Inter Press Service » Crime & Justice News and Views from the Global South Wed, 24 Aug 2016 15:51:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Tracing War Missing Still a Dangerous Quest in Sri Lanka Wed, 24 Aug 2016 15:51:46 +0000 Amantha Perera The Sri Lankan government has acknowledged that there could be as many as 65,000 people missing following three decades of civil war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The Sri Lankan government has acknowledged that there could be as many as 65,000 people missing following three decades of civil war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MANNAR, Aug 24 2016 (IPS)

As Sri Lanka readies to begin the grim task of searching for thousands of war missing, those doing the tracing on the ground say that they still face intimidation and threats while doing their work.

The government will set up the Office for Missing Persons (OMP) by October following its ratification in parliament earlier this month. The office, the first of its kind, is expected to coordinate a nationwide tracing programme."We don’t even have an identification card that says we are doing this kind of work." -- Ravi Kumar, Volunteer Tracing Coordinator in the Northern Mannar District

However, officers with the Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRC), which currently has an operational tracing programme, tell IPS that it is still difficult to trace those who went missing during combat, especially if they are linked to any armed group.

“It is a big problem,” said one SLRC official who was detained by the military for over three hours when he made contact with the family of a missing person whose relatives in India had sent in a tracing request.

“The family in India did not know, I did not know, that he was a high-ranking member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The moment I went to his house to seek information, the military was outside,” said the official, who declined to be named. He was later interrogated about why he was seeking such information and who he was working for.

The official told IPS that as there was no national programme endorsed by the government to trace war missing, security personnel were unlikely to allow such work, especially in the former conflict zone in the North East, where there is a large security presence since the war’s end in May 2009.

However, the Secretariat for Coordination of Reconciliation Mechanism and Office for National Unity and Reconciliation both said that once the envisaged OMP is set up, the government was likely to push ahead with a tracing programme. The draft bill for the office includes provisions for witness and victim protection.

War-related missing has been a contentious issue since Sri Lanka’s war ended seven years ago. A Presidential Commission on the Missing sitting since 2013 has so far recorded over 20,000 complaints, including those of 5,000 missing members from government forces.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has so far recorded over 16,000 complaints on missing persons since 1989. The 2011 Report of the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka said that over 40,000 had gone missing.

In 2015, a study by a the University Teachers for Human Rights from the University of Jaffna in the North said that they suspected that the missing figure could be over 90,000 comparing available population figures.

After years of resistance, in 2014 the then Mahinda Rajapaksa government gave the ICRC permission to conduct the first ever island-wide survey of the needs of the families of the missing. The report was released in July and concluded, “the Assessment revealed that the highest priority for the families is to know the fate and whereabouts of their missing relative(s), including circumstantial information related to the disappearance.”

ICRC officials said that it was playing an advisory role to the government on setting up the tracing mechanism. “The government of Sri Lanka received favourably a proposal by the ICRC to assist the process of setting up a mechanism to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people and to comprehensively address the needs of their families, by sharing its experience from other contexts and its technical expertise on aspects related to the issue of missing people and their families,” ICRC spokesperson Sarasi Wijeratne said.

The SLRC in fact has an ongoing tracing programme active in all 25 districts dating back over three decades. “Right now most of the tracing work is related to those who have been separated due to migration,” Kamal Yatawera, the head of the tracing unit said. It has altogether traced over 12,000 missing persons, the bulk separated due to migration or natural disasters.

However, the SLRC is currently not engaged in tracing war related missing unless notified by family members, which happens rarely. “But we do look for people who have been separated or missing due to the conflict, especially those who fled to India,” said Ravi Kumar, Volunteer Tracing Coordinator in the Northern Mannar District. He has traced four such cases out of the 10 that had been referred to him since last December.

He added that tracing work would be easier if there was a government-backed programme. “Now we don’t even have an identification card that says we are doing this kind of work. If there was government sanction, then we can reach out to the public machinery, now we are left to go from house to house, asking people.”

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The Lesser Sex Wed, 24 Aug 2016 14:22:39 +0000 Rose Delaney2 The threat of violence knows no bounds for women and young girls in Bangladesh.

The threat of violence knows no bounds for women and young girls in Bangladesh.

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Aug 24 2016 (IPS)

Sakina’s  glare is empty. Her defeated, glassy eyes scan the room passively. The subdued silence and withered frame expose her fragility.

As a young girl, she endured both the physical and emotional trauma that had aged her into a state of lifelessness.

Sakina’s childhood innocence had already been ruthlessly beaten away. She was only 12 years old.

Sakina’s expressionless stare showed indestructible detachment.

As hard as a rock, her inner turmoil had obligated her to push her emotions aside and live in a state of heartless survival.

However, once encouraged to voice the perils of her childhood, Sakina’s face softened.

The gushes of tears that flooded her eyes remind one of a  coursing river that has burst at its banks, wild, chaotic and finally free of limitations.

Sakina  articulated her experience of what can be considered years of irreversible trauma and abuse in her family home in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

“I remember my mother’s crushing custom of spitting venom. Her vicious words wounded me more than the beatings.  Somehow, her malicious remarks  always seemed to cut deeper than the whip.”

However, the root of Sakina’s abuse is not founded in ignorance or poverty.

The cause of her mother’s fury stemmed in her being a “kalluni”, a dark-skinned girl. She would never fare well in  a marriage market  so focused on the South Asian standard of “fair” beauty.

In spite of having grown up in a privileged manner,  attended to by dozens of servants in a household  of plenty, violence was  rife within the four walls of what appeared to be “paradise” for those who could not look inside.

“I recall being locked in the bathroom for 2 days , deprived of food and water as a punishment for my disobedience. Most of the time, I felt like ending my life in that suffocating bathroom, I couldn’t take it any longer.” Sakina said.

The grotesque image of my blood spattered on the wall will never leave me
When she was not being made to starve or dehydrate, she endured severe physical punishment under the wrath of both her mother and father, her younger brother never failing to report on the shame she brought on to the family  once he discovered Sakina’s exchange of love notes with a local boy.

“There is one nightmarish memory that refuses to leave my mind. I shudder in fear when I think  of it. It comes back to me in the form of a recurring dream, my mother’s snarling expression as she  takes out a one and a half metre long whip , freshly chiselled from the branch of a “kadam” tree, thrashing me with it mercilessly, for hours on end.”

She paused to compose herself.

“The grotesque image of my blood spattered on the wall will never leave me” she stated.

Although  Sakina’s tragic story happened over five decades ago, has Bangladesh made any radical change for the better in terms of female security and development?

It appears the great lengths the local government has gone to eradicate violence against women and young girls have not stretched far enough.

Even today, cases of abuse and violence against women and girls are  commonplace  in male-dominated Bangladeshi society.

Recently, a woman was reported to have been caned 101 times in rural community in Bangladesh for what was considered to be a shameless “extramarital affair” by the local village arbitration committee.

In reality, the “affair” was a case of breaking and entering as the woman shamefully  labelled “adulteress” fought off a neighbor who entered her home by force.

In spite of this violation of privacy and act of male-perpetrated violence, the woman as the “weak” scapegoat was obligated to take the blame for the man’s reckless  behaviour.

As a direct consequence, she was relentlessly beaten in the presence of 400 villagers. The final court ruling obligated her husband to conduct the caning.

Readers  of the Daily Star Bangladesh report commented on the sheer barbarity and sexism of the caning as the  male perpetrator of the attack’s sole punishment was 20 lashes.

Young women and girls in Bangladesh are punished for the crime of being the “lesser sex” on a daily basis. They are pushed into child marriages, slain for dowry and subjected to severe familial and marital acts of  gender-based violence.

In many ways, young girls and women are seen as nothing more than “financial burdens” on the family.

There is far less investment in education and healthcare for young girls and women across Bangladesh and once they reach puberty, their mobility is heavily restricted.

As the high number of child marriage, gender-based acts of violence and adolescent motherhood soars, it is clear this growth surpasses the setbacks of social disparity and lack of education.

The UNICEF country programme document states that in spite of significant progress in the reduction of poverty and  gender equity in the education system up to secondary level, gender bias still exists.

The   document emphasises that “the low socio-economic status of women is reflected in the poor health services provided to them, their inadequate food intake and their limited decision-making authority. Early marriage, dowry practices and sexual harassment, as well as violence against children and women continue because of social acceptance and gender norms”.

In this sense, Sakina, in spite of her prestigious family name and affluent background, is just as much a victim of violent brutality as the isolated village woman who was mercilessly caned.

In South Asia and elsewhere, ruthless violence against young women knows no bounds, it unleashes itself in  all classes of society, from the marginalised to the elite, like a  threatening plague.

In most cases, the abuse is rooted in the home where girls decision-making power is most limited.  Women’s  “intrinsic role” relegates  them into a position of subservience.

Violence within the home perpetrated by women who target other vulnerable young women and girls, much like in the case of Sakina and her abusive mother, are by far the most difficult cases to tackle as few have the courage to condemn and speak out against the actions of their own families.

In a recent research study, more than half of women interviewed aged between 15-49 experienced some form of physical or sexual violence in their homes.

Ironically, UNICEF has reported that even in the wealthiest quintile of society,  13 percent of girls are underweight, possibly due to food deprivation as a form of punishment.

Acid throwing, whipping, and sexual harassment are also common forms of violence perpetrated against women and young girls.

The rampant culture of violence and abuse has led many young women to contemplate suicide, as UNICEF reports suicide to be most common among girls aged between 14 and 17 in Bangladesh.

The need to implement gender-equal initiatives with the outcome of delimiting women and young girls mobility is vital. Through innovative education, the perpetrator of violence in Bangladesh will benefit just as much as the victim.

Through the widespread implementation of  anti-violence initiatives, those most affected by abuse will come to realise that brutal castigation is by no means embedded in the national culture, nor is it an acceptable manner of monitoring and “controlling” female behaviour.

It is time women in Bangladesh and elsewhere speak out in the face of violence and realise that the open condemnation of abuse is key to addressing the entrenched discrimination against women and girls that dominate the nation.

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US, EU Accused of Paying Lip Service to Global Arms Treaty Mon, 22 Aug 2016 19:06:32 +0000 Thalif Deen The non-violence knotted gun statue at UN headquarters in NYC. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

The non-violence knotted gun statue at UN headquarters in NYC. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

By Thalif Deen

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which was aimed at curbing the flow of small arms and light weapons to war zones and politically-repressive regimes, is being openly violated by some of the world’s arms suppliers, according to military analysts and human rights organizations.

The ongoing conflicts and civil wars in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Ukraine are being fueled by millions of dollars in arms supplies – mostly from countries that have either signed or ratified the ATT, which came into force in December 2014.

Dr. Natalie Goldring, UN Consultant for the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, told IPS: “The Arms Trade Treaty is incredibly important. Put simply, if fully implemented, it has the potential to save lives.”

But if implementation is not robust, the risk is that “business as usual” will continue, resulting in continued violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, she warned.

“Recent and proposed arms sales by States Parties and signatories to the ATT risk undermining the treaty,” said Dr Goldring, who has closely monitored the 20 year long negotiations for the ATT, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in April 2013.

The reported violations of the international treaty have coincided with a weeklong meeting in Geneva, beginning August 22 through August 26, of ATT’s second Conference of States Parties (CSP).

Recent reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Control Arms, Forum on Arms Trade and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) document the continued transfer of conventional weapons that may be used to violate international humanitarian and human rights law.

Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International, said the ATT has the potential to save millions of lives, which makes it especially alarming when states who have signed or even ratified the treaty seem to think they can continue to supply arms to forces known to commit and facilitate war crimes, and issue export licenses even where there is an overriding risk the weapons will contribute to serious human rights violations.

“There must be zero tolerance for states who think they can just pay lip service to the ATT.”

“The US government’s response to apparent Saudi bombings of civilian targets is to sell them more weapons? This makes no sense." -- Natalie Goldring

He said the need for more effective implementation is painfully obvious: “from Yemen to Syria to South Sudan, every day children are being killed and horribly maimed by bombs, civilians are threatened and detained at gunpoint, and armed groups are committing abuses with weapons produced by countries who are bound by the treaty,” he noted.

Providing a list of “unscrupulous arms transfers,” Amnesty International pointed out that the US, which has signed the ATT, and European Union (EU) member states who have ratified it, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France and Italy, have continued to lavish small arms, light weapons, ammunition, armoured vehicles and policing equipment on Egypt, “despite a brutal crackdown on dissent by the authorities which has resulted in the unlawful killing of hundreds of protesters, thousands of arrests and reports of torture by detainees since 2013.”

In 2014, France issued export licences that again included sophisticated Sherpa armoured vehicles used by security forces to kill hundreds of protesters at the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit in just a year earlier.

Arms procured from ATT signatories have also continued to fuel bloody civil wars, the London-based human rights organization said.

In 2014, Amnesty International said, Ukraine approved the export of 830 light machine guns and 62 heavy machine guns to South Sudan.

Six months after signing the ATT, Ukrainian authorities issued an export licence on 19 March 2015 to supply South Sudan with an undisclosed number of operational Mi-24 attack helicopters.

Three of those attack helicopters are currently in service with South Sudan government forces, and they are reportedly awaiting the delivery of another.

Additionally, in March 2015 the US State Department approved possible military sales of equipment and logistical support to Saudi Arabia worth over $24 billion, and between March 2015 and June 2016, the UK approved the export of £3.4 billion (approximately $4.4 billion) worth of arms to Saudi Arabia.

“These approvals were given when the Saudi Arabia-led coalition was carrying out continuous, indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes and ground attacks on civilians in Yemen, some of which may amount to war crimes,” Amnesty International said in a statement released August 22.

Jeff Abramson of the Forum on the Arms Trade said the Geneva meeting takes place during a time of ongoing conflict and controversy over the responsible transfer and use of conventional weapons.

He said key topics that may be addressed, either formally or informally, include better promoting transparency in the arms trade and arming of Saudi Arabia, in light of the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen — including recent US notification of possible tank sales to Riyadh

Dr Goldring told IPS the US government recently proposed to sale of 153 M1A2 Abrams tanks to Saudi Arabia.

She said the written notification of the proposed sale notes that 20 of the tanks are intended as “battle damage replacements for their existing fleet.”

As Brookings Institution Scholar Bruce Riedel has noted, the Saudis are only using tanks in combat along the Saudi-Yemeni border.

“The US government’s response to apparent Saudi bombings of civilian targets is to sell them more weapons? This makes no sense. This is part of a pattern of continued arms transfers taking place despite a high risk that they will be used to violate international human rights and humanitarian law,. ” declared Dr Goldring.

She said States parties to the ATT are required to address the risks of diversion or misuse of the weapons they provide. But if this criteria are taken seriously, it’s virtually impossible to justify continued weapons deals with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Countries without strong export control systems have argued that it will take time to fully implement the ATT, while other countries such as the United States have domestic impediments to ratifying the treaty.

But one of the treaty’s strengths, Dr Goldring, argued is its specification of conditions under which arms transfers should be blocked. States do not have to wait for ratification or accession to the treaty to begin implementing such standards.

“The ATT is a new treaty, but we can’t afford to ‘ease into’ it. While we discuss the treaty, lives are being lost around the world. We need to aggressively implement the ATT from the start,” Dr Goldring said.

Another important issue in full implementation of the ATT, she noted, is making the global weapons trade transparent, so that citizens can understand the commitments their governments are making in their names.

“Governments should not be transferring weapons unless they are willing to take responsibility for them. Their opposition to openness and transparency raises questions about what they’re trying to hide,” she added.

But in the end, although it’s important to bring transparency to the discussion of these issues, the real issue is whether the transfers are being controlled. Recent sales raise significant concerns in this regard, Dr Goldring said.

“The Conference of States Parties that is being held this week in Geneva presents a critical opportunity to face these issues. To strengthen the Arms Trade Treaty, the conference must focus on this key substantive concern of the risks entailed in continuing business as usual. States should not allow their attention to be diverted to process issues,” said Dr Goldring who is currently participating in the Geneva meeting,

The writer can be contacted at

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Peruvians Say “No!” to Violence Against Women Tue, 16 Aug 2016 14:13:15 +0000 Aramis Castro A group of demonstrators with black crosses, symbolising the victims of femicide in Peru and other countries of Latin America, march down a street in the centre of Lima during an Aug. 13 march against gender violence. Credit: Noemí Melgarejo/IPS

A group of demonstrators with black crosses, symbolising the victims of femicide in Peru and other countries of Latin America, march down a street in the centre of Lima during an Aug. 13 march against gender violence. Credit: Noemí Melgarejo/IPS

By Aramis Castro
LIMA, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Peruvians took to the streets en masse to reject violence against women, in what was seen as a major new step in awareness-raising in the country that ranks third in the world in terms of domestic sexual violence.

The Saturday Aug. 13 march in Lima and simultaneous protests held in nearly a dozen other cities and towns around the country, includingCuzco, Arequipa and Libertad,was a reaction tolenient court sentences handed down in cases of femicide – defined as the violent and deliberate killing of a woman – rape and domestic violence.

The case that sparked the demonstrations was that of Arlette Contreras, who was beaten in July 2015 by her then boyfriendin the southern city of Ayacucho, Adriano Pozo, in an attack that was caught on hotel cameras.“We want justice; we want the attackers, rapists and murderers to go to jail. We want the state to offer us, the victims, safety.” -- Arlette Contreras

Despite the evidence – the footage of the attack – Pozo, the son of a local politician, was merely given a one-year suspended sentence for rape and attempted femicide, because of “mitigating factors”: the fact that he was drunk and jealous. When a higher court upheld the sentence in July, the prosecutor described the decision as “outrageous”.

“We want justice; we want the attackers, rapists and murderers to go to jail. We want the state to offer us, the victims, safety,” Contreras told IPS during the march to the palace of justice in Lima, which was headed by victims and their families.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Peru is in second place in Latin America in terms of gender-based killings, and in a multi-country study on sexual intimate partner violence, it ranked third.

“Enough!”, “The judiciary, a national disgrace”, “You touch one of us, you touch us all”were some of the chants repeated during the march, in which some 100,000 people took part according to the organisers of the protest, which emerged over the social networks and was not affiliated with any political party or movement, although President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski and members of his government participated.

Entire families took part, especially the relatives of victims of femicide, who carried signs with photos and the names of the women who have beenkilled and their attackers.

“My daughter was killed, but they only gave her murderer six months of preventive detention,” said Isabel Laines, carrying a sign with a photo of her daughter. She told IPS she had come from the southern department of Ica, over four hours away by bus, to join the protest in Lima.

Other participants in the march were families and victims of forced sterilizations carried out under the government of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000). In 2002, a parliamentary investigation commission estimated that more than 346,000 women were sterilised against their will between 1993 and 2000.

In late June, the public prosecutor’s office ruled that Fujimori and his three health ministers were not responsible for the state policy of mass forced sterilisations, and recommended that individual doctors be charged instead.

The ruling enraged those demanding justice and reparations for the thousands of victims of forced sterilization, who are mainly poor, indigenous women.

Over the social networks, the sense of outrage grew as victims told their stories and discovered others who had undergone similar experiences, under the hashtags #YoNoMeCallo (I won’t keep quiet) and #NiUnaMenos (Not one less – a reference to the victims of femicide).

“After seeing the video of Arlette (Contreras), and the indignation when her attacker went free, a group of us organised over Facebook and we started a chat,” one of the organisers of the march and the group Ni UnaMenos, Natalia Iguíñiz, told IPS.

In the first half of this year alone, there were 54 femicides and 118 attempted femicides in Peru, according to the Women’s Ministry. The statistics also indicate that on average 16 people are raped every day in this country.

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynskitook part in the march against gender violence in Peru, where 54 femicides and 118 attempted femicides were committed in the first half of 2016 alone. Credit: Presidency of Peru

President Pedro Pablo Kuczynskitook part in the march against gender violence in Peru, where 54 femicides and 118 attempted femicides were committed in the first half of 2016 alone. Credit: Presidency of Peru

Between 2009 and 2015, 795 women were the victims of gender-based killings, 60 percent of them between the ages of 18 and 34.

Women’s rights organisations complain that up to now, Peruvian society has been tolerant of gender violence, and they say opinion polls reflect this.

In a survey carried out by the polling company Ipsos in Lima before the march, 41 percent of the women interviewed said Peru was not safe at all for women and 74 percent said they lived in a sexist society.

Meanwhile, 53 percent of men and women surveyed believed, for example, that if a woman wears a mini-skirt it is her fault if she is harassed in public areas, and 76 percent believe a man should be forgiven if he beats his wife for being unfaithful.

Since Kuczynski took office on Jul. 28, the issue of gender violence has been put on the public agenda and different political leaders have called for measures to be taken, such as gender-sensitive training for judicial officers and police, to strengthen enforcement of laws in cases of violence against women.

“The problem of gender violence is that the silence absorbs the blows and it’s not easy for people to report,” said the president before participating in the march along with several ministers, legislators and other authorities.

Iguíñiz said the march represented the start of a new way of tackling the phenomenon of violence against women in Peru, and added that the momentum of the citizen mobilisation would be kept up, with further demonstrations and other activities.

“Thousands of people are organising. We’re a small group that proposes a few basic things, but there are a lot of groups working culturally, in their neighbourhoods, in thousands of actions that are being taken at a national level: districts, vocational institutes, different associations,” she said.

In her view, the call for people to get involved “has had such a strong response because it is so broad.”

The movement Ni Una Menoshas organised previous demonstrations against violence against women in other Latin American countries, like Argentina, where a mass protest was held in the capital in June 2015.

“We are in coordination with people involved in the group in other countries,” said Iguíñiz.“We’re going to create a platform for petitions but we’re planning to do it at a regional level, in all of the countries of Latin America.”

The private Facebook group “Ni UnaMenos: movilización ya” (Not one less: mobilisation now), which started organising the march in July, now has some 60,000 members, and was the main coordinator of the demonstrations, although conventional media outlets and human rights groups later got involved as well.

In addition, hundreds of women who have suffered abuse, sexual attacks or harassment at work began to tell their stories online, in an ongoing process.

Peruvians abroad held activities in support of the march in cities like Barcelona, Geneva, London, Madrid and Washington.

With reporting by Alicia Tovar and Jaime Vargas in Lima

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Let’s Improve Our Global Ranking on Impunity Fri, 12 Aug 2016 20:31:53 +0000 Isabel Ongpin By MA. Isabel Ongpin
Aug 12 2016 (Manila Times)

After my remarks on impunity last week, a friend brought to my attention a disturbing study on Impunity (via InterAksyon), showing that among 59 countries, the Philippines led in the Global Impunity Index.

MA. Isabel Ongpin

MA. Isabel Ongpin

The simple definition of impunity, as well as the common overall perception of it, is that
wrongdoers are not brought to justice.

The so-called Global Impunity Index has been drawn up after extensive recent research by the Impunity and Justice Research Center of the Universidad de las Americas, a private university in Pueblas, Mexico.

The study focused on 59 countries out of 193 United Nations members. Only 59 were included because of the unavailability of updated information from the rest.

Sadly, the Philippines led the Global Impunity Index among the 59 countries studied, at 80 percent. It was followed by Mexico (where Universidad de las Americas is situated) at 75.7 percent, Colombia at 75.6 percent, Turkey 68.7 percent, Russia 67.3 percent. At the opposite end, meaning the countries low in the Impunity Index, were Croatia at 27.5 percent, Slovenia 28.2 percent, Czech Republic 34.8 percent, Montenegro 34.9 percent, Bulgaria 37.5 percent. In between were South Korea 63.3 percent, US 56.4 percent, Japan 49.3 percent, Spain 53.6 percent, Singapore 46.4 percent, Germany 43.1 percent.

The study divided impunity into three dimensions – security, justice and human rights – and used 14 factors to measure them. Alas, the Philippines did not show good results in any. Five factors related to problems of security, which are not so much how many policemen are in the streets but how they carry out their operations. We have seen and experienced the errors of law enforcement here as we speak, which redounds to the capacity and preparation of the police in particular.

Another five factors related to justice in reference to its administration and delivery. Here the low rate of judges to citizens resulting in delay in the delivery of justice (surely including the venality within the system) explains the high levels of impunity that are present and perceived. Under these circumstances, wrongdoers just game the justice system and impunity results.

The last four factors refer to human rights, of which clear violations are witnessed daily in the implementation of the law or keeping order. Recent events, particularly those showing the dismal attention and respect of human rights in law enforcement show that they are under siege here.

The interesting conclusion of the study is that corruption stems from impunity, not the other way around. People become corrupt when they know they can get away with it.

Having good laws are not enough. They must be implemented firmly, even-handedly and in a timely fashion. Furthermore, inequality, not wealth, fuels impunity. Countries of unequal economic levels are the ones who fail to give equal access to security and justice. Comparatively, countries with medium and high levels of human development (less stark levels of inequality) perform better.

With the above study’s conclusions showing our level of impunity, we, as a society, must demand equality from all authority be it from schools, the police, business, the judiciary, legislators, basic services, all government agencies, including ourselves, that we implement the rules that we have in place and dispense justice according to their letter and spirit.

We cannot accept being the leading country for impunity. Public opinion has to come out strongly in various ways to demand reform. We cannot tolerate that perpetrators, for example the media killers, are not brought to account, that law enforcement officers or any authorities are ineffective against these repeated crimes that go unpunished (the definition of impunity).

In these cases and in all others regarding law violators, criminal cases must be filed and disposed of as the law requires – on time and in fairness. Administrative and disciplinary rules are not exempt from enforcement with neither fear nor favor. Accused wrongdoers must face timely investigation, arrest, trial and punishment if found guilty. And reparations must be given to the victims be it persons or the state.

There may be worst-case scenarios of impunity out there among the 80 plus countries that were not studied because they did not give enough data to be included in the research. But for now we must bear the burden and accept the challenge to turn things around from having the worst “structure of the security system” and “the security system of human rights.”

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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Iran: Children at the Gallows Fri, 12 Aug 2016 15:11:46 +0000 Rose Delaney2 At least 160 youths under the age of 18 currently await execuion in Iran. Credit: IPS

At least 160 youths under the age of 18 currently await execuion in Iran. Credit: IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Aug 12 2016 (IPS)

As Iran currently executes the highest number of juvenile offenders in the world, hundreds of Iranian minors helplessly watch their childhoods pass them by as they await their fatal ends behind bars.

Shockingly, rights groups have reported that Iran has executed at least 230 people since the beginning of 2016.

Whilst the majority of countries worldwide are fighting for the eradication of capital punishment against adults, Iran continues to sentence girls as young as 9 and boys aged 15 to death.

According to a recent report issued by Amnesty International, at least 160 young Iranians currently await execution.

Whilst Iran is a major perpetrator in this human rights violation against minors, a host of countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen uphold Iran’s belief that the death penalty is an acceptable form of punishment for “devious” minors.

The death penalty for minors in Iran is invoked by what are considered to be “Hodud crimes”. “Hodud” refers to offenses which have fixed definitions and punishments under Islamic law.

For example, those engaged in the practices of alcohol consumption, adultery, and same-sex fornication will, in most cases, face the grave consequence of death.

Iran’s brutal stance on the death penalty was brought to the fore this August as Human Rights Watch reported on the mass execution of 20 felons in Iran’s Rajai Shahr prison on August 2nd.

Whilst a score of “criminals” were put to death this month , Alireza Tajiki , managed to narrowly escape his final execution date of August 3rd.

Alireza, now 19, was sentenced to death at the tender age of 15, following a trial that did not meet international standards of justice by any means.

Thankfully, the young Iranian evaded execution due to the support of a lawyer. However, the postponement is only temporary.

Alireza, who has been convicted of rape and murder, is one of the hundreds of young Iranians to be sent to the gallows for what Iran considers to be “the most serious” of crimes.

Hassan Afshar, arrested at 17 and convicted of “forced male to male intercourse” did not share the same luck as Alireza.

On July 18, Amnesty International reported the hanging of Hassan by Iranian authorities. He had no access to a lawyer.

Drug-related crimes are also amongst the host of “atrocities” to be deemed punishable by death.

Janat Mir, a young Afghani residing in Iran was arrested for drug offenses after his friend’s house was raided by local police.

Similar to the vast majority of young people in his grave situation, he could not avail of legal protection or consular services.

He is said to have been 14 or 15-years-old when he was mercilessly executed in 2014.

Unfortunately, many convicted youths in Iran find themselves trapped in similarly hopeless situations to those described above.

The most alarming issue is that Iranian minors are, for the most part, blindly unaware of their rights to a fair trial.

Although a progressive path was paved when the Iran Supreme Court announced that youths sentenced to death could apply for a retrial, this reform did not leave the impact it should have.

While the official policy has been amended and undertaken, an underlying problem persists; the vast majority of incarcerated children are kept in the dark on their right to a retrial.

Even though a revised Islamic Penal Code was introduced in 2013 wherein children who “did not comprehend the nature of their crime” or who lacked “mental growth and maturity” during the criminal act could be given an alternative punishment to the death penalty, the code does not meet Iran’s international obligations.

No judge or courts, under any circumstances, should have the authority to sentence juvenile offenders to death.

In this way, Iran has consistently failed to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, by neither protecting nor informing minors of their rights and also refusing to put an end to the death penalty for minors.

Ironically, Iran often denies confining and subsequently executing young offenders.

In April 2014, the Head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, stated: “In the Islamic Republic of Iran, we have no execution of people under the age of 18.”

In this sense, it remains evident that the Iranian judicial system demonstrates a blatant disregard of its human rights obligations to children.

James Lynch, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, emphasised his belief that “Iran’s bloodstained record of sending juvenile offenders to the gallows, routinely after grossly unfair trials, makes an absolute mockery of juvenile justice and shamelessly betrays the commitments Iran has made to children’s rights.”

In many ways, the amendment of the 2013 Islamic Penal Code is the fundamental key to achieving child development and juvenile justice in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Penal code must be altered in order to explicitly prohibit the use of the death penalty for all crimes committed by people under 18 years of age, increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility for girls to that for boys, which is currently set at 15, and ensure that no individual under 18 years of age is held culpable as an adult, in line with Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Now, it is time for the world to call for a reform of the Islamic Penal Code.

The justice, freedom, and fundamental human rights Iran’s children behind bars have been so mercilessly denied of must be put to an almighty halt.

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History and Society in the Shaping of Terrorism Today Wed, 10 Aug 2016 15:55:53 +0000 Ahrar Ahmad “The past is never dead. It's not even past”. - William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun]]>

“The past is never dead. It's not even past”. - William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

By Ahrar Ahmad
Aug 10 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Among the anxieties, fears and confusions generated by the grisly tragedy that occurred on July 1 at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, one refrain was fairly consistent – how could some young men, presumably from relatively affluent and educated families, not only become radicalised but also engage in the horrific, detached, surreal brutality through which they killed their victims. The sheer wickedness of some young men repeatedly, deliberately, cold-heartedly hacking, stabbing and decapitating people to death, left us traumatized. How COULD they? Their brutality became the story, and our response reflected the worldwide horror and disgust at the tactics used by terrorists of their particular ilk.

history_and_society_450But, cruelty is not new to human history. Biblical stories and ancient texts indicate a dark and sinister side that lurks just below the surface, and can be summoned quite easily. The books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy describe entire groups of people who had been brutalised, at times, exterminated (e.g., Canaanites, the Amalekites, the Midianites, the Benjamites, the Gibeonites, the Ephramites, and others), and refer to people being killed through smiting, stoning, burning, boiling, being trampled by horses and fed to the beasts, of little ones being “dashed against the stone”, and even cannibalism involving parents and their children.

Many stories in various other sources are not much kinder. Beheadings were not very uncommon, e.g., Arjun killing Jayadratha whose severed head is made to fall on his meditating father’s lap, Imam Husain’s head being hoisted on a lance and carried to Yazid’s court in Damascus, Saint John the Baptist’s head being presented on a platter to Herod. Moreover, human beings had been most creative and nasty in devising forms of torture to punish, intimidate and kill, and violence against people perceived as “others” had been endemic throughout history.

One can suggest that we are referring to old texts and events that have little bearing today. After all, it may be argued, have we not evolved morally, learned from our mistakes, become more enlightened, more sensitive, more “human”? Surely, multiple treaties, conventions and protocols, have been formulated to establish some universal principles and regulate our conduct even in war. Surely, the message of the common humanity of man (aided by travel, technology and trade) must have gradually prevailed over the calls for bigotry and brutishness.

But the 20th century did not offer much hope in that direction. It was by far the most violent in human history, and atrocities were many, severe and relentless. War deaths in the last century totaled over 187 million (including 15-18 m in WWI and 60-70m in WWII). Brutality emerged from being mere public spectacle and political statement to being clinical and bureaucratic. This was most clearly reflectedin the coldefficiency through which the “final solution” imposed on Jews was undertaken at Auschwitz, Birkenau, Dachau, Buchenwald, Sobibor, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen and other concentration camps. Stalinist purges and Mao’s policies decimated millions, and localised wars and internal conflicts after WWII killed hundreds of millions more (those with more than a hundred thousand casualties included Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India-Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda-Burundi, Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Sudan, Somalia, Liberia, Congo-Zaire, Iraq-Iran, Nigeria-Biafra and many others), and continue today.

One may get the misleading impression from the short list above that violence was being committed in the poor, non-white, “third world” countries, while the industrial, capitalist, developed countries were more moral, refined, and peaceful. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, till 1945, more Europeans were probably killed by other Europeans than the rest of the world put together, and it was Western colonialism, racism and arrogance that was largely responsible for most of the deaths elsewhere. It was the French in Algeria, the British in South Asia, the Dutch and Germans in southern Africa, the Spanish and Portuguese in Central and Latin America, and everybody in the Middle East, that created most of the problems in those areas. They exploited the region’s resources, introduced new and lethal instruments of violence, divided the people, created artificial countries with arbitrary borders, and ruled ruthlessly in order to benefit themselves and advance their colonial ambitions.

The US was late to the game of acquiring external possessions (its first formal colony was the Philippines in 1898). But it quickly became an imperialist on steroids. It carved out countries at will (e.g., Panama); engaged in assassinations of foreign leaders (e.g., Lumumba, Allende); overthrew democratic governments and established puppet dictatorships (e.g., Iran, Indonesia, Guatemala, Chile); invaded countries on flimsy grounds(Nicaragua, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Grenada) and, at times, on lies (e.g., Iraq); imposed crippling sanctions according to its interests (e.g., Cuba); destabilised entire regions (e.g., Central America, but most egregiously, the Middle East today); and became the foremost salesman of armaments in the world.

It perfected sophisticated weapons of mass destruction and was the only country to use nuclear weapons in August 1945, immediately incinerating thousands, and affecting millions later. It used chemical weapons in Vietnam (the iconic picture of that war was the naked girl fleeing her burning village), and dropped almost 7 million tons of bombs on it (with some in Laos and Cambodia) which was twice the tonnage used in the European and Asian theaters in WWII. It has used CIA “dark sites”, rendered detainees without trial for months, tortured prisoners. It uses drone attacks in undeclared wars to kill people at a distance where civilian casualties are many and mostly uncounted.

Internally, it forcibly annexed about half the territory of Mexico in 1848, Native Americans were often massacred, dispossessed and ushered into reservations in violation of treaty obligations, and African-Americans were treated with unspeakable inhumanity. Even in the middle of the 20th century Black people had been lynched (often in festive, picnic environments), and Black kids accused of “crimes”, such as whistling at a white woman, had been beaten to death so badly that their own mothers could not recognise their faces (e.g., the 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955).

For America and the Western countries today to shake their heads, wag their fingers, and lecture the world on how terrible today’s “others” are, is an exercise in historical amnesia and self-righteous hypocrisy of rather spectacular proportions. This is all the more ironic because it is obvious that, in many ways, they have been complicit in creating the very Frankensteins they battle today.

The realities in our own country are similarly not entirely consistent with our professed self-image as a tolerant and tender-hearted people. We have engaged in communal frenzy; poured acid on women’s faces; fire-bombed passenger-carrying buses; assassinated leaders; tied a boy to a pole and mercilessly beaten him to death (with spectators milling around); made people disappear, perish in cross-fire, or die in police custody; murdered children by pumping air through their rectum; gouged out the eyes of a university student studying abroad because her husband suspected her of infidelity; killed student leaders because of factional in-fighting over turf and resources; attacked, sometimes burned, ashrams, baul akhras, and temples; wrongfully occupied properties owned by religious minorities and indigenous peoples; treated the poor with contempt and subjected them to persistent micro-aggressions; and took almost two months and two autopsies even to determine if a young woman had been raped by three criminals. Our outrage, in most cases, was only selective and fleeting, our system of justice not very reassuring, our callousness increasingly palpable.

This essay is not meant to minimise either the horrors or the dangers that terrorists acting in the name of Islam currently represent. NONE of their heinous acts – the murder of innocents in San Bernardino, Orlando, Nice, Paris, Moscow, Mumbai, London, Madrid, Brussels, Frankfurt, the targeting of students at Garissa University in Kenya, tourists in Tunisia, a boy’s school in Peshawar, a Russian plane over Egypt, girls in northern Nigeria, Christians celebrating Easter in Lahore, cartoonists in Paris, film-makers in Amsterdam, bloggers in Bangladesh, a Sufi qawwal in Pakistan, a priest in Saint-Etienne, an archivist in Palmyra, enslaved Yazidi women in Iraq, and many more, can EVER be excused. Every single one is an ugly reminder of their bloody-mindedness, totalitarian sentiments, and cowardice.

These self-proclaimed jihadists are criminals thrice over – in defaming and perverting their faith, in seducing some vulnerable and impressionable youth to their vision of nihilist despair, and in inspiring, sometimes directing, terrible offenses against humanity. They must be condemned and neutralised.

However, it must also be pointed out that, from a scholar’s perspective, the fact that the vast majority of people victimised by them are other Muslims; that other people experiencing relatively similar pressures of inequity, instability, corruption and alienation are not necessarily reacting in the same manner; their willingness, at times their eagerness, to die for a cause that is neither well-articulated nor seemingly realistic; and their fierce impatience with free speech, their anti-historicism (which leads them to destroy vestiges of their own glorious past), and their pronounced misogyny, all complicate simplistic explanations of this complex and daunting phenomenon.

Recoiling at their “barbarism” is naïve at best. Human cruelty is nothing new, or novel, or alien, or atypical. It is part of the “human condition” and implicit in our texts, traditions, narratives and practices. Let us not distract ourselves with the revulsion at the macabre and the ghoulish, and allow it to confound the essential questions that we must ask today – why is this happening now, what is the appeal of these extremists, how best do we counter it? The rest is just theatre, an epiphenomenon, perhaps a freak-show. We must explore the underlying causes. We must accept responsibility.

Both the West, and we (including Bangladeshis, and the larger Muslim world), must realise that the awkward and perilous situation we face today came about because we have all contributed to creating the enabling conditions that made it possible and, perhaps in some ways, inevitable. Before we blame others we must subject ourselves to some self-interrogation that is open-minded, honest, and unflinching. It is entirely possible for us to climb out of this dismal situation. After all, the mischief mongers are few, their message is hateful and ignorant, and their frustrations, resentments and desperations have proximate causes that may be identified and addressed. But, the response has to be measured, informed and sensitive to civil liberties and human rights, and not be spasmodic, intellectually lazy, or driven by partisan agendas. That, ultimately, is both our challenge and our opportunity.

The writer is Professor Emeritus, Black Hills State University, USA and may be contacted at

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Don’t Bash the Games Tue, 09 Aug 2016 21:06:32 +0000 Carl Lewis By Carl Lewis
Aug 9 2016 (Manila Times)

There have been few moments in my life as memorable as competing in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The chance to represent my country was a distinct honor, as was being part of the community of the Olympics — an event with the rare power to unite the world in the common spirit of competition and athletic excellence.

Carl Lewis

Carl Lewis

The attention, hopes and energies of the global community uniquely fall into sync during the 17 days every two years when the best athletes in the world gather to compete. It’s what makes the Olympic Games so special to so many.

As the 2016 Summer Games unfold in Rio de Janeiro, I fear the focus has been skewed too heavily on challenges facing the Games, rather than on what they can accomplish. Scandals, real and hyped, dominate what we’re hearing about the Olympics, sensationalized stories fueled by the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and even geopolitics: the Zika virus, construction delays, athlete doping and bans. The shine of the Games is being lost.

It’s important and natural to discuss and debate how the Games are run, to investigate the successes and stumbles leading up to the opening ceremony, and the controversies that might follow. But a singular fixation on potential shortfalls and problems ignores what the modern Olympics is able to accomplish. The Games can suspend the troubles of the world, so people everywhere can come together, however briefly, to root for the underdog, the veteran athlete and their home team.

The athletes and their efforts on the track, at the pool and in the arena should come first. They should be what we are discussing and debating. Our expectations and our cheers for their efforts create a powerful and important force, in the stadiums and at home around the television. The roar of the crowd at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the 1984 Olympic venue for track and field, is a sound, a feeling, I will never forget.

As spectators and fans, we shouldn’t be tearing down host countries but raising them up. The awesome task of hosting the Games is a true national investment in treasure, creativity and ambition.

Brazil’s critics overlook that the Rio Games will be historic by several measures — the first Olympic Games in South America, the first time golfers will compete for Olympic medals in more than 100 years, and the first to see professional boxers in an Olympic ring. The naysayers aren’t spotlighting Brazil’s much-anticipated chance to redeem itself in soccer, or China’s record-setting opportunity in diving, or whether Jamaican Usain Bolt will be unbeatable — again — on the track.

The attacks are not new and aren’t limited to Rio. Japan is already facing domestic criticism and media scrutiny as Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 Summer Games.

But athletes and fans have reason to be hopeful about the future of the Games, especially when you consider the Olympic histories of Tokyo and of Los Angeles, which is bidding for the 2024 Games.

Tokyo in 1964 became the first city in Asia to host the Games. The event represented Japan’s return to the world stage as a peaceful and prospering country following World War II. And, in spite of ambitious Olympic infrastructure development in the form of highways and the introduction of Japan’s now-famous bullet trains, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics are also considered to have been the most economical.

LA has a unique Olympic heritage. It hosted a successful Summer Games in 1932 despite the Great Depression, and again in 1984. In ‘84, the city relied on private funding, the revenue from TV and other licenses and sponsorships, and the ingenious use of existing venues. The Games were wildly popular and financially sound.

As in Tokyo, LA’s bet paid off in the long run. Even today, both Angelenos and American Olympic hopefuls continue to benefit from the surplus funds generated by the 1984 Los Angeles Games. That positive experience from 32 years ago represents a big part of what has made Los Angeles a finalist for 2024, and why its bid — again based on private funding and existing venues — enjoys 88 percent public support from Angelenos.

The potential for success in Rio, and for every Olympics, is being overtaken by Games-bashing. In hosting the Olympics, as in running track, there is always room for improvement. If the 2016 Games end as I hope they will — with the declaration, “The best Games ever,” it will be because they made things better by bringing the world together.

That is the enduring power of the Olympics.


Carl Lewis won 10 Olympic track and field medals from 1984 to 1996, including 9 gold medals. In 1999, Lewis was voted “Sportsman of the Century” by the International Olympic Committee and named “Olympian of the Century” by Sports Illustrated. He is a member of the Los Angeles 2024 Olympic Bid Committee and wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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Turkey’s Syria Headache Tue, 09 Aug 2016 20:48:18 +0000 Syed Mansur Hashim By Syed Mansur Hashim
Aug 9 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Five years into the ‘oust Assad’ campaign, Turkey finds itself isolated in the region and beyond. After a narrow escape from a failed coup attempt, President Erdogan may finally be rethinking his Syria policy. Because the arming of rebels that included hard-line Islamists has not only contributed to the killing of some 280,000 innocents, it also brought upon Turkey the problem of millions of cross-border refugees and failed to put a dent against the Kurdish Workers’ Party, i.e. PKK. The overly ambitious foreign policy of the Turkish government where Erdogan found himself at odds with Egypt, Libya and of course Syria, has done little to raise his profile in the region. That the Syrian engagement is a foolhardy experiment where the rebels cannot bring down Assad is now all the more evident with Russia’s entry into the conflict.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Photo: afp

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Photo: afp

While support for Sunni groups allied against Assad have not made much headway, the pro-Kurdish forces have effectively seized Turkey’s southern borders and more alarmingly appear to enjoy the strong confidence of both the Americans and Russia! This is unthinkable from Ankara’s point of view and hence a rethinking is obvious. Changes, in fact, are evident from a reshuffle in the top echelons of administration; Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was replaced in May and this man is deemed to have been the architect of Turkey’s foreign policy.

The most important change is related to Syria. That Assad has the unwavering support of both Russia and Iran is an established fact. Both nations have committed man-and-material that not only ensures the survival of the regime but forged alliances with the Kurds to take the fight to the Islamic State (IS). To think about a 180 degree shift in policy is unthinkable for Turkey. Yet to continue the proxy war is already proving too costly and given Ankara’s increased isolation amongst its allies in NATO, particularly the US and European Union, the time for eating some “humble pie” is already being played out (Erdogan has apologised to Russia in a letter of regret of the shooting down of the jet incident in 2015). The Turkish government has come down from its high horse and sought rapprochement with Israel. And indeed, going by what has been reported in international press of late “Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, was quoted by RIA, the Russian news agency, as saying Ankara and Moscow should work together for a political solution on Syria after meeting Servei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart” in late July.

The time for rapprochement has gained momentum as Ankara comes to terms with a suicide bombing that took 43 lives in Istanbul’s main international airport. That IS was blamed for the attack merely goes to show the futility of funding and arming Sunni rebel groups (some with seriously dubious jihadi credentials) has come back to haunt Turkey today. Years of hawkish foreign policy has landed Turkey with broken alliances, a loss of trade and worse of all, allowing militants and insurgents to attack Turkish soil with impunity. Today, Turkey too is suffering the full brunt of extremism, some of which can be attributed to Ankara’s flawed interventionist policy in Syria. For, Turkey has much bigger problems on its hand than the removal of Assad. It wishes to see a weakening of Kurds and marginalisation of IS, but for that to happen Erdogan will require Putin’s assistance – and the only way that can happen is if Turkey moves away from its regime-change policy in Syria. As pointed out earlier, Turkey has begun a reshuffle and is relieving some officials that head the Syria campaign. Reports have emerged that Ankara recently sacked its intelligence official responsible for Syria – the move sends the signal that perhaps there will be a shift in Turkey’s hard-line position on Assad’s removal.

The diplomatic flurry is happening behind the scenes and Algeria has been active in trying to diffuse the situation between Syria and Turkey. A normalisation of relations is not even on the cards at this point; what is on the cards is to find some middle ground whereby Turkey moves away from its staunch position of a Syria minus Assad situation. The Syrian adventure has actually helped Kurdish separatists to re-emerge in mainstream Turkish politics as a potent political and military force and Turks have been trying for decades to push the Kurdish question to the sidelines. Hence, for Turkey and its national and regional interests, there needs to be some form of dialogue that will help Erdogan to disengage from the region without losing face.

The Syrian conflict has gone on for long enough. Too much blood has been spilled and has drawn in too many foreign powers into the quagmire. It is time for military disengagement and political dialogue between nations and not combatants. Only when there is peace in Syria can there truly be regional stability. Yes, atrocities have been committed on a massive scale on both sides and although human rights organisations will not be happy, the alternative to a negotiated settlement involving Syria, Turkey and other powers is to effectively prolong a war that has already descended into a war of attrition with no clear winner.

The writer is Assistant Editor, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Indian Jails Slammed as Purgatory for the Poor Tue, 09 Aug 2016 08:00:19 +0000 Neeta Lal Beggars are often rounded up by police and thrown into jail without charges being filed against them for years. This adds to the overcrowding in Indian prisons already reeling under a lack of basic facilities. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Beggars are often rounded up by police and thrown into jail without charges being filed against them for years. This adds to the overcrowding in Indian prisons already reeling under a lack of basic facilities. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Aug 9 2016 (IPS)

A media frenzy ensued in New Delhi last month when a popular television channel highlighted the horrific living conditions of women inmates in ward number six of Tihar Jail, South Asia’s largest prison.

The program – “Fear and Loathing in Tihar” — beamed into people’s homes the prisoners’ abysmal treatment by the administration: 600 of them packed like sardines into space meant for half that number, a lack of basic amenities, and a shocking state apathy towards detainees in the world’s largest democracy."Some [women inmates] even have kids who have to stay with them in those pathetic conditions till they are six years old." --Delhi-based human rights lawyer Maninder Singh

By highlighting the prisoners’ misery, the program also helped shine a light on a broken judicial system where thousands are subjected to prolonged periods of incarceration without ever seeing a judge, or whose perfunctory court appearances stretch for years thanks to a corrupt legal system clogged with too many cases, and too few judges to try them. The injustice of lengthy detention is compounded by the horrific conditions of the jail facilities.

As the world celebrates Prisoners Justice Day on Aug. 10, human rights advocates say the state of Indian detention centres needs to come into focus again. Most Indian jails fail to meet the minimum United Nations standards for such facilities, including inadequate amounts of food, poor nutrition, and unsanitary conditions. Torture and other forms of ill-treatment are also common. The cells are also often dilapidated, with poor ventilation and absence of natural light.

According to a 2015 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India on Tihar Jail, the prison complex is reeling under a prisoner population more than double its sanctioned strength and understaffed by 50 per cent of its required workforce. The key findings of the report suggest that the 10 jails in Tihar were grossly overcrowded with 14,209 prisoners against a capacity of 6,250.

Moreover, against government rules, 51 prisoners awaiting trial were found to have already served more than half the maximum term of punishment for the offences they were booked under, the report says.

Medical facilities, adds the damning report, are non-existent. There’s paucity of doctors, paramedical, ministerial, factory and Class IV staff by 18 to 63 per cent in the prison which despite an in-house 150-bed hospital and additional dispensaries in each of the 10 jails. The CAG found that “the hospital was not equipped to face any emergency situation”.

The subhuman conditions take a toll on human health — both mental and physical, a former inmate told IPS. “Women prisoners prefer to take care of each other when they are indisposed as there are only male doctors doing rounds most of the time,” she said. “I remember once a young woman had a miscarriage and bled for a few hours before she was taken to the hospital.”

In India, a country where U.N. figures indicate that 270 million people - or 21.9 percent of the population - live below the poverty line, justice for the poor is often delayed as well as denied. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

In India, a country where U.N. figures indicate that 270 million people – or 21.9 percent of the population – live below the poverty line, justice for the poor is often delayed as well as denied. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The fate of prisoners on death row is worse. Not only do they inhabit inhumane living conditions, they face unfair trials and horrific acts of police torture, according to a study by the Death Penalty Research Project at the National Law University in Delhi. The study, based on interviews with 373 of the 385 inmates believed to be on death row in India, offers a harrowing insight into the unbearable conditions the prisoners have to live in as they wait for judges to decide their fate.

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) report 2015 says that poor budget allocation, the way accused are arrested and non-issuance of bail along with miserable conditions in prisons were leading factors attributed to the existing living conditions of the inmates. It added that the situation calls for a trained administration to bring reformation in prisoners’ lives.

Legal eagles say the biggest bottleneck is the country’s overburdened criminal justice system which has a cascading effect on prisoners’ lives. Overcrowding is the most common. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) records, in 2013, the total number of prisoners was 411,992, of which a startling 278,503 were prisoners awaiting trial. Delay in providing justice, inadequate court infrastructure, and inaccessibility of a large number of prisoners to legal help make matters worse.

As per records, currently over three million cases are pending in various Indian courts across the country. Erstwhile PM Manmohan Singh remarked that India had the world’s largest backlog of court cases. Bloomberg Business Week estimates if that all the Indian judges attacked their backlog without breaks for eating and sleeping, and closed 100 cases every hour, it would take more than 35 years to catch up.

“The severe delay in delivering justice is largely due to the fact that many courts share judges with each other, resulting in extremely slow trial procedures. There’s no effective legal redress mechanism for under trials,” explains Ajay Verma, Senior Fellow, International Bridges to Justice, a non-profit that supports justice and human rights. “These institutional pathologies result in unjust and prolonged detention.”

Delhi-based human rights lawyer Maninder Singh says that many detainees are forced to be in jail longer than the maximum sentence for the offense with which they were charged, with some people spending as long as two decades in detention before being convicted or released by the courts.

Women awaiting trial in particular, adds Singh, are made to suffer as they are too poor to afford justice. “Some even have kids who have to stay with them in those pathetic conditions till they are six years old. Many under trials languish for months without even charges being framed against them. There’s simply no legal recourse available to them.”

After studying the living conditions of jail inmates across India, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) made some key recommendations for prison reform. These include replacing the 1894 Prison Act with a new one, amending prison manuals keeping human rights in mind, reducing overcrowding, one of the biggest problems in most prisons, shifting foreign nationals to detention centres from prisons after their sentence is completed, till they are deported to their respective countries.

Despite the gloom, experts suggest that it’s not as if the situation is irretrievable. What is needed is political will and a more humanitarian approach to a very complex problem. Already, some measures in Indian jails — like rehabilitation and skilling prisoners for their gainful employment post jail term — have come in for accolades. Tihar boasts of a full-fledged cottage industry where training for carpentry, baking, tailoring, fabric painting and other crafts are imparted to empower inmates. The revenues generated from selling products made by the prisoners helps in the prison’s upkeep. Wage earning and gratuity schemes and incentives help reduce the psychological burden on the convicts.

But as Singh and Verma point out, while these measures should be amplified, the State needs to urgently focus on faster disposal of court cases, speedier justice and better conditions in jail to make life more bearable for the inmates.

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Rigging US-style Mon, 08 Aug 2016 19:12:31 +0000 Zarrar Khuhro By Zarrar Khuhro
Aug 8 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Circle the first, first letter of the alphabet in this line. Now write the word ‘noise’ backwards and place a dot over what would be its second letter should it have been written forward.

The writer is a journalist.

The writer is a journalist.

Done? Now draw a figure that is square in shape. Divide it in half by drawing a straight line from its northeast corner to its southwest corner, and then divide it once more by drawing a broken line from the middle of its western side to the middle of its eastern side. Once you’re done write every other word in this first line and print every third word in the same line (original type smaller and first line ended at comma) but capitalise the fifth word that you write.

You have 10 minutes to answer these and the 26 other questions, you can’t ask for extra time and you can’t ask the instructor to explain what these questions even mean. You can’t use the internet because you’re giving this test while being a black American in the US state of Louisiana in the year 1964. Oh and if you get any of these wrong, you’ve failed and won’t be able to vote.

This test was only one of the many techniques used to prevent black Americans from voting once they had acquired the legal right to do so after the civil war. After all, if black Americans could vote then they would likely vote out the good old boys (all white, all politically connected) who had a stranglehold on the levers of power. And since one couldn’t exactly bar them from voting outright, one could indeed make it virtually impossible for them to be able to register to vote. And when violence and intimidation failed, devices like the literacy test were made use of.

There has been much talk of rigging in the upcoming US polls.

Then due to pressure from the civil rights movement, the voting rights act was passed by the US congress in 1965 which prohibited racial discrimination in voting by enacting a range of safeguards.

Fifty-one years later, civil rights groups are warning that the 2016 elections may see record levels of voter disenfranchisement. Recently, an appellate court struck down North Carolina’s restrictions on early voting and a law requiring voters to carry picture IDs, saying that these laws had been enacted “with racial discriminatory intent” and targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision”. Judge Diana Motz pointed out that “African Americans dis¬proportionately used the first seven days of early voting”, which is why North Caro¬lina’s Republican legislature elimi¬nated the first week of voting.

Moreover, data showed that “counties with Sunday voting in 2014 were disproportionately black” and “dispropor¬tionately Demo¬cratic”, which is why North Carolina elimi¬nated one Sunday as a voting day, as this is when black churches organise voters, even providing transport to those who cannot make it to the polling booths.

Many states have also recently passed voter ID laws purportedly meant to curb voter fraud but which in fact target African Americans who in many cases do not possess the required documents to ‘prove’ their citizenship or cannot afford the fees required to create those documents. In South Carolina for example, 178,000 voters (mostly non-white) don’t have any of the forms of photo ID the new law requires.

If you’re thinking getting an ID shouldn’t be such a big deal, consider that just last year Alabama tried to close 31 driver’s licence offices under the pretext of cost-cutting; it just so happens that most of these offices “were in rural areas with large African-American populations”.

Consider also that there is also no real evidence that the fraudulent voting the ID laws are meant to prevent even takes place.

Just a few years ago, these measures would have required ‘pre-clearance’ from the attorney general or federal judges, but that provision was struck down by the US Supreme Court in 2013 in a decision rights activists called a “death knell”.

Even without that judgment there’s always the long-standing tactic of felony disenfranchisement; in many US states a person convicted of a felony offence is rendered ineligible to vote, and it just so happens that these laws have stripped one in every 13 black persons of their right to vote. That’s no surprise given that while African-Americans make up about 13pc of the US population they make up 40pc of the prison population.

There’s been a lot of talk of rigging in these elections, with Bernie Sanders’ supporters claiming the system was made to work against them and with Donald Trump now also warning that the upcoming elections will be rigged. They will be, but just not in the way one imagines.

For us in Pakistan, the purpose of this piece is not to engage in a bout of ‘see, it happens there as well’ but as a reminder that the price of liberty is constant vigilance and that democracy is a process, not a destination.

The writer is a journalist. Twitter: @zarrarkhuhro
Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Need for a Factual Assessment Fri, 05 Aug 2016 21:21:06 +0000 Mohammad Badrul Ahsan By Mohammad Badrul Ahsan
Aug 5 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The Muslims make 14.2 percent of India’s 1.25 billion people. But, 25 percent of India’s 370,000 beggars are Muslims. The newly released data by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the London School of Economics, published in the journal Human Nature, also show that the Muslim population inside Indian jails is rising. For example, Maharashtra jails have 31.09 percent Muslim prisoners against a state average of 19.06 percent. Arthur Koestler famously writes that statistics don’t bleed, but it’s the detail which counts. What counts in this instance is that the plight of the second largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia is nothing but dismal.

Illustration: thyblackman

Illustration: thyblackman

The data give us the numbers for education and government jobs, and the Indian Muslims lag behind in both areas. How that happened can be argued in many ways, but part of it surely is discrimination against this minority group, and part of it is the vicious circle in which they have got themselves trapped. Roughly 160 years after the end of the Mughal rule in India, the fate of marginalised Muslims reckon the dwindling legacy of their ruling ancestors.

The Khans in Bollywood and business tycoons like Azim Premji are exceptions that prove the rule. There are a few mafia dons in Mumbai, and a handful of politicians, who still signify the sporadic highpoints of the Muslim might. But the preponderant majority of the Muslims have their fate sealed in poverty and squalor. The glories of emperors and nawabs are mocked by the worries that clutter the downtrodden Muslims in India.

The researchers measured not just income and wealth but also occupation, education, and longevity, and found that upper-class families took 300 to 450 years before their scions fell back into the middle class. Throughout society, poor families, taken as a whole, took an equal amount of time. They worked for 10 to 15 generations to climb their way up into the middle class. Illiterate English village artisans in 1300 took seven generations to incorporate fully into the educated elite of 1500.

If 25 years make a generation, then the Muslim influence in India dissipated in over six generations. Times of India reported in 2010 that a sixth generation descendant of Bahadur Shah Zafar was struggling to make ends meet in Hyderabad, still hoping that the Indian government would release properties of the erstwhile Mughals to their legal heirs. Not all the Muslims are royal descendants and many insolvent families many years ago must have moved up the social ladder.

But an overwhelming number of Muslims in India appears to have slipped below the poverty line. And they are punching above their weight for all the wrong reasons. In an interview with Deutsche Welle in 2011, a leading Muslim thinker of India, Asghar Ali Engineer, explained that the Muslim middle class shrank in India after 1947, and it was too small to assert itself and failed to produce effective leadership.

Engineer then elaborated that although a new Muslim middle class began to emerge in northern India from the 1980s onwards, it emerged largely from the Muslim “low” castes. Their quest for upward social mobility and assertion is often expressed in the form of a very conservative religiosity, such as building fancy mosques or patronising madrassas. He claimed that it only exacerbated the malaise of the Muslims rather than solving it. Almost all Muslim organisations in India are led by mullahs because the vast majority of Indian Muslims are disadvantaged – economically, educationally, socially and intellectually, he explained.

How does it compare with the minorities in Bangladesh in all of the above four categories? Not to incite bias or resentment, we should have a factual assessment of where we stand in minority relations compared to our “big-brother” neighbour. We have heard the minority leaders of this country complaining about their conditions.

For the sake of all, we need to have a social intelligence dashboard to clearly understand our relationships. That will tell us if we are doing enough to smoothen the spikes. When we hear about minorities being dispossessed from their lands, businesses and homes, it is more about power struggle than anything else. The strong has forever bullied the weak, who are physically, economically and politically disadvantaged.

The true test is whether all citizens have an equal opportunity to seek education, find jobs, buy property, and enjoy legal protection. That alone tells who’s advantaged in a society and who’s deprived. Statistics don’t bleed alright, but opinions based on them can cause, contain or check bloodshed.

The writer is Editor of the weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star. Email:

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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The Right to Not Disappear Fri, 05 Aug 2016 20:59:26 +0000 Asha Rehman By Asha’ar Rehman
Aug 5 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

It goes something like this: there’s a murder in the name of ‘honour’ in a village somewhere in Pakistan. The story is reported and journalists are inspired to look for more such instances to cover. They disperse in all directions and no matter where they go searching, they return with more such murder cases to dump on the ‘honour’ killing pile.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

With time, the subject is replaced by, say, something as horrifying as gang rape. The media corps, its first line comprising the low-paid local correspondent with a finger on the market’s pulse, spreads afar and returns with a series of cases where only one would have been enough to ensure perpetual shame for all of us.

All the media, with its wide influence, needs is a cue to deliver on demand. It can unleash in relentless supply the most brutal of stories of exploitation, at workplaces, inside houses, of a sexual nature, et al, at a few hours’ notice. It can report on a story that had long been there. It can break it when it chooses, or it can hold on to it for unspecified durations, finally letting it out with a bang without bothering to explain the delay in the conveyance of the message.

How is the police file recording children’s disappearance different from a disappearance announcement made from a mosque?

Those who live close to a mosque in Lahore would vouch that children do go missing in this city: from children as small as toddlers who are barely able to tell their names, to those who are driven by the reputation of adolescence to be suspected of playing a hand in their own disappearance. The mosque’s loudspeaker is regularly used to announce the disappearance and to seek help in the recovery of those who go missing, an overwhelming majority of whom are children.

There may be sometimes an urge to find out if those who had been unaccounted for did return. No one has ever heard the respected maulvi sahib celebrate a reunion of the missing with their family by issuing a statement of congratulations through the public address system.

So regular are these announcements about the missing that now nobody seems to be too bothered about them. People hear them, say tauba, and go about their work without any grand show of emotion. The same trend that begins from the streets around the mosque is then reflected at various levels, creating many layers of indifference that the most knowledgeable amongst us believe is essential to life as it is.

Just think about it: how is the police file recording the cases of children’s disappearance in a specific period different from a disappearance announcement made from a mosque? Like these calls, these numbers have been compiled year after year, with little in terms of action to ensure a safer world for our children.

A typical such file will take you over a familiar route. The spots from where children are more likely to be picked up are highlighted, such as the darbar or shrine of the most revered saint or the tower built to mark independence or the bazaar named after the beloved damsel torn between Akbar and his son Saleem. A child may be abducted from all these places or from a park or a hospital or a mere bus terminal. The police’s book diligently counts these incidents. The self-indictment comes when these cold figures are not accompanied by any plans – not even a pledge — of just how serious our law enforcers are to safeguard these vulnerable young citizens against the cruel hands of a long grown-up society.

Missing had been the story about just how hazardous the streets of Lahore — or any other place in Pakistan — were for those we must never tire of calling as our future. A series of stories about the children missing or kidnapped has opened the floodgates on gushing fears pegged on both real and imagined incidents. The warning letters have been written, about how the children can be– how they are, says the chorus — duped into following their abductor like the rats followed the Pied Piper.

The imaginary stuff would have been easier to deal with had the ‘real’ stories not been packed with the horrors of the most fearsome kind. Imagine… no do not imagine but try and come to terms with the unearthing of this racket where a food catering contractor apparently bought young boys and then employed them as slave labour. Try and come face to face with the recovery of the disabled young girl whom the members of a beggars’ ring had abducted out of here and taken deep into Sindh.

The labour camp, the beggars’ mafia, are just two manifestations; the stereotype is kept alive in so many of our responses. Not the least most painful among them is how Lahore as the venue for these disappearances has left some people typically aghast. They must show mock surprise at the wonder-city that hogs funds and official patronage but is so oblivious to the plight of the young ones in its charge. It is the same smirk that had previously been displayed when Lahoris were found to be eating donkey-meat or when they were being preyed upon by a killer mosquito. Little does the envious crowd realise that where the development projects are grand, the likelihood of serious everyday issues suffering neglect is that much greater. The missing resolve on children is proof.

These stories come in steadily, each one of them bringing back the sensation we experienced when as a young, learning soul we were given our earliest lessons in how to keep our distance from the big bad world we were such an integral part of. There was nothing more serious, more nightmarish than being lost in a world we were required to explore, to tame and to conquer. The way we have failed to deliver on the basics — such as a young, and old, soul’s right to not disappear — shows we have all been long lost.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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“Non-lethal” Pellet Guns Maim Hundreds in Kashmiri Protests Fri, 05 Aug 2016 13:55:16 +0000 Umar Shah X-ray of a pellet victim injured during the current protests in Kashmir. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

X-ray of a pellet victim injured during the current protests in Kashmir. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

By Umar Shah
SRINAGAR, Aug 5 2016 (IPS)

Hospitals in Kashmir’s summer capital are packed to capacity these days, their wards overflowing with pellet gun victims injured during violent clashes with government forces.

Sixteen-year-old Kaisar Ahmad Mir has been in hospital since July 9. As X-ray films dangle near his bed, Kaisar stares with haggard eyes at each passerby. Doctors had to amputate three fingers on his right hand after pellets were fired at him from close range during one of the demonstrations.“After the autopsy was done, there were 360 pellets found in [my brother's] body.” -- Shakeel Ahmad

“I felt some electric current when the pellets hit my right hand. Then the blood started oozing out, followed by intense pain,” Mir told IPS.

Deadly clashes between protestors and government forces engulfed this Himalayan region –  India’s only Muslim majority state – on July 8, a day when the army gunned down militant leader Burhan Wani during a three-hour gun battle in the remote south Kashmir region of the state.

The government quickly instituted a curfew across the Kashmir valley, severing internet and phone service. But people defied government restrictions and came out in hordes to protest in cities, towns and remote hamlets of the state. Since July 8, 52 protesters have been killed and more than 2,500 injured, around 600 of them due to pellets. Many of the victims are children.

Aaqib Mir, Kaisar Mir’s younger brother, told IPS that Kaisar was preparing for his class 10 exams this year.  “My brother is now crippled for life,” Aaqib said.

Eleven-year-old Umer Nazir received more than 12 pellets in his face that damaged his both eyes. He was shot during anti-government protests in the Indian state of Kashmir. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

Eleven-year-old Umar Nazir received more than 12 pellets in his face that damaged his both eyes. He was shot during anti-government protests in the Indian state of Kashmir. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

The pellets are loaded with lead and once fired they disperse widely and in huge numbers. Pellets penetrate the skin and soft tissues, with eyes especially vulnerable to severe, irreversible damage.

Pellets were introduced in Kashmir as a “non-lethal” alternative to bullets after security forces killed nearly 200 people during demonstrations against Indian rule from 2008 to 2010.The state government’s reasoning was that when fired from a distance, shotgun pellets disperse and inflict only minor injuries.

During this summer’s protests, pellets were extensively used against the protesters, injuring hundreds. According to figures issued by Kashmir’s SHMS hospital, out of 164 cases of severe pellet injuries, 106 surgeries were performed in which five people lost one eye completely.

Among those who lost their eyesight due to pellets is 11-year-old Umar Nazir. Umar received more than 12 pellets in his face that damaged both eyes. As he lost vision in his right eye, doctors attending him have told his family that Umar’s left eye is also deteriorating due to a severe injury to the optic nerve.

Human rights groups criticize the heavy-handed approach to dealing with the protest demonstrations, and contest the government’s claims that pellet guns are “non-lethal”.

Riyaz Ahmad Shah, 21, was killed on Aug. 2 after being hit by pellets.  An ATM security guard, Shah was returning home when, according to his family, state forces fired pellets at him from close range, killing him on the spot.

“After the autopsy was done, there were 360 pellets found in his body,” said Shakeel Ahmad, Riyaz Shah’s brother.

According to Al Jazeera, at least nine people have been killed in the region since pellet guns were introduced in 2010.

“Pellets are not being used against rioters in other parts of the country, but here in Kashmir they are being used quite openly without any remorse from the government,” said human rights activist Khurram Parvez, who is also a program coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society.

To protest against the use of pellets, the coalition has created posters with text written in braille to make the world aware of the suffering in Kashmir. “When you don’t see eye to eye with the brutal occupation in Kashmir, this is how they make you see their point,” reads a campaign poster.

Sajad Ahmad, a doctor treating pellet victims in Kashmir, said he had never seen such a “brutal use of force upon people in the past.” He added that while pellets may not kill most victims, they can still be left disabled for life.

“We have done hundreds of surgeries since July 8 and there are children who were crippled and can no longer work or earn,” Ahmad said.

Since July 8, 2016, 52 protesters have been killed in Kashmir and more than 2,500 injured, around 600 of them due to pellets fired by security forces.  Many of the victims are children. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

Since July 8, 2016, 52 protesters have been killed in Kashmir and more than 2,500 injured, around 600 of them due to pellets fired by security forces. Many of the victims are children. Credit: Umar Shah/IPS

On Aug. 5, Amnesty International issued a statement asking the Jammu and Kashmir government to stop using pellet guns.

“Pellet guns are inherently inaccurate and indiscriminate, and have no place in law enforcement,” Zahoor Wani, a senior campaigner with Amnesty International India, said in a statement issued in New Delhi.

“Amnesty International India calls on the Jammu and Kashmir government to immediately stop the use of pellet guns in policing protests. They cannot ensure well-targeted shots and risk causing serious injury, including to bystanders or other protesters not engaging in violence. These risks are almost impossible to control.”

Kashmir’s High Court has issued notices to the state government and the national government of India seeking a response over litigation demanding a ban on pellet guns used by security personnel to deal with protests in Kashmir.

The state government says it is working to find alternatives to the pellet guns to quell the violent protests.

“We disapprove of it… but we will have to persist with this necessary evil till we find a non-lethal alternative,” J&K government spokesperson Nayeem Akhtar said.

Many people in Kashmir want an end to Indian rule and either full independence or a merger with Pakistan, which also claims the territory.

At least 50,000 have died in an insurgency that began in 1987. Over the years, anti-government rallies have occurred frequently, raising tensions between security forces and civilians, which have led to accusations of police heavy-handedness in trying to impose order.

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The Devil in Development Fri, 05 Aug 2016 05:54:16 +0000 Sushmita Preetha By Sushmita S. Preetha
Aug 5 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The word “development” – eliciting as it does grandiloquent notions of progress – has become, at least in Bangladesh, something of a red herring. It is used as a catch-all phrase to justify just about anything — from eviction of slum-dwellers to make way for high-rise housing projects to forceful grabbing of ancestral lands to build eco-parks and tourism spots, from rampant deforestation of our woodlands to unapologetic pollution of our rivers, from undemocratic and top-down imposition of anti-people projects to suppression of dissent through violence both sponsored or otherwise. It matters little that such so-called development only exacerbates the extreme vulnerabilities of people already on the margins, destroys scarce natural resources and intensifies the ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots; that it does precisely the opposite of what “development”—real, pro-people development—ought to do. If one protests these actions as unjust, undemocratic or inequitable, one can be easily dismissed as being “anti-development”, and by extension, “unpatriotic”, making it ever more difficult to have any sort of constructive conversation about Bangladesh’s development priorities (or the lack thereof).

devil_And, thus, in the name of “development”, we are now witnessing an unprecedented attack on one of our most valuable natural resources, the Sundarbans. (I say unprecedented not because other regimes have not tried to sell off our natural resources to multinational corporations at a fraction of the real cost to the country, but because no prior case has involved as ecologically sensitive an area as the Sundarbans.)If development was the real goal of the construction of the Rampal power plant, if people were the focus of this intervention, why would the government displace thousands of people from their homesteads without so much as following the proper rehabilitation procedures? Why would they jeopardise, in one broad stroke, an entire ecosystem of the world’s largest mangrove forest, and the source of livelihood of around 40 lakh people? Why would they discount the grave ecological danger of the construction of this coal power plant, when national and international environmental experts, including Unesco and Ramsar (“Protecting the Sundarbans is our national duty”, TDS, March 22, 2016), have made it abundantly clear that this would be nothing less than a suicidal move for Bangladesh? Why would they risk our national heritage without even conducting a fair, independent and scientific Environmental Impact Assessment (for a more comprehensive criticism of the current EIA, please refer to “Sundarbans under Threat,” TDS July 25, 2016)?

What gives a government the power to be so reckless when they are not the owners, but rather the guardians, on behalf of the people, of Bangladesh’s natural resources?

For those who consider “environment” to be a “soft” issue that has no place in the more “grave” and “grown-up” discussions on development, let’s talk economics. Let’s talk about the fact that three French banks and two Norwegian pension funds pulled out their investment last year from the Rampal power plant because the “failure to comply with minimum social and environmental standards and the corresponding financial risks made the project a clear ‘no-go’ for financial institutions.” Let’s talk about the economic reality that Bangladesh will be financially responsible for 85 percent of the project, even though Bangladesh and India are supposed to be 50:50 partners. Let’s talk about fact that, as per a comprehensive report by the US-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), which conducts research and analyses on financial and economic issues related to energy and the environment, the plant will actually lead to higher electricity rates in Bangladesh. Published in June 2016, the report says: “The revenue requirements of the Rampal plant would require tariff levels that are 32 percent higher than the current average cost of electricity production in Bangladesh and will therefore increase electricity rates in Bangladesh. Without subsidies, the plant’s generation costs are 62 percent higher than the current average cost of electricity production in Bangladesh.” The true cost of the plant, it adds, is being hidden by three subsidies worth more than US $3 billion.


That the Indian government would want to pursue this case, at only a fraction of the cost and risk associated with Bangladesh, is obvious enough. IEEFA suspects “that the project is being promoted as a means to sell Indian coal to Bangladesh and as a way to skirt Indian policy against building a coal plant so near the Sundarbans, a protected forest and World Heritage Site.” But we are at a complete loss to understand what possible economic benefit there could be to Bangladesh pursuing a project that has been deemed financially unviable by major international financial and research institutes. We respectfully ask the government to explain to its people the cost-benefit analysis on the basis of which it is so eagerly risking the world’s largest mangrove forest, home of the Bengal Tigers, and a forest that saves us from natural disasters by providing a barrier to storms.

While we understand the need to generate power, and applaud the government for its crucial role inmitigating Bangladesh’s energy crisis, we cannot comprehend why the government is remaining oblivious to what has now become a slogan for the anti-Rampal movement: “There are many alternatives to generating electricity, but no alternative to the Sundarbans”. The National Committee to Protect Oil-Gas-Mineral Resources, Port and Power (NCBD), which consists of engineers, energy experts, activists and environmentalists, have proposed alternative strategies for generating electricity without jeopardising the environment and people’s lives and livelihoods. Rather than engage with such groups and explore sustainable solutions for a greener Bangladesh, the government has thus far not only chosen to ignore their repeated pleas to relocate the plant, but actually responded to oppositionto the Rampal project with barricades, batons, tear shells and arbitrary arrests.

Are we to deduce, from its reaction to the mass demonstration on July 28, 2016, that violence is the only language the state understands best, or at any rate, the only language it is willing to deploy to suppress its critics? The space for democratic expression has shrunk so much so that it seems naïve to decry the violation of our constitutional rights. The arbitrary arrests of unarmed protestors, and indiscriminate beating and use of tear gas, resulting in injuries to at least 50 demonstrators, is just another “day-in-the-life-of” example in a woefully long list of attempts to suppress people’s voices against harmful development projects through force, rather than productive dialogue.

It angers me, frustrates me, but mostly, scares me that the government feels that it has the power to do anything it wants – no matter the facts, no matter the consequences – and that it considers itself above and beyond all accountability to the people. As we remain distracted with our daily lives, horrific news of terror attacks and new fads on the internet, the government acts and plans in the shadows of neoliberalism, knowing fully well that the masses, at the end of the day, are too apathetic to take to the streets to demand a greener, more sustainable future, to claim from the government what is their right.

We must, for our sake, prove the ‘power’ wrong. We must shake off our cocoon of complicity, and ask ourselves why we cannot fight to protect our environment, the livelihood of lakhs of people and the Tigers of the Sundarbans with the same passion as we take to the streets to celebrate the Tigers’ win in a cricket match; why we remain unmoved to act, content to play the part of a fool chasing after a Pokemon as the cries of the dolphins and deer of the Sundarbans fall on our deaf ears (there are headphones to block off the reality, after all). We must act, and we must act NOW, if we are to have any chance of preserving the Bangladesh that we recognise and love. The only power we need, after all, is power to the people to decide its development priorities.

The writer is a rights activist and freelance journalist.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Pope Refuses to Equate Islam with Violence, Terrorism Thu, 04 Aug 2016 14:49:53 +0000 Editor Manila Times By Editor, The Manila Times, Philippines
Aug 4 2016 (Manila Times)

He spoke with much apparent deliberation when Pope Francis last Sunday, on his return trip from Poland, said to reporters, “I don’t think it is right to equate Islam with violence.”

He was absolutely right to say that Catholics could be just as deadly as Muslims. He had earlier refused to name Islam as the ideological culprit in the killing of an old priest, beloved of the people in a small town in northern France. The ISIS inspired Muslims raided a parish church while Mass was going on and slit the throat of the old parish priest. The gang took hostages.

“In almost every religion there is always a small group of fundamentalists. We have them too in [Christianity],” he said.

“If I have to talk about Islamic violence I have to also talk about Christian violence. Every day in the newspapers I see violence in Italy, someone kills his girlfriend, another kills his mother-in-law, and these are baptized Catholics.”

The Holy Father said religion was not the driving force behind the violence.

“You can kill with the tongue as well as the knife,” he said, in an apparent reference to a rise in populist parties fuelling racism and xenophobia.

Respect for bodily integrity

Point 2297 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches this: “Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong. Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.”

It is unfortunate that because of the merciless attacks on innocent people by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), some politicians and government officials in Europe and the United States have begun to think that violence against Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims is an essential doctrine of the Islamic religion.

That mentality is wrong.

That mentality is like that of non-Christians who have come to think that corruption must be essential to the Christian Faith. For governments controlled by baptized Christians all over the whole world are riddled with corrupt officials.

Pope Francis counseled Europeans to look closer to home. He said “terrorism… grows where the God of money is put first” and “where there are no other options.”

“How many of our European young have we left empty of ideals, with no work, so they turn to drugs, to alcohol, and sign up with fundamentalist groups?” he asked.

Meanwhile, all mankind should not forget that conquering hordes of Christians at war with other Christian kingdoms who pillaged the “enemy” cities and committed atrocities against fellow Christians.

Peace and love for fellow man is the basic teaching of all religions, including Islam.

Point 2304 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
“Respect for and development of human life require peace. Peace is not merely the absence of war, and it is not limited to maintaining a balance of powers between adversaries. Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, and the assiduous practice of fraternity. Peace is ‘the tranquility of order.’ Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity.”

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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Threat Perceptions Thu, 04 Aug 2016 14:37:16 +0000 Owen Bennet By Owen Bennett-Jones
Aug 4 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Here — in alphabetical order — are six countries that have considerable involvement in Pakistan: Afghanistan, India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The writer is a British journalist and author of Pakistan: Eye of the Storm.

The writer is a British journalist and author of Pakistan: Eye of the Storm.

I once asked a senior Pakistani military officer to consider how the army perceives the threat each of these countries pose to Pakistan and then to rank them with the most threatening first. You will probably not be surprised to learn that he came up with India, the United States, Afghanistan, and then, after a bit of thought, the UK, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Let us consider each country in turn.

Since 1947, an element of Indian society has believed Pakistan should not exist. In 1971 India made a big contribution to the loss of the then East Pakistan. India shells Pakistan positions in Siachen and occupies disputed territory in Kashmir. There is good reason to believe India’s RAW has over the years organised bomb attacks in Pakistan. According to numerous interrogations of MQM suspects who spoke with the confidence that comes with impunity, India has trained MQM fighters. Many believe it has also put money into the Baloch insurgency.

Pakistan can hardly consider itself to be the sole victim in all of this. Pakistan shells Indian positions in Siachen and also holds disputed Kashmiri territory. There is good reason to believe the ISI has planted bombs in India and a group with close links to Pakistan’s security establishment, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, has mounted attacks in India, including that on Mumbai.

But the point here is not to argue about which side is justified — it is rather to assess the level of threat India poses to Pakistan compared to the five other countries on the list.

Assess the number of Pakistanis whose deaths can be traced back to the countries on the list.

So, what of the United States? Looking back, the US helped the ISI create and train ‘jihadi’ forces that now threaten Pakistan. More recently Washington has directly attacked Pakistan. There have been hundreds of drone strikes. But some of these drone strikes were requested by Pakistan which, for many years, even provided an air base to facilitate the American activity.

It is also worth noting that since 9/11 the US has given over $25 billion to Pakistan. Most of it has gone to the army.

Next up, Afghanistan. It acts as a safe haven for fighters who want to attack targets in Pakistan (just as Pakistan has provided a safe haven for fighters who want to attack targets in Afghanistan). But the main threat posed by Afghanistan is long term. Successive Afghan governments have rejected the validity of the Durand Line but have been too weak to advance their claim. Should a strong Pakhtun-led government ever be established in Kabul, Pakistan should expect a challenge to its territorial integrity.

During the 1980s, the Saudis matched US spending on creating anti-Soviet ‘jihadis’. And Pakistan still suffers from the political dispensation under which the House of Saud enjoys clerics’ support so long as they are free to export their brand of Islam. It is widely accepted that Saudi Arabia has poured vast sums of money into Pakistani madressahs that have produced some of the fighters who have killed tens of thousands of people. Riyadh’s reluctance to accept Shia officers amongst the ranks of Pakistani army personnel deployed to Saudi Arabia undermines the tradition of harmonious inter-communal relations within the Pakistan army. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has for years provided Pakistan with cheap oil.

You could argue that neither the UK nor the UAE are powerful enough to merit inclusion on the list. Yet, both have played quite important, negative and enabling roles by providing a place of exile for corrupt politicians and coup leaders. The UK also provides a safe haven for the political

leadership of MQM, despite knowing that the organisation is involved in considerable levels of violence in Karachi. On the other hand the UK is spending quite considerable sums on education, especially in Punjab.

So is the military officer’s ranking of the relative threat posed by these countries correct? It is a difficult assessment. Should US aid and Saudi oil, for example, offset some of the harmful actions by those two countries? And are long-term threats more or less important than short-term ones?

One way of looking at it is to try to assess the number of Pakistanis whose violent deaths can be traced back to the countries on the list. One might compare, for example, the number of people being killed by US drones (bearing in mind that Pakistan facilitated most of them) with the numbers being killed by Saudi-funded Afghanistan-based militants. It is complicated because some of the sources of violence overlap in not very holy alliances. Still, a consideration of who the Pakistani victims might reasonably blame could result in the following ranking of threats: Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the US, India, the UK and the UAE.

The writer is a British journalist and author of Pakistan: Eye of the Storm.
Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2016

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Nutrition – Small Investments Can Make a Huge Impact Wed, 03 Aug 2016 15:36:37 +0000 Bjorn Lomborg2 By Dr. Bjorn Lomborg
Aug 3 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Bangladesh has made great strides in many areas, including poverty eradication and life expectancy. There are still many opportunities for investments that improve the nation’s future and transform lives.

nutrition_0__Recently, a high-level team of prominent Bangladeshi development and economics leaders and a Nobel Laureate in Economics identified a prioritised list of such opportunities. They were tasked with answering the question: “What policies and investments would give Bangladesh the most impact for every taka spent?”

My think-tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Center, commissioned teams of dozens of specialist economists from Bangladesh, South Asia, and around the world to study 76 concrete solutions to improve the future of the country.

This eminent panel met in Dhaka to examine and test all of this research, and found the top two investments were TB treatment and implementation of an e-procurement system for government. The third best investment (as well as the seventh) was on nutrition, which just underlines how vital it is for Bangladesh.

And for nutrition, too, Bangladesh has seen great progress. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that in 1993, the average Bangladeshi had access to 2,000 calories per day, whereas today that number has increased to 2,450 calories. The prevalence of underweight children under five years of age declined from 66 percent in 1990 to 33 percent in 2014, meeting the Millennium Development Goal target one year early.

But poor nutrition continues to impede Bangladesh’s progress. The effects include maternal mortality, infant mortality, and stillbirths. Also, poor growth among small children results in stunting, which in turn has life-long consequences. Affecting about six million Bangladeshi children under the age of five, the condition decreases cognitive development, leads to worse health outcomes and school performance, and lowers productivity throughout adult life. The rate of stunting in Bangladesh is significantly higher than the global average.

The Seventh Five Year Plan states, “A particular challenge faced by the nutrition sub-sector is that it is perceived as a low priority relative to other development issues.” The Plan identifies institutional limitations, persistent micronutrient deficiencies, lack of public awareness, maternal under-nutrition, acute malnutrition and lack of dietary diversity as the key problems that need tackling.

My think-tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Center, has partnered with the Bangladesh think-tank Centre for Research and Information to look at nutrition.

This partnership saw us hold a high-level nutrition policy seminar in Dhaka this month.

Publishing new research on nutrition investments and their costs and benefits in Bangladesh, and bringing together key decision-makers and academics to discuss the policy framework, the Policy Seminar provided an opportunity for a proactive and focused discussion on nutrition priorities and policy options.

The seminar was addressed by the Honourable Minister of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Mr. Mohammed Nasim. The discussion was moderated by Professor Abdul Bayes, Director, BRAC-RED who also leads the BRAC-LANSA (Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia) Team in Bangladesh.

Attended by stakeholders and experts of nutrition from the government, NGOs and international agencies, the policy seminar discussed different ways of responding to malnutrition.

One such intervention is to try to stop pregnant women from consuming smokeless tobacco. Bangladesh has the highest prevalence of smokeless tobacco use among women in the world. This behavioural intervention would include face-to-face counselling by a health care provider, the use of printed materials and it would be run by community health workers responsible for home visits and delivering change and communication messages. Examining the costs and benefits, researchers for Copenhagen Consensus have worked out that for every taka we spend trying to change the behaviour of pregnant women, the benefits – from things like reduced healthcare costs and better health – would be worth 7 taka to society.

Another intervention is to focus on providing nutritional supplements during pregnancy. Different supplements do different things; for example, calcium given to pregnant women can reduce the chances of a complication called pre-eclampsia during childbirth. Here, every taka spent just on this specific supplement would generate 12 taka of benefits to society. Iron-folate supplements would have benefits 28-times the costs, and balanced energy protein intake would be 17-times.

Encouraging girls to enrol and stay in school via stipends would increase the age of starting a family, which can lift the potential earnings of mothers. This, in turn, will lead to improved nutrition and reduced stunting of children, with greater earning potential passed onto their children in the long term. Each taka spent on the stipend programme will generate around 8 taka of social and economic benefit.

Supplementary foods are important not just for pregnant mothers. We can provide nutrients that would otherwise not be consumed in sufficient quantities (such as vitamins, minerals, fibres, fatty acids and amino acids). Promoting dietary diversification through nutrient dense foods, both in quality and quantity, will lead to better nutritional status of women and children. Each taka spent on designing complementary and supplementary feeding programmes will generate a benefit of around 15 taka for society.

Besides complementary and supplementary feeding, direct nutritional interventions aimed at mothers, babies and small children in the first 1,000 days would yield improvements in physical and cognitive development. This can lead to better educational achievements for children as they embark upon a healthier lifestyle, and increased earnings later, upon entering the labour market. Every taka spent in delivering a bundled nutritional package of maternal and child interventions would generate a return to society of around 19 taka.

These are among the ideas examined in seven new nutrition research papers released by Copenhagen Consensus.

Direct nutritional interventions are simple and relatively cheap. As the Bangladesh Priorities eminent panel found, these investments compete very favourably with other policy options.

We know that if we can get certain micronutrients to infants, we can rescue them from stunting. Achieving wider coverage should be a top goal.

To fund such investments, firstly, existing nutrition strategies need to spend the budget allocated, and more needs to be spent across all of government on proven nutrition interventions. There is a compelling economic case to do so. Poor nutrition has an impact on economic outcomes, on health, on education; improving nutrition can bring about positive change in the short and long term and is essential to Bangladesh’s Vision 21.

Fortunately, there are smart nutrition interventions, packages and policies like those analysed by researchers for the Copenhagen Consensus Center. By pursuing cost-effective responses to malnutrition, Bangladesh can own the problem and its solutions. Bangladesh can exercise control over its own budgets and policy priorities, and draw on international agendas.

Substantive progress on nutrition policy can be made with strong leadership and coordination across government departments. Prioritising nutrition in the government budget would provide huge benefits to Bangladesh.

The writer is president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, ranking the smartest solutions to the world’s biggest problems by cost-benefit. He was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time Magazine.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Is Hypocrisy The Silent Strategy of Western Democracy? Wed, 03 Aug 2016 15:12:55 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr The invasion of Iraq by the United States and its allies in 2003 has brought destruction and despair to the lives of countless Iraqi citizens. Credit: IPS

The invasion of Iraq by the United States and its allies in 2003 has brought destruction and despair to the lives of countless Iraqi citizens. Credit: IPS

By Dominique Von Rohr
ROME, Aug 3 2016 (IPS)

The official reasons for the US-led, UK-backed invasion of Iraq in 2003 were to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, end Saddam Hussein’s support of terrorism, and free the Iraqi people.

However, immediately after the United States deposed and killed Iraq’s dictator and established a new authority to govern the country, a chaotic post-invasion environment surfaced, militias formed, inter-ethnic violence between Sunnis and Shias increased, and the Abu Ghraib scandal came to light.

In the following years, communities have been displaced, terror attacks have increased, and the Islamic State has emerged. Since the beginning of the invasion by the US and its allies until the present day, 180’000 civilians have lost their lives in Iraq, according to a database by the Iraq Body Count.

While it is undisputable that Saddam Hussein’s regime was brutal and appalling, the misery brought on by the war and endured by Iraqis until today is incomparable to the former dictator’s reign.

The Iraq War represents a catastrophe that could not have been more disastrous. It most certainly brought the calamitous failures of western powers to the fore.

On the 6th of July 2016, Sir John Chilcot delivered a crushing 6000-page verdict on the Iraq War and condemned former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision in backing George Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

In the document, Blair is accused of exaggerating the threat Saddam Hussein posed to British interests. The report states that peaceful alternatives to the war were not explored.

It further states that the information regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was presented in the media and named as one of the main causes of the war in spite of there being no proof of the existence of such weapons.

Chilcot writes that the United Kingdom and the United States have undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council by going ahead with the invasion, and concludes that the war in 2003 was indeed, unnecessary.

Although Blair openly acknowledged parts of the accusations, he also rejected others. Blair believes that it was essential to remove Hussein and that the war is not the cause for the terrorism of today in the region. In the midst of all these allegations, American officials so far have kept quiet.

The families of the 179 Britons killed so unnecessarily during the war will use Chilcot’s report to seek justice. The families of the thousands of dead Iraqi civilians, however, may never receive it.

They never decided to be in a war. They were no soldiers. Yet their houses, their streets, their infrastructure, their way of making a living – everything has been destroyed, as life in the UK and America goes on as undisturbed as it has before the Iraqi war.

Saddam has gone, but in his place, we now have 1000 Saddams”, Kadhim al-Jabbouri, an Iraqi who used to repair Hussein’s motorcycles, told BBC news.

Blair and Bush have repeatedly insisted that Iraq and the world are better off without Saddam Hussein.

However, as the ringleaders behind the mass violence executed in Iraq, who are they to decide who deserves to live and die?

Blair and Bush are responsible for havoc and murder, and the galling question cannot be avoided: In the end, who killed more Iraqis?

The two democratically elected representatives of Western democracies, or the dictator who ruled Iraq before their arrival?

Wanting to bring freedom to the people in Iraq is an honourable endeavour, however, whether this was the genuine intention of the US and Great Britain remains doubtful.

In many ways, Blair and Bush’s decision to wage war on Iraq represents the notion that Western democracy can easily be turned into western hypocrisy

Broadcasting the inhumane violence conducted in Iraq as a humanitarian intervention and as “war on terror”, the whole invasion really seems to have been engineered as a means of gaining power for the US and the UK.

In the end, this power-hungry style of governance has cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

It is thus deeply appalling that today, the entire Muslim population is held responsible by presidential candidate Donald Trump and other Islamophobes in the United States and Europe for the criminal group that calls itself the Islamic State – a group whom no one has elected, and maybe would not even exist if it were not for countless US interventions.

Why then should Western liberal democracies not be held accountable for mass murderers like Tony Blair and George Bush who were in fact fairly and freely elected?”, Hamid Dabashi, Professor of Iranian Studies at Colombia University, argues on Aljazeera.

In the process of writing the Chilcot report, the British government has prevented the release of specific documents. The exposure of extracts of a conversation between Bush and Blair recorded prior to the invasion of Iraq has been blocked.

The publishing of the Chilcot report had been postponed due to difficult negotiations with the United States, and now, certain content has been removed from the media with suspicious haste.

The manner in which the Iraq war is being dealt with thereby gives strength to the allegation that it was nothing less than an illegal war.

If this is truly a democratic world, should the initiators of the war not be prosecuted in the same way as previous African dictators and despots from the Middle East guilty of the same crime?

I will be with you, whatever”, Blair wrote in one of his secret letters to Bush, written exchanges wherein the two leaders shared the belief that the time had come to define post-cold war world order.

It is this kind of western incompetence and adoption of imperialistic war tendencies that have created a platform for years of strife and conflict in the Middle East.

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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UN Spotlight for Dark Shadow over Civil Society Rights Wed, 03 Aug 2016 05:28:00 +0000 Tor Hodenfield Tor Hodenfield works on the Policy and Research Team at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance - @Tor_Hodenfield]]> Indigenous rights protestors bundled away from COP 16 climate change negotiations in Cancun by police. Credit: Nastasya Tay/IPS

Indigenous rights protestors bundled away from COP 16 climate change negotiations in Cancun by police. Credit: Nastasya Tay/IPS

By Tor Hodenfield

With more and more governments narrowing space for dissent and activism, the UN has emerged as a key platform to air concerns about acute rights violations and develop protections for civil society and other vulnerable groups.

The core freedoms that enable civil society to conduct its work are under threat across the world. A report recently released by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, documented serious violations of the freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly in 109 countries. Individual activists and journalists are also increasingly being targeted to prevent them from exercising their legitimate rights and undertaking their vital work. In 2015, Global witness documented the killing of three environmental activists per week – while the Committee to Protect Journalists identified 199 journalists who were behind bars at the end of 2015.

Worryingly, restrictions on the exercise of civil society freedoms are being experienced in democracies as well as authoritarian states. In the US, Black Lives Matter demonstrators are facing serious challenges to their right to protest peacefully both from overzealous law enforcement agents as well as from divisive right wing politicians. In South Korea, security forces have violently repressed popular protests and judicially harassed civil society and union leaders advocating for greater transparency of the government’s ongoing investigation of the 2014 Sewol Ferry disaster. On July 4th, the President of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU), Han Sang-gyun, was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in organizing the protests.

Ethiopia’s totalitarian state apparatus has brutally suppressed grievances about access to land, adequate health services and education in the Oromia region, precipitating mass protests since November 2015. Over 400 protestors, including scores of children have been killed in one of the most egregious crackdowns on the right to protest in Sub-Saharan Africa in the 21st century. In Bahrain, the absolute monarchy continues to imprison human rights defenders, revoke the citizenship of outspoken critics and prevent activists from attending UN human rights conferences.

Due to the narrowing of political space in many countries around the world, there are fewer and fewer avenues available to individuals and groups to express their grievances at home. This makes the United Nations (UN) an important arena to highlight the importance of rights and to articulate international human rights standards.

The UN Human Rights Council, the UN’s preeminent human rights body, which recently concluded its 32nd Session in Geneva, took a number of critical steps to address restrictions on human rights and expand protections for civil society and other vulnerable groups. Notably, over the course of this three-week session, the UN decided to appoint the first-ever independent expert to monitor sexual orientation and gender identity rights, renewed the appointment of a similar expert to report on violations of the rights to freedom of assembly and association, and adopted a landmark resolution on the key principles necessary to protect and promote the work of civil society.

Last month at UN headquarters in New York, civil society, businesses and governments met to discuss the implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals. The 17 universal goals provide an important platform for civil society to frame their government’s development and policies for the next 15 years and mitigates against many government’s reluctance to engage with civil society at the national level. The design of the goals has been lauded for its unprecedented levels of public participation and the recognition that civil society must be a co-partner in the delivery of international development agreements.

However, despite the admirable steps taken by the UN to address civic space restrictions and create a safe and enabling environment for NGOs to engage on important human rights issues, states are replicating repressive tactics to undermine the access and potency of civil society at the UN. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a civil society organisation mandated to document violations against press freedom, was recently granted consultative status with the UN’s Economic and Social Council, which allows NGOs to formally address UN bodies and processes, only after a decision to block them for the fourth year running was overturned. In another worrying attempt to suppress civil society participation at the UN, weeks earlier dozens of member states blocked over 20 LGBTI advocacy groups from attending the UN Global Aids Summit.

While the UN has emerged as an increasingly vital nexus to ensure that civic society grievances are considered, concerted efforts among the UN, States and civil society need to be made to ensure that decisions and norms the UN develops reach the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. The UN, and its allies in civil society, must work together to help demystify the work of the UN and ensure that countries across the world are domesticating and delivering on these important human rights initiatives.

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