Inter Press ServiceCrime & Justice – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 25 Apr 2018 00:04:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.6 Kidnapped, Abducted and Abandoned…http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/kidnapped-abducted-abandoned/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kidnapped-abducted-abandoned http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/kidnapped-abducted-abandoned/#respond Tue, 24 Apr 2018 06:39:05 +0000 Geetika group http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155434 Geetika Dang is an independent researcher; Vani S. Kulkarni is lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, USA; and Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) professorial research fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, England.

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By Geetika Dang , Vani S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha
NEW DELHI, Apr 24 2018 (IPS)

Kidnappings and abductions have soared since 2001. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that their share in total crimes against women nearly doubled from 10% in 2001 to 19% in 2016. More striking is the fact that 11 women were kidnapped or abducted every day in Delhi in 2016. What these statistics do not reveal are brutal gang-rapes of kidnapped minors and women, multiple sales to husbands who treat them as animals, unwanted pregnancies, police inaction, and frequent abandonment with nowhere to go—not even to their maternal homes—because of the stigma of a being a “prostitute”.

Geetika Dang

An illustrative account from Mirror (23 August 2016) is not atypical. A 12-year-old girl went missing on 2 July 2006, in northeast Delhi and returned home after 10 years. After she was sold to a farmer for a paltry sum, she was forced to work all day in the fields, load heavy sacks of grain onto her back and trucks, and then at night she was raped by numerous men. Over a period of three years, she was sold nine times. At 15, she was sold and married to a drug addict and alcoholic from whom she had two children. After the husband’s death in 2011, she was tortured, forced to have sex with her brother-in-law and his friends, her children were taken away and she was thrown into the street.

A frequently cited fact that for every100 abductions of women aged 18-29 years, 66 were abducted for marriage, is at best a half-truth as it conceals how women are traded and treated as animals.

Our analysis with the data obtained from the NCRB, the Census, National Commission of Population and RBI unravels the factors that are responsible for the surge in kidnappings and abductions, especially since 2013 or post Nirbhaya.

While the incidence of kidnapping and abduction (per 1,000 women) surged 7.5 times in India over the period 2001-16, many states and Union Territories (UT) witnessed alarming spikes too. In Haryana, for example, it spiked 15 times, and in Assam 8.5 times. Delhi remained the worst with the highest incidence in both 2001 and 2016, and saw a surge of 5.8 times during this period.

Vani S. Kulkarni

An important finding of our analysis is that the higher the sex ratio (ratio of women to 1,000 men) in a state, the higher is the incidence of kidnappings and abductions. Available evidence suggests that women are often abducted from areas that have a surplus and sold in areas with a deficit. The more affluent a state, the more likely is this crime. The higher the ratio of rural/urban population, the lower is the incidence of kidnappings and abductions of women. This implies greater vulnerability of women in urban areas. As emphasised by Amartya Sen (2015) and others, the roots of crimes against women lie in the weak police and judiciary system, and callousness of society. An approximation to the ineffectiveness of the police and judiciary system is the conviction rate for all IPC crimes, which is extremely low, besides being a long drawn-out corrupt process. Yet it lowers the incidence of kidnappings and abductions. Another is governance that we capture through which party ruled a state (BJP or its coalition, Congress or its coalition, and President’s rule, relative to regional parties). The difference may lie in whether they believe in gender equity, women’s autonomy and their protection. Accounting for all other factors, the incidence of kidnappings and abductions of women are lowest in Congress or its coalition ruled states and highest in President ruled states. The latter presumably reflects a breakdown of the law and order system. Finally, and somewhat surprisingly, 2013 on saw a surge, suggesting that over these years the incidence of this crime rose markedly. It is unclear why this surge persisted.

Raghav Gaiha

The IPC distinguishes between kidnapping (applies to minors) and abduction (applies to adults). Sections 359 to 369 of the Code have made kidnapping and abduction punishable with varying degree of severity according to the nature and gravity of the offence. For example, whoever maims any kidnapped minor in order that such minor may be employed or used for the purposes of begging, is punishable with imprisonment for life. Whoever kidnaps or abducts any person in order that such person may be murdered or may be so disposed of as to be put in danger of being murdered, is punishable with imprisonment for life or rigorous imprisonment up to ten years. The relentless rise in kidnappings and abduction, and subsequent abandonment of women, despite a plethora of legislation and amendments, tell a cruel tale of apathy towards them and abysmal enforcement machinery.

Published in the Sunday Guardian, 22nd April 2018

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Excerpt:

Geetika Dang is an independent researcher; Vani S. Kulkarni is lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, USA; and Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) professorial research fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, England.

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The Gang Rape and Murder of an 8 Year Old Child in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/gang-rape-murder-8-year-old-child-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gang-rape-murder-8-year-old-child-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/gang-rape-murder-8-year-old-child-india/#respond Mon, 23 Apr 2018 18:21:40 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155414 Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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A protest march in New Delhi against the rape a a child in Kathua. Credit: PTI

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 23 2018 (IPS)

Grotesque and barbaric, is the only way to describe the rape and murder of an 8 year old child, in a country where women and girls are traditionally revered as Goddesses.

There have been numerous cases of rape across the country, however, the story of little Asifa, who was sedated, gang raped, tortured and then murdered in Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir has haunted us all. While Asifa was killed in January 2018, the details of the case only grabbed national headlines in April, this was partly due to the heinous nature of the crime, and disturbing allegations that the child’s treatment, was the result of a concerted plan of action to drive out the nomadic Muslim community which her family belongs to.

Since then, the media in India has been awash with case after case of babies and girls being raped across India, with little to no action taking place to prevent this deluge of sexual assault and violence. From an 8-month old baby girl in Indore, to a 9-year in Etah, Uttar Pradesh, to a 10-year old girl in Chhattisgarh, to the rape of a 16-year old in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh (allegedly by a leader in the Bharatiya Janata Party, India’s ruling party), there is seemingly a new atrocious daily headline which exposes the rape and murder of yet another child.

All the while, elected officials have either been shockingly silent, or have spoken out too late, and some have even shown their active support for the accused perpetrators of such crimes.

Have we become so numbed in India, that such revelations no longer hold any shock value for us? Has the simple humanity of protecting our innocent and helpless children from harm, the most important duty of every adult in India, forsaken us?

Consider this. In 2016, over 19000 cases of rape were registered in India. In 2017, in India’s capital Delhi, an average of 5 rapes was reported every day.

In response, through an executive order and cabinet approval, the Indian government introduced the death penalty for those found guilty of the rape of a child under the age of 12.

Globally death sentences are coming to an end. It is my personal belief that the death penalty will have little or no effect, however heinous the crime is. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “when fighting a monster, be careful not to become a monster yourself”.

The issue that India is grappling with at present is an endemic, societal problem and no quick fixes are likely to solve it. Harsh penalties alone will not be a deterrent. As the malaise is systemic, so too should be the cure.

So here is a four-tier approach

Firstly, it is important to increase the reporting of rape and assault. Across the world rape is a generally underreported crime; this is all the more true in India. It is essential that women and children be educated on their rights on reporting of a violent act against them through an active social media campaign.

Secondly, it is absolutely vital that law enforcers are trained to react swiftly and with sensitivity to women and children who have been harassed, assaulted or raped. Sensitivity training and knowledge of the rights of women and children are another vital need and must be made mandatory for all law enforcement agencies.

Thirdly, punishments need to be exemplary and widely covered in the media. There must be a “shock and awe” campaign of zero tolerance of sex offenders and those who kill and violate women and children. Fast track courts must ensure that the law is surgical and unrelenting in pursuing and ensuring that such offenders face the full force of justice, regardless of their rank and station.

Finally, a nationwide campaign is needed to ignite values and traditions that respect and nurture women and children. This can only be borne out of consensus in society. Awareness amongst men of the scope of this issue is critical. Men who turn a blind eye to such brutal acts in their own neighbourhoods, communities and families are just as culpable as those that perpetrate these acts. Action from courts and police will not suffice if the community remains defiantly opposed to change.

So the biggest question remains: how exactly to engage the entire populace to initiate a change in mindset? How can a national conversation on this subject be leveraged into national action?

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Excerpt:

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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Authoritarian Govts Tighten Grip on Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/authoritarian-govts-tighten-grip-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=authoritarian-govts-tighten-grip-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/authoritarian-govts-tighten-grip-press-freedom/#respond Sun, 22 Apr 2018 11:39:30 +0000 Sopho Kharazi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155386 The 25th celebration of World Press Freedom Day will be led by UNESCO and the government of Ghana in Accra on May 2-3. The theme is “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law,” covering the issues of media in respect to the judicial system and transparent political processes. At the same time, […]

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Journalists in Peshawar protest an attack on Dawn News near the Peshawar Press Club in November 2016. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Journalists in Peshawar protest an attack on Dawn News near the Peshawar Press Club in November 2016. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Sopho Kharazi
ROME, Apr 22 2018 (IPS)

The 25th celebration of World Press Freedom Day will be led by UNESCO and the government of Ghana in Accra on May 2-3. The theme is “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law,” covering the issues of media in respect to the judicial system and transparent political processes.

At the same time, the conference will discuss state institutions’ accountability towards their citizens.

• Politicians in democratic states launched or escalated efforts to shape news coverage by delegitimizing media outlets, exerting political influence over public broadcasters, and raising the profile of friendly private outlets.

• Officials in more authoritarian settings such as Turkey, Ethiopia, and Venezuela used political or social unrest as a pretext to intensify crackdowns on independent or opposition-oriented outlets.

• Authorities in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Asia extended restrictive laws to online speech, or simply shut down telecommunications services at crucial moments, such as before elections or during protests.

• Among the countries that suffered the largest declines on the report’s 100-point scale in 2016 were Poland (6 points), Turkey (5), Burundi (5), Hungary (4), Bolivia (4), Serbia (4), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (4).

• The world’s 10 worst-rated countries and territories were Azerbaijan, Crimea, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Turkmenistan, and

The day takes place in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015, which includes 17 goals for achieving sustainable development for all, including ending inequalities between men and women. Among the goals, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 focuses on promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies.

Peace, justice and strong institutions allow for good governance as well as other sustainable development efforts to thrive, facilitated further by an independent and enabling media environment.

Today, the number of countries with right to information laws is steadily increasing. The international normative framework regarding the safety of journalists, and particularly women journalists, has been significantly bolstered through the adoption of resolutions at the UN General Assembly, Security Council, Human Rights Council and UNESCO, and there is greater recognition of the right to privacy.

Still, according to Freedom House, a free press is accessible to only 13% of the world population and a partly free press to 42% of the world population. The remaining 45% lives in countries where a free press is non-existent (“New Report: Freedom of the Press 2017”). Political and economic transformations of some countries alongside their technological developments place new restrictions on press freedom.

Governments of these countries tend to implement restrictive laws and censorship on freedom of press, usually justifying these actions as a necessary tool for national security against terrorism. Apart from violating the right of freedom of expression, these restrictions place higher risks of violence, harassment and death on journalists.

According to the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, violence and restrictions against media freedom has risen by 14% in the time period of 2012-2017. At the same time, since 2016, media freedom in countries where it was ranked as “good” decreased by 2.3%.

The level of restriction on press freedom has been one of the highest in MENA countries such as Syria. Even though article 43 of Syria’s Constitution guarantees freedom of the press while a 2011 media law bans monopolistic media alongside with “the arrest, questioning, or searching of journalists,” these laws are not practiced in the government-held areas of the country. According to the media law, publication of any information on armed forces and spread of information that might affect national security and provoke “hate crimes” is forbidden in Syria. In case of violating this law, journalists are held accountable and fined with 1 million Syrian pounds ($4,600).

At the same time, despite the fact that article 3 of the media law guarantees freedom of expression as stated in the Syrian Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 4 of the same law declares that the media must practice this freedom with “awareness and responsibility”.

Consequently, this broad wording allows the Syrian government to restrict press freedom in multiple ways and in case of disobedience, punish journalists for anti-state crimes. For instance, in December 2016, the government imprisoned seven Syrian journalists through security-related legislation and used torture to receive their confession.

From the political perspective, Syrian authorities spread propaganda and false information while forcefully restricting publication of news in the government-controlled areas. Distribution of “all printed material” has been led by the General Corporation for the Distribution of Publications, responsible for censorship in Syria. This, alongside the economic problems caused by war, has decreased media diversity in the government-controlled area, leaving only a few dozen print publications which rarely deal with the political issues.

From the economic perspective, most of the print publications are owned by the government-allied businessmen who also control editorial policy. This, on the other hand, intensifies the problem of the non-existent free press in Syria.

However, despite this fact, in the opposition-controlled territory new print and broadcast outlets have emerged, funded by volunteers and some of them based abroad. For instance, the opposition TV channel – Orient TV owned by Ghassan Aboud, an exiled Syrian entrepreneur – broadcasts from Dubai while having correspondents in Syria.

According to Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, “when politicians lambaste the media, it encourages their counterparts abroad to do the same…[undermining] democracy’s status as a model of press freedom.”

The case of Syria demonstrates how the absence of press freedom and an independent judiciary triggers development of authoritarian governments. The “just, effective and independent judiciary” is a base for an effective rule of law which builds a strong democratic system, guaranteeing the right of freedom of information, expression and safety of journalists.

This, on the other hand, provides free press that is compulsory for representing political will and needs of people, and for establishing good governance. Press freedom allows journalists to monitor and report about the on-going events taking place in different sectors of the state. As a result, this makes it possible to hold governments accountable towards their people and helps to accomplish the 2030 agenda of Sustainable Development Goals.

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Child Soldiers Released, But Risk Remainshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/child-soldiers-released-risk-remains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-soldiers-released-risk-remains http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/child-soldiers-released-risk-remains/#respond Fri, 20 Apr 2018 16:22:15 +0000 Will Higginbotham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155369 More than 200 child soldiers were released by armed groups in war-torn South Sudan, and help will be needed to ensure their safe and bright future, according to a UN agency. The release took place in Western Equatoria State and follows a similar release last month that saw 300 children freed. Both releases are part […]

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Child soldiers released by armed groups in Yambio, South Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy

By Will Higginbotham
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 20 2018 (IPS)

More than 200 child soldiers were released by armed groups in war-torn South Sudan, and help will be needed to ensure their safe and bright future, according to a UN agency.

The release took place in Western Equatoria State and follows a similar release last month that saw 300 children freed.

Both releases are part of a series, supported by the UN’s children’s agency (UNICEF), that will see 1,000 children freed from armed groups.

“No child should ever have to pick up a weapon and fight” said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF’s Representative in South Sudan.

“For every child released, today marks the start of a new life. UNICEF is proud to support these children as they return to their families and start to build a brighter future,” he said.

Laying Down of the Guns

During a ceremony, known as the ‘laying down of the guns,’ the released children were formally disarmed and given civilian clothes.

The 112 boys and 95 girls that were disarmed were from the South Sudan National Liberation Movement and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.

“UNICEF, UNMISS and government partners have negotiated tirelessly with parties to the conflict so as to enable this release of children. But the work does not stop here.” Mdoe said.

“The reintegration process is a delicate one and we must now ensure the children have all the support they need to make a success of their lives.”

Counselling and Psychological Services

UNCIEF says that the priority will now be medical screenings, counseling and psychosocial services.

Recent research from Child Soldiers International, a rights group that aims to stop and end all child recruitment, illuminated some of the horrific realities that children face when they fall in with armed groups.

The report, based on interviews with ex-child soldiers, detailed everything form forced murders, spying on neighbors and family members, denial of education and healthcare to forced cannibalism.

For girls, the trauma can be even deeper. It was found that a majority suffered sexual abuse and violence. Rapes, forced marriages and pregnancy are all common for girls caught in armed groups.

Such experiences for girls, CSI reported, are compounded when they return home, as many are ostracized by their families and labelled ‘prostitutes’ by their communities.

“Every effort will be made to ensure the correct psychological services. There will be immense trauma to overcome.” Mdoe said.

Families will also need support in order to facilitate reintegration.

Other reintegration services

The children involved in this release will also have access to vocational training as well as age-specific education services in schools and accelerated learning centers.

Their families will also be provided with three months’ worth of food assistance to support reintegration.

The South Sudanese Government has committed to halt child recruitment by armed groups in the country.

Child recruitment ‘far from over’ in South Sudan

Yet despite their commitment and the U.N’s tally of releasing 2,000 children in the country, advocacy groups say that some 19,000 children remain caught in South Sudan’s armed forces and groups.

As peace talks resume, the UNICEF has called on all parties to the conflict to end the use of children and to release all children in their ranks.

But with conflict lingering into its sixth year in the world’s youngest nation, the risk that children will be used in fighting remains.

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A Child of War Dedicates Herself to Peacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/child-war-dedicates-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-war-dedicates-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/child-war-dedicates-peace/#comments Tue, 17 Apr 2018 15:22:06 +0000 Mary de Sousa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155315 UNESCO Courier*

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Dalia Al-Najjar, Goodwill Ambassador for Children of Peace. Credit: Vilde Media

By Mary de Sousa
PARIS, Apr 17 2018 (IPS)

“I was so angry, I felt like I wanted to blow up the whole world, but I didn’t. I decided I wouldn’t be pushed to become evil. I would choose peace.”

Dalia Al-Najjar has crammed a great deal into her short life. At 22, the Palestinian refugee has already lived through three wars and has spent every spare moment between siege and ceasefire studying, volunteering, working, blogging, on the daily struggle to live in Gaza – and planning how to change the future.

A good deal of her energy goes into her role as Goodwill Ambassador for Children of Peace, a non-partisan children’s charity dedicated to building trust, friendship and reconciliation between Israeli and Palestinian children, aged 4 to 17, and their communities.

Dalia says she is fuelled by anger and hope, but also that she draws heavily on a family culture that values education. She has consciously used learning as a means to realize her dreams, the greatest of which is to find solutions to violence and hatred.

“My family has always made me aware that education is hugely important,” she said.

Dalia experienced her first siege when she was just 12, followed by two major conflicts.

“I was in ninth grade when the first war started, and everything fell apart. I didn’t understand: why were people killing each other? I thought it would last only a few weeks,” she said.

She continued to study throughout, finally graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the Islamic University of Gaza, her life reduced to the intermittent bursts of electricity in the city.

“In those days I never went to school without watching the news first, and everything depended on the power schedule. So I woke up when there was electricity, or studied by candlelight, which destroyed my eyes. I would often fight with my brother and sister to get the candle.”

“Wars and Peace”, from the Cartooning for Peace international network of editorial cartoonists, supported by UNESCO.

The 2014 war proved a turning point for Dalia. “After the war, my ideas became much clearer. I didn’t want anybody else to have to live like this. I chose to be optimistic, because if not, I don’t live. Not living wasn’t a choice for me,” she said.

Dalia was invited on a short scholarship to the United States, and began a blog and YouTube show. She is also a member of the World Youth Alliance, a New York-based international coalition, which works with young people worldwide to build a culture that nurtures and supports the dignity of the person – through advocacy, education and culture.

But it is Dalia’s work as a Goodwill Ambassador for Children of Peace that has changed her most profoundly.

“It is easy to stay on your own side and demonize the other. Now I have Israeli friends and we realize we have been given different narratives, and we have to find our way through that together, using critical thinking,” she explained.

“Being on one side of a conflict makes it much easier to dehumanize someone than to accept that there is trauma on both sides.”

Now studying for her Master’s degree in Human Resources in Sakarya, Turkey, Dalia has an exciting new project. She attended the Young Sustainable Impact (YSI) conference in Oslo in 2017, as an ‘earthpreneur’ (someone who uses entrepreneurship to work towards a sustainable planet), where she was tasked with proposing a startup that addressed one of the Sustainable Development Goals.

When she learned that more people die as a result of waterborne diseases than from conflict, she co-founded Xyla Water Filtration Technologies. The company aims to commercialize a filter made from plant tissue that costs less than $10 and can provide clean water for a family of seven for a year.

And she has another goal. “I want to be prime minister,” she said, matter-of-factly.

*Available online since March 2006, the UNESCO Courier serves readers around the world in the six official languages of the Organization (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish), and also in Esperanto and Portuguese. A limited number of issues are also produced in print.

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Excerpt:

UNESCO Courier*

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IOM Grantees Preserve the Custom of Making Ukrainian Craftshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/iom-grantees-preserve-custom-making-ukrainian-crafts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iom-grantees-preserve-custom-making-ukrainian-crafts http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/iom-grantees-preserve-custom-making-ukrainian-crafts/#respond Mon, 16 Apr 2018 15:49:49 +0000 Varvara Zhluktenko http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155305 A man living in the Government-controlled part of the conflict-affected eastern Ukraine and two women, who moved from the non-government controlled area to Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, have chosen folk crafts for their business. With curly clay ornaments and the sophisticated traditional embroidery stitches, they earn their living, and, to some extent, try to put […]

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By Varvara Zhluktenko
Apr 16 2018 (IOM)

A man living in the Government-controlled part of the conflict-affected eastern Ukraine and two women, who moved from the non-government controlled area to Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, have chosen folk crafts for their business. With curly clay ornaments and the sophisticated traditional embroidery stitches, they earn their living, and, to some extent, try to put the country back together.

The city of Sloviansk is located some 70 kilometres from the so-called contact line in eastern Ukraine. An industrial zone, once known for the mud-bath resort in its outskirts, has a complicated recent history. For three months in the spring of 2014, at the very start of the outbreak of the conflict, the city was in the hands of armed groups. In July 2014, the Government of Ukraine restored control over Sloviansk, however, the city is only a hundred kilometres from Donetsk, the centre of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.

Pottery has been a traditional product and ‘brand’ of the city since the times of the Soviet Union.

“There were several big industrial factories, that also produced housewares as a small side business. When the main factories were shut down, people who worked at these small manufacturers opened their own private small factories. Currently there are about 300 such small enterprises, and each one tries to create something unique,” says Evhen, an IOM grantee as he gives a tour of his pottery factory.

All Evhen’s products have elaborate decorations.

Eagerly showcasing his production line of cups, mugs, kettles, bowls and vases, Evhen explains the details of the complicated process. For instance, his factory does not use paints, but a mix of different colour clays.

Evhen was supported though IOM Ukraine’s economic empowerment programme as a vulnerable member of a community hosting internally displaced persons. He has a disability and runs his business to provide for his wife and two children.

With funding from the British Embassy in Ukraine, IOM supported Evhen with computer equipment, enabling his factory to craft pottery with raised designs and coats of arms. Now, Evhen has more clients ordering mugs and other souvenirs with their corporate logos.

“Before the conflict, our main market was Ukraine and Russia. Since 2014, both internal and external sales have dropped,” says Evhen. “The other owners of pottery factories and I would really like to export our products to the European Union. However, we need guidance and facilitation. Also, the intermediaries make the process complicated and disadvantageous for us. At the same time, we can produce whatever the client wants and our pottery is of a good quality.”

One of the items produced for export

Currently Evhen’s factory produces souvenir pottery for export to Romania and Moldova. Another order they have received is from a company selling souvenirs in the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains. So, some of the souvenirs to be sold in the heart of Western Ukraine are now produced in the Donetsk region city of Sloviansk.

Tetiana, a retired piano teacher, and Oksana, a former veterinarian clinic employee, were Evhen’s neighbours until 2014. At the outbreak of the conflict, they moved from their native Donetsk to Kyiv. Now, they also have a business built around a traditional Ukrainian craft – embroidery. The discreet beauty of their products immediately attracts attention of the visitors at IOM-organized business fairs. “No, this is not machine embroidery, this is hand-made,” Tetiana explains, with a kind smile to a customer at a fair held by IOM in the northern Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr.

The simple beauty of the clothing produced by Tetiana’s and Oksana’s atelier always attracts attention

Embroidery has been Tetiana’s hobby for many years. While still in Donetsk, she was one of the leaders of a project involving 17 craftswomen from all over Ukraine, who were embroidering designs, collected at the end of 19th century by Olena Bdzhilka, a Ukrainian ethnographer, writer, translator and activist, as well as the mother of famous Ukrainian poet Lesya Ukrainka. The aim of the project was to preserve and promote traditional Ukrainian embroidery which has over 200 stitching techniques.

Tetiana (right) and Oksana (left) presenting their goods at an IOM-organized fair

After relocation to Kyiv, Tetiana decided to turn her hobby into a business. She found a local business partner, as well as some new friends and supporters, at a thematic internet forum. Now, they have a registered trade mark, and an exciting professional life.

“We make everything, but our favourite type of work is modern clothing with traditional Ukrainian embroidery. We aim to preserve this rich folk craft. Traditional embroidery should be applicable in modern life, using it for modern clothing is the way to make it live,” says Tetiana.

One of the first ready-to-wear collections with traditional embroidery was created by Tetiana soon after her relocation to Kyiv. Due to limited funds, old jeans collected from friends were used for the production.

Tetiana and her colleagues also conduct master classes on hand embroidery at different museums in Kyiv. They have also written books on traditional embroidery. Impressively, the royalties from one of their publications allowed them to buy the first sewing machine for their atelier.

With an IOM grant, provided with funding from the British Embassy in Ukraine, they received another machine, and a tablet which allows them to show their collections to potential customers and anyone interested in traditional embroidery and tailoring at fairs and similar events.

Embroidered ties are a part of Tetiana’s ready-to-wear collection

In addition to ready-to-wear clothing collections, the atelier also produces high-end replicas of folk costumes for individual clients and musical ensembles.

Oksana studies embroidery and sewing from Tetiana, and is in charge of the promotion and marketing of the business. The team would like to grow, but for now they are limited due to budget constraints that prevent them from renting larger premises and hiring more staff.

“It was a mix,” says Tetiana with a knowing smile, when asked about the traditional embroidery of the Donbas and its place in the history of Ukrainian crafts of the 19th-20th centuries. “A mix featuring both traditional folk stitches brought to the Donbas by migrants from western parts of Ukraine, and the cross-stitched ornaments from the Russian albums, which copied Italian, German, or Dutch designs.”

In 2018, the conflict in eastern Ukraine marks its fourth anniversary. Many of the 4.4 million Ukrainians affected, including 1.5 million internally displaced, have depleted their resources, or cannot return home to rebuild their lives. Given Ukraine’s protracted humanitarian crisis, the international community’s involvement is vital both in assisting the most vulnerable people in need and supporting millions of conflict-affected Ukrainians, while also strengthening resilience and recovery.

“The people of Ukraine must be supported to get back on their feet and build a future filled with hope,” says Thomas Lothar Weiss, IOM Ukraine’s Chief of Mission.

IOM supports both internally displaced persons and the communities which host them. With over 10 years of experience in empowering vulnerable migrants in Ukraine through entrepreneurship opportunities, IOM currently provides business training to internally displaced persons and host community members, as well as equipment to start and develop their businesses.

Since 2014, IOM, with funding from its international donors, supported almost 7,000 conflict-affected people with grants for self-employment, micro-enterprise and vocational training.

“There are many internally displaced people and host community members, who have shown resilience, knowledge, experience and passion to develop their businesses in a new place despite all the challenges they face. We just provide them with additional resources – assets and some training – but it is their motivation and determination that are key to their own business success,” says Thomas Weiss.

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Getting Away with Murder in Slovakiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/getting-away-murder-slovakia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=getting-away-murder-slovakia http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/getting-away-murder-slovakia/#respond Mon, 16 Apr 2018 00:57:17 +0000 Ed Holt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155283 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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World Press Freedom Day: A protester in the Slovak capital, Bratislava holds up a picture of murdered journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in protests across the country in the weeks after the killing, eventually forcing the resignation of the Prime Minister and Interior Minister. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

A protester in the Slovak capital, Bratislava holds up a picture of murdered journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in protests across the country in the weeks after the killing, eventually forcing the resignation of the Prime Minister and Interior Minister. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

By Ed Holt
BRATISLAVA, Apr 16 2018 (IPS)

Sitting in a cafe in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, Zuzana Petkova admits that like many other investigative journalists in the country today, she is scared.

She explains how she and colleagues investigating possible links between the country’s politicians, businessmen and the Italian mafia, have started using special methods to remain as anonymous as possible in their work – encrypting emails, using anonymous communication groups and foregoing bylines, among others.“The rising authoritarianism and illiberalism of countries, such as Poland and Hungary for example, will lead to more censorship and, in the long term, increase the likelihood of violence.” --Ilya Lozovsky

She recalls how just days before she had been walking down a dimly-lit alley when she heard footsteps behind her and turned to see a man in a hooded top walking towards her. Scared, she froze until he had walked past her and she realized he was just a passerby.

Until a few weeks ago, Petkova, a well-known investigative journalist at the Slovak current affairs and news weekly ‘Trend’, would probably not have paid any attention to the footsteps.

A seasoned reporter – “I’ve been through a few things,” she says – she has been taken to court numerous times, had the country’s serious crime squad investigate her, and had anonymous threats made to her in the past. However, she has brushed all these off with little real fear for herself.

But the murder in late February of her some-time colleague Jan Kuciak, and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, both 27, at Kuciak’s home in Velka Maca, 40 miles east of Bratislava, changed things.

Across Central Europe, media watchdogs have pointed to an alarming erosion in press freedom in recent years, highlighting how governments in some countries have used legislation, takeovers and shutdowns of media outlets, criminal libel cases, crippling fines and repeated denigration of media and individual journalists to silence critics.

In Slovakia, investigative journalists had got used to what some dub ‘psychological’ pressure from the government in the form of repeated police hearings and court summonses over articles into corruption, as well as public attacks on their integrity.

But few had really thought that anyone would use physical force to try and stop them doing their work. After Kuciak’s murder, they fear that may no longer be the case.

“None of us ever thought something like this would happen. Doing investigative journalism, there’s always some kind of risk, I knew that. But it’s only now that I, that all of us doing it, are fully aware of it,” she tells IPS.

At the time of his death, Kuciak had been working on a story about the links between the ‘Ndrangheta mafia and people in Smer, the senior party in the governing coalition. In the days after the killing, there was feverish speculation about mafia or political involvement in the murder and that it had been carried out as a clear warning to other journalists.

Investigating police say they are working on the assumption the killing was connected to Kuciak’s work.

But while local journalists have their own varied theories about who may have been behind the murder, they largely agree that years of government hostility towards journalists and public attacks on critical media may have emboldened the killers.

Just after the murder, the Slovak Section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) released a statement saying the killing had been “a dire consequence of the climate engendered by systematic long-term aggressive verbal attacks on journalists by various leading state representatives“.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who was forced to resign in a political crisis in the wake of the murder, had repeatedly insulted and criticised journalists while in office. Just last year he was attacked by international press watchdogs for labelling local journalists “dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes” and only days after Kuciak’s murder publicly insulted one of the dead journalist’s colleagues.

Ilya Lozovsky, Managing Editor of the international investigative reporting platform, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), told IPS the problem of hostile rhetoric against journalists should not be underestimated.

He said: “When a politician publicly mocks or threatens journalists, often other actors will take things into their own hands, without the government having to do anything. Russia is well known for this – various independent actors -(individuals, institutions – will often do something as a ‘gift’ to Putin, without him having to direct anything himself. Journalists and opposition leaders are often killed this way.”

Worryingly, verbal attacks and other intimidation of journalists by politicians are far from uncommon in other parts of Central Europe, especially in countries with governments widely seen as populist, increasingly authoritarian, and corrupt.

In Hungary, critics say that since coming to power in 2010, the government led by populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban has taken a tight grip on the media, using legislation, taxes on independent media and takeovers and forced closures of opposition media outlets to silence critics.

After a political rally last summer at which Orban spoke of the need to “battle” local media outlets which he said were actively working against his party, government-friendly media launched a campaign against individual journalists, publishing lists of reporters who had been critical of the government and denigrating them and their work.

Local journalism associations said the list was reminiscent of the practices under the communist regime.

In Poland, where since the ruling conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) came to power in 2015 the country’s ranking in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index has plummeted from 18 to 54 out of 180, local journalists have spoken of facing unprecedented state pressure.

The PiS has issued reporters with threats of legal action, cut off their access to some officials, taken control of public media, and cut advertising and subscriptions to various news publications. Some Polish journalists also believe they are being spied on by state security agencies.

Meanwhile, Czech President Milos Zeman has never tried to hide his antipathy for journalists. He has sparked controversy with comments likening journalists to animals, jokingly calling for them to be “liquidated” during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and appearing at a press conference last October soon after investigative journalist Daphne Galizia was killed in Malta with a Kalashnikov and the words “for journalists” written on it.

Recent comments accusing public broadcaster CT of bias also infuriated many, prompting thousands of Czechs to join street protests demanding he respect journalists.

The attacks are not, though, simply politicians getting angry with critics, experts say.

Drew Sullivan, Editor at the OCCRP, told IPS: “Populist and nationalist politicians like those who run Slovakia and the Czech Republic do not like journalists acting as watchdogs.

“They’ve learned from [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and others that the best way to deal with them is to publicly blame the journalists, attack them, demean them and try to undermine their credibility.”

Corruption scandals are far from uncommon across the region and the links between government corruption and intimidation of those trying to expose it are clear, says Lozovsky.

“As a government grows more authoritarian and secretive, journalists come under more pressure. At the same time, that government will almost always become less accountable to its people and more corrupt. When it becomes more corrupt, there will be greater entanglement with organized crime, and when a corrupt government has connections with organized crime, that’s when the threat of physical violence against journalists starts to grow.

“Both Jan Kuciak and Daphne Galizia were working on the same theme – the nexus between corrupt politics and organized crime. This is no coincidence. When criminals ‘buy’ politicians, they feel more empowered to intimidate and attack journalists because they feel immune from the consequences. “

And he warned: “The rising authoritarianism and illiberalism of countries, such as Poland and Hungary for example, will lead to more censorship and, in the long term, increase the likelihood of violence.”

In Slovakia, investigative journalists are determined to continue their work, despite having to operate in a new climate of fear. Petkova says some journalists considered walking away from the profession after the killing and while none have left yet, many had considered police protection.

However, issues of trust between journalists and police have complicated matters.

There is a widespread perception among the Slovak public that police and other justice institutions are endemically corrupt. Indeed, the mass protests across the country after Kuciak was killed and which eventually forced Fico out of office were driven in large part by the fact many felt the murder would never be investigated properly as any links between the killers and government would be covered up by politically-nominated senior police chiefs.

After Kuciak was killed, it emerged that he had contacted police over a threat made to him by a local businessman with links to the government. Kuciak had said in a Facebook post months after contacting them that the police never investigated.

And Petkova is adamant that the perception of a corrupt or politically-influenced police executive may have prompted the killers to act. “They probably came to the conclusion that they could get away with anything and that they’d get away with this murder,” she says.

Sullivan questioned what effect this has on local journalists’ willingness to approach police for either protection or giving up information to investigators in sensitive criminal cases.

“Many journalists know that elements of their governments are protecting criminal groups, drug traffickers, arms traffickers and others. Nobody knows who is on whose side. The Slovak government is corrupt and has been corrupt. There are many Eastern European and Balkan criminals operating out of Bratislava and the police do nothing.  [A journalist] cannot feel safe in that environment,” he said.

While a new government has been appointed in Slovakia, journalists hold little hope of any improvement in politicians’ approach to them. The new Prime Minister, Peter Pelligrini, was directly appointed by his predecessor, who will now head the ruling Smer party.

Juraj Porubsky, former Editor in Chief of the Slovak daily Pravda, told IPS: “Will politicians treat journalists better after this? No, why would they?”

Meanwhile, as the investigation into Kuciak’s murder continues, Slovak journalists are sceptical anyone will be brought to justice for the killing.

“I don’t think it will ever be properly investigated,” Petkova says, shaking her head sadly. “I don’t think Jan’s killer will ever be found.”

The post Getting Away with Murder in Slovakia appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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UN Cracks Down on Peacekeeping Troops over Human Rights Abuseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/un-cracks-peacekeeping-troops-human-rights-abuses/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-cracks-peacekeeping-troops-human-rights-abuses http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/un-cracks-peacekeeping-troops-human-rights-abuses/#respond Fri, 13 Apr 2018 15:48:18 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155272 The United Nations, whose peacekeepers have come under increased scrutiny because of widespread charges of sexual abuse and human rights violations, claims it is now committed to ensuring that all personnel serving with the UN meet the “highest standards of conduct, competence and integrity, including respect for and commitment to human rights.” And there are […]

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MINUSMA peacekeepers patrolling the village of Bara in northeastern Mali. It is one of the most dangerous UN peacekeeping missions. Credit: UN Photo/Harandane Dicko

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 13 2018 (IPS)

The United Nations, whose peacekeepers have come under increased scrutiny because of widespread charges of sexual abuse and human rights violations, claims it is now committed to ensuring that all personnel serving with the UN meet the “highest standards of conduct, competence and integrity, including respect for and commitment to human rights.”

And there are no exceptions to this rule, which applies to over 100,000 civilian, military and police personnel currently deployed in 14 UN peacekeeping operations and 23 special political missions around the world.

Nick Birnback, UN Peacekeeping spokesperson, told IPS “member States that provide personnel to UN peacekeeping operations have the responsibility to certify that all these personnel have not been involved, by act or omission, in violations of international humanitarian law or human rights law, and have not been repatriated on disciplinary grounds from a UN operation.”

The most recent test case under investigation is the deployment of 49 Sri Lankan troops to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) who did not undergo the required vetting process, this time by the local Human Rights Commission based in Colombo.

Taking a tough stand, the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has requested that “the Sri Lankan government immediately prioritize the completion of the screening for the 49 officers already deployed to UNIFIL”.

“If concerns arise regarding the 49 personnel already deployed to UNIFIL, DPKO may request that they be repatriated and replaced at the Government’s cost,” Birnback warned.

“In the case of Sri Lanka where there are specific human rights concerns”, he pointed out, the UN has put in place additional screening measures in 2016 to help ensure that deployed personnel meet our standards.

Prior to their deployment to UNIFIL, he said, the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations provided an attestation certifying that the contingent had not been involved in any violations.

“However, in February 2018, we learned that the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission — which the Government of Sri Lanka had agreed it would undertake human rights screening of all Sri Lankan personnel — had not yet completed the screening when the rotation of the unit in UNIFIL started. UN Peacekeeping immediately raised this with the Sri Lankan authorities and the deployment was stopped.”

“Meanwhile, we’ve asked the government of Sri Lanka to formalize the screening arrangements with the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission. Compliance with these arrangements will be required before the UN can receive any further deployments or rotations from Sri Lanka. The government is cooperating with us in this regard,” Birnback said.

According to DPKO, the United Nations Charter requires that all UN personnel must maintain the highest standards of integrity and conduct. The UN is committed to ensuring that all its personnel deployed globally serve with professionalism, courtesy and dignity.

The UN Standards of Conduct apply to all categories of personnel deployed in UN missions. There is a three-pronged strategy to address misconduct: prevention, enforcement of the UN Standards of Conduct, and remedial action.

In July 2008, the Department of Field Support (DFS) launched the Misconduct Tracking System (MTS), a global, restricted-access database and confidential tracking system for all allegations of misconduct.

The UN Standards of Conduct are based on three key principles: highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity; zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse and accountability of those in command and/or leadership who fail to enforce the standards of conduct, according to DPKO.

Meanwhile, as sexual abuse and paternity claims continue to rise against UN peacekeepers, the United Nations is actively collaborating with troop contributing countries in collecting DNA samples: a protocol introduced back in 2014.

The number of paternity claims – or potential paternity claims – has increased significantly: from 12 each in 2013 and 2014, to 15 in 2015, 33 in 2016 and 56 in 2017.

These are victims of “sexual exploitation and abuse,” according to the United Nations.

Providing an update on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in the UN system– in line with the Secretary-General’s initiative on increasing transparency on ongoing allegations– UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters February 22 that from 1 October to 31 December 2017, “we have received 40 allegations for all UN entities and implementing partners. Not all allegations have been fully verified, and many are in the preliminary assessment phase.”

Out of the 40 allegations, 15 are reported from peacekeeping operations. These 15 are not new allegations — they have all been uploaded on the Conduct and Discipline database as they have come in. And that is a publicly available website.

The remaining 25 allegations are reported from agencies, funds and programmes, and include 8 allegations relating to implementing partners.

Of the 40 allegations, 13 are categorized as sexual abuse, 24 as sexual exploitation, and 3 are of an unknown nature. The 40 allegations involve 54 victims — 30 are women, 16 are girls (under the age of 18), the ages of 8 others are unknown; 12 of the 40 allegations occurred in 2017, 7 in 2016, 3 in [2015] or prior, and the dates are unknown for 18 of them, Dujarric said.

With regard to the status of the 40 allegations, two have been substantiated by an investigation; three are not substantiated; 15 are at various stages of investigation; 18 are under preliminary assessment; two are under review with limited information provided to the investigating entity, he added.

Currently, there are 14 UN peacekeeping operations worldwide, seven of them in Africa. The more than 100,000 troops and civilian personnel come from 123 countries, with the five largest troop-contributing countries (TCC) being Ethiopia (8,326 troops), India (7,471), Pakistan (7,161), Bangladesh (6,772) and Rwanda (6,146).

The approved budget for UN peacekeeping operations for the fiscal year of July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 was $7.87 billion, which is slightly smaller than its previous fiscal year’s budget.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has pointed out that UN’s peacekeeping budget – “less than one half of one per cent of global military spending — is money well spent.”

“It is a fraction of the cost of allowing conflict to spread and erode the gains of economic development. The investment is multiplied by the economic growth and prosperity that follow from stability and security after successful peacekeeping missions,” he declared last March.

He also said “UN peacekeepers are often under-equipped, under-prepared and unready [and] there are gaps in command and control, in culture, in equipment and in training.”

Speaking at a meeting of the UN Security Council, he declared: “Our peacekeepers are vulnerable, and they are targeted for attack,” he added.

Last year, he said, 59 peacekeepers lost their lives as a result of malicious act – highest number ever and a sharp increase over the year before when the figure was 34.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Death Sentences Keep Sliding, Says Amnesty Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/death-sentences-keep-sliding-says-amnesty-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=death-sentences-keep-sliding-says-amnesty-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/death-sentences-keep-sliding-says-amnesty-international/#comments Thu, 12 Apr 2018 12:49:30 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155253 As the United Nations continues to lead the global fight to abolish the death penalty, countries in sub-Saharan Africa have recorded a significant decrease in death sentences, according to a new report released by Amnesty International (AI). In its 2017 global review of the death penalty, AI has singled out Guinea, Kenya, Burkina Faso and […]

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By IPS World Desk
ROME, Apr 12 2018 (IPS)

As the United Nations continues to lead the global fight to abolish the death penalty, countries in sub-Saharan Africa have recorded a significant decrease in death sentences, according to a new report released by Amnesty International (AI).

In its 2017 global review of the death penalty, AI has singled out Guinea, Kenya, Burkina Faso and Chad for their positive steps amongst abolitionist states in sub-Saharan Africa.

The death penalty has no place in the 21st century — UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Credit: OHCHR

Guinea became the 20th state in sub-Saharan Africa to abolish the death penalty for all crimes, while Kenya abolished the mandatory death penalty for murder. Burkina Faso and Chad also took steps to repeal this punishment with new or proposed laws.

“The progress in sub-Saharan Africa reinforced its position as a beacon of hope for abolition. The leadership of countries in this region gives fresh hope that the abolition of the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is within reach,” said Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty.

“With governments in the region continuing to take steps to reduce and repeal the death penalty well into 2018, the isolation of the world’s remaining executing countries could not be starker.

“Now that 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, it is high time the rest of the world follows their lead and consigns this abhorrent punishment to the history books.”

According to the report, there was a drop in the number of executing countries across sub-Saharan Africa, from five in 2016 to two in 2017, with only South Sudan and Somalia known to have carried out executions.

However, with reports that Botswana and Sudan resumed executions in 2018, the organization highlighted that this must not overshadow the positive steps being taken by other countries across the region.

Elsewhere in Africa, Gambia signed an international treaty committing the country not to carry out executions and moving to abolish the death penalty. The Gambian President established an official moratorium (temporary ban) on executions in February 2018.

Significant progress all around

Developments across sub-Saharan Africa in 2017 exemplified the positive trend recorded globally, with Amnesty International’s research pointing to a further decrease in the global use of the death penalty in 2017.

Amnesty International recorded at least 993 executions in 23 countries in 2017, down by 4% from 2016 (1,032 executions) and 39% from 2015 (when the organization reported 1,634 executions, the highest number since 1989).

At least 2,591 death sentences in 53 countries were recorded in 2017, a significant decrease from the record-high of 3,117 recorded in 2016. These figures do not include the thousands of death sentences and executions that Amnesty International believes were imposed and implemented in China, where figures remain classified as a state secret.

In addition to Guinea, Mongolia abolished the death penalty for all crimes taking the total of abolitionist states to 106 in 2017. After Guatemala became abolitionist for ordinary crimes such as murder, the number of countries to have abolished the death penalty in law or practice now stands at 142. Only 23 countries continued to execute – the same number as in 2016, despite several states resuming executions after a hiatus, according to the study.

Significant steps to reduce the use of the death penalty were also taken in countries that are staunch supporters of it. In Iran, recorded executions reduced by 11% and drug-related executions reduced to 40%.

Moves were also made to increase the threshold of drug amounts required to impose a mandatory death penalty. In Malaysia, the anti-drug laws were amended, with the introduction of sentencing discretion in drug trafficking cases. These changes will likely result in a reduction in the number of death sentences imposed in both countries in the future.

“The fact that countries continue to resort to the death penalty for drug-related offences remains troubling. However, steps taken by Iran and Malaysia to amend their anti-drugs laws go a long way towards showing that cracks are appearing, even in the minority of countries that still execute people,” said Shetty.

Indonesia, which executed four people convicted of drug crimes in 2016 in an ill-conceived attempt to tackle drug crime, did not carry out any executions last year and reported a slight decrease in the number of death sentences imposed.

Disturbing trends

However, distressing trends continued to feature in the use of the death penalty in 2017.

Fifteen countries imposed death sentences or executed people for drug-related offences, going against international law. The Middle East and North Africa region recorded the highest number of drug-related executions in 2017, while the Asia-Pacific region had the most countries resorting to the death penalty for this type of offence (10 out of 16).

Amnesty International recorded drug-related executions in four countries – China (where figures are classified as a state secret), Iran, Saudi Arabia and Singapore. The secrecy that shrouded capital punishment in Malaysia and Viet Nam made it impossible to determine whether executions for drug crimes occurred.

Singapore hanged eight people in 2017 – all for drug-related offences and double the amount in 2016. There was a similar trend in Saudi Arabia, where drug-related beheadings rocketed from 16% of total executions in 2016 to 40% in 2017.

“Despite strides towards abolishing this abhorrent punishment, there are still a few leaders who would resort to the death penalty as a ‘quick-fix’ rather than tackling problems at their roots with humane, effective and evidence-based policies. Strong leaders execute justice, not people,” said Shetty.

“The draconian anti-drug measures widely used in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific have totally failed to address the issue,” he warned.

Governments also breached several other prohibitions under international law in 2017. At least five people in Iran were executed for crimes committed when they were under 18and at least 80 others remained on death row, and people with mental or intellectual disabilities were executed or remained under sentence of death in Japan, the Maldives, Pakistan, Singapore and the USA.

Amnesty International recorded several cases of people facing the death penalty after “confessing” to crimes as a result of torture or other ill-treatment in Bahrain, China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In Iran and Iraq, some of these “confessions” were broadcast on live television.

Although the overall number of executing countries remained the same, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates resumed executions after a hiatus. In Egypt, recorded death sentences increased by about 70% compared to 2016.

Looking forward

With at least 21,919 people known to be under sentence of death globally, now is not the time to let up the pressure.

Positive steps were taken in 2017 and the full impact will be seen in the coming months and years. However, with some countries taking steps backwards – or threatening to – the campaign against the death penalty remains as essential as ever.

“Over the past 40 years, we’ve seen a huge positive shift in the global outlook for the death penalty, but more urgent steps need to be taken to stop the horrifying practice of state killing,” said Shetty.

“The death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it. We know that by galvanizing the support of people worldwide, we can stand up to this cruel punishment and end the death penalty everywhere.”

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International Community Ramps Up Action on Venezuela Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/international-community-ramps-action-venezuela-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=international-community-ramps-action-venezuela-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/international-community-ramps-action-venezuela-crisis/#comments Tue, 10 Apr 2018 21:13:04 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155223 One year into the most recent series of protests and a humanitarian crisis with no end in sight, international groups have called for action to help protect Venezuelans. A complex political and economic crisis in Venezuela has left millions without access to basic services and resources, prompting UN agencies and human rights groups like Human […]

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Venezuelans arrive in Pacaraima, border city with Venezuela, and wait at the Federal Police, the entity responsible for receiving Venezuelans seeking asylum or special stay permits in Brazil, 16 February 2018. Credit: UNHCR/Reynesson Damasceno

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 10 2018 (IPS)

One year into the most recent series of protests and a humanitarian crisis with no end in sight, international groups have called for action to help protect Venezuelans.

A complex political and economic crisis in Venezuela has left millions without access to basic services and resources, prompting UN agencies and human rights groups like Human Rights Watch to speak up and urge action.

“Venezuela needs help to tackle and overwhelming crisis,” said singer Ricardo Montaner alongside Human Rights Watch at the launch of the #TodosConVenezuela, or Together with Venezuelans, campaign.

“Join me. It’s not just my job or yours, it’s something we should all do. Tell your friends—let’s do this together,” he continued.

The campaign, launched ahead of the Summit of the Americas where world leaders will discuss the situation in Venezuela, asks the public to tweet at Latin American presidents to confront Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro about government abuses.

Such abuses include the suppression of dissent as government critics are often arbitarily detained and prosecuted in military tribunals.

An estimated 700 civilians have been prosecuted in military courts for offenses such as rebellion and treason.

Numerous UN Special Rapporteurs also found “excessive and indiscriminate use of force” during anti-government protests.

“Protests must not be criminalized,” they said.

Meanwhile, Venezuela has been facing a severe economic crisis since global oil prices plummeted in 2014.

The South American nation now has the highest inflation rate in the world which now exceeds 6,000 percent, making it nearly impossible for Venezuelans to access medicine and food and causing a health crisis.

In one year alone, maternal mortality and infant mortality increased by 65 percent and 30 percent respectively. Over 80 percent of the country now live in poverty.

Driven by the lack of access to basic services as well as political tensions, almost two million Venezuelans have left the country, causing the humanitarian crisis to spill over.

Carlos Miguele Machado told Human Rights Wach that he left his home country because he could not find medicine that his wife needed after undergoing thyroid surgery.

“I had to travel far, go from pharmacy to pharmacy looking for the medicine, and I could not find it—and it is very expensive in the black market,” he said.

Both Colombia and Brazil have seen the largest numbers of migrants crossing their borders in recent months. To date, over 1 million Venezuelans have reached Colombia while Brazil estimates that over 800 enters its country every day.

“As the complex political and socio-economic situation in their country continues to worsen, arriving Venezuelans are in more desperate need of food, shelter, and health care. Many also need international protection,” said UN High Comissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson William Spindler.

As public services in Brazil become more and more stretched in response to the inflows, UNCHR has ramped up its efforts to help register and house Venezuelans. The agency has opened up new shelters for vulnerable Venezuelans which are already almost at capacity.

In order to implement its regional response plan, UNCHR made an appeal of $46 million to donors. So far, it is only four percent funded.

Similarly, the International Organizaation for Migration (IOM) launched a regional action plan to strengthen response to the large-scale of flows of Venezuelans.

“IOM’s Regional Action Plan…represents a call for the international community to contribute to and strengthen the government efforts to receive and assist Venezuelans, so that those efforts may be sustained,” said IOM’s Regional Director for South America Diego Beltrand, encouraging host countries to adopt measures to help regularize Venezuelans’ stay.

World Food Programme Director David Beasely also urged the international community step up international donor funding in order to prevent the “humanitarian catastrophe” unraveling at the Colombian border.

“This could turn into an absolute disaster in unprecedented proportions for the Western Hemisphere,” Beasely said while visiting Colombia.

“I don’t think people around the world realize how bad the situation is and how much worse it could very well be,” he continued, pointing to the case of Syria’s crisis which began with a minor food emergency.

The upcoming presidential vote in May in Venezuela could determine the future of the country and its citizens.

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India Cracks Down on Human Traffickinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/india-cracks-human-trafficking/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-cracks-human-trafficking http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/india-cracks-human-trafficking/#respond Thu, 05 Apr 2018 11:22:21 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155162 The Indian Union Cabinet has cleared the long-awaited Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, which proposes an imprisonment of 10 years to life term for those trafficking humans for the purpose of begging, marriage, prostitution or labour, among others. The bill will become a law once cleared by both houses of Parliament. In a […]

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The Walk Free Foundation estimates that 45.8 million people, including millions of children, are subject to some form of modern slavery in the world. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

The Walk Free Foundation estimates that 45.8 million people, including millions of children, are subject to some form of modern slavery in the world. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Apr 5 2018 (IPS)

The Indian Union Cabinet has cleared the long-awaited Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, which proposes an imprisonment of 10 years to life term for those trafficking humans for the purpose of begging, marriage, prostitution or labour, among others. The bill will become a law once cleared by both houses of Parliament.

In a pioneering move, the ambit of the proposed legislation transcends mere punitive action to encompass rehabilitation as well. It provides for immediate protection of rescued victims entitling them to interim relief within 30 days. There are specific clauses to address the victims’ physical and mental trauma, education, skill development, health care as well as legal aid and safe accommodation."If implemented, the law could have far-reaching benefits, like curbing the underground labour industry and ensuring that fair wages are paid." --High Court advocate Aarti Kukreja

The National Investigation Agency, the country’s premier body combating terror, will perform the task of national anti-trafficking bureau. A Rehabilitation Fund is also being created to provide relief to the affected irrespective of criminal proceedings initiated against the accused or the outcome thereof.

“It’s a victory of the 1.2 million people who participated in 11,000 km long Bharat Yatra (India March) for this demand,” Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi said in a statement, referring to a month-long march he organised last year.

According to global surveys, human trafficking is the third largest organized crime violating basic human rights. The Australia-based human rights group The Walk Free Foundation’s 2016 Global Slavery Index points out that at a whopping 18.35 million, India leads the global tally for adults and children trapped in modern slavery.

Thousands of women and children are trafficked within India as well as well as neighbouring Nepal and Bangladesh. Some are enticed from villages and towns with false promises of gainful employment in the cities, while a large number of them are forcefully abducted by traffickers.

As trafficking is a highly organized crime involving interstate gangs, the bill proposes a district-level “anti-trafficking unit” with an “anti-trafficking police officer”, and a designated sessions court for speedy trials. The Bill also divides various offences into “trafficking” and “aggravated trafficking”. The former category of crimes carries a jail term of seven to 10 years while the latter can put the offenders in the clink for at least 10 years, extendable to life imprisonment.

Also, aggravated offences would include trafficking for the purpose of forced labour, begging, trafficking by administering chemical substance or hormones on a person for the purpose of early sexual maturity, trafficking of a woman or child for the purpose of marriage or under the pretext of marriage. The draft bill also moots three years in jail for abetting, promoting and assisting trafficking.

There is also a provision for a time-bound trial and repatriation of victims — within a period of one year from the time the crime is taken into cognisance.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 8,100 cases of trafficking were recorded in India in 2016 with 23,000 trafficking victims being rescued last year. However, experts say the figures fail to reflect the true magnitude of the crime. The actual figures, say activists, could be much higher as many victims do not register cases with the police for lack of legal knowledge or due to fear from traffickers.

India’s West Bengal state – which shares a porous border with poorer neighbours Bangladesh and Nepal and is a known human trafficking hub – registered more than one-third of the total number of victims in 2016. Victims were also trafficked for domestic servitude, forced marriage, begging, drug peddling and the removal of their organs, the NCRB figures showed.

Worsening the crisis are the growing demands of a burgeoning services industry in India which recruit the abducted without a system of proper vetting, say experts. This practise is directly responsible for the spiralling number of human trafficking cases reported in India. It is here that the new proposed law can go a long way in combating human trafficking.

“If implemented, the law could have far-reaching benefits, like curbing the underground labour industry and ensuring that fair wages are paid,” says High Court advocate Aarti Kukreja.

The Walk Free Foundation estimates that 45.8 million people, including millions of children, are subject to some form of modern slavery in the world, compared to 35.8 million in 2014, a concern that affects large swathes of South Asia. But significantly, there is no specific law so far to deal with this crime. Experts hope the proposed legislation will make India a pioneer in formulating a comprehensive legislation to combat the trafficking menace.

Currently, trafficking in India is covered by loophole-ridden laws that enables miscreants to give the law a slip. According to New Delhi-based social activist Vrinda Thakur, the new initiative’s comprehensive nature will help tackle trafficking more effectively.

“All previous legislation dealing with human trafficking treated traffickers as well as the trafficked as criminals. This was bizarre. It prevented the victims from coming forward to report the crime. However, as per the proposed new law, the first of its kind in India, victims will be offered assistance and protection,” elaborates Thakur.

As part of the government’s larger mission to control trafficking, some measures are already underway. An online platform has been created to trace missing children and bilateral anti-human trafficking pacts have been signed with Bangladesh and Bahrain. The government is also working with charities and non-profits to train law enforcement officers. The proposed new law will act as a force multiplier to take these efforts further.

Kukreja elaborates that the Bill has an in-built mechanism to eschew antiquated and bureaucratic legislature that currently bedevils law enforcement in India.

“It will unify existing laws, prioritise survivors’ needs and provide for special courts to expedite cases,” she says.

By whittling down human trafficking in South Asia and deterring traffickers with high penalties, labour practices will decline, giving abducted women and children the chance to better their future, contributing to the country’s economic and social development.

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I Am a Migrant: Integrating Through Syrian ‘Hummus’http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/migrant-integrating-syrian-hummus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrant-integrating-syrian-hummus http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/migrant-integrating-syrian-hummus/#respond Wed, 04 Apr 2018 07:45:46 +0000 Maged Srour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155140 Khaled left Syria in 2015, when his country was already in its fourth year of war. He is 27 years old and can clearly remember what his life was like then in Damascus: a happy life, with a happy family, in a happy country. Despite coming from a land now devastated by war, Khaled does […]

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Washington’s Ambiguity Equals De Facto Sanctions On Teheranhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/washingtons-ambiguity-equals-de-facto-sanctions-teheran/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=washingtons-ambiguity-equals-de-facto-sanctions-teheran http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/washingtons-ambiguity-equals-de-facto-sanctions-teheran/#respond Fri, 30 Mar 2018 14:37:02 +0000 Ann-Kathrin Pohlers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155105 Over the last few months, the United States’ rhetoric on the Iran nuclear agreement has been ambiguous, creating an uncertain environment for investors. With John Bolton, President Donald Trump has now appointed a national security adviser who is actively seeking to leave the Iran deal. In December 2017, a new wave of protests swept Iran’s […]

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In 2017, Iran’s oil exports came close to 1 billion barrels. Pictured here are oil fields in West Iran. Credit: Nicholas V.

By Ann-Kathrin Pohlers
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 30 2018 (IPS)

Over the last few months, the United States’ rhetoric on the Iran nuclear agreement has been ambiguous, creating an uncertain environment for investors. With John Bolton, President Donald Trump has now appointed a national security adviser who is actively seeking to leave the Iran deal.

In December 2017, a new wave of protests swept Iran’s cities. As the uprising movement faced repression, more than 25 people ended up dead in a few days. Many of them died in prison; the official story is they all committed suicide.

As these escalations caught most by surprise, there is a significant difference in the Iranian Green Movement. A movement much larger than the recent one, the Green Movement wasn’t as widespread as the December protest and mainly showcased within the city borders of Teheran.

The 2017 unrest, however, took place in small to midsize cities across the country and featured a different demographic. While the Green Movement is considered a middle-class movement, the recent uproar is one of Iran’s working class.

Iran’s economic crisis led many companies to lose money and workers to lose their pensions. The triggering factors for the protests, primarily political and economic, can be linked to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the Iran nuclear deal.

“Unemployment is a very critical factor in all of this. Then you have Rouhani going to the Parliament and hinting at the new budget and what it would look like,” Trita Parsi, author of ‘Losing an Enemy – Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy,’ told IPS. “You have a tremendous deep frustration in the population with things such as corruption and mismanagement.”

This frustration escalated seven months into moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s second term after he beat the Conservatives in a landslide, even though the Rouhani administration faced accusations they had promised more than the sanctions relief did for the Iranian economy. Surveys show that the promised economic benefits of the deal were significant and so was breaking out of isolation and not finding themselves in a situation in which the risk of war with the United States would be a constant presence.

“That, the deal has achieved,” Parsi said. “The expectations where the economy would go after the deal, however, were not met. Despite that though, there was still strong support for [Hassan Rouhani], partly because the majority opposed the alternative which was a return to conservative rule.”

So it wasn’t the situation Iran which drastically changed, it was the United States’ Iran policy. While the nuclear agreement went into effect under Barack Obama, the new administration takes a two-track approach to the nuclear deal as they renegotiate with allies as well as prepare to withdraw from it.

“If you take a look at Iran’s economy on paper, it looks as if it’s doing quite well. There’s a growth of roughly six and a half percent. Well, that growth is almost entirely because of oil sales. As a result of the deal, they were capable of selling oil again, and it’s probably the only area in which they have been able to go back to the pre-sanction years,” Parsi said. In 2017, Iran’s oil exports came close to one billion barrels. “But oil sales do not create jobs.”

In the absence of job creation, Iran’s unemployment rate continues to increase, especially among young people and particularly among young women. “Combined with the fact that this is a highly educated population, you have a lot of people with two master’s degrees driving the Iranian version of Uber,” Parsi added.

Even though Iran’s economy is growing, its population is still stagnant as job-creating investments aren’t taking place. Companies interested in the Iranian market face the problem that they can’t find financing as none of the major banks are willing to invest as they fear the United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear agreement and new sanctions.

“Many job-creating projects are five to seven years long, and banks are not charities. They want to have some degree of security and certainty that the deal will be in place for that period but they can’t even get four months of security because Donald Trump is constantly saying he will not renew the sanction waivers,” Parsi said.

The waivers temporarily deactivate the sanctions on Iran and are part of the nuclear agreement. Many, Trita Parsi included, expected Trump not to renew them but then the President pushed back the original January deadline for his administration and its European allies to agree on renegotiations to May 12.

“The White House strategy is to infuse uncertainty which is already working because now you see protests in Iran. All they need to do is to continue to constantly make everyone guess if they renew the waivers or not.”

The United States is not the only party to the deal – European banks and entities are as well.

“Those sanctions are targeting countries trading with Iran which means Europe, China, India, and Asia,” according to Parsi. “The question then is will Europe stand firm and continue to honor the deal?”

To do so, Europe would have to revive 1990s-era sanction blocking mechanisms as already suggested by David O’Sullivan, EU ambassador to the United States. This threat, however, will most likely remain empty as it essentially means the United States sanctions Europe and Europe sanctions the United States to block the secondary sanctions on Iran. These blocking mechanism would shield companies from U.S.-imposed fines, but they can’t shield European banks from losing access to the American market. “Would I choose the Iranian over the U.S. market? I would not,” Parsi stated.

And it’s that uncertainty preventing banks and businesses from coming in, in effect imposing de facto sanctions on Iran and paralyzing its economy.

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Conflicts Force Up Global Hunger Levelshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/conflicts-force-global-hunger-levels/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflicts-force-global-hunger-levels http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/conflicts-force-global-hunger-levels/#respond Wed, 28 Mar 2018 14:23:50 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155063 Largely driven by conflict, the number of hungry people has dramatically increased around the world, reversing decades of progress, according to a new report. Launched by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), the Global Report on Food Crises 2018 has exposed the worrisome scale and […]

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Almost 400,000 famine victims who fled to the Mogadishu for aid at the height of famine, are still living in one of the many refugee camps outside Mogadishu. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 28 2018 (IPS)

Largely driven by conflict, the number of hungry people has dramatically increased around the world, reversing decades of progress, according to a new report.

Launched by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), the Global Report on Food Crises 2018 has exposed the worrisome scale and magnitude of today’s crises.

“It’s been a very difficult year,” FAO’s Senior Strategic Adviser and lead author of the report Luca Russo told IPS in response to the staggering figures.

The UN agencies found that almost 130 million people across 51 countries face severe food insecurity, an 11 percent rise from the previous year.

Russo pointed out that insecurity has increasingly become the main driver of food insecurity, accounting for 60 percent, or 74 million, of the global total. If this population made up a country, it would be larger than the United Kingdom and France combined.

The report attributes the increase to new and intensified conflict in countries such as Myanmar, Nigeria and Yemen.

Russo expressed particular concern for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan, both of which have become Africa’s largest humanitarian crises.

In the DRC, an escalation of violence and political clashes has left over 13 million Congolese in need of humanitarian aid, including 7.7 million who are severely food-insecure.

In 2017, the UN declared the DRC a level three humanitarian emergency—the highest possible classification on par with Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

The UN Security Council echoed Russo’s concern and highlighted the need to “address the presence of armed groups in the country” and called for “transparent, credible, and inclusive elections.”

While an international conference has been organized for April to mobilize funding for the DRC’s 1.7-billion-dollar humanitarian appeal, South Sudan also continues to struggle with low humanitarian funding and a population at the brink of famine.

Both FAO and WFP warned that without sustained humanitarian assistance and access, more than 7 million—almost two-thirds of the population—could become severely food-insecure in the coming months while over 150,000 may be pushed over the line to famine.

“Unless these humanitarian gaps are addressed, we may have to declare again a famine in South Sudan,” Russo said.

So far, just 8 percent of the country’s 1.7 billion appeal has been funded.

However, while humanitarian aid can help save lives, Russo noted that such assistance won’t provide long-term solutions.

“Because of the fact that the conflicts continue, you have more and more people on the brink of famine…with humanitarian assistance, we are able to keep them alive but we are not able to provide sustainable solutions,” he said.

While the outlook for 2018 remains bleak, not all hope is lost.

Russo highlighted the importance of working along the humanitarian-development nexus in order to move beyond focusing on short-term assistance to addressing long-term issues which can help secure peace.

Most recently, the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) brought together South Sudanese pastoralists and farmers who have long clashed with each other over land and resources.

To this end, the meeting allowed the two parties to discuss methods of conflict resolution and establish a mutually beneficial agreement in order to prevent future conflict.

Though it may be a small step in a small part of the country, such efforts can help to reduce tensions and create a more substantial chance for peace.

Russo urged for the international community to act on global crises, pointing to the case of Somalia’s 2011 famine which only saw assistance and action after over 250,000 died and the UN’s declaration of a famine in July 2011.

“Even if some of these situations are not in the media, they are there and they exist and they are likely to expand. We should not wait for a famine to be declared to act,” he said.

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Chemical Weapons in Syria? Time for Outragehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/chemical-weapons-syria-time-outrage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chemical-weapons-syria-time-outrage http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/chemical-weapons-syria-time-outrage/#respond Wed, 28 Mar 2018 13:43:33 +0000 Tariq Raheem http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155060 US Defense Secretary James Mattis dropped a political bombshell last week when he said the U.S. has no evidence to confirm reports that the Syrian government had used the deadly chemical sarin on its citizens. Arguing half-heartedly that he was not rebutting the reports, Mattis told a Pentagon news briefing Friday: “We have other reports […]

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Since the conflict erupted in March 2011, Syria has witnessed unprecedented devastation and displacement. More than 5 million Syrians have fled the country and 6 million are internally displaced. With more than 13 million people in need of assistance, the conflict has caused untold suffering for Syrian men, women and children. Credit UN photo

By Tariq Raheem
NEW YORK, Mar 28 2018 (IPS)

US Defense Secretary James Mattis dropped a political bombshell last week when he said the U.S. has no evidence to confirm reports that the Syrian government had used the deadly chemical sarin on its citizens.

Arguing half-heartedly that he was not rebutting the reports, Mattis told a Pentagon news briefing Friday: “We have other reports from the battlefield from people who claim it’s been used. We do not have evidence of it.”

The statement by Mattis made a virtual mockery of a rash of presidential statements and proposed resolutions by the UN Security Council which has routinely accused the Syrian government of continuing to use chemical weapons on civilians, which President Bashar al-Assad had denied.

Nor has the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) made any irrefutable claims on chemical weapons use.

Still, in April, the United States fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria in response to what it said it believed was a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 100 people.

Last month, the Reuters news agency reported that French President Emmanuel Macron warned that “France will strike” if chemical weapons are used against civilians in the Syrian conflict in violation of international treaties, but that he had not yet seen proof this was the case.

Meanwhile, at the 37th session of the Human Rights Council, the UK mission in Geneva accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta.

And Western diplomats proclaim that Syrian authorities should not be referred to as a “government” but as a “regime“ even though there is no official listing of such member-states—either as “governments” or “regimes,” any more than procedures for officially demoting a member-state from the 1st to the 2nd grade status.

In the current international scenario, the far right seems to have all the access it needs – specifically in the Western media—to advocate its cause. But regrettably, there are those whose voices are silenced, and who say that the gravity of crimes is not necessarily related to the quantity of decibels they generate on the battlefield or in the mainstream TV channels.

Take for instance two hospitals in Syria: one is bombed and destroyed, human shields or no human shields. A war crime indeed.

Another stands proudly on the horizon but its activity is paralysed by unilateral coercive sanctions: blockage of supply of spare parts make it impossible to get the theatre to operate gravely wounded people; prostheses are no longer available for amputees; electrical supply breaks down because of ban on imports of generators; water is polluted for lack of imported filters and people die in the hospital from water-borne ailments; and no medicines are available for the dying or gravely ill.

Even in the streets, people die or fall gravely ill because of the rocketing prices of basic food stuffs due to the sanctions. But everyone is told this situation is created by bad governance. Or that the Government is preventing access. This may be the case sometimes, especially if fighters can’t be separated from civilians.

The civilized world anticipated it all and the sanctions are benevolent for the civilian population because all accept the “humanitarian exception”. No one of course mentions that the SWIFT international fund transfer system has been blocked preventing Syria from importing these humanitarian supplies or indeed anything else, imposing on it a comprehensive stranglehold, as was the case previously in Iraq.

And chemical weapons of Syria today are reminiscent of the non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction of yesteryear. Are all these wanton deaths not also war crimes?. We are told to believe they are not.

All wars are won in the media and through propaganda, as well as on the battlefield. This is the case also for Syria. The fact is Syria is finally winning the war on the battlefield to regain control over its own territory. As they disentangle the enemy fighters from the civilians, tens of thousands of the latter are taking refuge with the protection of the government.

So the scenario is collapsing. The only possibility of counter-attack that is left is through mobilizing, in the real sense of the word, the media. The fig leaf is human rights which are being violated by all combatants (have you ever heard of squeaky-clean snow white war in human history?) but also by those that are supplying heavy weapons to groups that they heretofore listed as terrorists.

The indictment justifying this? Human rights violation by the other side while the accuser merrily continues imposing his stranglehold on the civilian population for which he “weeps” The crime committed by the winners on the battlefield is to have called into question the geo-strategic objectives of others which the latter believed was within their reach a few years ago.

But the architects of this strategy may take advantage of this change of reality as compared to their expectations to pause and think. Those fighting in the Ghouta against the government are not democratic forces but the reincarnation of those terror groups of El Qaeda and ISIS and no one else. Crocodile tears about these “freedom fighters” seem indeed out of place when they are listed as terrorist organizations in the very countries that now cry for them.

Remember September 11? Would the strategists really want to replicate in Syria the Libyan experience or do they not fear that a new Karzai in Damascus would be disastrous in terms of reinvigorating those very terrorist groups the world has just succeeded in eradicating in Iraq and Syria?

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El Salvador’s Shameful Treatment of Women Who Miscarryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/el-salvadors-shameful-treatment-women-miscarry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=el-salvadors-shameful-treatment-women-miscarry http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/el-salvadors-shameful-treatment-women-miscarry/#respond Wed, 28 Mar 2018 13:06:24 +0000 Jeannette Urquilla http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155057 Jeannette Urquilla is executive director of Organización de Mujeres Salvadoreñas por la Paz (ORMUSA), the Salvadoran partner of Donor Direct Action, an international women's group.

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A low middle-income country with half the population below the age of 25, El Salvador suffers from high socioeconomic and gender inequity. Credit: UNFPA

By Jeannette Urquilla
SAN SALVADOR, Mar 28 2018 (IPS)

Mayra Veronica Figueroa Marroquin (34) was released from prison earlier this month after serving time for what she argued was a miscarriage. Her sentence was reduced from 30 years to the 15 years she had already spent behind bars.

At age 19, she had been working as a housekeeper in 2003 when she was raped and subsequently suffered a miscarriage. She was convicted under El Salvador’s abortion ban – one of the most extreme in the world.

Figueroa Marroquin is the second woman this year to have been freed from jail under such circumstances. Last month Teodora del Carmen Vasquez was also released 11 years into her 30 year sentence for what she stated was a stillbirth. Del Carmen Vasquez was waiting at the gates to meet the other woman this week.

Since 1998 under Article 133 of our Penal Code abortion has been completely illegal in El Salvador in all circumstances. Women have been sentenced to up to eight years in more typical cases, but if a judge decides that the abortion was in fact an “aggravated homicide” then a much higher sentence – up to 50 years – is passed down. And when a miscarriage takes place a woman is often at severe risk of being charged with this.

Pregnant women are often abandoned by the country’s public hospitals and are often at severe risk of being arrested following a miscarriage. More often than not these women are also from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, which makes it difficult for them to pay for private medical care.

This means that instead of getting proper treatment if anything goes wrong during pregnancy they either do nothing at all and hope for the best – or they turn to unofficial covert channels, thereby putting themselves in serious physical danger.

The Alliance for Women’s Health and Life previously reported that, between 2000 and 2014, 147 women from El Salvador were charged with abortion-related crimes. This year the Citizens’ Association for the Decriminalisation of Abortion, of which my organization ORMUSA is a member, found that there are still 24 women in prison for what have been categorized as “homicidal” abortions. These women were all convicted in similar scenarios to the two that were released this year and many have already sent many years behind bars.

Not only do we need to ensure that these women are all released but also that the law on abortion is urgently changed. The Ministry of Health estimates that almost 20,000 abortions took place from 2005 to 2008. Regardless of whether abortion is legal or illegal it still takes place.

The only difference is the level of women’s safety who undergo the procedure. The WHO confirms that 68,000 women die every year because of illegal and unsafe abortions. It is likely that a significant number of these deaths can be prevented.

El Salvador is one of only four countries in Latin America which bans abortion in all instances – including after rape and when a mother’s health is at risk. It is also one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a woman.

We have the highest rate of femicide globally – 15.9 homicides for every 100,000 women. Between 2010 and 2017 we found that 3,138 women were murdered. This is not a country where the basic human rights of women are held in high regard.

We are hopeful though that things may be starting to change. The Supreme Court’s decision to free these two women is encouraging. Last year the United Nations also urged El Salvador to review the discriminatory and harmful abortion law – at least in instances of any risk to the life and health of the pregnant woman, after rape, incest or where there is severe fetal impairment.

We are still waiting to see if a 2016 parliamentary bill on reproductive rights will be debated and passed – a proposed reform of Article 133. In this bill abortion would be decriminalized in the following instances: after rape, statutory rape, or when the woman has been trafficked; where the fetus is likely to die, or when the pregnant woman’s life is put at risk.

Despite having many allies such as the Ministry of Health as well as parliamentarians, resistance by many religious groups and politicians means that we still have a long way to go.

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Excerpt:

Jeannette Urquilla is executive director of Organización de Mujeres Salvadoreñas por la Paz (ORMUSA), the Salvadoran partner of Donor Direct Action, an international women's group.

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Poland Sues Argentine Newspaper Under New Holocaust Lawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/poland-sues-argentine-newspaper-new-holocaust-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poland-sues-argentine-newspaper-new-holocaust-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/poland-sues-argentine-newspaper-new-holocaust-law/#comments Tue, 27 Mar 2018 01:53:40 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155041 Can an official historical truth be universally imposed in defence of a nation’s reputation? Poland believes that it can, and launched a crusade against those who accuse the Polish State or citizens of complicity with the Holocaust. An Argentine newspaper was its first victim. An article about a massacre of Jews perpetrated by their own […]

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The monument in memory of the Jedwabne massacre, vandalised with pro-Nazi grafitti. In 1941, in that Nazi-occupied town in Poland, 1,600 Jews were massacred by their neighbours. Credit: Courtesy Página 12

The monument in memory of the Jedwabne massacre, vandalised with pro-Nazi grafitti. In 1941, in that Nazi-occupied town in Poland, 1,600 Jews were massacred by their neighbours. Credit: Courtesy Página 12

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Mar 27 2018 (IPS)

Can an official historical truth be universally imposed in defence of a nation’s reputation? Poland believes that it can, and launched a crusade against those who accuse the Polish State or citizens of complicity with the Holocaust. An Argentine newspaper was its first victim.

An article about a massacre of Jews perpetrated by their own neighbours in a Polish town during World War Two (1939-1945), which was not ordered by the Nazi occupiers, prompted a lawsuit in the Polish courts against the newspaper Página 12 in early March.

Just a few days earlier, an unusual law that caused an international controversy had entered into force in the eastern European country, creating penalties of up to three years in prison for those who claim, anywhere around the world, that Poland or the Poles were responsible for the crimes committed against the Jews in their territory during the Nazi occupation.

“The lawsuit was filed by a group linked to the Polish government. We are going to make an international case of this, not to make ourselves famous, but because they are trying to impose a kind of global censorship for which there are not many precedents around the world,” the chief editor of Página 12, Martín Granovsky, told IPS.

“The article published in Página 12 did not mean to say that all Poles were anti-Semitic or that there were no non-Jewish Poles killed under Nazism. We told about a case of neighbours who tortured and killed other neighbours,” he added.

Granovsky said the lawsuit – of which the newspaper has not yet been notified – will be fought in the courts as well as in the court of public opinion. To this end, Página 12 is contacting organisations that defend journalism and freedom of expression around the world.

The complaint against Página 12, a centre-left newspaper that was founded in the 1980s, after Argentina’s return to democracy following the 1976-1983 dictatorship, was filed by the Polish League Against Defamation, a non-governmental organisation created in 2012 with the aim of “initiating and supporting actions to correct false information about the history of Poland, in particular about the role of the Poles in the Second World War, their attitudes towards the Jews and the German concentration camps,” according to its website.

There is a patent similarity between the organisation’s aims and the philosophy that inspired the bill passed by the Polish parliament on Feb. 1 and signed into law by ultraconservative President Andrzej Duda five days later.

The law, according to a statement issued by Poland’s Foreign Ministry, seeks to “combat all forms of denial and distortion of the truth about the Holocaust, as well as attempts to underestimate (the responsibility) of the real perpetrators.”

“Accusing the Polish State and nation of complicity with the Third German Reich in Nazi crimes is wrong, deceptive and hurtful for the victims,” the text continues.

The U.S. State Department had released a statement, when the Polish parliament was about to sanction the law, saying that it “could undermine free speech and academic discourse.”

Mar. 4 headline in the Argentine newspaper Página 12, reacting to a lawsuit brought under a controversial Polish law that penalises anyone, anywhere around the world, who states that the Polish State or citizens were complicit in the Holocaust. Credit: Courtesy Página 12

Mar. 4 headline in the Argentine newspaper Página 12, reacting to a lawsuit brought under a controversial Polish law that penalises anyone, anywhere around the world, who states that the Polish State or citizens were complicit in the Holocaust. Credit: Courtesy Página 12

The questioning by the United States is of particular significance since it is the main ally of Poland, a country that has been accused of violations of the rule of law by the European Union, of which that country is a member.

In December, the EU began to take steps to sanction Warsaw for the enactment of laws that, it argued, sought to weaken judicial independence.

The U.S. State Department suggested that the attempt to restrict opinions about Poland’s role in the Holocaust will lead the country to greater international isolation, as it pointed out that the law could have repercussions “on Poland’s strategic interests and relations, including with the United States and Israel.”

For Damián Loreti, former director of Communication Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, the Polish law on the Holocaust “violates all international standards in the field of freedom of expression and scientific research.”

“This is because it tries to impose an official historical truth, against which there can be nothing said to the contrary,” Loreti told IPS.

The academic said that “a country’s honour is not a legitimate legal subject to be protected by imposing restrictions on free speech, according to the European Convention on Human Rights, and it also violates United Nations resolutions.”

The op-ed that triggered the lawsuit was published by Página 12 on Dec. 18, 2017, under the title “Familiar Faces”. It was written by Federico Pavlovsky, a psychoanalyst who told IPS that he preferred not to make public statements while the case was making its way through the courts.

In his column, Pavlovsky describes “one of the cruelest and most incredible events recorded in the Second World War,” which occurred on Jul. 10, 1941 in Jedwabne, 190 km from Warsaw.

“That day, 1500 people killed or watched another 1600 being killed, the latter of whom were of Jewish origin,” reads the article, adding: “One of the peculiarities of this massacre is that in Nazi-occupied Poland, the Germans did not order the killing or participate in it, they merely authorised the sequence of events and took photographs.”

The op-ed basically collects the information made public in 2001 by historian Jan Gross in his book “Neighbours: the destruction of the Jewish community in Jedwabne, Poland”, which had a strong impact both in that country and in the United States.

Gross is a Pole born in 1947, the son of a Jewish father and Christian mother, who in 1969, during the communist regime, went into exile in the United States.

The Polish law punishes in particular anyone who speaks of “Polish concentration camps”, instead of clarifying that they were in Polish territory but were the responsibility of the Nazi regime, which was occupying the country.

“It is true that the Polish state had ceased to exist and that there was only a Polish government in exile in London, which fought the Nazis,” psychotherapist and writer Diana Wang told IPS. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, she was born in Poland in 1945 and has lived in Argentina since the age of two.

“However, Poland has a long tradition of anti-Semitism at a cultural level, and hundreds of thousands of Poles participated in the murder of Jews and appropriated their property,” added Wang, who heads Generations of the Shoah, an organisation dedicated to keeping alive the memory of the Holocaust in Argentina.

“It’s true that to talk about Polish concentration camps does not exactly represent the historical truth, because they were under the control of the Germans, but everyone has the right to say what they want,” said Wang, who after hearing about the lawsuit published an op-ed in Página 12 titled: “Poland can sue me too.”

Since the lawsuit was filed, the newspaper has published daily articles about the legal case and about the history of Jewish people in Jedwabne.

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Sexual Abuse Where UN Chief has No Jurisdiction to Acthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/sexual-abuse-un-chief-no-jurisdiction-act/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexual-abuse-un-chief-no-jurisdiction-act http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/sexual-abuse-un-chief-no-jurisdiction-act/#respond Mon, 26 Mar 2018 17:58:30 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155038 As sexual harassment charges in the UN system keep piling up, the UN Secretariat has a new administrative problem on its hands: accusations of sexual abuse in the New York office of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) whose members are elected by the 193-member General Assembly – but not answerable either to the Secretary-General […]

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Secretary-General António Guterres (2nd right) delivers his remarks at the high-level meeting on the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 26 2018 (IPS)

As sexual harassment charges in the UN system keep piling up, the UN Secretariat has a new administrative problem on its hands: accusations of sexual abuse in the New York office of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) whose members are elected by the 193-member General Assembly – but not answerable either to the Secretary-General or the President of the Assembly.

So, the lingering question facing the UN remains ambivalent: is there an exception to the Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ “zero tolerance policy” on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) – even though the head of the ICSC office, with the rank of Under-Secretary-General (USG), and its 40 employees, are an integral part of the UN common system and considered UN staffers?

When the accusations of sexual abuse by four women in the ICSC office was referred to the office of the Secretary-General, the initial response was tepid: the accusers were implicitly told the Secretary-General does not have any jurisdiction over the ICSC or its 15 members.

Asked for a clarification, UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS: “The (UN’s) Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) is investigating the allegations to the maximum extent, within its authority, and has approached members of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) asking for their full cooperation, considering that they are outside the jurisdiction of the Secretary-General”.

At the same, he pointed out, the Executive Secretary of the Commission got an instruction to adopt all necessary measures to ensure that the complainants don’t suffer retaliation.

Brenden Varma, Head of Communications and Spokesperson for the President of the UN General Assembly told IPS “in general, the President of the General Assembly stands firmly against all forms of sexual harassment.”

The President is of the opinion that all allegations of sexual harassment must be investigated and perpetrators must be held accountable, he added.

While established by the United Nations General Assembly, the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) is an independent expert body, Varma pointed out.

And, according to the ICSC statute, which was endorsed by the General Assembly, “No appointment of a member of the Commission can be terminated unless, in the unanimous opinion of the other members, he or she has ceased to discharge the duties in a manner consistent with the provisions of the present statute.”

Neither the General Assembly nor its President exercises any managerial or administrative authority over the ICSC, Varma declared.

The president of the current General Assembly is Miroslav Lajčák of Slovakia.

Bibi Khan, President of the United Nations Staff Union (UNSU) in New York, which represents the staff members who filed the complaint, told IPS the Union unequivocally endorses and supports the Secretary-General’s policy on “Zero Tolerance for Sexual Abuse and Harassment”.

“However, this is an ongoing investigation and the Union cannot risk compromising the case by discussing any details at the present time”.

She also said “the UN has become a prisoner of its own bureaucracy, unable to act with the urgency that such complaints demand”.

The ICSC is described as “an independent expert body established by the United Nations General Assembly” which regulates and coordinates the conditions of service of staff in the UN common system “while promoting and maintaining high standards in the international civil service.”

The Commission is composed of 15 members who serve in their personal capacity. They are appointed by the General Assembly for four-year terms, with due regard for broad geographical representation. The Chairman and the Vice-Chairman are full-time members and are based in New York. The full Commission meets twice a year.

Article 7 of the ICSC statute and rules of procedure says: “No appointment of a member of the Commission can be terminated unless, in the unanimous opinion of the other members, he or she has ceased to discharge the duties in a manner consistent with the provisions of the present statute.”

And Article 8 says: “For the purposes of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman of the Commission shall have the status of officials of the United Nations.”

The issue, according to one UN source, is about accountability: “who is accountable to action on this issue, is it the Secretary-General, the President of the General Assembly or the ICSC Commissioners, who only meet twice a year and are entitled to their daily subsistence allowance while they are in New York. (even while the accused is considered a full time staffer with a salary from the jointly funded common system budget.)”

Meanwhile, the ICSC is also embroiled in an ongoing controversy over a proposed salary cut which has triggered work stoppages in UN offices in Geneva, Bangkok and Addis Ababa and is threatening to spread system-wide, including the UN’s field operations.

The protest is led by three staff unions – the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), the Federation of International Civil Servants’ Associations (FICSA) and the United Nations International Civil Servants Federation (UNISERV) representing over 60,000 staffers worldwide— and is aimed primarily at the ICSC.

In a letter to the Executive Heads of UN organizations and the President of the General Assembly, the three unions said recently: “It is with regret that we announce that staff have lost confidence in the independence and technical competency of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), following a series of failings; we urge you to support our calls for a process of substantive reforms.”

As we have observed over several years, the letter states, this austerity agenda threatens to undermine the UN’s mission, particularly in the field, and potentially harms all staff and duty stations.

“In recent times, the ICSC decisions have significantly reduced the salaries of general services and professional staff in places such as Cairo, New Delhi, Tokyo and Bangkok, as well as those on peacekeeping missions.”

Depending on personal circumstances, it is anticipated that professional staff will also lose the equivalent of up to one month’s salary due to recent revisions to their compensation package; parents and those in field duty stations are most impacted.

“Improving the methods for reclassifying hardship, the unequal level of danger pay for local and international staff, and the absence of adequate protections for local staff against inflation and exchange rate fluctuations are examples of other important issues that we would like to address.”

“Unfortunately, the ICSC is increasingly unwilling to find constructive solutions that benefit both staff and the UN”, the letter notes.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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The Dark Chapter of Zimbabwe’s History That Won’t Go Awayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/dark-chapter-zimbabwes-history-wont-go-away/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dark-chapter-zimbabwes-history-wont-go-away http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/dark-chapter-zimbabwes-history-wont-go-away/#respond Mon, 26 Mar 2018 00:02:47 +0000 Ignatius Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155021 With Zimbabwe’s new President Emmerson Mnangagwa just concluding a 100-day timeline to address what he considered the country’s most pressing issues, which focused on economic revival, human rights activists have their own timeline. Survivors of the 1980s Gukurahundi atrocities, where a campaign by government soldiers claimed thousands of civilian lives, are demanding that the new […]

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Former President Robert Mugabe in 2015. From early 1983 to late 1987, the Zimbabwe National Army carried out a series of massacres of Ndebele civilians called the Gukurahundi, deriving from a Shona language term which loosely translates to "the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains". Credit: www.kremlin.ru./cc by SA 3.0

By Ignatius Banda
BULAWAYO, Mar 26 2018 (IPS)

With Zimbabwe’s new President Emmerson Mnangagwa just concluding a 100-day timeline to address what he considered the country’s most pressing issues, which focused on economic revival, human rights activists have their own timeline.

Survivors of the 1980s Gukurahundi atrocities, where a campaign by government soldiers claimed thousands of civilian lives, are demanding that the new president address the country’s dark past."People want to be able to openly express their pain without being policed and told to 'get over it.' A gross human rights violation occurred." --Velempini Ndlovu

Activists accuse President Mnangagwa, serving military and top government officials of perpetrating crimes against humanity more than three decades ago and see Mnangagwa’s rise to power as an opportunity that was denied them by former President Robert Mugabe to address the atrocities, which various researchers say claimed up to 20,000 lives.

Mugabe, accused of ordering the brutal campaign against civilians, notoriously brushed off what others have called a genocide as a “moment of madness” and refused to issue an apology.

In the past while still serving under Mugabe, Mnangagwa raised the ire of surviving victims and relatives of the Gukurahundi killings when he appeared to dismiss calls for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission by telling the nation that there was no need to revisit that troubled past.

Modelled along South Africa’s TRC which sought closure on apartheid-era human rights violations, disappearances and state-sponsored political murders, the commission would see perpetrators coming forward and giving public apologies in what researchers have called restorative justice.

Instead of getting prison terms, the perpetrators would get amnesty and pardons from their victims.

Charles Gumbo is one such Gukurahundi survivor. He has bayonet scars on his head and is now an activist agitating for the southwest of Zimbabwe’s autonomy. Gumbo says President Mnangagwa, senior members of the ruling party ZANU PF and military commanders who propped Mnangagwa’s rise to power must answer to the Gukurahundi atrocities.

“We know them,” he told IPS. “All of them are still in government and going about with impunity. We will never rest until this is resolved to our satisfaction,” Gumbo said.

However, there is skepticism that President Mnangagwa will institute any official government inquiry when he is largely seen as “accused number one” in what remain unresolved “crimes against humanity,” as Gumbo put it.

When the Gukurahundi campaign was launched in the 1980s, ostensibly to quell an insurgency by dissents in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland and Midlands regions that saw the deployment of the military, Mnangagwa as the security minister became the face of the brutal crackdown.

Presence Shiri, who was retired as commander of the Air force of Zimbabwe to take up a post in President Mnangagwa’s new cabinet as lands minister was commander of the 5th Brigade, the military unit trained by North Koreans to carry out the Gukurahundi tortures and killings.

He too has over the years refused to answer questions about the human rights violations.

“This government has no will to solve the Gukurahundi issue,” said Zenzele Ndebele, a Zimbabwean journalist and filmmaker whose 2007 documentary “Gukurahundi: A Moment of Madness” has never been shown in Zimbabwe.

The film was launched in neighbouring South Africa after the authorities failed to grant permission for public screenings.

“The incompetency of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission works in government’s favour,” Ndebele told IPS.

In January this year, only weeks into his elevation with assistance from the military, President Mnangagwa signed into law the Peace and Reconciliation Bill which established the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) to “promote national healing.”

However, since the NPRC launched countrywide public meetings in February, activists have demanded that government address the Gukurahundi issue, something that the commissioners are accused of not being eager to include in their agenda.

As Gukurahundi demonstrations greeted Mnangagwa’s rise to power, special presidential advisor Christopher Mutsvangwa told the nation last December that continued discussion of Gukurahundi was “unhelpful” and “irresponsible,” in comments that were seen as reflecting the president’s views.

Velempini Ndlovu, an independent researcher documenting oral testimonies of the Gukurahundi, said victims seek closure and lament that they have been denied the opportunity to formally engage government.

“People want to be able to openly express their pain without being policed and told to ‘get over it.’ A gross human rights violation occurred,” Ndlovu told IPS.

Gukurahundi continues to polarise Zimbabweans, heating up online bulletin boards with some insisting the new president’s focus should be efforts to resuscitate the economy in a country where labour unions say more than 80 percent of the population are without jobs, while others say for the country to find peace and move on, the Gukurahundi must be discussed openly.

Other activists are demanding reparations with reports that thousands have failed to obtain legal documents such as birth certificates in the absence of their deceased parents killed during Gukurahundi.

“Victims want to be allowed to get identification as they are many who because their parents couldn’t get death certificates they also couldn’t get birth certificates and IDs,” Ndlovu said.

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A New Low for Security Council as Russia Takes Syrian Human Rights Off the Tablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/new-low-security-council-russia-takes-syrian-human-rights-off-table/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-low-security-council-russia-takes-syrian-human-rights-off-table http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/new-low-security-council-russia-takes-syrian-human-rights-off-table/#respond Thu, 22 Mar 2018 17:52:57 +0000 Sherine Tadros http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154990 Sherine Tadros is Head of Amnesty International’s UN Office in New York

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Except for Syria, Middle East Disappeared from U.S. Network News in 2017

Syrian boy brings bread back from underground bakery in severly damaged area of Aleppo. Credit Shelly KittlesonIPS

By Sherine Tadros
NEW YORK, Mar 22 2018 (IPS)

There is nothing controversial about saying the UN Security Council has failed Syria.

Diplomats have openly admitted it, journalists have written about it, human rights organizations have declared it – several times over in the past seven years. But what happened this week was deplorable and unacceptable, even by the very low standards we now have for the Council when it comes to Syria.

On Monday, the 15 member states of the Security Council gathered to hear a briefing on the human rights situation in Syria by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al- Hussein. But before he could start, Russia used its prerogative to call for a procedural vote on the agenda – effectively to stop the UN’s own human rights chief from telling the Council about the situation on the ground.

Russia claimed discussions on human rights are not pertinent to the Security Council’s agenda. Or in other words, the body charged with maintaining international peace and security is not a forum to discuss human rights violations taking place.

It may sound absurd, but this was not the first time Russia had made this claim. They tried the same tactic to block discussions on the human rights situations in other countries including Ukraine, and previously on Syria.

The difference is that this time, they won. They got the votes and successfully stopped High Commissioner Zeid from speaking.

Russia, China, Bolivia and Kazakhstan voted against the agenda, while the African countries on the Security Council – Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast – abstained, leaving only seven countries in favour, one less than was needed for the briefing to happen.

This was a disgraceful moment for the Security Council. When it is blocked from simply discussing human rights in Syria, it has clearly lost all credibility to find a solution. Worse than that, it has become part of the problem.

Instead of using their power and influence to stop the war crimes taking place in Eastern Ghouta, Afrin, Idlib – Russia, and those Russia convinced of their warped logic, instead used it to suffocate discussion about those atrocities.

Members of the Council, led by France along with the USA, the UK, Sweden, Poland, Holland and Peru, quickly called for an informal meeting – known as an Arria Formula – and invited the High Commissioner to give his briefing outside the chamber in one of the UN conference rooms. All 15 members of the UNSC attended in another show of how dysfunctional the Council has become.

So what is happening in Syria that Russia and friends went to such lengths to prevent being discussed?

At the informal meeting, which will not be recorded as an official Security Council meeting, High Commissioner Zeid told it like it is. He begun by declaring definitively that “the Syrian conflict is characterized by its absolute disregard for even the most minimal standards of principle and law”.

The UN human rights chief went on to detail the gross violations taking place in different parts of Syria today, including the repeated targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure by Syrian forces, with the backing of Russia.

The current siege on Eastern Ghouta by the Syrian government, Zeid said, involves “pervasive war crimes” including the use of chemical weaponry, enforced starvation, denial of aid and unjustifiable mass internment accompanied by torture and ill-treatment. To a lesser extent, he remarked, non-state armed groups are also committing crimes, including sexual violence.

In concluding, Zeid said these violations should be referred by the Security Council to the International Criminal Court. He urged the permanent members of the Security Council to stop blocking efforts to bring justice and instead end the violence, particularly war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Zeid then left member states with a reflection on what had happened earlier at the Council and Russia’s justification for blocking the briefing. He said an experienced colleague in the field had given him wise advice: “The severe human rights violations of today are the inevitable conflicts of tomorrow.” He went on to say that most conflicts begin when serious human rights violations open the way for unchecked policy decisions, including the waging of war.

Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Bolivia, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and Ethiopia – history will not forget this vote and the dangerous precedent it has set for human rights at the Security Council.

If only there were an initiative that committed member states not to vote against vital efforts to stop human rights atrocities, you might think?

Well guess what. There is.

The Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) group Code of Conduct on the Security Council politically and publicly commits its signatories not to block measures to prevent or end war crimes and other atrocities. It currently has 115 (out of 127) state signatories, including nine members of the Security Council. Kazakhstan and the Ivory Coast, either of whose vote would have been enough to allow this week’s briefing to happen, are signatories of the Code.

But the Code is not legally binding, and instead there was no place for a discussion on human rights at the Security Council this week. Most unjustly of all, the ones that pay the price for this colossal UN failure are the people in Syria being killed, maimed, starved and tortured every day.

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Excerpt:

Sherine Tadros is Head of Amnesty International’s UN Office in New York

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