Inter Press Service » Crime & Justice http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 04 Mar 2015 04:51:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 An American Missionary Kidnapped in Nigeria as Neighbouring Countries Seethehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/an-american-missionary-kidnapped-in-nigeria-as-neighbouring-countries-seethe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=an-american-missionary-kidnapped-in-nigeria-as-neighbouring-countries-seethe http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/an-american-missionary-kidnapped-in-nigeria-as-neighbouring-countries-seethe/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 01:45:46 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139488 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

With kidnappings and violent attacks almost a daily occurrence in Nigeria, the disappearance of an American missionary appears to have stirred a new wave of outrage among the international community at the worsening conditions in the West African country, once considered a rising star and the largest economy on the continent.

Phyllis Sortor, a reverend with the Free Methodist Church USA, was taken from Hope Academy in Kogi state, central Nigeria, where she had been working since 2005.

The kidnapping was probably not the work of Boko Haram, said Philip Obaji Jr., a freelancer and founder of 1 GAME, an advocacy group that fights for the right to education for disadvantaged children in northeastern Nigeria.

Kogi state police commissioner Adeyemi Ogunjemilusi announced that a ransom of around 300,000 dollars had been demanded by Tuesday afternoon, barely 24 hours after the kidnapping, which is not typical for Boko Haram.

“Kidnapping is big business here in Kogi. Most of the times, ransoms are paid to secure the release of abductees,” Ahmed, a local journalist, said in an interview. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a ransom is paid to secure Ms. Sortor’s release.”

On the same day as Sortor’s kidnapping, a Chinese construction worker was abducted from his work site by armed men. All of southern Nigeria is prone to kidnappings, and public officials, their relatives, and foreign workers are regularly abducted for ransom. An estimated 1,500 kidnapping cases are reported every year.

Meanwhile, it has been nearly one year since over 270 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in Chibok, Nigeria.

Local activists have been stepping up their demands that the government make the disappearance of the Chibok girls the top priority. “Our rallies are the reason why [the government] remembers,” organizer Funmi Adesanya told TIME magazine, “but I don’t think they are really doing anything about it.

While President Goodluck Jonathan and his national security advisor promised to end the Boko Haram threat before elections now scheduled for March 28, the new multinational force of Cameroon, Chad and Niger appears to be drawing new and dangerous fire from the insurgents.

On Saturday, some 5,000 Cameroonians marched in their capital, Yaounde, and denounced the violence caused by Boko Haram.

“It was important to tell Cameroonians that we are at war and a part of the country is suffering,” newspaper editor Gubai Gatama told Al Jazeera. “About 150,000 people have been displaced by the conflict, some 200,000 Nigerians are in refugee camps and 170 schools in Cameroon have been closed,” he said. “I am sure Boko Haram has got the message that the people are united against them.” Two hundred Cameroonian soldiers have been killed in the cross-border skirmishes so far.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/an-american-missionary-kidnapped-in-nigeria-as-neighbouring-countries-seethe/feed/ 0
Illegal Wildlife Trade Booms on Chinese Social Mediahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/illegal-wildlife-trade-booms-on-chinese-social-media/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=illegal-wildlife-trade-booms-on-chinese-social-media http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/illegal-wildlife-trade-booms-on-chinese-social-media/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 00:40:55 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139485 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

Despite a major online crackdown on the sale of illegal wildlife products in China, merchants are still peddling their wares in a thriving social media market.

TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring group, says “considerable quantities” of ivory, rhino horns, tiger and leopard bones, scales and more numbering in the thousands are being bought and sold each month on social media in China.

A new report Moving targets: Tracking online sales of illegal wildlife products in China’ – released Tuesday, to coincide with World Wildlife Day outlines monitoring of e-commerce websites and social media undertaken by TRAFFIC since 2006.

The report states that while trade on standard e-commerce and antiques sites has dropped off significantly, due to efforts by groups like TRAFFIC to alert website managers and enforcement agencies to the sale, trade through social media has grown and remains high.

Despite the inherent difficulties in monitoring such trade, TRAFFIC’s research has revealed that considerable quantities of illegal wildlife products are bought through social media channels,” the report states.

Between January 2012 and early 2013, the number of advertisements for illegal wildlife products on surveyed websites fell from 30 000 to 10 000, and figures have remained steady since. At least 15 of China’s most-used e-commerce sites have publicly stated a zero-tolerance policy to illegal wildlife trade.

“Major online retailers in China have been important allies in efforts to stamp out illegal wildlife trade… yet the high number of such advertisements remains of concern and we are also seeing a shift in the way such transactions now take place,” said Zhou Fei, head of TRAFFIC’s China Office. 

Through social media advertisements however, which TRAFFIC began tracking in March 2014, the trade has not been as effectively addressed.

The report stated that in one month monitoring on one social network, there were over 100 ivory tusks, 270 ivory segments, 80 rhino horns, 46 helmeted horn bill casques, and thousands of ivory items listed for sale.

“That is why it is imperative that researchers and enforcement agencies – as well as social media platform administrators – concentrate their efforts on monitoring and deterring illegal wildlife trade on social media,” the report recommended.

TRAFFIC conceded targeting social media trade was more difficult than trade on regular e-commerce sites. For one, audiences on social media can be limited greatly, to only those buyers that the dealer or merchant trusts; for another, code words for products are often used, and can be regularly altered, making it difficult for enforcement agencies to keep up.

“Progress in eliminating illegal online trade is hampered by the practicalities of blocking certain code words, while limited capacity means it is simply not possible to find and delete all offending advertisements in time,” the report warned.

“The speed with which online transactions can take place is also a major impediment, both to monitoring and to effective enforcement action.”

TRAFFIC’s recommendations include training courier companies to check cargo and recognise illegal wildlife products, and for social media companies to “share information about their client base” with “relevant law enforcement agencies.”

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/illegal-wildlife-trade-booms-on-chinese-social-media/feed/ 0
Families See Hope for Justice in Palestinian Membership of ICChttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/families-see-hope-for-justice-in-palestinian-membership-of-icc/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=families-see-hope-for-justice-in-palestinian-membership-of-icc http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/families-see-hope-for-justice-in-palestinian-membership-of-icc/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 07:38:58 +0000 Khaled Alashqar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139457 Sahar Baker (left), with Ahed Baker (right) and sister-in-law in front of their beach camp house, with photographs of the four cousins killed by Israeli gunboats in summer 2014 while playing football on the beach in Gaza. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Sahar Baker (left), with Ahed Baker (right) and sister-in-law in front of their beach camp house, with photographs of the four cousins killed by Israeli gunboats in summer 2014 while playing football on the beach in Gaza. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Khaled Alashqar
GAZA CITY, Mar 3 2015 (IPS)

“I have lost all meaning in life after the death of my child, I will never forgive anyone who caused the tearing apart of his little body.  I appeal to all who can help and stand with us to achieve justice and punish those who killed my child.”

As the tears rolled down her cheeks and with a rattle in her voice, 47-year-old Sahar Baker recalled the last moments of her ten-year-old son Ismail, who was killed along with three of his cousins after being targeted by Israeli gunboats while they were playing football on the beach during the Israeli attacks on Gaza last summer."We will not forget how our children were killed in cold blood without any reason. We hope that the Israeli army commanders will be tried before international justice and that they will be punished for the killing of the children" – Ahed Baker

Sahar’s plea for justice may soon be one step nearer now that the Palestine Government is set to formally join the International Criminal Court (ICC), which deals with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty, on Dec. 31, after the U.N. Security Council rejected a Palestinian attempt to set a deadline for Israel to end its occupation of territories it captured in 1967. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said the Palestinians will formally join the ICC on Apr. 1.

Mohammad Shtayyeh, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), is reported as having said that a first complaint will be filed against Israel at the ICC on Apr. 1 over the Israeli war against Gaza last year and Israeli settlement activity.

Palestinian membership of the ICC “provides an opportunity to raise the issues on Israel’s use of force based on occupation and crimes against the people and the land in Palestine, where we did not have the capacity before to sue Israel for its crimes against the Palestinians,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki told the press during a visit to Brazil to attend the inauguration ceremony of President Dilma Rousseff at the beginning of January.

The Baker family, who live in a beach camp in Gaza, is now hoping that Palestinian membership of the ICC will open the door for the prosecution of Israeli leaders and army officers for their crimes.

Sahar’s cousin Ahed Baker, father of Zakaria (10) and grandfather of Ahed Atif (9), shares her pain and bitterness. He is still looking for a way to bring the Israeli army to trial for the murder of his son and grandson, another two of the four young cousins killed on the beach. He told IPS that he and his family would do everything possible to ensure that their case makes its way to the ICC.

Sahar Baker holds a photograph of her ten-year-old son Ismail, killed along with three of his cousins during the Israeli attacks on Gaza in summer 2014. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Sahar Baker holds a photograph of her ten-year-old son Ismail, killed along with three of his cousins during the Israeli attacks on Gaza in summer 2014. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

“We will not forget how our children were killed in cold blood without any reason,” said Ahed. “We hope that the Israeli army commanders will be tried before international justice and that they will be punished for the killing of the children.”

Palestinian leaders have long waved the card of membership of the ICC as a form of pressure on the Israeli government in their attempt to secure a Palestinian state.

However, apart from its political and legal benefits, Palestinian membership of the international court has created some serious implications for the Palestinians.

Israel has already frozen the transfer to the Palestinian Authority of tax funds owed to it. These funds are generally allocated for the salaries of Palestinian public employees and government operating expenses in Gaza and the West Bank, and the freeze is hampering the functioning of the Palestinian Unity Government and undermine the already weak public sector in Palestine.

Israel has also indicated that further ‘punitive’ steps will be taken soon against the Palestinians as a result of joining the ICC. Membership of the ICC thus appears to be the start of a new lengthy battle for Palestinians.

Some Palestinian human rights centres, including the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza City, are now working against the clock to compile documentation on the numerous cases of civilians who were killed during last summer’s Israeli war against Gaza, to be able to submit all the documents required for the ICC to investigate war crimes in Gaza and hold Israel accountable.

“Over the long years of occupation, there has been no equity for civilian victims and this, in my point of view, was a key reason that Israel waged three wars in less than five years. In fact, it has been due to the absence of justice and a sense that occupation is immune to accountability,” Issam Younis, Director of the Al Mezan Centre told IPS.

“Going to the ICC will bring justice to victims through international justice and ensure that there are no repeated offences of occupation without accountability,” he said.

According to Palestinian human rights advocates, membership of the ICC carries two overlapping purposes for Palestinian people and their leaders.

For the Palestinian people, of Gaza in particular, it not only opens an important door to achieving justice but also helps to criminalise the entire Israeli occupation establishment and its vicious atrocities against humanity.

For the Palestinian leadership, on the other hand, it seeks to strengthen the political, legal and diplomatic status of Palestine at the international level and pressure Israel to accept the creation of an independent Palestinian state in future negotiations.

What underpins the two goals is a historical desire for real justice and protection. Whether the ICC can deliver, only time will tell.

Edited by Phil Harris   

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/families-see-hope-for-justice-in-palestinian-membership-of-icc/feed/ 0
For Women in Asia, ‘Home’ Is a Battlegroundhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/for-women-in-asia-home-is-a-battleground/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-women-in-asia-home-is-a-battleground http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/for-women-in-asia-home-is-a-battleground/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 02:01:56 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139463 All across Asia, men face almost no consequences for domestic violence and women have few places to turn for help, allowing the abuse to continue in a vicious cycle. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

All across Asia, men face almost no consequences for domestic violence and women have few places to turn for help, allowing the abuse to continue in a vicious cycle. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 3 2015 (IPS)

Nearly half of the four billion people who reside in the Asia-Pacific region are women. They comprise two-thirds of the region’s poor, with millions either confined to their homes or pushed into the informal labour market where they work without any safeguards for paltry daily wages. Millions more become victims of trafficking and are forced into prostitution or sexual slavery.

Others find themselves battling an enemy much closer to home; in fact, for many women the greatest threat is inside the home itself, where domestic abuse and intimate partner violence is a daily occurrence.

Half of all South Asian nations, and 60 percent of countries in the Pacific, have no laws against domestic violence. -- Asia Pacific Forum (APF)
UN Women says that women in Asia and the Pacific retain one of the world’s highest rates of gender-based violence, much of it concentrated within a single home or perpetrated by a spouse or intimate partner.

In the Pacific Island nation of Papua New Guinea, for instance, 58 percent of women claim to have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse in relationships, while 55 percent say they were forced into sexual encounters against their will.

In Fiji, an island nation in the South Pacific, 66 percent of women report the use of violence by intimate partners; 44 percent suffered the abuse while pregnant.

In East Timor, one in four women experience physical violence at the hands of a partner every year and 16 percent of married women report being coerced by their husbands into having sex.

Any number of reasons could explain this grim reality. According to the Asia Pacific Forum (APF), “Women in the region experience some of the lowest rates of political representation, employment and property ownership in the world.”

Even those who have jobs earn less than their male counterparts, with a pay gap for women in the region ranging from 54-90 percent, despite the existence of laws supposedly guaranteeing ‘equal pay for equal work’.

A complete absence of legal provisions against sexual harassment in the workplace means that between 30 and 40 percent of working women in Asia and the Pacific report experiencing verbal, physical or sexual abuse, APF says.

The organisation also found that half of all South Asian nations, and 60 percent of countries in the Pacific, have no laws against domestic violence.

In this legal vacuum, men face almost no consequences for their actions and women have few places to turn for help, allowing the abuse to continue in a vicious cycle.

It also means that government data on abuse are, at best, extremely conservative estimates, since most women do not report violent incidents – either from fear of reprisals or because of a lack of faith in the legal system to deliver any solutions.

In India, for example, the most recent government household survey found that 40 percent of women had been abused in their homes; but an independent survey backed by the Planning Commission of India puts the number closer to 84 percent.

In Indonesia, where the police recorded over 150,000 cases of violence against women in 2009 – 96 percent of which were incidents involving a husband and wife – activists estimate that just one out of 10 cases actually gets reported; meaning the real number of survivors of domestic violence is at least nine times higher than official figures indicate.

Last year the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) reported that 2013 was one of the worst years for women, with the highest number of reported incidents of violence.

Citing statistics from the 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), the Commission stated that 14.4 percent of married women, and 37 percent of separated or widowed women, experienced spousal abuse.

Four percent of all women who have ever been pregnant have suffered violence at the hands of a partner, while three in five abused women report long-lasting physical and psychological impacts of the violence or battery.

Policy-makers say tougher implementation of laws partially accounts for the increased number of reported incidents, which saw a 49.5 percent rise from 2012.

The same could soon be true in China, where the recently released draft of the country’s first anti-domestic violence law was hailed by civil society as a step towards stemming rampant abuse – physical, sexual and psychological – in millions of households.

Data from the government-run All-China Women’s Federation show that some 40 percent of women have been subjected to physical or sexual violence in their relationships, while just seven percent of battered women report the violence to the authorities.

U.N. agencies say a dearth of laws against marital rape in the region has fostered a sense of impunity among husbands. In 2012, UN Women found that only eight countries across Asia and the Pacific had laws that specifically criminalised marital rape, leading millions – including women – to feel that men were justified in sexually or physically abusing their wives.

Too often, the legal system operates in ways that leaves women out in the cold and allows perpetrators of violence to walk free.

Courts are largely inaccessible to women in rural areas; legal fees and the price of forensic examinations are cost-prohibitive to women who are not in control of their own finances; and male biases within the police force means that law enforcement officials are largely unsympathetic to the few who dare come forward to report abuse.

Furthermore, women in Asia are woefully underrepresented in the legal system. While UN Women reports that a “quarter of judges and around a fifth of prosecution staff in East Asia and the Pacific are women […] South Asia lags behind, with women making up just nine percent of judges and four percent of prosecution staff.”

These numbers are even more dismal in the police, with women in South Asia comprising a mere three percent of the police force, a figure that rises to just nine percent for East Asia and the Pacific.

Home to four of the five fastest-growing economies in the world, Asia’s shining visage is darkened by the shadow of misery its women face in their own homes.

Absent the implementation of robust laws, sustained efforts to improve women’s representation at all levels of government and genuine measures to ensure women gain a sturdy economic foothold in all countries in the region, experts say it is unlikely that domestic violence will decline.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/for-women-in-asia-home-is-a-battleground/feed/ 0
U.N. Member States Accused of Cherry-Picking Human Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-member-states-accused-of-cherry-picking-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-member-states-accused-of-cherry-picking-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-member-states-accused-of-cherry-picking-human-rights/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 21:38:24 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139454 Protestors gather outside the White House to demonstrate against torture on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the U.S. prison facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Charles Davis/IPS

Protestors gather outside the White House to demonstrate against torture on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the U.S. prison facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Charles Davis/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 2 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has criticised member states for ‘cherry-picking’ human rights – advocating some and openly violating others – perhaps to suit their own national or political interests.

Despite ratifying the U.N. charter reaffirming their faith in fundamental human rights, there are some member states who, “with alarming regularity”, are disregarding and violating human rights, “sometimes to a shocking degree,” he said.

“One Government will thoroughly support women’s human rights and those of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, but will balk at any suggestion that those rights be extended to migrants of irregular status. Another State may observe scrupulously the right to education, but will brutally stamp out opposing political views." -- United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
Addressing the opening session of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council (HRC) Monday, Zeid faulted member states for claiming “exceptional circumstances” for their convoluted decisions.

“They pick and choose between rights,” he pointed out, without identifying any member state by name.

“One Government will thoroughly support women’s human rights and those of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, but will balk at any suggestion that those rights be extended to migrants of irregular status.

“Another State may observe scrupulously the right to education, but will brutally stamp out opposing political views,” he noted.  “A third State will comprehensively violate the political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights of its people, while vigorously defending the ideals of human rights before its peers.”

Asked for her response, Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) told IPS, “Prince Zeid has hit the nail on the head.”

If every government that professed a commitment to human rights followed through consistently, she added, “we’d have a much different – and better – world.”

In an ironic twist apparently proving Zeid’s contention, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lashed out at the “appalling human rights record” of several nations, blasting Syria and North Korea while singling out human rights violations in Crimea and by separatists in Ukraine.

But he did not condemn the devastation caused by Israel’s 50-day aerial bombardments of Palestinians in Gaza last year nor the rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas.

The death toll in the Gaza bombings was 1,976 Palestinians, including 1,417 civilians and 459 children, according to figures released by the United Nations, compared with the killing of 66 Israelis, including two soldiers.

The Palestinians have accused Israel of war crimes and are pushing for action by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague: a move strongly opposed by the United States.

Kerry told the HRC the United States believes that it can continue to make progress and help the U.N. body fulfill its mandate to make the world a better and safer place.

“But for that to happen, we have to get serious about addressing roadblocks to our own progress. And the most obvious roadblock, I have to say to you, is self-inflicted,” he said.

“I’m talking, of course, about HRC’s deeply concerning record on Israel,” Kerry added.

“No one in this room can deny that there is an unbalanced focus on one democratic country,” he said, as he openly advocated the cause of Israel, one of the closest political and military allies of the United States.

And no other nation, he said, has an entire agenda item set aside to deal with it. Year after year, there are five or six separate resolutions on Israel, he told delegates.

This year, he said, there was a resolution sponsored by Syrian President Bashar al Assad concerning the Golan (which has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 war).

“How, I ask, is that a sensible priority at the very moment when refugees from Syria are flooding into the Golan to escape Assad’s murderous rule and receive treatment from Israeli physicians in Israeli hospitals?”

Kerry referred to the Council’s “obsession” with Israel, which, he argued, “actually risks undermining the credibility of the entire organisation.”

Zeid told the HRC the only real measure of a Government’s worth is not its place in the “solemn ballet of grand diplomacy” but the “extent to which it is sensitive to the needs – and protects the rights – of its nationals and other people who fall under its jurisdiction, or over whom it has physical control.”

Some policy-makers persuade themselves that their circumstances are exceptional, creating a wholly new reality unforeseen by the law, Zeid said, adding that such logic is abundant around the world today.

“I arrest arbitrarily and torture because a new type of war justifies it. I spy on my citizens because the fight against terrorism requires it. I don’t want new immigrants, or I discriminate against minorities, because our communal identity is being threatened now as never before. I kill without any form of due process, because if I do not, others will kill me,” he noted.

“And so it goes, on and on, as we spiral into aggregating crises,” Zeid declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-member-states-accused-of-cherry-picking-human-rights/feed/ 0
Namibian President Wins $5 Million African Leadership Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/namibian-president-wins-5-million-african-leadership-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=namibian-president-wins-5-million-african-leadership-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/namibian-president-wins-5-million-african-leadership-prize/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 20:08:52 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139452 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 2 2015 (IPS)

Outgoing Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba was Monday named winner of the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, believed to be the most lucrative individual award in the world.

The award, with an initial $5 million prize and an annual $200,000 gift for life, “recognises and celebrates African leaders who have developed their countries, lifted people out of poverty and paved the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity,” according to organisers the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

The foundation, founded by and named after the Sudanese born philanthropist, grants the award to democratically elected African heads of state or government who have left office democratically in the previous three years, served their constitutionally mandated term, and demonstrated “exceptional leadership.”

At the event in Nairobi, President Pohamba was named just the fourth winner of the prize since its inception in 2007, and the first winner since 2011.

“During the decade of Hifikepunye Pohamba’s Presidency, Namibia’s reputation has been cemented as a well-governed, stable and inclusive democracy with strong media freedom and respect for human rights,” said Salim Ahmed Salim, Chair of the Prize Committee.

“President Pohamba’s focus in forging national cohesion and reconciliation at a key stage of Namibia’s consolidation of democracy and social and economic development impressed the ‎Prize Committee.”

Pohamba became president of Namibia in 2004, and will be succeeded later in March by president-elect Hage Geingob.

On Twitter, the foundation wrote that Namibia has “shown improvement in 10 out of 14 sub-categories of the [Ibrahim Index of African Government],”a framework that calculates good governance in areas including rule of law, human rights, economic opportunity and human development.

Mohamed ‘Mo’ Ibrahim called Pohamba “a role model for the continent.”

“He has served his country since its independence and his leadership has renewed his people’s trust in democracy. His legacy is that of strengthened institutions through the various initiatives introduced during his tenure in office,” he said.

The Ibrahim prize is not awarded unless judges can find a candidate of sufficient quality.

Former Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano was the inaugural winner in 2007, followed by Botswana president Festus Mogae in 2008. The next and most recent winner was Pedro Pires, former president of Cape Verde, in 2011 after judges did not award the prize in 2009 or 2010. Prizes were not awarded in 2012 and 2013.

Nelson Mandela was granted an honorary prize in 2007.

Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Ibrahim said the prize would only be awarded to deserving candidates.

“It is a prize for excellence in leadership. We are not lowering our standards,” he said.

“If this prize was offered to European presidents and leaders, how many … would have won this prize in the last eight years?”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/namibian-president-wins-5-million-african-leadership-prize/feed/ 0
Opinion: War on Wildlife Crime – Time to Enlist the Ordinary Citizenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-war-on-wildlife-crime-time-to-enlist-the-ordinary-citizen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-war-on-wildlife-crime-time-to-enlist-the-ordinary-citizen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-war-on-wildlife-crime-time-to-enlist-the-ordinary-citizen/#comments Sun, 01 Mar 2015 14:46:38 +0000 Dr. Bradnee Chambers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139432 Dead addax (white antelope) hunted by soldiers in Chad – “We should not underestimate the seriousness of wildlife crime”. Credit: John Newby/SCF

Dead addax (white antelope) hunted by soldiers in Chad – “We should not underestimate the seriousness of wildlife crime”. Credit: John Newby/SCF

By Bradnee Chambers
BONN, Mar 1 2015 (IPS)

It is no exaggeration to say that we are facing a “wildlife crisis”, and it is a crisis exacerbated by human activities, not least criminal ones.

Whatever our definition of wildlife crime, it is big business. In terms of annual turn-over it is up there narcotics, arms and human trafficking – and the proceeds run into billions of dollars each year, helping to finance criminal gangs and rebel organisations waging civil wars.“Whatever our definition of wildlife crime, it is big business. In terms of annual turn-over it is up there with narcotics, arms and human trafficking – and the proceeds run into billions of dollars each year”

With seven billion people on the planet, it is tempting to shrug one’s shoulders and ask “What difference can any one individual make?”  Such an attitude means that we are in danger of repeating the “tragedy of the commons” – everyone making seemingly rational decisions in their own immediate interests – but this is a short-sighted approach that undermines the common good and ultimately sows the seeds of its own downfall.

With seven billion people on the planet, it is also tempting to say that people’s need for food, shelter and well-being should take precedence over nature conservation, but the two are not necessarily irreconcilable.  In fact far from it – the two often go hand in hand and are totally compatible – non-consumptive use of wildlife, such as whale-watching and safaris, provide sustainable livelihoods for thousands of people.

Extinction has been an ever-present phenomenon, with a few species losing their specialised niche or being edged out to a more aggressive competitor or, in the case of dinosaurs, being wiped out by a meteorite strike.

The number of species going extinct is increasing fast, at a rate that cannot be attributed to natural causes and it is clear that there is a human foot pressing down heavily on the accelerator pedal.

South Africa reports record numbers of rhinos killed for their horn; demand for ivory is pushing the elephant to the brink; tiger numbers might have risen in India of late but the wild population and the range occupied by the cats are a fraction of what they were at the beginning of the twentieth century.

And we are not just losing vital pieces in the elaborate jigsaw puzzle of ecosystems; we are losing elements of our natural heritage that contribute to human culture and society, and the lifeblood of sustainable activities that create employment in the tourism sector, generating foreign exchange and significant tax revenues.

Wildlife crime is not an abstract. It affects us all and there is more that individuals can do to make a difference than they perhaps imagine.  Understanding the consequences of killing the animals and highlighting the connection between the increased poaching and organised criminal gangs and terrorists have been extremely helpful in strengthening  political messages and in persuading  the public to demand that more be done.

The gangs care little about the fate of the animals – either the individuals they kill or the survival of the species.  They think nothing of shooting the rangers who stand in their way.  They do care about their profits and high demand for ivory in East Asian markets has sent the price through the roof – not that the poacher in the field or the craftsman in the backstreet workshop receive much of a share.

If demand evaporates, the price will fall and killing elephants for their ivory will no longer be a viable business. The gangs will have to find some other source of income, but they would have to do this soon anyway, as current levels of poaching mean that there will not be any elephants left in 30 years.

The maxim “get them while they are young” applies to many things, not least the environment and junior members of the household often influence the family’s behaviour with regard to recycling, saving energy and water, food purchases and a range of other “green issues”. So raising awareness among the younger generation of the need to tackle wildlife crime is crucial.

The fight against wildlife crime has to be conducted on several fronts.  It does register on governments’ radar and pressure from civil society can help keep it high on the agenda.  The public has a vital role to play in keeping pressure on governments, either individually or through local pressure groups and NGOs. People can also modify their own behaviour by minimising their footprint on the planet.

We should not underestimate the seriousness of wildlife crime, but nor should we dismiss the potential impact of the actions of individuals as consumers, customers or voters.

Edited by Phil Harris  

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-war-on-wildlife-crime-time-to-enlist-the-ordinary-citizen/feed/ 1
June Election Offers Asia-Pacific a Chance for Greater Influence in ICChttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/june-election-offers-asia-pacific-a-chance-for-greater-influence-in-icc/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=june-election-offers-asia-pacific-a-chance-for-greater-influence-in-icc http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/june-election-offers-asia-pacific-a-chance-for-greater-influence-in-icc/#comments Sat, 28 Feb 2015 02:25:22 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139413 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 28 2015 (IPS)

The health-related resignation of an International Criminal Court (ICC) judge has paved the way for Asia-Pacific governments to improve their legal representation in the international legal system, said the group Coalition for the ICC on Thursday.

ICC rules on geographical representation offer the Asia-Pacific region the opportunity to put forward candidates for the Hague-based Court, in an election to be held in June. The newly elected judge will hold his role for the remaining nine-year term which began in 2012.

“With this election, Asia-Pacific governments have the opportunity to strengthen peace, justice and the rule of law in international affairs by nominating highly qualified candidates for election to the world’s highest criminal court” said William R. Pace, convenor of the Coalition for the ICC, a global network of civil society organisations, that strengthens cooperation with the Court and ensures its effectiveness and independence.

According to the ICC Rome Statute, there is a framework for judicial elections, which fosters fair competitive elections and transparent gender representation. It includes minimum qualifications for judges, and ensures the representation of all major legal systems.

The Court is the world’s first permanent international court established to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It is composed of 18 judges, representing all regions and principal legal systems of the world.

The current Prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, is responsible for receiving any referrals and information about war crimes, within the jurisdiction of the Court.

“With only ICC member states able to nominate candidates, this election is also a compelling incentive for Asia-Pacific states close to joining the Court to take the final step,” said Amielle Del Rosario, the Coalition’s Asia-Pacific regional coordinator.

“By participating in this election, states such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam could play a meaningful role in shaping the future of the Court,” she said.

Every candidate must have an excellent knowledge of and be fluent in at least English or French- the working languages of the Court.

In the interest of encouraging transparency in the nomination process, the Coalition will help publicise and raise awareness of the candidates put forward by governments, says William Pace. This includes consultations with civil society, professional and national legal associations.

Pace said in a statement, “Since 2003, the Coalition has been promoting informed, merit-based elections by governments by ensuring that the qualifications and expertise of candidates for elections are as well-known as possible.”

Usually, nominated candidates are requested to fill in questionnaires to provide additional information about their qualifications, to hold interviews and to assist to public seminars and debates with the other contestants and experts.

Nominees must be submitted by ICC member states by 31 March 2015.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/june-election-offers-asia-pacific-a-chance-for-greater-influence-in-icc/feed/ 0
Reporting on Violence in Mexico Brings Its Own Perilshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/reporting-on-violence-in-mexico-brings-its-own-perils/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reporting-on-violence-in-mexico-brings-its-own-perils http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/reporting-on-violence-in-mexico-brings-its-own-perils/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 22:46:19 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139409 Mexican journalists silently march in Mexico City in 2010, protesting violence and intimidation against the press. Credit: Knight Foundation / CC BY-SA 2.0

Mexican journalists silently march in Mexico City in 2010, protesting violence and intimidation against the press. Credit: Knight Foundation / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

Organised criminals in Mexico are forcing the media to stop reporting on crime, by turning their violence against journalists.

With the Mexican state offering journalists little protection, the resultant drop in freedom of information has contributed to a heightened sense of insecurity in the country."People are saying 'we are not going to cover certain areas', fearing revenge and not trusting that the state is going to be able to protect them.” -- Claire San Filippo

Claire San Filippo, head of Reporters Without Borders’ Americas desk, told IPS that journalists in Mexico are self-censoring due to threats and violence, but also because violence against journalists is rarely punished by the state.

“It is of tremendous concern for information freedom because people are saying ‘we are not going to cover certain areas’, fearing revenge and not trusting that the state is going to be able to protect them.”

San Filippo says that the state bears the primary duty under international law to protect journalists.

“The state obviously has a responsibility to protect the journalist, and to make sure that they can guarantee their security,” she said.

“There is a mechanism to actually protect human rights defenders and journalists and unfortunately, the mechanism hasn’t been working in a very efficient manner and hasn’t really helped the situation overall.”

The first two months of 2015 have already seen marked violence and intimidation towards journalists, including kidnappings and threats.

Reporting for Journalism in the Americas Mariana Muñoz wrote last week, “An increase in organized crime-related violence has terrorized the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas over the past week. Conflicts between rival cartel factions in the neighboring border cities of Reynosa and Matamoros have left dozens dead, escalating the present danger for journalists practicing in the region.​”

The newspaper El Mañana reported on a gunfight that killed nine people. Although they did not name any cartel individuals involved, their editor, Juárez Torres, was kidnapped and warned “We are going to kill you.”

Torres later “fled the country, half of the staff did not return to work the following day, and at least four journalists at the publication immediately announced their resignation,” Muñoz reported.

El Mañana has since avoided reporting on violent crime in Tamaulipas.

Speaking about Torres’ kidnapping and other similar incidents, San Filippo said, “When you look at the beginning of this year, it’s obviously dramatic and extremely preoccupying because we have journalists who say ‘we are not going to cover the issues of insecurity, violence and it’s consequences on people’ or we’re actually going to leave the country to go to the United States because we feel so unsecure.”

She says that Reporters Without Borders calls on the Mexican government to take the threats against journalists seriously and “not try to either diminish them or try to discredit the journalists by saying that they are actually not journalists and saying they are not related.”

She said the state should also provide timely and effective protection to journalists and their families when the journalists request it and importantly, must hold perpetrators of violence against journalists accountable.

San Filippo said this was important so that “journalists can feel secure and feel that they can carry out their job without risking their lives or lives and physical integrity of their loved ones.”

“This is the only way that you can make sure that you can ensure that there is no self-censorship and journalists don’t feel that they have to go to another country to feel safe.”

Home of organised crime

According to In Sight Crime, a foundation that studies organised crime in the Americas, “Mexico is home to the (Western) hemisphere’s largest, most sophisticated and violent organized criminal gangs.”

“They traffic in illegal drugs, contraband, arms and humans, and launder their proceeds through regional moneychangers, banks and local economic projects. They have penetrated the police and border patrols on nearly every level, in some cases starting with recruits for these units. They play political and social roles in some areas, operating as the de facto security forces.”

Steve Killelea, executive chair of the Institute for Economics and Peace, wrote last year that since “the start of the calamitous drug war in 2007” Mexico has dropped 45 places on the International Peace Index – down to 133 of 162 countries on the most recent (2013) index.

Killelea says that although Mexico does well in terms of development indicators such as life expectancy and youth empowerment, its poor overall rating in peace is partly due to the consequences of violence against journalists and poor freedom of information.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/reporting-on-violence-in-mexico-brings-its-own-perils/feed/ 0
Study Shows Shift in Level of Social Hostility Involving Religionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/study-shows-shift-in-level-of-social-hostility-involving-religion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=study-shows-shift-in-level-of-social-hostility-involving-religion http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/study-shows-shift-in-level-of-social-hostility-involving-religion/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 22:56:07 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139387 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

Social hostilities involving religion have declined worldwide, according to a new report released on Wednesday by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

The latest data show that after reaching a six-year peak in 2012, the state of religious tolerance improved in 2013 in most of the 198 countries analysed in the report.

The share of countries with high or very high level of religious hostilities dropped from 33 per cent in 2012 to 27 per cent in 2013. However, a quarter of the world’s countries are still struggling with high levels of hostilities and government restrictions.

Acts of religious hostility range from vandalism, such as the ruining of religious buildings and the desecration of sacred texts, to violent assaults resulting in injuries and deaths.

The U.S. think tank’s study was measured on the basis of two indices, the Social Hostilities Index (SHI) and the Government Restriction Index (GRI). The first includes hostile actions from individuals, organisations or groups in society, like mobs or sectarian violence. The second keeps track of laws and policies that restrict religious beliefs and practices.

Following this distinction, while the share of countries with high or very high levels of social hostilities involving religion fell six per cent between 2012 and 2013, the share of countries with a high or very high level of political restrictions on religion only fell two per cent.

The share of countries with government restriction was 27 per cent in 2013 compared to 29 per cent in 2012. Most of those countries have discriminatory policies towards, and place outright bans on, certain faiths.

Overall, whether resulting from social hostilities or government actions, figures show a high or very high level of religious repression in 39 per cent of countries in 2013. Among the world’s 25 most populous countries, the ones with the greatest limitations were Myanmar, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Russia. China had the highest level for GRI and India for SHI.

In recent years, religious harassment of Jews increased, reaching a seven-year high in 2013. In that year, Jews were plagued either by government or social groups in 77 countries. In Europe, Jews were harassed by social groups in 34 countries.

The analysis was conducted in order to observe the extent to which governments and societies around the world impact religious beliefs and practices. It is the sixth in a series of Pew studies on religious hostilities, which are part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project looking at religious change and its effect on societies around the world.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/study-shows-shift-in-level-of-social-hostility-involving-religion/feed/ 0
Despite U.N. Treaties, War Against Drugs a Losing Battlehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/despite-u-n-treaties-war-against-drugs-a-losing-battle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-u-n-treaties-war-against-drugs-a-losing-battle http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/despite-u-n-treaties-war-against-drugs-a-losing-battle/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 21:10:23 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139383 Less than eight per cent of drug users worldwide have access to a clean syringe programme. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

Less than eight per cent of drug users worldwide have access to a clean syringe programme. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

As the call for the decriminalisation of drugs steadily picks up steam worldwide, a new study by a British charity concludes there has been no significant reduction in the global use of illicit drugs since the creation of three key U.N. anti-drug conventions, the first of which came into force over half a century ago.

“Illicit drugs are now purer, cheaper, and more widely used than ever,” says the report, titled Casualties of War: How the War on Drugs is Harming the World’s Poorest, released Thursday by the London-based Health Poverty Action."This approach hasn’t reduced drug use or managed to control the illicit drug trade. Instead, it keeps drugs profitable and cartels powerful." -- Catherine Martin of Health Poverty Action

The study also cites an opinion poll that shows more than eight in 10 Britons believe the war on drugs cannot be won. And over half favour legalising or decriminalising at least some illicit drugs.

The international treaties to curb drug trafficking include the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

But over the last few decades, several countries have either decriminalised drugs, either fully or partially, or adopted liberal drug laws, including the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

These countries include the Netherlands, Portugal, Czech Republic, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Honduras and Mexico, among others.

According to the report, the governments of Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala seek open, evidence-based discussion on U.N. drugs policy reform.

And “both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS not only share this view, but have called for the decriminalisation of drugs use.”

Asked if the United Nations was doing enough in the battle against drugs, Catherine Martin, policy officer at Health Poverty Action, told IPS, “The problem is that the U.N. is doing too much of the wrong things, and not enough of the right things.”

She pointed out that an estimated 100 billion dollars worldwide is poured into drug law enforcement every year, driven by U.N. conventions on drug control.

“However, this approach hasn’t reduced drug use or managed to control the illicit drug trade. Instead, it keeps drugs profitable and cartels powerful (fuelling corruption); spurs violent conflict and human rights violations; and disproportionately punishes small-scale drug producers and people who use drugs,” she added.

The report says UK development organisations have largely remained silent, while calls for drugs reform come from Southern counterparts, British tycoon Sir Richard Branson, current and former presidents, Nobel prizewinning economists and ex-U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan.

The charity urges the UK development sector to demand pro-poor moves as nations prepare for the U.N. general assembly’s special session on drugs next year.

Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including British groups, have no lead contact or set process for participating in the session, says the report.

The report claims many small-scale farmers grow and trade drugs in developing countries as their only income source.

And punitive drug policies penalise farmers who do not have access to the land, sufficient resources and infrastructure that they would need to make a sustainable living from other crops.

Alternative crops or development programmes often fail farmers, because they are led by security concerns and ignore poor communities’ needs, the report notes.

The charity argues the militarisation of the war on drugs has triggered and been used to justify murder, mass imprisonment and systematic human rights violations.

The report stresses that criminalising drugs does not reduce use, but spreads disease, deters people from seeking medical treatment and leads to policies that exclude millions of people from vital pain relief.

Less than eight per cent of drug users have access to a clean needle programme, or opioid substitution therapy, and under four per cent of those living with HIV have access to HIV treatment.

In West Africa, people with conditions linked to cancer and AIDS face severe restrictions in access to pain relief drugs, amid feared diversion to illicit markets, according to the study.

Low and middle-income countries have 90 per cent of AIDS patients around the globe and half of the world’s people with cancer, but use only six per cent of morphine given for pain management.

Health Poverty Action states the war on drugs criminalises the poor, and women are worst hit, through disproportionate imprisonment and the loss of livelihoods.

Drug crop eradication devastates the environment and forces producers underground, often to areas with fragile ecosystems.

Asked what the U.N.’s focus should be, Martin told IPS the world body should focus on evidence-based, pro-poor policies that treat illicit drugs as a health issue, not a security matter.

These policies must protect human rights and end the harm that current policies do to the poor and marginalised, she said.

“Drug policy reform should support and fund harm reduction measures, and ensure access to essential medicines for the five billion people worldwide who live in countries where overly strict drug laws limit access to crucial pain medications,” Martin said.

Meanwhile, the report says that drug policy, like climate change or gender, is a cross-cutting issue that affects most aspects of development work: poverty, human rights, health, democracy, the environment.

And current drug policies undermine economic growth and make development work less effective, the report adds.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/despite-u-n-treaties-war-against-drugs-a-losing-battle/feed/ 0
Families of ‘Desaparecidos’ Take Search into Their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/families-of-desaparecidos-take-search-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=families-of-desaparecidos-take-search-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/families-of-desaparecidos-take-search-into-their-own-hands/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 16:33:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139372 “Forced disappearance, a strategy of terror” reads a sign with the Mexican flag, held by a family member during a Feb. 19 ceremony to celebrate the 15th year anniversary of HIJOS, one of the first organisations created by the families of ‘desaparecidos’ to search for their loved ones and fight for justice. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

“Forced disappearance, a strategy of terror” reads a sign with the Mexican flag, held by a family member during a Feb. 19 ceremony to celebrate the 15th year anniversary of HIJOS, one of the first organisations created by the families of ‘desaparecidos’ to search for their loved ones and fight for justice. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

Carlos Trujillo refuses to give up, after years of tirelessly searching hospitals, morgues, prisons, cemeteries and clandestine graves in Mexico, looking for his four missing brothers.

The local shopkeeper has left no stone unturned and no clue unfollowed since his brothers Jesús, Raúl, Luís and Gustavo Trujillo vanished – the first two on Aug. 28, 2008 in the southern state of Guerrero and the last two on Sep. 22, 2010 on a highway that joins the southern states of Puebla and Veracruz.

“The case has gone nowhere; four agents were assigned to it, but there’s still nothing concrete, so I’m forging ahead and I won’t stop until I find them,” Trujillo told IPS.

On Feb. 18, Trujillo and other relatives of “desaparecidos” or victims of enforced disappearance founded the group Familiares en Búsqueda María Herrera – named after his mother – as part of the growing efforts by tormented family members to secure institutional support for the investigations they themselves carry out.

“We want to create a network of organisations of victims’ families,” the activist explained. “One of the priorities is to strengthen links and networking, to ensure clarity in the search process, and to share tools. The aim is for the families themselves to carry the investigations forward.”

The group is investigating the disappearance of 18 people. Prior to the creation of the organisation, some of the members found six people alive, in the last two years.“Each one of us started with our own particular case. We didn’t understand what disappearance was; we had to learn. We didn’t know we had a right to demand things. The search started off with problems, no one knew how to work collectively, and we gradually came up with how to do things.” -- Diana García

With determination and courage, the family members visit morgues, police stations, prisons, courtrooms, cemeteries and mass graves, trying to find their lost loved ones, or at least some clue that could lead them in the right direction.

The group grew out of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, which in 2011 brought together the families of victims of the wave of violence in Mexico, and held peace caravans throughout the country and even parts of the United States, where the movement protested that country’s anti-drug policy.

Enforced disappearance became a widespread phenomenon since the government of conservative Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) declared the “war on drug trafficking.” His successor, the conservative Enrique Peña Nieto, has not resolved the problem, which has become one of the worst tragedies in Latin America’s recent history.

But the phenomenon has only drawn international attention since the disappearance of 43 students of the Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college, which exposed a cocktail of complicity and corruption between the police and the mayor of the town of Iguala and a violent drug cartel operating in Guerrero.

Thursday marks the five month anniversary of their disappearance.

The families have not stopped their indefatigable search for the students, even though the attorney general’s office announced a month ago that they were killed by the organised crime group “Guerreros Unidos” and their bodies were burnt.

The humanitarian crisis prompted the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances to demand on Feb. 13 that Mexico pass specific laws to combat the problem, create a registry of victims, carry out proper investigations, and provide justice and reparations to the victims’ families.

Mexico’s office on human rights, crime prevention and community service has reported that in this country of 120 million people, 23,271 people went missing between 2007 and October 2014. However, the office does not specifically indicate how many of these people were victims of enforced disappearance, as opposed to simply missing. Human rights organisations put the figure at 22,600 for that period.

Most enforced disappearances are blamed on drug cartels, which dispute smuggling routes to the lucrative U.S. market, in some cases with the participation of corrupt local or national police. The victims are mainly men from different socioeconomic strata, between the ages of 20 and 36.

“Each one of us started with our own particular case,” Diana García, whose son was disappeared, told IPS. “We didn’t understand what disappearance was; we had to learn. We didn’t know we had a right to demand things. The search started off with problems, no one knew how to work collectively, and we gradually came up with how to do things.”

Her son, Daniel Cantú, disappeared on Feb. 21, 2007 in the city of Ramos Arizpe in the northern state of Coahuila.

García, who has two other children and belongs to the group Fuerzas Unidas por Nuestros Desaparecidos en Coahuila, is convinced that only by working together can people exert enough pressure on the government to get it to search for their missing loved ones.

With the support of the Centro Diocesano para los Derechos Humanos Fray Juan de Larios, a church-based human rights organisation, a group of family members of victims came together and founded Fuerzas Unidas in 2009, which is searching for a total of 344 people.

The organisation successfully advocated the creation of a new local law on the declaration of absence of persons due to disappearance, in effect since May 2014, as well as the classification of enforced disappearance as a specific crime in the state of Coahuila.

Other groups have emerged, such as Ciencia Forense Ciudadana (Citizen Forensic Science), founded in September to create a forensic and DNA database.

“The initiative is aimed at a massive identification drive,” one of the founders of the organisation, Sara López, told IPS. “To do this we need a registry of victims of disappearance, a genetic database, and a databank for what has been found in clandestine graves.”

The project plans to cover 450 families affected by enforced disappearance and to reach 1,500 DNA samples. So far it has gathered 550, and it has representatives – victims’ relatives – in 10 of the country’s 33 states.

On Feb. 16, Ciencia Forense identified the remains of Brenda González, who went missing on Jul. 31, 2011 in Santa Catarina, in the northern state of Nuevo León, with the support of an independent forensic investigation carried out by the Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team.

“With the organisation that we just created, we will also try to provide a broad assessment of the question of enforced disappearances,” Trujillo said.

Human rights organisations say that until the case of the missing Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college students erupted, the authorities did very little to combat the phenomenon, and failed to adopt measures to comply with sentences handed down by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.

The plight of the families is described in the song “Desaparecido” by French-Spanish singer-songwriter Manu Chao, dedicated to the thousands of victims of enforced disappearance in Latin America and their families: “I carry in my body a pain that doesn’t let me breathe, I carry in my body a doom that forces me to keep moving.”

And their lives are put on hold while they visit registries, fill out paperwork, lobby, take innumerable risks, and rack up expenses as they search for their loved ones and other desaparecidos.

“For now, I’m not interested in justice or reparations,” said García. “What I want is to know the truth, what happened, where he is. I’m looking for him alive but I know that in the context we’re living in there may be a different outcome. It’ll probably take me many years and I am desperate, but I continue the struggle.”

Her organisation, Fuerzas Unidas, drew up a plan that includes the analysis of crime maps, a genetic registry, awareness-raising campaigns, and proposed measures to hold those responsible for botched investigations accountable.

“The families are more familiar with the situation than anyone else, they know what has to be done. The problem is that we are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the phenomenon in Mexico,” said López.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/families-of-desaparecidos-take-search-into-their-own-hands/feed/ 0
Human Rights in Asia and the Pacific: A “Regressive” Trend, Says Amnesty Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 23:03:11 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139360 Protestors armed with bamboo sticks faced police in riot gear in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, on May 4, 2013. Credit: Kajul Hazra/IPS

Protestors armed with bamboo sticks faced police in riot gear in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, on May 4, 2013. Credit: Kajul Hazra/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

The cradle of some of the world’s most ancient civilizations, home to four out of the planet’s six billion people, and a battleground for the earth’s remaining resources, Asia and the Pacific are poised to play a defining role in international affairs in the coming decade.

But what does the future look like for those working behind the scenes in these rising economies, fighting to safeguard basic rights and ensure an equitable distribution of wealth and power in a region where 70 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day?

In its flagship annual report, the State of the World’s Human Rights, released Wednesday, Amnesty International (AI) slams the overall trend in the region as being “regressive”, pinpointing among other issues a poor track record on media freedom, rising violence against ethnic and religious minorities, and state repression of activists and civil society organisations.

The presence of armed groups and continuing conflict in countries like Pakistan, particularly in its northern tribal belt known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), as well as in Myanmar and Thailand, constitute a major obstacle to millions of people trying to live normal lives.

Much of the region’s sprawling population is constantly on the move, with the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) counting 3.5 million refugees, 1.9 million internally displaced people (IDPs), and 1.4 million stateless people, mostly hailing from Afghanistan and Myanmar.

UNHCR has documented a host of challenges facing these homeless, sometimes stateless, people in the Asia-Pacific region including sexual violence towards vulnerable women and girls and a lack of access to formal job markets pushing thousands into informal, bonded or other exploitative forms of labor.

Intolerance towards religious minorities remains a thorny issue in several countries in Asia; Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have allowed for the continued prosecution of Shi’a Muslims, Ahmadis and Christians, while hard-line Buddhist nationalist groups in both Myanmar and Sri Lanka have operated with impunity, leading to attacks – sometimes deadly – on Muslim communities.

Meanwhile, ethnic Tibetans in China have encountered an iron fist in their efforts to practice their rights to freedom of assembly, speech, and political association. Since 2009, about 130 people have set themselves aflame in protest of the Chinese government’s authoritarian rule in the plateau.

A dark forecast for women and girls

Despite all the conventions ratified and millions of demonstrators in the streets, violence against women and girls continues unchecked across Asia and the Pacific, says the AI report.

In the Pacific island of Papua New Guinea, home to seven million people, an estimated 75 percent of women and girls experience some form of gender-based or domestic violence, largely due to the age-old practice of persecuting women in the predominantly rural country for practicing ‘sorcery’.

In the first six months of 2014, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission had recorded 4,154 cases of violence against women, according to the AI report, while India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported an average of 24,923 rapes per year.

A 2013 U.N. Women study involving 10,000 men throughout Asia and the Pacific found that nearly half of all respondents admitted to using physical or sexual abuse against a partner.

According to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), two out of every five girls in South Asia could wind up as child brides, with the highest prevalence in Bangladesh (66 percent), tailed closely by India (47 percent), Nepal (41 percent) and Afghanistan (39 percent).

“In East Asia and the Pacific,” the organisation said, “the prevalence of child marriage is 18 percent, with 9.2 million women aged 20-24 married as children in 2010.”

Holding the State accountable

Amnesty’s report presents a cross-section of government responses to activism, including in China – where rights defender Cao Shunli passed away in a hospital early last year after being refused proper medical treatment – and in North Korea, where “there appeared to be no independent civil society organisations, newspapers or political parties [and] North Koreans were liable to be searched by the authorities and could be punished for reading, watching or listening to foreign media materials.”

Imposition of martial law in Thailand saw the detention of several activists and the banning of gatherings of more than five people, while the re-introduction of “colonial-era sedition legislation” in Malaysia allowed the government to crack down on dissidents, AI says.

Citizens of both Myanmar and Sri Lanka faced a virtually zero-tolerance policy when it came to organised protest, with rights defenders and activists of all stripes detained, threatened, attacked or jailed.

Throughout the region media outlets had a bad year in 2014, with over 200 journalists jailed and at least a dozen murdered according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Amnesty’s report also found torture and other forms of ill treatment to be a continuing reality in the region, naming and shaming such countries as China, North Korea, the Philippines and Sri Lanka for their poor track record.

An earlier Amnesty International report, ‘Torture in 2014: 30 years of broken promises’, found that 23 Asia-Pacific states were still practicing torture, three decades after the U.N. adopted its 1984 Convention Against Torture.

The report found evidence of torture and ill treatment ranging “from North Korea’s brutal labour camps, to Australia’s offshore processing centres for asylum seekers or Japan’s death rows – where prisoners are kept in isolation, sometimes for decades.”

In Pakistan the army, state intelligence agencies and the police all stand accused of resorting to torture, while prisoners detained by both the policy and military in Thailand allege they have experienced torture and other forms of ill treatment while in custody.

In that same vein, governments’ continued reliance on the death penalty across Asia and the Pacific demonstrates a grave violation of rights at the most basic level.

Amnesty International reported that 500 people were at risk of execution in Pakistan, while China, Japan and Vietnam also carried on with the use of capital punishment.

Perhaps the only positive trend was a rise in youth activism across the region, which is home to 640 million people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the United Nations. The future of the region now lies with these young people, who will have to carve out the spaces in which to build a more tolerant, less violent society.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international/feed/ 0
A New Forensic Weapon to Track Illegal Ivory Tradehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/a-new-forensic-weapon-to-track-illegal-ivory-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-new-forensic-weapon-to-track-illegal-ivory-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/a-new-forensic-weapon-to-track-illegal-ivory-trade/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 21:01:37 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139356 Protected from external dangers, an elephant family roams peacefully in the Mikumi National Park in Tanzania. Credit: UN Photo/B Wolff

Protected from external dangers, an elephant family roams peacefully in the Mikumi National Park in Tanzania. Credit: UN Photo/B Wolff

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

The wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC, is deploying a new forensic weapon – DNA testing – to track illegal ivory products responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of endangered elephants in Asia and Africa.

Widely used in criminal cases, forensic DNA examination (Deoxyribonucleic acid) can help identify whether the elephant tusk is from Asia or Africa.“The ability to use DNA and other forensic expertise provides great support to law enforcement." -- Adisorn Noochdumrong

Asked whether this is a first, Dr Richard Thomas, global communications coordinator at the UK-based TRAFFIC, told IPS: “It’s the first time I’m aware of when it’s been used to test ivory items for sale to prove their (illegal) provenance.”

However, he added, it’s worth noting that at the March 2013 meeting of CITES (the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), State Parties to the Convention were instructed that forensic information should routinely be gathered from all large-scale seizures of ivory (500kg).

Hence this is also an important demonstration of one technique that can be employed in the fight against the illegal trade in endangered species, he said.

The current project is a collaborative effort between Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) and TRAFFIC, to battle the widespread illegal trade of ivory in Thailand.

Asked whether African countries have similar projects in collaboration with TRAFFIC, Dr. Thomas told IPS, “Not currently, although the scope of DNA and stable isotope analysis of ivory are being examined by others as means to determine the geographic origin of ivory within Africa.”

He also pointed out that any wildlife product, by definition, is associated with life and therefore open for DNA examination.

“So, in theory it could be a very widely employed technique in addressing wildlife trafficking.”

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Sri Lankan and Sumatran elephants are on a list of endangered species, along with the black rhino, mountain gorilla, Bengal tiger, the blue whale and the green turtle, among others.

WWF says the global illicit wildlife trade is estimated at over 10 billion dollars annually and is controlled by criminal networks.

Specifically on the ivory trade, Dr Thomas told IPS, “We’re very wary about speculating over black market prices – in part, because they’re black market and therefore unverifiable, but more because of anecdotal evidence that high prices quoted in the media can lead to interest from the criminal fraternity in getting involved in trafficking.”

In a report released here, TRAFFIC said 160 items of small ivory products legally acquired by researchers, primarily from retail outlets in Bangkok, were subjected to DNA analysis at the DNP’s Wildlife Forensics Crime Unit (WIFOS Laboratory).

The aim of the exercise was to determine whether the ivory products were made from African elephant or Asian elephant tusks.

The African elephant Loxodonta africana is found in 37 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Asian elephant Elephas maximas is found in Thailand and 12 other Asian countries.

The study also said forensic results show that African elephant ivory accounted for a majority of the items tested.

“Whilst the relatively small number of samples cannot be considered as representative of the entire ivory market in Thailand, it indicates that African elephant ivory is prominently represented in the retail outlets in Bangkok,” it noted.

This capability supports the enforcement component of Thailand’s revised National Ivory Action Plan (NIAP) submitted to CITES in September 2014.

The plan was developed to control ivory trade in Thailand and strengthen measures to prevent illegal international trade and includes a strong focus on law enforcement and regulation, including the execution of a robust ivory registration system, according to the report.

“The ability to use DNA and other forensic expertise provides great support to law enforcement,” said Adisorn Noochdumrong, acting deputy director general of DNP.

“We are deeply concerned by these findings which come just at the moment a nationwide ivory product registration exercise is being conducted pursuant to recently enacted legislation to strengthen ivory trade controls in Thailand,” he added.

The report said the Thai government last month passed new legislation to regulate and control the possession and trade of ivory that can be shown to have come from domesticated Asian Elephants in Thailand.

With the passing of the Elephant Ivory Act B.E. 2558 (2015), anyone in possession of ivory – whether as personal effects or for commercial purposes – must register all items in their possession with the DNP from Jan. 22 until Apr. 21, 2015.

Penalties for failing to do so could result in up to three years imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of Thai Baht 6 million (nearly 200,000 dollars).

“We remind anyone registering possession of raw ivory or ivory products under Thailand’s new laws that African Elephant ivory is strictly prohibited and ineligible for sale in Thailand,” said Noochdumrong.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/a-new-forensic-weapon-to-track-illegal-ivory-trade/feed/ 0
Better to Die at Sea, than Languish in Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/better-to-die-at-sea-than-languish-in-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=better-to-die-at-sea-than-languish-in-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/better-to-die-at-sea-than-languish-in-poverty/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 17:31:46 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139349 For most Sri Lankans seeking asylum in Australia, there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, just a sad return journey home. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

For most Sri Lankans seeking asylum in Australia, there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, just a sad return journey home. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Feb 25 2015 (IPS)

Weerasinghearachilage Ruwan Rangana had it all planned out last year in September: the big break that would change his life and those of his extended family had finally arrived.

The Sri Lankan youth in his early twenties was not too worried that the arrangement meant he had to make a clandestine journey in the middle of the night to a beach, board a two-decade-old trawler with dozens of others and be ready to spend up to three weeks on the high seas in a vessel designed to carry loads of fish.

“Besides trade and security, a large driver of the Australian government’s foreign policy is its single-minded focus on ensuring that all asylum seekers or refugees are processed at offshore facilities." -- Human Rights Watch
He and his fellow commuters prayed that the boat would not crack in two before it reached Australian waters, where they all expected to find a pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow.

Rangana told IPS that most of the roughly three-dozen people on board were leaving in search of better economic prospects, though members of the minority Tamil community are known to take the same journey to escape political persecution.

The boat ride was the relatively easy part. After reaching Australia, Rangana would have to seek asylum, land a job and secure an income, before beginning the process of bringing his family there to join him.

“At least, that was the plan,” said the young man who was a contract employee of the state-owned Ceylon Transport Board in the remote village of Angunakolapelessa in Sri Lanka’s southern Hambantota District earning a monthly salary of 12,000 rupees (about 90 dollars) when he took the boat ride.

Half of the plan – the life-threatening part – worked. The other part – the life-changing one – did not.

Despite a leaking hull, the vessel did reach Australian waters, but was apprehended by the Australian Navy, newly emboldened by a policy to turn back boatloads of asylum seekers after fast-tracked processing at sea, sometimes reportedly involving no more than a single phone call with a border official.

By mid-September Rangana was back in Sri Lanka, at the southern port city of Galle where he and dozens of others who were handed over to Sri Lankan authorities were facing court action.

Thankfully he did not have to spend days inside a police cell or weeks in prison. He was bailed out on 5,000 rupees (about 45 dollars), a stiff sum for his family who barely make 40,000 rupees (about 300 dollars) a month.

Now he sits at home with no job and no savings – having sunk about 200,000 rupees (1,500 dollars) into his spot on the rickety fishing boat – and makes ends meet by doing odd jobs.

“Life is hard, but maybe I can get to Australia some day. I did get to the territorial waters; does that mean I have some kind of legal right to seek citizenship there?” he asks, oblivious to the tough policies of the Australian administration towards immigrants like himself.

Clamping down on ‘illegal’ entry

Since Australia launched Operation Sovereign Borders in September 2013 following the election of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, at least 15 boats have been turned back at sea, including the one on which Rangana was traveling, to Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Last year only one boat reached Australia, according to the government.

The programme has resulted in a significant drop in the number of illegal maritime arrivals in Australia. Compared to the one boat that reached Australia in 2014, the 2012-2013 period saw 25,173 persons reaching the country safely.

In the 10 months prior to the controversial military programme, 281 unauthorized boats arrived with a total of 19,578 people on board, according to the Australian Department of Immigration.

Just this past week, Australian authorities interviewed four Sri Lankans at sea, and sent them back to the island. Officials claim that the new screening process saves lives and assures that Australian asylum policies are not abused.

“The Coalition government’s policies and resolve are stopping illegal boat arrivals and are restoring integrity to Australia’s borders and immigration programme. Anyone attempting to enter Australia illegally by sea will never be resettled in this country,” Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s office said in a statement this week.

As of end-January, there were 2,298 persons in immigration detention facilities in Australia, of whom 8.1 percent were Sri Lankans.

The policy has been criticised by activists as well as rights groups, including by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“UNHCR’s position is that they (asylum seekers) must be swiftly and individually screened, in a process which they understand and in which they are able to explain their needs. Such screening is best carried out on land, given safety concerns and other limitations of doing so at sea,” the agency said in a statement earlier this month.

According to the international watchdog Human Rights Watch, “Besides trade and security, a large driver of the Australian government’s foreign policy is its single-minded focus on ensuring that all asylum seekers or refugees are processed at offshore facilities.

“The government has muted its criticism of authoritarian governments in Sri Lanka and Cambodia in recent years, apparently in hopes of winning the support of such governments for its refugee policies,” the rights group added in a statement released last month.

The end of Sri Lanka’s 26-year-long civil conflict and the election of a new, possibly more democratic government in January this year add to Canberra’s justification for turning away those who seek shelter within its borders.

In reality, the risk for asylum seekers is still high. Newly appointed Minister of Justice Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe told IPS that the government was yet to discuss any changes to accepting returnees. “They will face legal action; change in such a policy is not a priority right now,” he added.

Lawyers working with asylum seekers say their clients are unlikely to face extended jail terms, but could be slapped with fines of up to 100,000 rupees (750 dollars), still a lot of money for poor families.

Even if the legal process is swift, and those impounded are able to post bail, their reasons for wanting to leave remain the same.

Take the case of Kanan*, a young man from the war-torn northern town of Kilinochchi. He took a boat in August 2013 after paying a 750-dollar fee, agreeing to pay the remaining 6,750 dollars once he reached Australia.

He never even made it halfway. Six days into the journey, the boat broke down and was towed ashore by the Sri Lankan Navy.

He was fleeing poverty – his home district boasts unemployment rates over twice the national figure of four percent – and possible political persecution, not an unusual occurrence among the Tamil community both during and after Sri Lanka’s civil war.

He knows that very few have gotten to the Australian mainland and that even those whose cases have been deemed legitimate could end up in the Pacific islands of Nauru or Papua New Guinea.

But Kanan still hopes to give his ‘boat dream’ another try. “There is no hope here; even risking death [to reach Australia] is worth it,” says the unemployed youth.

*Name changed on request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/better-to-die-at-sea-than-languish-in-poverty/feed/ 0
Tackling Corruption at its Root in Papua New Guineahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/tackling-corruption-at-its-root-in-papua-new-guinea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tackling-corruption-at-its-root-in-papua-new-guinea http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/tackling-corruption-at-its-root-in-papua-new-guinea/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 15:50:04 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139320 Transparency International (PNG) organises an annual Walk Against Corruption in Papua New Guinea's capital, Port Moresby. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Transparency International (PNG) organises an annual Walk Against Corruption in Papua New Guinea's capital, Port Moresby. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Feb 24 2015 (IPS)

Corruption, the single largest obstacle to socioeconomic development worldwide, has had a grave impact on the southwest Pacific Island nation of Papua New Guinea. While mineral resource wealth drove high gross domestic product (GDP) growth of eight percent in 2012, the country is today ranked 157th out of 187 countries in terms of human development.

Key anti-corruption fighters in the country say that money laundering must be tackled to increase deterrence and ensure that stolen public funds earmarked for vital hospitals and schools do not pay for luxury assets abroad.

A patronage system of governance and a culture of secrecy have led to the misappropriation of an estimated half of Papua New Guinea's development budget of 7.6 billion kina (about 2.8 billion dollars) between 2009 and 2011 -- Investigation Task-Force Sweep (ITFS)
“Our police officers, school teachers and health workers live and work in very squalid circumstances,” Lawrence Stephens, chairman of Transparency International (PNG), in the capital, Port Moresby, told IPS.

“So when we see the government awarding a contract for pharmaceutical and medical supplies to a company not qualified to tender, a company quoting a price 40 percent higher than the closest qualified tender and costing the equivalent of 160 new homes for nurses each year of the three-year contract, we blame corrupt individuals for destroying development.”

Papua New Guinea has been given a corruption score of 25/100, where 100 indicates clean governance, in comparison to the world average of 43/100, by Transparency International.

The country’s dedicated anti-corruption team, Investigation Task-Force Sweep (ITFS), launched by the government in 2011, has described the country as a ‘mobocracy’, where a patronage system of governance and a culture of secrecy have led to the misappropriation of an estimated half of the development budget of 7.6 billion kina (about 2.8 billion dollars) from 2009 to 2011.

Large-scale theft of public funds, including foreign aid, is alleged to have occurred across government departments responsible for national planning, health, petroleum and energy, finance and justice.

A 2006 Public Accounts Committee Inquiry into the Lands Department alone concluded that it had conducted itself illegally over many years and given priority to the interests of private enterprise and speculators over the interests and lawful rights of the State. The department’s shortfall in revenue was 5.9 million kina (2.2 million dollars) in 2001 and 4.9 million kina (1.8 million dollars) in 2003.

State capture, where powerful private sector interests exert undue influence over state leaders, officials and procurement processes, has had devastating repercussions for national development. Approval of ‘white elephant projects’ has channelled windfalls to criminal syndicates, Sam Koim, the ITFS Chairman, reported in the Griffith Law Journal.

Koim told IPS that, of 302 cases of corruption entailing revenue of up to 5.3 billion kina (1.9 billion dollars) under investigation, 91 had been prosecuted. Twenty-eight senior public servants have been suspended or removed from office, while two Members of Parliament and two senior public servants have been convicted and jailed.

To date, 8.3 million kina (3.1 million dollars) in proceeds of crime have been recovered, but including all outstanding cases this figure could potentially rise to 500 million kina (187 million dollars). Investigation into corporate tax evasion has led to the restitution of 22.6 million kina (8.4 million dollars).

Globally it is estimated that corruption drains the developing world of up to one trillion dollars every year and what is lost is in the magnitude of 10 times the official development assistance budget, claims the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

This has impacted increasing inequality in countries such as PNG, where 40 percent of the population of seven million live below the poverty line, maternal mortality is 711 per 100,000 live births, literacy is just 63 percent and only 19 percent of people have access to sanitation.

It is a vicious cycle, as Koim also believes that the state becomes an alternative source of personal prosperity when there are few legitimate avenues available for people to economically improve their lives.

Banks crucial to fighting corruption

The majority of stolen funds have been transferred through banks to offshore investments. Australia receives about 200 million Australia dollars (155 million dollars) of illicit gains from the Melanesian island state every year, claims the Australian Federal Police.

Several PNG politicians have purchased luxury homes with a total estimated value of 11.5 million Australian dollars (8.9 million dollars) in the northern Australian city of Cairns.

“Without banks and financial institutions, it is impossible to commit economic crimes, such as fraud and money laundering,” states the Investigation Task-Force Sweep (ITFS).

In a report last year on the government’s payment of fraudulent legal fees, ITFS identified numerous control gaps, such as lack of written contracts, oversight of procurement and payment clearance processes and the failure of banks to prevent evidently suspicious transactions.

“The duty imposed on banks to avoid engaging in money laundering should not be limited to ticking the boxes or submitting periodic transaction reports, but also taking proactive steps including rejecting transactions and closing bank accounts,” the report recommended. Sixty-five percent of PNG’s financial sector assets are held by commercial banks, including foreign bank subsidiaries.

There are also gaps between national legislation and banking sector regulations. For instance, money laundering is a criminal offence under the Proceeds of Crime Act (2005), but there is no obligation on banks to check inexplicably large or unorthodox patterns of transactions.

Action is also required by recipient nations, experts say. Professor Jason Sharman of the Centre for Governance and Public Policy at Queensland’s Griffith University told IPS that there was a need for improved government “supervisory responsibility to make sure that Australian banks are not accepting suspect funds from PNG Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs).”

“One of the main weaknesses is in the Australian real estate sector with very little scrutiny of foreign money coming in, especially when, as is often the case, this money is routed via lawyers’ or real estate agents’ trust accounts,” he added.

But progress by the anti-corruption team has accelerated broader action. “A number of PNG-based banks have closed accounts of high risk customers and refused suspicious transactions”, while some international corresponding banks “have refused transactions they view to have originated from illicit sources,” ITFS reports.

Reducing and preventing corruption is a long-term battle, which includes addressing the cultural divide between an introduced western government system and centuries of traditional governance based on a leader’s ability to acquire and distribute resources to his own kin. But if corruption is driven largely by the lure of a quick route to untold personal wealth, then a critical measure now is eliminating safe havens for the plunder.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/tackling-corruption-at-its-root-in-papua-new-guinea/feed/ 0
Can Nepal’s TRC Finally Bring Closure to its War Survivors?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/can-nepals-trc-finally-bring-closure-to-its-war-survivors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-nepals-trc-finally-bring-closure-to-its-war-survivors http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/can-nepals-trc-finally-bring-closure-to-its-war-survivors/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 02:36:27 +0000 Renu Kshetry http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139307 Suman Adhikari, son of Muktinath Adhikari, a school principal who was killed by Maoist rebels during Nepal’s People’s War, says his family is still waiting for justice to be served. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

Suman Adhikari, son of Muktinath Adhikari, a school principal who was killed by Maoist rebels during Nepal’s People’s War, says his family is still waiting for justice to be served. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

By Renu Kshetry
KATHMANDU, Feb 24 2015 (IPS)

The picture of Muktinath Adhikari, principal of Pandini Sanskrit Secondary School in the Lamjung district of west Nepal who was killed during the country’s decade-long civil conflict, became an iconic portrayal of the brutality of the bloody ‘People’s War’.

The then Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which waged a 10-year-long armed struggle, killed Adhikari in 2002 after he refused to ‘donate’ 25 percent of his salary to the cause and attend functions organised by the rebels.

"The consultation, ownership, and participation of conflict victims are a must for the successful completion of the transition to justice." -- Suman Adhikari, son of Muktinath Adhikari, a school principal who was killed by Maoist rebels during Nepal’s People’s War
“Our life changed drastically for the worse after my father was killed; the memory of him being killed with his hands tied behind his back still haunts us,” recalls Suman Adhikari, the slain teacher’s son. “We want justice to move on with our life.”

Eight years after the war ended, Nepal’s newly formed Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission to Investigate Enforced Disappearances (CIED) will now take up the case of the Adhikari family, and thousands of others like them who are still waiting for closure.

Originally agreed upon during the signing of the 12-point understanding between the then CPN (M) and the Seven Party Alliance – which includes the current ruling Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) – and reaffirmed during the signing of the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), these commissions have been a long time coming.

According to records kept by the Informal Sector Services Centre (INSEC), a non-governmental organisation, 13,236 people were killed during the Maoist insurgency, while the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has recorded more than 1,350 cases of disappearances that are yet to be accounted for.

Both the TRC and CIED have been given the mandate to probe serious violations of human rights during the armed conflict, investigate the status of those missing and create an atmosphere for reconciliation in Nepali society.

Many hope that a robust reconciliation process will also give the country an economic boost, including improving the lives of the 25 percent of its 27-million strong population that lives below the poverty line.

However, rights activists have criticised the TRC Act for falling short of international standards, while several prominent groups fear that unaddressed criticisms could derail the process altogether.

Amnesty for war crimes?

International rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists have joined local activists in voicing grave concern that the TRC Act fails to uphold Nepal’s commitments under international law – namely, the possibility of granting amnesty for war crimes.

Statements released by the watchdog groups echo fears voiced by locals that flaws in the Act could leave thousands out of the reconciliation process.

Others are disgruntled about the lack of consultation prior to appointing members of the TRC.

Mohana Ansari, spokesperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), is unhappy that the TRC recommendation committee did not pay heed to the names suggested by the NHRC. “The culture of impunity should not be encouraged at any cost,” she stressed.

Others fear that a flawed TRC Act could lead to “forced reconciliation”, with survivors compelled to go along with a process that does not represent their best interests.

Surya Kiran Gurung, the newly appointed Chairperson of the TRC, is also sceptical about the Commission’s mandate.

“There is a need for amendments to the TRC Act because it is not clear what will happen to those cases that have been filed and investigated in court,” Gurung told IPS. “Parallel jurisdiction can create problems later on.”

However, he was confident that the TRC would recommend amendments to its Act in order to ensure consensus and consent of victims in the reconciliation process. He was similarly aware of the need to bridge the river of mistrust between survivors of the conflict and the commission.

“We will to reach out to them even if they are not willing to come forward,” he said.

Despite Gurung’s optimism, 53-year-old Kalyan Budhathoki of the Ramechap district in central Nepal is not as hopeful.

He, along with his 35-member extended family, fled their village in 2000 when rebels threatened to kill them and seized property after he refused to pay a “donation” of one million Nepali rupees.

“Why are these culprits roaming freely and why has no action been taken against those selling our cattle and seizing our property?” asked Budhathoki, a supporter of the ruling Nepali Congress (NC) who now works as a daily wage labourer in Kathmandu. “We are yet to feel the presence of law and order in the country.”

Thousands of futures at stake

The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction formed a task force in 2006 to collect data on the dead, displaced, disabled, and those who suffered property damage during the war.

Available records indicate that of the 79,571 internally displaced persons (IDPs), only about 25,000 had received relief funds from the government and returned to their homes by October 2013.

According to the Relief and Rehabilitation Unit of the Ministry, a total of 14,201 families who lost their kin have received relief, while families of 1,528 missing people have availed themselves of government aid amounting to 100,000 rupees (about 1,000 dollars) each.

“Local leaders who are not conflict victims have been receiving compensation and relief packages by submitting fake documents and exercising political influence,” alleged Budhathoki. “In this situation, how could we believe that the TRC, with its members picked by the political parties, will not be biased?”

Rights activists too believe that political parties have reached an understanding on the controversial provision of granting blanket amnesty, even for those allegedly involved in serious rights violations.

Some politicians have offered the view that penalizing perpetrators will hinder the peace and reconciliation effort.

However, TRC Chairperson Gurung is confident that the Commission’s work will not be affected by political interference. “We will strictly abide by the TRC mandate of finding the truth and investigating the war-era issues,” he said.

He stressed that there would be public hearings that are expected to bring all manner of atrocities to light, after which the country can begin to move ahead with the reconciliation process.

Those like Suman Adhikari, however, believe the process will not go far without the active participation of those affected. “The consultation, ownership, and participation of conflict victims are a must for the successful completion of the transition to justice,” he told IPS.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/can-nepals-trc-finally-bring-closure-to-its-war-survivors/feed/ 0
OPINION: Discrimination by Lawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-discrimination-by-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-discrimination-by-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-discrimination-by-law/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 17:02:19 +0000 Rana Allam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139302 For women in Egypt, the general atmosphere is one of hostility and intimidation. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

For women in Egypt, the general atmosphere is one of hostility and intimidation. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Rana Allam
CAIRO, Feb 23 2015 (IPS)

In November 2013, a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey ranked Egypt as the worst of 22 Arab states with regards to women’s rights.

Several people argued that any country strictly following Islamic laws should rank lower, because Egypt and many other Arab and Muslim countries are not strict in following Islamic Sharia (religious laws), like in cutting off the hand of a thief, for example. In Egypt, if you are a man, you can literally kill your wife and get away with it.

However, Egypt – along with most Muslim countries – incorporates a list of laws based on Islamic Sharia. Some of these are indisputable Sharia laws while others are based on individual interpretations, and both are indeed discriminatory.

Suffice to say that in the second highest ranking Arab state in the survey, Oman, women inherit 50 percent of what men do, a man can divorce his wife for any reason while a woman needs grounds to file for divorce, and there are no laws against female genital mutilation.

The starkest examples of sexist laws in Arab and Muslim countries come in the personal status laws.

Regardless of whether these laws are Islamic Sharia compliant or not, they are presented as such and thus are non-negotiable.

With the many interpretations of Islamic text, it falls on the legislators and the (so-called) Muslim scholars to enforce what laws they “understood” from the text. These laws should be revised if we are to enforce gender equality, here are some examples:

–          Polygamy is legal for men only.

–          A man can divorce his wife with no grounds and without going to court, while a woman has to have strong reasons for divorce, must convince a court of law of some ordeal about her marriage, and the judge may or may not grant her divorce. A new law introduced in Egypt in 2000, called Khula law where a woman can file for divorce on no grounds, but then she has to forfeit her financial rights and reimburse her husband the dowry (and any gifts) paid when contracting the marriage.

–          A woman inherits half what a man inherits.

–          In some Muslim countries, like the UAE, a woman’s testimony is half that of a man’s in court. In most Muslim countries, if a contract requires a certain number of witnesses, a woman is counted as “half” a man.

–          There is no set minimum age for marriage in Islam, so some countries like Sudan can marry off a 10-year-old girl, and in Bahrain, a 15-year-old, however, in Libya the minimum age is 20.

–          A Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman, but a Muslim woman is not granted the same right.

–          In most Muslim countries, spousal rape is not recognised in the laws.

–          Abortion is illegal unless there is risk to the mother’s life and even this has to be with the husband’s consent.

It is one thing to fight culture and an intimidating environment and another thing to have sexist laws, where even in a court of law, a woman has no equal rights. For women in Egypt, the general atmosphere is one of hostility and intimidation, prevalent aggressions and complete impunity with regards to violence against women.

Amnesty International titled its latest briefing on the subject “Circles of Hell: domestic, public and state violence against women in Egypt.” Women in Egypt must not only fight such culture, but must also deal with discriminatory laws.

Muslim men have a unilateral and unconditional right to divorce, while women can only divorce by court action. A man need only say the words “I divorced you” and then register the divorce.

Actually, an Egyptian Muslim man may not even tell his wife he is divorcing her, he can register the divorce (regardless of her consent or attendance), and it is the duty of the registrar to “inform” her. On top of this, there is such a thing as a “revocable divorce” which means the husband has the right to revoke the divorce at his own accord during the waiting period and without having to sign another marriage contract.

Such a waiting period is only a woman’s burden. She has to remain unmarried for three months after she gets divorced, and such waiting period is nonexistent for men.

Adding insult to injury, Egypt has an “Obedience Law”. This law stipulates that a man may file an obedience complaint against his wife if she leaves the marital home without his permission.

The woman is this case has 30 days to file an objection detailing the legal grounds for “her failure to obey”, a judge may not be convinced of course. If she fails to file such objection, and does not return home, she is considered “deviant” and is denied her financial rights upon divorce – if she was ever granted one. Naturally, such proceedings delay her divorce lawsuit, and risk a just financial settlement.

Although legislators in Egypt have always cited Islamic Sharia when enforcing such strict personal status  laws, when it comes to adultery, Egyptian laws stray far from Islamic teachings and are outrageous.

The issue is such a taboo that no one even dares mentioning it. In Egypt, if you are a man, you can literally kill your wife and get away with it, if you catch her “red-handed” committing adultery.

Laws pertaining to the crime of adultery are an embodiment of sexism and discrimination:

–          A married woman would be charged with adultery if she commits the crime anywhere and with anyone. A married man would only be accused of adultery if he commits the crime in his marital house; otherwise there is no crime and no punishment.

–          The punishment for a married man (who committed the crime in his marital home) is imprisonment for six months, but women are given a sentence of two years in prison (regardless of where the crime took place).

–          If a married man commits adultery with a married woman in her marital house, he would merely be an accessory to the crime.

–          If both are unmarried, and the female is over 18, he receives no punishment, while she may face charges of prostitution.

–          If a married man catches his wife red-handed in the crime, and kills her and her partner, he does not face intentional murder charges or even manslaughter, he only gets a sentence as low as 24 hours. If a wife catches her husband red-handed and kills him, she immediately faces murder charges with its maximum sentence as the judge sees fit.

Not only do we have to fight taboos, sexist culture, violence on the streets and at home, gender-bias in every police station, court of law or place of business, but we also have a long way to go to at least have equality in the eyes of the law.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-discrimination-by-law/feed/ 1
OPINION: Can the Violence in Honduras Be Stopped?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-can-the-violence-in-honduras-be-stopped/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-can-the-violence-in-honduras-be-stopped http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-can-the-violence-in-honduras-be-stopped/#comments Sun, 22 Feb 2015 17:57:50 +0000 LisaHaugaard, Sarah Kinosian, and William Hartung http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139291 For the fourth year running, San Pedro Sula has been one of the most dangerous places on the planet outside of a war zone. Credit: daviditzi/Flickr

For the fourth year running, San Pedro Sula has been one of the most dangerous places on the planet outside of a war zone. Credit: daviditzi/Flickr

By Lisa Haugaard, Sarah Kinosian, and William Hartung
WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb 22 2015 (IPS)

Honduras is one of the most violent nations in the world. The situation in the country’s second largest city, San Pedro Sula, demonstrates the depth of the problem.

For the fourth year running, San Pedro Sula has been one of the most dangerous places on the planet outside of a war zone. Its murder rate in 2014 was an astonishing 171 per 100,000. The city, which is caught in the crossfire between vicious criminal gangs, has been the largest source of the 18,000 Honduran children who have fled to the United States in recent years.

The vast majority of killings in Honduras are carried out with impunity. For example, 97 percent of the murders in San Pedro Sula go unsolved.

Corruption within and abuses by the civilian police undermine its effectiveness. A controversial new internal security force, the Military Police of Public Order (Policia Militar del Orden Publico, or PMOP), does not carry out investigations needed to deter crime and is facing a series of allegations of abuses in the short time it has been deployed. There are currently 3,000 PMOP soldiers deployed throughout the country, but this number is expected to grow to 5,000 this year. The national police feel that the government is starving them for funds and trying to replace them with PMOP."The vast majority of killings in Honduras are carried out with impunity."

The rise of PMOP is part of a larger trend toward the militarization of government and civil society. The military is now in charge of most aspects of public security in Honduras. But the signs of militarization are everywhere. Each Saturday, for example, 25,000 kids receive military training as part of the “Guardians of the Homeland” program, which the government says is designed to keep youths age 5-23 from joining the street gangs that control entire sections of the country’s most violent cities.

But putting more guns on the street is unlikely to sustainably stem the tide of violence in Honduras. What would make a difference is an end to the climate of impunity that allows murderers to kill people with no fear of consequences.

“This country needs to strengthen its capacity and will to carry out criminal investigations. This is the key to everything,” said an expert on violence in Honduras who spent years working in justice agencies there, and who spoke on condition of anonymity for reasons of personal safety.

The Three-Fold Challenge

The Honduran government faces three key challenges: It must reform a corrupt and abusive police force, strengthen criminal investigations, and ensure an impartial and independent judiciary.

Police reform appears to be stalled. There was some hope after the surge of civilian pressure for reform that followed the 2011 killing of the son of the rector for the Autonomous National University of Honduras and a friend. The Commission for the Reform of Public Security produced a series of proposals to improve the safety of the Honduran citizenry, including recommendations for improving police training, disciplinary procedures, and the structure of pubic security institutions.

Unfortunately, the Honduran Congress dissolved the commission in January 2014, during the lame duck period before President Juan Orlando Hernandez took office. Few of its recommendations have been carried out.

“They could have purged and trained the police during this time. But instead they put 5,000 military police on the street who don’t know what a chain of custody is,” lamented the expert on violence.

The Honduran government claims that over 2,000 police officers have been purged since May 2012, but there is little public information that would allow for an independent assessment of the reasons for the dismissals. And even when police are removed, they are not prosecuted; some are even allowed to return to the force. This is no way to instill accountability.

Meanwhile, the independence of the Honduran justice system is under attack. Since November 2013, the Judiciary Council has dismissed 29 judges and suspended 28 without an appropriate process, according to a member of the Association of Judges for Democracy. “This means that judges feel intimidated. They feel if they rule against well-connected people, against politicians, they can be dismissed.”

In an attempt to improve investigations and prosecutions, special units have been created to investigate specific types of crimes. For example, the Special Victims Task Force was created in 2011 to tackle crimes against vulnerable groups such as journalists, human rights advocates, and the LGBT community. This approach has been funded by the United States. It has promise, but the results are unclear so far. So is the question of whether the success of these specialized efforts can lead to broader improvements in the judicial system.

Protecting the Protectors

Providing security for justice operators is a particularly daunting problem. From 2010 to December 2014, 86 legal professionals were killed, according to information received by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Although the state provides some protection, the funding allocated for this purpose is inadequate. “In a country with the highest levels of violence and impunity in the region,” noted the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “the State necessarily has a special obligation to protect, so that its justice sector operators can carry out their work to fight impunity without becoming victims in the very cases they are investigating.”

To try and target the problems driving the endemic violence in Honduras, the government, joined by the governments of Guatemala and El Salvador, has released its Alliance for Prosperity plan, which is designed to increase investment in infrastructure and encourage foreign investment. The Obama administration has announced that it will ask Congress for $1 billion to help fund the initiative, but details about the security strategy are scarce.

It remains to be seen exactly how this money will be spent. Looking at San Pedro Sula, it is clear that a dramatic change in political will would be needed for any initiative of this kind to be successful. International donors should not support a militarized security strategy, which would intensify abuses and fail to provide sustainable citizen security.

Funding for well-designed, community-based violence prevention programs could be helpful, but only if there is a government willing to reform the police, push for justice, and invest in the education, jobs, violence prevention, health, child protection, and community development programs needed to protect its poorest citizens.

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

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-can-the-violence-in-honduras-be-stopped/feed/ 1
The Hidden Billions Behind Economic Inequality in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/the-hidden-billions-behind-economic-inequality-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-hidden-billions-behind-economic-inequality-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/the-hidden-billions-behind-economic-inequality-in-africa/#comments Sat, 21 Feb 2015 13:01:00 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139288 Street vendors in Africa reflect the income inequality that pervades the continent, much of it due to corruption. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Street vendors in Africa reflect the income inequality that pervades the continent, much of it due to corruption. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Feb 21 2015 (IPS)

Reports this year of illicit moneys from African countries stashed in a Swiss bank – indicating that corruption lies behind much of the income inequality that affects the continent – have grabbed international news headlines.

Secret bank accounts in the HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm unearthed this year by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) were said to hold over 100 billion dollars, some of which came from Africa, including some of the poorest nations on the continent.

When these funds leave the region, they deny the very nations that need them most.

For example, at least 57 clients of the Swiss HSBC bank associated with Uganda were reported to be worth at least 159 million dollars. The World Bank has estimated that Uganda loses more than 174.5 million dollars in corruption annually.“Income inequality begins with our political leaders and corrupt wealthy business people who, more often than not, illicitly own the resources of the [African] continent” – Claris Madhuku, Platform for Youth Development, Zimbabwe

It is not a crime for Africans to have a Swiss bank account. But questions are now being raised by local tax offices as to whether the proper taxes were paid on the stashed amounts.

In South Africa, the head of the Revenue Service, Vlok Symington, said his office was analysing the information. “Early indications are that some of these account holders may have utilised their HSBC accounts to evade local and/or international tax obligations,” Symington was reported as saying by the South Africa Sunday Times.

“Income inequality begins with our political leaders and corrupt wealthy business people who, more often than not, illicitly own the resources of the continent,” Claris Madhuku, director of the Platform for Youth Development, a democracy lobby group in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Diamonds, for example, which have made many traders wealthy, are often mined by the poorest of the poor, treated almost as slaves in war-torn African countries, despite the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which was established in 2003 to prevent the flow of these diamonds.

“It’s a case of greed and corruption,” thundered Zimbabwean independent political analyst, Ernst Mudzengi. “Africa has parasitic politicians who are primarily concerned with self-centred political power and economic gain as ordinary Africans remain at the periphery in poverty,” Mudzengi told IPS.

Development experts here attribute income inequalities to the continent’s lax anti-corruptions laws.

“African countries do not have sound anti-corruption laws and politicians and the rich amass too much power exceeding even the powers of the police here, leaving them with the liberty to accumulate wealth overnight by whatever means without being questioned,” Nadege Kabuga, an independent development expert in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, told IPS

“It’s shocking how huge banks such as HSBC have created a system for enormously profiteering at the expense of impoverished ordinary people, worse by assisting numerous millionaires from Africa in particular to evade tax payment, disadvantaging the already poor,” Zenzele Manzini, an independent economist based in Mbabane, the capital of Swaziland, told IPS .

“Very often, government directors, ministers and their secretaries are the ones globetrotting on government businesses, awarding themselves huge allowances and the lower government workers remain stuck at the periphery with no extra benefits besides the meagre salaries they get monthly,” a top Zimbabwean government official in the Ministry of Labour, told IPS on the condition of anonymity, afraid of victimisation.

Writing for Financial Transparency Coalition, a global alliance of civil society organisations and governments working to address inequalities in the financial system, Koen Roovers, the coalition’s European Union (EU) Lead Advocate, asked the deeper question: “How do we prevent this in the first place?”

To catch fraud sooner rather than later, capacity in developing countries must be increased, Roovers said. “The scale of the challenge is significant: the UK-based charity Christian Aid has estimated that sub-Saharan Africa would need around 650,000 more tax officials to reach the world average.”

Rich states have promised help to poor countries to build the capacity they need, but these commitments have yet to be honoured.

Researchers at the U.S.-based Global Financial Integrity, a non-profit organisation working to curtail illicit financial flows, said developing nations have lost almost one trillion dollars through illicit channels.

Without clearly defined measures to curb income inequalities, economists say the African continent may be headed for the worst levels of poverty set to hit even harder at the already poor.

“Africa may keep facing perpetual poverty amid rising income inequalities because governments here have no institutions and expertise to identify and halt money laundering by corrupt wealthy individuals and politicians evading tax,” Zimbabwean independent economist, Kingston Nyakurukwa, told IPS.

According to Roovers, “criminals and their enablers are creative, so the only way to prevent future scandals is to shed light on what criminals and tax dodgers are trying to hide. This is why online registers of assets for all legal persons and arrangements are necessary and should be publicly available.

“If we turn a blind eye to these loopholes,” he added, “economic development for all will continue to be undermined by illicit actors looking to exploit them.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/the-hidden-billions-behind-economic-inequality-in-africa/feed/ 0