Inter Press Service » Crime & Justice News and Views from the Global South Sun, 29 Nov 2015 08:37:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Gay Rights Activists Hope for The Pope’s Blessings in Uganda Tue, 24 Nov 2015 14:19:21 +0000 Amy Fallon 0 UN Targets “Hidden Source” for Development Funding Thu, 05 Nov 2015 22:50:19 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer can be contacted at

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Interview: “‘We’re Not Independent Enough,” says ASEAN Rights Commission Chair Mon, 02 Nov 2015 21:20:05 +0000 Diana Mendoza By Diana Mendoza
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 2 2015 (IPS)

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

AICHR chair Dr Muhammad Shafee Abdullah

AICHR chair Dr Muhammad Shafee Abdullah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are your next steps?

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

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

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Sri Lanka: A Ray of Hope for those Looking for War Missing Thu, 29 Oct 2015 17:44:21 +0000 Amantha Perera 2 Opinion: Imagine a Rape-Free Delhi Wed, 28 Oct 2015 13:31:20 +0000 N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan is an economics and business commentator.

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

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

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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U.N. Launches Probe Amidst Charges of Bribery and Corruption Thu, 08 Oct 2015 20:48:10 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer can be contacted at

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Electoral Revolution in Brazil Aimed at Neutralising Corporate Influence Tue, 29 Sep 2015 20:45:49 +0000 Mario Osava Brazil’s Supreme Court during the Sep. 17 reading of the landmark ruling which declared that laws allowing corporate donations to election campaigns are unconstitutional. Credit: STF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Forced Disappearance, a Cancer Eating Away at Mexico Thu, 24 Sep 2015 23:37:53 +0000 Daniela Pastrana The photos of victims of forced disappearance in the southwestern state of Guerrero hang on the walls of the San Gerardo parish soup kitchen, in the city of Iguala. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Costa Rica Finally Allows In Vitro Fertilisation after 15-Year Ban Tue, 15 Sep 2015 00:45:25 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz A hearing in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to follow up on compliance with its ruling that Costa Rica’s ban on in vitro fertilisation violates a number of rights. Credit: Inter-American Court of Human Rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Chile’s Amnesty Law keeps Pinochet’s legacy alive Mon, 14 Sep 2015 17:07:12 +0000 Guadalupe Marengo By Guadalupe Marengo
SANTIAGO, CHILE, Sep 14 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

They are partly right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Investigation of 43 Missing Mexican Students Back to Zero Tue, 08 Sep 2015 16:16:36 +0000 Daniela Pastrana Parents and other relatives of the 43 missing students at a Sep. 6 meeting with the press in Mexico City shortly after the five members of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts announced their initial conclusions on the serious shortcomings in the investigation of the case. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

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

By Daniela Pastrana
Sep 8 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The question now is: “What next?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Women’s Major Role in Culture of Peace – Part Two Mon, 07 Sep 2015 21:31:47 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

Ambassador Chowdhury is Chair of the U.N. General Assembly Drafting Committee for the Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace (1998-1999).

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

Another reality that emerges very distinctly in culture of peace is that we should never forget when women – half of world’s seven billion plus people – are marginalised and their equality is not established in all spheres of human activity, there is no chance for our world to get sustainable peace in the real sense.

Photo Courtesy of Ambassador Chowdhury

Photo Courtesy of Ambassador Chowdhury

I would reiterate that women in particular have a major role to play in promoting the culture of peace in our violence-ridden societies, thereby bringing in lasting peace and reconciliation. While women are often the first victims of armed conflict, they must also and always be recognised as key to the resolution of the conflict.

I believe with all my conviction that without peace, development is not possible, without development, peace is not achievable, but without women, neither peace nor development can be realised.

Integral connection between development and peace

In today’s world we continue to perceive an inherent paradox that needs our attention. The process of globalisation has created an irreversible trend toward a global integrated community, while at the same time, divisions and distrust keep on manifesting in different and complex ways.

Disparities and inequalities within and among nations have been causing insecurity and uncertainty that has become an unwanted reality in our lives. That is why I strongly believe that peace and development are two sides of the same coin. One is meaningless without the other; one cannot be achieved without the other.It is being increasingly realised that over-emphasis on cognitive learning in schools at the cost of developing children’s emotional, social, moral and humanistic aspects has been a costly mistake.

Education as the most critical element in the culture of peace

A key ingredient in building the culture of peace is education. Peace education needs to be accepted in all parts of the world, in all societies and countries as an essential element in creating the culture of peace.

The young of today deserves a radically different education –“one that does not glorify war but educates for peace, non-violence and international cooperation.” They need the skills and knowledge to create and nurture peace for their individual selves as well as for the world they belong to.

As Maria Montessori had articulated so appropriately, “Those who want a violent way of living, prepare young people for that; but those who want peace have neglected their young children and adolescents and that way are unable to organize them for peace.”

It is being increasingly realised that over-emphasis on cognitive learning in schools at the cost of developing children’s emotional, social, moral and humanistic aspects has been a costly mistake.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asserted at the very first High Level Forum on the Culture of Peace in 2012 that “…. We are here to talk about how to create this culture of peace. I have a simple, one-word answer: education. Through education, we teach children not to hate. Through education, we raise leaders who act with wisdom and compassion. Through education, we establish a true, lasting culture of peace.”

In this context, I commend the initiative of the Soka University of America located near Los Angeles in initiating in 2014 its annual “Dialogue on The Culture of Peace and Non-Violence” as an independent, unbiased, non-partisan, intellectual forum to outline avenues and direction for incorporating the culture of peace and non-violence into all spheres of the educational experience.

Never has it been more important for us to learn about the world and understand its diversity. The task of educating children and young people to find non-aggressive means to relate with one another is of primary importance.

As I had underscored at the conference hosted by the Hague Appeal for Peace on “Educating toward a World without Violence” in Albania in 2004, “the participation of young people in this process is very essential. Their inputs in terms of their own ideas on how to cooperate with each other in order to eliminate violence in our societies must be fully taken into account.”

Peace education is more effective and meaningful when it is adopted according to the social and cultural context and the country’s needs and aspirations. It should be enriched by its cultural and spiritual values together with the universal human values.

It should also be globally relevant. The Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice rightly emphasises that “…culture of peace will be achieved when citizens of the world understand global problems; have the skills to resolve conflicts constructively; know and live by international standards of human rights, gender and racial equality; appreciate cultural diversity; and respect the integrity of the Earth.”

Indeed, this should be more appropriately called “education for global citizenship”. Such learning cannot be achieved without well-intentioned, sustained, and systematic peace education that leads the way to the culture of peace.

The U.N. Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative’s essential objective is to promote global citizenship as the main objective of education. Connecting the role of individuals to broader global objectives, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior affirmed that “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Let me conclude by asserting that to turn the culture of peace into a global, universal movement, basically all that is needed is for every one of us to be a true believer in peace and non-violence, and to practice what we profess.

Whether it is at events like the annual High Level Forums, in places of worship, in schools or in our homes, a lot can be achieved in promoting the culture of peace through individual resolve and action. Peace and non-violence should become a part of our daily existence. This is the only way we shall achieve a just and sustainable peace in the world.

Part One can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Promoting Culture of Peace Through Dialogue – Part One Mon, 07 Sep 2015 21:04:27 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

Ambassador Chowdhury is Chair of the U.N. General Assembly Drafting Committee for the Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace (1998-1999).

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
Sep 7 2015 (IPS)

This week, for the fourth time in a row, the annual gathering of the apex intergovernmental body of the United Nation deliberating on peace and non-violence will take place at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

Photo Courtesy of Ambassador Chowdhury

Photo Courtesy of Ambassador Chowdhury

President of the ongoing 69th session of the General Assembly Mr. Sam Kahamba Kutesa has convened the fourth U.N. High Level Forum on the Culture of Peace on Sep. 9.

This daylong event is an opportunity for U.N. Member States, U.N. system entities, media and civil society interested in discussing the ways and means to promote the Culture of Peace and to join the discourse on strengthening the global movement for the implementation of the U.N. Declaration and Programme of Action on the Culture of Peace as adopted by consensus by the General Assembly on Sep. 13, 1999.

It also creates a platform for various stakeholders to have an exchange on the emerging trends and policies that can significantly impact on advancing the culture of peace.

Historical context

The adoption of the Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace was a watershed event as a possible response to the evolving dynamics of global war and security strategies in a post-Cold War world. It has been an honour for me to Chair the nine-month long negotiations that led to the adoption of the Declaration and Programme of Action.The United Nations needs to be more than a fire brigade rushing in to put out the conflagrations and then withdraw from the scene without doing anything to ensure that fires do not break out again.

This historic norm-setting document is considered as one of the most significant legacies of the United Nations that would endure generations. I would always treasure and cherish that. For me this has been a realisation of my personal commitment to peace and my humble contribution to humanity.

In the responsibility that the United Nations – as the only universal body – must shoulder in fulfilling its Charter obligation of maintaining international peace and security worldwide, stronger focus on prevention and peace building is essential.

The United Nations needs to be more than a fire brigade rushing in to put out the conflagrations and then withdraw from the scene without doing anything to ensure that fires do not break out again.

In a historical perspective it is worthwhile to note that asserting and re-affirming the commitment of the totality of the United Nations membership to build the Culture of Peace, the General Assembly has been adopting resolutions on the subject every year since 1997.

The Assembly, through its annual substantive resolutions, has highlighted the priority it attaches to the full and effective implementation of these visionary decisions which are universally applicable and sought after by the vast majority of all peoples in every nation. It recognises the need for continuous support to the strengthening of the global movement to promote the Culture of Peace, as envisaged by the United Nations, particularly in the current global context.

The Forum in 2013 included Ministerial level participation and at its 68th session, the General Assembly adopted, by consensus, Resolution 68/125 on “Follow-up to the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace”, which was co-sponsored by 105 Member States.

This year the keynote speaker at the Forum is the fifth grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Mr. Arun Gandhi, who prides calling himself “The Peace Farmer” as he sows the seeds of peace and non-violence following the footsteps of his grandfather whose birthday on Oct. 2 is observed by the United Nations and the international community as the International Day of Non-Violence.

He builds on the message of last year’s keynote speaker Ms. Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate who is a global legend leading civil society activism for peace and equality. Of course, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will join the Forum at the opening with his ardent advocacy for the culture of peace.

The 2015 Forum will comprise of two multi-stakeholders interactive panels which will focus on: (1) “Promotion of the Culture of Peace in the context of the Post-2015 sustainable development agenda; and (2) “Role of the media in the promotion of the culture of peace”.

This High Level Forum is taking place at a time of some of the worst violence against civilians we have seen in recent years. Clearly, the hope that the new millennium would be a harbinger of peace has turned out to be rather misplaced.

The lesson in this, I believe, is that however much the world around us changes, we cannot achieve peace without a change in our own minds, and thereby in the global consciousness.

The wealth and the technology can only open up the opportunity to better the world. We must have the mind to seize that opportunity; we must have the culture of peace developed in each one of us both as an individual as well as a member of the global society.

Also, we must remember that technology and wealth can be put to destructive use too. The difference between war and peace, between poverty and prosperity, between death and life, is essentially prompted in our minds.

Why the culture of peace?

Peace is integral to human existence — in everything we do, in everything we say and in every thought we have, there is a place for peace. Absence of peace makes our challenges, our struggles, much more difficult. I believe that is why it is very important that we need to keep our focus on creating the culture of peace in our lives.

One lesson I have learned in my life over the years is that to prevent our history of war and conflict from repeating itself – the values of non-violence, tolerance, human rights and democratic participation will have to be germinated in every man and woman – children and adults alike.

When we see what is happening around us, we realise the urgent need for promoting the culture of peace – peace through dialogue – peace through non-violence. In a world where tragedy and despair seem to be everywhere, there is an urgent need – if not an imperative – for a global culture of peace.

Each of us can make an active choice each day through seemingly small acts of love, compassion, forgiveness, empathy, cooperation or understanding, thereby contributing to the culture of peace. Eminent proponents of peace have continued to highlight that the culture of peace should be the foundation of the new global society.

In today’s world, more so, it should be seen as the essence of a new humanity, a new global civilisation based on inner oneness and outer diversity.

Part Two can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Investigators Dismiss Mexican Government’s Official Story on Missing Students Mon, 07 Sep 2015 20:23:48 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida A protester at a rally against the disappearance of 43 students in the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero holds a sign that reads: ‘We Are Ayotzinapa. We Demand Justice.’ Credit: Montecruz Foto/CC-BY-SA-2.0

A protester at a rally against the disappearance of 43 students in the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero holds a sign that reads: ‘We Are Ayotzinapa. We Demand Justice.’ Credit: Montecruz Foto/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida

A group of independent investigators has roundly dismissed the Mexican government’s claims that the 43 students who went missing in the southwestern city of Iguala last fall were burned to ashes in a garbage dump, reigniting an international outcry against the disappearance and heaping pressure on the government to provide answers to families of the victims.

The 500-page report released this past weekend by an expert group appointed by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) refutes key aspects of the government’s official story, concluding in no uncertain terms that there is “no evidence” to support the Attorney General’s findings that the college students were executed and burned by a drug gang.

“This report provides an utterly damning indictment of Mexico’s handling of the worst human rights atrocity in recent memory,” José Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a Sep. 6 statement.

“Even with the world watching and with substantial resources at hand, the authorities proved unable or unwilling to conduct a serious investigation,” he added.

HRW is calling on the government to urgently address its own flawed investigation, which was declared ‘closed’ this past January, and bring those responsible to justice.

The students, all members of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Mexico’s southern Guerrero state, disappeared on Sep. 26, 2014.

Amid massive protests across the country and around the world, the government concluded that the students had commandeered several buses and traveled in them to a protest in Iguala. Following clashes with local police, the students were allegedly detained and then handed over to a criminal gang, who presumably executed them before burning their bodies in a municipal dump.

But the IACHR investigators say those “conclusions hinge on allegedly coerced witness testimony that is contradicted by physical evidence,” HRW said Sunday.

Negligence, mishandling of evidence and long delays marked the government’s official investigation, the expert panel found, adding that federal prosecutors failed to review footage from security cameras or interview key eyewitnesses.

HRW points out that “crucial pieces of evidence, such as blood and hair” were vulnerable to contamination and manipulation during the investigation, and “in July 2015, more than nine months into the investigation, the group discovered that multiple articles of clothing belonging to the victims had been collected but never examined.”

Perhaps the most damning revelation involves the government’s claim that the drug gang responsible for the students’ deaths built a pyre and fed it over a 16-hour period with scrap material like wood and tires, as well as small amounts of fuel.

Quoting the IACHR study, the Guardian reported Sunday: “It would have required 30,000 kg of wood or 13,330 kg of rubber tyres and burned for 60 hours in order to consume the bodies. [The report] adds that feeding the pyre would have been impossible, and that a conflagration of those dimensions would have left obvious evidence in the surrounding area, which an inspection of the site failed to find.”

Other major flaws in the government’s official version of events include so-called ‘confessions’ extracted from suspects under conditions likely amounting to torture and authorities’ failure to inspect the offices of members of municipal police identified by eyewitnesses.

The expert panel spent six months on the investigation, reviewing existing government evidence, conducting in-depth inspections of the crime scene and interviewing surviving witnesses and family members of the deceased.

Earlier this year, the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearance highlighted shortcomings in the government’s investigation of the Ayotzinapa case, and called on the government to do more to tackle impunity.

HRW estimates that there are currently 300 open investigations relating to enforced disappearances in Iguala alone, and over 25,000 people reported as ‘missing’ nationwide.

“As of April 2014, no one had been convicted of an enforced disappearance committed after 2006, according to official statistics,” the rights group concluded.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Protecting Lives Must Come First in Law Enforcement Mon, 07 Sep 2015 19:51:39 +0000 Dr. Anja Bienert Police action in response to indigenous protests is increasingly under scrutiny in South Africa. Credit: Thapelo Lekgowa/IPS

Police action in response to indigenous protests is increasingly under scrutiny in South Africa. Credit: Thapelo Lekgowa/IPS

By Dr. Anja Bienert
LONDON, Sep 7 2015 (IPS)

Everyone has the right to life. This principle is enshrined in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and appears in numerous international treaties and national laws.

Yet this notion was sorely absent the day police fatally shot Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, in a public park in broad daylight.From the streets of Ferguson, Missouri to the favelas of Brazil, police use of force and firearms often makes global headlines when it turns fatal.

On Nov. 22, 2014, police in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., responded to an emergency call about an unidentified male standing in a local park and pointing a gun at people. It is unclear if the responding police officers were aware of the caller’s tip that the weapon was “probably fake”, or if they knew the alleged gunman was only a child.

Within two seconds of stepping out of his police car, one of the officers shot Tamir Rice from just metres away. A surveillance video later released by police shows how the young boy was fatally wounded in the blink of an eye. He died later in hospital.

A judge who reviewed the actions of the two police officers involved wrote that, having watched the surveillance video of the incident several times, he was “still thunderstruck by how quickly this event turned deadly”. He found probable cause for the officer who pulled the trigger to face murder charges.

Nobody is disputing that police are faced with challenging, and often dangerous, situations. The power to use force is indispensable for police to carry out their duties, but that does not mean it is an inevitable part of the job – in fact, the underlying principle of the international standards for policing is not to use force unless it is really necessary.

Those standards, the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, spell out for police when force can legitimately be used.

What the Tamir Rice case shows is that in the U.S., as in many other countries, police often fall short of this mark. This tragic reality has been highlighted time and again, including the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the series of protests it unleashed.

From the streets of Ferguson, Missouri to the favelas of Brazil, police use of force and firearms often makes global headlines when it turns fatal.

In countless other cases, including in response to demonstrations, police are too quick to use force instead of seeking peaceful conflict resolution. They deploy tear gas, rubber bullets and other weapons in arbitrary and abusive ways or use excessive force, causing serious casualties, including killing and maiming people, often with little or no accountability.

Killings by police in Brazil have disproportionately impacted young black men. Numerous police shootings in the U.S. have resulted in the death of unarmed people, likewise with a disproportionate impact on African American males. In Bangladesh, special police forces have carried out heavy-handed police operations with lethal force, resulting in the deaths of many people.

And in countries including Bahrain, Burundi, Cambodia, Greece, Spain, Turkey, Venezuela and Ukraine, serious casualties have resulted from police use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other means of force, sometimes even firearms, during public assemblies.

In cases such as these, governments and law enforcement authorities frequently fail to create a framework to ensure that police only use force lawfully, in compliance with human rights and as a last resort. Killings and serious injuries are frequently the price of this failure.

This is due to a variety of reasons, including domestic laws that contradict international human rights obligations, deficient internal regulations, inadequate training and equipment, lack of command control and the absence of accountability for police who act outside the law.

To tackle this problem head-on, Amnesty International has published a new set of Guidelines on police use of force, timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the UN Basic Principles being adopted. Drawing on examples from 58 countries in all regions of the world, their detailed conclusions and recommendations are meant to support government authorities to implement the UN Basic Principles and ensure good, effective, human rights-compliant policing.

In certain limited circumstances, police can and will need to use force to maintain law and order. But this must respect strict rules and may never be seen as a licence to kill, nor as granting immunity to police officials.

Nobody is above the law, least of all those who have a duty to uphold it.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Despite Treaty, Conventional Arms Fuel Ongoing Conflicts Tue, 01 Sep 2015 20:36:26 +0000 Thalif Deen SPLM-N soldiers clean weapons they say they took from government forces. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

SPLM-N soldiers clean weapons they say they took from government forces. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

By Thalif Deen

Despite last year’s Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the proliferation of conventional weapons, both legally and illegally, continues to help fuel military conflicts in several countries in the Middle East and Africa, including Syria, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.

Described as the first international, legally binding agreement to regulate the trade in conventional arms, the ATT was also aimed at preventing the illicit trade in weapons.

“Arms transfers are still continuing – transfers that states know will contribute to death, injury, rape, displacement, and other forms of violence against human beings and our shared environment." -- Ray Acheson, Director, Reaching Critical Will, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
But the first Conference of States Parties (CSP1) to the ATT, held in Cancun, Mexico last week, was the first meeting to assess the political credibility of the treaty, which came into force in December 2014.

Ray Acheson, Director, Reaching Critical Will, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), told IPS the failure of CSP1 to adopt robust, comprehensive reporting templates that meet the needs of effective Treaty implementation is disappointing and must be corrected at CSP2, which is to be held in Geneva in 2016.

She said the working group process leading up to CSP2 must be more transparent and inclusive with regards to civil society participation than the process that lead to the provisional reporting templates.

“CSP1 is over, but implementation of the Treaty is just beginning,” she said.

“Arms transfers are still continuing – transfers that states know will contribute to death, injury, rape, displacement, and other forms of violence against human beings and our shared environment,” said Acheson who participated in the Cancun meeting.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior fellow with the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, who also attended the Cancun conference, told IPS that CSP1 was intended to provide the administrative backbone for the implementation of the ATT.

States Parties (the countries that have completed the ratification or accession process) largely succeeded in this effort, she said.

Goldring said CSP1 accomplished a great deal, but the real tests still lie ahead.

The Conference agreed on the basic structures for the new Secretariat to implement the Arms Trade Treaty, but that’s simply a first step.

She said full implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty requires action at the national, regional, and global levels.

One indication of countries’ commitment to the ATT will be the extent to which the countries with substantive and budgetary resources help the countries that lack those capacities, said Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

Some of the world’s key arms suppliers are either non-signatories, or have signed but not ratified the treaty. The ATT has been signed by 130 states and ratified by 72.

The United States, Ukraine and Israel have signed but not ratified while China and Russia abstained on the General Assembly vote on the treaty – and neither has signed it.

The major arms suppliers to sign and ratify the treaty include France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain.

The ATT Monitor, published by WILPF, quotes a U.N. report, which says South Sudan spent almost 30 million dollars last year on machine guns, grenade launchers, and other weapons from China, along with Russian armoured vehicles and Israeli rifles and attack helicopters.

The conflict in South Sudan has been triggered by a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar: a conflict “which has been fueled with arms from many exporters,” according to the Monitor.

China told the Cancun meeting it would never export weapons that do not relate to its three self-declared principles: that arms transfers must relate to self-defence; must not undermine security; and must not interfere with internal affairs of recipients.

Acheson said the ATT can and must be used as a tool to illuminate, stigmatise, and hopefully prevent arms transfers that are responsible for death and destruction.

By the end of the Conference, she said, States Parties had taken decisions on all of the issues before it, including the location and head of the secretariat; management committee and budget issues; reporting templates; a programme of work for the inter-sessional period; and the bureau for CSP2.

The CSP1 voted for Geneva as home of the treaty’s permanent Secretariat – against two competing cities, namely Vienna, Austria; and Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago – while Dumisani Dladla was selected to head the Secretariat.

Acheson said while most of these items are infrastructural and procedural, they do have implications for how effectively the Treaty might be implemented moving forward.

On the question of transparency, unfortunately, states parties failed to meet real life needs, she added.

States parties also did not adopt the reporting templates that have been under development for the past year. But this is a relief, she added.

States that want to improve transparency around the international arms trade, and most civil society groups, are very concerned that the provisional templates are woefully inadequate and too closely tied to the voluntary and incomprehensive reporting practices of the U.N. Register on Conventional Arms.

“As we conduct inter-sessional work and turn our focus to implementation, we must all act upon the ATT not as a stand-alone instrument but as a piece of a much bigger whole,” she noted.

ATT implementation must be firmly situated in wider considerations of conflict prevention, resolution, and peacebuilding.

Acheson also said the ATT could be useful for confronting and minimising the challenges associated with transparency and accountability.

“It could help prevent atrocities, protect human rights and dignity, reduce suffering, and save lives. But to do so effectively, states parties need to implement it with these goals in mind.”

Commenting on the prepared statements at the high level segment of the conference, Goldring told IPS the United Nations and its subsidiary bodies could save a great deal of time if countries submitted their opening statements electronically in advance of the relevant meetings instead of presenting them orally in plenary sessions.

States Parties were not successful in developing agreed procedures for countries to comply with the mandatory reporting requirements of the ATT.

The group was only able to agree on provisional reporting templates, deferring formal adoption to the second Conference of States parties. This is an extremely important omission.

Goldring said countries reporting on the weapons that were imported or exported or transited their territory is a critical transparency task.

She said reporting needs to be comprehensive and public, and the data need to be comparable from country to country and over time.

“The current templates do not meet these tests,” she said pointing out that another important task will be trying to convince leading suppliers and recipients to join the treaty.

In a pleasant contrast to many U.N. meetings, NGOs were included in both the formal plenary and informal working group sessions.

The Rules of Procedure focus on consensus, but provide sensible options if it’s impossible to achieve consensus. This is a welcome development, as it will make it much more difficult for a small number of countries to block progress, she said.

“But in the end, the most important measure of success will be whether the ATT helps reduce the human cost of armed violence. It’s simply too early to tell whether this will be the case,” Goldring declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Europe Squabbles While Refugees Die Sun, 30 Aug 2015 16:06:20 +0000 Thalif Deen North African immigrants near the Italian island of Sicily. Credit: Vito Manzari from Martina Franca (TA), Italy. Immigrati Lampedusa/CC-BY-2.0

North African immigrants near the Italian island of Sicily. Credit: Vito Manzari from Martina Franca (TA), Italy. Immigrati Lampedusa/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen

As tens of thousands of refugees continue to flee conflict-ridden countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, Western European governments and international humanitarian organisations are struggling to cope with a snowballing humanitarian crisis threatening to explode.

Hungary is building a fence to ward off refugees.  Slovakia says it will accept only Christian refugees, triggering a condemnation by the United Nations.

“We have to remember [refugees] are human beings. Often they have no choice but to leave their homes. And they must have unhindered access to basic human rights, in particular the right to protection and health care." -- Francesco Rocca, President of the Italian Red Cross
The crisis was further dramatized last week when the Austrians discovered an abandoned delivery truck containing the decomposing bodies of some 71 refugees, including eight women and three children, off a highway outside of Vienna.

Sweden and Germany, which have been the most receptive, have absorbed about 43 percent of all asylum seekers.

But in Germany, despite its liberal open door policy with over 44,000 Syrian refugees registered this year, there have been attacks on migrants, mostly by neo-Nazi groups.

The crisis is likely to get worse, with the United Nations predicting over 3,000 migrants streaming into Western Europe every day – some of them dying on the high seas.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says more than 2,500 refugees have died trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe this year.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has come under fire for dehumanizing migrants as “a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain”.

Harriet Harman, a British lawyer and a Labour Party leader of the opposition, shot back when she said Cameron “should remember he is talking about people and not insects” and called the use of “divisive” language a “worrying turn”.

The three countries with the largest external borders – Italy, Greece and Hungary – are facing the heaviest inflow of refugees.

The 28-member European Union (EU) remains sharply divided as to how best it should share the burden.

While Western European countries are complaining about the hundreds and thousands of refugees flooding their shores, the numbers are relatively insignificant compared to the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon

The New York Times Saturday quoted Alexander Betts, a professor and director of the Refugees Studies Centre at Oxford University, as saying: “While Europe is squabbling, people are dying.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the EU is facing one of its worst crises ever, outpacing the Greek financial meltdown, which threatened to break up the Union.

In a hard-hitting statement released Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is “horrified and heartbroken” at the latest loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe.

He pointed out that a large majority of people undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“International law has stipulated – and states have long recognized – the right of refugees to protection and asylum.”

When considering asylum requests, he said, States cannot make distinctions based on religion or other identity – nor can they force people to return to places from which they have fled if there is a well-founded fear of persecution or attack.

“This is not only a matter of international law; it is also our duty as human beings,” the U.N. chief declared.

Meanwhile, international organisations, including the United Nations, have been calling for “humanitarian corridors” in war zones – primarily to provide food, shelter and medicine unhindered by conflicts.

Francesco Rocca, President of the Italian Red Cross, told IPS: “On our side, we ask for humanitarian corridors, respect for human dignity and respect for Geneva Conventions [governing the treatment of civilians in war zones] for reaching everyone suffering.”

Regarding people on the move – and people fleeing from these conflicts – “we have to remember they are human beings. Often they have no choice but to leave their homes. And they must have unhindered access to basic human rights, in particular the right to protection and health care,” he said.

Rocca said these people don’t want to escape; they love their homes, their teachers, their schools and their friends.

“But these are terrible stories of people who have been driven from their homes by violence in Syria, Sudan and other conflicts. For almost three years we have asked for humanitarian corridors,” but to no avail, he said.

“I strongly support the Red Cross EU Office position on migration and asylum in the EU, which clearly recommends respecting and protecting the rights of migrants whatever their legal status, respecting the dignity and rights of all migrants in border management policies, sharing responsibility in applying a Common European asylum system.”

As far as the Italian Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) are concerned, he said: “We urge for a humanitarian approach to tackling the vulnerabilities of migrants, rather than focusing on their legal status.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida


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U.S.-Made Cluster Munitions Causing Civilian Deaths in Yemen Thu, 27 Aug 2015 21:14:43 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM) submunitions boast a distinctive white nylon stabilization ribbon. Credit: Stéphane De Greef, Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor/CC-BY-2.0

Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM) submunitions boast a distinctive white nylon stabilization ribbon. Credit: Stéphane De Greef, Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida

New research released today by a leading human rights watchdog has found evidence of seven attacks involving cluster munitions in Yemen’s northwestern Hajja governorate.

Carried out between late April and mid-July 2015, the attacks are believed to have killed at least 13 people, including three children, and wounded 22 others, according to an Aug. 26 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The rights group believes the rockets were launched from Saudi Arabia, which has been leading a coalition of nine Arab countries in a military offensive against armed Houthi rebels from northern Yemen who ousted President Abu Mansur Hadi earlier this year.

Banned by a 2008 international convention, cluster munitions are bombs or rockets that explode in the air before dispersing many smaller explosives, or ‘bomblets’, over a wide area.

“Weapons used in these particular attacks were U.S.-made M26 rockets, each of which contain 644 sub-munitions and that means that any civilian in the impact area is likely to be killed or injured,” Ole Solvang, a senior research at HRW, said in a video statement released Thursday.

According to HRW, a volley of six rockets can release over 3,800 submunitions over an area with a one-kilometer radius. M26 rockets use M77 submunitions, which have a 23-percent ‘failure rate’ as per U.S. military trials – this means unexploded bombs remain spread over wide areas, endangering civilians, and especially children.

Local villages told HRW researchers that at least three people were killed when they attempted to handle unexploded submunitions.

The attack sites lie within the Haradh and Hayran districts of the Hajja governorate, currently under control of Houthi rebels, and include the villages of Al Qufl, Malus, Al Faqq and Haradh town – all located between four and 19 km from the Saudi-Yemeni border.

Given the attacks’ proximity to the border, and the fact that Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – all members of the Arab Coalition – possess M26 rockets and their launchers, HRW believes the cluster munitions were “most likely” launched from Saudi Arabia.

One of the victims was 18-year-old Khaled Matir Hadi Hayash, who suffered a fatal injury to his neck on the morning of Jul. 14 while his family were taking their livestock out to a graze in a field just four miles from the Saudi border.

Hayash’s brother and three cousins also suffered injuries, and the family lost 30 sheep and all their cows in the attack.

In the village of Malus, residents provided HRW with the names of at least seven locals, including three children, who were killed in a Jun. 7 attack.

A 30-year-old shopkeeper in Malus described the cluster bombing as follows:

“I saw a bomb exploding in the air and pouring out many smaller bombs. Then an explosion threw me on the floor. I lost consciousness and somebody transferred me to the hospital with burns and wounds on the heels of the feet and fragmentation wounds on the left side of my body.”

A thirteen-year-old caught in the same attack succumbed to his injuries in a local hospital. The boy is now buried in the neighbouring Hayran District.

“I didn’t even take [his body] back home,” the father of the deceased teenager told HRW. “Residents of the village all fled. You can’t find anyone there now.”

These seven attacks are not the first time that banned weapons have made in appearance in the embattled nation of 26 million people.

“Human Rights Watch has previously identified three other types of cluster munitions used in attacks apparently by coalition forces in Yemen in 2015: US-made CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons, rockets or projectiles containing “ZP-39” DPICM submunitions, and CBU-87 cluster bombs containing BLU-97 submunitions,” the report stated.

Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United States all remain non-signatories to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which currently counts 94 states among its parties.

A further 23 countries have signed but not ratified the treaty.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Chief Warns of Growing Humanitarian Crisis in Northeastern Nigeria Wed, 26 Aug 2015 19:38:53 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) meets with Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) meets with Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

With over 1.5 million displaced, 800,000 of whom are children, and continuously escalating violence in northeastern Nigeria, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the humanitarian situation as “particularly worrying” during a visit to the country.

Speaking at a press conference on Aug. 24 following a meeting with newly-elected Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Ban expressed concern over the “troubling” violence perpetrated by armed extremist group Boko Haram and its impact on civilians.

In an impact assessment report released in April 2015 on the conflict in Nigeria, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that in 2014 alone, more than 7,300 people have been killed at the hands of Boko Haram.

As a result of the conflict, access to health services, safe water, and sanitation is extremely limited in northeastern Nigeria. UNICEF found that less than 40 percent of health facilities are operational in the conflict-stricken region, increasing the risk of malaria, measles, and diarrhoea.

Malnutrition rates have soared in northern Nigeria, accounting for approximately 36 percent of malnourished children under five across the entire Sahel region.

UNICEF also reported that women and children are deliberately targeted and abducted in mass numbers for physical and sexual assault, slavery, and forced marriages.

Ban reiterated these findings during a dialogue on democracy, human rights, development, climate change, and countering violent extremism in Abuja on Aug. 24, marking the 500th day of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping.

“I am appealing as U.N. Secretary-General and personally as a father and grandfather. Think about your own daughters. How would you feel if your daughters and sisters were abducted by others?” said Ban while calling for the girls’ unconditional release.

Though the Chibok kidnapping was by far Boko Haram’s largest abduction, Human Rights Watch reported in its 2015 World Report on Nigeria that the extremist group has abducted more than 500 women and girls since 2009.

Amnesty International has also reported brutal “acts which constitute crimes under international law” committed by Nigerian government forces, including the abuse, torture, and extrajudicial killings of detainees. In one case, the national armed forces rounded up a group of 35 men “seemingly at random” and beat them publicly. The men were detained and returned to the community six days later, where military personnel “shot them dead, several at a time, before dumping their bodies.”

Corruption has also been a serious problem within the police force and the government. The International Crisis Group stated that the country has lost more than 400 billion dollars to large-scale corruption since independence in 1960.

“The most effective way to root out this disease is a transparent, fair, and independent process to address corruption in a comprehensive way,” said Ban in his keynote address to the dialogue.

The U.N. chief also stressed on the importance of collaboration in addressing such violent crimes and in alleviating the humanitarian situation, announcing increased humanitarian operations and the provision of training for military operations.

But he dismissed the sole use of military force, stating: “Weapons may kill terrorists. But good governance will kill terrorism.”

Since Boko Haram’s radicalization in 2009, at least 15,000 people have been killed.

The group is opposed to secular authority and seeks to implement Sharia law in northern Nigeria, where widespread poverty and marginalization may also have been contributing factors to the extremists’ rise.

According to Nigeria’s Millennium Development Goals Report, the north has the highest absolute poverty rate in the country, with approximately 66 percent of people living on less than a dollar a day, compared to 55 percent in the south.

In fact, in an April New York Times op-ed, Buhari stated that countering Boko Haram will not only require increased military operations, but also increased attention to social issues such as poverty and education.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Majority of Child Casualties in Yemen Caused by Saudi-Led Airstrikes Tue, 25 Aug 2015 23:02:09 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida

Of the 402 children killed in Yemen since the escalation of hostilities in March 2015, 73 percent were victims of Saudi coalition-led airstrikes, a United Nations official said Monday.

In a statement released on Aug. 24, Leila Zerrougui, the special representative of the secretary-general (SRSG) for children and armed conflict, warned that children are paying a heavy price for continued fighting between Houthi rebels and a Gulf Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, bent on reinstating deposed Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Incidents documented by the U.N.’s Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting suggest that 606 kids have been severely wounded. Between Apr. 1 and Jun. 30, the number of children killed and injured more than tripled, compared to the first quarter of 2015.

Zerrougui said she was “appalled” by heavy civilian casualties in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz, where 34 children have died and 12 have been injured in the last three days alone.

Gulf Coalition airstrikes on Aug. 21 resulted in a civilian death of 65; 17 of the victims were children. Houthi fighters also killed 17 kids and injured 12 more while repeatedly shelling residential areas.

In what the U.N. has described as wanton ‘disregard’ for the lives of civilians, the warring sides have also attacked schools, severely limiting education opportunities for children in the embattled Arab nation of 26 million people, 80 percent of whom now require emergency humanitarian assistance.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 114 schools have been destroyed and 315 damaged since March, while 360 have been converted into shelters for the displaced who number upwards of 1.5 million.

On the eve of a new school year, UNICEF believes that the on-going violence will prevent 3,600 schools from re-opening on time, “interrupting access to education for an estimated 1.8 million children.”

With 4,000 people dead and 21 million in need of food, medicines or shelter, children also face a critical shortage of health services and supplies.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams in Yemen say they have “witnessed pregnant women and children dying after arriving too late at the health centre because of petrol shortages or having to hole up for days on end while waiting for a lull in the fighting.”

MSF also faults the coalition-led bombings for civilian deaths and scores of casualties, adding that the Houthi advance on the southern city of Aden has been “equally belligerent”.

On Jul. 19, for instance, indiscriminate bombing by Houthi rebels in densely populated civilian areas resulted in 150 casualties including women, children and the elderly within just a few hours.

Of the many wounded who flooded an MSF hospital, 42 were “dead on arrival”, and several dozen bodies had to remain outside the clinic due to a lack of space, the humanitarian agency said in a Jul. 29 press release.

Appealing to all sides to spare civilians caught in the crossfire, Zerrougui said Yemen provides yet “another stark example of how conflict in the region risks creating a lost generation of children, who are physically and psychologically scarred by their experiences […].”

Ironically, despite the fact that Saudi-led airstrikes have been responsible for the vast majority of child deaths and casualties, the wealthy Gulf state pledged 274 million dollars to humanitarian relief operations in Yemen back in April, though it has yet to make good on this commitment.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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