Inter Press Service » Headlines News and Views from the Global South Fri, 09 Dec 2016 18:38:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Women Human Rights Defenders: Targeted for Identity and Activism Fri, 09 Dec 2016 18:38:56 +0000 Lejla Medanhodzic

By Lejla Medanhodzic
BERLIN, Dec 9 2016 (IPS)

AWID’s 5th online tribute to Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) who have died in recent years, commemorates sixty feminists and activists. Thirty eight of these defenders died violently, and were murdered as a result of who they were, their identities, and the rights they defended.

Their biographies submitted to AWID include the following hard facts:

…shot and killed at point-blank range, brutally raped and murdered, beaten, home destroyed, killed by car bomb, abducted, her death considered a hate crime, received death threats, stabbed, disappeared, died of gunshot wounds, assassinated, shot dead in front of her children, went missing, circumstances of death unclear, sexually assaulted and murdered, stoned to death, kidnapped, tortured and publicly executed, message left by criminal gang next to her body, denied proper medical treatment, killed by unidentified gunmen…

These crimes are not coincidences and over the five years that AWID has honoured WHRDs who have died, we have seen an alarming increase in the number of activists who are murdered or disappear as a direct result of their activism. Although all WHRDs are at risk to some extent, there is a trend of increasing violence against certain groups of WHRDs. In this years’ Tribute alone close to 65% of those who were killed were part of one or more of the following groups: environmental justice activists, journalists, indigenous rights activists, LGBTQI rights defenders, and sex workers’ rights advocates. From Honduras alone, AWID commemorates six WHRDs murdered for either working to protect indigenous and environmental rights or trans and LGBQI rights. Amongst the defenders commemorated this year were  eleven journalists who had been murdered.

Context-specific risk

Protection International states that “vulnerability means the degree to which people are susceptible to loss, damage, suffering and death in the event of an attack. This varies for each defender or group, and changes with time.” The violence that WHRDs face is multifaceted and global with specific regional, social and political context affecting risk levels faced by activists. For the afore mentioned groups, threats and vulnerabilities are higher than the existing protection capabilities, which results in a corresponding increase in risk for these groups of defenders.


For three years Nilce de Souza Magalhães opposed the construction of a dam in north-western Brazil that would rob her community of their home, and cause  them to move to a place without running water and electricity. She went missing in January 2016, and her body was subsequently found in June 2016. Berta Cáceres, a Lenca woman from Honduras, fought to protect the Gualcarque river and the indigenous people who loved and lived by it against the world’s’ largest dam builder.  Berta Cáceres was murdered in March 2016 after numerous death threats.

The perpetrators of such crimes against environmental and indigenous rights activists mostly are not arrested and there is rarely accountability for the corporations and state actors that are suspected to be behind these murders. Before her death, Berta Caceres had stated in 2014 that the patriarchal alliances between corporations, states and repressive institutions resulted in an onslaught of violence that“… is three times worse for an indigenous woman”. For Trans and LGBQI defenders, especially in countries where the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) rights are violated and threatened, where society is widely homo and transphobic, and a lack of legal protection is chronic, there are multiple vulnerabilities and an increased risk of being targeted not only due to the type of work they do, but additionally because of their identities.



Hande Kader, a trans woman, sex worker and LGBTQI activist from Turkey, fought against discrimination and persecution in her country. In August 2016 she was brutally raped and murdered. Like Hande, Alesha, a trans woman from Pakistan who defended trans rights was shot in May 2016 and, after reportedly being denied proper medical treatment, died from the injuries she suffered.


Another group of WHRDs increasingly facing threats across the globe are those working as journalists especially in unstable and conflict environments. In these contexts, activist journalists experience violence as a result of investigating crimes, uncovering human rights abuses, reporting government corruption, abuse of authority and the wrongdoings of political establishments.

In the Philippines, Melinda “Mei” Magsino a journalist, was known for her political exposés that revealed corruption and injustices in her province. She was shot and killed by an unknown gunman in April 2015. Elisabeth Blanche Olofio, a radio journalist in the Central African Republic, worked in a community-based media setting to provide information to a population for whom radio is one of the main sources of news in a country that has been marked by conflict and violence in the past years. She died of injuries she sustained from a Seleka rebels attack in June 2014.



Who protects those that defend our rights?

Too often, States are failing to adequately protect Women Human Rights Defenders even though they have the obligation to do so under international law. A 2016 report by AWID and the Solidarity Centre shows that on the contrary, collusion amongst corporate actors, and the political elite is strengthened by state structures such as the police, and military. The rising power of corporate interests is an urgent challenge which oppressively, and in some cases lethally, negatively impacts on the rights of communities, and the defenders who stand up for human rights and justice. States need to centre, and prioritise human rights above corporate interests.



Funders who support the work of WHRDs also need to adequately resource, and support protection mechanisms beyond the immediate needs of physical safety. The wellbeing and care of WHRDs is political and essential, and needs to be fully funded as part of a holistic approach to safety and security.

Feminist, human rights, and social justice movements, also need to continue to build solidarity with one another, whilst amplifying our calls for security, safety and collective self-care in our political agendas. AWID’s Tribute to WHRDs is a contribution to the collective memory and recognition of defenders,  our struggles and, reminds us that we need to honor WHRDs we have lost and protect those living that defend our rights.

The 2016 WHRD Online Tribute is co-created with diverse feminists, activists, and organisations who contributed details of WHRDs who have passed away or have been killed recently. This year’s Tribute commemorates activists lost mainly between September 2014 and November 2016.


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Enough Is Enough Fri, 09 Dec 2016 17:21:20 +0000 Zubeida Mustafa By Zubeida Mustafa
Dec 9 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The turnout at the walk organised last Sunday by Citizens against Weapons (CAW) was heartening. Started in 2014 by some concerned citizens, the campaign is catching on. I had joined them at a rally on an intersection of a busy area in Karachi two years ago. There were then barely 50 protesters. On Sunday, there were 400 or so.

Zubeida Mustafa

Zubeida Mustafa

One of them, activist Naeem Sadiq, whose motto is ‘say no to guns’, has been working on this goal for a decade. He and his colleagues want to rid the whole country of guns and the message is gaining adherents as a larger number of people — that does not include our rulers — begin to understand the significance of deweaponisation in ending violence.

One of CAW’s key demands is, “In compliance with Article 256 of the Constitution, all private militias regardless of their patrons must be completely disbanded.”

This is a valid demand, in view of the private militias that have mushroomed all over Pakistan. One doesn’t know whether they carry licensed weapons or illegally acquire guns which have flooded the country since 1979.

What steps are being taken to eliminate sectarian violence?

The emergence of private militias is a disturbing development and has ominous implications when we consider sectarian violence in Pakistan. Various lashkars and sipahs was linked to the targeting of Shia doctors in the 1990s and the suicide bombings of Shia congregations. Such groups change their name whenever they are banned but their sectarian bias does not change.

The government might be trying hard to provide protection to this community but how much can it do? Thus Arbayeen (Imam Husain’s chehlum) passed peacefully on Nov 21, with no major sectarian incident taking place.

The tight measures adopted by the administration helped though they caused a lot of public inconvenience. There was a price to be paid for security such as switching off mobile and internet services till late in the night, and combing the entire route of the main procession and erecting barriers. All this was accepted as unavoidable because sane-minded citizens, whether Shia, Sunni or non-Muslim, do not want to see more violence.

But this has not changed the overall picture of sectarian violence in Pakistan which continues to be gloomy. How can one be hopeful when steps are not being taken to eliminate violence by addressing its root causes? The masterminds who plot sectarian attacks and guide the killers are allowed to roam freely to plan their next nefarious move. It is the man pulling the trigger who is captured or killed, that is if he hasn’t self-destructed in his quest for paradise.

A security researcher gave me horrific figures for sectarian attacks and the number of casualties resulting from them, though he said that it was difficult for him to give accurate data for the number of Shias killed. In a society in which all sects are quite integrated in most neighourhoods with a few exceptions, a bomb attack on a place of worship or a procession kills indiscriminately.

According to the security consultant I spoke to, 995 attacks, that can be termed sectarian, occurred in 2007-16. A total of 2,909 people were killed and 4,888 injured. This also included some attacks on Sunni scholars by a Shia group calling itself Sipah-i-Mohammad.

The key question to be asked is why are the masterminds and the handlers not being taken to task? Individually, the foot soldiers cannot run the war. They need funds and strategic planning and coordination which only high-level leadership can provide.

We know well that the sectarian terrorist outfits did not drop out of the sky. We also know how the security establishment had created them as strategic assets. Gen Hamid Gul may be dead but we remember his boasts about his role in the creation and training of the Taliban. The mujahideen in Afghanistan mutated into various lashkars some of which were tasked with fighting Pakistan’s war in India-held Kashmir. They may not have been sectarian in their design originally, but did Dr Frankenstein’s monster not free himself from his creator’s grip to wreak havoc on his creator’s loved ones?

The sectarian dimension came in largely by virtue of the Saudi role in funding madressahs that allowed the masterminds to equip the rank and file with guns. Messages are now being circulated that members of the Shia community should have armed guards to protect their majlises. This is inadvisable as it will destabilise the situation further. CAW’s mission should become the mission of all vulnerable groups, while the support and understanding of enlightened and tolerant majority is a source of strength for this particular community.

The need is for the powers-that-be to refrain from patronising the masterminds and not use them as so-called strategic assets. Our defence and foreign policies should be handled by the right quarters. The tail should not wag the dog.
Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Corruption Control–Is It Feasible or a Fantasy? Fri, 09 Dec 2016 16:31:44 +0000 Iftekharuzzaman By Iftekharuzzaman
Dec 9 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

December 9 is observed throughout the world as International Anti-corruption Day (IACD). On this day in 2003, the United Nations (UN) called upon governments and peoples of the world to mark the adoption of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).

Cartoon by: Sadat

Cartoon by: Sadat

Corruption is a crime that undermines economic development, social cohesion, political stability and democratic progress of all countries and societies without exception. It is inter alia a multi-trillion dollar global scandal geared by the global financial and banking infrastructure that remains conducive to illicit transfers of corrupt money mainly from the developing to the developed world. At national levels, corruption is a menace that causes plunder of resources; destroys a level playing field in public contracting; distorts competitive business and investment environment; and above all, erodes trust in government and politics.

Corruption causes suffering to everyone except the corrupt who may benefit from it thanks to impunity, collusion and lack of political will. Corruption hurts the poor and disadvantaged the hardest; it also kills innocent lives as we have seen in case of Rana Plaza and many more such tragedies in Bangladesh.

The purpose of observing this day is to bring such ill effects of corruption to the attention of the governments, politicians, businesses and all other stakeholders including the citizens at large, and to stress the importance of standing up together against corruption.

The importance of people’s participation against corruption has been underscored by Article 13 of the UNCAC, which says, “each State Party shall … promote active participation of individuals and groups outside the public sector, such as civil society, non-governmental organisations and community-based organisations, in the prevention of and the fight against corruption …”

Bangladesh became a state party to UNCAC in 2007, and hence committed to create the space for citizens’ participation in anti-corruption movement. Political call for social movement against corruption in Bangladesh indeed precedes UNCAC. In a speech on the Independence Day way back in 1975, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called upon the people: “… the number one priority is to root out corruption … I need your help … I will enforce the law, I will not spare anybody … it has to be a people’s movement … It has to be a movement to socially boycott the bribe-taker and the corrupt. … who can do it? Students can do it, the youth can, intellectuals can, the people can, each house should be turned into a fortress against corruption”. It is not known though if this vision ever caught the imagination of subsequent political leaders.

Nevertheless, the list of Government commitments to control corruption and promote better governance is pretty long. A plan of implementation of UNCAC pledges was adopted by the Government in 2009; it underwent a self-assessment and peer review of implementation; the Right to Information Act was adopted in 2009, the Whistleblower Protection Act was adopted in 2011, so was the National Integrity Strategy in 2012.

These can be viewed as efforts to strengthen legal, institutional and policy capacity of the state to control corruption. The extent to which these are implemented and enforced remains a big question though, as does the quality of performance of the Anti-Corruption Commission and other institutions of accountability like the parliament, the justice system and law-enforcement agencies.

The Government’s Vision 2021 recognises good governance and corruption control as indispensable elements of state policy. The Perspective Plan 2010-21 asserts that “the Government is determined to confront and root out the scourge of corruption from the body politic of Bangladesh …The Government intends to strengthen transparency and accountability of all government institutions as integral part of a programme of social change to curb corruption”.

The 7th Five Year Plan (7FYP) emphasises that progress towards the desired milestones of Vision 2021 critically depends on meeting the governance challenges. Prominent among 12 broad development goals identified by the 7FYP is “promoting good governance and curbing corruption”. The plan reiterates the pledge to further strengthen the democratic governance process to ensure participation of all citizens and the sound functioning of all democratic institutions. Good governance and corruption control were at the core of election manifesto in successive national elections.

To cap it all, Bangladesh is among 193 countries that have subscribed in September 2015 to the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030, central to which is goal 16 that makes our Government pledge-bound to “promote a peaceful and inclusive society … provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”.

Under SDG target 16.5, Bangladesh is under obligation to “substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms”; under target 16.4 to “significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organised crime”; and under 16.10 to “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms”.

To what extent are all these likely to bear fruit or will continue to be no more than lip service, is anyone’s guess. The moot question, therefore, is whether corruption control is feasible in Bangladesh or a fantasy? Bangladesh is happily no longer at the very bottom of global ranking as per corruption perceptions index (CPI) as it used to be during 2001-2005. But with a score of 25 out of 100 in 2015 it remains far from being able to effectively control corruption. Bangladesh remains the second worst performer in South Asia after Afghanistan. In terms of people’s daily experiences, according to the national household survey 2015 conducted by Transparency International Bangladesh, 67.8 percent of the people were victims of corruption in the surveyed service sectors. Further details can only be more frustrating.

The point to note in the context of IACD is the ever-growing importance of multi-stakeholder involvement in fighting this menace together. This is however easier said than done in an environment where the shrinkage of space for voice and accountability has been institutionalised by legal provisions that specifically restrict freedom of speech and opinion of individuals and institutions in the non-government sector.

Will corruption control be mired by dissent control? Much would depend on whether and to what extent people at large and civil society in particular will have the passion and capacity to resist this institutionalisation of restricted civic space and prevent it from becoming the ‘new normal’. It will also depend on how civil society succeeds in navigating through the barriers. An equal and indeed more important question is if and when would the government realise that all the lofty commitments without fundamental freedoms will only increase frustration among people.

As attractive as it may appear in the short term, no government can afford to alienate people by restricting critique and dissent for too long except at its own peril. Governments that restrict freedom of speech and opinion not only protect the corrupt but also create Frankensteins for themselves.

The writer is Executive Director, Transparency International Bangladesh.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Why Achieving Sdg Goal 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth Is Critical for Kenya Fri, 09 Dec 2016 13:06:07 +0000 Mary Kawar and Siddharth Chatterjee Ms. Mary Kawar is the Director of the ILO Office based in Tanzania and covering Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya.]]> UN Staff from Kenya scale Mount Kenya to highlight the SDGs. Credit: UNIC

UN Staff from Kenya scale Mount Kenya to highlight the SDGs. Credit: UNIC

By Mary Kawar and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 9 2016 (IPS)

In Kenya the Gini coefficient of inequality is at around 0.45%. Therefore, the economic growth statistics present an unequivocal picture of a highly unequal society, whose development strategy is largely leading to accumulation of wealth by a few and worsening the poverty of the majority.

Consider just two statistics behind the picture: according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, individuals in capital city Nairobi have about 15 times more access to secondary education than those living in Turkana, one of the poorest counties. Also, a household in Nairobi is 36 times more likely to have electricity for lighting compared with those in Tana River.

Without doubt, Kenya’s race towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an agenda whose most notable tang of inclusivity is underscored by the now well-known phrase of ‘leaving no one behind’, is going to need the resilience of its world-beating athletes.

The global SDGs agenda is a platform that aims to meet the greatest challenges of our times, with a dedicated focus on every person and the planet and a noble vision of eradicating poverty by 2030.

With an increasing youthful population, Africa stands at a special place in the Agenda, considering that much of the rest of the world population is ageing. Today’s youth will be key to any sustainable development strategies, thus the need to ensure that there are enough opportunities for them to participate in the global economy.

It is estimated that over 600 million new jobs need to be created by 2030, just to keep pace with the growth of the global working age population. That’s around 40 million per year. In Kenya, a million youth enter the job market each year, but only one-fifth are absorbed.

Unfortunately, among those who are ‘employed’ are millions who are working but not earning. It has been reported that about 43% of the country’s youth are either unemployed or working yet living in poverty

It is this phenomenon that has given rise to the agitation for “Decent Work”, which means opportunities for everyone to get work that is productive and which delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families.

A continued lack of decent work opportunities, insufficient investments and under-consumption lead to an erosion of the basic social contract underlying democratic societies: that all must share in progress.

This is why SDG Goal 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth is of critical importance for Kenya. There is a need to ensure inclusive equitable economic growth hand in hand with the creation of decent and sustainable jobs. For several years now Kenya has been experiencing exceptional economic growth rates, even above the sub Saharan Africa average. Yet, not enough jobs have been created to absorb the new entrants and informality remains rampant rendering job quality as low.

Unemployment, especially youth unemployment, is found more commonly in higher income countries – and Kenya is no longer a low income country but a middle income one with an annual per capita income of almost $3,000 at purchasing power parity.

Educated unemployment is also more commonly found in countries where advances in education exceed those in the economy. Production techniques change slower than the aspirations of the fast increasing Kenyan middle class fuelled by rising incomes (recently 6 percent annually) and increases in education attainment at all levels.

In other words, Kenya is at a crossroads with economic and employment patterns similar to middle and higher income countries. Yet remaining on the agenda are the high income and regional disparities which need to be addressed.

This attention is clearly called for in the country’s Constitution. For instance, clause 201 states that the public finance system is to promote an equitable society in that revenue raised nationally shall be shared equally between national and county governments, and expenditures will be oriented towards addressing the needs of marginalised groups and regions.

One way of ensuring the attainment of Decent Work for all is through improved labour market governance. Pertinent agenda include the laws, policies and institutions which determine and influence the demand and supply of labour. Labour market governance goes hand in hand with fair working conditions as one of the essential requirements of decent work.

This includes decent wages, hours of work, rest and leave periods, adequate social security, freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively, and an absence of discrimination, or child labour. While those in the formal economy may have access to this many in the informal still do not.

Kenya has the potential to be one of Africa’s great success stories for economic growth and the attainment of SDG 8 by 2030: it has a growing youthful population, a dynamic private sector, a dynamic and progressive new constitution and a pivotal role in Africa.

President Kenyatta in an address to Kenya’s youth said. “You are my partners in remaking Kenya – and my Government’s programmes reflect my faith in you,”

Addressing challenges of poverty, inequality, labour market governance, labour productivity to achieve rapid, inclusive sustained growth with decent jobs will not only transform lives of ordinary citizens, but make Kenya an economic powerhouse.

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Anti-Torture Law Helps Pay Off Chile’s Debt to Human Rights Thu, 08 Dec 2016 23:10:50 +0000 Orlando Milesi About 20,000 people a year visit the Villa Grimaldi Park for Peace, built in the foothills of the Andes mountains, where the city of Santiago lies, from the ruins of what was the biggest torture centre during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

About 20,000 people a year visit the Villa Grimaldi Park for Peace, built in the foothills of the Andes mountains, where the city of Santiago lies, from the ruins of what was the biggest torture centre during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Dec 8 2016 (IPS)

After 26 years of democratic governments, Chile has finally passed a law that defines torture as a criminal act, but which is still not sufficient to guarantee that the abuses will never again happen, according to human rights experts.

On Nov. 11, President Michelle Bachelet enacted a law that typifies torture, cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment as crimes, in what she described as “a decisive step in the prevention and total eradication of torture” in Chile.

“It is good that this law has been enacted and that torture can be prevented at a national level, which is what the United Nations demands. But for us this doesn’t mean anything,” Luzmila Ortiz told IPS.

Ortiz’s husband, sociologist Jorge Fuentes, was a leader of the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR). He was detained in Paraguay in May 1975 and handed over in September of that year to the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA), the Augusto Pinochet military dictatorship’s (1973-1990) secret police."To fully recognise the phenomenon of torture as a serious crime to be eradicated and punished with sentences proportionate to its gravity is part of the state’s obligation to not repeat these acts in the future." -- Nelson Caucoto

DINA repatriated him to Chile, where he was tortured and later “disappeared” in January 1976 under Operation Condor, a plan involving the coordination between the military dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay to track down, kidnap, torture, transfer across borders, disappear and kill opponents of the regimes such as guerrilla fighters, political activists, trade unionists, students, priests or journalists.

“They destroyed our lives, because this is a wound that will not close until we know what happened to him. This is terrible, and it not only hangs over me but over my son as well,” Ortiz said.

She recalled with sorrow that in Villa Grimaldi, a notorious torture centre, “they subjected him to atrocities. He was confined to a dog house. It is a pain so profound that you can’t get over it.”

For Cath Collins, director of the Diego Portales University’s Transitional Justice Observatory, the new law is welcome, but “no law can, by itself, guarantee that these things will never again happen.”

“To that end, efforts are needed in many areas, including a change in the institutional culture and day-to-day practices of the armed forces, police, prison guards and other state entities,” she said.

“Never again” was a demand set forth by groups of victims of human rights violations in the “Truth and Reconciliation” report drafted in 1991, a year after Chile’s return to democracy.

The report stated that reconciliation is impossible unless the truth comes out about every case, in order to avoid a repeat of human rights abuses.

Approximately 2,000 people were tortured in Londres 38 between October 1973 and January 1975. In the building, there are plaques with the names of the 98 people murdered and disappeared there. Credit: Courtesy of Memory Space Londres 38

Approximately 2,000 people were tortured in Londres 38 between October 1973 and January 1975. In the building, there are plaques with the names of the 98 people murdered and disappeared there. Credit: Courtesy of Memory Space Londres 38

Collins said that, to make progress towards the eradication of torture, “we have to eliminate every vestige of tolerance or normalisationof actions of brutality, incidental or systematic, and break the culture of denial and impunity.”

However, she cautioned, “institutional interventions are not enough.”

“The authorities as well as civil society also have to educate and educate ourselves, in favour of ethics and respect, and against authoritarianism, arrogance, verbal and physical violence that often invades our
social interactions and day-to-day relationships,” said the expert.

President Bachelet was herself a victim

Socialist President Michelle Bachelet, who governed Chile between 2006 and 2010, before beginning her second term in 2014, was also a victim of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Her father, Chilean Air Force General Alberto Bachelet, who opposed the 1973 military coup, died in March 1974 in a prison in Santiago of a heart attack caused by torture, according to the official ruling issued in 2012.

After her father’s arrest and death, Bachelet and her mother, Ángela Jeria, went into hiding until they were detained and taken to Villa Grimaldi in 1975, before being forced into exile. Bachelet returned to Chile in 1979 and in 2002 became the first female defence minister in Latin America.

Despite its limitations, the law enables Chile to present itself as a country that has accomplished this task, on Dec. 10 when Human Rights Day is celebrated. This year’s theme is “Stand up for someone’s rights today” – a reference to the need for everyone to play an active role in defending the rights of others – part of the new ethics that have to be promoted in this country, said Collins.

Nelson Caucoto, a human rights lawyer who has defended many victims of the dictatorship, says the new law that typifies torture “provides better protection for fundamental rights.”

“Every measure that entails the advancement, recognition, protection and guarantee of human rights helps build the edifice of ‘nunca mas’ (‘never again)’ To fully recognise the phenomenon of torture as a serious crime to be eradicated and punished with sentences proportionate to its gravity is part of the state’s obligation to not repeat these acts in the future,” he told IPS.

He added that “the issue of torture and its victims in Chile has been one of the poor cousins in the struggle to enforce human rights with respect to the dictatorship. Pinochet was arrested in London for (cases linked to) torture, but in Chile there were no legal proceedings against him for torture,” he said.

In 2004, the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture classified more than 40,000 Chileans as victims of this crime.

But human rights organisations say the figure is much higher. They estimate that half a million Chileans were victims of torture during the dictatorship, Caucoto said.

According to official figures, 2,920 people were killed in the political violence during the military dictatorship, including 1,193 who were “disappeared”, while 40,280 were tortured and one million fled into exile. Of the disappeared, the remains of 167 have been identified, according to the forensic medicine institute.

For Leopoldo Montenegro, member of the Londres 38 Memory Space, which was another major detention and torture centre, the new legislation is of utmost importance.

But in his opinion, “the state has failed to take strong decisions with respect to issues such as justice, restitution, compensation and measures to ensure non-repetition.”

Montenegro told IPS that while the new law has a preventive effect, in order to guarantee that the abuses will never again be committed, the most important element is justice. This means “that the courts must admit the charges of torture filed by the victims and punish the perpetrators. In that sense, there have only been symbolic rulings,” he said.

Two verdicts that stand out were handed down by Judge Alejandro Solís in cases involving 23 survivors of Villa Grimaldi, which has been turned into a Park for Peace and Memory, and 19 survivors of Tejas Verde, another illegal detention centre.

Caucoto hailed Bachelet’s announcement of the creation of a National Mechanism for Prevention of Torture, “which is required by the Optional Protocol to the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatments or punishment.”

“Its creation is important because in Chile there is no body with the necessary powers to prevent torture. It has to be noted as a great advance,” he said.

Montenegro, meanwhile, advocated the adoption of measures to create the conditions to ensure that the abuses will never again occur, and complained about the state’s lack of will “to carry out public policies of justice with respect to crimes committed during the dictatorship.”

Collins said that what is needed is “a cultural shift and a change of mindset with respect to eliminating the acceptance of inflicting violence or tolerating passively that it be inflicted on our behalf. It doesn’t matter whether it is the political opponent of the past or the alleged ‘criminal’ of today.”

An annual report by the Ministry of the Interior’s Human Rights Programme pointed out that as of Dec. 1, 2015 there were 1,048 human rights cases in the courts.

Of the 1,373 former agents of the dictatorship facing prosecution, 344 have been convicted, 177 are serving prison sentences – 58 with benefits – and six are on parole.

Meanwhile, Luzmila Ortiz continues to face the trauma of her past and to deal with the psychological problems suffered by her son, who is now 45. “He was two and a half years old when he witnessed my detention (when agents of the regimebroke into their house searching for her husband) after being separated from his father. He has been affected since then,” she said.

Her case, dismissed by the Chilean justice system, is now pending in the Inter American Court of Human Rights “where there are many other legal proceedings and there is practically no hope.”

“There are always legal mechanisms to protect the perpetrators,” she lamented, arguing that “the crucial thing is to do away with the protection that the torturers still enjoy.”

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Fiscal Austerity Has Been Blocking Economic Recovery Thu, 08 Dec 2016 15:19:31 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former United Nations assistant secretary-general for economic development, was awarded the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]> Inflation, public debt, and growing income inequality have hindered economic recovery in the Global South. Credit: IPS

Inflation, public debt, and growing income inequality have hindered economic recovery in the Global South. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Dec 8 2016 (IPS)

Instead of concerted and sustained efforts for a strong, sustained economic recovery to overcome protracted stagnation, the near policy consensus on fiscal austerity in the G7 and the G20 OECD countries, except for the US and Japan, has dragged down economic recovery in developing countries.

After seven years of lackluster economic performance and rising tensions over the Eurozone straightjacket on fiscal stimuli, there are signs of a growing willingness to reconsider earlier policies. While it is not yet clear whether this will lead to significant enough policy changes, this may well led to the long awaited turning point the world economy has sorely needed since the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing Great Recession.

Quixotic windmills of the mind
Opponents of fiscal stimulus cynically claim that all such efforts are bound to fail, citing, as evidence, then US President George W Bush’s 2008 tax cuts. Others deny that the US Fed’s ‘quantitative easing’ efforts have been successful, emphasizing the weak basis of its apparently “strong” recovery compared to other G7 economies. While undoubtedly mitigating the impact of the crisis at the outset, Europe’s “automatic stabilizers” are now acknowledged not to have sustained recovery very much beyond 2009.

The first bogey has been public debt. Much has been made of high levels of sovereign debt on both sides of the Atlantic and in Japan although the fiscal challenge remains long-term, not immediate. While Japan has the highest debt-to-GDP ratio among rich countries, this is not a serious problem as its yen-denominated debt is mainly domestically held.

The international community has, so far, failed to develop effective and equitable arrangements for restructuring sovereign debt, despite the clearly dysfunctional and problematic consequences of past international public debt crises. This prevents timely debt workouts, effectively impeding economic recovery.

High public debt has also been invoked in support of fiscal austerity in many developed countries. But, rather than helping, the rush to cutting expenditure is blocking, or even reversing earlier recovery efforts. With private sector demand still weak, austerity is slowing down, not accelerating, recovery.

Another distraction has been the exaggerated threat of inflation. Recent inflation in many countries was the result of higher commodity prices, especially fuel and food prices. In these circumstances, domestic deflationary policies only slowed growth and failed to stem imported inflation. This is now evident with the recent collapse of oil prices and its aftermath.

Formula for Stagnation
Unfortunately, the urgent task at hand — of coordinating and implementing efforts to raise and sustain growth and job creation — continues to be ignored. Meanwhile, cuts in social and welfare spending, demanded by the austerity fetish, are only making things worse, as employment and consumer demand fall further.

The pressure on employment and household budgets is likely to persist. Strident calls for structural reforms mainly target labour markets, rather than product markets. Growing worker insecurity, exacerbated by further labour market liberalization, is imagined to be the basis for a healthy economy. This belief not only undermines remaining social protection, but is also likely to diminish real incomes, aggregate demand, and, hence, recovery prospects.

It has already reduced growth and employment. And, while financial markets insist on deficit reduction, the recent decline in equity and bond prices — and the loss of confidence that this reflects — suggests that they also recognize the adverse implications of fiscal consolidation at a time of weak private demand.

Slower growth means less revenue and a faster downward spiral. Most major countries’ fiscal deficits nowadays reflect the collapse of tax revenues following the growth collapse, as well as very costly bank bailouts.

Policy U-Turn Needed
Current policy is justified as ‘pro-market’, i.e. effectively pro-cyclical choices, although counter-cyclical efforts, institutions and instruments are sorely needed instead. Global leadership today seems to be held hostage by financial interests and associated media, ideologues and oligarchs whose political influence enables them to secure more rents and pay lower taxes in what must truly be the most vicious of circles.

Many policymakers have insisted on immediate action, not only to close fiscal deficits, but also, trade imbalances and banks’ balance-sheet weaknesses. While these need to be addressed in the longer term, prioritizing them now has effectively stymied stronger, sustained recovery efforts.

Bad public policies can induce recessions. This happened in 1980-1981, when the US Federal Reserve raised real interest rates, ostensibly to kill inflation, but inducing a protracted global economic downturn. This contributed not only to sovereign-debt and fiscal crises, but also to protracted stagnation outside East Asia, including Latin America’s ‘lost decade’ and Africa’s ‘quarter-century retreat’.

Moreover, according to Piketty, in recent decades, profits have risen, not only at the expense of wages, but also with much more accruing to finance, insurance, and real estate compared to other sectors. The outrageous increases in financial executives’ remuneration in recent decades have exacerbated financial sector focus on the short term (recently termed ‘quarterly capitalism’), while worsening risk exposure in the longer term, thereby worsening systemic vulnerability.

Growing income inequality in most countries before and even after the financial crisis has only made matters worse, by reducing household savings and increasing credit for consumption and asset purchases, rather than augmenting investment in new economic capacity.

Indeed, the menace that now confronts us is not public debt or inflation, but a downward economic spiral that will be increasingly difficult to reverse. The international financial institutions were created after World War II to ensure not only international monetary and financial stability, but also the conditions for sustained growth, employment generation, post-war reconstruction and post-colonial development.

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Gambia May Not Join African Withdrawals from ICC Thu, 08 Dec 2016 15:07:56 +0000 Lindah Mogeni Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is also a Gambian national. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is also a Gambian national. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

By Lindah Mogeni

The International Criminal Court (ICC) may have had a small reprieve this week from a string of African withdrawals, with Gambia’s newly elected President Adama Barrow telling various media outlets that there is no need for Gambia to leave the court.

Gambia, alongside Burundi and South Africa, was one of three African countries to announce it’s withdrawal from the ICC this year, with Namibia and Kenya rumoured to be close in heel.

Gambia’s questionable human rights record during outgoing President Yahya Jammeh’s twenty two year rule – may have put the West African country on the court’s radar. However under Jammeh’s leadership Gambia argued the reason for the withdrawal was that the ICC was institutionally prejudiced against people of colour, especially Africans. The withdrawal also followed Gambia’s repeated unsuccessful appeals for the Court to hold the European Union accountable for the deaths of thousands of African migrants who tried to cross over to its shores.

However, President-elect Barrow has praised the ICC for advocating good governance – which he intends for Gambia.

Addressing the UN General Assembly in September, Burundi’s Foreign Minister, Alain Nyamitwe, claimed that there are “politically motivated reasons which have pushed the ICC to act on African cases.”

Significantly, the ICC had announced its plan, in April, to launch an investigation into several human rights violations surrounding the upcoming elections and President Pierre Nkurunziza’s unconstitutional claim to remain in power for another term in Burundi.

There is no consensus in the AU to leave the ICC. Several African countries, including Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Nigeria have opposed withdrawal from the Court.

South Africa’s notice of withdrawal from the ICC was considered a particular blow to the Court, since South Africa was one of the court’s founding members and among its strongest supporters.

The withdrawal came after South Africa failed to arrest Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir, who had been indicted by the ICC, when he visited South Africa to attend the 2015 African Union (AU) Summit. As a result, the ICC accused South Africa of not complying with cooperation procedures – which seemingly fractured their relationship.

UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, told the UN Security Council that the ICC departures could “send a wrong message on these countries’ commitment to justice.”

Some members of the AU have been calling for an exodus from the ICC since tensions with the Court first began in 2009 after the ICC issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Al-Bashir.

However, there is no consensus in the AU to leave the ICC. Several African countries, including Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Nigeria have opposed withdrawal from the Court.

The perception that the ICC is biased towards Africa has intensified over the past few years.

The UN’s establishment of temporary tribunals in the 1990s for war crimes in Rwanda and Yugoslavia acted as roadmaps for the launch of the ICC in July 2002.

The Court’s primary objective was to serve as a permanent international tribunal tasked with conducting investigations and prosecuting perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Africa represents the largest regional grouping of countries that are parties to the ICC, with 34 African nations having ratified the treaty, the Rome Statute, which established the court.

Since the court’s formation 14 years ago, 9 out of 10 of its active cases have been against nationals of African countries.

These include, Central African Republic, Mali, Ivory Coast, Libya, Kenya, Sudan (Darfur), Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is the main reason why the ICC is accused of selective justice.

There are three ways through which a case can be brought forth to the ICC. The first is via submissions by individual governments of the countries concerned, as was the case with Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. The second is via self-initiated interventions by the ICC Chief Prosecutor, as was the case with Kenya and Ivory Coast. The third is via a UN Security Council referral, as was the case with Sudan and Libya – both of which are not parties to the ICC.

Evidently, the ICC has self-intervened in only two African cases. The other African cases have all come to the ICC through referrals by the countries themselves or by the UN Security Council.

Regardless of the fact that there have been cases before the ICC that were self-referred by the relevant African countries themselves, “a concern persists that the ICC appears to be targeting Africa in pursuit of political expediency,” said South Africa’s Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in a speech addressing the Africa Legal Aid Conference (AFLA) in 2014.

“The reality is that gross human rights violations have taken place and continue to take place beyond the borders of Africa and yet, so say the critics of the ICC, there does not seem to be as much enthusiasm to deal with those atrocities as is the case with those committed in the African continent” said Mogoeng.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian national, said, “with due respect, what offends me most when I hear criticisms about the so-called African bias is how quick we are to focus on the words and propaganda of a few powerful, influential individuals and to forget about the millions of anonymous people that suffer from these crimes,” said at an ICC Open Forum in 2012.

The greatest affront to victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity is to “see those powerful individuals responsible for their sufferings trying to portray themselves as the victims of a ‘pro‐Western’, ‘anti‐African’ Court…the ICC was established as a shield for the powerless not a club for the powerful,” said Bensouda.

Universality and equality before the law is one of the core ideals of the ICC. However, 3 permanent members of the UN Security Council- United States, Russia and China – are not state parties to the ICC. This has fuelled the perception that the ICC is not impartial and is essentially a ‘third world court’.

In January this year, ICC Prosecutor Bensouda opened the court’s first formal investigation outside Africa, into Georgia, for war crimes committed during the 2008 Georgia-Russia war.

Currently the ICC is examining a situation in Gabon, referred to the court by the government of Gabon, as well as situations outside Africa – including Colombia, Palestine, Afghanistan, alleged war crimes by British soldiers in Iraq and by Ukrainian separatist and Russian forces in Ukraine.

“Pulling out of the ICC is not the solution, we should be working towards fixing the court,” said Botswana’s Foreign Minister Pelomoni Venson-Moitoi.

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Resilient People & Institutions: Ecuador’s Post-Earthquake Challenge Thu, 08 Dec 2016 09:52:09 +0000 Carlo Ruiz Carlo Ruiz, is the Recovery Unit Coordinator, UN Development Programme, Ecuador]]> Group of participants community emergency work for debris management, Las Gilces. Credit: UNDP Ecuador

Group of participants community emergency work for debris management, Las Gilces. Credit: UNDP Ecuador

By Carlo Ruiz
QUITO, Ecuador, Dec 8 2016 (IPS)

No one is really prepared for an emergency until they’ve had to live through one. And the 16 April earthquake in Ecuador put us to the test.

With the drawdown in the humanitarian response phase that is providing relief to survivors and victims, the hustle and bustle is dying down. Remnants of the disaster can be seen everywhere, and an idea of what the near future will bring and people’s resilience – their capacity to cope – is taking shape.

During tours of the affected areas, I saw that people have, to a greater or lesser extent, a natural conviction that pushes them to overcome the situation they are in. Shortly after a catastrophe hits, whether from the need to survive or from attempts to recover the normality that has been ripped from them, men and women begin to help each other out.

After the earthquake, small merchants relocate and rebuild their outlets on the outskirts of the city of Manta. Credit: UNDP Ecuador

After the earthquake, small merchants relocate and rebuild their outlets on the outskirts of the city of Manta. Credit: UNDP Ecuador

They get together and cook, and they care for, console and support each other. In places such as Pedernales, one of the hardest hit areas, just days following the tragedy, people had set up cooking hearths and places to prepare food to sell outside destroyed businesses. They organized games of ecuavoley (Ecuadorian-style volleyball) in streets where rubble was still being cleared.

Disasters hit poor people the hardest. This is why it is crucial to work on recovery of livelihoods starting in the emergency response period. People who can manage to earn a living can overcome the psychological impact of adversity more quickly. This has been a key factor in the post-earthquake process in Ecuador.

The institutional structure is another element that affects how fast communities recover. Having a response system, with mechanisms to quickly and strategically identify needs, makes recovery efforts more effective.

Communities are more vulnerable if local authorities are absent and exercise less authority to ensure, among other things, compliance with building and land-use standards.

Nationally, strong institutions and clarity in carrying out specific roles have enabled timely and appropriate disaster relief to affected communities. This undoubtedly will influence how quickly the country will recover the human development gains and how well it will design mechanisms to alleviate poverty caused by the earthquake.

The third important element is coordination. The extent to which organizations and institutions contribute in an orderly and technical fashion to response and recovery efforts reflects directly on the effectiveness of relief efforts.

Starts emergency community work for the management of rubble, Las Gilces. Credit: UNDP Ecuador

Starts emergency community work for the management of rubble, Las Gilces. Credit: UNDP Ecuador

This is evident even now, seven months after the earthquake. Coordination to identify needs and rebuild is vital in the reconstruction process. The event has been a wake-up call about the importance of supporting and strengthening local governments in their role as land-use planners and construction-quality inspectors.

As a result of all these efforts, UNDP has helped 533 families to get their businesses financially back on their feet in Manta, Portoviejo and Calceta (Manabí Province), and 490 people—half of them women—obtained emergency jobs on demolition and debris removal projects under our Cash-for-Work programme. Through this initiative, some 20,000 m3 of debris has been removed.

Additionally, 300 rice farmers and their families benefited from the repair of an irrigation canal; 260 families will restart farming, fishing and tourism activities; and 160 shopkeepers will get their businesses up and running again with the support of economic recovery programmes.

With regard to construction, UNDP supported development of seven guides for the assessment and construction of structures, to build back better and incorporate disaster risk reduction into urban development plans. And in Riochico Parish (Manabí Province), UNDP trained 500 affected homeowners on the principles of earthquake-resistant construction.

Poor people who have been hit by an earthquake live on the edge, where one thing or another can lead them to either give up or to survive. Therefore, it is crucial for actions to be fast, but also well thought-out.

Resilience is something that permeates survivors and is passed down to future generations. Building resilience should be one of our main objectives and responsibilities as institutions in a country such as Ecuador, where we live with the constant threat of natural disasters.

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India Steps Up Citizen Activism to Protect Women Wed, 07 Dec 2016 14:34:28 +0000 Neeta Lal Red Brigade, a female-only collective, equips Indian women and girls with self-defence techniques and targets males who have committed sexual assault. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Red Brigade, a female-only collective, equips Indian women and girls with self-defence techniques and targets males who have committed sexual assault. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Dec 7 2016 (IPS)

Last month, Delhi Police launched a unique initiative to check spiralling crimes against women in the city, also known dubiously as the “rape capital” of India. It formed a squad of plainclothes officers called “police mitras” (friends of the police) — comprising farmers, homemakers and former Army men — to assist them in the prevention and detection of crime and maintenance of law and order.

In another scheme, police chiefs launched their own version of “Charlie’s Angels” — a specially trained squad of crime-fighting, butt-kicking constables in white kimonos who take on sexual predators across the country. The 40-member women’s squad trained in martial arts guards “vulnerable” landmarks in the city such as schools and metro stations, while undercover as regular citizens."I carry pepper spray and a knife with me as I return late from the office." -- Shashibala Mehra, 52, an accountant in New Delhi

India, considered one of the world’s most unsafe countries for women, has lately seen a raft of innovative initiatives to safeguard women from sexual crimes. Ironically, despite increasingly stringent laws and a visible beefing up of police protection, crimes against women have surged.

According to a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, such crimes (primarily rapes, molestations and stalking) have skyrocketed by a whopping 60 percent between 2010 and 2011 and 2014 and 2015.

A report by the National Crime Records Bureau found 337,922 reports of violence, including rape, cruelty and abduction, against women in 2014, up 9 percent from 2013. The number of reported rapes in the country also rose by 9 percent to 33,707 in 2014, the last year for which such figures were available.

In addition, sexual harassment on Indian streets or in other public spaces is a common experience for women. A survey by the NGO ActionAid found 79 percent of Indian women have been subjected to harassment or violence in public.

The rise in attacks on women has also led to a mushrooming of volunteer-led projects which provide a valuable social service. For instance, one such initiative — Blank Noise — in one of its campaigns #WalkAlone, asked women across the country to break their silence and walk alone to fight the fear of being harassed on the streets. In another campaign, women were urged to send in the clothing they were wearing when they were harassed which were then used to create public installations.

By engaging not only perpetrators and victims, but also spectators and passers-by, Blank Noise, launched in 2003, relies on ‘Action Heroes’ or a network of volunteers, from across age groups, gender and sexuality to put forth its message. Effective legal mechanisms, staging theatrical public protests and publicizing offences help the organization mobilize citizens against sexual harassment in public spaces. Week-long courses are also offered to teach women how to be active in building safe spaces.

Schoolboys are sensitized about sexual crimes at a seminar in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Schoolboys are sensitized about sexual crimes at a seminar in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Although the Indian Parliament passed a strong anti-rape law while also making human trafficking, acid attacks and stalking stringently punishable, it hasn’t translated into diminishing crimes against women. Some women’s rights activists believe that women are inviting a counter-attack by claiming their right in public spaces.

“There’s a lot of media coverage, candlelight marches and social media angst if women are outraged but in reality little has changed, ” says Pratibha Malik, an activist with a pan-India non-profit Aashrita. “I feel the very presence of women in non-traditional spaces like offices, in bars, restaurants etc in a patriarchal society like India’s is responsible for this backlash.”

The trigger for much of legislative and police action was the December 2012 rape of a 23-year-old Indian medical student in a moving bus when she was returning from a movie with a male friend. The couple were attacked by a group of men, including one aged 14. The woman was raped several times and later died, while her friend was beaten with an iron rod. The incident sparked mass protests demanding action.

Following the episode, which created global headlines, a committee — Justice Verma Committee — was instituted and its report cited “the failure of governance to provide a safe and dignified environment for the women of India, who are constantly exposed to sexual violence.”

The three attackers in the 2012 rape were sentenced to death and within months the government passed a bill broadening the definition of sexual offences to include forced penetration by any object, stalking, acid violence and disrobing.

However, such actions by the State haven’t really resulted in much succour for the fairer sex.
They feel they have to take charge of their own security. Many women IPS spoke to, say they feel danger still lurks around street corners, especially in the big cities, where venturing out at night is still considered an `adventure’.

“I don’t feel safe in public places at all nor while using public transport. I know nobody will come forward to help me if I get into trouble,” says Rekha Kumari, 30, a cook.

“I carry pepper spray and a knife with me as I return late from the office,” says Shashibala Mehra, 52, an accountant in New Delhi. “Throughout my 40-minute commute back home I keep talking to my husband on phone just so that he knows when I’m in trouble.”

Laxmi Aggarwal, 27, an acid attack victim who has now become an activist championing the ban on the sale of acid in India, says the government has done little to prevent its sale. “Young, vulnerable girls are attacked in many parts of rural India,” she says.

Aggarwal has joined hands with an organization called Stop Acid Attacks to assist other victims of such attacks and also fight for their rights in local courts.

Realizing how some Indian law enforcement agencies can no longer be trusted for their safety, many women are also resorting to buying weapons and pepper spray, downloading security apps, signing up for self-defence classes, and joining self-help groups.

Campaigns which help victims of violence fight social stigma have urged the government to enforce stricter laws and promote gender equality. Red Brigades, a female-only collective, for instance, equips women and girls with self-defence techniques and targets males who have committed sexual assault. Blank Noise, another volunteer-led project, is working to tackle street harassment and change public attitudes towards sexual violence.

Such initiatives, say activists, are vital to safeguard Indian women who are stepping out of their homes to work, travel and lead a full life.

“We try to make erring men see reason after talking to the man and his parents. If he still doesn’t listen, we go to the police station,” says Usha Vishwakarma. “If he’s still adamant, we go into the action stage.”

An important part of the support Red Brigade offers involves helping victims get rid of the self-guilt that the violence they suffered was their fault.

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The End of a Cycle ? Tue, 06 Dec 2016 22:02:56 +0000 Roberto Savio By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 6 2016 (IPS)

Is the demise of Renzi really a local affair? There is no doubt that a referendum on a constitutional change can be a matter of confidence in him, having personalized the issue to a point that it became basically a vote on the young Prime Minister. But if you look at the sociology of the vote, you find that the No vote was again coming from the poorest parts of Italy. A case study is Milan. Voters living in the centre voted Yes, and those in the periphery voted No. Is this not similar to what has happened in Brexit and in the US elections? And Renzi fell into the same trap like Cameron, calling for a referendum on a very complex issue and putting at stake his own credibility and prestige, to be swept away by an unexpected tide of resentment. Lamented Renzi: “I had no idea I was so hated”.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

This is important. It shows how politicians, even those as brilliant as Renzi, do not realize that there is a tsunami of resentment that has been out there for some years, has been ignored by the establishment, by the media and by politics. Finally, everybody is linking the next elections in the Netherlands in March, in France in May and in Germany in August, as dates when the populist, nationalist and xenophobia tides will rise even more.

A huge sigh of relief was heard all over Europe after the candidate of the extreme right wing Freedom Party, Hofer, lost 47% to 53%to a Green Party candidate, Van der Bellen. Ulrich Kleber, a German minister declared: “Trump was the turning point. The liberal majority is pushing back.” Business as usual. In the last meeting of the Eurogroup, the proposal of the Commission for a loose fiscal budget was defeated following German pressure.

In fact, polls indicate today the Freedom party appears poised to win over the old coalition of social democrats and Christian democrats which have been running Austria since the end of the war. And as Dutch polls show today, in mid March, the xenophobe Party for Freedom, run by the oxygenated Geert Wilders, is close to getting 21%, over the Party for Freedom and Democracy, that would get 19%. And in France to block Le Pen from winning, at the end everybody will be obliged to vote for Fillon, who is so far to the right that on several issues is barely distinguishable. Finally in Germany, Angela Merkel has announced that she will run a campaign devoid from any ideology, so as not to accentuate any difference with the extreme right wing party AfD in the coming elections in August.

What is also disconcerting is that the political system is still looking to elections as conditioned by local factors. Clearly, Trump could be elected only in the United States. But it should now be clear that what is happening is a result of a global reaction from citizens. But how can we expect from those who have been supporting and singing neoliberal globalization since 1989 to admit their guilt? It is a sign of the time that now the IMF, World Bank and OECD are those who are calling for a return to the role of the state as the regulator and decrying how social and economic inequalities are a brake to growth.

The question is whether it is too late. By now, it will be extremely difficult to bring finance again under regulation (especially with Trump who will eliminate the few regulations still in place, and made by bankers, the backbone of his cabinet). For more than a generation the market has been considered as the only legitimate actor in economy and society. The values inscribed in the large majority of constitutions, like justice, solidarity, participation, and cooperation have been substituted by competition, enrichment, and individualism. Today, children in China, Russia, the United States and Europe are not united by values, but by brand: Adidas, Coca Cola. Citizens have become consumers. In the near future, data collected about each citizen through Internet, on their lives, activities and consumes, will further steer their lives. Fropm 16 % now , robotization will become 40% of the total production of goods and services in 2040. Just think how many drivers will lose their job with car automatization. And those displaced in factories are the cream of workers, not the low level job holders who vote for populism.

What went also unnoticed is that all the populist parties are totally against all international agreement, and international treatyies. The European parties are against unity in Europe. Trump wants to get out from any existing agreements. And together they look to the Climate Treaty as something which goes against their individual interests. They all speak of their national identity, of their glorious past, and how to get rid of multilateralism and internationalism. As a matter of fact, now in the Trump administration the term “globalist” is a derogatory one. A globalist is the enemy who wants to link the US to other countries and views. And yet, the UKIP in England, the Front National in France, the 5 Stelle in Italy and so on, beside some highly publisized meetings, have never been able to establish a platform together on any international issue, other than the abolition of the European Union. Now that Trump has named as his chief strategist Brennon, who has announced that part of his job is to strengthen the populist and right wing parties in Europe, it will be interesting to see how and on what basis they can establish an alliance, besides excluding gay marriages and extra uterine births.

Yet, there is a common trait on international issues. The sympathy for Putin, who is seen as a defender of national values and the inventor of the “illiberal democracy” that Orban in Hungary has officially adopted, followed by other members of the Visegrad pact – Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia – with Erdogan looking benevolently from Turkey. Putin has a growing support from Fillon in France, Salvini in Italy, Farage in England, Wilders in the Netherlands, and now Trump giving the final push for Putin’s legitimization.

But the question is if the response to the neoliberal globalization elected by its victims is organic and adequate? Will they be able to do what the discredited system that globalization has put in crisis, has not been able to do? This is the central question to consider.

If we look at the cabinet that Trump is assembling, there is a great space for doubt. It is a good image of what would be to put Dracula as the guard of a blood bank. The candidate for Secretary of Education is for increasing private education. The candidate for Secretary of Health is for dismantling the public health system. Almost all or a good part of them are multimillionaires. The advisers are all from large corporations. How such a gathering of the rich and powerful will be able to identify with the victims of globalization is difficult to comprehend. Trump speeches against Wall Street, social injustice and a precarious existence who pout him in parallel with Sanders, have disappeared. The energy companies got their biggest boost in several years, supported by the fact that Trump wants to quit the Paris Treaty on Climate, and enlarge the use of fossils. But at the same time hundreds of cities are passing legislations for climate control. It is impossible to say what the Trump administration will mean for the world, or for the United States itself. But signs are that greed certainly will be legitimized. Historians say that greed and fear are the two main factors for any change in history. Fear of immigrants is the main fuel for xenophobia . No wonder that nationalism, xenophobia and populism are on the rise.

The problem is that the growing debate on globalization’s victims is based on symptoms and not on the causes. If we asked a passer-by on a street during the Soviet Union period : “ What is the paradigm that guides the political economic and social options here?”, The answer most certainly would have been “Communism, or socialism”. Here such a question since 1989 would have provoked a blank stare, while we were living in a similar tight and all pervasive paradigm: market, elimination as much as possible of the state, of the public and reduction as much as possible of non productive social costs. Individualism and competition are winning factors – protect and support wealth and reduce personnel and costs as much as possible. There is a different generational change. Young people have dropped out of politics, lost vision and become just administrative options that have become more corrupted and have found refuge in the virtual world of the Internet. But they gather in clusters, of like-minded people. If I am a leftist, I gather with another leftist. I will never meet a right wing guy, as I would do in real life. And in those clusters the ones who emerge are the most radical. So we have a growing world of radicalized and self-reverent young people, who have lost the ability to debate. When they meet, they talk music, sports, fashion, but never ideas or ideals to avoid conflict and quarrels.

Without the young people who want to change the world they are in, the elevator of history gets stuck. And if many other anti historical trends are added together, the ability to correct mistakes and imbalances disappear. It is anti historical to block immigration when industrialized countries all have negative birth rates and productivity and pensions are in danger. It is anti historical to erect again customs, reduce trade, reduce incomes and increase costs. It is anti historical to accept that fiscal paradise subtracts 12% of the world budget. It is anti historical to eliminate international agreements, international cooperation, and go back to small national boundaries. It is anti historical that the rich become richer (today 88 individuals have the same wealth as that of 2.2 billion people), and the poor even poorer. It is anti historical to ignore the looming problem of the climate for which we are already late in waking up. It is almost like breaking a large glass we think it is advantageous because we will have many little fragments. China, India, Japan, Russia and now the US are all going nationalists. The US always took the lead, not without resistance, to be the guarantor of world stability, giving themselves their manifest destiny of an exceptional country. Now they want to have a manifest destiny by thinking only about themselves. Trump will find out that this is a diminutio capiti of the US.

We are therefore at a historical juncture. We are coming from 70 years of growth of international cooperation, the creation of a United Nations devoted to peace and development, the creation of a European Union based on the same philosophy, and an enormous flourishing of pacts on trade, health, education, labour, sports, tourism and whatever else that brings people together. This trend is now getting inverted. The neoliberal globalization pushed all those trends in a specific and unchallengeable direction: market is the only player; man is not any longer the centre of the society. The trend where we are going is clear especially after 9 November – to a world of Trumps. But is that the response to the problems that are bringing large masses to change their political representation? Not if we do not discuss and adopt a paradigm, shared by a large majority, and assure again social justice, democracy and participation. Is it so difficult to read history?

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The Chief’s Choice Tue, 06 Dec 2016 16:20:08 +0000 Moeed Yusuf By Moeed Yusuf
Dec 6 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Incoming army chief Gen Bajwa takes over at a time when Pakistan is already on the road to recovery. Since 2010, the country has experienced a significant reduction in terrorist violence. The economy has also begun to rebound. Gen Bajwa and the civilian government could keep doing more of the same to achieve further incremental progress. But this would reflect a ‘good enough’ approach. It’ll definitely keep Pakistan out of the ICU but we’ll still be weak and frail.

Moeed Yusuf

Moeed Yusuf

Would the general consider what it would take to make Pakistan a truly economically successful and peaceful country that is respected by the world? Will he be willing to introspect and identify the deepest binding constraints holding Pakistan back and where his institution may have been part of the problem?

What may he discover?

First, that Pakistan’s current strategic paradigm guarantees that it will remain economically mediocre. A big reason is the security establishment’s regional outlook. Since the 1990s, when regional trading blocs became fashionable, overwhelming evidence has pointed to a direct correlation between strong regional economic interaction and national growth and progress of the countries involved. In our case, it would mean opening up economically to India.

What are the options for peace?

Naysayers argue that rather than singling out the India piece, we need to focus on domestic economic reforms, explore alternative trading and investment partners, and recognise that CPEC is a game changer. The general should sit with trade economists to understand the flaws in this contention. Even when we add up realistic appraisals of possible reforms, includes CPEC, and factor in new export markets Pakistan can tap, we still end up well short of what the country needs to keep competing with India and other peer countries.

More importantly, it is absolute, not relative, gains that matter. We need to be concerned about the additional growth we would generate from acting as a trade and transit hub for the near and far neighbourhood and the force-multiplier effect it would have rather than what India or others might get out of the arrangement. Plainly, the new chief must know that keeping the region closed guarantees that India and Pakistan’s differential will continue to grow in New Delhi’s favour.

Thinking through alternatives, he should consult political economists who can demonstrate policy options to allow greater regional integration without capitulating to India — rather, while strengthening Pakistan’s hand over the long run. I have repeatedly elaborated on these options in my columns.

Next, how does Pakistan go from the recent improvements in fighting domestic terrorism to durable peace? The answer one universally gets from experts is that the next counterterrorism phase is likely to be focused on urban areas and requires exemplary coordination between the military and civilians on implementing the National Action Plan.

The army chief has two challenges here. One, that the civilian sector is exceptionally weak. He can’t do much about it. Two, that civilian politicos and law-enforcement institutions feel that the security establishment operates more as a master than a friend. This, he must fix.

In researching for my edited book Pakistan’s Counterterrorism Challenge some years ago, I was alarmed at just how deep the distrust between civilian law-enforcement and intelligence and the military was. At times, the civilian sphere echoed views of the establishment’s intentions not much different from what one hears in the most critical quarters of the Western world. The military, on its part, not only finds these views exaggerated and misinformed, but tends to see its civilian counterparts as apathetic and worthless.

With such a disconnect, you can’t hope for much in terms of coordination. If so, efforts in pursuit of NAP will remain disjointed and suboptimal. Militant outfits will be the ultimate beneficiaries, and both the civilians and military fighting them will continue to incur losses.

Finally, little respect for Pakistan internationally implies all sorts of losses in terms of economic activity, increased risk of global isolation, etc.

If the general is a realist, he’ll realise the basic problem: Pakistan’s security policy runs smack in the face of the interests of world’s only superpower and its chief partners in South Asia. The US-led international community has forged a universal consensus that policies linked to violent non-state actors specifically of the Islamist bent are no longer acceptable. The apparent inability or unwillingness to tackle allegedly Pakistan-based violent actors aimed at Afghanistan and India defies this consensus. Fair or not, till this holds, Pakistan’s global perception will keep taking a major hit.

Gen Bajwa should work with his team to identify policy choices that protect Pakistan’s national interests, but without undermining or antagonising the US. Incidentally, this is exactly the advice his predecessors and Pakistan’s civilian leaders have consistently received from China.

Pakistan needs more than a good enough approach from its civilian and military leadership. The new army chief can set the tone for his institution.

The writer is a foreign policy expert based in Washington, DC.
Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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What Does Democracy Mean to Bangladeshis? Tue, 06 Dec 2016 16:11:13 +0000 Ali Riaz By Ali Riaz
Dec 6 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

December 6 is observed as ‘Democracy Day’ in Bangladesh, a day that marks the overthrow of military rule of General H M Ershad through a popular urban uprising in 1990. It was the culmination of years of protests demanding democracy, at least the right to express opinions without fear, to vote in freely held elections, to elect civilian governments and to hold the leaders accountable.

Mass rally of Dhaka blockade on November 10, 1987.

Mass rally of Dhaka blockade on November 10, 1987.

The observance this year, like previous years, will provide opportunities to those who participated in the pro-democracy movement since 1982 to reminisce what they did in the face of great adversity. Some reflections will highlight contributions in bringing back democracy while others will claim that they are the ones who have saved democracy since then. Since the downfall of the autocratic regime of General Ershad, the country has experienced a tumultuous quarter of a century – it has been ruled by both elected civilian regimes and unelected regimes, elections have been held, some free and some not – but the promise of establishing an accountable representative governance has remained elusive.

While the observance of the day is a reminder of the movement against military authoritarianism, particularly the Ershad regime, it is well to remember that it was only one episode of the long struggle for democracy in the country. After all, the Bangladeshi state was founded on the basis of democratic aspirations and democracy, which have been included in the Constitution as one of the state principles. Periodic popular uprisings, the presence of a plethora of political parties, and widespread participation in national elections until 2014 are indicative of the aspiration. It is not an exaggeration to say that in the past twenty five years, democracy has remained under stress.

Since 2013, the nation has plunged into an unusual political environment. The unprecedented election of 2014 remains at the centre of this unusual situation. Several episodes of violence, for example, the Islamists’ deadly protests against the verdicts of the International Crimes Tribunal in 2013, protests against the election in 2014 by the main opposition party, and serious deterioration of law and order for three months in 2015 during the opposition-led blockade in the wake of the anniversary of the controversial election, have cost the nation dearly.

These unfortunate developments have been accompanied by an increasing use of force by the government, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Media are either muzzled or have adopted an unstated policy of self-censorship in fear of retribution. The space for civil society, once a vibrant arena of debate and social movements, has contracted. Overall, the space for dissent has shrunk remarkably, thanks to the intolerance of the government on the one hand and both militant and mainstream Islamists, on the other. The use of extremist rhetoric has increased markedly and been accepted as a natural mode of political discourse.

Thanks to the 2014 election, the Parliament has become a one-party institution due to the absence of an effective opposition. The ruling Bangladesh Awami League (AL) seems to be engaged in decimating the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) through persecution and frivolous cases against its leaders. One cannot ignore that BNP’s political miscalculation, wrong strategy, and inept tactics have also contributed to its plight. The ruling party’s success in marginalising the main opposition BNP, at least in the short term, is a combination of these factors. But the overall impact of this growing authoritarian bent of the government and weakening of the opposition is that the mainstream political arena is being hollowed out: neither the Parliament nor the street is the arena of politics.

Concurrently, the country witnessed the dramatic growth of militant groups and experienced audacious attacks. Killings of bloggers and individuals with unorthodox views have been followed by murders of foreigners and a high profile attack on a café on July 1, 2016. Some of these militant groups claimed to have organisational connections with international terrorist groups, which the government denied.

Against this background one can ask: Does the environment within the mainstream politics and mode of governance reflect the popular aspiration?

Generally speaking, there are two strands of discussions on democracy in Bangladesh; either they provide the description of events since 1990 or they focus on the normative qualities of democracy. Both discussions ignore what the people view as the characteristics of democracy. In my recently published book, Bangladesh: A Political History of Bangladesh Since Independence (London: I B Tauris, 2016) I have examined the popular views expressed in 13 surveys conducted by different national and international research organisations between 1996 and 2013. Here I highlight a few findings that deserve our close attention, particularly in the context of the extant political environment.

That these surveys demonstrate a wide and unwavering support for democracy among Bangladeshi citizens should come as no surprise. In a survey conducted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in late 2003, nearly two-thirds of the respondents (62 percent) chose a ‘government ruled by democratically elected representatives’ as the preferred system of governance. As for other choices, a ‘government ruled by Islamic law, with respected religious figures as leaders’ was favored by 21 percent, followed by ‘a government ruled by a military leader who got things done’ at 11percent and ‘a non-elected government ruled by specialists, experts, and business leaders who know what it takes to develop a country’ at three per cent. A decade later, the sentiment remained almost the same; a survey by the Pew Research Center in 2013, showed that 70 percent of Bangladeshis preferred democracy as opposed to 27 percent who preferred a ‘strong leader.’

What prompts such overwhelming support for democracy? Respondents of the USAID survey gave democracy strong marks for being the best system for protecting individuals’ rights and freedoms (79 percent), ensuring equality of all citizens (69 percent), providing order and security (69 percent), keeping the country united (68 percent), and solving community problems because it gives everyone the chance to speak about their concerns and interests (59 percent).

These surveys also revealed what Bangladeshis mean by democracy. Weighted narrowed responses of the Governance Barometer Survey Bangladesh 2010 (conducted by BRAC University) showed that 80 percent of respondents felt elections were the critical ideal of democracy, followed by free public debate (71 percent), rule of consent (60 percent), ability to participate in decision making (50 percent), and ability to access information on government activities (40 percent).

In a survey conducted by the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) in 2000, where respondents were provided with a list of fundamental rights and were asked, ‘How important is it to you that the following rights be respected in Bangladesh?’ Rural respondents picked ‘one can choose from several parties and candidates when voting’ overwhelmingly while urban respondents indicated ‘honest elections are held regularly’ as the most important right.

As for the attributes of democracy, the Global Survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2002 showed that Bangladeshis identified three major attributes of democracy: people can openly criticise the government (81 percent); there are honest, two-party elections (71 percent); and free press/the media can report without censorship (64 percent).

A similar perception is found in the survey among the younger population. ‘Giving Youth a Voice: Bangladesh Youth Survey of 2011′ informs us that “when defining democracy, a wide majority stated that elections are a core parameter”. The report states, “Our survey reflects that Bangladeshi youths’ perceptions about democracy are mainly defined by having free and fair elections. When ranked, this was given first priority by an overwhelming majority of 65 percent, in addition to 18 percent who ranked it either second (8 percent) or third (10 percent). Among all other options, rule by consent and access to information have been top priorities.”

While these numbers and the details of these surveys may seem overwhelming, taken together they provide a clear message: democracy is not an abstract idea to Bangladeshi citizens. Bangladeshis’ view of democracy as a competitive pluralistic political system which holds regular free elections, protects individual’s rights and freedoms, and allows citizens to express opinions freely without fear of being persecuted, either by the state or by the non-state actors.

As the country observes ‘Democracy Day’ in 2016 it is worth remembering this message.

The writer is Professor and Chair of the Department of Politics and Government at Illinois State University, USA. His recent publications include the coedited volume ‘Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Bangladesh’ (London: Routledge, 2016).

Photo: Dinu Alam on Facebook/Dinu Alam on English Wikipedia (,_1987_-_1.jpg), „Rally of Nov 10, 1987 – 1“,

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Climate-Resistant Beans Could Save Millions Tue, 06 Dec 2016 14:54:56 +0000 Ida Karlsson Heat-tolerant beans at CIAT. Beans and other pulses are called superfoods of the future due to their vast geographical range, high nutritional value and low water requirements. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

Heat-tolerant beans at CIAT. Beans and other pulses are called superfoods of the future due to their vast geographical range, high nutritional value and low water requirements. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

By Ida Karlsson
CALI, Colombia, Dec 6 2016 (IPS)

A global food watchdog works around the clock to preserve crop biodiversity, with a seed bank deep in the Colombian countryside holding the largest collection of beans and cassava in the world and storing crops that could avert devastating problems.

On a mission in Peru in the 1980s, Debouck narrowly escaped capture by guerillas.
Plants are the vital elements in our ecosystem that clothe us, feed us, give us the oxygen that we breathe and the medicines that cure us. But one in five of world’s plant species are at risk of extinction.

According to a report launched by experts at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in May, the biggest threats are the destruction of habitats for farming – such as palm oil production, deforestation for timber and construction of buildings and infrastructure. Global warming is also expected to reduce the areas suitable for growing crops.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that 75 percent of the world’s crop diversity was lost between 1900 and 2000.

“We do not [even] know what we have, and we are losing what we have. Why not try to correct that a bit?” Daniel Debouck of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia told IPS.

Seed bank head Daniel Debouck at CIAT, Colombia. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

Seed bank head Daniel Debouck at CIAT, Colombia. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

Only about 30 crops provide 95 percent of human food energy needs, according to FAO. Dependency on a few staple crops magnifies the consequences of crop failure.

Botanists are already taking extreme measures to save those plant species deemed useful. Some 7.4 million samples are in seed banks around the world, but huge gaps exist.

Way up north, in the permafrost, 1,300 kilometers beyond the Arctic Circle, sits the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a so-called doomsday bank buried in the side of a mountain. Within the enclosure sit more than 860,000 samples, representing 5,100 different crops and their relatives.

And located among green sugarcane plantations near Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, a seed bank with the largest collection of beans in the world is housed in a former meat quality lab. The seed bank preserves some of humanity’s most important staple crops and contains over 38,000 samples of beans in all shapes colors, and sizes. Varieties developed at CIAT feed 30 million people in Africa. Every September there is a major shipment to Svalbard to keep copies at the seed bank there.

Beans can grow despite very tough conditions. They are cultivated everywhere except for the poles and infertile deserts. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

Beans can grow despite very tough conditions. They are cultivated everywhere except for the poles and infertile deserts. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

The 300 scientists and support staff at CIAT have a mandate from the UN to protect, research and distribute beans and cassava, staple foods for 900 million people around the world. Altogether 500,000 materials have been distributed so far. After the war in Rwanda, CIAT put seeds back in the hands of farmers.

“The seeds from the Americas are absolutely critical for food security in Africa. Without cassava and beans, people would not manage,” Debouck told IPS.

The researchers have garnered seeds from around the world for their seed bank. On a mission in Peru in the 1980s, Debouck narrowly escaped capture by guerillas.

“But we came back with 300 varieties of popping bean and increased the CIAT collection significantly,” he said.

The popping beans can be prepared without cooking. It is enough if they are heated on a hot surface. This could be important in areas where fuel and kitchen facilities are lacking.

The seed bank also stores beans that can offer climate-friendly options for farmers struggling to cope with rising temperatures.

In the basement of an old lab near Cali, Colombia, there are 38,000 samples of beans stored in minus 20 degrees Celsius. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

In the basement of an old lab near Cali, Colombia, there are 38,000 samples of beans stored in minus 20 degrees Celsius. Credit: Ida Karlsson/IPS

The heat-tolerant beans developed by conventional breeding by scientists at CIAT are crosses between the modern kind and the tepary bean, a hardy survivor cultivated since pre-Columbian times. Beans that can beat the heat could be essential to survival in many regions.

“The heat-tolerant beans may be able to handle a worst-case scenario of a temperature rise of 4 degrees Celsius. Northern Uganda, southeast Congo, Malawi, and the eastern Kenya are not bean producing areas now because of the heat there. But what we have at present at CIAT could expand the bean production there,” Steve Beebe, a senior bean researcher at CIAT, told IPS.

The new findings would not have been possible without CIAT’s seed bank containing wild varieties and related species of the common bean.

Only 5 percent of the wild relatives of the world’s most important crops are properly stored and managed in the world’s seed banks, according a study published in March by the online journal Nature Plants.

Debouck says there is lack of education around food.

“We think we have food security but we are tremendously vulnerable. If the U.S. would experience drought and Europe would have excessive rains, we would all be in trouble,” Debouck said.

Agronomists used to act as a liaison between farmers and agricultural scientists. But during the last 20 years, many agronomists have disappeared and today mostly for-profit agribusiness firms reach out to farmers, according to Debouck. The companies are often interested in selling agrochemicals, he said.

Bean researcher Beebe pointed out that beans and other legumes are self-pollinated plants and seed need only be sold once.

“That is why the industry is not that interested in promoting them,” he told IPS.

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Europe to Decide on Use of Mercury in Dentistry Tue, 06 Dec 2016 07:25:56 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Europe will soon decide the future of a common but controversial dental practice: mercury in tooth fillings.

Three major European institutions, namely the European Commission, Parliament and Council, are due to meet on 6 December to discuss regulations on mercury, particularly its use in dentistry.

Mercury fillings removal

Mercury fillings removal

Mercury makes up 50 percent of amalgam, which is commonly used for dental fillings. Europe is currently the world’s largest amalgam user.

A coalition of over 25 international non-governmental organisations launched a global campaign in July to end the use of mercury in dentistry, citing health and environmental risks.

“Mercury is globally one of the 10 chemicals of major public health concern, yet the Commission proposes we maintain the status quo,” said Health Care Without Harm Europe’s Chemicals Policy Advisor Philippe Vandendaele

Amalgam is often the largest source of mercury releases in municipal wastewater and is also an increasing source of mercury air pollution from crematoria.

Mercury entering water bodies can contaminate fish and other animals, further exposing consumers to dangerous levels of secondary poisoning.

Though direct health risks from amalgam are still uncertain, mercury is known to cause damage to the brain and nervous system of developing fetuses, infants and young children.

As a result, the European Commission’s health advisory committee recommended a ban on mercury-based fillings in children and pregnant women.

“An ambitious regulation is needed to reduce the use of mercury in the European Union and phase it out of dentistry…over 66 percent of dental fillings in the EU are now made without mercury and it is now time that this becomes the norm,” said European Environment Bureau’s Elena Lymberidi-Settimo.

The European public also voiced their concerns over amalgam.

Following consultations, the European Commission found that 88 percent of participating Europeans recommended to phase out the toxic material while 12 percent called for its use to be phased down.

Some countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark have already banned or restricted the use of mercury-based dental fillings.

“European dentists know the end is near for amalgam. Alternatives are available, affordable, and effective. It is time for Europe to say good-bye to amalgam, a material clearly inferior to composite or ionomers,” said German Dentist Hans-Werner Bertelsen.

Composites and ionomers are both alternative dental restorative materials that use various glass and plastic compositions.

There is a growing consensus on the issue within the European Parliament as members have received over 17,000 signatures on petitions calling to ban amalgam in Europe.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the use of mercury in tooth fillings represents approximately 10 percent of global mercury consumption, making it the largest consumer uses of mercury in the world.

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Nicaraguan Women Push for Access to Land, Not Just on Paper Mon, 05 Dec 2016 23:40:41 +0000 Jose Adan Silva Members of a cooperative of women farmers in Nicaragua build a greenhouse for thousands of seedlings of fruit and lumber trees aimed at helping to fight the effects of climate change in a village in the department of Madriz. Credit: Femuprocan

Members of a cooperative of women farmers in Nicaragua build a greenhouse for thousands of seedlings of fruit and lumber trees aimed at helping to fight the effects of climate change in a village in the department of Madriz. Credit: Femuprocan

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Dec 5 2016 (IPS)

A group of women farmers who organised to fight a centuries-old monopoly over land ownership by men are seeking plots of land to farm in order to contribute to the food security of their families and of the population at large.

Matilde Rocha, vice president of the Federation of Nicaraguan Women Farmers Cooperatives (Femuprocan), told IPS that since the late 1980s, when women trained in the Sandinista revolution organised to form cooperatives, access to land has been one of the movement’s main demands.

According to Rocha, as of 1997, the organisation has worked in a coordinated manner to fight for recognition of the rights of women farmers not only with regard to agriculture, but also to economic, political and social rights.

Femuprocan, together with 14 other associations, successfully pushed for the 2010 approval of the Fund for the Purchase of Land with Gender Equity for Rural Women Law, known as Law 717.

They also contributed to the incorporation of a gender equity focus in the General Law on Cooperatives and to the participation of women in the Municipal Commissions on Food Security and Sovereignty.

For Rocha, this advocacy has allowed rural women to update the mapping of actors in the main productive areas in the country, strengthen the skills of women farmers and train them in social communication and as promoters of women’s human rights, to tap into resources and take decisions without the pressure of their male partners.

“For rural women, land is life, it is vital for the family; land ownership and inputs to make it productive are closely linked to women’s economic empowerment, to decision-making about food production, to the preservation of our environment, and to ensuring food security and protecting our native seeds to avoid dependence on genetically modified seeds,” said Rocha.

Josefina Rodríguez, one of the 18 per cent of women farmers in Nicaragua who own the land that they work. The fund created six years ago to promote the purchase of land by rural women still lacks the required resources to meet its goals. Credit: Ismael López/IPS

Josefina Rodríguez, one of the 18 per cent of women farmers in Nicaragua who own the land that they work. The fund created six years ago to promote the purchase of land by rural women still lacks the required resources to meet its goals. Credit: Ismael López/IPS

Femuprocan is the only federation in the country solely made up of women farmers: more than 4,200 members organised in 73 cooperatives in six of the country’s departments: Madriz, Managua, Granada, Región Autónoma del Caribe Norte, Matagalpa and Jinotega.

Rocha believes the progress made has been more qualitative than quantitative.

In 2010, when they pushed through Law 717, an estimated 1.1 million women lived in rural areas, and most of them owned neither land nor other assets.

The law was aimed at giving rural women access to physical possession and legal ownership of land, improving their economic conditions, boosting gender equity, ensuring food security and fighting poverty in the country, estimated at the time at 47 per cent.

Nicaragua currently has a population of 6.2 million, 51 per cent of whom are women, and 41 per cent of whom live in rural areas, according to World Bank figures.

Data from the Household Survey to Measure Poverty in Nicaragua, published in June by the International Foundation for Global Economic Challenge, indicates that 39 per cent of the population was poor in 2015.

The poverty rate in urban areas was 22.1 per cent, compared to 58.8 per cent in rural areas.

According to the international humanitarian organisation Oxfam, only 18 per cent of the rural women who work on farms in Nicaragua own land, while the rest have to lease it and pay before planting.

“Access to land ownership is a pending demand for 40 percent of the members of Femuprocan, which represents a total of 1,680 women without land,” said Rocha.

The struggle for access to land is an uphill battle, but the organisation is not giving up.

“In 17 municipalities covered by our federation, 620 women are active in the process of searching for lands for our members. Not only women who have no land, but also women who do are engaged in the process of identifying lands to make them productive, as are other governmental and non-governmental organisations,” she said.

One of the members of the organisation told IPS that there has been no political will or economic financing from the state to enforce the law on access to land.

The more than 4,000 members of the Federation of Nicaraguan Women Farmers Cooperatives sell their products, many of which are organic, directly to consumers in fairs and markets. Credit: Femuprocan

The more than 4,000 members of the Federation of Nicaraguan Women Farmers Cooperatives sell their products, many of which are organic, directly to consumers in fairs and markets. Credit: Femuprocan

“How many doors have we knocked on, how many offices have we visited to lobby, how many meetings have we held…and the law is still not enforced,” said the farmer, who asked to be identified only as Maria, during a trip to Managua.

“The problem is that the entire legal, economic and productive system is still dominated by men, and they see us as threats, more than competition, to their traditional business activities,” she said.

Other women’s organisations have come from rural areas to the cities to protest that the law on access to land is not being enforced.

In May, María Teresa Fernández, who heads the Coordinator of Rural Women, complained in Managua that “women who do not own land have to pay up to 200 dollars to rent one hectare during the growing season.”

In addition to having to lease land, the women who belong to the organisation have in recent years faced environmental problems such as drought, dust storms, volcanic ash and pests without receiving the benefit of public policies that make bank loans available to deal with these problems.

“Six years ago, Law 717 was passed, ordering the creation of a gender equity fund for the purchase of land by rural women. But this fund has not yet been included in the general budget in order for women to access mortgage credits administered by the state bank, to get their own land,” Fernández complained in May.

The Nicaraguan financial system does not grant loans to women farmers who have no legal title to land, a problem that the government has tried to mitigate with social welfare programmes such as Zero Hunger, Zero Usury, Roof Plan, Healthy Yards and the Christian Solidarity Programme for food distribution, among others.

However, sociologist Cirilo Otero, director of the non-governmental Centre of Initiatives for Environmental Policies, said there is not enough government support, and stressed to IPS that women’s lack of access to land is one of the most serious problems of gender inequality in Nicaragua.

“It is still an outstanding debt by the state towards women farmers,” he said.

Nevertheless, data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) indicates that Nicaragua was one of 17 Latin American countries that met the targets for hunger reduction and improvement in food security in the first 15 years of the century, as part of the Millennium Development Goals.

According to the U.N. agency, between 1990 and 2015, the country reduced the proportion of undernourished people from 54.4 per cent to 16.6 per cent.

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Soil: Keeping Nutrients in Food and Carbon in the Ground Mon, 05 Dec 2016 22:56:36 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 0 Leave No One Behind: The Right to Development Mon, 05 Dec 2016 16:23:34 +0000 Rose Delaney2 Children pick through garbage in the FATA region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Children pick through garbage in the FATA region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Dec 5 2016 (IPS)

As Human Rights Day approaches Dec. 10, it offers a moment to pause and look back at the roots of the global development process as a platform for stepping forward. On this day 30 years ago, the international community made a commitment to eliminate all obstacles to equality and inclusivity.

Dec. 4, 1986 marks the date the United Nations General Assembly officially adopted the Declaration on the Right to Development, a landmark text which describes development as an “inalienable human right”.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights encourages all stakeholders to “approach the 30th anniversary of the Declaration with a sense of urgency.”

“The 30th anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development must remind us that marginalized people – including migrants, indigenous peoples, and other minorities, as well as persons with disabilities – have a right to development, and that the true purpose of any economic endeavor is to improve the well-being of people.”

The groundbreaking 1986 declaration called for the establishment of inclusive global societies wherein the elimination of all forms of discrimination would be implemented to ensure sustainability. Developing countries in the Global South perceived to be “lagging behind” would be restored through the “international cooperation” advocated by the text.

The declaration stressed the importance of active and meaningful participation in the development process, even by those traditionally silenced and stigmatized by society. The marginalized poor were encouraged to speak out in the name of their rights. The emphasis on inclusivity highlighted the importance of non-discrimination and equal opportunity in the development process.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes, in its consensus, the right to development. The main objectives of the 1986 declaration are also reflected in both SDG16 for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies in addition to SDG17 which calls for the strengthening of global partnerships.

Undoubtedly, as we approach the 30th anniversary of the 1986 declaration, there are several significant achievements to reflect on, most notably the reduction of more than half of the population of people living in extreme poverty and in conditions of undernourishment in developing regions. In addition, the adoption of the declaration also resulted in improved access to clean drinking water and a much-needed increase in official development assistance.

However, despite significant progress, poverty and inequality persist. According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, world wealth remains unevenly distributed. Over 700 million people still live on the equivalent of less than two dollars per day. The limited access to healthcare, higher education and employment suffered by vulnerable segments of society runs the risk of pushing 100 million more into poverty by 2030, according to the World Bank.

Increased inequality and injustice in the developing world indicate the shortcomings of the 1986 declaration. An ongoing debate circles around its ineffectiveness, with many arguing that there is a lack of clear, coherent guidelines and thus far, it cannot be recognized as a legally binding instrument.

Differing interpretations of the declaration have also resulted in the absence of clear-cut solutions to critical development problems. While the United Nations Development Programme claims that any action, in order to be developmental, must be human rights-based, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action in addition to the UN 2030 agenda state that the right to development calls not only for enforcing action at the domestic level, but also for enabling action at the international level.

Both states and individuals share an equal responsibility to contribute to the creation and maintenance of a peaceful and inclusive global society.

Although the 1986 declaration was at first celebrated and welcomed by the international community, in recent years it has received less support from developing countries.  Rising inequality, limited economic opportunity and lack of access to basic services have led to lost faith in its true effectiveness.

Recently, a promising step forward was made for the development agenda, especially to tackle the past “ineffectiveness” of the right to development, when the Human Rights Council Resolution 33/L.29 was adopted at the council’s 33rd session this September.

The resolution stressed the need to need to operationalize the Right to Development as a priority and called for the elaboration of a legally binding international instrument on the Right to Development in addition to the formation of a Special Rapporteur mandate devoted to the issue.

The council’s resolution – although welcomed by countries in the Global South – was met with extreme reluctance by developed countries, whose delegates claimed the resolution unnecessarily duplicated the work of other mechanisms already put in place.

On Dec. 5, The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue and the Permanent Mission of the Government of Azerbaijan hosted a panel discussion on the rising debates surrounding the right to development in 2016. The core objective was to of emphasize the importance of granting a voice to the voiceless and most importantly, and the necessity of global solidarity as a means of eradicating underdevelopment.

The approach undertaken by the Geneva Centre and the government of Azerbaijan places civil society at the heart of the development process, as defined 30 years ago, in the 1986 declaration. The power of interconnected global communities knows no bounds, especially to build bridges between the developed and developing world, and ultimately, eliminate persistent North-South divides.

In his opening address, H. E. Dr. Hanif Al Qassim recognized the advancements in terms of development achieved over the past thirty years, but regretted that the ongoing violence, conflict and displacement were in contradiction with the vision expressed by the Declaration in 1986. He recalled that violence was trampling on both human rights and development, and encouraged the audience to use the opportunity of the debate to revitalize their commitments in this sense.

Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, Executive Director and moderator of the panel discussion, emphasized the importance of global solidarity in age of ongoing violence, corruption, economic crises, and most notably, mass displacement, the world over.

In his opening remarks, Ambsaddor Jazairy discussed the revitalization of a peaceful international community and called for the inclusion of the 1986 Declaration  in the International Bill of Human Rights.

“Development is a human and a peoples’ right. The individual is entitled to have the means to thrive professionally, and peoples have the right to break the chains of subordination to an unjust global order,” he said.

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Transgender Health Mon, 05 Dec 2016 16:14:56 +0000 Fawad Ali Shah By Fawad Ali Shah
Dec 5 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Two cases this year — that of a transgender person dying in a Peshawar hospital as healthcare providers deliberated over which ward to put her in; and of another who, after being diagnosed as HIV positive, was forced to live near a garbage dump until she died — highlight the insensitivity that prevails towards this marginalised community.

fawad-ali-shah_Exact numbers for Pakistan’s transgender population are not known. Media estimates range between 80,000 to 500,000, but this figures lack credibility given that the last national census was conducted in 1998 and did not account for a third gender.

While many civil society organisations have recently organised seminars and protests for the security of transgenders, they ignored the most important thing this community needs: access to healthcare.

Healthcare is a universal right, but across the world — particularly in Pakistan — transgender persons face barriers in accessing it. Nor am I referring exclusively to hormone and transition-related care; many face tremendous barriers when trying to access the healthcare system for common illnesses and injuries. In recent conversations with members of this community, they revealed that they often don’t access hospital services to avoid ridicule and discrimination.

The transgender community in Pakistan is underserved. They can’t access the education system; they can’t have regular jobs like those who identify themselves as either male or female. Their livelihoods often depend on dancing at weddings or as sex workers in the absence of other opportunities. Once they are over 45, many turn to begging. Due to the nature of their occupation, they are at high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. The government, unfortunately, has ignored their plight.

The government has ignored the plight of this community.

The barriers to accessing healthcare are multilayered. Discrimination from medical staff is the biggest hurdle. The recent case in Peshawar should have been a catalyst for improving transgenders’ healthcare access, but few took that incident seriously. The transgender person was shot eight times. She lay on a stretcher. However, instead of arranging for emergency treatment, the hospital staff passed derogatory remarks and allegedly even propositioned sex to her and her friends. She eventually died.

While the case received media attention, even that did not galvanise the healthcare sector into making the necessary changes for the transgender community. There are thousands of others like her.

Then we witnessed another side to the problem. Diagnosed HIV positive, a transgender person was evicted from her residence by her colleagues and friends. Her plight threw light on another type of barrier: lack of knowledge within the community. HIV/AIDS is a taboo issue, and while no one wants to be infected certain professions increase the risks of contracting it.

Even though the entire community is vulnerable to this, they deserted a friend who contracted it. It shows the lack of knowledge and empathy towards peers. Had they known that HIV is not contagious like the flu, and that their support could have helped increase her lifespan, they might have opted to help. Had they known that there are specialised HIV treatment centres, they might have saved her life by getting her the healthcare she needed.

It will take decades to change societal attitudes towards transgender people. However, the government must take some short-term steps to ensure that they can access healthcare with confidence.

This requires a two-pronged strategy. The first step is administrative. The government needs to create ‘safe zones’ in hospitals for transgender people, places they can easily access without feeling discriminated against. The government should provide them free healthcare, and initiate out¬¬reach programmes for free HIV and hepatitis testing. It must also pass laws to punish those who ridicule them or discri¬minate against them.

The second step should involving giving information and raising awareness about transgender persons, both outside and within the community. Doctors and nurses must undergo courses to sensitise them to transgender rights to ensure that they are well equipped to treat transgender patients while respecting their gender identity.

Hospitals should provide introductory short courses about the anatomy and unique medical needs of transgender people. The government and NGOs should collaborate on community-based projects for raising awareness on safe sex and sexually transmitted diseases, and transgender persons should be provided resources to help them access healthcare in case they note any symptoms of HIV.

The most important steps towards improving access to healthcare for the transgender community lies in the acknowledgment of its members as a third gender in the yet to be conducted census. The inclusion of transgenders in the survey will enable policymakers to better assess the healthcare needs of this marginalised community.

The writer is a PhD scholar specialising in health communications.
Twitter: @mianfawadshah
Published in Dawn December 4th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Rethinking trade policy and protectionism in the Trump era Mon, 05 Dec 2016 15:58:43 +0000 Martin Khor Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Dec 5 2016 (IPS)

What kind of trade policy will the United States have under President Donald Trump? This is a hot issue, as Trump has made unorthodox pronouncements on trade issues during and after the election campaign. If he acts on even some of the positions he took, it will create a sea change in trade policy in the US and possibly the world.

Trump has recently emphasised that he will take the US out of the Trans Pacific Partnership  Agreement (TPPA) on his first day of office, and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

He called them a disaster for the US.   He was probably referring to the claim that many of manufacturing jobs lost in the US in recent years were due to free trade agreements (FTAs) and the overseas relocation of US companies.  He is also probably blaming trade agreements for the US’ huge trade deficits.

Most economists however have a different view.  They attribute US job losses mainly to technological change.

There are legitimate fears that Trump’s “Put America First” slogan, when applied to trade, will lead to an increase in trade protectionism.

Trump has threatened to raise tariffs on products from China and Mexico by as much as 45%.   Trump in his campaign accused China of being a “currency manipulator”.    If a country is so labelled by the Treasury Department it could be grounds under US law to slap extra tariffs on its products.

President Obama came under pressure from many Congress members and economists to do just that, but he smartly resisted as he realised it would trigger a very nasty trade war with China.

Martin Khor. Credit: Nic Paget-Clarke

Martin Khor. Credit: Nic Paget-Clarke

It is possible Trump will also climb down from this populist stance once he is President.  For a start, China’s currency is not under-valued and currently its government is trying to prevent (not encourage) its currency from further sliding.

Secondly, taking trade action against China on currency grounds would be against the rules of WTO, and China should be able to successfully take a WTO case against the US for any such action.

Finally, China has warned it will retaliate if the US were to take protectionist actions.  An article in the Beijing-based Global Times spelled out how the  country would cancel its orders of Boeing aircraft, restrict US auto and I-phone sales in China and halt US soybean and maize imports, while a number of US industries would be impaired.

But if an across-the-board tariff hike is out of the question, the Trump administration is likely to consider taking more trade-remedy action on a range of products from China and other countries by claiming they are being dumped or unfairly subsidised.

There are loopholes in the WTO rules on trade remedies which have made these a favourite protectionist tool.  A country can slap on high tariffs against an imported good from another country by claiming its price is artificially low because it has been “dumped” (exported at a price lower than the domestic price) or unfairly subsidised by the state.

But if the exporting country complains and a WTO panel rules that the actions were wrongly taken, there is no penalty imposed against the offending country which is only asked to lift the tariff.  Meanwhile the aggrieved country has lost many years of export earnings.  Moreover, the same actions can again be taken against the same country, thus perpetuating the protection.

We may see a rise in such trade-remedy actions under President Trump, especially if he is counselled against taking the more blatant route of imposing an all-out tariff wall.

But we can also expect tit-for-tat counter-action of the same type by the affected countries, in a global spiral of protectionism.  That will be in nobody’s interest.

The new Trump presidency is also expected to usher in a major change in how the US (and eventually many other countries) will perceive free trade agreements.   Trump’s objection to the TTPA and NAFTA seems to be based on the issue of goods trade, that the template of these agreements seems to favour the exports of the partner countries at the expense of the US.

Trump said he would instead “negotiate fair bilateral deals that bring jobs and industry back.”  This appears to be neo-mercantilist and against the free-trade principle, but it is this kind of “America-first” populism that helped propel him to power.

If the new US policy moves in this direction, what is to prevent other countries from doing likewise?   “Free trade” or “fair trade” will be interpreted by each country in ways that favour it, and many of the present rules will have to be set aside.

However the FTAs are much more than trade, and they became unpopular with the public in the US and elsewhere not only because of the threat of cheap imports taking over the market of local producers, but also because of the non-trade issues that are embedded in most recent FTAs, including FTAs between developed countries, and those between developed and developing countries.

If the new US policy moves in this direction, what is to prevent other countries from doing likewise? “Free trade” or “fair trade” will be interpreted by each country in ways that favour it, and many of the present rules will have to be set aside.

One of these issues include investment rules aimed at liberalising foreign investment and financial flows, with an especially controversial section that gives rights to foreign investors to take cases and make claims against the host government in an international tribunal.

Another issue is the strengthening of intellectual property rules that favour multinational companies at the expense of local consumers.  A most unpopular effect is a tremendous rise in the cost of some patented medicines through the additional curbing of competition from cheaper generic drugs.

Other issues include the opening up government procurement to foreign firms on a national-treatment basis, thus reducing the share of local businesses in this huge sector;  the liberalisation of the services sectors, which for some countries may affect the cost of basic services that are normally performed by the public sector;  and, in the most recent FTAs, the establishment of new rules overseeing the policies and behaviour of state-owned enterprises.

The structure of this kind of North-South FTAs is mainly unfavourable to developing countries in general.  While a developing country can get some benefits on the trade component through better market access to the developed country, the non-trade issues are usually against their interests as the developed countries are far stronger and have the upper hand in the areas of investment, intellectual property, services and procurement.

However, civil society groups in the developed countries also find the non-trade issues against the public interest.  For example, the investor-state dispute system undermines the ability of these countries to set their own environmental or health policies, and the tighter intellectual property rules impede access to medicines and knowledge in these advanced countries as well.

Through the recent FTAs, sensitive areas and issues that were previously under the purview of the national government are now subjected to new and intrusive rules that cramp the space that countries (whether in the South or North) normally have to set their own policies.

Both the trade and non-trade issues have made the “trade agreements” highly controversial.  Civil society groups in developing countries have been expressing their concerns that the public interest and national sovereignty are being undermined.

At the same time, the public in developed countries, including in the US, Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, have become disillusioned and even outraged by the effects of the FTAs their governments signed or proposed.

The anti-FTA movement became so strong in the US that it helped boost the unexpectedly good showing by Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries, pressurised Hillary Clinton to pledge her  opposition to the TPP, and enabled Trump to ride on and add to the “anti-trade” emotions in his  campaign.

The heightened focus on trade policy during and after the US elections is a good time to review what works and what does not work for the public interest in trade agreements.

It is becoming clear that trade agreements have become overloaded with many issues that do not  belong to an agreement originally designed for trade in goods.

For example, there is a history and logic to the “non-discrimination” and “national treatment” principles established for trade in goods among countries, and even then there is a debate on the conditions under which the  application of these principles bring about mutual benefits  in trade.

The same principles and template are often inappropriate when applied to non-trade issues for which they were not designed.  Creating rules based on these principles and including them in trade agreements can lead to imbalances and unequal outcomes among the partners, and even adverse consequences for all the partners.

However in recent years the scope of trade agreements has grown to include more and more issues, to which the original trade principles have been applied, leading to more and more contention and unpopularity.

The overloaded agenda in FTAs gives trade a bad name, with people being confused between trade, trade policy and trade agreements.  Many people who are disgruntled with trade agreements also become unhappy with trade per se, and the benefits that trade can bring get mixed up with and overwhelmed by the contentious non-trade issues, and trade ends up being condemned as well.

It is important, at this moment of an imminent Trump presidency, to clarify the difference between trade and trade agreements, and to review the whole issue of trade policy.

A good outcome would be to design new agreements that are mutually beneficial in the trade aspect to all partners, whilst removing the controversial non-trade issues from the agenda.   And this could be part of a broader pro-development trade agenda.

But this is not likely to be the new agreements being envisaged by the Trump team. The danger is that these may be even worse than the existing ones.

We risk entering a new era where the US, and maybe some other developed countries as well,  are tempted to promote extreme trade protectionism, whilst retaining or expanding the unpopular non-trade issues in the trade agenda because it is in the interest of their corporations.

We might end up with a new type of “America first” agreements, in which a Trump administration  ensures that the US can curb imports whilst championing its exports, thus reducing the trade benefits to its  partners;  while at  the same time strengthening the rules in non-trade issues like intellectual property and liberalising financial services that favour US corporations but are against the partners’ interests.

That would be the worst of both worlds, at least for developing countries.

It is thus crucial for policy makers and thinkers in developing countries  to rethink what kind of trade is good for their economies, what kind of trade policy would correspond to that positive trade performance, and what kind of trade agreements would be good to have and which types should be avoided.

It is also time to rethink the role of the World Trade Organisation and reaffirm the priority of developing a balanced and pro-development multilateral trading system.  If (and that is a big if) the WTO could evolve into such an ideal system, there would be no need or less need for bilateral trade agreements.


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A Deterrent to Regional Development Mon, 05 Dec 2016 15:56:48 +0000 Fahmida Khatun By Fahmida Khatun
Dec 5 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Following the end of almost fifty years of military rule in Myanmar and the release of the Nobel Laureate leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2011, the world had looked at the country with much enthusiasm. The quasi-civilian new government brought some hope for the country to return to democracy as well as economic progress. Even with rich natural resources including land, forests, minerals, oil and gas, the country remained poor and could achieve a per capita income of only USD 1,197 in 2011. So once freed from the military regime, with a view to modernise its economy, Myanmar embraced economic openness and initiated reforms in areas such as currency exchange rates, taxation, foreign investment laws and anti-corruption. Several countries, including those which isolated the nation through economic sanctions such as the US and the European Union, saw opportunities to rebuild economic ties with Myanmar. Political leaders from the US, Europe, Japan, Australia, China, India, Thailand, Bangladesh and many other countries flew in, investors rushed and businessmen flocked into the country to explore its untapped resources. International endorsements revived the country’s confidence and growth prospects. Its GDP grew by more than 7 percent in the last couple of years.

oped-deterrent_to_regional_The victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in the election of November 2015 was considered to be another step towards re-establishment of the democratic process in the country. Unfortunately, this has not changed the political ideology of the country when it comes to dealing with the Rohingya minority. Suu Kyi’s upper hand in Myanmar’s politics has not changed the old image of a nation violent against the Rohingya population. In recent times, the unspeakable atrocities against the Rohingya population in the Rakhine state by the security forces of Myanmar have reinforced this image. Shockingly, while the world watches with horror as Myanmar’s army shoot innocent people, burn their houses and abuse women and children, Suu Kyi, the icon of democracy and human rights remains a quiet spectator of this brutality.

The Muslim Rohingya population has long been marginalsied. They are the poorest community of Myanmar, with little or no health, education and other basic facilities. They are a stateless ethnic minority, as they are not even recognised officially. They are denied citizenship, even though they were born and have been living in Myanmar for generations. Tellingly, some Buddhist monks, who are generally perceived to be non-violent and do not support killing, also take part in this abuse of the Rohingyas. Had such a crime been committed by a majority Muslim community, they would have been immediately branded ‘terrorists’ or human rights abusers, and taken to task by the international community. The cruelty of Buddhist monks only reiterates that extremism has nothing to do with religion. It can take root in anyone with an extreme sense of nationalism and intolerance.

Bangladesh has a 193-kilometres long border with Myanmar. Being its next door neighbour, Bangladesh bears the brunt of Myanmar’s brutality against Rohingyas. Thousands of Rohingyas have already entered Bangladesh. Several thousand others are waiting to cross to this side. From a humanitarian point of view, we cannot close our border. But Bangladesh itself is a poor and populous country with limited capacity. It requires both financial and managerial capacity to deal with the pressure of such large inflows of Rohingya refugees. Repatriation of these refugees will require political and economic efforts. There are security issues as well.

From 1978-79 and 1992-94, Bangladesh had to deal with a similar situation. And the flow of Rohingyas into Bangladesh and their illegal residence here has continued. Desperation has led them to disguise their identity. Several Burmese are working in Saudi Arabia as Bangladeshi labourers, and thus Bangladesh runs the risk of being liable for any unwanted acts of those migrants.

Myanmar should not take Bangladesh’s magnanimity for granted, and continue to push Rohingyas here. If Myanmar wants to prosper and be part of regional and sub-regional initiatives, it has to change its perspective and make place for all its ethnic groups and treat them equally.

Bangladesh is also connected with Myanmar through various sub-regional cooperation initiatives. These include the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) launched in 1997, and the Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor initiative launched in 1999. Both these initiatives have high potential for economic advancement in the region through greater market access for goods and services, investment in infrastructure development, energy cooperation and higher connectivity. The BIMSTEC region has a GDP of about USD 2.7 trillion and a population size of around 3.1 billion. The BCIM sub-region, with a population of about 2.8 billion, has potential for intra-regional trade equivalent to USD 125 billion.

Till now, none of these initiatives have taken off in a meaningful way due to lack of political commitment. With political relationships getting worse due to violence against Rohingyas, there is little hope of an improved situation. After all, regional economic cooperation cannot take place in a void. Peace and security are preconditions for regional success. Two giant Asian economies, India and China, have active interest in both Bangladesh and Myanmar. It is time for them to play their role to uphold the spirit of humanity. For decades, Myanmar has either ignored or refused to sign various international treaties that protect human rights, such as the United Nations Convention against Torture, and thus, it has found a convenient excuse to get away with such humanitarian crimes. It is also therefore time for the international community to take actions to stop such barbarism against innocent Rohingyas.

The writer is Research Director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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