Inter Press Service » Crime & Justice http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 10 Feb 2016 20:01:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 The State We’re In: Ending Sexism in Nationality Lawshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/the-state-were-in-ending-sexism-in-nationality-laws-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-state-were-in-ending-sexism-in-nationality-laws-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/the-state-were-in-ending-sexism-in-nationality-laws-2/#comments Mon, 25 Jan 2016 08:35:02 +0000 Antonia Kirkland http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143683

Antonia Kirkland, Programme Manager, Discrimination in Law, at Equality Now

By Antonia Kirkland
NEW YORK, Jan 25 2016 (IPS)

Everyone has the right to be born with a nationality – safe, fearless and free – and secure in their human right to equally transfer, acquire, change or retain it. There is no reason why over 50 countries should still have sexist nationality and citizenship laws, which largely discriminate against women, potentially putting them and their families in danger and denying them the rights, benefits and services that everyone should enjoy.

A new global report by Equality Now demands that these laws, which discriminate on the basis of sex, should be urgently revised in line with international legal obligations. Although commitments have been repeatedly made by governments around the world to work towards repealing such discriminatory laws, many have yet to translate their promises into action.

Despite the reluctance to do this by many countries, momentum is gathering at the global level to fix sexist nationality laws. This includes a target in the post-2015 sustainable agenda for eliminating discriminatory laws, adopted by the UN, and the setting up of the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, a coalition with a steering committee made up of UNHCR, the Women’s Refugee Commission, the Equal Rights Trust, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion and Equality Now.

At the national level, a number of countries have either removed, or taken steps to address, discriminatory provisions within their nationality laws since 2013. Senegal, Austria, Jordan, Vanuatu, Suriname, Niger and Denmark have all made amendments – or at least taken steps towards legal reform in some way.

We hope that this will create a ripple effect for neighboring countries. Others such as the Bahamas and Togo have indicated that change may happen soon, and we hope they, and all countries with remaining discriminatory laws, will pick up the pace of reform in 2016.

Sexist nationality laws reinforce harmful gender stereotypes. Once married, a woman loses her independent identity if she loses her nationality of origin; a child “belongs” to a father rather than a mother if only the father can give the child citizenship. Other negative outcomes for women and their families include lack of access to education, social and medical services and even increased risk of child marriage.

Nour was born in Lebanon and married off at 15 to a relative in Egypt, to avoid the difficulties of being an adult in Lebanon without Lebanese nationality, while in Jordan, Maysar, a Jordanian woman, was refused by the officer in charge, who suggested that she should not have married a non-national.

Maysar would now prefer that her daughters marry Jordanians, to ensure that they do not endure what she did. Her husband works illegally in the construction sector, as he cannot afford the fees necessary for his work permit.

In a case study provided by our partner, Nina, a Malaysian woman, married Brian from the US. They had a daughter, Julia, but moved back to her home country. Due to Brian’s short-term immigration status, he found it impossible to find a job. After three years of frustration and considerable expense, Nina finally obtained Malaysian citizenship for her daughter. Had Nina been a man, the process would have been automatic.

Losing her nationality of origin can leave a woman especially vulnerable, if her marriage ends due to divorce, or the death of her husband – particularly if her children have their father’s nationality. Even if a woman is able to subsequently claim back her nationality, delays and other hurdles in regaining citizenship can cause her considerable trauma, anxiety and other hardship.

Having committed to do so on many occasions, all governments should immediately turn words into deeds and finally prioritize the amendment of all sexist nationality laws. This will help them comply with both their international legal obligations, as well as their own national obligations to ensure equal access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

National legislation should be revised so that women and men can equally extend citizenship to each other and to their children, whether their children are born in or out of marriage, at home or abroad. It should also be revised so women and men can acquire, keep or change their own nationality in the same way.

This will send a clear signal that everyone is valued equally, in a fairer society, where everyone can reach their full potential. Getting these laws working for women and girls will mean a safer and more prosperous society. Nationality laws can be unnecessarily complex, but removing discrimination between men and women is not a complicated concept – and working together, this is something that can be achieved in a very short time, if governments truly care about girls and women

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CPJ: Two Thirds of 2015 Journalist Deaths were Acts of Reprisalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/cpj-two-thirds-of-2015-journalist-deaths-were-acts-of-reprisal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cpj-two-thirds-of-2015-journalist-deaths-were-acts-of-reprisal http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/cpj-two-thirds-of-2015-journalist-deaths-were-acts-of-reprisal/#comments Fri, 01 Jan 2016 20:24:32 +0000 Katherine Mackenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143499 By Katherine Mackenzie
ROME, Jan 1 2016 (IPS)

Of the 69 journalists who died on the job in 2015, 40 per cent were killed by Islamic militant groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Startlingly more than two-thirds were targeted for murder, according to a special report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in its annual report that nine of those killings took place in France, second to Syria as the most dangerous country for the press in last year.

Globally 69 journalists were killed due to their vocation, including those slain for their reporting and those caught in crossfire or in conflict. The total for 2015 is higher than the 61 journalists killed in 2014.

The CPJ says it is investigating the deaths of a further 26 more journalists during the year to determine if they too were work-related.

In 2012, 2013, and 2014, those killed in Syria exceeded those than anywhere else in the world. But the fewer number this year dying on the job in Syria only means it is so dangerous that there are fewer journalists working there, said the report. Many international news agencies chose to withdraw staff anf local reporters were forced to flee, said the CPJ.

The report cited difficulties in researching cases in conflict including Libya, Yemen and Iraq. CPJ went on a research mission to Iraq last year investigating reports that some 35 journalists from the Mosul area had gone missing, were killed or being held by Islamic State.

The militant group has a grip on the city so the CPJ said it could only confirm the deaths of a few journalists. The committee’s report said it had received reports of dozens of other journalists killed but could not independently confirm the deaths or if indeed, journalism was the reason. It said several of these journalists are currently on CPJ’s missing list.

A mural for Avijit Roy in Dhaka, one of four bloggers murdered by extremists in Bangladesh this year. Credit: AP/A.M. Ahad

A mural for Avijit Roy in Dhaka, one of four bloggers murdered by extremists in Bangladesh this year. Credit: AP/A.M. Ahad

The Charlie Hebdo massacre that took place in Paris last January was claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Eight journalists at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were targeted.

Islamic State in October murdered two Syrian journalists living in exile in Turkey, Fares Hamadi and Ibrahim Abd al-Qader. Abd al-Qader was given CPJ’s 1015 International Press Freedom Award as he was an early member of Raqaa is Being Slaughtered Silently, a Syrian citizen journalist group.

“In Bangladesh, members of an Al-Qaeda affiliate or another local extremist group, Ansarullah Bangla Team, were suspected in the hacking or stabbing murders of a publisher and four bloggers, including U.S.-Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was attending a book fair when he was killed,”said the report.

The Taliban in Pakistan claimed responsibility for the shooting of Zaman Mehsud, president and secretary-general of the Tribal Union of Journalists’ South Waziristan chapter and reporter for the Urdu-language Daily Ummat and Daily Nai Baat newspapers.

A security officer investigates the murder of Somali journalist Hindia Haji Mohamed, who was killed by a car bomb in December. Credit: AFP/Mohamed Abdiwahab

A security officer investigates the murder of Somali journalist Hindia Haji Mohamed, who was killed by a car bomb in December. Credit: AFP/Mohamed Abdiwahab

In Somalia, Hindia Haji Mohamed, a journalist and the widow of another murdered journalist, was killed in December when a bomb blew up her car in an attack claimed by the Islamic militant group al-Shabaab.

Governments around the world were jailing at least 110 journalists on anti-state charges. This is out of 199 total jailed, according to CPJ’s most recent annual prison census.—It shows how the press is being cornered and targeted by terrorists and also squeezed by the squeezed by authorities saying there were committed to fighting terror as well, it said.

More than two thirds of the journalists killed in 2015 were targeted and murdered as a direct result of their work.

The report said about one third of journalists’ deaths worldwide were carried out by criminal groups, government officials, or local residents who were, in most cases, drug traffickers or those involved in organized crime. They included Brazilian Gleydson Carvalho, shot dead by two men while he was presenting his afternoon radio show. He was often critical of politicians and police Brazil had six killings last year, the highest since CPJ began keeping records in 1992.

But Brazilian judicial authorities have made headway in combating impunity by getting six convictions in murder cases in the last two years, said the report.

South Sudan registered for the first time on CPJ’s index of slain journalists when unidentified gunmen attacked an official convoy killing five journalists traveling with a county official. The motive is still unknown but there have been various accusations. Some say this could have been the result of the power struggle between former Vice President Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir which set off the civil war in 2013.

The murders of the five landed South Sudan on CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, which highlights countries where journalists are murdered and there is no one held responsible so their killers go free.

South Sudan, Poland and Ghana appeared on CPJ’s killed database for the first time. In Poland, Łukasz Masiak, was fatally assaulted in a bowling alley after telling colleagues he feared for his life. He was the founder and editor of a news website and reported on crime and drugs and pollution. In Ghana, radio reporter George Abanga, was shot dead on his way back from covering a cocoa farmers dispute.

CPJ cites these trends from its research:

• Seventeen journalists worldwide were killed in combat or crossfire. Five were killed on a dangerous assignment.
• At least 28 of the 47 murder victims received threats before they were killed.
• Broadcast reporting was the most dangerous job, with 25 killed. Twenty-nine victims worked online.
• The most common type of reporting by victims was politics, followed by war and human rights.

CPJ, in 1992, began compiling detailed records on all journalist deaths. If motives in a killing are unclear, it is possible that a journalist died in relation to his or her work and CPJ classifies the case as “unconfirmed” and continues to investigate. CPJ said its list does not include journalists who died of illness or natural causes or were killed in car or plane accidents unless the crash considered hostile action.

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Cuba Needs a Law Against Gender Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/cuba-needs-a-law-against-gender-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuba-needs-a-law-against-gender-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/cuba-needs-a-law-against-gender-violence/#comments Thu, 31 Dec 2015 01:22:46 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143478 Members of the Red de Artistas Únete artists network, which organised a “no to gender violence” flash mob on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Members of the Red de Artistas Únete artists network, which organised a “no to gender violence” flash mob on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Dec 31 2015 (IPS)

Activists and researchers dedicated to the study of gender violence in Cuba insist on the need for a comprehensive law to protect the victims and prevent the problem, which was publicly ignored until only a few years ago in this socialist Caribbean island nation.

Legislation is necessary “because even when the ideal in our society is justice and equality, there are social expressions of violence against women that have been kept invisible, which contributes to the impunity enjoyed by the abusers,” psychologist Valia Solís told IPS.

Solis, with the non-governmental Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue – Cuba (CCRD), based in Cárdenas in the western province of Matanzas, added that the law should not be limited to providing for prison terms, because violence requires a preventive approach in order to keep the behavior and its consequences from getting worse.

Several articles of the Cuban constitution, the penal code and other legislation refer to gender equality. But there are no specific laws aimed at fighting sexist violence, or adequate instruments to protect the victims.

People who face gender-related mistreatment are “in a state of vulnerability, and a law could attenuate this,” said Aida Torralbas, a professor and researcher at the university of the eastern province of Holguín, who said the phenomenon is largely unnoticed and surrounded by impunity.

In her view, although a punitive response is not the best option, because it addresses the problem after the act, it is important because it recognises gender violence as something that must be punished and that hurts the integrity of another person. Torralbas concurs with other academics that education is an essential factor in combating the problem.

“That’s why a law of this kind must also take into account the possibility of educating society in non-patriarchal and non-sexist values that modify ways of thinking and acting,” she said. The expert also argued that it is important to strengthen training of judicial system and law enforcement personnel with respect to how to deal with these issues.

“It’s a fact that the police themselves do not know how to handle these questions,” Mercedes Abreu, a social worker with the Integral Neighbourhood Transformation Workshop (TTIB) of Pogolotti, in the Havana district of Marianao, told IPS.

The TTIBs were created in 1988 to carry out social work in poor neighbourhoods in the capital, and are under municipal government administration.

“Women themselves often do not know that they’re the victims of violence in the family, in the workplace, in the community. Ignorance leads us to turn a blind eye to this problem,” said Abreu, who also said the Cuban population “has very little legal awareness.”

From left to right: Yamila Delgado, Nidia Tamayo, Lidia Santos and Alina Sabor, victims of domestic violence who belong to the group “Women with a purpose”, in the offices of the Integral Neighbourhood Transformation Workshop (TTIB) in the Libertad neighbourhood in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

From left to right: Yamila Delgado, Nidia Tamayo, Lidia Santos and Alina Sabor, victims of domestic violence who belong to the group “Women with a purpose”, in the offices of the Integral Neighbourhood Transformation Workshop (TTIB) in the Libertad neighbourhood in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The TTIBs and civil society organisations have helped pull out of the closet a reality that is the product of Cuba’s patriarchal culture, which runs counter to the progress made towards equality such as equal wages for men and women, the massive incorporation of girls and women in education and the labour market, and free, universal access to abortion on demand.

For example, since 2007, the “Oscar Arnulfo Romero” Centre for Reflection and Solidarity (OAR) and other groups have been organising an annual National Day for Non-Violence Against Women, to coincide with the 16 days of global activism between Nov. 25 and Dec. 10.

Without underestimating the impact achieved by this activism, Abreu believes the question of violence must be addressed continually from different angles. “We can’t just focus on it during the week of activism against violence. Progress can’t be made this way,” said the social worker, who has worked for several years in a low-income neighbourhood.

In her view, the efforts must involve families, schools, the family doctor, social workers, the Federation of Cuban Women, decision-makers, the media, churches, activists, lawyers, judges and the police.

Elaine Saralegui, a theologian and pastor of the Metropolitan Church in Cuba, in the western province of Matanzas, told IPS that “violence has to do with the established order and with the relations between people or groups in unequal positions of power.”

She said laws were needed to protect and promote free expression of gender identity. “When we talk about gender, people generally think about men and women, and we tend to ignore other expressions of gender that don’t fit in the heteronormative mindset,” she said.

Lawyer Indira Fajardo speaking during the event “You are more: Reflections on gender violence in Cuba” in the Multifactorial Panel during the National Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women 2015, whose theme was “Prevention of and attention to gender violence as a health, social and rights problem” in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Lawyer Indira Fajardo speaking during the event “You are more: Reflections on gender violence in Cuba” in the Multifactorial Panel during the National Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women 2015, whose theme was “Prevention of and attention to gender violence as a health, social and rights problem” in Havana, Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

She said the country needs “laws that can offer legal protection across the board, explicitly, where each one of the faces of the people hurt by heteronormativity, patriarchal sexism and gender violence are taken into consideration.”

“So we’re talking about heterosexual women, but also about people with different sexual orientations and gender identities,” she said.

In 2012, the first National Conference of the governing Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) included the rejection of gender and domestic violence in its objectives, in what was seen as an important official recognition of the issue.

The PCC is organising its seventh congress for April 2016, with an agenda that includes assessment of compliance with the agreements reached at the party’s sixth congress and First National Conference. The last congress, in 2011, approved a programme of reforms to update the country’s socialist model of development.

Next year, the governmental Women’s Studies Centre and the National Statistics and Information Office plan to carry out a national survey on gender equality, although it is not clear whether gender violence will be included in the questions.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean now have laws against gender violence, although only eight have earmarked specific funds in the national budget.

Meanwhile, 14 countries have created a separate criminal classification for femicide – gender-motivated murders – and two have established that it is homicide aggravated by gender hostility in their legislation.

Edited by Verónica Firme/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Women Inmates Sow Hope in Prisons in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/women-inmates-sow-hope-in-prisons-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-inmates-sow-hope-in-prisons-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/women-inmates-sow-hope-in-prisons-in-el-salvador/#comments Tue, 29 Dec 2015 18:58:02 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143462 Jannete Salvador and Doris Zabala plant chives on the Izalco prison farm for women in the western Salvadoran department of Sonsonate. The government is extending the use of farm work and other activities in prisons to keep inmates active and productive. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Jannete Salvador and Doris Zabala plant chives on the Izalco prison farm for women in the western Salvadoran department of Sonsonate. The government is extending the use of farm work and other activities in prisons to keep inmates active and productive. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
IZALCO, El Salvador, Dec 29 2015 (IPS)

Doris Zabala squats down in the field to pull up radishes. She is working on a prison farm in El Salvador, where more and more penitentiaries are incorporating agricultural work and other activities to keep prisoners busy.

“The harvest has been good – nice, big red radishes,” Zabala told IPS. She is one of 210 inmates at the Centro Penitenciario para Mujeres Granja Izalco – a prison farm for women in the municipality of Izalco in the western department of Sonsonate.

This facility is only for minimum-security women prisoners who already have weekend leave to visit their families.

Of the 210 prisoners, 80 work in the fields, while the rest are active in other areas, such as cooking in the prison kitchen or taking care of the inmates’ children.

On the 26 hectares of land used by the prison farm, the women use agroecological methods to grow radishes, sesame, tomatoes, corn, papaya and other fruit and vegetables. A small chicken farm has also begun to operate, and a tilapia fish farm is on the cards.

“At my house there is land for growing things, so when I’m free I plan to continue gardening because I like it,” said 32-year-old Cecilia Méndez, who has spent six years in prison. She told IPS she is set to be released in eight months.

The farm was inaugurated in January 2011 as part of the government’s efforts to offer occupational alternatives in the country’s overpopulated prisons, to gradually ease the problems of idle prisoners, overcrowding, violence and crime that have reigned supreme in the penitentiaries for decades.

This Central American country’s 21 prisons were built for a combined total of 8,100 prisoners, but currently hold 32,300 – four times the capacity – according to official figures.

There is an “enormous humanitarian crisis in the penitentiary system” says the report “The Salvadoran Prison System and its Facilities”, published in November this year by the University Institute for Public Opinion (IUDOP) at the catholic José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA), under the auspices of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

The Izalco prison farm is part of the government programme Yo Cambio (I Change), which includes a number of measures aimed at boosting the reintegration of prisoners and reducing recidivism.

The programme offers skills training, activities and work to keep inmates busy and improve their reinsertion into society once they are released. Projects also include rebuilding, enlarging and refurbishing existing prisons and the construction of new facilities, to ease the serious problem of overcrowding.

“Everyone thinks we don’t do anything, that we sit around thinking abut things that we shouldn’t, but we actually keep busy,” said Méndez, walking between rows of chives (Allium schoenoprasum).

The use of environmentally-friendly farming techniques, such as organic fertiliser, is a key part of the process.

“The idea is to teach the inmates new practices,” Óscar Menéndez, the farm administrator, told IPS.

“Anyone who likes to work keeps busy here,” María Cristina Vásquez, 53, who is in charge of the papaya crop and the small chicken coop with 100 chicks that arrived recently, which she cares for with dedication.

The farm’s output is for internal prison consumption and the surplus is sent to other penitentiaries.

On Dec. 22, the government signed a 4.2 million dollar contract with a construction company to refurbish the facilities in Izalco, to improve conditions.

A similar prison farm is located outside the city of Santa Ana in the department of the same name in western El Salvador.

The programme is not limited to farms but also includes other employment activities, in other prisons, such as carpentry and shoe production and repair.

In the Centro Penal Apanteos prison, 72 km west of San Salvador, also in the department of Santa Ana, the inmates set up a novel laboratory where they produce 60,000 tilapia fish in the larval stage per month.

They also created a factory that produces bleach and disinfectant, based on the expertise passed along by a former prisoner.

“He knew how to do this, and our motto here is that whoever knows something teaches it to others who don’t know,” said Rolando Artiaga, 24, who is in charge of running the small factory. They produce 200 gallons of disinfectant and 150 gallons of bleach a month, which are sold inside the prison itself.

The programme also includes activities like sports, education, healthcare, religion, art and culture.

But not all the inmates have access to these benefits.

Of the 32,300 prisoners in the country, only one-third benefit from the project, in 12 prisons around the country, Orlando Elías Molina, assistant director of the government’s prison administration agency, the DGCP, told IPS.

In the biggest prison, La Esperanza, to the north of San Salvador, the authorities tried to launch some of the activities used by the programme, in mid-2015, but the efforts were frustrated because of the gangs that control the prison, he added.

“If we let the criminal structures run this, it’s not going to work,” Molina said.

Next year, he added, they will try to get activities going even in those prisons that specifically hold gang members, such as the one in Chalatenango, in the north of the country, which houses members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang. It is one of the most violent gangs along with Barrio 18.

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The Power of the Penhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/the-power-of-the-pen-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-power-of-the-pen-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/the-power-of-the-pen-2/#comments Fri, 25 Dec 2015 21:30:51 +0000 May Carolan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143447 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/the-power-of-the-pen-2/feed/ 0 UN Discovery of Secret Detention Centre Revives Nightmareshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/un-discovery-of-secret-detention-centre-reopens-all-nightmares/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-discovery-of-secret-detention-centre-reopens-all-nightmares http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/un-discovery-of-secret-detention-centre-reopens-all-nightmares/#comments Mon, 21 Dec 2015 10:26:31 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143308 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/un-discovery-of-secret-detention-centre-reopens-all-nightmares/feed/ 0 Earthquake Survivors Struggle Amid Fuel Shortages Due to Protestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/earthquake-survivors-struggle-amid-fuel-shortages-due-to-protests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=earthquake-survivors-struggle-amid-fuel-shortages-due-to-protests http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/earthquake-survivors-struggle-amid-fuel-shortages-due-to-protests/#comments Thu, 17 Dec 2015 06:36:44 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143380 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/earthquake-survivors-struggle-amid-fuel-shortages-due-to-protests/feed/ 0 Immigration – Still a Pending Issue in Cuban-U.S. Relationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/immigration-still-a-pending-issue-in-cuban-u-s-relations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=immigration-still-a-pending-issue-in-cuban-u-s-relations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/immigration-still-a-pending-issue-in-cuban-u-s-relations/#comments Thu, 10 Dec 2015 23:09:03 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143288 Hundreds of Cubans gathered outside the Ecuadorean embassy in Havana in an infrequent public display of discontent, protesting Quito’s decision to require that Cubans visiting Ecuador obtain a visa. Many held up the airplane tickets they had already bought, asking to be given visas or to be reimbursed for the money they had spent. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Hundreds of Cubans gathered outside the Ecuadorean embassy in Havana in an infrequent public display of discontent, protesting Quito’s decision to require that Cubans visiting Ecuador obtain a visa. Many held up the airplane tickets they had already bought, asking to be given visas or to be reimbursed for the money they had spent. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Dec 10 2015 (IPS)

The crisis that has broken out at several border crossings in Latin America as a result of thousands of Cubans attempting to reach the United States has revived a problem that remains unresolved between the two countries in spite of agreements, negotiations and the diplomatic thaw that started a year ago.

In the meantime, measures taken by Havana to curb the exodus of health professionals have led to reversals in the flexibilisation of the country’s migration policies which was part of the reforms being adopted, and have given rise to reflection on the causes and the consequences for the country of the growing wish to move abroad.

Analysts say it’s time to discuss why so many young people want to leave Cuba, despite the risks of failing in their attempt. In October 2012, the government of Raúl Castro lifted the restrictions that for decades kept Cubans from going abroad, eliminating, for example, the requirement of an exit visa to leave the country.

But the main hurdle was still the visa demanded by the United States, the main recipient of immigration from Cuba, and nearly all other countries. “Two friends of mine are stuck in Costa Rica and another was about to buy a ticket to fly to Ecuador when that country began to demand an entry visa, starting on Dec. 1,” a young local musician who preferred not to give his name told IPS.

In response to the announcement that Ecuador would no longer be one of the few countries to which Cubans can freely travel, around 300 people protested outside the Ecuadorean embassy to demand a solution. Some cried while others asked for visas or to be reimbursed for the money they had spent on plane tickets.

Meanwhile, on Monday Dec. 7 the Cuban government put into effect Decree 306, approved on Oct. 11, 2012, which regulates travel abroad of health professionals – a measure that upset a sector that contributes some eight billion dollars a year to state coffers from services provided to third countries.

“Everyone is against the measure, and protesting,” Graciela Nantes, a retired doctor who still works at a hospital in Havana under short-term contracts, told IPS. “Some people were even crying because they have sons and daughters and other relatives outside the country. But what can you do? The measure is a step backwards with regard to a right that had been won.”

Aspiring immigrants to the United States wait in line in the Cuban capital outside the U.S. embassy, which was reopened this year after the two countries reestablished diplomatic ties. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Aspiring immigrants to the United States wait in line in the Cuban capital outside the U.S. embassy, which was reopened this year after the two countries reestablished diplomatic ties. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The authorities have stated that the idea is not to ban travel abroad, but to require that doctors with specialties considered essential or key to scientific research and final year residents apply for a special permit to leave the country, in order to guarantee the stability and functioning of the country’s health services.

According to official data from 2014, Cuba has more than 50,000 health workers on assignments in 66 countries. Over 60 percent of them are women and around half are doctors. The main recipients of Cuban health professionals in Latin America are Venezuela, Brazil and Ecuador, in that order.

The growing migration of Cubans, especially people between the ages of 20 and 40, and women – in 2014, 52 percent of the 46,662 people who left Cuba were female – poses a new challenge for Cuba, due to the low birth rates and an ageing population.

In 2012 the birth rate was 11.3 for every 1,000 inhabitants, 1.5 less than in 2011, while 18.3 percent of the population of 11.2 million was over 60.

“It is young people, from Cuba’s economically active population, who are emigrating, reducing the replacement of the labour force,” economist Blanca Munster of the Centre for Research on the International Economy told IPS. “And more and more women are leaving, reducing the replacement of the population, because they delay the decision to have children until they have settled in the country where they are headed, or by taking their kids with them.”

The protest outside the Ecuadorean embassy took place while more than 5,000 Cuban migrants remained stranded, on Thursday Dec. 10, at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, due to the latter country’s refusal to let them in. Another 1,000 are waiting to cross the border between Colombia and Panama.

From Ecuador, on their grueling journey to the United States, Cuban migrants go through Colombia and Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and other Central American countries before crossing Mexico and reaching the U.S. border.

Sources in the United States estimate that over 43,000 Cubans reached that country between October 2014 and September 2015, mainly entering across the Mexican border. According to human rights groups, Mexico is where migrants face the greatest threat of being robbed, raped, or even killed.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González told IPS in San José that “These people are brought in by the mafias, the international people trafficking networks; without a doubt they are risking their lives. We have received reports of women who have been raped, who have crossed through jungles, and of children who are put in danger. The conditions are deplorable.”

For years Latin American migrants have used the route through Central America to try to make it to the United States. The trafficking rings charge Cubans up to 10,000 dollars for smuggling them into that country. But the flow was cut off when Costa Rica adopted measures against human trafficking in early November.

The crisis coincided with a new round of the periodic migration talks between Cuba and the United States, held to assess the implementation of the agreements reached in 1994 and 1995 aimed at ensuring “safe, legal and orderly” migration. Until the thaw agreed on Dec. 17, 2014, the negotiations were the only regular dialogue between Washington and Havana.

In the talks on Nov. 30, as on previous occasions, Cuba repeated its request for the repeal of the 1966 U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which guarantees residency one year on to any Cuban who sets foot on U.S. soil

In the meantime, “balseros” or “rafters” intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba in compliance with the bilateral accords. And during these talks and in official statements, before and after the restoration of diplomatic ties in July, Washington ruled out any changes in its migration policy towards Cuba.

Havana argues that these policies foment illegal migration, and that the 2006 Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program encourages Cuban medical personnel to leave their posts in third countries and go to the United States.

That programme has drawn over 5,000 Cuban doctors to abandon their overseas assignments. This, together with the freedom to emigrate that health professionals have enjoyed, the retirement of doctors, and the number of medical workers who have switched to other economic activities “have made it even more difficult to maintain the domestic health services,” analyst Jesús Arboleya wrote in an article on the issue.

Experts like Antonio Aja, author of the book “Al cruzar las fronteras” (When Crossing Borders), say Cuba is a source of immigrants, and emigration will continue even under optimal domestic economic conditions.

According to his estimates, one out of three or four people living in Cuba have relatives abroad.

He said social networks are one of the factors that draw people to other countries, along with the search for better economic conditions, jobs and wages. “The thing is, when they get to the United States, they tend to declare themselves as immigrants motivated by political reasons, for their immigration status,” Aja told IPS.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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“Nothing Will Be the Same” for Turkish Press After Recent Electionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/nothing-will-be-the-same-for-turkish-press-after-recent-elections/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nothing-will-be-the-same-for-turkish-press-after-recent-elections http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/nothing-will-be-the-same-for-turkish-press-after-recent-elections/#comments Tue, 01 Dec 2015 07:39:40 +0000 Joris Leverink http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143165 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/nothing-will-be-the-same-for-turkish-press-after-recent-elections/feed/ 0 Gay Rights Activists Hope for The Pope’s Blessings in Ugandahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/gay-rights-activists-hope-for-the-popes-blessings-in-uganda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gay-rights-activists-hope-for-the-popes-blessings-in-uganda http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/gay-rights-activists-hope-for-the-popes-blessings-in-uganda/#comments Tue, 24 Nov 2015 14:19:21 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143099 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/gay-rights-activists-hope-for-the-popes-blessings-in-uganda/feed/ 0 UN Targets “Hidden Source” for Development Fundinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/un-targets-hidden-source-for-development-funding/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-targets-hidden-source-for-development-funding http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/un-targets-hidden-source-for-development-funding/#comments Thu, 05 Nov 2015 22:50:19 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142915 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 5 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations has estimated a hefty funding requirement of over 3.5 trillion to 5.0 trillion dollars per year for the implementation of its ambitious post-2015 development agenda, including 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), approved by world leaders in September.

But at least one key question remains unanswered: how will the UN convince rich nations and the world’s multinational corporations to help raise the necessary trillions to reach those global goals, including the eradication of poverty and hunger by 2030?

According to the UN, there is at least one “hidden source” for development funding, primarily for the world’s most impoverished continent: capturing the illicit financial outflows from Africa, estimated at over 50 billion dollars annually.

James Zhan, Director of Investment and Enterprise at the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), told delegates that tackling illicit financial flows was essential for Africa to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

The estimated resources leaving Africa in the form of illicit financial transfers, he pointed out, was nearly 530 billion dollars between 2002 and 2012.

“That was a huge cost for the continent’s development as those resources could have been invested into Africa’s economic development and structural transformation.”

He said illicit financial flows undermined institutions, drained the state of much needed economic resources, reduced the development resource base and led to higher domestic tax burdens to fill the resource gap.

The 17 SDGs also include quality education, improved health care, gender equality, sustainable energy, protection of the environment and global partnership for sustainable development.

Bhumika Muchhala, Senior Policy Researcher, Finance and Development Programme, at the Third World Network (TWN), told IPS the three key causes of illicit financial outflows are widely held to be commercial tax evasion, criminal activity and government corruption.

She said tax evasion and avoidance, as well as transfer mispricing (trade mis-invoicing) practices of multinational corporations (particularly in the extractives sector), constitute the leading problem, along with money laundering practices and criminal activity such as trafficking in drugs and labour.

As many social movements, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academics and policymakers point out, this does not happen by accident, she said.

Many countries and their institutions actively facilitate, and reap enormous profits from, the theft of massive amounts of money from developing countries.

“This undoes decades of economic development and sabotages the chances of future generations to grow beyond the need for economic aid,” she added.

Following an investigation last year, a High-Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa had concluded that combating such flows was no longer a choice; it had become an imperative.

The Panel, established by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), called upon the African Union (AU) to engage with its partner institutions to elaborate on a global governance framework to determine the “conditions under which assets are frozen, managed and repatriated.”

Ambassador Oh Joon of South Korea, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), told delegates at a UN panel discussion last month that Africa, like other regions, would have to mobilize resources from within the continent.

And the illicit outflows of finance represented an important loss of foreign exchange reserves, an erosion of legal tax base and bygone investment opportunities from natural resource rents, he added.

With an estimated 50 billion dollars per year in illicit financial flows, the effectiveness of domestic resource mobilization would be significantly curtailed if such illicit flows continued, he argued.

Addressing the high level segment of the General Assembly in September, the President of Senegal, Macky Sall, said illicit financial flows from Africa virtually exceeded official development assistance (ODA) to the continent (which amounts about 50 to 55 billion dollars annually).

“If 17 per cent of those assets were recovered, African countries could pay off their entire debts and finance their own development.”

UNCTAD’s Zhan said Africa was the only region where illicit financial flows reached about 5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

He urged transparency and accountability through the strengthening of civil society and called for the promotion of institutional reforms and the creation of anti-corruption commissions.

He said African governments had a big responsibility to tackle the problem but so did the international community.

But African countries could not do it alone. Multinational companies and foreign direct investment (FDI) were also an important part of the solution. United Nations agencies such as UNCTAD could offer advice to African governments to design investment policies and handle tax avoidance and illicit practices by multinationals, Zhan said.

Muchhala told IPS while many organisations highlight the urgent need for reforms in information-sharing and transparency policies in the European Union and the United States, the Tax Justice Network, a key social movement comprised of various NGOs, has been stressing the need to counter tax evasion and tax avoidance.

To this extent, an advocacy campaign to establish a UN global tax body, with the universal membership of the UN, was carried out during the 2014-2015 negotiations for the third Financing for Development (FfD) conference.

The conference, held in Addis Ababa in July 2015, failed to garner consensus for a global tax body due to the resistance of developed countries.

While this is a major disappointment, she said, the push for a global tax body by both developing countries and global social movements, will persist both inside and outside the UN.

This article is part of IPS North America’s media project jointly with Global Cooperation Council and Devnet Tokyo.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Interview: “‘We’re Not Independent Enough,” says ASEAN Rights Commission Chairhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/interview-were-not-independent-enough-says-asean-rights-commission-chair/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=interview-were-not-independent-enough-says-asean-rights-commission-chair http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/interview-were-not-independent-enough-says-asean-rights-commission-chair/#comments Mon, 02 Nov 2015 21:20:05 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142869 By Diana Mendoza
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 2 2015 (IPS)

(IPS Asia-Pacific) – Although it is six years old, few know what the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) does. It has been called toothless, though its creation was seen as a step forward given the principle of non-interference in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

AICHR chair Dr Muhammad Shafee Abdullah

AICHR chair Dr Muhammad Shafee Abdullah

In this chat with IPS Asia-Pacific’s Diana Mendoza, AICHR chair Dr Muhammad Shafee Abdullah says he wishes the body had more power to help ASEAN countries resolve their difficulties on rights issues.

Q: Who are the individuals, groups, organisations or member countries that have approached AICHR to say they needed help for human right violations?

Dr Abdullah: There has been a sizeable number of persons and groups who came forward. But sadly, we are not authorised to receive their complaints and process them so they can go to the next level.

Q: So how did you address the complaints, given your situation?

Dr Abdullah: We asked them to go back to their countries or whoever can help them such as individual lawyers, legal institutions, human rights organisations and advocacy groups. We gave them directions on how to do that, doing all we can to help them find some answers and, we hoped, some form of restitution. But we cannot even interfere. That’s why we feel very inadequate. We are not independent enough. We need to look at our group and see how we can be a better body.

Q: How did these complainants approach you and what were their complaints?

Dr Abdullah: Many of them came to us with papers and documents, but there were more of them who contacted us through emails. Their complaints on human rights violations are very diverse – land rights violations due to seizure and incursion by more powerful people such as politicians and big business. There were those who raised their right to health and a healthy environment because of pollution caused by industries, oil and mine spills, poisoning and others. There were complaints about employment and labour practices, aggression and abuse inflicted by members of their own communities and other parties. But the majority of grievances involve violations of the fundamental rights to freedoms of speech, association and expression.

Q: In the ASEAN Responsible Business Forum (Oct. 27-29, 2015, Kuala Lumpur), you mentioned that you were surprised that ASEAN member states agreed on the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (in 2012). What made you say that?

Dr Abdullah: Yes, I was pleasantly surprised because the 10 countries had their strong suspicions against each other for some reasons. But with this wariness, they still managed to agree that there should be an accord to guide them in human rights issues. But surprised as I was, I tried to understand this decision-making in the context of harmony even in differences in norms and beliefs.

Q: The current issue of the transboundary haze was high in the forum, and you were vocal about the responsibility of companies and industries operating in the region.

Dr Abdullah: Yes, I would say Indonesia should not be blamed for it, or any other country in the region for that matter. It doesn’t even matter which country is responsible, but all the countries should go after the companies causing the haze. They must file complaints against them and make them pay for it. I know countries need to maintain a level of diplomacy on matters like this, and the corporate sector is doing its own PR exercise, but I think each country must enforce its own laws to prevent this thing from happening again. The haze is a health and environmental issue that goes into the centre of human rights. It is a total breach of human rights. And I think the corporate sector should take this issue seriously. Thailand and Singapore have strong securities (guarantees), some sort of entry point for companies wanting to do business to comply with human rights stipulations. This should be a great start.

Q: You also praised Myanmar for initiating efforts to protect the environment.

Dr Abdullah: Myanmar co-organised a workshop on the implementation of human rights obligations relating to the environment and climate change to follow up from a similar workshop in 2014. The workshop enabled member states to understand deeper the human rights obligations relating to the environment in the ASEAN context. I would say it helped the countries look at ways of doing a regional response and charting country obligations involving the business and corporate sectors and other stakeholders, especially in environmental policy-making and protection. There were legal frameworks and environmental impact assessment tools for ASEAN.

Q: What are your next steps?

Dr Abdullah: The AICHR will ascertain that environmental issues that impact on human rights, such as the haze, will be included in discussions in the ASEAN Summit. On complaints that we continue to receive, we will make sure that they are received by the countries in question at the national level, and through specific channels. We will continue to promote human rights. We want to make sure they are in the consciousness of people in the region.

*This is part of the ‘Reporting ASEAN: 2015 and Beyond’ series of IPS Asia-Pacific and Probe Media Foundation Inc. http:www.aseannews.net

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Sri Lanka: A Ray of Hope for those Looking for War Missinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/sri-lanka-a-ray-of-hope-for-those-looking-for-war-missing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lanka-a-ray-of-hope-for-those-looking-for-war-missing http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/sri-lanka-a-ray-of-hope-for-those-looking-for-war-missing/#comments Thu, 29 Oct 2015 17:44:21 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142836 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/sri-lanka-a-ray-of-hope-for-those-looking-for-war-missing/feed/ 2 Opinion: Imagine a Rape-Free Delhihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/opinion-imagine-a-rape-free-delhi/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-imagine-a-rape-free-delhi http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/opinion-imagine-a-rape-free-delhi/#comments Wed, 28 Oct 2015 13:31:20 +0000 N Chandra Mohan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142819

N Chandra Mohan is an economics and business commentator.

By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Oct 28 2015 (IPS)

Delhi’s shame is that it’s the rape capital of India. The recent brutal rape of minors only underscores the tragic fact that nothing has changed since December 16, 2012 when a 23-year old physiotherapy student was gang-raped in a moving bus and triggered a nationwide outrage.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

The massive protests that shook the capital and metropolitan India were considered by sociologists as a tipping point as there was pent up anger against the breakdown in law and order and governance. The recent incidents have only thrown up a sordid blame game between Delhi’s government and Centre while rapes in the capital have trebled since 2012.

For all the talk of reforms of the criminal justice system and swifter justice, the appeals of the four accused against the death sentence in the December 16 rape case are still pending in Supreme Court. In the lower courts, the conviction rate in rape cases is a lowly 23 to 27 per cent, which only emboldens rapists that they need not fear the law of the land.

The 77,000 strong Delhi Police, however, claim that in most cases rapists are brought to justice. But they were too busy providing security for the India-Africa Forum summit to escort the rapist in the infamous Uber rape case of December 2014 to the fast track court to decide his quantum of punishment.

Policing is as much the problem as the solution. So is the ruling political class. On national TV channels, they insist that rapists must be hanged. The Madras High Court is sure that castrating the rapists of minors will fetch magical results. But the ruling dispensation is more worried that such crimes take attention away from Delhi’s claims of being a world-class destination for tourism or a diversion from its efforts to sell the India story. “One small incident of rape in Delhi advertised world over is enough to cost us billions of dollars in terms of global tourism,” stated a minister of the NDA government. Although he retracted his statement, the damage was done.

No doubt, these small incidents in Delhi and elsewhere in India have impacted tourist footfalls. More than the loss of a fistful of dollars, however, they point to a pervasive failure of development on the gender front. This is reflected in the imbalanced sex ratio as there is a lesser number of women per 1,000 men. This ratio is one of the lowest in Delhi. Does any of this have a bearing on the higher incidence of sexual offences against women when compared to states where there the gender ratio is more balanced? Interestingly, social scientists have noted a robust inverse relationship between the sex ratio and murders and other violent crimes in India.

In states with an adverse sex ratio, a higher incidence of murders was observed. A better sex ratio was associated with fewer murders. Many years ago, Philip Oldenburgh termed the states in the country with the worst sex ratios ­ mostly in the north and northwest of India­as “the Bermuda Triangle for girls.” In sharp contrast, a more affirmative link between gender relations and crime was observed in the southern state of Kerala which has the highest sex ratio in the country and some of the lowest crime rates, not only of murders but others as well, according to the research of Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera.

Can this reasoning extend to sexual crimes against women, including rapes? Using the latest numbers of the National Crime Research Bureau, Delhi clearly is an outlier as it has one of the lowest sex ratios and the highest incidence of sexual offences in the country by a substantial margin in 2014. The crime rate, defined as the incidence of criminal sexual offences per 100,000 women, is the highest at 86.96 in the national capital. Although this is highly suggestive, the relationship across 35 states and union territories in the country is observed to be only mildly inverse and not significant. In other words, it is only broadly true and doesn’t tell the full story.

Kerala, with the best gender balance, indicates why this is so as it has a crime rate against women that is higher than the national average. In fact, seven out of the top 10 states with the highest sex ratios also had a higher incidence of sexual offences against women than the national average. Research is now re-appraising the so-called Kerala model of development which indicated the possibilities of higher social development at low levels of per capita income. How does one reconcile this model with the growing gender-based violence, mental illness and the rapid incidence of dowry and related crimes in the state? Kerala is no safe haven for women.

According to a fascinating paper by Mridul Eapen and Praveena Kodoth of the Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, “changes in the structure and practices of families in the past century have had wide-ranging implications for gender relations… alterations in marriage, inheritance and succession practices have… weakened women’s access to and control of inherited resources… the persistence of a gendered work structure have limited women’s claims to ‘self-acquired’ or independent sources of wealth.” With their weaker position, can domestic violence, declining property rights and serious mental illnesses be far behind?

What is happening in Delhi is only a concentrated expression of what is occurring in the country. Doing whatever it takes to ensure gender parity, including in the police force, is desirable. Killing the girl child at birth has to stop at all costs. Family and societal values that favour sons over daughters, too, must change. A dark and troubling truth is that women, including minors, are mostly raped by members of the family and known people like neighbours and relatives. There is a need to have child protection services, including provision of crèches for working mothers – especially of the poorer sections of society – so that minors are not left unattended. Ultimately, it is only the vigilance of a gender-sensitised citizenry that will minimize rapes.

(End)

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U.N. Launches Probe Amidst Charges of Bribery and Corruptionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/u-n-launches-probe-amidst-charges-of-bribery-and-corruption/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-launches-probe-amidst-charges-of-bribery-and-corruption http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/10/u-n-launches-probe-amidst-charges-of-bribery-and-corruption/#comments Thu, 08 Oct 2015 20:48:10 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142645 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 8 2015 (IPS)

After initial hesitation, the United Nations has decided to probe allegations of bribery and corruption extending to the office of a past President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the highest policy-making body in the 70-year old Organisation.

John Ashe, President of the sixty-eighth session of the Assembly, addresses the opening of an event on Apr. 22, 2014 Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

John Ashe, President of the sixty-eighth session of the Assembly, addresses the opening of an event on Apr. 22, 2014
Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Ambassador John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda, who has been accused of receiving over 1.3 million dollars in “bribes” from a Chinese company, was the President of UNGA during 2013-2014.

The investigations will also focus on a donation of about 1.5 million dollars to the U.N. Office for South-South Cooperation (OSSC) from the Sun Kian Ip Group of China and one of its affiliates, Global Sustainability Foundation.

The head of the Group, a Chinese businessman Ng Lap Seng, and several of his colleagues are under arrest on charges of bribery and tax evasion.

The U.S. federal authorities have charged Ashe with tax fraud – primarily for not declaring his income in his annual tax returns – which carry penalties that include heavy fines and/or jail sentences.

“In light of the recent accusations announced by U.S. federal authorities, the Secretary-General is requesting that the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) launch an audit of the interaction between the United Nations and the Global Sustainability Foundation and the Sun Kian Ip Group, and the use of any funds received from these entities,” U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters Oct. 8.

The Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) is concerned about the serious nature of the allegations, which go to the heart of the work of the United Nations and its Member States, he said.

Ban also reaffirmed there will be no tolerance for any corruption at the United Nations or in the name of the world body.

He is committed to ensuring that funds received from such private entities were handled properly according to relevant U.N. rules and regulations, Dujarric said.

Earlier, the U.N. took the position that it did not have the power or mandate “to investigate individuals or entities that weren’t considered staff or part of the official U.N. umbrella.”

The president of the General Assembly is elected annually by member states and is not considered a U.N. official, nor is he on the U.N. payroll.

The Chinese funds were also earmarked for a proposed U.N. conference center in the former Portuguese colony of Macau, currently under the administrative jurisdiction of China.

Ng, described as a real estate mogul, was based in Macau and hosted a conference there in August, in which several U.N. officials and diplomats participated.

Ashe was reportedly paid to also promote Ng’s business interests in the Caribbean, specifically in Antigua and Barbuda.

The 1.5 million dollars donated to the Office of South-South Cooperation were reportedly used to fund several U.N. conferences and panel discussions, plus for an upcoming conference of the 134-member Group of 77 developing countries.

Asked if the money will be returned if corruption and bribery charges are proved, Dujarric said it is up to the OSSC to make that decision.

Responding to a question, he also said the United Nations does not provide funds involving travels by Assembly Presidents – all of whom have been known to be globe-trotters and their visits hosted by foreign governments.

Protocol-wise, the President of the General Assembly, not the U.N. Secretary-General, ranks as head of state at all international conferences.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who is leading the investigations, has also charged five others, including Ambassador Francis Lorenzo of the Dominican Republic.

Striking a note of sarcasm, Bharara told reporters: “We will be asking: Is bribery business-as-usual at the U.N.?”

But Dujarric was quick to refute those charges when he told reporters: “First of all, corruption is not business as usual at the U.N.”

“Second of all, we have…we had not been informed of the investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Our Office for Legal Affairs and other senior officials were not aware of the case until it was read about in the press. Obviously, if we’re contacted by the relevant U.S. authorities, we will cooperate with them,” he added.

Asked to confirm or deny the existence of a U.N. document relating to a proposed conference centre in Macau, Dujarric initially said the U.N. had not been able to find that document.

But said subsequently the document had been found, which is a standard letter from a Permanent Representative to the Secretary-General asking him to circulate it as an official document of the General Assembly: document A/66/748.]

The current President of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft of Denmark told reporters corruption has no place at the United Nations or anywhere else.

“I am deeply shocked regarding the news today concerning the President of 68th session of the UN General Assembly. It means, like the Secretary-General said this morning, that this is a very hard attack on the integrity of the United Nations.”

Lykketoft said neither he, nor his Office has been contacted by U.S. authorities. “Of course, we stand ready to engage with all concerned as necessary,” he added.

“I think the United Nations and its representatives should be held to the highest standards of transparency and ethics,” he added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Electoral Revolution in Brazil Aimed at Neutralising Corporate Influencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/electoral-revolution-in-brazil-aimed-at-neutralising-corporate-influence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=electoral-revolution-in-brazil-aimed-at-neutralising-corporate-influence http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/electoral-revolution-in-brazil-aimed-at-neutralising-corporate-influence/#comments Tue, 29 Sep 2015 20:45:49 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142533 Brazil’s Supreme Court during the Sep. 17 reading of the landmark ruling which declared that laws allowing corporate donations to election campaigns are unconstitutional. Credit: STF

Brazil’s Supreme Court during the Sep. 17 reading of the landmark ruling which declared that laws allowing corporate donations to election campaigns are unconstitutional. Credit: STF

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Sep 29 2015 (IPS)

From now on, elections in Brazil will be more democratic, without corporate interference, which had become decisive and corruptive. A Sep. 17 Supreme Court ruling declared unconstitutional articles of the elections act that allow corporate donations to election campaigns.

The 8-3 verdict came in response to a legal challenge brought by the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) against the laws authorising and regulating donations by big corporations to political parties and candidates.

In its challenge to the constitutionality of the elections act articles in question, the OAB argued that they violate the democratic principle – the backbone of the 1988 constitution – which established that all citizens are political equals, with each individual vote carrying the same weight.

The verdict also stated that corporate financing runs counter to the first article of the constitution, which establishes that the political representatives elected by the people must serve the public good and that there must be a strict separation between the public and private spheres.

Citing academic studies, the OAB further asserted that corporate donations transfer economic inequality to the political sphere, negating democracy and tending towards a “plutocracy” or government by the rich.

Campaign donations from corporations give them undue influence over politics by putting candidates in their debt, bound to defend “the economic interests of their donors in the drafting of legislation, the design and execution of the budget, administrative regulation, public tenders and public procurement,” the OAB added.

Corruption is also a major factor in this promiscuous relationship between money and politics. And campaign financing is almost always an element present in political scandals.“The legal door of donations was closed and the illegal route has become more difficult, after the scandals, imprisonment, and disqualification of many of the people implicated in the corruption, but they will look for loopholes in the law.” -- Fernando Lattman-Weltman

Today’s big scandal, which decisively influenced the Supreme Court ruling, involves a kickback scheme in the state-owned oil firm Petrobras, which suffered at least six billion dollars in losses from graft and overvalued assets.

More than 30 politicians have been accused of receiving bribes from large construction and engineering firms in return for inflated contracts, and part of the funds allegedly financed candidates and political parties in election campaigns.

The ban on corporate donations will also lead to a reduction in gender imbalances in politics, sociologist Clara Araujo at the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ) told IPS.

Female candidates receive little campaign funding from their parties, but they are given larger proportions of donations from individuals than from companies, the opposite of male candidates, she said, based on the study “Women in the 2010 Elections”, which she co-authored, and on figures from 2014.

As a result of discrimination by political parties, reflected by underfunding and less advertising time, especially on TV, women are underrepresented in Congress, where they hold only 10 percent of seats in the lower house and 13.6 percent in the Senate, although they make up 52 percent of voters.

“The Supreme Court judgment is good news in the midst of the chaos of Brazil’s political crisis,” because it brings new balance to a game that was unfavourable to women, Guacira de Oliveira, one of the directors of the Feminist Centre of Studies and Advice (CFEMEA), told IPS.

But it has come at a moment of great uncertainty, when the crisis tends to have a greater impact on progressive political currents, and it will not change the rules that maintain inequality within and between the political parties.

Public resources, such as the official Party Fund, and radio and TV time for candidates will continue to benefit the big parties, since they are distributed proportionally to the number of seats held by each party, Oliveira lamented.

Only in-depth political reforms, called for by civil society organisations, could effectively democratise the election process. But the current legislature, where conservative lawmakers are a majority, would never approve that.

Far-reaching political reforms would require a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution – which may become a possibility if the crisis gets worse.

But without corporate donations, “campaigns will suffer a sharp drop in funding, which means candidates and parties will have to cut costs. Internet and the social networks, which already had a growing participation in the elections, will become much more important,” said Fernando Lattman-Weltman, a professor of politics at the UERJ.

“But money will seek other ways to influence politics,” he added. “The legal door of donations was closed and the illegal route has become more difficult, after the scandals, imprisonment, and disqualification of many of the people implicated in the corruption, but they will look for loopholes in the law,” he told IPS.

Gilmar Mendes (left), one of the three Supreme Court magistrates who voted against the ban on corporate funding for elections in Brazil. In April 2014 he successfully stalled for time, requesting a longer timeframe to analyse the issue, which enabled private companies to finance much of last year’s presidential election campaign. Credit: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil

Gilmar Mendes (left), one of the three Supreme Court magistrates who voted against the ban on corporate funding for elections in Brazil. In April 2014 he successfully stalled for time, requesting a longer timeframe to analyse the issue, which enabled private companies to finance much of last year’s presidential election campaign. Credit: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil

Election campaigns have become expensive in Brazil in the last two decades, with the intense use of advertising techniques. Media advisers have become indispensable, and more and more costly to hire. Some have become celebrities, whose fame has transcended national borders.

After their triumphs in Brazil, they have been hired for tens of millions of dollars to head campaigns in other countries of Latin America, or in Africa.

Large campaign teams specialising in working the airwaves and the press have turned election campaigns into a media war between well-paid armies of advisers, following the U.S. model, with ongoing qualitative surveys providing guidance for speeches, slogans and TV ads and appearances.

Now candidates will have to return to the basics: personal speeches, direct public relations, street rallies and armies of volunteers, said Lattman-Weltman.

Without resources to produce and broadcast sophisticated ads, “candidates will try to seduce the media, trying to make them more biased and identified with specific parties,” like in the United States, he said, referring to dangerous side-effects of the new scenario.

Generating new political developments and creativity in campaigns will also become more important factors, he said.

Without the millions of dollars in donations from companies, the game will be less unequal, but candidates who already have power and are well-known by the public, like legislators, governors or other political leaders, will enjoy a big advantage over new candidates, Oliveira said.

That is a disadvantage faced by women in general, who began to participate in elections more recently, and who make up a small minority in the executive and legislative branches – even though one woman, Dilma Rousseff, has been president of this country of 202 million people since 2011.

Celebrities like TV hosts, actors and footballers, along with prominent trade unionists and social activists, will likely be the most sought-after by the parties.

The next elections, for mayors and city councilors in Brazil’s 5,570 municipalities, will be a test of how campaigns will work without legal and illegal donations from the big sponsors, especially in big cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Statistics from the Superior Electoral Court from 2010 and 2014, when presidential, state and legislative elections were held, point to “a strong correlation between the amount of spending and victory,” said Araujo.

So without a right to vote, companies had become a decisive factor in elections. In other words, “the big voter was money,” said Claudio Weber Abramo, director of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency Brazil, in a statement reflected by the OAB in its successful legal challenge that led the Supreme Court to put an end to elections dominated by corporate financing.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Forced Disappearance, a Cancer Eating Away at Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/forced-disappearance-a-cancer-eating-away-at-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forced-disappearance-a-cancer-eating-away-at-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/forced-disappearance-a-cancer-eating-away-at-mexico/#comments Thu, 24 Sep 2015 23:37:53 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142492 The photos of victims of forced disappearance in the southwestern state of Guerrero hang on the walls of the San Gerardo parish soup kitchen, in the city of Iguala. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

The photos of victims of forced disappearance in the southwestern state of Guerrero hang on the walls of the San Gerardo parish soup kitchen, in the city of Iguala. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
IGUALA, Mexico, Sep 24 2015 (IPS)

The soup kitchen of the San Gerardo parish in the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero has become a memorial to horror. Long rows of photos have been hung on the walls of the large hall – the faces of dozens of people who were “disappeared”, abducted, extracted from their lives without a trace.

Most of them are from the northern part of Guerrero, the poorest state in Mexico and one of the hardest-hit by violence. The database of the organisation searching for missing loved ones includes 350 ‘desaparecidos’, and every week new names are added.

Over the past year, this parish church in Iguala has offered a safe meeting place every Tuesday for families who have overcome their fear of speaking out and searching for their ‘desaparecidos’ in the clandestine cemetery which was discovered in the hills surrounding this city after the Sep. 26, 2014 disappearance of 43 students from the rural teachers college of Ayotzinapa.

That night, the students were attacked by the Iguala municipal police and – as is now known thanks to a meticulous investigation by a group of experts appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) – there was a concerted action by different security forces, including the military and federal police, which lasted a number of hours and took place in at least nine different locations.

Municipal police executed five civilians, including two students, while another student was tortured and killed, his body appearing hours later next to a garbage dump.

Another 43 students, most of whom were in their first year of teachers college, were seized and taken away.

Saturday Sep. 26 marks the first anniversary of their disappearance. But the remains of only one student have been found – a burnt corpse in a plastic bag – while the possible discovery of the remains of a second student is now being investigated.

There is no trace of the rest of the missing students.

The attack brought to light alliances between local political leaders and organised crime groups.

It also revived the pain surrounding the 30,000 ‘desaparecidos’ left, according to human rights groups, by the militarised security strategy launched by former president Felipe Calderón in January 2007.

Enrique Peña Nieto, president since December 2012, kept his predecessor’s hard-line security policy in place. But its effects have become largely invisible due to a media strategy focused on promoting constitutional reforms that have opened up the energy and telecommunications industries to private investors.

In its first year alone, the Peña Nieto administration invested nearly 500 million dollars in official advertising, according to a joint study by the FUNDAR Centre for Research and Analysis and the Mexican office of Article 19, a London-based human rights organisation that focuses on defending and promoting freedom of expression and freedom of information.

But the levels of violence have not come down. According to a report by the newspaper El Universal, published ahead of the anniversary of the disappearance of the teachers college students, more than 5,000 ‘desaparecidos’ were reported by public attorneys’ offices around the country in 2014 – 14 a day.

Another area heavily affected by the problem is the northern state of Nuevo León, where 31,000 bone fragments have been found on a ranch since 2011, leading to the identification of 31 missing persons.

“The difference is that now, human rights defenders and members of organised social movements are being targeted for human rights violations,” Héctor Cerezo, who has documented forced disappearances of fellow human rights and social activists over the last four years, told IPS.

Since Peña Nieto took office, “we have documented 81 human rights defenders who became victims of forced disappearance; under Calderón we documented 55. In total that’s 136 missing defenders since 2006 – cases in which it has been documented that they were taken away by agents of the state.

“That might seem like a small number in the universe of thousands of ‘desaparecidos’, but it indicates a stepping up of the Mexican state’s social control strategies,” the activist said.

The report “Defending human rights in Mexico: political repression, a widespread practice”, presented Aug. 27 by the Cerezo Committee Mexico and the National Campaign Against Forced Disappearance, listed 860 human rights abuses against social and human rights activists between June 2014 and May 2015.

The incidents include collective abuses, against 47 civil society organisations and 35 communities, and a rise in arbitrary detentions, which nearly doubled.

These included arrests during a protest by seasonal farm workers in the northern state of Baja California, who work in slavery conditions, and teachers’ protests ahead of the June legislative elections, in Guerrero and the southern state of Oaxaca, where two demonstrators were killed.

Héctor Cerezo of the Cerezo Committee said the disappearance of the teachers college students from Ayotzinapa occurred in the context of this strategy of social control.

“The brutality, the scale of the aggression, and the fact that the government would assume such a huge political cost cannot be explained if it was merely part of a drug affair. Their disappearance was meant to serve as a lesson for the human rights and social movements,” he said.

In any case, the brutal attack on the students drove home the gravity of Mexico’s human rights crisis.

Journalistic investigations have documented at least 80 extrajudicial executions committed this year by the army and the federal police in three supposed “shootouts” with organised crime groups in the central states of México and Michoacán.

In Iguala, civilian brigades searching for the remains of missing family members in the hills around the city have found 104 bodies in clandestine graves, although only nine of them have been identified so far.

“It’s not just Ayotzinapa; the whole country is like this,” one of the members of the brigades, Graciela Pérez, told IPS. She has been searching for her missing daughter for three years now, in the south of Tamaulipas, 750 km north of Iguala, where she mapped – on her own – the location of 50 secret graves in January and February.

In response to the crisis, the IACHR has scheduled a Sep. 28-Oct. 2 on-site visit, as requested by human rights groups.

And in the legislature, four separate bills to create a law that would classify the crime of forced disappearance have been tabled and are awaiting debate.

“This is the first forced disappearance of a large group of people, members of a social movement, in contemporary Mexico,” says the Cerezo Committee report, referring to the disappearance of the students.

On Wednesday Sept. 23, the parents of the missing students began a 43-hour hunger strike, one day before meeting with the president.

And a Saturday Sep. 26 march is being organised in the Mexican capital, to demand the students’ reappearance and a solution of the case.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Costa Rica Finally Allows In Vitro Fertilisation after 15-Year Banhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/costa-rica-finally-allows-in-vitro-fertilisation-after-15-year-ban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=costa-rica-finally-allows-in-vitro-fertilisation-after-15-year-ban http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/costa-rica-finally-allows-in-vitro-fertilisation-after-15-year-ban/#comments Tue, 15 Sep 2015 00:45:25 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142370 A hearing in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to follow up on compliance with its ruling that Costa Rica’s ban on in vitro fertilisation violates a number of rights. Credit: Inter-American Court of Human Rights

A hearing in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to follow up on compliance with its ruling that Costa Rica’s ban on in vitro fertilisation violates a number of rights. Credit: Inter-American Court of Human Rights

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Sep 15 2015 (IPS)

After banning in vitro fertilisation for 15 years and failing to comply with an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling for nearly three years, Costa Rica will finally once again allow the procedure for couples and women on their own.

On Sept. 10, centre-left President Luis Guillermo Solís issued a decree ordering compliance with the Inter-American Court’s 2012 verdict against the ban fomented by conservative sectors. The president ordered that measures be taken to overcome judicial and legislative barriers erected against compliance with the Court judgment.

“This was discriminatory,” lawyer Hubert May, the representative of several of the 12 couples who brought the legal action against the ban before the Court, told IPS. “The ban only affected those who couldn’t afford to carry out the procedure abroad, or those who weren’t willing to mortgage their homes or take out loans to fulfill their longing (for a child of their own).”

In November 2012, the Court ruled that the ban on in vitro fertilisation (IVF) violated the rights to privacy, liberty, personal integrity and sexual health, the right to form a family, the right to be free from discrimination, and the right to have access to technological progress. It gave Costa Rica six months to legalise the procedure.

But opposition from conservative sectors blocked compliance and hurt Costa Rica’s image in terms of international law.

Solís’s decree regulates IVF and puts the public health system in charge of the procedure, thus ensuring access for lower-income couples.

May said the decree “solves the problem of discrimination” by paving the way for the social security institute, the CCSS, to provide IVF as part of its regular health services.

IVF is a reproductive technology in which an egg is removed from a woman and joined with a sperm cell from a man in a test tube (in vitro). The resulting embryo is implanted in the woman’s uterus.

In its 2012 ruling, the Court stated that Costa Rica was the only country in the world to expressly outlaw IVF, a measure that directly affected local women and couples. In Latin America the procedure was first used in 1984, in Argentina.

One of the women affected by the ban was Gretel Artavia Murillo, who with her then husband ran up debt in an attempt to have a baby in the late 1990s.

Her now ex-husband, Miguel Mejías, declared before the Court that he had mortgaged his home and spent all his savings for the couple to undergo in vitro fertilisation in Costa Rica, but before they were able to do so, the practice was declared illegal.

IVF was first regulated in Costa Rica in 1995, but was banned in March 2000 by the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court.

Five of the seven magistrates on the constitutional chamber argued that the law violated the right to life, which began “at conception, when a person is already a person…a living being, with the right to be protected by the legal system.”

Artavia and Mejía, along with 11 other couples, brought the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2001, and a decade later it reached the Inter-American Court. The Commission and the Court are the Organisation of American States (OAS) autonomous human rights institutions.

On Sep. 10 Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís signed a decree making IVF legal after it was banned for 15 years. Credit: Casa Presidencial

On Sep. 10 Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís signed a decree making IVF legal after it was banned for 15 years. Credit: Casa Presidencial

A year later, the Court, which is based in the Costa Rican capital, San José, and whose rulings cannot be appealed and are theoretically binding, handed down its verdict.

“The constitutional chamber’s view was not shared by the Court, which considered that protection of life began with the implantation of a fertilised egg in the uterus,” said May.

May and other experts on the case said the position taken by Costa Rica’s highest court responded to the extremely conservative views of the leadership of the Catholic Church, and of other Christian faiths with growing influence in the country.

This Central American nation of 4.7 million people considers itself a standard-bearer of human rights in international forums. But the question of IVF tarnished that image when the conservative sectors took up opposition to it as a cause.

The debate in the legislature on a law to regulate IVF stalled for over two years, due to resistance by evangelical and conservative lawmakers.

In a Sep. 3 public hearing by the Court on compliance with the 2012 ruling, the executive branch said it planned to regulate the procedure by means of a decree, which civil society organisations saw as a reasonable solution to the stalemate over the new law.

“We know that in the legislature there is no way to forge ahead on key issues, such as practically anything to do with sexual and reproductive rights,” Larissa Arroyo, a lawyer who specialises in these rights, told IPS.

Arroyo pointed out that with regard to an issue like IVF, time is of the essence, given that a woman’s childbearing years are limited. She noted that “almost all of the victims lost their chance” to have children using the technique.

In the week between the public hearing and the signing of the presidential decree, the government consulted Costa Rica’s College of Physicians and the CCSS. While both backed the decree, the CCSS clarified that it preferred a law and warned that it would need additional funding, because each fertility treatment costs around 40,000 dollars.

The decree limits the number of fertilised eggs to be implanted to two.

In the same week, the legislative debate became further bogged down. While one group of legislators tried to expedite approval of the law to regulate IVF, another group continued to oppose the procedure as an attack on human life at its origin, likening it to the Jewish holocaust.

“The extermination camps of Nazi Germany are in the Costa Rica of today, the Costa Rica of the Solís administration,” evangelical legislator Gonzalo Ramírez, of the conservative Costa Rican Renewal Party, even said at one point.

Given that outlook and the impasse in the legislature, organisations like the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) celebrated the decree which offers “universal access” to IVF and “respect for the principle of equality.”

However, CEJIL programme director for Central America and Mexico Marcia Aguiluz recommended waiting until IVF is actually being implemented.

“The decree lives up to the requirements, but it is just a first step,” said Aguiluz, who is from Costa Rica. “Until the practice starts being carried out, we can’t say there has been compliance.”

Lawyers for the presidency said the decree is equipped to withstand legal challenges.

The 2012 ruling is the second handed down against Costa Rica in the history of the Court. The previous one was in 2004, when the Court found that the conviction of journalist Mauricio Herrera by a Costa Rican court on charges of defamation of a diplomat violated free speech, and ordered that the country enact new legislation on freedom of expression.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Chile’s Amnesty Law keeps Pinochet’s legacy alivehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-chiles-amnesty-law-keeps-pinochets-legacy-alive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-chiles-amnesty-law-keeps-pinochets-legacy-alive http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/opinion-chiles-amnesty-law-keeps-pinochets-legacy-alive/#comments Mon, 14 Sep 2015 17:07:12 +0000 Guadalupe Marengo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142368 By Guadalupe Marengo
SANTIAGO, CHILE, Sep 14 2015 (IPS)

“Many of them have died waiting for justice. Many have died in silence. We’ve had enough of painful waiting and unjustified silences. This is the time to join together in the search for truth.” With these words, one year ago, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet marked the 41st anniversary of the 1973 coup d’etat in which a defiant general Augusto Pinochet took power by force.

More than 3,000 people were killed or disappeared and over 38,000 were detained arbitrarily and tortured during the 17 years of military regime that followed.

The Bachelet government promised to declare null and void the Amnesty Law, a decree passed by the Pinochet regime in 1978 to shield those suspected of committing human rights violations between 11 September 1973 and 10 March 1978 from facing the courts.

The announcement to nullify the Amnesty Law was more than a well-received. The world watched as Chile was finally confronting its dark past and taking action to shed off or rid itself of one of the last traces of Pinochet’s brutality. A year has passed since the announcement and the Amnesty Law is still being debated in parliament. Its future is anyone’s guess.

The law sparked fierce debate in Chile, with many arguing it is nothing but a piece of legislation that hasn’t been used for many years.

They are partly right.

In 1998 Chile’s Supreme Court ruled that the law should not apply to cases of human rights violations. This brave decision allowed for crucial investigations to move forward. Since then, we have seen the tide turning in favour of more investigations into the systematic arbitrary detentions, torture, extra judicial executions and disappearances that took place under Pinochet’s command– more than in the last two decades combined.

Around 1,000 cases, 72 relating to allegations of torture, are active, according to data from the country’s Supreme Court from 2014. By October of the same year, 279 people had been found guilty in trials before ordinary civilian courts in connection with these crimes, and 75 were serving prison sentences. In May 2014, 75 former agents of Pinochet’s secret police (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional, DINA) were sentenced to between 13 and 14 years in prison in connection with the disappearance of student Jorge Grez Aburto in 1974.

Other members of the DINA, including its former head Manuel Contreras Sepúlveda, were sentenced last October to 15 years in prison for the disappearance of Carlos Guerrero Gutiérrez and Claudio Guerrero Hernández, in 1974 and 1975 respectively. Contreras died while serving the sentence of 500 years in prison for his responsibility in human rights violations committed during the Pinochet years.

And on 16 August, Chile’s Supreme Court announced the prosecution of 15 members of Pinochet’s secret police for the killing of Spanish diplomat Carmelo Soria Espinoza in 1976. This ruling marked a U-turn on an earlier decision to archive the case, as it fell under the scope of crimes protected by the Amnesty law.

So, if it is not being used, why is it important to get rid of it? Arguing that the debate around the Amnesty law is irrelevant because the legislation is not currently used is like saying that it is not necessary for torture and disappearances to be banned by law.

We know that this is not the case. The fact is that the Amnesty law is still valid. It was for many years a shameful wall behind which torturers and murderers were able to hide. Its existence, sends the message that Chile is not yet ready to fully break free from its darkest years and fight impunity.

This archaic decree is a shocking reminder of Pinochet’s tragic legacy, one that has no place in a country that claims to stand for justice and human rights. Further, it is an affront to victims who are stilldesperately seeking answers and justice.

Since President Bachelet reopened the case for abolishing the Amnesty law, there has been a glimpse of hope to definitely bury a piece of legislation designed only to protect criminals. This, alongside progress on other important announcements made by Bachelet’s government such as enacting the crime of torture in national laws, are necessary steps towards justice.

Declaring the Amnesty Law null and void would force Chile to come face-to-face with its troubled past and finally send the message that the abuses of the Pinochet era will never be tolerated again.

*The author, Guadalupe Marengo, is Deputy Director at Amnesty International, The Americas.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.

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Investigation of 43 Missing Mexican Students Back to Zerohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/investigation-of-43-missing-mexican-students-back-to-zero/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=investigation-of-43-missing-mexican-students-back-to-zero http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/investigation-of-43-missing-mexican-students-back-to-zero/#comments Tue, 08 Sep 2015 16:16:36 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142315 Parents and other relatives of the 43 missing students at a Sep. 6 meeting with the press in Mexico City shortly after the five members of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts announced their initial conclusions on the serious shortcomings in the investigation of the case. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Parents and other relatives of the 43 missing students at a Sep. 6 meeting with the press in Mexico City shortly after the five members of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts announced their initial conclusions on the serious shortcomings in the investigation of the case. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
Sep 8 2015 (IPS)

Nearly a year after the forced disappearance of 43 students in Mexico, the government’s investigation is back to the drawing board, after a group of independent experts refuted all of the official arguments.

“The investigation must be completely refocused and rethought,” said Spanish psychologist Carlos Beristáin, one of the five members of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (IGIE) designated by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), which presented its report on Sunday Sep. 6.

The IGIE was set up by the IACHR under an agreement with the Mexican government and the representatives of the victims’ families, to provide international technical assistance in the investigation of the Sep. 26, 2014 municipal police ambush of the buses the 43 students had boarded.

The male victims were students at one of Mexico’s 17 rural teachers colleges, in Ayotzinapa in the southwestern state of Guerrero.“They weren’t burnt in the Cocula dump. That event, as it was described, did not happen.” -- Francisco Cox

The IGIE’s initial mandate was from Mar. 2 to Sep. 2. The experts reviewed the 115 volumes of the case file, visited the area, and interviewed the families of all of the victims.

The 550-page report is a catalog of the errors committed by the investigation headed by Mexico’s attorney general’s office: leads that were not investigated, evidence that was destroyed, omissions, major inconsistencies in witness statements, reports of torture, false conclusions, and a disconnect between the investigations of the ambush itself and the final fate of the students.

Above all, it dismantles the central thesis, presented in January as the “truth” by former attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam, that the students were killed and their bodies burnt in a municipal dump in Cocula, next to Iguala, the town where they were ambushed.

The government’s theory was based on testimony from three alleged participants in the massacre, who said that for 12 hours they fed the fire, using tires, wood, diesel and other fuels, before crushing the bones into ash and gathering the rest in garbage bags that they threw into a nearby river.

“They weren’t burnt in the Cocula dump,” said Chilean lawyer Francisco Cox. “That event, as it was described, did not happen.”

The IGIE’s conclusion was based on research by José Torero, a professor in fire safety engineering at the University of Queensland in Australia. He said it would have taken 30 tons of wood, 13 tons of tires and at least 60 hours to incinerate the 43 bodies.

Furthermore, the flames would have been seven metres high and the smoke plume 300 metres high, a forest fire would have been inevitable, and the heat would have burnt alive anyone who came near.

The report cleared up other doubts such as the presence of the army in at least two of the possible crime sites, and the possibility that the students were attacked by mistake.

 

The five members of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts meeting with students and relatives of the victims during their visit to the Escuela Normal Rural Raul Isidro Burgos de Ayotzinapa, the rural teachers college attended by the 43 students who were disappeared on Sep. 26. Credit: Courtesy of CENTROPRODH

The five members of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts meeting with students and relatives of the victims during their visit to the Escuela Normal Rural Raul Isidro Burgos de Ayotzinapa, the rural teachers college attended by the 43 students who were disappeared on Sep. 26. Credit: Courtesy of CENTROPRODH

“The students were being watched by state and federal authorities and the army,” Guatemalan lawyer Claudia Paz said. “It wasn’t a question of them not knowing who (the students) were or what they were doing.

“The students weren’t carrying arms, no police were injured, they reached the city long after the event and they did not plan to enter the city,” she added. She was referring to an alleged motivation: that they wanted to boycott a political rally for María de los Ángeles Pineda, the mayor’s wife, who is accused of ties with a local drug gang in Iguala.

On the other hand, there was a lead that was not investigated, where a key role could be played by a bus from the Estrella Roja company, which pops up in the case file before disappearing again. That “fifth bus” was the last to leave the bus station with students aboard, setting off in a different direction.

The IGIE reported that Iguala is a hub for the trafficking of heroin to the United States, which is sometimes shipped in passenger buses. It concluded that the students could have unwittingly boarded a bus carrying drugs, which would explain “such an extreme and violent reaction and the massive character of the attack.”

The group of experts explained that the simultaneous attack lasted at least three hours in nine different places, and was intended to keep the buses from leaving the city.

The extent of the involvement by the police at different crime scenes indicates the level of coordination and command needed to carry out such an action, the report states.

The IGIE notes that the investigation was fragmented from the start, and that at one point there were 52 prosecutors working on it separately, without sharing information among themselves.

The experts set forth 20 recommendations, including: to unify the investigation, to investigate public employees who hindered or blocked the inquiries, and to focus principally on the hypothesis that the main reason for the ambush was drug trafficking.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced on Twitter that he instructed investigators to take into account the report’s theories and findings.

In a press briefing where questions were not allowed, Arely Gómez, named attorney general in March, offered a new investigation at the garbage dump and a six-month extension of the IGIE’s work.

The parents of the students refuse to accept that their sons are simply missing.

They feel they have been cheated by the authorities, and demanded that the president meet with them before Sept. 10. They also called for the IGIE to continue operating until the students are found.

The question now is: “What next?”

“The experts’ central recommendation is for the attorney general’s office to incorporate the report in the investigation and in the case files,” lawyer Abel Barrera, the director of the Tlachinollan Mountain Human Rights Centre, which is providing the victims’ families with legal support, told IPS.

Mario Patrón, of the Miguel Agustín Pro Human Rights Centre, commented that the lines of investigation into the political-criminal connection must be exhausted. “A good sign is that the group of experts was endorsed; as long as they are operating we can have guarantees,” he told IPS.

But not everyone is so optimistic. In the attack, not only were 43 students forcibly disappeared, but six were killed, including two students shot at point-blank range and another who was tortured and then murdered, and 40 were injured (two are still in coma).

The IGIE report also cites 148 documented cases of forced disappearance in eight years – 82 in Iguala and 55 during former mayor José Luis Abarca’s term in office.

Since October 2014 more than 100 people have been arrested, including Abarca and his wife. But no one has been sentenced, and not all of the arrests were linked to the students.

The former mayor is facing charges for another of the 55 disappearances reported during his term. The 60 people prosecuted in connection with the case of the students have been charged with kidnapping, not forced disappearance.

“Imagine if they do this in the case of the 43 students, which has made headlines around the world, what’ll they do with us,” said Mario Vergara, a representative of the Association of the Other Disappeared of Iguala, which groups relatives of victims of forced disappearance searching for the remains of their loved ones in the common graves that have been discovered in the area during the investigation of the missing students.

“I’m really grateful for the experts’ work, but until we find our missing family members, and those responsible are punished, this won’t go anywhere,” he told IPS.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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