IPS.

The CERD panel underscored these concerns by requesting additional information from the U.S. government before the country’s next such review, in 2017. The other issues so highlighted included racial profiling and gun violence, areas that have typically received far more interest from policymakers and the media.

Questionable progress

The formal review of the United States’ progress on implementing the race convention took place over two days in mid-August, attended by some 30 U.S. officials and dozens of civil society groups. The federal government’s formal report to the committee is available here, while non-government analyses lodged with the commission covering education, housing, gun violence, health care, immigration and other issues, are available here.

Observers say the mere act of the government going before an international body to discuss these issues was important, a sense strengthened by the significant delegation and substantive response offered by the administration of Barack Obama.

“In many ways it undercuts the idea of U.S. exceptionalism – that we don’t have human rights violations here,” Ejim Dike, the executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network, a leading organiser around the CERD review, told IPS following the CERD discussions.

“In fact we have a lot of human rights violations, and our racial past and unfortunate racial present are indications of these concerns. Sometimes the headlines are so reminiscent of what happened during the 1950s and 1960s that it begs the question of how much progress we actually have made.”

Indeed, some metrics of racial discrimination in the United States are currently worse than they were decades ago. An official summary of the review’s discussions between the U.N. experts and civil society groups noted one committee member’s shock “to realize that in spite of several decades of affirmative action in the United States to improve the mixing up of colors and races in schools … segregation was nowadays much worse than it was in the 1970s.”

Likewise, recent years have underscored the significant racial disparities that continue to characterise homelessness in the United States, a discrepancy noted by the U.N. panel. This pattern has continued and has even been strengthened in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

In 2010, for instance, African-Americans were seven times more likely to need emergency housing than whites, according to statistics from the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness, a research organisation. Similar discrepancies can be seen in the case of Hispanics and other minority groups.

This is important because, unlike U.S. domestic law, the race convention prohibits policies that have the effect of being discriminatory, regardless of whether or not they are meant to discriminate.

Banning sleeping, eating

As important as this continued racial pattern is how officials are responding to the new surge in homelessness. Even as the financial downturn in recent years has simultaneously squeezed state budgets and led more people to lose their jobs and homes, the official response has been to strengthen enforcement – to make homelessness more difficult.

Over the past three years, for instance, the number of U.S. cities that have banned sleeping in cars has grown by 119 percent, according to findings released in July. Bans on sleeping or camping in public have likewise risen by 60 percent during that same time.

“These numbers in general are going up and in some cases going up significantly,” the National Law Center’s Tars says. “The only cases in which those numbers are going down is where some cities have removed ordinances banning panhandling and sleeping in certain areas, and instead replaced them with bans that cover the whole city.”

Meanwhile, the financial recession has increased poverty in places where such problems hadn’t previously been visible, in suburban and rural communities. Social services were likely already weak in these areas, and the economy’s broader troubles have led authorities to slash these budgets even further.
“First the communities and governments are cutting resources for homeless shelters and related organisations and saying this isn’t the government’s responsibility. But then some are even making it difficult for charities to deal with the issue – for instance, by punishing people for eating donated food in public,” Tars says.

“In fact, there’s significant evidence that criminalisation is often more expensive and less effective than providing affordable housing.”

Nonetheless, the new focus on austerity budgets in other countries, particularly in the European Union, is seeing governments across the globe increasingly turn to this U.S. model of criminalisation. In June, an Australian researcher noted a new “proliferation” of enforcement-based homelessness laws and policies internationally.

Edited by Stephanie Wildes

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Afghan “Torn” Women Get Another Chancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/afghan-torn-women-get-another-chance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghan-torn-women-get-another-chance http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/afghan-torn-women-get-another-chance/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 14:14:35 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136457 Rukia (in the foreground) recovers after a successful fistula operation at Malalai Maternity Hospital in Badakhshan, Afganistan (August 2014). Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Rukia (in the foreground) recovers after a successful fistula operation at Malalai Maternity Hospital in Badakhshan, Afganistan (August 2014). Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
KABUL, Sep 2 2014 (IPS)

“The smell of faeces and urine isolates them completely. Their husbands abandon them and they become stigmatised forever” – Dr Pashtoon Kohistani barely needs two lines to sum up the drama of those women affected by obstetric fistula.

Alongside the health centre in Badakhshan – 290 km northeast of Kabul – Malalai Maternity Hospital is the only health centre in Afghanistan with a section devoted to coping with a disease that is seemingly endemic to the most disadvantaged members of the population: women, young, poor and illiterate.

“Given that a caesarean birth is not an option for most Afghan women, the child dies inside them while they try to give birth. They end up tearing their vagina and urethra,” Dr Kohistani told IPS. “Urinary, and sometimes faecal incontinence too, is the most immediate effect,” added the surgeon as she strolled through the hospital corridors where only women wait to be seen by a doctor, or just come to visit a sick relative.“Pressure mounts on them from every side, even from their mothers-in-law. They have to hear things such as `I had five children without ever seeing a doctor´. Many of these poor girls end up committing suicide” – Dr Nazifah Hamra

They are of practically all ages. Some show obvious signs of pain while others look almost relaxed. In fact, they are in one of the very few places in Afghanistan where the total lack of male presence allows them to uncover their hair, take off their burka and even roll up their sleeves to beat the heat.

According to Nazifah Hamra, head of Malalai´s Fistula Department, “malnutrition is one of the key factors behind this problem. You have to bear in mind that women from remote rural areas in Afghanistan always eat after the men. Girls often don´t get enough milk and essential nutrients for their growth. And add to it that they only get to see a doctor when they marry, and usually at a very early age.”

Dr Hamra told IPS that she attends an average of 4-5 patients suffering from a fistula at any one time. Rukia is one of the two recovering in an eight-bed ward on the hospital´s second floor.

“I was 15 when I got married and 17 when I got pregnant,” recalls the 26-year-old woman from a small village in the province of Balkh, 320 km northwest of Kabul.

“When I was about to give birth, I had a terrible pain but the road to Kabul was cut so I was finally taken to Bamiyan, 150 km east of Kabul.”

Sitting on the bed carefully in order not to obstruct the catheter that still evacuates the remaining urine, Rukia tells IPS that her son died in her womb. An unskilled medical staff only made things worse.

“What the doctors did to her is difficult to believe. She was brutally mutilated,” said Dr Hamra, adding that medical negligence was “still painful common currency” in Afghanistan.

In a 2013 report on the risks of child marriage in Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch claims that children born as a result of child marriages also suffer increased health risks, and that there is a higher death rate among children born to Afghan mothers under the age of 20 than those born to older mothers.

Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, called on Afghan officials to end the harm being caused by child marriage. “The damage to young mothers, their children and Afghan society as a whole is incalculable,” Adams stressed.

Rukia´s husband left to marry another woman so she had no other choice but to move back to her parents´ house, where she has lived for the last nine years. But even more painful than her ordeal and the defection of her husband, she says, is the fact that she will never be a mother.

Dr Hamra knows Rukia´s story in detail, as well as those of many others in her situation. “Pressure mounts on them from every side, even from their mothers-in-law,” she told IPS. “They have to hear things such as `I had five children without ever seeing a doctor´. Many of these poor girls end up committing suicide.” However, preferring to look towards the future, she said that Rukia will do well after the operation.

“From now on she´ll be able to enjoy a completely normal life again,” stressed the surgeon, who also wanted to express her gratitude to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) which “seeks to guarantee the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity.”

Annette Sachs Robertson, UNFPA representative in Afghanistan, briefed IPS on the organisation´s action in the country:

“We started working in 2007, in close collaboration with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health. We train surgeons and we provide Malalai with the necessary equipment and medical supplies. Thanks to this initiative, over 435 patients have been treated and rehabilitated at Malalai Maternity Hospital and we have plans to extend the programmes to Jalabad, Mazar and Herat provinces,” explained Robertson, a PhD graduate in biology and biomedical sciences from the University of Harvard.

“You hardly ever see these cases in developed countries,” she added.

According to a 2011 report on obstetric fistula in six provinces of Afghanistan conducted by the country’s Social and Health Development Programme (SHPD), “the prevalence of obstetric fistula is estimated to be 4 cases per 1000 (0.4 percent) women in the reproductive age group. 91.7 percent of women with confirmed cases of obstetric fistula cannot read and write while 72.7 percent of fistula patients reported that their husbands are illiterate.”

“Twenty-five percent of women with fistula reported that they were younger than 16 years old and 67 percent reported they were 16 to 20 years old when they had got married. Seventeen percent of women with fistula reported that they were younger than 16 years old when they had their first delivery. Twenty-five percent of women with fistula reported that they developed the fistula after their first delivery, while 64 percent reported prolonged labour.”

Meanwhile, thanks to yet another successful operation, Najiba, a 32-year-old from Baghlan – 220 km north of Kabul – will soon be back home after suffering from a fistula over the last 14 years.

Born in a remote rural village, she was married at 17 and lost her first son a year later, after three days of labour. Despite the fistula problem, she was not abandoned by her husband and, today, they have six children.

“I was only too lucky that my husband heard on the radio about this hospital,” explains Najiba, with a broad smile hardly ever seen among those affected.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Civil Society Calls For Impartial Inquiry on Air Crash and Catastrophe in Ukrainehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-civil-society-calls-for-impartial-inquiry-on-air-crash-and-catastrophe-in-ukraine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-civil-society-calls-for-impartial-inquiry-on-air-crash-and-catastrophe-in-ukraine http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-civil-society-calls-for-impartial-inquiry-on-air-crash-and-catastrophe-in-ukraine/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 10:30:09 +0000 Alice Slater http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136453 Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO chief, addresses a crowd in Austin, Texas. Credit: DVIDSHUB/Texas Military Forces/Photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Wilson/CC-BY-2.0

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO chief, addresses a crowd in Austin, Texas. Credit: DVIDSHUB/Texas Military Forces/Photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Wilson/CC-BY-2.0

By Alice Slater
NEW YORK, Sep 2 2014 (IPS)

It is ironic that at this moment in history when so many people and nations around the world are acknowledging the 100th anniversary of our planet’s hapless stumble into World War I, great powers and their allies are once again provoking new dangers where governments appear to be sleepwalking towards a restoration of old Cold War battles.

A barrage of conflicting information is broadcast in the various national and nationalistic media with alternative versions of reality that provoke and stoke new enmities and rivalries across national borders.

Moreover, NATO’s new disturbing saber-rattling, with its chief, Anders Rasmussen, announcing that NATO will deploy its troops for the first time in Eastern Europe since the Cold War ended, building a “readiness action plan”, boosting Ukraine’s military capacity so that, “ In the future you will see a more visible NATO presence in the east”, while disinviting Russia from the upcoming NATO meeting in Wales, opens new possibilities for endless war and hostilities.

The world can little afford the trillions of dollars in military spending and trillions and trillions of brain cells wasted on war when our very Earth is under stress and needs the critical attention of our best minds [...].
With the U.S. and Russia in possession of over 15,000 of the world’s 16,400 nuclear weapons, humanity can ill-afford to stand by and permit these conflicting views of history and opposing assessments of the facts on the ground lead to a 21st Century military confrontation between the great powers and their allies.

While sadly acknowledging the trauma suffered by the countries of Eastern Europe from years of Soviet occupation, and understanding their desire for the protection of the NATO military alliance, we must remember that Russia lost 20 million people during WWII to the Nazi onslaught and are understandably wary of NATO expansion to their borders in a hostile environment.

This despite a promise to Gorbachev, when the wall came down peacefully and the Soviet Union ended its post-WWII occupation of Eastern Europe, that NATO would not be expanded eastward, beyond the incorporation of East Germany into that rusty Cold War alliance.

Russia has lost the protection of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the U.S. abandoned in 2001, and warily observes missile bases metastasizing ever closer to its borders, in new NATO member states, while the U.S. rejects repeated Russian efforts for negotiations on a treaty to ban weapons in space, or Russia’s prior application for membership in NATO.

Why do we still have NATO anyway? This Cold War relic is being used to fire up new hostilities and divisions between Russia and the rest of Europe.

Civil Society demands that an independent international inquiry be commissioned to review events in Ukraine leading up to the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 and of the procedures being used to review the catastrophic aftermath, including this latest outbreak of hostile actions from NATO.

Indeed, Russia has already called for an investigation of the facts surrounding the Malaysian airplane crash. The international investigation should factually determine the cause of the accident and hold responsible parties accountable to the families of the victims and the citizens of the world who fervently desire peace and peaceful settlements of any existing conflicts.

More importantly, it should include a fair and balanced presentation of what led to the deterioration of U.S.–Russian relations since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the new hostile and polarized posture that the U.S. and Russia with their allies find themselves in today with NATO now threatening greater militarisation and provocations against Russia in Eastern Europe.

The United Nations Security Council, with U.S. and Russian agreement, has already passed Resolution 2166 addressing the Malaysian jet crash, demanding accountability, full access to the site and a halt to military activity, which has been painfully disregarded at various times since the incident.

One of the provisions of Resolution 2166 notes that the Council “[s]upports efforts to establish a full, thorough and independent international investigation into the incident in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines.”

Further, the 1909 revised Convention on the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes adopted at the 1899 Hague International Peace Conference has been used successfully to resolve issues between states so that war was avoided in the past.

Regardless of the forum where the evidence is gathered and fairly evaluated, all the facts and circumstances should be made known to the world as to how we got to this unfortunate state of affairs on our planet today and what might be the solutions.

All the members of NATO together with Russia and Ukraine are urged to end the endless arms race, which only feeds the military-industrial complex that U.S. President Eisenhower warned against.

They must engage in diplomacy and negotiations, not war and hostile alienating actions.

The world can little afford the trillions of dollars in military spending and trillions and trillions of brain cells wasted on war when our very Earth is under stress and needs the critical attention of our best minds and thinking, and the abundance of resources mindlessly diverted to war to be made available for the challenges confronting us to create a livable future for life on earth.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Why Principle Matters at UN Human Rights Councilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/why-principle-matters-at-un-human-rights-council/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-principle-matters-at-un-human-rights-council http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/why-principle-matters-at-un-human-rights-council/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 10:08:29 +0000 Mandeep S.Tiwana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136441

In this column, Mandeep Tiwana, a lawyer specialising in human rights and civil society issues and Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, argues that too often principle is being abandoned at the United Nations Human Rights Council and that every time this happens the legitimacy of the global governance institution suffers.

By Mandeep S.Tiwana
JOHANNESBURG, Sep 2 2014 (IPS)

The killings of hundreds of civilians, including scores of children, in Gaza – whose only fault was to have been born on the wrong side of the wall – was a major point of contention at the United Nations Human Rights Council at the end of July.

The high death toll caused by indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas by the Israeli military has resulted in what may very likely be war crimes. The United Nations has said that 70 percent of those killed in Gaza were civilians.

Mandeep Tiwana

Mandeep Tiwana

Yet Western democracies, normally proactive on human rights issues at the Council, chose to withhold their vote when a resolution urging immediate cessation of Israeli military assaults throughout the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, and an end to attacks against all civilians, including Israeli civilians, was brought forward.

Notably, the resolution sought to create an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the context of military operations conducted since June 13, 2014.

When asked to vote on the above, Austria, France, Ireland, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom chose to abstain. The United States, whose foreign policy mission is to “shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere,” was ironically the only country in the 47 member U.N. Human Rights Council to have voted against the resolution.“Institutions of global governance should be able to offer a source of protection and support for people who are being repressed, marginalised or excluded at the national level. Yet, too often, they are captured by state interests which override genuine human rights concerns.”

Essentially, each country standing for election to the Human Rights Council is required to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” By any yardstick, looking at the wanton death and destruction that has rained down on the people of Gaza, destroying the homes and livelihoods of tens of thousands as well as vital public infrastructure, is a blatant abdication of responsibility.

In 2006, when the Human Rights Council was created, then U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan poignantly remarked that the true test of its ability would be the use that member states make of it. Eight years down the line, sadly the Council remains a house divided on the great human rights matters of the day.

Earlier this year in March, when the Human Rights Council passed a resolution aimed at addressing impunity for the widespread violations of international law committed during and after the Sri Lankan civil war, many of the countries strongly in favour of accountability for crimes committed in the Gaza conflict – such as Algeria, China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Viet Nam – voted against the Sri Lanka resolution. Conversely, Western democracies that abstained on the Gaza vote robustly supported action to tackle impunity in Sri Lanka.

This double standard represents perhaps the greatest challenge to the world’s premier human rights body.

Notably, the Human Rights Council was established in response to well-founded criticism of rampant politicisation of human rights issues by its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights.  At the Human Rights Council too, geopolitical interests of the more powerful states are driving selective blocking and support for human rights causes by elected member states, weakening respect for international standards. 

Notably, the formation of blocs presents a grave threat to the Council’s work. Its members have unfortunately slotted themselves into various informal groups such as the Western European and Others Group (WEOG),  African Group, Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) countries, and even a motley ‘Like-Minded Group’ that shares little in political culture and world view except that it largely opposes whatever the Western group comes up with.

These unfortunate political dynamics have weakened the ability of the Council to be a beacon for the advancement of human rights discourse. Tellingly, the issue of discrimination against and violations of the personal freedoms of sexual minorities including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) individuals remains another hotly contested area.

A regressively worded June 2014 resolution on the ‘protection of the family’ – which excludes LGBT individuals from the ambit of the family – witnessed en-masse voting in favour by the African, OIC and ‘Like-Minded Group’.

Worryingly, far too many countries are caught up in the herd mentality of en-masse voting coupled with advancement of strategic interests at the Human Rights Council. Too often, principle is being abandoned at the altar of politics. Every time this happens, the legitimacy of the global governance institution suffers, further exacerbating conflict.

A report by the global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, points out that in an ever more complex governance environment, where large problems are acknowledged to cross national borders, international level decision-making is starting to matter more.

Institutions of global governance should be able to offer a source of protection and support for people who are being repressed, marginalised or excluded at the national level. Yet, too often, they are captured by state interests which override genuine human rights concerns.

Civil society and the media have their work cut out to expose the hypocrisy and inconsistency that mars action on gross human rights violations in international forums like the Human Rights Council. States need to be held accountable and practice what they preach – on principle, and not only when it suits them. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Africans’ Land Rights at Risk as New Agricultural Trend Sweeps Continenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-africans-land-rights-at-risk-as-new-agricultural-trend-sweeps-continent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-africans-land-rights-at-risk-as-new-agricultural-trend-sweeps-continent http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-africans-land-rights-at-risk-as-new-agricultural-trend-sweeps-continent/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:55:28 +0000 Janah Ncube http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136444 An irrigated field in Kakamas, South Africa. Due to weak land tenure found in many African countries, large land transfers place local communities at significant risk of dispossession or expropriation. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

An irrigated field in Kakamas, South Africa. Due to weak land tenure found in many African countries, large land transfers place local communities at significant risk of dispossession or expropriation. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

By Janah Ncube
NAIROBI, Sep 1 2014 (IPS)

Agriculture in Africa is in urgent need of investment. Nearly 550 million people there are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, while half of the total population on the continent live in rural areas.

The adoption of a framework called the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) by Africa’s leaders in 2003 confirmed that agriculture is crucial to the continent’s development prospects. African governments recently reiterated this commitment at the Malabo Summit in Guinea during June of this year.The need for private sector investment in Africa is manifest, but the quality of those inflows of capital is vital if it is to enhance the livelihoods of millions of food producers in Africa.

After decades of underinvestment, African governments are now looking for new ways to mobilise funding for the sector and to deliver new technology and skills to farmers. Private sector actors are also looking for opportunities within emerging markets in Africa.

Large-scale public-private partnerships (PPPs) are an emerging trend across the continent. These so called ‘mega’ PPPs are agreements between national governments, aid donors, investors and multinational companies to develop large fertile tracts of land found near to strategic infrastructure such as roads and ports.

Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Ghana and Burkina Faso all host this type of scheme. Several African countries have signed up to global initiatives such as the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, supported by the rich, industrialised economies of the G8; and GROW Africa, a PPP initiative supported by the World Economic Forum.

For governments, these arrangements offer the illusion of increased capital and technology, production and productivity gains, and foreign exchange earnings.

But as Oxfam reveals, mega-PPPs present a moral hazard with serious downsides, especially for those living in areas pegged for investment.

In particular, the land rights of local communities are at risk. Within just five countries hosting mega-PPPs, the combined amount of land in target area for investment is larger than France or Ukraine.

While not all of this land will go to investors, governments have earmarked over 1.25 million hectares for transfer. This is equal to the entire amount of land in agricultural production in Zambia or Senegal.

Due to weak land tenure found in many African countries, this land transfer places local communities at significant risk of dispossession or expropriation.

These arrangements also threaten to worsen inequality, which is already severe in African countries, according to international measurements. Mega-PPP investments are likely be delivered by – and focus on – richer, well connected companies or wealthier farmers, bypassing those who need support the most. More land will also be placed into the hands of larger players further reducing the amount available for small-scale producers.

The ability of small and medium sized enterprises to benefit from these arrangements is also in doubt. The size of just four multinational seed and agro-chemical companies partnering with a mega-PPP in Tanzania have an annual turnover of 100 billion dollars – that’s triple the size of Tanzania’s economy.

These asymmetries of power could lead to anti-competitive behaviour and squeeze out smaller local and national companies from emerging domestic markets. Larger companies may also gain influence over government policies that perpetuate their control.

These types of partnership also carry serious environmental risks. An example of this is the development of large irrigation schemes for new plantations. They can reduce water availability for other users, such as local communities, smaller farmers and important other rural groups like pastoralists.

The need for private sector investment in Africa is manifest, but the quality of those inflows of capital is vital if it is to enhance the livelihoods of millions of food producers in Africa. The current mega-PPP model is unproven and risky, especially for smallholder farmers and the poor.

At the very heart of the agenda to enhance rural livelihoods and eradicate deep-seated poverty in rural areas should be a clear commitment towards approaches that are pro-smallholder, pro-women and can develop local and regional markets. The protection of land rights for local communities is also – and equally – paramount.

Oxfam’s experience of working with smallholder farmers shows that private sector investment in staple food crops, and the development of rural infrastructure such as storage facilities, combined with public sector investment in support services such as agricultural research and development, extension services and subsidies for seeds and credit, can kick-start the rural economy.

Robust regulation is also vital, to ensure that private sector investment can ‘do no harm’ and also ‘do more good’ by targeting the areas of the rural economy that can have the most impact on poverty reduction. African governments should put themselves at the forefront of this vision for agriculture.

These represent tried and tested policies towards rural development in other contexts. This approach, rather than one that subsidises the entrance of large players into African agriculture, would truly represent a new alliance to benefit all.

Janah Ncube is Oxfam’s Pan Africa Director based in Nairobi, Kenya. @JanahNcube

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Struggling to Find Water in the Vast Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/struggling-to-find-water-in-the-vast-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=struggling-to-find-water-in-the-vast-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/struggling-to-find-water-in-the-vast-pacific/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:38:21 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136447 Several Pacific Island states are struggling to provide their far-flung populations with access to fresh water. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Several Pacific Island states are struggling to provide their far-flung populations with access to fresh water. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
LOTOFAGA VILLAGE, Samoa, Sep 1 2014 (IPS)

Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs.

Laisene Nafatali lives in Lotofaga village, home to 5,000 people on the south coast of Upolu, the main island of Samoa, a Polynesian island state located northeast of Fiji in the central South Pacific region.

Like many on the island, she is dependent on rainfall and surface water for household needs. But without a nearby water source, such as a stream or waterfall, or a rainwater tank, she struggles with sanitation, washing, cooking and drinking.

“Instead of saving money for the children, their education, food and clothes, most of our income is spent on water." -- Laisene Nafatali, a resident of Lotofaga Village
“We only have one-gallon buckets, so if it is going to rain the whole week most of the water is lost,” Nafatali told IPS, adding that many people are unable to collect a sufficient amount of rainwater in such small containers.

“We have one bucket to store the water for the toilet, but that’s not enough for the whole family,” she added.

The wet season finished in March and now, in the dry season, it rains just two to four times per month.

Water for drinking and cooking is a priority. “If there is no rain the whole week, we pay for a truck. We put all our containers on the truck and we go to find families that have pipes and then we ask for some water. But that only [lasts] for two to three days, then we have to go again,” she said.

For washing, Nafatali and her family of six walk to the beach, which takes half an hour, and when the tide is low, they dig into the sand to find fresh water.

Most people in Lotofaga are subsistence farmers and are unable save a sufficient cash income to purchase a water tank, which costs roughly 2,700 tala (some 1,158 dollars). What little money they do have rapidly disappears in paying for transport to procure a supply from elsewhere.

“Instead of saving money for the children, their education, food and clothes, most of our income is spent on water,” she continued.

Capturing maximum rainfall is vital to long-term water security in Samoa, where 65 percent of the country’s supply is derived from surface water and 35 percent from groundwater.

The Samoa Water Authority, which services 85 percent of the population, provides water treatment plants for existing water sources in rural areas. About 18 percent of the rural population, or more than 32,000 people in 54 villages, participate in independent water schemes, which are owned and managed at the local level.

Sulutumu Sasa Milo, president of the Independent Water Schemes Association, pointed out that, while infrastructure is 40-50 years old and in need of upgrading, the scheme is vital to sustaining many rural communities.

The scheme’s gravity-fed infrastructure comprises pipes that carry water from a natural source, such as a river or spring, to villages with water tanks provided for storage. Individual households then arrange their own piped connections.

A spokesperson for the Water Resources Division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) in the capital, Apia, said the country receives an adequate amount of annual rainfall, approximately 8,400 mm3 per year.

The challenge, according to the official, is small and steep water catchments with limited storage capacity, pressures on water resources from increasing development and observed changes in the pattern of the wet season over the past five years.

The wet season has habitually started in October and lasted six months, but now, he said, it tends to commence earlier and lasts half the predicted period, about three months.

“The difference now is that our rainfall is concentrated within a shorter period of time and it is more difficult to capture. In 2011, we received 80 percent of our annual rainfall within three months and this was mostly lost through runoff,” the spokesman stated.

Upolu Island is home to 70 percent of Samoa’s population of 190,372, as well as the capital city, and there are enormous demands for water use as a result of expanding urban development, hydropower stations, agriculture and tourism.

An MNRE environmental report last year identified the issue of forests within watershed areas, which help protect the quantity and quality of fresh water, being largely felled for agriculture, and commercial and residential development on the island. The impact of natural disasters, such as the Samoan earthquake and tsunami in 2009, and Cyclone Evan in 2012, has further degraded catchments and water infrastructure.

When droughts occurred in Samoa in 2011 and 2012, many villages, particularly on the south coast of Upolu, were left with no water as streams and catchments dried up.

Water security varies across the Pacific Islands. Kiribati and Tuvalu in the central Pacific Ocean are without any significant fresh water resources, while Papua New Guinea in the southwest has renewable water resources of 801,000 mm3 per year, in contrast to Samoa with 1,328 mm3 per year.

Common water management challenges in the region include aquatic pollution and procuring the financial, technical and human resources needed for large infrastructure projects and expanding safe water provision to isolated, widely scattered island-based populations.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports that water resources on Upolu Island are facing ecological stress due to about 85 percent of vegetation being cleared, and waste contamination.

Samoa is on track to achieve three of the seven Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but increasing water storage capacity and managing environmental threats are crucial to improving the rate of access to safe drinking water in Samoa, which is currently an estimated 40 percent.

Six of 14 Pacific Island Forum states, namely Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Palau, Tonga and Vanuatu, are on track to improve access to safe water and sanitation, deemed essential to achieving better health outcomes and sustainable development across the region.

*Water, sanitation and waste management are key issues being discussed at the United Nations’ Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), hosted in Samoa from Sept. 1-4, 2014.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Arab Region Has World’s Fastest Growing HIV Epidemichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/arab-region-has-worlds-fastest-growing-hiv-epidemic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arab-region-has-worlds-fastest-growing-hiv-epidemic http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/arab-region-has-worlds-fastest-growing-hiv-epidemic/#comments Mon, 01 Sep 2014 07:21:29 +0000 Mona Alami http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136439 By Mona Alami
BEIRUT, Sep 1 2014 (IPS)

At a time when HIV rates have stabilised or declined elsewhere, the epidemic is still advancing in the Arab world, exacerbated by factors such as political unrest, conflict, poverty and lack of awareness due to social taboos.

According to UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS), an estimated 270,000 people were living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in 2012.

“It is true that the Arab region has a low prevalence of infection, however it has the fastest growing epidemic in the world,“ warns Dr Khadija Moalla, an independent consultant on human rights/gender/civil society/HIV-AIDS.With the exception of Somalia and Djibouti, the [HIV] epidemic is generally concentrated in vulnerable populations at higher risk, such as men-who-have-sex-with-men, female and male sex workers, and injecting drugs users

The United Nations estimates that there were 31,000 new cases and 16,500 new deaths in 2012 alone. “Infections grew by 74 percent between 2001 and 2012 while AIDS-related deaths almost tripled,” says Dr Matta Matta, an infection specialist based at the Bellevue Hospital in Lebanon.

However, both Moalla and Matta explain that figures can be often misleading in the region, due to under-reporting and the absence of consistent and accurate surveys.

With the exception of Somalia and Djibouti, the epidemic is generally concentrated in vulnerable populations at higher risk, such as men-who-have-sex-with-men, female and male sex workers, and injecting drugs users.

In Libya, for example, 90 percent of those in the latter category also live with HIV, notes Matta. Furthermore, adds Moalla, most Arab countries do not have programmes allowing for exchange of syringes.

The legal framework criminalising such activities in most Arab countries means that it is difficult to reach out to specific groups.  With the exception of Tunisia, which recognises legalised sex work, female sex workers who work clandestinely in other countries are not safeguarded by law and thus cannot force their clients to use protection, which allows for the spread of disease.

Lack of awareness, the absence of voluntary testing and of sexual education, social taboos, as well as poverty, are among the factors driving HIV in the region. “Arab governments and societies deny the epidemic and the absence of voluntary testing means that for every infected person we have ten others that we do not know about,” stresses Moalla.

People living with HIV or those at risk face discrimination and stigma.  “More than half of the people living with HIV in Egypt have been denied treatment in healthcare facilities,” explains Matta.

This bleak scenario is compounded by the security challenges prevailing in the region which not only make it difficult to deliver prevention and other programmes, but also restrict access to services by those on treatment and cause displacement and loss of follow-up according to the UNAIDS report.

The war in Iraq that began in 2003, for example, led to the destruction of most of the country’s programmes and facilities under the National AIDS Programme and, according to Moalla, the national aids centre in Libya was recently burnt down.

In addition, in some countries, conflict has significantly increased the vulnerability of women. By 2012, for example, only eight percent of the estimated number of pregnant women living with HIV in the MENA region received appropriate treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission according to the UNAIDS report.

Meanwhile, only a few governments have worked on effective programmes to fight the epidemic, although there are signs of the emergence of NGOs tackling the problem with people living with HIV and providing them with support.

“North African countries and Lebanon have generally done better than others, while Gulf countries are doing the least,” says Moalla, adding that less than one in five people living with HIV are receiving the medicines they need in the Arab region.

While some efforts have been made with the UNDP HIV Regional Programme pioneering legal reform in several countries, as well as drafting an Arab convention on protection of the rights of people living with HIV in partnership with the League of Arab States, these are not enough.

“The Arab world attitude taking the high moral ground on the issue of HIV is no barrier for the epidemic,” says Matta. “The region’s governments need to address a growing problem that is only worsened by the general upheaval.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Jordan’s LGBT Community Fears Greater Intolerancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/jordans-lgbt-community-fears-greater-intolerance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jordans-lgbt-community-fears-greater-intolerance http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/jordans-lgbt-community-fears-greater-intolerance/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 10:47:44 +0000 Mona Alami http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136436 By Mona Alami
AMMAN, Aug 31 2014 (IPS)

As the region is rocked by violence against a backdrop of the rise of radical groups, Jordan’s lesbian gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community fears that new instability in the Hashemite kingdom could lead to increased intolerance towards the community. 

The Jabal Amman historical district, crisscrossed by quaint streets, cafés and art galleries has become a hub for the Jordanian capital’s LGBT community.

“Jordan does not have any laws against homosexuality; it does not, however, protect civil liberties for people facing discrimination on basis of their sexual preferences,” says Madian, a local activist. “Jordan does not have any laws against homosexuality; it does not, however, protect civil liberties for people facing discrimination on basis of their sexual preferences” - Madian, a Jordanian activist

Despite the absence of any article in Jordanian law that explicitly outlaws homosexual acts, there have been several crackdowns on members of the gay community. “The targeting of the LGBT community is not something that is systematic, but it still happens from time to time,” says George Azzi, head of the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality.

In October 2008, security forces in Amman “launched a campaign that targets ‘homosexuals’,” after security forces verified that they were gathering and meeting up at a park near a private hospital in Amman, according to a study on Law and Homosexuality: Survey and Analysis of Legislation Across the Arab World by Walid Ferchichit.

In the last few years, a few arrests have been made on the margin of private parties. Most of the arrests were made under the vaguely worded indecency law and the need to “respect the values of the Arab and Islamic nation”, although the arrests were rarely followed by formal charges.

The Hashemite Kingdom is an Islamic country, where homosexuality is considered as a sin. “Some members of the LGBT community have even been arrested for satanic worshipping,” notes Madian.

The basic form of social organisation in Jordan is heavily influenced by tribalism, which weighs on social norms and relations between people. “Members of the LGBT community fall prey to discrimination or violence not necessarily at the hand of the state but of society or their families,” says Azzi.

He recalls two members of the gay community who had to be smuggled out of Jordan to escape the wrath of their families who discovered their sexual preferences, and possible death.

Credit: LGBT Jordan on Twitter

Credit: LGBT Jordan on Twitter

“I know of four people at least who were killed in last few years for this reason,” says Madian.

He also says that while some victims have been the target of honour killings, others have been killed by gangs because they had to seek impoverished and dangerous areas for sexual favours to avoid the scrutiny of friends and families.

Nevertheless, despite such individual cases, the topic of homosexuality seems to be increasingly tolerated in Jordan. In 2012, a book called “Arous Amman” (Amman’s fiancée) by Fadi Zaghmout was published, featuring a homosexual character who was driven to marry a woman despite being gay.

Increasingly, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts are advocating gay rights and the LGBT community in the country.

“The LGBT community has been able to carve a space for itself in society, while staying away from anything that could raise its profile,” says Adam Coogle, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

But, with social and cultural mores considering homosexuality a sin and unnatural, advocating rights remains a taboo in the Hashemite Kingdom, and LGBT activism a somewhat difficult task. “We tried organising a few years back by creating an NGO but our application was rejected by the Ministry of Social Affairs on the basis of the indecency law,” says Madian.

Gay activism has also become more challenging today due to the security situation prevailing in the region, worrying both activists and human rights organizations.

With Jordan home to thousands of Salafi Jihadists, it is directly concerned by possible rising numbers of home-grown members of the Islamic State. Members of the gay community fear that renewed insecurity could jeopardise their space in society.

“Nonetheless, members of the LGBT community are not alone in being concerned about Jihadist threats which also target secular people as well as religious minorities,” adds Coogle.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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New Technology Boosts Fisherfolk Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/new-technology-boosts-fisherfolk-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-technology-boosts-fisherfolk-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/new-technology-boosts-fisherfolk-security/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 04:50:08 +0000 Malini Shankar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136426 Fisherfolk are one of the most vulnerable groups of people in India. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Fisherfolk are one of the most vulnerable groups of people in India. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Malini Shankar
NAGAPATTINAM, India, Aug 31 2014 (IPS)

As the United Nations gears up to launch its newest set of poverty-reduction targets to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015, the words ‘sustainable development’ have been on the lips of policymakers the world over.

In southern India, home to over a million fisherfolk, efforts to strengthen disaster resilience and simultaneously improve livelihoods for impoverished fishing communities are proving to be successful examples of sustainable development.

Here in the Kollam district of the south-western Kerala state,multimedia outreach programmes, using nationwide ocean forecasts, are bringing much-needed change into the lives of fisherfolk, who in southern India are extremely vulnerable to disasters.

“Despite having a 7,500-kilometre coastline and a marine fisherfolk population of 3.57 million spread across more than 3,000 marine fishing villages, India [has no] detailed marine weather bulletins for fishermen [...]." -- John Thekkayyam, weather broadcaster for Radio Monsoon
A fishing family earns on average some 21,000 rupees (about 346 dollars) per month but most of these earnings are eaten up by fuel expenses, repayment of boat loans and interest payments.

Savings are an impossible dream, and fisherfolk have neither alternate livelihood options nor any kind of resilience against disasters.

In Jul. 2008, 75 Tamil-speaking fisherfolk from the district of Kanyakumari in the southern state of Tamil Nadu perished during Cyclone Phyan, caught unawares out at sea. The costal radio broadcasts, warning of the coming storm, did not deter the fishers from heading out as usual, because they could not understand the local language of the marine forecasts.

Earlier this year, on Jul. 22, 600 fisherfolk sailing on about 40 trawlers went missing off the coast of Kolkata during a cyclone and were stranded on an island near the coast of Bangladesh. Only 16 fishers were rescued.

The incident revived awareness on the need for better communication technologies for the most vulnerable communities.

The Indian National Center for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) is leading the charge, by uploading satellite telemetry inputs to its server, which are then interpreted and disseminated as advisories by NGOs like the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and Radio Monsoon.

Best known for its state-of-the-art tsunami early warning forecasts, INCOIS offers its surplus bandwidth for allied ocean advisory services like marine weather forecasts, windspeeds, eddies, and ocean state forecasts (including potential fishing zones) aimed at fisherfolk welfare and mariners’ safety.

“Oceanographers in INCOIS interpret the data on ocean winds, temperature, salinity, ocean currents, sea levels [and] wave patterns, to advise how these factors affect vulnerable populations,” INCOIS Director Dr. Satheesh Shenoi told IPS.

“These could be marine weather forecasts, advisories on potential fishing grounds, or early warnings of tsunamis. INCOIS generates and provides such information to fishers, [the] maritime industry, coastal population [and] disaster management agencies regularly,” he added.

This new system works hand in hand with community-based information dissemination initiaitves that shares forecasts with the intended audience.

John Thekkayyam, weather broadcaster for Radio Monsoon, told IPS, “Despite having a 7,500-kilometre coastline and a marine fisherfolk population of 3.57 million spread across more than 3,000 marine fishing villages, India [has no] detailed marine weather bulletins for fishermen either on radio, TV or print media.”

Radio Monsoon and the MSSRF multimedia outreach initiatives are the first such interventions aimed at fisherfolk safety and welfare in India.

Radio Monsoon, an initiative of an Indian climate researcher at the University of Sussex, Maxmillan Martin, ‘narrowcasts’ the state of the ocean forecasts on loudspeakers in fisherfolk villages, asking for fishers’ feedback, uploading narrowcasts online and using SMS technology for dissemination.

“As our tagline says: it is all about fishers talking weather, wind and waves with forecasters and scientists. It contributes to better reach of forecasts, real-time feedback and in turn reliable forecasts,” Martin told IPS. Information is passed on to fishers via three-minutes bulletins in Malayalam, the local language.

Ultimately all this contributes to enhanced safety and security for fisherfolk.

According to S. Velvizhi, the officer in charge of the information education and communications division at the MSSRF, “The advisories from INCOIS are disseminated through text and voice messages through cell phones with an exclusive ‘app’ [a cellphone application] called ‘Fisher Friend Mobile Application’.

“We also broadcast on FM radio in a few locations, we have a dedicated 24-hour helpline support system for fishers and a GSM-based Public Address system,” she added.

“More than 25,000 fishers in 592 fishing villages in 29 coastal districts in five states (Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Odisha, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh), are receiving the forecast services daily,” Velvizhi claims.

On the tsunami battered coasts of Nagapattinam and Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu, fisherfolk have become traumatised by anxiety, a depleting fish catch, changes in coastal geography and bathymetry, increase in loan interests, threats to their food and livelihood security and loss of fishing gear and craft.

In this context, MSSRF’s community radio initiative using affordable communication technologies for livelihood security has become a game changer.

The information dissemination services undertaken by MSSRF include – apart from ocean state forecasts –“counsel to fisher women, crop and craft-related content, micro finance, health tips, awareness against alcoholism [and] the need for formal education for fishers’ children all disseminated through text and voice messages” according to S. Velvezhi.

Summing up the cumulative effect of the initiatives, 55-year-old Pichakanna in MGR Thittu, who survived the tsunami in Tamil Nadu’s Pichavaram mangroves on Dec. 26, 2004, told IPS, “Thanks to MSSRF interventions on community radio we have learnt new livelihood skills like fishing whereas before the tsunami we were hunter-gatherers or daily-wage agricultural labourers.

“Our children are now getting formal education, we have awareness about better health and hygiene and alcoholism has decreased noticeably; this has helped [eliminate] unwarranted expenditure on alcohol and improved our health, livelihood and food security for all,” he added.

“We also understand the significance of micro-finance, water, sanitation, health and hygiene, and most importantly, alcoholism is declining.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Europe’s Two-Time Turnabout on Syria/Iraqhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/europes-two-time-turnabout-on-syriairaq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europes-two-time-turnabout-on-syriairaq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/europes-two-time-turnabout-on-syriairaq/#comments Sat, 30 Aug 2014 22:33:30 +0000 Peter Custers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136434 By Peter Custers
LEIDEN, Netherlands, Aug 30 2014 (IPS)

Is this one of those rare occasions where policy-makers self-critically correct a gigantic blunder? Or is it a cold turnabout guided by pure self-interest?

On August 15, the foreign ministers of the European Union gathered in Brussels and decided that each would henceforth be free to supply arms to Kurdish rebels fighting Sunni extremists of the Islamic State in the north of Iraq. Even Germany which in the past had been unwilling to furnish military supplies to warring parties  in ‘conflict zones’, is now ready to provide armoured vehicles and other hardware to the Kurds opposing the Islamic State’s advance.

The decision of Europe’s foreign ministers may surprise some because, barely a year and four months ago, in April 2013, the European Union had lifted a previously instituted ban on all imports of Syrian oil.

Peter Custers

Peter Custers

Moreover, the lifting of this boycott was quite explicitly intended to facilitate the flow of oil from areas in the north-east of Syria, where Sunni extremist rebel organisations had established a strong foothold, if not overall predominance over the region’s oil fields.

The Islamic State was not the only Sunni extremist organisation disputing control over Syrian oil fields. Yet there is little doubt that the fateful decision that the European Union took last year helped the Islamic State consolidate its hold over Syrian oil resources and prepare for a sweeping advance into areas with oil wells in the north of Iraq.

The outcome of the recent Brussels’ meeting thus appears to overturn a disastrous previous decision. To underline the point it is useful to briefly describe the extent to which Sunni extremist rebels have meanwhile established control over oil extraction and production in both Syria and Iraq.“Is this one of those rare occasions where policy-makers self-critically correct a gigantic blunder? Or is it a cold turnabout guided by pure self-interest?”

The Syrian oil fields are basically concentrated in Deir-ez-Zor, a province bordering on Iraq. Whereas oil extraction in Syria has always been very limited in size if measured as a percentage of world supplies, control over the Syrian oil wells plus its refinery has become crucial for the financing of the Islamic State’s war efforts.

In neighbouring Iraq, oil reserves are not concentrated in one single geographic region as they are in Syria. The bulk of the oil wells are to be found in the country’s south, at great distance from the Islamic State’s war theatre in the north. Only one-seventh of Iraq’s oil resources are said to be located in areas controlled by the Islamic State on the one hand, and Kurdish fighters on the other. Nevertheless, recent reports indicate that the Islamic State controls at least seven major oil wells in Iraq alone.

Using expertise gathered after it established control over wells in Syria, the Sunni extremist organisation is able to draw huge profits from the smuggling and sale of oil. It is the Islamic State’s oil-backed armed strength amassed in two adjacent civil wars that has now sent shivers throughout the Western world.

If the European Union’s April 2013 decision appears to have helped trigger the Islamic State’s current success, the situation created is historically novel. To my knowledge, never before has a rebel force fighting a civil war in the global South been able to base its war aspirations on control over oil.

True, in most of the civil wars that have rocked Africa over the last thirty years, access to raw materials has been fundamental. Witness the cases of Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo (DRC) and Sudan. It is also true that oil exports have been a specific mode of war financing, for instance in Angola and the Sudan.

Yet, in those cases, the state remained in command of the oil wealth. In Angola, the right-wing rebel movement UNITA relied heavily on smuggling rough diamonds towards financing its war, while the country’s oil fields were located at great distance UNITA’s war theatre.

In Sudan, oil fields are concentrated in the country’s south, that is, close to and in the region which was disputed by the rebel movement. But the regime of Omar Al-Bashir pursued an inhuman policy of depopulation through aerial bombardments, massacring hapless villagers and forcing survivors to flee. In the self-same process the rebels were deprived of access to people and oil.

Hence, strictly speaking there is no precedent for the oil-fuelled civil wars waged by Sunni rebels in Syria and Iraq.

Now – in turning from de facto supporters to opponents of the Islamic State – Europe’s foreign ministers have followed the U.S. lead, because the United States had just started bombardments of Islamic State positions in Iraq’s north.

Though loudly defended on the grounds of the Islamic State’s relentless persecution of minorities, the renewed U.S. military intervention is not devoid of self-interest. Uppermost in the minds of Pentagon officials is the nexus between oil and arms.

Shortly after President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of U.S. occupation forces from Iraq in October 2011, the United States clinched a huge deal for the sale of F-16 fighter planes and other armaments to Iraq’s military, valued at 12 billion dollars. At least four in five of the top U.S. military corporations are beneficiaries of Iraqi purchases.

Coincidentally, around the time when the U.S.-Iraq agreement on arms’ sales was sealed, the extraction of Iraqi crude was back to old levels, crossing the threshold of three million barrels per day in 2012. As the Iraqi government’s income from oil extraction and exports rose exponentially, U.S. and competing Russian arms’ manufacturers both lined up to bag the orders.

And there is robust confidence that the oil-and-arms nexus can be sustained – according to euphoric projections of the International Energy Agency (IAE), the body of Western oil consumer nations, Iraq holds the key to future increases in world production of crude!

Western policy-makers are feverishly espousing the cause of Muslim Shias, Christians and Yezidis, who are persecuted in areas of Iraq controlled by the Islamic State and, yes, there is no doubt that the Sunni extremist force is guided by a Salafi ideology that severely discriminates against religious minorities, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.

But at what point in the past have Western states consistently defended religious minority rights in the Middle East? The idea seems to have emerged as an afterthought of the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq.

And are Muslim and Christian Arabs in Israel, Muslim Shias in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – to name just some of the groups mistreated by the West’s close allies – likely to be charmed by the West’s resolve to save the Yezidis of Iraq?

In any case, it is high time that the policy reversals in Brussels be questioned.

To recap: a turnabout in relation to the twin civil wars in Syria/Iraq was staged twiceFirst, in September 2011, a general prohibition on investments in and exports of oil from Syria was imposed, affecting both Assad’s government and Syria’s opposition. Then, in 2013, the European Union shifted de facto towards a position favourable to Syria’s Sunni extremist rebels.

Although the European Union’s foreign ministers now appear to have realised their sin, the damage can no longer be repaired without a complete overhaul of E.U. policy-making towards the Middle East.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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Will Climate Change Denialism Help the Russian Economy?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-denialism-help-the-russian-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-climate-change-denialism-help-the-russian-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-denialism-help-the-russian-economy/#comments Sat, 30 Aug 2014 17:00:49 +0000 Mikhail Matveev http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136429 July 2014 floods in Russia but authorities turning blind eye to climate change. Credit: takemake.ru

July 2014 floods in Russia but authorities turning blind eye to climate change. Credit: takemake.ru

By Mikhail Matveev
MOSCOW, Aug 30 2014 (IPS)

The recent call from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for “tightening belts” has convinced even optimists that something is deeply wrong with the Russian economy.

No doubt the planned tax increases (introduction of a sales tax and increases in VAT and income tax) will inflict severe damage on most businesses and their employees, if last year’s example of what happened when taxes were raised for individual entrepreneurs is anything to go by – 650,000 of them were forced to close their businesses.

Nevertheless, it looks like some lucky people are not only going to escape the “belt-tightening” but are also about to receive some dream tax vacations and the lucky few are not farmers, nor are they in technological, educational, scientific or professional fields – it is the Russian and international oil giants involved in oil and gas projects in the Arctic and in Eastern Siberia that stand to gain.

“In October [2013], Vladimir Putin signed a bill under which oil extraction at sea deposits will be exempt from severance tax. Moreover, VAT will not need to be paid for the sales, transportation and utilisation of the oil extracted from the sea shelf,” noted Russian newspaper Rossiiskie Nedra.“It looks like some lucky people are not only going to escape the ‘belt-tightening’ but are also about to receive some dream tax vacations and the lucky few are not farmers, nor are they in technological, educational, scientific or professional fields – it is the Russian and international oil giants involved in oil and gas projects in the Arctic and in Eastern Siberia that stand to gain”

Some continental oil projects were alsoblessedby the “Tsar’s generosity”: “For four Russian deposits with hard-to-recover oils [shale oil, etc.] – Bazhenovskaya [in Western Siberia] and Abalakskaya in Eastern Siberia, Khadumskaya in the Caucasus, and Domanikovaya in the Ural region – severance taxes do not need to be paid. Other deposits had their severance tax rates reduced by 20-80%.”

In fact, the line of thinking adopted by Russian officials responsible for tax policy is very simple. Faced with the predicament of an economy dependent on oil and gas (half of the state budget comes from oil and gas revenue, while two-thirds of exports come from the fossil fuel industry), they decided to act as usual – by stimulating more drilling and charging the rest of the economy with the additional tax burden.

There have been many warnings from well-known economists about the “resource curse” [the paradox that countries and regions with an abundance of natural resources tend to have less economic growth and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources] – and its potential consequences for the countries affected: from having weak industries and agriculture to being prone to dictatorships and corruption.

For a long time, however, economists have been keen on separating the economic and social impacts of fossil fuel dependency from the environmental and climate-related problems. But now, these problems are closely interconnected, and Russia might be the first to feel the strength of their combination in the near future.

Medvedev may not have read much about the “resource curse” but he should at least be familiar with the official position of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), whose Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres has said that three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground in order to avoid the worst possible climate scenario.

One should at least expect this amount of knowledge from Russia as a member of the UN Security Council and it will be interesting to note whether the Russian delegation attending the UN Climate Summit in New York on September 23 will be ready to explain why, instead of limiting fossil fuel extraction, the whole country’s economic and tax policy is now aimed at encouraging as much drilling as possible.

However, it is not just the United Nations that has been warning against the burning of fossil fuels due to the related high climate risks. In 2005, Russia’s own meteorology service Roshydromet issued its prognosis of climate change and the consequences for Russia, stating that the rate of climate change in Russia is two times faster than the world’s average.

Roshydromet predicted a rapid increase in both the frequency and strength of extreme climate events – including floods, hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires. The number of such events has almost doubled during the last 15 years, and represent not only an economic threat but also a real threat to humans’ lives and their well-being,

Consider this summary of climate disasters in Russia during an ordinary July week (not including any of the large natural disasters such as the floods in Altai, Khabarovsk, and Krymsk, or the forest fires around Moscow in 2010):

“Following the weather incidents in the Sverdlovsk and Chelyabinsk District where snow fell last weekend, a natural anomaly occurred in Novosibirsk, resulting in human casualties … Two three-year-old twin sisters died after a tree fell on them during a strong wind storm in the town of Berdsk, Novosibirsk District.”

“The flood in Yakutia lasted a week and resulted in the submersion of Ozhulun village in Churapchinsky district last Saturday. Due to the rise of the Tatta River, 57 house went under.”

“Flooding in Tuapse [on the coast of the Black Sea] occurred on July 8, 2014 … [and] has left 236 citizens homeless.”

ar swept away in July 2014 floods in Russia. Credit: takeme.ru

Cars swept away in July 2014 floods in Russia. Credit: takeme.ru

Is it not worrisome that so many climate disasters have to occur before Russian officials start to realise that climatologists are not lying? Or perhaps they are simply not inclined to take the climatologists’ warnings seriously.

Another significant problem could arise for Russia if oil consumers start taking U.N. climate warnings seriously – and there is evidence that this is happening.

The European Union (still the main consumer of Russian oil and gas) has announced an ambitious “20/20/20 programme” – increasing shares from renewables to 20 percent, improving energy efficiency by 20 percent, and decreasing carbon emissions by 20 percent. The United States has decided to decrease carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent. These are only first steps – but even these steps can help decrease fossil fuel consumption.

Fossil fuel use has only very slowly been increasing in the United States and decreasing in Europe in the last five years. On the other hand, demand for oil has continued to rise in China and Southeast Asia, and it is perhaps this – rather than the recent “sanctions” against Russia over Ukraine – that inspired President Vladimir Putin’s recent “turn to the East”.

But there are serious doubts that Asia’s greed for oil will continue into the future. China recently admitted that it will soon be taking measures to limit carbon emissions – for the first time in its history. China has already turned to green energy andled the rest of the worldin renewable energy investment in 2013.

Will other Asian countries follow suit? Perhaps – because they certainly have a very strong incentive. According to Erin McCarthy writing in the Wall Street Journal, South and Southeast Asia’s losses due to global warming may be huge, and its GDP may be reduced by 6 percent by 2060, despite the measures taken to curb its emissions.

What does this mean for Russia?

Well, if the oil-consuming countries meet their carbon emission targets, we can expect a 10-20 percent decrease in oil demand in the next ten years, maybe more. Any decrease in demand usually induces a decrease in price – but not always proportionally. Sometimes, especially if the market is overheated, even a small decrease in demand can trigger a drastic falls in price. Economists call such a situation a “bursting bubble”.

Today, the situation in the oil (and, in general, fossil fuel) market is often called a “carbon bubble”. Because of high oil prices, investors are motivated to make investments in oil drilling in the hopes of earning a stable and long-term income.

But once the world starts taking climate issues seriously and realises that most of the oil needs to be left in the ground, oil assets will fall in value. Investors will try to withdraw their money from the fossil fuel sector, and, facing a crisis, oil companies will be forced to decrease both production and prices.

If the “carbon bubble” bursts, Russia will be left with sustainable businesses (that are being choked by the nation’s own tax politics) and with a perfect network of shelf platforms, oil rigs, and pipelines (which will be completely unprofitable and useless). Thus, by making fossil fuels the core of its economy, Russia is taking twice the number of risks.

First, it risks ruining the climate, and second, it risks ruining its own economy. It looks like Russia will lose at any rate: if the leading energy consumers are unable to decrease their oil consumption, the climate will be ruined everywhere, including Russia. If they manage to decrease their dependence on fossil fuel, the Russian economy will be ruined.

This certainly is not looking pleasant, especially if we add in the high probability of a major disaster like the Gulf of Mexico Oil spill happening in the Arctic, as well as countless minor leaks possibly occurring along the Russian pipelines.

But maybe Russia just has no other alternative to an economy dependent on fossil fuels?

In that case, perhaps it is worth mentioning a recent article by Russian financier Andrei Movchan in the Russian Forbes magazine. Movchan convincingly shows that the Achilles’ heel of the modern Russian economy is its extremely underdeveloped small and medium-sized businesses. And it looks like the current tax plans would literally exterminate them.

If Russia were able to reverse this tax policy and make small businesses play as big of a role in the economy as they do in the United States or Europe, there could be economic growth comparable to the growth expected from oil and gas – without all the frightful side effects of an economy driven by fossil fuels.

Sounds like a dream, but the first step to making it a reality can be simple: get rid of big oil lobbying in the government and try to reform the taxation system to suit the interests of Russian citizens instead of the interests of the big oil corporations.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

* Mikhail Matveev is 350.org Communications Coordinator for Eastern Europe, Caucasus, Central Asia and Russia

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Ban on Nuke Tests OK, But Where’s the Ban on Nuke Weapons?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ban-on-nuke-tests-ok-but-wheres-the-ban-on-nuke-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ban-on-nuke-tests-ok-but-wheres-the-ban-on-nuke-weapons http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ban-on-nuke-tests-ok-but-wheres-the-ban-on-nuke-weapons/#comments Sat, 30 Aug 2014 11:50:25 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136423 A nuclear test tower belonging to the United States in Bikini Atoll. Credit: public domain

A nuclear test tower belonging to the United States in Bikini Atoll. Credit: public domain

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 30 2014 (IPS)

As the United Nations commemorated the International Day Against Nuclear Tests this week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lamented the fact that in a world threatened by some 17,000 nuclear weapons, not a single one has been destroyed so far.

Instead, he said, countries possessing such weapons have well-funded, long-range plans to modernise their nuclear arsenals."While nations still see a strong role for military options, including deterrence by force, then those with nuclear weapons will not be willing to relinquish them." -- Alyn Ware

Ban noted that more than half of the world’s total population – over 3.5 billion out of more than seven billion people – still lives in countries that either have such weapons or are members of nuclear alliances.

“As of 2014, not one nuclear weapon has been physically destroyed pursuant to a treaty, bilateral or multilateral, and no nuclear disarmament negotiations are underway,” he said.

There are still eight countries – China, North Korea, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States – yet to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), whose ratification is required for the treaty’s entry into force.

Alyn Ware, founder and international coordinator of the network, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), told IPS, “Although I support the Aug. 29 commemoration of the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, I would place greater priority on the issue of nuclear abolition than on full ratification of the CTBT.”

He said there is now a customary norm against nuclear tests (the nuclear detonation type) and only one country (North Korea) that occasionally violates that norm.

“The other holdouts are unlikely to resume nuclear tests, unless the political situation deteriorates markedly, elevating the role of nuclear weapons considerably more than at the moment,” Ware said.

The CTBTO (Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organisation) is working very effectively on implementation, verification and other aspects even though the CTBT has not entered into force, he added.

Ware also pointed out the issue of nuclear abolition is more closely related to current tensions and conflicts.

“While nations still see a strong role for military options, including deterrence by force, then those with nuclear weapons will not be willing to relinquish them, and we face the risk of nuclear conflict by accident, miscalculation or even design,” warned Ware, a New Zealand-based anti-nuclear activist who co-founded the international network, Abolition 2000.

Kazakhstan was one of the few countries to close down its nuclear test site, Semipalatinsk, back in 1991, and voluntarily give up the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal, with more than 110 ballistic missiles and 1,200 nuclear warheads.

Ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov, permanent representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations, told IPS his country’s decision to withdraw from membership of the “nuclear club” was more a question of political will because “Kazakhstan genuinely believed in the futility of nuclear tests and weapons which can inflict unimagined catastrophic consequences on human beings and the environment.”

In 1949, Ban pointed out, the then Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test, followed by another 455 nuclear tests over succeeding decades, with a terrible effect on the local population and environment.

“These tests and the hundreds more that followed in other countries became hallmarks of a nuclear arms race, in which human survival depended on the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, known by its fitting acronym, MAD,” he noted.

“As secretary-general, I have had many opportunities to meet with some of the courageous survivors of nuclear weapons and nuclear tests in Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Semipalatinsk.”

Their resolve and dedication “should continue to guide our work for a world without nuclear weapons,” he added.

He stressed that achieving global nuclear disarmament has been one of the oldest goals of the United Nations and was the subject of the General Assembly’s first resolution as far back as 1946.

“The doctrine of nuclear deterrence persists as an element in the security policies of all possessor states and their nuclear allies,” Ban said.

This is so despite growing concerns worldwide over the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of even a single nuclear weapon, let alone a regional or global nuclear war, he added.

Currently, there are five nuclear weapon states, namely the United States, Britain, Russia, France and China, whose status is recognised by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).

All five are veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (P5), the only body empowered to declare war or peace.

The three other nuclear weapon states are India, Pakistan (which have formally declared that they possess nuclear weapons) and Israel, the undeclared nuclear weapon state.

North Korea has conducted nuclear tests but the possession of weapons is still in lingering doubt.

Ware told IPS the health and environmental consequences of nuclear tests gives an indication of the even greater catastrophic consequences of any use of nuclear weapons in a conflict.

This is what has spurred countries like Kazakhstan to establish the International Day Against Nuclear Tests as a platform to promote a nuclear-weapon-free world, he said.

“And it has spurred Marshall Islands to take this incredibly David-versus-Goliath case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ),” he added.

This has also given rise to the humanitarian consequences dimension, which has gained some traction and will be discussed at the third conference coming up in December.

But without increased confidence in the capacity to resolve conflicts without the threat or use of massive force, countries will continue to rely on nuclear deterrence, even if they do not intend to use the weapons, Ware said.

Thus, UNFOLD ZERO, which is promoting the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, is also advancing cooperative security approaches through the United Nations to resolve conflicts and security threats, he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Growing Calls for Reforms of El Salvador’s Privatised Pension Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/growing-calls-for-reforms-of-el-salvadors-privatised-pension-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=growing-calls-for-reforms-of-el-salvadors-privatised-pension-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/growing-calls-for-reforms-of-el-salvadors-privatised-pension-system/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 18:24:22 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136420 Manuel Campos, a 56-year-old taxi driver, is not covered by either the public or private pension system in El Salvador. His only hope is that his children will support him in his old age. Credit: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Manuel Campos, a 56-year-old taxi driver, is not covered by either the public or private pension system in El Salvador. His only hope is that his children will support him in his old age. Credit: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

Two of the promises made 16 years ago when El Salvador’s pension system was privatised have failed to materialise: There was no expansion of social security coverage and no improvement in pensions. Now pressure is growing for a reform of the system.

Although 20-year-old Kevin Alexis Cuéllar is one of the 2.7 million people enrolled in the private Pensions Savings System (SAP), he has no coverage.

Cuéllar, who is self-employed and does not have steady work, told IPS that he does not pay into the private account which will supposedly provide his pension when he retires. Men in El Salvador retire at the age of 60 and women at 55.

The system established in 1998 has run up against the reality of employment conditions in this Central American nation of 6.2 million people.

A 2013 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) found that 65.7 percent of the economically active population works in the informal economy. Based on statistics from 2011, that is equivalent to 1,269,000 people.

Cuéllar operates a sound system at business events promoting brand awareness. Forced to drop out of school to work before finishing the eight years of basic education, it will not be easy for him to find formal employment in this country, which has no specific plans to reduce the size of the informal sector.

The situation worries him. “The time will come when I won’t be able to work, because of old age or sickness, and we’ll be left without a pension,” he told IPS.

That fear is shared by the tens of thousands of families who have no social security coverage.“It was clearly the business deal of the century, the right to a pension was commodified, to the benefit of financial groups.” -. Trade unionist Francisco García

Expanding coverage “is one of the pending challenges” of the private system, María Elena Rivera, a researcher at the Guillermo Manuel Ungo Foundation (FundaUngo), told IPS.

Although 2.7 million people are enrolled in the private pension scheme, only 653,257 are active contributors, according to figures from July. The rest are not formally employed.

That means only one out of four people of working age are active contributors to the private pension savings scheme, Rivera said.

The government of rightwing president Armando Calderón dismantled the public social security system in 1998 and created the private pensions scheme, in the midst of a wave of privatisations sweeping Latin America.

Under the new scheme, contributions from workers and employers generate a payment of 13 percent of the monthly salary that goes into the employees’ individual accounts.

These individual savings will produce, after 25 years of contributions, the money that will pay the pensions of workers once they reach retirement age.

Other Latin American countries like Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Peru also privatised their pension systems.

Participation in the SAP was mandatory for workers under the age of 36. Their individual accounts are run by pension fund administrators (AFP).

Men over 55 and women over 50 had to stay in the public system, which is to disappear as that generation gradually retires and passes away.

In the public pay-as-you-go system, all workers pay into the same fund, which is financed on the basis of solidarity between generations.

Those who were between the ages of 36 and 50 in 1998 could choose between the public or private systems.

“It was clearly the business deal of the century, the right to a pension was commodified, to the benefit of financial groups,” the secretary of the Workers’ Union of the National Institute for Public Employees’ Pensions (SITINPEP), Francisco García, told IPS.

The union wants to return to a mixed system, with the state controlling the pension system, and the AFPs as optional.

The government of leftwing President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, in office since June, said the private system has failed. But it has not given any indication of what reforms it will push through in the next few months – although it has ruled out a return to a public social security system.

In July, SAP had just under 7.5 billion dollars in accumulated contributions. Those funds were initially to be invested in El Salvador’s stock market, and the yield would go into the employee’s account.

Investing the funds in the stock market was also supposed to help drive the country’s productive development, by giving a boost to key sectors of the economy, generating more formal sector jobs and making it possible to expand coverage. In addition, the pensions would be improved.

The minimum retirement and disability pension is 207 dollars a month.

But the local stock market is too small to help productive enterprises get off the ground, analysts say, and formal employment did not receive the expected boost, nor did pensions grow.

Manuel Campos, a 56-year-old taxi driver, who is not enrolled in either the public or private pension systems, only hopes that once he is too old to work, or if he falls ill, his three children will help support him.
“If I didn’t have that hope, maybe I would have to do what so many people are doing today: beg on the streets,” Campos told IPS while waiting for customers on a street in San Salvador.

In another part of the capital, 40-year-old Sandra Escobar is preparing lunch that she will sell at noon in the business where she works as a cook: a small tin shack on the side of the road.

“My idea is to save up, little by little, to have something for my old age. But it’s hard,” said Escobar, while cooking beef in a frying pan.

When most of the younger workers opted for the private system in 1998, the government assumed the burden of the underfinanced public system, which according to the latest data, from 2012, was around 420 million dollars a year.

That is the amount needed to pay the pensions of the employees who stayed in the public system: 100,247 as of October 2012, according to a document from the Salvadoran Association of Pension Fund Administrators (ASAFONDOS), which represents the two AFPs.

In 2006, the legislature approved the Fideicomiso de Obligaciones Previsionales (pension trust fund), through which the AFPs are legally obligated to invest part of the funds in bonds issued by the state, and thus obtain the resources for paying pensions.

But these bonds have low returns, 1.4 percent a year, not enough to significantly increase the pensions of workers. Legally, El Salvador’s AFPs cannot invest in the international stock market, where they would obtain higher returns.

IPS was unable to obtain an interview with the president of ASAFONDOS, René Novellino. But a report he published in 2013 proposed approving a gradual opening up of the system, with clear limits and strong oversight, to investment in international stock markets, among other measures.

FundaUngo is calling for a national dialogue, so all of the sectors can set forth proposals for reforming the system.

In the meantime, soundman Kevin Cuéllar, cook Sandra Escobar and taxi driver Manuel Campos continue to face the reality of informal employment, with no prospects for receiving a pension when they reach retirement age.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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SDGs Make Room for Education for Global Citizenshiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/sdgs-make-room-for-education-for-global-citizenship/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sdgs-make-room-for-education-for-global-citizenship http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/sdgs-make-room-for-education-for-global-citizenship/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 16:39:02 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136416 Soka Gakkai International (SGI) sponsors a workshop on education for global citizenship in the post-2015 development agenda. Credit: Hiro Sakurai / SGI

Soka Gakkai International (SGI) sponsors a workshop on education for global citizenship in the post-2015 development agenda. Credit: Hiro Sakurai / SGI

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

Civil society leaders and U.N. development experts gathered on Wednesday to discuss the role of education for global citizenship in the post-2015 development agenda.

The workshop, sponsored by Soka Gakkai International (SGI), was part of the U.N.’s 65th Annual Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organization (DPI/NGO) Conference.“We are part of a bigger humanity.” -- Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury

Education “is linked to all areas of sustainable development and is vital in achieving all Sustainable Development Goals and targets,” Hiro Sakurai, SGI’s U.N. liaison office director, told IPS.

“Education for global citizenship deserves particular attention and emphasis in this regard as it helps link issues and disciplines, brings together all stakeholders, and fosters shared vision and objectives,” he said.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former under-secretary general and high representative of the U.N., gave the event’s keynote address. He expressed his excitement at the increased prominence of global citizenship in development circles.

According to Ambassador Chowdhury, global citizenship requires “self-transformation” and can be a “pathway to a culture of peace.”

Progress requires a “determination to treat each one of us as a global citizen,” he said. “We are part of a bigger humanity.”

Saphira Ramesfar of the Baha’i International Community also spoke to the transformative nature of global citizenship.

“It is not enough for education to provide individuals who can read, write and count,” she said. “Education must be transformative and bring shared values to life, cultivating an active care for the world itself and for those with whom we share it. Education needs to fully assume its role in building just, unified and inclusive societies.”

In the past, attempts to build global citizenship have focused on the young, but Ambassador Chowdhury argued for a more expansive understanding of the concept.

“I believe that education for global citizenship is for all of us, irrespective of our age, irrespective of whether we are going through a formal education process or not,” Chowdhury said.

Anjali Rangaswami of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs explained how NGOs have actively participated in the crafting of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Past years have set “a very high standard for civil society engagement,” according to Rangaswami.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set to expire in 2015, included a target of universal primary education. The SDGs, if adopted in their current draft form, would aim for universal secondary education as well.

Under target four, the SDGs specifically mention education for global citizenship, an issue left unaddressed by the MDGs.

The U.N’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI), which lists “fostering global citizenship” as one of its three main priorities, was influential in this new development.

According to Min Jeong Kim, head of GEFI’s secretariat team, the initiative was launched by the secretary-general in 2012 because “at that point education had sort of stagnated after rapid growth following adoption of [the] MDGs.”

After the panel speakers concluded, participants in the workshop broke into small groups to share their own perspectives on education for global citizenship.

The event was also co-sponsored by the Baha’i International Community, Global Movement for a Culture of Peace, Human Rights Education Associates, Sustainable Development Education Caucus and Values Caucus, bringing a wide variety of expertise to the table.

The SDGs are an opportunity for a whole new outlook on education.

Education should be focused on developing meaningful lives, rather than focused on making a living, Ambassador Chowdhury told IPS.

So far the paradigm has been “if you get a good job, then your education is worth it, and if you do not get a good job, then your education is worthless,” he said. “That has to change.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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Africa-U.S. Summit – Catching Up With China?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/africa-u-s-summit-catching-up-with-china/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-u-s-summit-catching-up-with-china http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/africa-u-s-summit-catching-up-with-china/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 13:07:35 +0000 Demba Moussa Dembele http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136304

In this column, Demba Moussa Dembele, director of the African Forum on Alternatives in Dakar, analyses the geopolitical reasons behind the recent summit in Washington between African leaders and the U.S. President and concludes that Africa has become the “new frontier” of global capitalism.

By Demba Moussa Dembele
DAKAR, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

A few years ago, nobody could have imagined that some 50 Heads of States and Prime Ministers from Africa would meet the President of the United States for a summit. Yet, the first Africa/United States Summit took place in Washington from August 4 to 6, making headlines around the world.

It is obvious that geopolitical considerations were behind this summit, with the shadow of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) hanging over the meeting.

Demba Moussa Dembele, chairperson of LDC Watch, speaks to IPS. Credit: Sanjay Suri/IPS

Demba Moussa Dembele

The United States would have never organised such a summit if the global balance of power had not been gradually shifting towards emerging powers, notably towards China and the BRICS.

Western economic domination is being eroded, as illustrated by the deepening crisis of the Eurozone and the worsening deficits of the United States. Meanwhile, the BRICS are increasing their economic and financial weight in the world economy, and represent about 20 percent of the world’s GDP and 17 percent of world trade, with China now the second economy behind the United States.

For most observers, the BRICS Summit in Fortaleza and Brasilia (Brazil) in mid-July heralds a new world monetary and financial order in the next decades or so. Observers from the South and the West are predicting the gradual shift to a new balance of monetary and financial order, with the BRICS at the centre.“Growing China-Africa ties are a disturbing development for Western countries, the European Union (EU) and the United States. They view these relations as a threat to their “traditional” neo-colonial relationships with Africa”

Indeed, the decision to set up the BRICS bank and the Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA) is seen as a serious challenge to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which have been the tools of Western countries for more than half a century. They will gradually become more and more irrelevant to developing countries, as these increasingly turn to BRICS’ financial institutions.

On the other hand, China and the other members of the BRICS group are challenging the hegemony of the U.S. dollar through several swap arrangements, aimed at boosting their trade by using their own currencies. One of the most significant arrangements is the swap between China and Russia, when one takes into account the 400 billion dollars gas deal signed between Russia’s Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC).

The French online newspaper, Mediapart (July 5, 2014), reported that in the oil and gas sector, the top three investors in 2013 were all from the BRICS – PetroChina (50.2 billion dollars), Gazprom (44.5 billion dollars) and Petrobras (41.5 billion dollars). The first Western company was Total, which ranked seventh with 30.8 billion dollars.

It is obvious that these developments are of great concern to the United States, especially in light of the BRICS’ drive to strengthen their economic and financial relations with Africa and South America.

In a 2013 report, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) indicated that Africa’s trade with the BRICS had doubled since 2007 to 340 billion dollars in 2012. It projected that the trade would reach 500 billion dollars by 2015.

Trade between China and Africa is estimated at about 200 billion dollars in 2013. It has become Africa’s main trading partner. And most African countries are now turning to China for loans while Chinese companies are involved in building roads, bridges, and other infrastructures across Africa.

Growing China-Africa ties are a disturbing development for Western countries, the European Union (EU) and the United States. They view these relations as a threat to their “traditional”, neo-colonial relationships with Africa.

While the European Union has tried to lock African countries into Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) – as part of a scheme to create a free trade area (FTA) between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries – since 2007, the United States seems to be “wakening up” only now to the reality of the fast-changing economic landscape in Africa.

A Paris-based magazine, Jeune Afrique, wrote that with this Summit, Barack Obama was organising a “catch-up meeting”. The reason, said the magazine, was that the United States has lost too much ground to China and to a lesser degree to Europe. It is estimated that trade between Africa and the United States doubled between 2000 and 2010, while trade between Africa and China increased twenty-fold over the same period!

Most observers believe that without China building strong and growing economic and financial ties with Africa, the United States would not have thought about organising such a Summit. Clearly, China’s role in Africa has given a greater “respectability” to the continent and elevated its standing with Western countries, which are now looking at Africa through a new light.

Catching up for will not be an easy exercise for the United States. For one thing, its imports from Africa are essentially composed of crude oil, which accounts for 91 percent of total trade. Second, in its relations with Africa, security concerns have always topped the U.S. agenda.

This is why during the George W. Bush Administration, the United States set up “Africa Command” (AFRICOM) with the view to “helping” African countries fight “terrorism”. And the aim is to move AFRICOM headquarters – now in Germany – to Africa, preferably in the Gulf of Guinea, which is home to the bulk of African oil reserves. U.S. companies, like Chevron and ExxonMobil, have already invested billions of dollars in the area in order to control huge chunks of those reserves.

At the end of the Africa-U.S. Summit, Obama announced that 33 billion dollars will be invested in Africa between 2014 and 2017. But only seven billion dollars will come from public funds in order to boost trade between the United States and Africa, 14 billion dollars will come from the private banking and construction sectors, while 12 billion dollars are part of the “Power Africa” project aimed at bringing electricity to households and the industrial sector. This programme is financed by the World Bank and U.S. private companies such as General Electric.

So, the 33 billion dollars announcement is not really a “gift” made by president Barack Obama to African leaders, as some newspapers erroneously presented it. It will essentially serve the interests of U.S. private companies in their drive to compete against BRICS and European companies in Africa.

But, beyond “catching up” with China and the European Union, the Africa-U.S. Summit should be viewed in the context of the discourse on “Africa Rising”. Indeed, for neoliberal ideologues, Africa seems to hold the solution to the crisis of global capitalism.

In January 2014, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe toured Africa. In a speech at the headquarters of the African Union, in Addis Ababa, he was quoting as saying that “with its immense resources, Africa is holding the hopes of the world.” This was an echo to a report by the French Senate, released in December 2013, with the incredible title ‘Africa is our Future’.

This may explain French military adventures in Africa over the last several years, from Cote d’Ivoire to Libya, from Mali to the Central African Republic, among others.

Several forums are being organised to advise Western corporations to invest in Africa and tap into its resources. Apparently, Africa has become the “new frontier” of global capitalism, at the expense of its own people. As the renowned Egyptian economist Samir Amin used to say: “the West cares about Africa’s resources, not about its people.” (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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The Age of Survival Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-age-of-survival-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-age-of-survival-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-age-of-survival-migration/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 12:41:53 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136410 A 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant heading to the U.S. Credit: Wilfredo Díaz/IPS

A 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant heading to the U.S. Credit: Wilfredo Díaz/IPS

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

“Survival migration” is not a reality show, but an accurate description of human mobility fuelled by desperation and fear. How despairing are these migrant contingents? Look at the figures of Central American children travelling alone, which are growing.

The painful journeys of children and teenagers from Central America to the United States border sounded alarms this year.While Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and parts of Mexico are like hell on Earth, the Refugee Convention is not easily applicable in these cases, and moves to broaden or amend it have failed so far.

More than 52,000 children —mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador— were detained when they crossed the border without their parents in the last eight months, says the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

While it is an unprecedented crisis, Gervais Appave, special policy adviser to the International Organisation for Migration’s director general, frames it “within a more general global trend”, which could be defined as “survival migration”.

Children travelling from the Horn of Africa to European countries, through Malta and Italy, or seeking to reach Australia by boat from Afghanistan, Iran and Sri Lanka, are just two examples.

The European agency dealing with borders, Frontex, reported an increase in the “phenomenon of unaccompanied minors claiming asylum in the European Union (EU)” during 2009 and 2010.

According to Frontex, the proportion of children migrating alone “in the overall number of irregular migrants that reach the EU is worryingly growing.”

Appave told IPS it is impossible to identify a single cause for the spread of this child migration. But he pointed out there is a “very effective and ruthless smuggling industry”. There is “a psychological process that kicks in if you have a critical mass of people moving. Then others will try to follow because this is seeing as ‘the’ solution to go forth,” he said.

The muscle of smugglers and traffickers is apparent in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. But nobody flees without a powerful reason.

According to a report published in July by the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, 85 percent of the new asylum applications received by the United States in 2012 came from these three countries, while Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize registered a combined 435 percent increase in the number of individual applications from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

A broader definition of refugee

Exactly 30 years ago, with Central America engulfed by civil wars and authoritarian regimes, the Latin American Cartagena Declaration enlarged the international concept of refugee.

This made it possible to include people who had fled their country because their lives, safety or freedom were threatened “by generalised violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violations of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order.” Many Latin American countries adopted this regional concept.

In 2004, the countries adopted an action plan and a regional programme of resettlement. In July this year, governments of Central America and Mexico met in Nicaragua to discuss how to tackle the displacement forced by transnational mafias. The goal to protect vulnerable migrants must rest on the principle of shared responsibility of the involved states, they agreed.

A new Latin American plan on refugeees, asylum and stateless people for the next decade will be adopted in December in a meeting in Brazil to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration.

While in recent weeks there have been fewer children crossing the U.S. southern border, “this phenomenon has been here since years ago,” Adriana Beltrán, WOLA’s senior associate for citizen security, told IPS.

Criminal gangs, mafias and corruption are major drivers, agree Beltrán and José Guadalupe Ruelas, director of Casa Alianza – Honduras, an NGO working to promote children’s rights.

Killings, extrajudicial executions, extortion and fear “have grown dramatically” in Honduras, Ruelas told IPS.

The country has 3.7 million children under 18, and one million do not attend school; half million suffer labour exploitation; 24 out of 100 teenage girls get pregnant; 8,000 boys and girls are homeless, and other 15,000 fled the country this year, according to official statistics.

“Five years ago, there were 43 monthly murders and arbitrary executions of children and under-23 youths,” he said. Now the monthly average is 88, according to Casa Alianza’s Observatorio de Derechos de los Niños, Niñas y Jóvenes.

Moreover, the perception of security is altered. When people in the “colonias” (poor neighbourhoods) see an ambulance, they “immediately presume a murder or a violent death, instead of a life about to be saved or an ill person to be cured,” and if they see a police or a military patrol, “they think there will be heavy fire and deaths.”

These terrified people mistrust state institutions. Only last year, 17,000 families left their homes following gangs’ threats, “and the state could do nothing to prevent it.”

“They are displaced by the war,” Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández said in June.

The 1951 U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol establish that a refugee is a person who fled his or her country due to persecution on the grounds of political opinion, race, nationality or membership to a particular social group.

While Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and parts of Mexico are like hell on Earth, the Convention is not easily applicable in these cases, and moves to broaden or amend it have failed so far. Instead, the 1984 Cartagena Declaration (see sidebar) offers a more flexible refugee definition for the region.

Through a 10-point plan of action, the UNHCR asks governments to include refugee considerations in migration policies, particularly when dealing with children, women and victims of trafficking.

According to a 2008 law, U.S. authorities must screen all cases of children under 18 who crossed the border alone to determine whether they are victims of trafficking or abuse, to provide them with legal representation and ensure due process. But the agencies in charge are overloaded and lack adequate resources.

“Some sectors want to change this law and, despite the fact that there have not been deportations, Washington has not clearly indicated yet which stance will take,” said Ruelas.

With elections set for November, it is highly unlikely the political parties will keep this issue out of the electoral fight, he added.

Beyond the urgency of this refugee crisis, underlying causes are a much more complicated issue.

It is not just violence or poverty, but “incredibly weak criminal justice institutions penetrated by organised crime,” said Beltrán.

Ruelas points out the “wrongful” militarisation of Honduras, which will further erode the state’s ability to control its territory. “Despite more soldiers patrolling the streets, criminals feel free to threaten and murder in the colonias,” he said.

According to Beltrán, the United States’ ad hoc assistance through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) is excessively focused on the “anti-drug fight”, when the region requires more investment in prevention policies, particularly at the local level.

“Washington needs to refocus its policies toward the region, but Central American governments can’t evade their own responsibility,” she added.

Their fiscal revenues, for example, are among the lowest in Latin America, thus undermining their capacity to provide services and respect human rights.

However, the crisis of migrant children is providing a golden opportunity to reexamine all of these larger issues, Ruelas says. “We need a human security, one which regains the public space for the citizens.

“When people control the territory,” he argued, “because the police protect and support them, they gain the chance to rebuild a more peaceful community life.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at dia.cariboni@gmail.com

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OPINION: Why Kazakhstan Dismantled its Nuclear Arsenalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-why-kazakhstan-dismantled-its-nuclear-arsenal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-kazakhstan-dismantled-its-nuclear-arsenal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-why-kazakhstan-dismantled-its-nuclear-arsenal/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 11:20:39 +0000 Kairat Abdrakhmanov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136406 By Kairat Abdrakhmanov
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

Today is the fifth observance of the International Day against Nuclear Tests.

One of the first decrees of President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, upon the country gaining independence in 1991, was the historic decision to close, on Aug. 29 the same year, the Semipalatinsk Nuclear test site, the second largest in the world.

Kazakhstan also voluntarily gave up the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal, with more than 110 ballistic missiles and 1,200 nuclear warheads with the capacity to reach any point on this earth.

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Many believed at that time that we took this decision because we did not possess the ability or competence to support such an massive atomic arsenal. Not true. We had then, and have even today, the best experts.

For us, it was more a question of political will to withdraw from the membership of the Nuclear Club because Kazakhstan genuinely believed in the futility of nuclear tests and weapons which can inflict unimagined catastrophic consequences on human beings and the environment.

The closing of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site was followed by other major test sites, such as in Nevada, Novaya Zemlya, Lop Nur and Moruroa.

Therefore, at the initiative of Kazakhstan, the General Assembly adopted resolution 64/35, on Dec. 2, 2009, declaring Aug. 29 as the International Day against Nuclear Tests.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the Ground Zero of Semipalatinsk in April 2010 and described the action of the president as a bold and unprecedented act and urged present world leaders to follow suit.

In the words of President Nazarbayev, this historical step made by our people, 23 years ago, has great significance for civilisation, and its significance will only grow in the coming years and decades.

It is acknowledged today that the end of testing would also result in the ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons and hence the importance of the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.

Kazakhstan was one of the first to sign the treaty, and has been a model of transforming the benefits of renouncing nuclear weapons into human development especially in the post-2015 phase with its emphasis on sustainable development.

It has been internationally recognised that nuclear-weapon-free zones on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at among the states of the region concerned enhance global and regional peace and security, strengthens the nuclear non-proliferation regime and contributes towards realizing the objectives of nuclear disarmament.

Yes, there are political upheavals, and there will be roadblocks, but we have to keep pursuing durable peace and security. For these are the founding objectives of the United Nations.

Each year in the U.N.’s First Committee and the General Assembly, a number of resolutions are adopted, supported by a vast majority of member states calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons, and accelerating the implementation of nuclear disarmament commitments.

There are resolute and continuing efforts by member states, various stakeholders and civil society who advocate for an international convention against nuclear weapons.

We also see the dynamic action taken, especially by civil society, which brings attention to the devastating humanitarian dimensions of the use of nuclear weapons.

The meeting hosted by Norway in Oslo, and earlier this year in Nayarit by Mexico, have given new impetus to this new direction of thinking. We hope to carry further this zeal at the deliberations in Vienna, scheduled later this year.

The international community will continue its efforts on all fronts and levels to achieve the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

There was also a reaffirmation by the nuclear-weapon states of their unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament, to which all states parties are committed under article VI of the Treaty of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

The international community, I am sure, with the impassioned engagement of civil society will continue to redouble its efforts to reach Global Zero.

Ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov is the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Large Dams “Highly Correlated” with Poor Water Qualityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/large-dams-highly-correlated-with-poor-water-quality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=large-dams-highly-correlated-with-poor-water-quality http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/large-dams-highly-correlated-with-poor-water-quality/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 00:34:45 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136401 Fishermen's boats on the Mekong River in northern Laos. There are already 30 existing dams along the river, and an additional 134 hydropower projects are planned for the lower Mekong. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

Fishermen's boats on the Mekong River in northern Laos. There are already 30 existing dams along the river, and an additional 134 hydropower projects are planned for the lower Mekong. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

Large-scale dams are likely having a detrimental impact on water quality and biodiversity around the world, according to a new study that tracks and correlates data from thousands of projects.

Focusing on the 50 most substantial river basins, researchers with International Rivers, a watchdog group, compiled and compared available data from some 6,000 of the world’s estimated 50,000 large dams. Eighty percent of the time, they found, the presence of large dams, typically those over 15 metres high, came along with findings of poor water quality, including high levels of mercury and trapped sedimentation.“The evidence we’ve compiled of planetary-scale impacts from river change is strong enough to warrant a major international focus on understanding the thresholds for river change in the world’s major basins." -- Jason Rainey

While the investigators are careful to note that the correlations do not necessarily indicate causal relationships, the say the data suggest a clear, global pattern. They are now calling for an intergovernmental panel of experts tasked with coming up with a systemic method by which to assess and monitor the health of the world’s river basins.

“[R]iver fragmentation due to decades of dam-building is highly correlated with poor water quality and low biodiversity,” International Rivers said Tuesday in unveiling the State of the World’s Rivers, an online database detailing the findings. “Many of the world’s great river basins have been dammed to the point of serious decline.”

The group points to the Tigris-Euphrates basin, today home to 39 dams and one of the systems that has been most “fragmented” as a result. The effect appears to have been a vast decrease in the region’s traditional marshes, including the salt-tolerant flora that helped sustain the coastal areas, as well as a drop in soil fertility.

The State of the World project tracks the spread of dam-building alongside data on biodiversity and water-quality metrics in the river basins affected. While the project is using only previously published data, organisers say the effort is the first time that these disparate data sets have been overlaid in order to find broader trends.

“By and large most governments, particularly in the developing world, do not have the capacity to track this type of data, so in that sense they’re flying blind in setting policy around dam construction,” Zachary Hurwitz, the project’s coordinator, told IPS.

“We can do a much better job at observing [dam-affected] resettled populations, but most governments don’t have the capacity to do continuous biodiversity monitoring. Yet from our perspective, those data are what you really need in order to have a conversation around energy planning.”

Dam-building boom

Today, four of the five most fragmented river systems are in South and East Asia, according to the new data. But four others in the top 10 are in Europe and North America, home to some of the most extensive dam systems, especially the United States.

For all the debate in development circles in recent years about dam-building in developing countries, the new data suggests that two of the world’s poorest continents, Africa and South America, remain relatively less affected by large-scale damming than other parts of the world.

Of course, both Africa and South America have enormous hydropower potential and increasingly problematic power crunches, and many of the countries in these continents are moving quickly to capitalise on their river energy.

According to estimates from International Rivers, Brazil alone is currently planning to build more than 650 dams of all sizes. The country is also home to some of the highest numbers of species that would be threatened by such moves.

Not only are Brazil, China and India busy building dams at home, but companies from these countries are also increasingly selling such services to other developing countries.

“Precisely those basins that are least fragmented are currently being targeted for a great expansion of dam-building,” Hurwitz says. “But if we look at the experience and data from areas of high historical dam-building – the Mississippi basin the United States, the Danube basin in Europe – those worrying trends are likely to be repeated in the least-fragmented basins if this proliferation of dam-building continues.”

Advocates are expressing particularly concern over the confluence of the new strengthened focus on dam-building and the potential impact of climate change on freshwater biodiversity. International Rivers is calling for an intergovernmental panel to assess the state of the world’s river basins, aimed at developing metrics for systemic assessment and best practices for river preservation.

“The evidence we’ve compiled of planetary-scale impacts from river change is strong enough to warrant a major international focus on understanding the thresholds for river change in the world’s major basins, and for the planet as a whole system,” Jason Rainey, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

Economic burden

Particularly for increasingly energy-starved developing countries, concerns around large-scale dam-building go beyond environmental or even social considerations.

Energy access remains a central consideration in any set of development metrics, and lack of energy is an inherent drag on issues as disparate as education and industry. Further, concerns around climate change have re-energised what had been flagging interest in large dam projects, epitomised by last year’s decision by the World Bank to refocus on such projects.

Yet there remains fervent debate around whether this is the best way to go, particularly for developing countries. Large dams typically cost several billion dollars and require extensive planning to complete, and in the past these plans have been blamed for overwhelming fragile economies.

A new touchstone in this debate came out earlier this year, in a widely cited study from researchers at Oxford University. Looking at nearly 250 large dams dating back as far as the 1920s, they found pervasive cost and time overruns.

“We find overwhelming evidence that budgets are systematically biased below actual costs of large hydropower dams,” the authors wrote in the paper’s abstract.

“The outside view suggests that in most countries large hydropower dams will be too costly … and take too long to build to deliver a positive risk-adjusted return unless suitable risk management measures … can be affordably provided.”

Instead, the researchers encouraged policymakers in developing countries to focus on “agile energy alternatives” that can be built more quickly.

On the other side of this debate, the findings were attacked by the International Commission on Large Dams, a Paris-based NGO, for focusing on an unrepresentative set of extremely large dams. The group’s president, Adama Nombre, also questioned the climate impact of the researchers’ preferred alternative options.

“What would be those alternatives?” Nombre asked. “Fossil fuel plants consuming coal or gas. Without explicitly saying it, the authors use a purely financial reasoning to bring us toward a carbon-emitting electric system.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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IPS at 50, Leads That Don’t Bleedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ips-at-50-leads-that-dont-bleed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ips-at-50-leads-that-dont-bleed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ips-at-50-leads-that-dont-bleed/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 20:32:03 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136394 This is the fourth in a series of special articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPS, which was set up in 1964, the same year as the Group of 77 (G77) and the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).]]>

This is the fourth in a series of special articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPS, which was set up in 1964, the same year as the Group of 77 (G77) and the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

Tarzie Vittachi, a renowned Sri Lankan newspaper editor and one-time deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, once recounted the oft-quoted story of an African diplomat who sought his help to get coverage in the U.S. media for his prime minister’s address to the General Assembly.

The diplomat, a friend of Vittachi’s, said the visiting African leader was planning to tell the world body his success stories in battling poverty, hunger and HIV/AIDS."Its enterprising role has also been evident in the way it championed the creation of U.N. Women." -- Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri

“How can I get this story into the front pages of U.S. newspapers?” he asked rather naively.

Vittachi, then a columnist and contributing editor to Newsweek magazine, jokingly retorted: “Shoot him – and you will get the front page of every newspaper in the U.S.”

As the old tabloid journalistic axiom goes: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

But in its news coverage over the last 50 years, IPS has led mostly with “unsexy” and “un-bleeding” stories, long ignored by the mainstream media.

As IPS commemorates its 50th anniversary this year, its news coverage of the developing world and the United Nations has been singled out for praise because of its primary focus on social and politico-economic issues on the U.N. agenda, including poverty, hunger, population, children, gender empowerment, education, health, refugees, human rights, disarmament, the global environment and sustainable development.

Congratulating IPS on its 50th anniversary, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was quick to applaud IPS’ “relentless focus on issues of concern to the developing world – from high-level negotiations on economic development to on-the-ground projects that improve health and sanitation.

“I thank IPS for raising global public awareness about matters at the heart of the U.N.’s agenda, and I hope it will have an even greater impact in the future,” he added.

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IPS U.N. Bureau Chief Thalif Deen

In its advocacy role, IPS was in the forefront of a longstanding campaign, led by world leaders, activists and women’s groups, for the creation of a separate U.N. entity to reinforce equal rights for women and for gender empowerment.

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of U.N. Women, last week praised IPS for its intensive coverage of sustainable development and gender empowerment.

She said IPS has been “a leader” in realising a more democratic and equitable new information, knowledge and communication order in the service of sustainable development in all its dimensions: social, economic and environmental.

“Its enterprising role has also been evident in the way it championed the creation of U.N. Women: a new gender equality and women’s empowerment and rights architecture within the U.N. system.

“We have partnered with IPS to advance this most important project for humanity in the 21st century,” said Puri. “IPS joined our political mobilisation drive for a stand-alone gender equality and women’s empowerment goal through sustained engagement and compelling content.”

She said IPS has demonstrated “its unwavering commitment to development issues through supporting our efforts to mainstream gender perspectives in the G77, particularly via the Declaration of Santa Cruz ‘For a New World Order for Living Well’ of June 2014, and the historic pre-summit international meeting on Women’s Proposals for a New World Order.”

She also said IPS has joined the public mobilisation campaign – “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It”- as a Media Compact partner, and is throwing its full support behind Beijing+20.

“I wish IPS 50 more years of dynamic evolution, courageous reporting of truth, built on the foundations of reportage from the front-lines of ground experiences, and of providing game changing third-eye wisdom and policy perspectives on all endeavours of humanity and of imagining a better world for women and girls,” Puri declared.

Over the years, IPS has also given pride of place for coverage of disarmament and development – and specifically nuclear disarmament.

Jayantha Dhanapala, a former U.N. under-secretary-general for disarmament affairs, said last week there is special significance in the fact that this anniversary is being celebrated together with the Group of 77 and UNCTAD, highlighting the umbilical link with the developing world of the global South.

Giving voice to these important trends, IPS emerged to challenge the monopoly of the news exchange system and its dominance by the developed world, he added.

Drawing on the vast reservoir of hitherto globally unrecognised journalistic talent in the global South, Roberto Savio and Pablo Piacentini co-founded an organisation that has braved challenges of resource mobilisation and unfair competition, said Dhanapala.

“Having spent many years in the area of peace and disarmament with the United Nations, I am personally grateful to IPS for espousing the cause of disarmament, especially nuclear disarmament, and for identifying the priority of a nuclear weapon-free world where weapons of mass destruction must be eliminated and conventional weapons reduced from current levels in achieving general and complete disarmament,” he said.

“Only then can we have peace and security with development and human rights flourishing in collective and co-operative global security,” said Dhanapala, president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs (1995 Nobel Peace Laureate) and a former ambassador of Sri Lanka.

When the United Nations launched a new series in 2004 drawing attention to the “10 Most Under-Reported Stories of the Year”, IPS was far ahead of the curve having covered at least seven of the 10 stories in a single year: AIDS orphans in Africa; Women as Peacemakers; the Hidden World of the Stateless; Policing for Peace; the Girl Soldier; Indigenous Peoples and a Treaty for the Disabled.

Dr. Shashi Tharoor, a former U.N. under-secretary-general and head of the Department of Public Information (DPI), who originated the series, recounted the role of IPS in covering under-reported stories.

Reiterating his comments, Tharoor said last week: “I have followed IPS’ reporting for three decades, and worked with them at close quarters during my media-related assignments at the United Nations.

“I found IPS an excellent source of news and insight about the developing world, covering stories the world’s dominant media outlets too often ignore,” said Tharoor, currently a member of parliament for Thiruvananthapuram in India’s Lok Sabha.

He said IPS reporters marry the highest professional standards of journalism to an institutional commitment to covering stories of particular concern to the global South.

“They are indispensable to any reader who wishes to stay abreast of what’s happening in developing countries around the world,” said Tharoor, a prolific writer and author of ‘The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cell Phone’.

In recent years, IPS has been a three-time winner of the annual awards presented by the U.N. Correspondents’ Association (UNCA), having won a bronze in 1997 (shared with the Washington Post) and two golds in 2012 and 2013 (one of which it shared with the Associated Press) for “excellence in U.N. reporting”.

Additionally, IPS’ Gareth Porter was also honoured in 2012 with the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, whose past winners included the Guardian, the Independent, the Sunday Times and Wikileaks.

The Washington-based Population Institute, which gave its annual media awards for development reporting, singled out IPS as “the most conscientious news service” for coverage relating to population and development.

IPS won the award nine times in the 1990s, beating out the major wire services year in and year out, conceding occasionally to Reuters and the Associated Press (AP).

Barbara Crossette, a former U.N. bureau chief for the New York Times (1994-2001) and currently U.N. correspondent for The Nation and contributing writer and editor for PassBlue, said, “I am among those many journalists who follow the IPS reports daily, not only for insight into events and people at the United Nations, but also — and maybe more so — for coverage of global news from the perspective of the developing world.”

She said she also looks forward to some of “the controversial commentary from IPS writers with different perspectives than those we hear most in the Western media, where reporting from the U.N. itself has generally sunk to a new low in American and numerous European publications and broadcasts.

“As for news from inside the U.N., IPS’s close attention to the issues of women in the organisation and in its work internationally has been consistently stellar,” said Crossette, who cited the Vittachi anecdote in the 2007 ‘Oxford Handbook on the United Nations’ published by the Oxford University Press.

“No other news service has covered so reliably the establishment, the people and the ongoing challenges of U.N. Women and what that all means to the level of commitment member states really have to making the new U.N. agency strong and effective at a time when it is clear how central a role women must play in development,” said Crossette, who was also the Times’ chief correspondent in Bangkok (for Southeast Asia from 1984 to 1988) and in Delhi (for South Asia, 1988-1991.

Described by some as a “socially responsible” media outlet, IPS has consistently advocated the cause of civil society and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) worldwide.

James Paul, who monitored U.N. politics for over 19 years as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, said IPS has made a tremendous contribution to the movement for global justice over the past 50 years.

It is hard today to imagine the world as it was then, in 1964, a moment when colonialism was ending, when the democratic spirit was running strong, when there was a worldwide movement to seize the institutions and transform them, he added.

“IPS arose to confront the information monopolies and to bring a fresh approach to news that would reflect and nourish the spirit of those times,” Paul said.

He said IPS immediately won a place of honour and inspired those working for democracy, justice and peace: people who needed an alternative to the arid journalism of the powers-that-be.

“In the five decades that have followed, it has held true to that vision serious investigation of global developments, honest thinking, engagement for justice, the very best journalism day in and day out”.

He added: “I am always impressed by the commitment of IPS to reporting the underlying issues, to drawing on historical memory, to bringing to events a sense of humor, hope and possibility, even in the darkest of times. We can count on IPS to use proudly the optic of human rights, economic justice and peace.”

Though news is not so monopolised today, its purveyors in both South and North are still too often the mouthpieces and propagandists of power, he noted.

“Clearly, then, IPS is more important than ever. A luta continua! I salute the founder, Roberto Savio, and the hundreds of talented journalists who have worked with him over the years,” Paul said.

“In particular I salute the remarkable IPS U.N. correspondent, who has embodied the IPS spirit and kept us all so well informed about what is happening. We need a collection of his dispatches. Happy Birthday, IPS!”

Cora Weiss, International Peace Bureau, Hague Appeal for Peace, said: “Every day IPS’ (electronic newsletter) TerraViva, brings news I cannot find any place else. It’s news that matters.”

And it’s news that gives voice to people who are under recognised, news that covers issues critical to our well being and survival, she added.

“I appreciate your coverage of women, of threats to peace, of nuclear weapons and policies to abolish them, of climate change affecting islands and islanders, and so much more. Keep it coming!” Weiss said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

 

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