Inter Press Service » Crime & Justice Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 01 Jul 2015 16:16:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Charleston Church Shooting Sparks Debate on Race in South Africa Fri, 26 Jun 2015 15:01:51 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

South Africa’s old guard of separatist whites who supported the racist policy of apartheid have been reading with interest about Dylann Roof, accused assassin in the deaths of nine churchgoers at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The right-wing Front National party was quoted to say that the photo of shooting suspect Roof, wearing a jacket bearing apartheid-era South African and Rhodesian flags, was photoshopped.

“…The liberal media in South Africa and a host of liberal social media platforms have been spitting acid about the young man who shot and killed a number of African Americans in a church in Charleston in the south of America”, they wrote in a Facebook post.

“Front National South Africa started questioning the picture … and suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the Facebook profile ‘disappeared’, but not before we got hold of the original “un-photoshopped” picture. The REAL badge is rather reminiscent of the logo of the American Democratic Party of Barack Obama!”

Another view was expressed by South African writer Eusebius McKaiser who pleaded for understanding of a wayward young man.

“Dylann Roof isn’t a terrorist,” insisted McKaiser. “He isn’t a racist. He isn’t a monster. He isn’t a murderer. And he certainly isn’t singularly responsible for having allegedly killed nine people.

‘Roof is the product of a world that created him… We created the racist society into which poor Roof was born. It is our collective racism and hatred that are the building blocks of the Roof tragedy.

“Perhaps the saddest part of the whole tragedy is that Roof’s empathy for other people shone so brightly for an hour in that church,” the black South African lamented. “For a whole hour, he was in communion with people different from him. He reportedly tells us that he almost didn’t shoot any of them because they were so nice to him. I confess, I was moved to tears.

“What that shows is that it would be cruel for us to lock up Roof and scapegoat him for society’s ills.”

An opposing view appeared in the Mail & Guardian by Terri Barnes, history professor now at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, who compared the controversy over the statue of Cecil Rhodes, founder of the policy of enforced racial segregation, at the University of Cape Town with the Confederate flag.

Barnes wrote: “After a great deal of pressure from many quarters and a lot of good, hard debate, the statue has since come down. (Still), the odious Confederate flag and versions thereof officially fly in seven US states: South Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.

“Cape Town University had the wisdom to remove a symbol of racist oppression, elitism, and callous barbarism from its campus. Will Americans have the wisdom to tackle their own outdated symbols of a horrible past?”

“It is heartbreaking,” the long-time resident of South Africa continued, “even in the midst of a killing season the likes of which America has perhaps never before witnessed — that the stench of the old South Africa and of racist Rhodesia still have the power to inspire someone like Roof.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Journalists Pay the Price in Egypt’s Crackdown on Dissent Thu, 25 Jun 2015 18:25:00 +0000 Kitty Stapp U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets then Egyptian Minister of Defence General Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, on November 3, 2013. Credit: U.S. Department of State

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

The Egyptian government is holding a record number of journalists in jail, a press freedom group said Thursday, despite promises to improve media freedoms in the country.

A prison census conducted by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) at the start of this month found that Egyptian authorities were currently detaining at least 18 journalists in connection with their work. This is the highest number since CPJ began recording data on imprisoned journalists in 1990."The al-Sisi government is acting as though to restore stability Egypt needs a dose of repression the likes of which it hasn't seen for decades, but its treatment is killing the patient." -- Joe Stork of HRW

The group says that the government led by President Abdelfattah el-Sisi, who won nearly uncontested elections in May 2014, has used the pretext of national security to crack down on human rights, including press freedom.

The United States remains the country’s largest benefactor. Although the Barack Obama administration sent a critical report on Egypt to Congress last month, it still recommended that Washington continue sending 1.3 billion dollars in mostly military aid.

Asked whether the U.S. should use this aid as leverage to demand reforms, Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s programme coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, told IPS, “We would like international policy makers and institutions to insist on respect for press freedom and the complete end to ongoing censorship as conditions for bilateral and multilateral support.

“They also should speak out against ongoing press violations in both public statements and private communications with the Egyptian government.”

In an ominous sign that authorities are increasingly focusing on the internet to quash dissent, more than half of the jailed journalists worked online.

Six of the journalists in CPJ’s census were sentenced to life in prison in a mass trial of 51 defendants.

Several others are being held in pretrial detention, and have not had a date set for a court hearing. One of those is Mahmoud Abou-Zeid, who was arrested in August 2013 while taking photographs of the violent dispersal of a sit-in in support of deposed president Mohamed Morsi, in which hundreds of Islamists were killed. He has been in pre-trial detention since then and has not been formally charged.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a primary weapon in the crackdown is the “terrorist entities” decree issued on Nov. 26. It defines “terrorist” in extraordinarily broad terms: in addition to language about violence and threats of violence, the law covers any offence that in the view of authorities “harms national unity” or the environment or natural resources, or impedes work of public officials or application of the constitution or laws.

A “terrorist” is anyone who supports such an entity – support that can include “providing information.”

Foreign reporters have also been targeted. A year ago, on June 23, 2014, an Egyptian court convicted three Al Jazeera journalists and 15 others for their alleged association with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

While the White House complained at the time that the verdict “flouts the most basic standards of media freedom and represents a blow to democratic progress in Egypt,” it did not cut off aid.

The three Al-Jazeera journalists, all of whom had previously worked for mainstream international news media, were Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed.

They were detained after a raid on their studio in the Marriott Hotel in Cairo and charged with membership in the Muslim Brotherhood and fabricating video footage to “give the appearance Egypt is in a civil war.” The three were initially sentenced to seven years in a maximum-security prison, with an additional three years for Mohamed for possessing a spent shell he kept as a souvenir.

Other defendants, mostly students, were accused of aiding the reporters in allegedly fabricating the footage. While two were acquitted, most were sentenced to seven years in prison; those tried in absentia were sentenced to 10 years.

Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed are finally out of prison, though Fahmy and Mohamed still face a new trial on the same charges of supporting the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood.

“The trial was a complete sham,” according to Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

In a scathing report issued on March 6, HRW marked al-Sisi’s first year in power by noting that arbitrary and politically motivated arrests have soared since al-Sisi, then defence minister, seized power in July 2013 from Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed al-Morsi.

“The al-Sisi government is acting as though to restore stability Egypt needs a dose of repression the likes of which it hasn’t seen for decades, but its treatment is killing the patient,” wrote Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director.

According to CPJ, the president is soon expected to sign into law a draft cybercrime bill, framed as anti-terrorism legislation, which allows law enforcement agencies to block websites and pursue heavy prison sentences against Internet users for vaguely defined crimes such as “harming social peace” and “threatening national unity.”

“The potential implications for bloggers and journalists are dire,” the group says.

The bill has been endorsed by the cabinet, and is awaiting el-Sisi’s approval to come into law.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Security Council Action on Gaza War Crimes a Non-Starter Wed, 24 Jun 2015 21:23:38 +0000 Thalif Deen Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. 14 October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. 14 October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen

When a U.N. panel released a 217-page report accusing both Israel and Hamas of possible war crimes committed during the 50-day conflict in Gaza last July, the chances of Security Council action were remote because of the traditional U.S. commitment to stand by Israel – right or wrong, mostly wrong.

Israel carried out over 6,000 air strikes killing 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians, while the more than 6,600 rockets and mortars fired by Hamas killed six civilians and injured 1,600, according to the report.“When Israeli officials are put in the dock, U.S. officials ought to be right in there with them. Their conduct is inexcusable." -- Michael Ratner

“The death toll alone speaks volumes,” said the report by a two-member panel chaired by U.S. jurist Mary McGowan Davis and which included Doudou Dienne, a lawyer and former senior U.N. official from Senegal. “And the scale of the devastation was unprecedented.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the report as “flawed and biased”.

But at a briefing Tuesday, U.S. State Department Spokesperson John Kirby refused to comment on whether the Security Council or the International Criminal Court (ICC) would act on the U.N. report.

Kirby told reporters the United States challenges “the very mechanism which created” the panel, which was appointed by the Human Rights Council, of which Washington is a member.

“We’re not going to have a rebuttal to it. We’re certainly going to read it, as we read all U.N. reports. But we challenge the very foundation upon which this report was written, and we don’t believe that there’s a call or a need for any further Security Council work on this,” Kirby said.

Asked about a possible referral to the ICC, he said: “We do not support any further U.N. work on this report.”

Told about the United States welcoming a similar human rights inquiry on North Korea while rejecting an inquiry for Gaza, he said: “Because we’ve long said – and you know that we reject the basis under which this particular commission of inquiry was established because of the very clear bias against Israel in it.”

The question that also remained unanswered was: if the United States thinks the report is biased against Israel, does it also mean it is biased against Hamas?

“I’m saying that we object to the report,” Kirby reiterated.

Asked if the United States objects to the entire report, he said “to the foundation upon which the commission was established, and therefore the product that resulted from that work.”

Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told IPS that once again, as it was true in the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry report on last year’ s Gaza war was devastating regarding Israel’s commission of war crimes.

He said 65 percent of the 2,251 Palestinians killed were civilians and international legal requirements of distinction and proportionality were ignored.

“Yes, the report also condemned Palestinian armed groups but the overwhelming majority of the crimes were laid at the feet of the Israelis. And now what?” Ratner asked.

“Once again the U.S., Israel’s primary war-crime enabler, ostrich-like, ignores the evidence of Israeli crimes and continues to give it billions so that more crimes can be committed,” Ratner said.

“When Israeli officials are put in the dock, U.S. officials ought to be right in there with them. Their conduct is inexcusable,” he declared.

Balkees Jarrah, Counsel, International Justice Programme at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS the ICC now has a mandate over serious crimes dating back to June 13, 2014, committed on or from Palestinian territory.

Such crimes, he said, include indiscriminate attacks on civilians, whether committed by Israelis or Palestinians – including abuses during the 2014 conflict in Gaza.

The court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, is currently conducting a preliminary examination to determine whether to pursue a formal investigation.

With an ICC probe now possible, Israel and Hamas must show that they are willing and able to credibly investigate serious allegations, and hold accountable those who violated the laws of war, he said.

“The U.N. Gaza report makes clear that neither side is currently doing that,” said Jarrah.

Ratner told IPS: “Again, we will see the Security Council not take any action as U.S. vetoes are always a looming threat. But the crimes of Israel and reporting on them remain.”

The next stop, he pointed out, will surely be the ICC and this week, if all goes as planned, Palestine will submit its documentation of three sets of crimes: settlements, war crimes and treatment of prisoners.

“Israel of course will do nothing except scream that Palestine is not a state—an argument already lost,” he added.

The prosecutor can of course look into the rockets coming from Gaza into Israel as well, and it is likely that if she opens a preliminary investigation into Israel’s conduct, she will also look at the Palestinians .

While there is no real doubt regarding violations of the laws of war by Israel, and how the Gaza assaults were carried out, there will be counter arguments by it about proportionality and the like, he noted.

However, when it comes to settlement activity there is no counter-argument Israel can make. It’s an absolute war crime for which there is no defence. Ultimately, the ICC to have any legitimacy will need to take on the issue, he added.

“Let’s hope for the people of Palestine the court does it sooner than later,” declared Ratner.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Costa Rican Women Try to Pull Legal Therapeutic Abortion Out of Limbo Wed, 24 Jun 2015 17:21:01 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz In public hospitals in Costa Rica, like the Rafael Ángel Calderón hospital in San José, there is no protocol regulating legal therapeutic abortion, for doctors to follow. As a result, physicians restrict the practice to a minimum, leaving women without their right to terminate a pregnancy when their health is at risk. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In public hospitals in Costa Rica, like the Rafael Ángel Calderón hospital in San José, there is no protocol regulating legal therapeutic abortion, for doctors to follow. As a result, physicians restrict the practice to a minimum, leaving women without their right to terminate a pregnancy when their health is at risk. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

The lack of clear regulations and guidelines on therapeutic abortion in Costa Rica means women depend on the interpretation of doctors with regard to the circumstances under which the procedure can be legally practiced.

Article 121 of Costa Rica’s penal code stipulates that abortion is only legal when the mother’s health or life is at risk. But in practice the public health authorities only recognise risk to the mother’s life as legal grounds for terminating a pregnancy.

“The problem is that there are many women who meet the conditions laid out in this article – they ask for a therapeutic abortion and it is denied them on the argument that their life is not at risk,” Larissa Arroyo, a lawyer who belongs to the Collective for the Right to Decide, an organisation that defends women’s sexual and reproductive rights, told IPS.

“The problem isn’t the law, but the interpretation of the law,” said Arroyo.

She and other activists are pressing for Costa Rica to accept the World Health Organisation’s definition of health, which refers to physical, mental and social well-being, in connection with this issue.

Many doctors in public hospitals, unclear as to what to do when a pregnant woman requests an abortion, refuse to carry out the procedure regardless of the circumstances.

Illegal abortion in Costa Rica is punishable by three years in prison, or more if aggravating factors are found.

“It’s complicated because in the interactions we have had with doctors, they tell us: ‘Look, I would do it, but I’m not allowed to’,” said Arroyo.

Others say they have a conscientious objection to abortion, in this heavily Catholic country.

In Costa Rica, abortion is illegal in all other situations normally considered “therapeutic”, such as rape, incest, or congenital malformation of the fetus.

Activists stress the toll on women’s emotional health if they are forced to bear a child under such circumstances.

“Many women don’t ask for an abortion because they think it’s illegal,” Arroyo said. “If both women and doctors believe that, there’s no one to stick up for their rights.”

This creates critical situations for women like Ana and Aurora, two Costa Rican women who were carrying fetuses that would not survive, but which doctors did not allow them to abort.

In late 2006, a medical exam when Ana was six weeks pregnant showed that the fetus suffered from encephalocele, a malformation of the brain and skull incompatible with life outside the womb.

Ana, 26 years old at the time, requested a therapeutic abortion, arguing that carrying to term a fetus that could not survive was causing her psychological problems like depression. But the medical authorities and the Supreme Court did not authorise an abortion. In the end, her daughter was born dead after seven hours of labour.

The Collective for the Right to Decide and the Washington-based Center for Reproductive Rights brought Ana’s case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), as well as that of Aurora, who was also denied the right to a therapeutic abortion.

Her case is similar to Ana’s. In 2012, it was discovered that her fetus had an abdominal wall defect, a kind of birth defect that allows the stomach, intestines, or other organs to protrude through an opening that forms on the abdomen. Her son, whose legs had never developed, and who had severe scoliosis, died shortly after birth.

In 2011, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) expressed concern that “women do not have access to legal abortion because of the lack of clear medical guidelines outlining when and how a legal abortion can be conducted.”

It urged the Costa Rican state to draw up clear medical guidelines, to “widely disseminate them among health professionals and the public at large,” and to consider reviewing other circumstances under which abortion could be permitted, such as rape or incest.

The international pressure has grown. Costa Rican Judge Elizabeth Odio, recently named to the San José-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights, said in a Jun. 20 interview with the local newspaper La Nación that “it is obvious that therapeutic abortion, which already exists in our legislation, should be enforced.”

“There are doctors who believe therapeutic abortion is a crime, and they put women’s lives at risk,” said Odio.

In March, Health Minister Fernando Llorca acknowledged that “there is now a debate on the need for developing regulations on therapeutic abortion – a debate that was necessary.”

Activists are calling for a protocol to regulate legal abortion, established by the social security system, CCSS, which administers the public health system and health services, including hospitals. But progress towards a protocol has stalled since 2009.

“For several years we have been working on a protocol with the Collective and the CCSS,” said Ligia Picado, with the Costa Rican Demographic Association (ADC). “But once it was completed, the CCSS authorities referred it to another department, and the personal opinions of functionaries, more emotional than legal, were brought to bear.”

The activist, a member of one of the civil society organisations most heavily involved in defending sexual and reproductive rights, told IPS that “the problem is that there is no protocol or guidelines that health personnel can rely on to support the implementation of women’s rights.”

Picado said the need for the protocol is especially urgent for women whose physical or emotional health is affected by an unwanted pregnancy and who can’t afford to travel abroad for an abortion, or to have a safe, illegal abortion at a clandestine clinic in this country.

Statistics on abortions in this Central American country of 4.7 million people are virtually non-existent. According to 2007 estimates by ADC, 27,000 clandestine abortions are practiced annually. But there are no figures on abortions carried out legally in public or private health centres.

Groups of legislators have begun to press the CCSS to approve the protocol, and on Jun. 17 the legislature’s human rights commission sent a letter to the president of the CCSS.

“We hope the CCSS authorities will realise the need to issue the guidelines so that doctors are not allowed to claim objections of conscience and will be obligated to live up to Costa Rica’s laws and regulations,” opposition lawmaker Patricia Mora, one of the authors of the letter, told IPS.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Torgersen Has Died, but His Case Won’t Lie Down Wed, 24 Jun 2015 12:43:48 +0000 Fredrik S. Heffermehl

In this column, Fredrik S. Heffermehl, a Norwegian lawyer and author who has published books on the Nobel Peace Prize and established the Nobel Peace Prize Watch (, takes the legal case of Fredrik Fasting Torgersen to argue that courts around the world often fail to see the difference between similarities and probabilities, compounded by the lack of training for assessing probabilities correctly.

By Fredrik S. Heffermehl
OSLO, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

When he died at the age of 80 on Jun. 18 in Oslo, Fredrik Fasting Torgersen had divided Norway for 56 years and the “Torgersen case” had attracted international interest in forensic science circles, among them the U.S.-based Innocence Project.

The case has a lot to tell us about evaluation of evidence, and how to avoid wrongful convictions.

At 24, Torgersen was convicted as the murderer of a 16-year-old woman found brutally killed in a basement in the house where she lived. He served 16 years in jail, but always insisted on his innocence and enjoyed a wealth of support.

Fredrik S. Heffermehl

Fredrik S. Heffermehl

Norway’s chief prosecutor (Riksadvokaten) and the judiciary have time and again turned down appeals for a reversal, but they are increasingly alone in their view; criticism from scientists, authors and the general public has grown steadily.

Torgersen had a prior record with the police when, just after midnight on Dec. 6, 1957, he was arrested in the centre of Oslo, suspected of having stolen a bicycle. During interrogation, the police station received a report of a young woman found dead in the same area. The police immediately suspected Torgersen and, in the coming weeks and months, collected everything that could appear to prove their theory.

The police were so convinced of his guilt that obvious exculpatory evidence, such as the lack of blood splatter on Torgersen´s clothing, was ignored.

Today, it is generally recognised that police must not focus on one suspect too early, and that material deemed “uninteresting” by the police must be made available to defence attorneys and the court.

Yet, the aspect of the case that seems to call for a revolution, in no way limited to Norway, has to do with evaluation of evidence. Courts lack training essential for assessing probabilities correctly.“Judges (and defence attorneys) must be trained in basic scientific methodology, logics and elementary statistical principles. Only then will they be able to unmask apparently impressive expert testimony not underpinned by empirical research on the real world and its variations”

At the original trial of Torgersen in 1958, the prosecutor presented three forms of technical evidence and a series of experts who told the court that unique aspects of this evidence (a bite mark, traces of faeces, and some spruce needles) amounted to total probability, indisputable proof, that Torgersen had been at the crime scene and left a bite mark on the breast of the murdered woman. The court relied on “likenesses” as conclusive evidence against him.

It applies all over the world – courts fail to see the difference between similarities and probabilities.

A bite mark tells that the killer had teeth, meaning it could be anyone. Unique traits are needed. When a dentist testifying against Torgersen told the court that the teeth had met “edge-to-edge” and that this clearly pointed to Torgersen, the defence attorney asked: “How unusual, one in two, in ten, in fifty, or one in a thousand?” The dentist could not tell, but the court did not understand what was at issue.

If the court had understood, this type of question would have been asked not only once, but again and again in the case, in all other cases in all courts, everywhere. Likeness in itself tells nothing. To draw conclusions about probability and uniqueness, one always needs to know normal frequencies.

This was the key discovery made in 2001 by the Oslo professor of criminal law, Ståle Eskeland, who, after 20 years on the case, leads a very broad effort for reversal of the Torgersen conviction.

Eskeland has explained this elementary rule of conclusions theory to the courts repeatedly, but they seem unable to grasp it. Courts have continually upheld the Torgersen conviction without even the smallest comment on the probability argument.

In a recent debate, a leading defender of Torgersen, Professor Per Brandtzæg, Norway´s most internationally quoted scientist, supported Eskeland. In a rebuttal, the former director of the Norwegian Courts Administration, Tor Langbach, insisted that the courts are critical, they ask questions.

He seems to miss the point. Not only must the courts ask the experts questions, says a professor of law in Oslo, Leif Petter Olaussen, they must ask the right questions.

To do so, judges (and defence attorneys) must be trained in basic scientific methodology, logics and elementary statistical principles. Only then will they be able to unmask apparently impressive expert testimony not underpinned by empirical research on the real world and its variations. 

Olaussen refers to an example of the horrific consequence of not asking the right question. Ten years ago a court found an employee in a kindergarten guilty of sexual abuse. Some rumours had circulated (children are fanciful) and, based on testimony from two doctors about unusual red marks around the vaginas of the small girls, the court concluded that improper conduct had occurred. Someone must have done it, and the most likely was Mr. NN (!), who was then whisked off to jail.

The court should have inquired about the research basis for calling red marks unusual. There was no such research at the time, only ten years later. Red marks are normal. The judgment was reversed.

Torgersen died in peace, he felt acquitted by both public and experts and knew that a solid group would continue to take his case forward. Just one week before he died, a new request for reversal was submitted by two heavyweight attorneys, Cato Schiøtz and Pål W. Lorentzen.

After 64 years, the file is enormous, but the case is still very simple – the lawyers found no valid evidence against Torgersen, but a whole lot that exculpates him.

One day, Norway and the world will thank Torgersen for a lifelong effort in the service of justice. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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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Smart Phones New Tool to Capture Human Rights Violations Tue, 23 Jun 2015 18:31:18 +0000 Thalif Deen Some organisations are developing alert applications that journalists, human rights defenders and others can use to send an emergency message (along with GPS co-ordinates) to their friends and colleagues if they feel in immediate danger. Credit: Johan Larsson/ cc by 2.0

Some organisations are developing alert applications that journalists, human rights defenders and others can use to send an emergency message (along with GPS co-ordinates) to their friends and colleagues if they feel in immediate danger. Credit: Johan Larsson/ cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen

The widespread use of digital technology – including satellite imagery, body cameras and smart phones – is fast becoming a new tool in monitoring and capturing human rights violations worldwide.

Singling out the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions Christof Heyns says: “We have all seen how the actions of police officers and others who use excessive force are captured on cell phones and lead to action against the perpetrators.”“We must guard against a mind-set that ‘if it is not digital it did not happen.'" -- Christof Heyns

Billions of people around the world now carry a powerful weapon to capture such events in their pockets, he said.

“The fact that this is well-known can be a significant deterrent to abuses,” Heyns said, in a report to the 29th session of the 47-member Human Rights Council, which began its three-week session in Geneva June 15.

Heyns said the hardware and software that produce and transmit information in the digital space can play an increasing role in the protection of all human rights, including the right to life, by reinforcing the role of ‘civilian witnesses’ in documenting rights violations.

In his report, Heyns urged the U.N. system and other international human rights bodies to “catch up” with rapidly developing innovations in human rights fact-finding and investigations.

“The digital age presents challenges that can only be met through the smart use of digital tools,” he said.

Javier El-Hage, General Counsel at the New York-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF), told IPS that HRF can corroborate the special rapporteur’s findings that ICTs, like cellphone cameras or even satellite imagery, play a key role in documenting extrajudicial executions.

From democratic societies like Germany or the United States where ‘civilian witnesses’ documenting instances of police brutality and extrajudicial executions create an effective check on law enforcement abuse, to societies under competitive authoritarian regimes like Kazakhstan or Venezuela where witnesses themselves can face extrajudicial execution for filming police brutality, ICTs play a huge role in documenting this egregious type of human rights violation, he said.

“Even in North Korea, the world’s most repressive and tightly closed society, satellite imagery has long helped determine the exact location and population estimates of prison camps, and recently helped uncover a disturbing case of executions by firing squad, where executioners used anti-aircraft machine guns.”

In his report, Heyns told the Human Rights Council the hardware and software that produce and transmit information in the digital space can play an increasing role in the protection of all human rights, including the right to life, by reinforcing the role of ‘civilian witnesses’ in documenting rights violations.

He said various organisations are developing alert applications that journalists, human rights defenders and others can use to send an emergency message (along with GPS co-ordinates) to their friends and colleagues if they feel in immediate danger.

“New information tools can also empower human rights investigations and help to foster accountability where people have lost their lives or were seriously injured,” the Special Rapporteur said.

The use of other video technologies, ranging from CCTV cameras to body-worn “cop cams”, can further contribute to filling information gaps.

Resources such as satellite imagery to verify such videos, or sometime to show evidence of violations themselves, is also an important dimension, he noted.

But despite the many advantages offered by ICTs, Heyns said it would be short-sighted not to see the risks as well.

“Those with the power to violate human rights can easily use peoples’ emails and other communications to target them and also to violate their privacy,” he said.

The fact that people can use social media to organise spontaneous protests can lead authorities to perceive a threat – and to over-react.

Moreover, there is a danger that what is not captured on video is not taken seriously. “We must guard against a mind-set that ‘if it is not digital it did not happen,’” he stressed.

El-Hage told IPS his Foundation also agrees with the special rapporteur that ICTs are a double-edged sword because through them governments can “easily access the emails and other communications” of law-abiding citizens, especially political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders, “to target them and violate their privacy.”

HRF has recently denounced the cases of targeted surveillance and persecution against pro-democracy activists Hisham Almiraat in Morocco and Waleed Abu AlKhair in Saudi Arabia, and was among the organisations that submitted a white paper to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to inform his own report on the way ‘encryption’ and ‘anonymity’ can protect both the rights to privacy and free speech.

In his report, Heyns also cautioned that not all communities, and not all parts of the world, are equally connected, and draws special attention to the fact that “the ones that not connected are often in special need of protection.”

“There is still a long way to go for all of us to understand fully how we can use these evolving and exciting but in some ways also scary new tools to their best effect,” Heyn said pointing out that not all parts of the international human rights community are fully aware of the power and pitfalls of digital fact-finding.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Critics of World Bank-Funded Projects in the Line of Fire Mon, 22 Jun 2015 23:16:41 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida The World Bank has increased financial support for the cotton sector in Uzbekistan, despite evidence that the industry is rooted in a system of forced labour. Credit: David Stanley/CC-BY-2.0

The World Bank has increased financial support for the cotton sector in Uzbekistan, despite evidence that the industry is rooted in a system of forced labour. Credit: David Stanley/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida

For an entire month beginning in February 2015, a group of between 40 and 50 residents of the Durgapur Village in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand would gather at the site of a hydroelectric power project being carried out by the state-owned Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC).

All day long the protestors, mostly women and their children, would sit in defiance of the initiative that they believed was an environmental and social danger to their community, singing folk songs that spoke of their fears and hopes.

“I had expected a very constructive conversation with the World Bank. Instead all I am hearing are non-responses." -- Jessica Evans, senior advocate on international financial institutions at Human Rights Watch
Their actions were well within the bounds of the law, but the reactions of THDC employees to their peaceful demonstration were troubling in the extreme.

According to one of the women involved, THDC contractors and labourers routinely harassed them by hurling abusive slurs – going so far as to call the women ‘prostitutes’ and make derogatory comments about their caste – and attempted to intimidate them by threatening “severe” consequences if they didn’t call off their picket.

In a country where activists and communities demanding their rights are routinely subjected to identical or worse treatment at the hands of both state and private actors, this tale may not seem at all out of the ordinary.

What sets it apart, however, is that this hydroelectric project was not simply a government-led scheme; it is financed by a 648-million-dollar loan from the World Bank.

Governed by a set of “do no harm” policies, both the Bank and its private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have – on paper at least – pledged to consult with and protect local communities impacted by its funding.

But according to a new report by Human Rights Watch, the Bank has not only systematically turned a blind eye to reports of human rights abuses associated with its projects, it also lacks necessary safeguards required to avoid further violations in the future.

When silence and negligence equals complicity

Based on research carried out over a two-year period between May 2013 and May 2015, in Cambodia, India, Uganda and Kyrgyzstan – the latter following allegations of rights abuses in Uzbekistan – the report entitled ‘At Your Own Risk: Reprisals Against Critics of World Bank Group Projects’ found that Bank officials consistently fail to respond in any meaningful way to allegations of severe reprisals against those who speak out against Bank-funded projects.

In some cases, the World Bank Group has even turned its back on local community members working with its own officials.

Addressing the press on a conference call on Jun. 22, the report’s author, Jessica Evans, highlighted an incident in which an interpreter for the Bank’s Inspection Panel was flung into prison just weeks after the oversight body concluded its review process.

Withholding all identifying details of the case for the security of the victim, Evans stated that, besides questioning government officials “behind closed doors”, the Bank has so far remained completely silent on the fate of an independent activist working to strengthen the Bank’s own process.

Such actions, or lack thereof, “make a mockery out of [the Bank’s] own stated commitments to participation and accountability,” the report concluded.

HRW has identified dozens of cases in which activists claim to have been targeted – harassed, abused, threatened or intimidated – for voicing their objections to aspects of Bank or IFC-funded initiatives for a range of social, environmental or economic reasons.

Because the bulk of communities in close proximity to major development schemes tend to be among the poorest or most vulnerable, and therefore lack the access or ability to formally lodge their complaints, the true number of people who have experienced such reprisals is “sure” to be much higher than the figures stated in the report, researchers revealed.

Evans told IPS, “On this issue of reprisals the World Bank’s silence and inaction has already crossed the line” into the realm of compliance.

She added that the Inspection Panel raised the issue of retaliation back in 2009, giving the Bank ample time to take necessary steps to address a chronic and pervasive problem.

Instead, it continues to engage with governments that have a poor human rights track record, while remaining apparently deaf to pressures and demands from civil society to strengthen mechanisms that will protect powerless and marginalized communities from violent backlash.

Take the case of Elena Urlaeva, who heads the Tashkent-based Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, and who was arrested in a cotton field on May 31, 2015, while documenting evidence of the Uzbek government’s massive system of forced labour in cotton production.

According to HRW, Urlaeva was detained, abused and sexually violated during an extremely violent cavity probe. On the grounds that they were searching for a data card from her camera, male doctors and policemen conducted such a rough and invasive search that the ordeal left her bleeding.

She was forbidden from using the bathroom and eventually forced to go outside the station in the presence of male officers who called her a “bitch”, filmed her in the act of relieving herself and threatened to post the video online if she complained about her treatment.

Evans told IPS all of this occurred against a backdrop of the World Bank’s increased financial support of the cotton sector – already it has pledged over 450 million dollars to three major agricultural projects of the Uzbek government – despite evidence that the industry is rooted in a system of forced labour.

In the absence of any robust mechanism within the World Bank to make continued funding conditional on compliance with international human rights standards, there is a “real risk” that independent monitors and rights activists will continue to face situations as horrific as the one Urlaeva recently endured, Evans stressed.

A ‘disappointing’ reaction

Both the World Bank and the United Nations have tossed the issue of development-related rights abuses from one forum to another.

In his May 2015 report to the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC), Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston stressed the urgency of “putting questions of resources and redistribution back into the human rights equation.”

He decried several member states’ attempts to keep international economics, finance and trade “quarantined” from the human rights framework, and blasted international financial institutions (IFIs) for contributing to this culture of impunity.

“The World Bank can simply refuse to engage with human rights in the context of its policies and programmes, IMF does the same, and the World Trade Organisation is little different,” Alston remarked, adding that these bodies throw the issue at the HRC, while the latter simply knocks the ball back into the financiers’ court.

It is becoming akin to a game of political ping-pong, with the ball representing the human rights of some of the most impoverished people in the world – at whom multi-million-dollar development projects are ostensibly targeted.

Gretchen Gordon, coordinator of Bank on Human Rights, a global coalition of social movements and grassroots organisations working to hold IFIs accountable to human rights obligations, told IPS, “You can’t have successful development without robust civil society participation in setting development priorities, designing projects, and monitoring implementation.”

If development banks and their member states neglect to take leadership and implement the necessary protocols and policies, she said, “they will continue to see increasing development failures, human rights abuses, and conflict.”

If the World Bank Group’s initial reaction to HRW’s comprehensive research is anything to go by, however, Bank on Human Rights and other watchdogs of its ilk have their work cut out for them.

Though HRW’s researchers invited the Bank and the IFC’s input with an in-depth list of questions back in April, they have received nothing but a rather “bland response” that failed to address the issue of reprisals at all and simply stated that the Bank “is not a human rights tribunal.”

“I had expected a very constructive conversation with the World Bank,” Evans said. “Instead all I am hearing are non-responses. We have proposed really pragmatic recommendations for how the Bank can work effectively in challenging environments, but we are a long way from that at the moment.”

Both the Bank’s Inspection Panel and the IFC’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) have greeted the report with enthusiasm, but they are independent bodies and remain largely powerless to effect change at the management level of the World Bank Group.

This power lies with the Bank’s president, Jim Yong Kim, who will have to “take the lead and send a clear message to his staff that the question of reprisals is a priority issue,” Evans concluded.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Democracy on the Retreat in Over 96 of the 193 U.N. Member States, Says New Study Mon, 22 Jun 2015 17:22:22 +0000 Thalif Deen U.S. police arrest May Day protester in Oakland, California. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

U.S. police arrest May Day protester in Oakland, California. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

By Thalif Deen

Democracy is on the retreat and authoritarianism is on the rise in more than 96 of the U.N.’s 193 member states, according to a new report released here.

The two regions of “highest concern” for defenders of civic space are Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa, which between them account for over half of the countries counted."Legitimate civil society activities are worryingly under threat in a huge number of countries in the global North and South, democratic and authoritarian, on all continents." -- Dr. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah

These violations are increasing not only in countries perceived to be democratic but also in countries with blatantly repressive regimes.

“The widespread systematic attack on these core civil society liberties has taken many forms, including assault, torture, kidnapping and assassination,” says the CIVICUS Civil Society Watch Report.

“We have known for some time that encroachments on civic space and persecution of peaceful activists were on the rise but it’s more pervasive than many may think,” said Dr. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Secretary-General of CIVICUS, a South Africa-based international alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society worldwide.

“Our monitoring in 2014 shows that legitimate civil society activities are worryingly under threat in a huge number of countries in the global North and South, democratic and authoritarian, on all continents,” he added.

The report says while activists engaged in political reform, uncovering corruption and human rights violations continue to be targeted, those defending local communities from land grabs and environmental degradation, as well as those promoting minority group rights, have been subjected to various forms of persecution.

“The link between unethical business practices and closing civic space is becoming clearer as global inequality and capture of power and resources by a handful of political and economic elite rises. “

Advocacy for equitable sharing of natural resources and workers’ rights is becoming increasingly fraught with danger, says the report.

The examples cited range from the killings of environmental activists in Brazil to the intimidation of organisations challenging the economic discourse in India, to arbitrary detention of activists opposing oil exploration in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).


Jenni Williams (in white cap) addresses Women of Zimbabwe Arise members at Zimbabwe’s parliament building in Harare with the police looking on. Zimbabwe is one of the African countries where repression of civic freedoms appears to have intensified. Credit: Misheck Rusere/IPS

Jenni Williams (in white cap) addresses Women of Zimbabwe Arise members at Zimbabwe’s parliament building in Harare with the police looking on. Zimbabwe is one of the African countries where repression of civic freedoms appears to have intensified. Credit: Misheck Rusere/IPS

Asked to identify some of the worst offenders, Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, told IPS : “We don’t provide a ranking of the countries’ violations, but we are able to categorise limitations on civil society activities into completely closed countries and active violators of civic freedoms.”

He said “closed countries” are where virtually no civic activity can take place due to an extremely repressive environment. These include Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

There is a second list of countries that are active violators of civil society rights – meaning they imprison, intimidate and attack civil society members and put in place all kinds of regulations to limit the activities of civil society organisations (CSOs), particularly those working to uncover corruption and human rights violations, Tiwana said.

These include Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

The report also points out some of the tactics deployed to close civic space include passing restrictive laws and targeting individual civil society organisations (CSOs) by raiding their offices, freezing their bank accounts or deregistering them.

A number of democracies are also engaging in illicit surveillance of civil society activists, further weakening respect for human rights.

Stigmatisation and demonisation of civil society activists by powerful political figures and right-wing elements remains an area of concern.

“When citizens’ most basic democratic rights are being violated in more than half the world’s countries, alarm bells must start ringing for the international community and leaders everywhere,” said Sriskandarajah.

Tiwana told IPS governments in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have stepped up their efforts to prevent public demonstrations and the activities of human rights groups.

“There appears to be no let-up in official censorship and repression of active citizens in authoritarian states like China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Vietnam.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, he said, the repression of civic freedoms appears to have intensified in countries such as Angola, Burundi, Ethiopia, Gambia, Rwanda, Sudan, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

And activists and civil society groups in many countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe — where democracy remains fragile or non-existent such as Azerbaijan, Belarus, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan — are also feeling the heat following governments’ reactions to scuttle demands for political reform.

In South-East Asia, Tiwana pointed out, countries such as Cambodia and Malaysia have a history of repressive governance and in Thailand, where the military seized power through a recent coup, new ‘security’ measures continue to be implemented to restrict civic freedoms.

Asked what role the United Nations can play in naming and shaming these countries, Tiwana said the U.N. Human Rights Council has emerged as a key international forum for the protection of civic freedoms particularly through the Universal Periodic Review process where each country gets its human rights record reviewed every four years.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is currently collating best practices to create a safe and enabling environment for civil society.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al-Hussein has been an active supporter of civil society’s ability to operate freely, as was his predecessor, Navi Pillay, who was ardent advocate of civic freedoms, Tiwana said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Take Good News on Afghanistan’s Reconstruction With a ‘Grain of Salt’ Fri, 19 Jun 2015 23:09:29 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Students at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Students at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida

Since 2002, a year after it invaded Afghanistan, the United States has poured over 100 billion dollars into developing and rebuilding this country of just over 30 million people. This sum is in addition to the trillions spent on U.S. military operations, to say nothing of the deaths of 2,000 service personnel in the space of a single decade.

Today, as the U.S. struggles to salvage its legacy in Afghanistan, which critics say will mostly be remembered as a colossal and costly failure both in monetary terms and in the staggering loss of life, many are pointing to economic and social gains as the bright points in an otherwise bleak tapestry of occupation.

“Much of the official happy talk on [reconstruction] should be taken with a grain of salt – iodized, of course – to prevent informational goiter.” -- John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction
Among others, official groups like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) say that higher life expectancy outcomes, better healthcare facilities and improved education access represent the ‘positive’ side of U.S. intervention.

From this perspective, the estimated 26,000 civilian casualties as a direct result of U.S. military action must be viewed against the fact that people are now living longer, fewer mothers are dying while giving birth, and more children are going to school.

But the diligent work undertaken by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) suggests that “much of the official happy talk on [reconstruction] should be taken with a grain of salt – iodized, of course – to prevent informational goiter.”

Formed in 2008, SIGAR is endowed with the authority to “audit, inspect, investigate, and otherwise examine any and all aspects of reconstruction, regardless of departmental ownership.”

In a May 5 speech, John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General, called the reconstruction effort a “huge and far-reaching undertaking” that has scarcely left any part of Afghan life untouched.

Poured into endless projects from propping up the local army and police, to digging wells and finding alternatives to poppy cultivation, funds allocated to rebuilding Afghanistan now “exceed the value of the entire Marshall Plan effort to rebuild Western Europe after World War II.”

“Unfortunately,” Sopko said, “from the outset to this very day large amounts of taxpayer dollars have been lost to waste, fraud, and abuse.

“These disasters often occur when the U.S. officials who implement and oversee programs fail to distinguish fact from fantasy,” he added.

‘Ghost schools, ghost students, ghost teacher’

In one of the most recent examples of this disturbing trend, two Afghan ministers cited local media reports to inform parliament about fraud in the education sector, alleging that former officials who served under President Hamid Karzai had falsified data on the number of active schools in Afghanistan in order to receive continued international funding.

“SIGAR takes such allegations very seriously, and given that they came from high-ranking individuals in the Afghan government, and also that USAID has invested approximately 769 million dollars in Afghanistan’s education sector, SIGAR opened an inquiry into this matter,” a SIGAR official told IPS.

Submitted on Jun. 18 to the Acting Administrator for USAID, the official inquiry raises a number of questions, including over widely cited statistics that official development assistance has led to a jump in the number of enrolled students from an estimated 900,000 in 2002 to more than eight million in 2013.

While USAID stands by these figures, sourced from the Afghan Ministry of Education’s Education Management Information System (EMIS), it is unable to independently verify them.

Faced with allegations of “ghost schools, ghost students, and ghost teachers”, SIGAR has requested an immediate response from USAID as to whether the agency is able to investigate allegations of fraud, and verify that it is receiving accurate data, in order to ensure that U.S. tax dollars are not being wasted, the SIGAR official explained.

This is no easy undertaking in a place where students are spread out over an estimated 14,226 schools primarily in rural areas, and where even the education ministry does not keep tabs on security threats, or the literacy of teachers, let alone the particulars of curricula.

Last year SIGAR reported that the education ministry continues to count students as ‘enrolled’ even if they have been absent from school for three years, suggesting that the actual number of kids in classrooms is far below the figure cited by the government, and subsequently utilised by U.S. aid agencies.

In his May 5 speech Sopko claimed that a top USAID official believed there to be roughly four million children in school – less than half the figure on which current funding commitments is based.

There is no question that continued funding is needed to bolster Afghanistan’s education system.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) office in Kabul, the country continues to boast one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, standing at approximately 31 percent of the population aged 15 years of age and older.

There are also massive geographic and gender-based gaps, with female literacy levels falling far below the national average, at just 17 percent, and varying hugely across regions, with a 34-percent literacy rate in Kabul compared to a rate of just 1.6 percent in two southern provinces.

These are all issues that must urgently be addressed but according to oversight bodies like SIGAR, they must be addressed within a system of efficiency, transparency and accuracy.

Furthermore, discrepancies between official statistics and reality are not limited to the education sector but manifest in almost all areas of the reconstruction process.

Take the issue of life expectancy, which USAID claimed last year had increased from 42 years in 2002 to over 60 years in 2014.

If accurate, this would represent a tremendous stride towards better overall living conditions for ordinary Afghans. But SIGAR has cited a number of different statistics, including data provided by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook and the United Nations Population Division, which offer much lower numbers for the average life span – some as low as 50 years.

Although the original data comes directly from the USAID-funded Afghanistan Mortality Survey, conducted in 2010 by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, and would therefore appear to pass the reliability test, SIGAR is concerned that “USAID had not verified what, if anything, the ministry had done to address deficiencies in its internal audit, budget, accounting, and procurement functions.”

While SIGAR is not able to put a concrete number on losses resulting from poorly planned programmes, theft and corruption by both American and Afghan elements, and weak administration of monies placed directly in the hands of Afghan ministries, a SIGAR official told IPS it is hard to imagine that the overall cost to U.S. taxpayers “is not in the billions of dollars.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Takes First Step Towards Treaty to Curb Lawlessness in High Seas Fri, 19 Jun 2015 20:14:34 +0000 Thalif Deen A turtle swims in a Marine Protected Area. Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

A turtle swims in a Marine Protected Area. Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

By Thalif Deen

The 193-member General Assembly adopted a resolution Friday aimed at drafting a legally binding international treaty for the conservation of marine biodiversity and to govern the mostly lawless high seas beyond national jurisdiction.

The resolution was the result of more than nine years of negotiations by an Ad Hoc Informal Working Group, which first met in 2006.“This groundbreaking decision puts us on a path toward having a legal framework in place that will allow for the comprehensive management of ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction.” -- Elizabeth Wilson

If and when the treaty is adopted, it will be the first global treaty to include conservation measures such as marine protected areas and reserves, environmental impact assessments, access to marine genetic resources and benefit sharing, capacity building and the transfer of marine technology.

The High Seas Alliance (HSA), a coalition of some 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), played a significant role in pushing for negotiations on the proposed treaty and has been campaigning for this resolution since 2011.

Asked if the treaty will be finalised by the targeted date of 2018, Elizabeth Wilson, director of international ocean policy at The Pew Charitable Trusts, a member of the HSA, told IPS: “Not exactly, although we do expect significant progress.”

The first round of formal negotiations is expected to take place in 2016 and continue through 2017.

The General Assembly will decide by September of 2018 on the convening of an intergovernmental conference to finalise the text of the agreement and set a start date for the conference.

Wilson said it is likely that the intergovernmental conference would then meet multiple times over approximately two years to accomplish this goal.

Asked how the treaty will change the current “lawlessness” in the high seas, Wilson said: “This groundbreaking decision puts us on a path toward having a legal framework in place that will allow for the comprehensive management of ocean areas beyond national jurisdiction.”

Today, she pointed out, the high seas are governed by a patchwork of inadequate international, regional, and sectorial agreements and organisations.

A new treaty would help to organise and coordinate conservation and management. That includes the ability to create fully protected marine reserves that are closed off to harmful activities. Right now there is no way to arrange for such legally binding protections, she added.

Sofia Tsenikli of Greenpeace said: “The high seas accounts for nearly half our planet – the half that has been left without law or protection for far too long. A global network of marine reserves is urgently needed to bring life back into the ocean – this new treaty should make that happen.”

In a statement released Friday, the HSA said the resolution follows the Rio+20 conference in 2012 where Heads of State committed to address high seas protection.

The conference came close to agreeing to a new treaty then, but was prevented from doing so by a few governments which have remained in opposition to a Treaty ever since.

Asked about the significant difference between the 1982 landmark Law of the Sea Treaty and the proposed high seas treaty, Wilson told IPS the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which is recognised as the “constitution” for global ocean governance, has a broad scope and does not contain the detailed provisions necessary to address specific activities, nor does it establish a management mechanism and rules for biodiversity protection in the high seas.

Since the adoption of UNCLOS in 1982, there have been two subsequent implementing agreements to address gaps and other areas that were not sufficiently covered under UNCLOS, one related to seabed mining and the other related to straddling and highly migratory fish stocks, she added.

This new agreement will be the third implementing agreement developed under UNCLOS, Wilson said.

According to HSA, Friday’s resolution stresses “the need for the comprehensive global regime to better address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.”

It allows for a two-year preparatory process (PrepCom) to consider the elements that could comprise the treaty.

This will begin in 2016 and culminate by the end of 2017, with a decision whether to convene a formal treaty negotiating conference in 2018.

The “high seas” is the ocean beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) ‑ amounting to 64 percent of the ocean ‑ and the ocean seabed that lies beyond the continental shelf of any country, according to a background briefing released by the HSA.

These areas make up nearly 50 percent of the surface of the Earth and include some of the most environmentally important, critically threatened and least protected ecosystems on the planet.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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South Sudan Again Tops Fragile States Index Thu, 18 Jun 2015 11:51:19 +0000 Beatrice Paez South Sudanese Police Cadets taking oath during their graduation ceremony at the Juba Football Stadium. September 17, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy Gideon Lu'b

South Sudanese Police Cadets taking oath during their graduation ceremony at the Juba Football Stadium. September 17, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy Gideon Lu'b

By Beatrice Paez
SAINT JOHN, New Brunswick, Canada, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

For the second year in a row, South Sudan has been designated as the most fragile nation in the world, plagued by intensifying internal conflict that has displaced more than two million of its people.

Headline-making events of the past year have spurred much of the movement of countries’ rankings – for better or worse – in the Fragile States Index (FSI), a joint annual report by Foreign Policy magazine and think-tank Fund for Peace (FFP) released on Jun. 17.“For me, Nigeria was one of the most interesting stories of the year. All indicators showed intensive pressures on all fronts...and yet people were able to really rally at the local, national level.” -- Nate Haken

Sub-Saharan Africa found itself leading the pack, with seven out of the top 10 countries ranked as the most fragile. As far as regional trends go, the Islamic State’s encroaching influence pulled states such as Yemen, Libya, Syria and Iraq into the top 10 most-worsened countries of 2015.

Cuba stood out as the most-improved country this past decade, owing its designation to the thawing of relations with the United States and the gradual opening of its economy to foreign investment. Though trends suggest the nation is on track to improving conditions, there remains the challenge of access to public services and upholding human rights.

In an effort to measure a state’s fragility, the index accounts for event-driven factors and makes use of data to illuminate patterns and trends that could contribute to instability. The report analysed the progress of 178 countries around the world.

“At the top of the index, countries do tend to move minimally, but at the centre of the index, you tend to see a lot more movement,” said Nate Haken, senior associate of FFP. “That’s partly because fragility begets fragility and stability begets stability.”

And yet, the report highlighted, there are outliers like Nigeria that defy easy categorisation even as pressures on all fronts – political, social, economic – would indicate a country on the brink of descending into conflict.

“For me, Nigeria was one of the most interesting stories of the year. All indicators showed intensive pressures on all fronts,” Haken told IPS. “Oil prices were down, there was more killing this past year.”

But in an unexpected turn, Haken noted, the political opposition led by Muhammadu Buhari emerged as a credible threat to incumbent Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party. He added that many expected a polarising outcome that would pit the north and south against each other, whatever the outcome.

“I think most observers looking at these trends thought this was bound to be a disaster,” said Haken. “Every empirical measure shows a high degree of risk and yet, people were able to really rally at the local, national level.”

Meanwhile, Portugal and Georgia joined the ranks of Cuba for the most improved, with strides being made in the economy.

Whereas some countries’ progress or decline has held steady, a closer look can reveal an emerging narrative, said Haken. The United States’ year-over-year score (ranked at 89) has remained flat, but group grievances – tensions among groups – has been increasing since 2007, with respect to the immigration of children fleeing Central America and protest against the police over racial relations.

Far from being a predictive tool, the index functions as a diagnostic tool for policy makers working in human rights and economic development to identify high-priority areas, he noted. As well, it serves to turn the spotlight on countries that seemingly have marginal bearing for the international community.

In the case of the Ebola crisis in West Africa, countries like Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone may not have figured large in headlines, but the “ripple effects across the region” also had far-reaching consequences for the international community as the world scrambled to contain the outbreak, Haken noted.

Demographic pressures – massive rural-urban migration – coupled with lack of proper road infrastructure gave way to the spread of Ebola.

“One thing that came out of the index is how critical infrastructure is for sustainable human security,” he said. “… Once it began to spread, it was difficult for medical personnel and supplies to reach the rural areas.”

This regional crisis, in particular, served as a reminder that “post-conflict” nations “on path to recovery” still face vulnerabilities, the report noted.

The index relies on 12 indicators (plus other variables) to make its assessment. They account for state legitimacy; demographic pressures; economic performance; intervention of state or non-state actors; provision of public services; and population flight, among others. Each indicator is given equal weight, and countries take a numerical score, with one for the best performance and 10 for the worst.

On this basis, policy makers are encouraged to use the index to frame research questions and to help determine the allocation of humanitarian aid.

Since 2014, FSI moved away from the use of the term “failed” in favour of “fragile,” as a way of acknowledging that in some instances, the pressures a state faces can be beyond its control, said Haken.

For instance, he cited refugee crises in which governments – ill-equipped or not – take on a large number of refugees.

“Failure connotes culpability somewhere, whereas that’s not what this index was ever trying to do,” he said. “It was looking at factors – some of which governments have influence over, some of which they don’t.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Could Peacekeeping Wives Deter Sexual Abuse in U.N. Overseas Operations? Wed, 17 Jun 2015 15:00:34 +0000 Thalif Deen A Uruguayan peacekeeper with UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) watches as the helicopter carrying Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, makes its way back toward Goma after Mrs. Ladsous’ visit in Pinga, North Kivu Province. Credit: UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

A Uruguayan peacekeeper with UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) watches as the helicopter carrying Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, makes its way back toward Goma after Mrs. Ladsous’ visit in Pinga, North Kivu Province. Credit: UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

By Thalif Deen

Back in November 2007, about 108 military personnel from an Asian country, serving with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti, were deported home after being accused of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of minors.

After their return, one of the expelled peacekeepers was quoted in a local newspaper as saying, rather defiantly, “What do you expect us to do when the U.N. is providing us with free condoms?”“I believe that an unstable place with a weak (or no) government may create a sensation of lack of accountability, of power over the local population and a few individuals might feel free to engage in unacceptable behaviour." -- Barbara Tavora-Jainchill

But then all those free condoms were being provided to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases and not to encourage sexual abuse.

As a result of the widespread sexual abuse with peacekeeping missions, the United Nations plans to set up an independent review panel calling for recommendations specifically to prevent these crimes and also to hold those responsible accountable for their deeds and mete out punishments.

But as a preventive measure, would it help if peacekeepers and U.N. staffers are sent on overseas missions along with their wives, partners and families?

Pursuing this line of thinking, Joe Lauria, U.N. correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, told IPS, “Perhaps the U.N. should look into making it possible for U.N. peacekeepers to have their wives and girlfriends and children live with them during their deployment.”

He said he realised it would be an added expense for the U.N. to transport them and perhaps to find suitable housing on U.N. peacekeeping bases.

“But the potential benefits of cutting down on what is an epidemic — of U.N. peacekeepers sexually abusing the people they are sworn to protect — could be immense. It is difficult to understand why the U.N. has never thought of this before.”

Lauria also said there is a longstanding tradition throughout military history of soldiers allowing their wives to accompany them– even to the front.

Two examples are in ancient Rome and in the American Civil War. And U.N. peacekeepers are rarely in combat situations, so the logistics are simpler, he said.

Today U.S. troops stationed at bases abroad, such as in Germany or South Korea, are allowed to live with their families. The wives and girlfriends of U.N. peacekeepers could be expected to live from the salaries of the peacekeepers, perhaps with an additional stipend, he argued.

“It would be troubling for the U.N. not to look into this possibility given all the negative fallout for the organisation, not to mention the serious harm done to the victims of U.N. peacekeeper’s sexual abuse,” said Lauria.

When he raised this issue at a press briefing last week, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that virtually all of the peacekeeping operations, with a couple of exceptions like Cyprus, are “non‑family duty stations for the civilian staff.”

“You raise a point that’s interesting, that I don’t know the answer to. I don’t believe uniformed peacekeepers or police officers are able to bring their spouses along,” he said.

Pressed further by Lauria, Dujarric said: “I think I see where… where you’re going, but I think the issue of abuse of power, of sexual abuse needs to be fought, regardless of what those rules may be.”

Since the United Nations has no political or legal authority to penalise military personnel, most of them escape punishment for their criminal activities because national governments have either refused or have been slow in meting out justice within their own court systems.

Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), representing 60,000 staff working at the United Nations, told IPS that as far as it concerns U.N. civilian staff, “I’m not sure you can draw a link between the two.”

“We have over 21,000 civilian colleagues in field and peacekeeping operations, doing a great job and almost all in what are called non-family duty stations. Yet reported sexual abuse by staff, while horrific, remains extremely low,” he said.

Three staff were reported, investigated and fired for sexual abuse last year.

“So these are very specific cases rather than a generalised trend. All U.N. staff are aware of the organisation’s zero-tolerance approach to sexual abuse and sign a declaration on this when they’re recruited.

“Therefore, I’m not sure that absent spouses is an issue in this sense. In any case, non-family duty stations are declared as such because they are in conflict zones or prone to rebel or terrorist activity. They’re not places to bring spouses or children,” Richards added.

A U.N. staffer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS there were some U.N. civilian staffers, based in a virtual war zone in Iraq, who housed their families in neighbouring Kuwait, but at their own expense.

But staffers serving in these missions are well remunerated with “hazard pay allowances” (HPA) and “mission subsistence allowances” (MSA).

A senior U.N. official told IPS it is very unlikely that wives and families will be permitted in overseas missions, specifically high risk missions, because it would be difficult to ensure their security (and it will double or triple the U.N.’s current burden of protecting staffers).

Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union in New York, told IPS even though being away from the family brings stress, “I believe that an unstable place with a weak (or no) government may create a sensation of lack of accountability, of power over the local population and a few individuals might feel free to engage in unacceptable behaviour.

“Accountability should be strengthened in peacekeeping and political missions and the U.N. should adopt a serious whistleblower policy, because sometimes whistleblowers are the ones who make accountability possible,” she added.

Meanwhile a High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, chaired by former President of Timor-Leste Ramos-Horta, has released a report with a comprehensive assessment of the state of U.N. peace operations and the emerging needs of the future.

At a press conference Tuesday, Ramos-Horta emphasised the United Nations had “zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse.”

He said sexual abuse by peacekeepers “rocks and undermines the most important power the United Nations possesses: its integrity.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Chechen Media Outlet Issues Death Threats against Russian Journalist Fri, 12 Jun 2015 20:57:59 +0000 Nora Happel By Nora Happel
NEW YORK, Jun 12 2015 (IPS)

Press freedom groups are condemning veiled death threats against Novaya Gazeta correspondent Elena Milashina by a Chechen online news portal last month.

In a May 19 editorial entitled “The United States Uses Pawns”, Mavsar Varayev, deputy editor of the state-sponsored Chechen media outlet Grozny Inform, warned Milashina that she is likely to become “the next victim” in a series of murders, supposedly orchestrated by U.S. and Israeli intelligence in a bid to “destabilise” Russia.

Elena Milashina with her International Women of Courage Award at the 2013 awards ceremony in Washington. Credit: State Department photo/Public Domain

Elena Milashina with her International Women of Courage Award at the 2013 awards ceremony in Washington. Credit: State Department photo/Public Domain

He explicitly said she could meet the same fate as Anna Politkovskaya, the Novaya Gazeta journalist murdered in 2006, and Boris Nemtsov, the Russian political opposition leader murdered in March 2015.

As reported by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Milashina considers the article an “order for [her] murder”.

Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, told IPS: “We condemn the threats against our colleague Elena Milashina and call for a thorough investigation.”

“The threats on Grozny Inform follow a campaign of intimidation and harassment against Elena that has been carried out in the pro-government media, including on national television. This is a disturbing trend that can translate into real risk on the ground.

“Given that Elena covers such sensitive subjects as corruption and human rights abuses in the volatile North Caucasus region, Russian authorities must carry out an effective probe into the threats and ensure Elena’s safety as an urgent priority.”

The independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta also perceives the Chechen editorial as a “direct death threat” against an employee and has called upon Russian authorities to investigate the issue.The threats on Grozny Inform follow a campaign of intimidation and harassment against Elena that has been carried out in the pro-government media, including on national television." -- Nina Ognianova of CPJ

Human rights and press freedom organisations have strongly condemned the death threats against Milashina and join Novaya Gazeta in calling for an independent investigation.

According to Amnesty International, “[T]he tone and the content of the article, and the context in which it is being published, in a government-owned media outlet, gives strong reason to fear that the death threats against Elena Milashina are serious.”

The editorial was published shortly after Milashina reported on the planned forced marriage of 17-year-old Louise Goylabieva to Chechen police officer Nazhud Guchigov, who is decades older (originally reported to be 57, but stating himself to be 46) and already married.

Guchigov has close links to Ramzad Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed head of the Chechen Republic, who faces serious allegations of human rights abuses.

After the story attracted worldwide attention, Milashina was warned by police officers at a checkpoint in Chechnya she had better be mindful of her own safety. Activists familiar with the case say the recent threats do not stand alone.

As reported by Human Rights Watch, Milashina has already on several occasions been the target of harassment and threats, apparently in relation to her reporting on enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, racism, torture and the killings of journalists such as her murdered colleagues Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova.

In 2012, Milashina and her friend, Freedom House employee Ella Asoyan, were violently assaulted by two unknown men in the Moscow suburb of Balashikha. After kicking and punching the women, the men stole Milashina’s wallet and Asoyan’s laptop.

According to Human Rights Watch, the ensuing investigation by police was “half-hearted”.

In the Grozny Inform editorial, Varayev classifies the beating as “one of the necessary episodes” in preparing for Milashina’s murder.

Despite the dangers, the journalist says she does not intend to flee her country. In a recent interview with Ekho Moskvy, Milashina reiterated her will to stay in Russia and fulfil her mandate as a journalist.

In 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and First Lady Michelle Obama paid tribute to Milashina’s commitment to freedom and human rights by granting her the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award, a distinction that honours women leaders worldwide who have demonstrated exceptional engagement for human rights, gender equality and social progress.

As translated by The Interpreter, the Grozny Inform editorial refers to the award in its final sentences, stating “the latest hero who will pay for their life for ‘the defense of human rights’ in Russia will be our Novaya Gazeta special correspondent. It was not at all an accident that Secretary of State John Kerry gave Milashina the International Women of Courage award for her journalistic investigation. Let’s hope that it is not posthumous…”

The episode might be viewed as part of a broader media confrontation between Russia and “the West”, which is currently playing out most visibly in the context of the Ukraine crisis, where information warfare and propaganda have assumed increasingly important roles.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Israel, Hamas Escape U.N.’s List of Shame on Attacks on Children Mon, 08 Jun 2015 23:59:39 +0000 Thalif Deen A Palestinian student inspects the damage at a UN school at the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip after the area was hit by Israeli shelling on July 30, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

A Palestinian student inspects the damage at a UN school at the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip after the area was hit by Israeli shelling on July 30, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Thalif Deen

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, reportedly under heavy pressure from the United States and Israel, has decided not to blacklist the Jewish state in an annex to a new U.N. report on children victimised in armed conflicts.

Perhaps in an apparent attempt to be even-handed, he has also excluded Hamas, the Palestinian militant organisation which battled Israel in a 50-day old conflict in Gaza last July.“Facts and consistency dictated that both be included on the list, but political pressure seems to have prevailed." -- Philippe Bolopion of HRW

But an Arab diplomat told IPS any subtle attempt at comparing the two is “far off the mark.”

According to the United Nations, some 557 Palestinian children and four Israeli children were killed, while 4,249 Palestinian children and 22 Israeli children were wounded in that conflict in Gaza.

“It is inconceivable why the secretary-general should be caving in to political pressure, and more so, since he is on his way out,” said the Arab envoy.

“Is he planning to run for a third term in office?” he asked sarcastically.

Ban ends his second term as secretary-general in December 2016 and is rumoured to have plans to run for the presidency of his home country, South Korea.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS that Ban Ki-moon clearly succumbed to U.S. and Israeli pressure by not naming Israel or Hamas in the so-called “List of Shame” despite urging by rights groups such as Human Rights Watch.

What this whole episode demonstrates, however, are the limits of the “both sides” approach when applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she said.

“Yes, absolutely, both sides violate international law in their indiscriminate attacks on civilians, with the harm done to civilians far greater on Israel’s side. But only one side is occupying the other,” she pointed out.

It is ironic to reflect that had it not been for the Israeli occupation, said Hijab, Hamas would not exist today; it only came into being in 1987, after 20 years of Israeli occupation.

“In short, there would be no list of shame at all on this issue without Israel’s occupation,” she declared.

James Paul, who monitored U.N. politics for over 19 years as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS the U.N.’s human rights programmes and policies have often been subject to pressures and censorship by powerful member states.

He said reports concerning Israel or referring to abuses by Israel have been especially exposed to such pressure from Washington.

The latest example, the report on ‘Children and Armed Conflict’, confirms this sorry pattern and damages still further the U.N.’s reputation in the turbulent Middle East, he added.

In spite of well-documented and consistent rights abuses of children, taking many forms, it appears that the secretary-general has decided to censor the draft and let Israel off the hook, said Paul.

“No wonder High Commissioners for Human Rights have had such short tenures, while the whole human rights enterprise at the U.N. is tarnished,” Paul said.

He asked: “Who is thinking about the ability of the U.N. to take leadership in the Middle East conflicts or to defend children in other sensitive zones?”

Luckily, he said, the truth is now well-known and Washington’s censorship will no longer keep it from the attentive global public.

When Ban decided to remove Israel and Hamas from the list, he was rejecting a recommendation by his Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui of Algeria, who included both in the annexed list of non-state actors and rebel groups accused of repeated violations against children.

Philippe Bolopion, U.N. & Crisis Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, expressed disappointment over Ban’s decision to override the advice of his special representative by removing Israel and Hamas.

It is a blow to U.N. efforts to better protect children in armed conflict, he said.

“Facts and consistency dictated that both be included on the list, but political pressure seems to have prevailed. We expected better from a Secretary-General who promised to put ‘human rights up front’,” Bolopion said.

In the body of the report itself, Ban was critical of Israeli actions, specifically during the Gaza conflict.

“I urge Israel to take concrete and immediate steps, including by reviewing existing policies and practices, to protect children, to prevent the killing and maiming of children, and to respect the special protections afforded to schools and hospitals,” Ban said.

“An essential measure in this regard is ensuring accountability for perpetrators of alleged violations. I further urge Israel to engage in a dialogue with my special representative and the United Nations to ensure that there is no recurrence in grave violations against children,” he added.

At a press conference Monday, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric faced a barrage of questions on the secretary-general’s decision to exclude Israel and Hamas from the list.

“Was he under pressure from the United States? What is the rationale for keeping Israel and Hamas out of the list? Does the annex carry the same weight as the report itself?

Dujarric told reporters: “I don’t think anyone was taken on or off.”

The report, he said, is the result of a consultative process within the house. Obviously, it was a difficult decision to take. The Secretary‑General took that decision, he said.

“But, I think what’s important to note is that the report that was shared today is much more than a list.

“It has a large… large report outlining issues raised [like] the shocking treatment of children and the suffering of children that we’re seeing throughout conflict zones including what happened in Gaza and other parts of the State of Palestine.”

“I think in the body of that report, the Secretary‑General expresses his deep alarm at the extent of grave violations, unprecedented and unacceptable. So, I think I would just… I would encourage everyone to not focus so much on the list, but on the report as a whole. And the report, as I said, is much more… much more than the list,” Dujarric said.

Responding to the charges in the report, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, said Ban was right “not to submit to the dictates of the terrorist organizations and the Arab states, in his decision not to include Israel in this shameful list, together with organisations like ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

However, the United Nations still has a long way to go, he said.

Instead of releasing thousands of reports and lists against Israel, the U.N. must unequivocally condemn the terrorist organisations that operate in the Gaza Strip, he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Ni Una Menos – The Cry Against ‘Femicides’ Finally Heard in Argentina Fri, 05 Jun 2015 21:52:18 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet Demonstrators overflowed the plaza in front of the national legislature, in Buenos Aires, demanding an end to killings of women. Credit: Courtesy of Ni Una Menos

Demonstrators overflowed the plaza in front of the national legislature, in Buenos Aires, demanding an end to killings of women. Credit: Courtesy of Ni Una Menos

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jun 5 2015 (IPS)

In the wake of the massive response to their call to protest violence against women in Argentina, the organisers of this week’s demonstrations are starting to plan the steps to be taken to get results for their demand “Ni Una Menos” (not one less), taking advantage of the strength in numbers shown to obtain political support for public policies aimed at protecting women.

“This mobilisation has concrete proposals,” said Fabiana Túñez, one of the founders of La Casa del Encuentro, an organisation that took part in the protests that filled the streets of the capital and other cities on Wednesday Jun. 3, demanding an end to gender-related killings.

In an interview with IPS, Túñez said “the hope is that all public officials and possible candidates who were photographed (in the protests) will now respond to the strength shown by the people in the streets and incorporate in their agendas policies to step up the effort to fight violence against women.”

The call to take to the streets emerged spontaneously over the social networks in response to the slogan “Ni Una Menos” (not one less), launched by a group of journalists, artists and activists demanding that women be protected from violent deaths at the hands of men.

The response in Buenos Aires, outside of Congress, and in other cities around the country, was massive: demonstrators overflowed the parks into surrounding streets. In a politically polarised country, the slogan brought together a broad spectrum of mutually antagonistic political parties, trade unions, student organisations, and even conservative religious groups.

“No more femicides”, “Let’s stop raising helpless princesses and violent little men”, “We apologise for the inconvenience, they’re killing us”, “If you love us don’t beat us, don’t rape us, don’t kill us” read some of the signs carried by an estimated 200,000 protesters in the capital alone, according to the most conservative estimates. Most of the demonstrators were women, but there were also a significant number of men and entire families.

“Society is tired of hearing about femicides,” Tuñez said. “And that created a breeding-ground for outrage.”

Based on cases covered by the press, La Casa del Encuentro says that in the last seven years 1,808 women have been murdered in killings whose main motive or cause was gender-based discrimination, leaving thousands of children without a mother and often forced to live with their mother’s killer.

According to statistics provided by the organisation during the protest, which it stressed were not complete, the incidence of femicide increased in this country of 43 million people from one every 40 hours in 2008 to one every 30 hours in 2014.

One of the demands is for complete official statistics on femicide. Others are guaranteed access to justice and protection and more shelters for victims of domestic violence.

“We will try to meet with potential candidates (for the October general elections) to outline proposals along different lines, and we hope they will listen to us, because we will keep saying – and these protests showed this very clearly – that it is a cross-cutting issue,” Túñez said.

“All of the parties must incorporate into concrete proposals what society has already made a concrete agenda,” she said.

Soraima Torres, her daughter Mariela and her granddaughter, three generations of Argentine women, hold up signs with the slogan “Ni Una Menos”, in the demonstration against femicide in Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Soraima Torres, her daughter Mariela and her granddaughter, three generations of Argentine women, hold up signs with the slogan “Ni Una Menos”, in the demonstration against femicide in Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The document, read out during the demonstrations by artists like cartoonist Maitena (Burundarena), calls for “the implementation, budget funds and adequate monitoring of the National Action Plan for the Prevention, Assistance and Eradication of Violence Against Women, contained in law 26.485 on Integral Protection of Women,” which has not yet been codified.

Making their voices heard
Soraima Torres, a protester, told IPS “We are asking that the laws be enforced. We don’t want sexist judges – we are fighting the fact that anyone has the right to touch or rape my daughter, because she goes out in a miniskirt.”

“Men should be taught not to hurt, not to rape, not to beat, not to kill – and to call for gender equality,” said her daughter Mariela, holding her own daughter in her arms. “I’m not less than a man.”

The organisers also demanded the full implementation of the sex education plan introduced by the government of Cristina Fernández, which is not completely in effect due to pressure from conservative groups.

Another protester, 18-year-old Evelyn Garazo, said sex education should help change the way women conceive of “love”.

“I have friends with boyfriends who are verbally violent, or really controlling, who don’t let them go out with their friends,” she told IPS. “And they think that’s normal, because it’s a demand coming from the boy who supposedly loves them.”

As Maitena said, underlying femicides are cultural conceptions “that tend to see women as objects to be consumed and discarded.”

Two students who said this was their first protest told IPS they felt unsafe on the street. “There shouldn’t be the slightest violence on the street, like men shouting at you – you can even be raped or killed,” said one of them, Candela Rivero.

“People always think men are superior to women and that they can shout at you, touch your rear end, do anything they want and you have to put up with it because you don’t know if they’ll grab you or do something to you. You have to keep your mouth shut and just keep walking, afraid.”

Men too

The men who participated in the protests are prepared to take part in the struggle.

Economist Sergio Drucaroff told IPS that “Changes should also be demanded on TV if we really want to eradicate gender violence. The number of commercials that put women in the place they occupied five decades ago is obscene.

“Do they think I don’t also buy laundry soap, detergent or pasta? And it is unacceptable that dozens of programmes have segments dedicated to sexist jokes that degrade women,” he added.

Public employee Luis Bignone told IPS “As men, we have to raise awareness among all those ‘machista’ men who beat their wives, or verbally abuse them, another form of mistreatment. We have to show them that being violent doesn’t make them more macho.”

Many of the complaints targeted the justice system – and some even came from the president, who backed the demonstrations.

“Some judges don’t even bear mentioning: just six months for a man who beat a woman in the street,” said President Fernández.

“It’s not just a judicial or police problem. We’re facing a culture that is devastating to women, wherever they happen to be,” she tweeted.

The victims’ families

The families of victims also took part in “The Day Women Said: Enough!” as one local headline described the protests.

One of the cases that caused outrage was the recent murder of Chiara Páez, a pregnant 14-year-old who was beaten to death by her teenage boyfriend and buried in his backyard.

But that was just one of the most visible of the many murders of women at the hands of their current or former boyfriends or husbands.

Julia Ibarra carried a sign with the photo of her 21-year-old daughter Tamara López, who was murdered in El Tigre, a town just north of Buenos Aires where a number of rape and murder cases have been reported, with speculation that drug and people trafficking, and complicity by the authorities, are involved.

“Tamara left home on Jan. 15 at 23:00 and told me ‘I’ll be right back.’ I reported the people who had her feeling terrified. But she turned up dead nine days later,” Tamara’s mother told IPS. Her daughter’s boyfriend was a drug dealer and has been implicated in the deaths of at least two other women.

Edited Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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‘Legal Friends’ Fight Gender Violence in Rural India Thu, 04 Jun 2015 16:59:42 +0000 Stella Paul Phulkali Bai’s family members physically tortured her for joining Narmada Mahila Sangh (NMS), a women’s rights group in central India, but she refused to quit. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Phulkali Bai’s family members physically tortured her for joining Narmada Mahila Sangh (NMS), a women’s rights group in central India, but she refused to quit. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
BETUL, India, Jun 4 2015 (IPS)

Mamta Bai, 36, distinctly remembers the first time the police came to her village: it was December 2014 and her neighbour, Purva Bai, had just been beaten unconscious by her alcoholic husband, prompting Mamta to make a distress call to the nearest station.

Once in the neighborhood, policemen pulled the abusive husband out of his home and asked the village women if they wanted him to be arrested.

“We want a life of dignity, free of violence. Nothing else matters more than that.” -- Ramvati Bai, a survivor of domestic violence and member of Narmada Mahila Sangh, a local rights group in central India
“Yes,” they answered in unison. But first, they wanted him to be tied to a pole in the middle of the village. “We wanted everyone to see what would happen to wife beaters from now on,” recalls Mamta Bai, a ‘Kanooni Sakhi’ (meaning ‘legal friend’ in Hindi) with the local rights group Narmada Mahila Sangh (NMS).

Spread across 213 villages in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the organisation helps victims of domestic violence seek justice. But as the incident above indicates, these activists are not your average legal defenders.

Steeped in the harsh realities that govern life in India’s vast and lawless central states, the women know that the justice system here – from the police stations to the courts to the jails – are riddled with corruption, bureaucracy and entrenched patriarchal attitudes.

So they seek local solutions to their problems.

In this case, they weren’t content to let the offender spend a few nights in jail only to return to the same home and habits as before. So they went a step further, and extracted from Purva Bai’s husband a signed letter to the local police chief in which he vowed never to hurt his wife again.

“We wanted to teach him a lesson. The arrest and the humiliation of being tied to a pole in public view made him afraid,” says Santri Bai, another NMS member. “Now he knows, 42 of us [women] are ready to send him to the prison if he ever ill-treats his wife.”

Torture, burnings, deaths

Narmada Mahila Sangh operates in the Betul and Hoshangabad districts of Madhya Pradesh, a state that has an exceptionally high rate of gender-based violence, with 62 percent of women experiencing some form of abuse compared to the national average of 52 percent.

These crimes include molestation, marital rape, murder, beatings, dowry-related killings and, in the case of women suspected of practicing ‘witchcraft’, torture and burnings.

In 2013-14, the state registered 10,000 violent acts against women, 4,000 of which took place in Betul district.

Despite this grim reality, NMS was not founded to tackle gender-based crimes. It began in 2002 as a federation of women’s self-help groups focused on economic empowerment, with each unit running small savings schemes and generating collective loans to improve their livelihoods.

According to the Planning Commission of India, Madhya Pradesh has an extreme poverty rate of 35 percent, compared to India’s national average of 25 percent. This means that the state is home to some 30 million people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day.

But as the women began spending more time on trying to break the cycle of poverty, they faced backlash from their husbands and other community members.

Women members of Narmada Mahila Sangh (NMS), a women’s rights group, meet in Borgaon village in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Women members of Narmada Mahila Sangh (NMS), a women’s rights group, meet in Borgaon village in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

“Women began to attend meetings, visit each other’s homes, discuss livelihood options and also take more interest in the affairs of their own family, such as their children’s education,” explains Asha Ayulkar, a resident of Chiklar village, not far from Betul town.

“This angered family members, especially men who saw it as women challenging their authority and breaking with tradition. They beat them as punishment.”

So in 2012, having grown its membership to over 9,000 members, NMS began a kind of ‘crusade’, launched with the belief that changing women’s economic situation could not be accomplished without simultaneously tackling deeply entrenched patriarchal values.

Collective education, community support

The first order of business was to secure some kind of training, since few women in these rural areas have a formal education let alone specialised legal expertise.

While the literacy rate for Madhya Pradesh is estimated to be 70 percent, it falls to just 60 percent for women – and even this gives no real indication of true literacy levels, since many girls drop out before completing secondary schooling.

With the help of civil society organisations like Pradan, a non-profit that works to empower marginalised communities, 30 members of NMS are now trained paralegals and they in turn run workshops for other women in the villages on a range of issues from understanding existing laws and policies, to learning how to conduct a basic investigation before approaching the police.

“We also learn of how to talk to a survivor and counsel her – a Kanooni Sakhi must meet her alone, lock eyes with her, and appear strong, yet sympathetic,” Ayulkar explains to IPS.

“Together we learn about the Indian Penal Code and its various articles relating to torture, assault, rape and dowry deaths.”

Although the 50-year-old only studied until the 6th grade, she is today the district’s most respected paralegal, and boasts a success rate of over 80 percent.

Cutting the red tape

The initiative, though small when compared to the scale of gender-based violence in this country of 1.2 billion people, is an example of how community justice can often be more effective than the centralised legal system.

Sexual and physical abuse is a grossly underreported offence throughout India, with a recent study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology revealing that only two percent of victims of gender-based crimes report the incident to the authorities.

This could be due to the dismal conviction rate, which the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) estimates at just 30 percent – meaning seven out of 10 perpetrators generally walk free.

Even those that are booked for a crime often spend a few years – sometimes even just a few days – in jail before rejoining the community.

Various Kanooni Sakhis (legal friends) tell IPS that attackers get off scot-free by bribing the police. Other times, authorities simply refuse to report complaints at all – activists recount incidents of women sitting for entire days at police stations attempting to file a First Information Report (FIR).

“So NMS trains women on how to lodge their cases, how to request public prosecutors when they can’t afford a lawyer and how to check the status of a complaint by using the Right to Information Act,” Mamta Bai tells IPS.

Lawyers from the Indian capital of New Delhi and Madhya Pradesh’s capital, Bhopal, have all participated in trainings schemes to strengthen the women’s group.

The result, experts say, is impressive.

“The women are now keeping records of each case,” Angana Gupta, assistant manager at the Mumbai-based L&T Finances – one of Pradan’s partner organisations – tells IPS. “They have files for each case with details of the evidence, the steps taken and the official responses. They are also using mobile phones and tablets to network with fellow gender activists.”

Social backlash

Learning the law was the easy step. The harder part has been – and will continue to be – changing social attitudes in these rural areas.

Take the case of Ramvati Bai, a tribal woman in Bakud village. A widowed mother of two, Ramvati was sexually harassed and assaulted by her father-in-law for three years. But when she finally gathered the courage to file a complaint, the police dismissed her, calling it a “family matter”.

It was only after her fellow NMS members intervened that the police registered a case and arrested the accused. But this angered Ramvati’s relations who ordered her to leave their home.

Phulkali Bai of Borgaon village was also thrown out of her home a few weeks ago after she filed a court case against her physically abusive in-laws.

Fortunately for both, NMS has offered steady support, helping them get back on their feet by finding work and building their own huts to live in.

But some, like 28-year-old Nirmala Bai, are not so lucky. She died in 2013, after her husband allegedly strangled her and set her body on fire. The police arrested the husband for abetment of suicide but then released him on parole.

Despite their determination to seek justice for the deceased girl, NMS had to abandon the case as the victim’s family members refused to came forward to bear witness.

They don’t let these setbacks get them down. They continue their micro-savings schemes and push ahead with the cases that need their help. Village Protection Committees identify threats or patterns and try to step in before tragedy occurs. If it does, NMS members help each other to keep moving.

“We want a life of dignity, free of violence,” Ramvati Bai tells IPS. “Nothing else matters more than that.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Sets Up Independent Panel to Probe Sexual Abuses in CAR Wed, 03 Jun 2015 18:56:48 +0000 Thalif Deen A displaced family in Bouar, Central African Republic. As of February 2014, the town and region around Bouar were experiencing ethnic cleansing, principally against Muslim civilians. Credit: Nicolas Rost for OCHA

A displaced family in Bouar, Central African Republic. As of February 2014, the town and region around Bouar were experiencing ethnic cleansing, principally against Muslim civilians. Credit: Nicolas Rost for OCHA

By Thalif Deen

The United Nations, which came under heavy fire for its failure to act swiftly on charges of sexual abuse by French troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) last year, has decided to set up an External Independent Review (EIR) to probe these allegations.

U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters Wednesday the review will be broad in scope and the composition of the team will be announced next week.“If Mr. Ban Ki-moon and Member States want to rescue zero tolerance, they must cleanse the UN system of negligence and misconduct once and for all." -- AIDS-Free World

He said the EIR will not only examine the treatment of the specific report of abuse in the Central African Republic – by soldiers not affiliated with the United Nations – but also a broad range of systemic issues related to how the U.N. responds to serious information of this kind.

The establishment of the review panel is also the result of strong criticism from civil society organisations (CSOs), which lambasted the United Nations for its alleged “cover-up” and for not responding fast enough.

Among the allegations were charges that French soldiers traded food in exchange for sex with starving minors and teenagers.

Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World, who helped break the story of a long-suppressed report on sexual abuse in CAR, told IPS she welcomes the appointment of the EIR and “it was a step in the right direction.”

But, she cautioned, no one from the U.N. staff or the Secretariat should be associated with the team, primarily because they cannot investigate themselves.

Donovan said she sincerely hopes this EIR is not a thinly-disguised excuse to allow U.N. staffers to refuse to comment on any ongoing or future sexual abuses on the ground because “the panel is at work.”

Amongst the many demands by CSOs was for any review panel to be armed with subpoena powers in order to strengthen the scope of the investigation.

As has been stated over the past few weeks, Dujarric told reporters, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “is deeply disturbed by the allegations of sexual abuse by soldiers in the CAR, as well as allegations of how this was handled by the various parts of the U.N. system involved.”

His intention in setting up this review is to ensure that the United Nations does not fail the victims of sexual abuse, especially when committed by those who are meant to protect them.

In a statement released Wednesday, AIDS-Free World, which over the last several weeks has launched its Code Blue campaign demanding answers for the sexual abuse in CAR, said the secretary-general has three challenges.

First, this must be a truly external and independent inquiry. No member of existing U.N. staff should be appointed to investigate nor to act as the investigators’ secretariat.

Second, it must be understood that top members of the secretary-general’s own staff will have to be subject to investigation. This must go right up to the level of under-secretaries general (USG).

No one can be excluded, whether the director of the Ethics Office or the USG of the Office of Internal Oversight Services or the secretary-general’s own Chef de Cabinet.

“It would appear that all of them acted inappropriately in response to the dreadful events in CAR,” the statement said.

Third, the reference in the secretary-general’s announcement to a review of ‘the broad range of systemic issues’ is crucial to the inquiry.

“What happened in the Central African Republic was an atrocity, but the fact that the U.N. stood silent for nearly a year after its own discovery of widespread peacekeeper sexual abuse (even if by non-U.N. troops) is itself a bitter commentary on the Secretary-General’s declared policy of ‘zero tolerance’,” the statement said.

“If Mr. Ban Ki-moon and Member States want to rescue zero tolerance, they must cleanse the UN system of negligence and misconduct once and for all.”

Last year, there were more than 50 cases of sexual abuse at the hands of U.N.-supported field personnel, although the actual number is said to be far higher.

The existence of diplomatic immunity is said to allow perpetrators to go unpunished and avoid legal constraints.

A longstanding proposal, going to back to 2008, for an international convention to punish those accused of sex crimes in U.N. operations overseas never got off the ground.

But against the backdrop of the current campaign, called Code Blue, the proposal may be revived, even though it could be shot down by developing countries which provide most of the soldiers in the 16 peacekeeping operations currently under way, with an estimated total of 106,595 military personnel and 17,000 civilian staff.

The largest contributors of peacekeepers include Bangladesh (9,307 troops), Pakistan (8,163), India (8,112), Ethiopia (7,864) and Rwanda (5,575), according to the latest U.N. figures.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Corporate Tax Dodging Cheats Africa Out of 6 Billion Dollars, Says Oxfam Tue, 02 Jun 2015 06:23:55 +0000 Sean Buchanan By Sean Buchanan
LONDON, Jun 2 2015 (IPS)

G7-based companies and investors cheated Africa out of an estimated six billion dollars in a year through just one form of tax dodging, according to a new Oxfam report ‘Money talks: Africa at the G7’, released Jun. 2.

This is equivalent to three times the amount needed to plug the healthcare funding gap in the Ebola-affected countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and at-risk Guinea Bissau.

According to an Oxfam briefing paper release in April this year, an estimated 1.7 billion dollars is required to close the healthcare funding gap to improve dangerously inadequate health systems in these countries. This figure is based on raising spending to the recommendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) that 86 dollars per capita is required to achieve the minimum package of essential services.“Multinational companies, many with headquarters in the United Kingdom and other G7 countries, are cheating African countries out of billions of dollars in vital tax revenues that could help vulnerable people get decent healthcare and send their children to school” – Nick Brye, Oxfam’s Head of U.K. Campaigns

The new Oxfam report comes as G7 leaders prepare to meet their African counterparts at the annual summit in Bavaria, Germany from Jun. 8 to 9. African leaders from Ethiopia (Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn), Liberia (President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf), Nigeria (President Muhammadu Buhari) and Senegal (President Macky Sall) are scheduled to join an outreach session on Jun. 8.

Oxfam is calling for the leaders of the G7 countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom and United States – to include action for ambitious tax reform in discussions about how the group can support economic growth and sustainable development on the continent.

In the United Kingdom, Oxfam is part of a coalition that has been calling on the recently elected new British government to show leadership by introducing a Tax Dodging Bill, which would make it harder for U.K. companies to avoid paying tax in the countries in which they operate – practices which currently cost some of the world’s poorest countries billions each year.

The coalition, which includes ActionAid and Christian Aid in addition to Oxfam, is currently running a Tax Dodging Bill campaign.

According to Oxfam, a well-crafted Tax Dodging Bill would also make it harder for big companies to avoid paying tax in the United Kingdom, and could bring in at least 3.6 billion pounds (5.4 billion dollars) a year to the U.K. Treasury, the equivalent of 600 pounds (910 dollars) for every household living below the poverty line.

“Multinational companies, many with headquarters in the United Kingdom and other G7 countries, are cheating African countries out of billions of dollars in vital tax revenues that could help vulnerable people get decent healthcare and send their children to school,” said Nick Brye, Oxfam’s Head of U.K. Campaigns.

“To fund the fight against poverty and to tackle worsening extreme inequality, we need action to ensure big companies pay their fair share, here and in the world’s poorest nations.”

Oxfam also notes that existing international efforts to tackle corporate tax dodging, such as the BEPS (Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) process, led by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation (OECD) for the G20 group of the world’s major economies, will leave gaping tax loopholes.

It warns that these loopholes can continue to be exploited by multinational companies across the developing world and that many African nations have been shut out of discussions on BEPS reform and will not benefit from them as a result.

Oxfam is also calling for British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne to attend July’s Financing for Development Conference in Ethiopia which will play host to heads of states and finance ministers from around the world.

The talks, which will focus on how the international community will fund development over the next two decades, are an opportunity for governments to work together to start shaping a more democratic and fairer global tax system.

In 2010, the last year for which data are available, Oxfam says that companies and investors based in G7 countries avoided paying tax on 20 billion dollars of income through a practice called trade mispricing – where a company artificially sets the prices for goods or services sold among its subsidiaries to avoid taxation.

With corporate tax rates in Africa averaging 28 percent, this equates to nearly six billion dollars in lost revenues. In addition, developing countries as a whole lose around 100 billion dollars a year through tax avoidance schemes involving tax havens, according to the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

“Reforming global corporate tax rules so that African governments can claim the money owed to them is vital to tackle extreme poverty and inequality and boost economic growth, said Brye. “That’s why Oxfam has been calling for a U.K. Tax Dodging Bill that would ensure U.K. companies do their bit to help poor families at home and in developing countries.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Small Arms Proliferation a Trigger for Rising Wildlife Crimes Mon, 01 Jun 2015 18:12:42 +0000 Thalif Deen Mother and young rhinoceros killed for their horns. The poaching of elephants and rhinos is becoming “increasingly militarized." Credit: Hein waschefort/cc by 3.0

Mother and young rhinoceros killed for their horns. The poaching of elephants and rhinos is becoming “increasingly militarized." Credit: Hein waschefort/cc by 3.0

By Thalif Deen

The ongoing military conflicts in the Middle East and Africa continue to be fuelled by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW), primarily assault rifles, sub machine guns, hand grenades, portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, rockets and self-loading pistols.

But the latest Small Arms Survey 2015, released Monday, says some of these weapons are also being used to destroy wild life and help misappropriate the earth’s mineral riches."Poor law enforcement and corruption among government officials and security officers facilitate wildlife crime and trafficking." -- Paula Kahumbu of WildlifeDirect

The poaching of elephants and rhinos is becoming “increasingly militarized,” says the report, while the negative impact of climate change is triggering human interactions, including on underlying causes for armed conflicts, as well as on actual fighting.

Besides the killing of thousands of humans in current military conflicts, perhaps the next most devastating impact of small arms and light weapons is on the destruction of wildlife.

As the demand for ivory and rhino horn remains high, both poachers and anti-poaching forces are becoming increasingly militarised using military-style weapons and adopting more aggressive tactics.

In Africa, elephant populations are in decline, and the illicit killing of rhinos has escalated sharply over recent years, according to the survey.

“The actors involved in poaching these animals include armed militias, rogue military officers, commercial poachers and bush meat and subsistence hunters.”

The illegal rhino horn trade reportedly threatens all African species of rhino. But despite some successful efforts to re-introduce rhinos to protected areas in South Africa, which is home to 80 percent of all African rhinos, the rate of poaching continues to accelerate, according to the World Wildlife Fund International (WWF).

Paula Kahumbu, a leading conservationist and executive director of WildlifeDirect, says today’s wildlife crime threatens the survival of endangered and vulnerable species in many African countries.

She said evidence documented by her Kenya-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) shows that legal penalties designed to deter such crimes have had little impact on poachers and traffickers.

“Worse, poor law enforcement and corruption among government officials and security officers facilitate wildlife crime and trafficking,” she warns.

The survey also points out the role of climate change in present and possibly future conflicts.

In tropical war zones, fighting traditionally stops during the rainy season, only to resume when the soil hardens enough for vehicles to navigate unpaved roads.

And even battle tactics are determined and influenced by the state of terrain.

“In some parts of the world, rainy seasons are now shifting in time and intensity. As global warming alters temperature, rainfall and sea levels, as many expect it will, it is almost certain to affect armed violence and armed conflict in ways that for now are predictable,” according to the survey.

The proliferation of small arms is also responsible for the illegal extraction of natural resources, transforming remote outposts into urban hubs virtually overnight.

As a result, it spurs insecurity and violence as different groups compete over spoils and local communities protest perceived wrongs.

The extraction of oil, gas and precious minerals is accompanied by significant urbanisation of adjoining areas and the effort to control and secure resources can attract a variety of armed actors, including security forces and predatory groups.

The survey, produced annually with the support of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and several other Western nations, also focuses on the small arms trade, floating armouries, the increasing number of private security firms, the Arms Trade Treaty and the U.N.’s Programme of Action to track the flow of illegal weapons.

According to the latest available U.N. statistics, the biggest exporters of small arms and light weapons include the United States, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Austria, South Korea, Russia, China, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Norway and Japan.

With weapons continuing to all into the hands of armed groups, the survey says these groups “are better armed (today) than they were a decade ago”.

The arms in their possession include large calibre weapons. And “of particular concern is jihadist possession of man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS), although many of these may be inoperable.”

The weapons used by most insurgent groups consists largely of Cold War-era Soviet and Chinese arms and ammunition, ”but they also use more recently-produced materiel from Bulgaria and China, among other states.”

Focusing specifically on the politically volatile Middle East, the survey says parts of the Middle East and North Africa suffer from high levels of armed violence, armed conflict and political instability, as well as the risk of small arms misuse and diversion.

According to the survey, there is little evidence the “Arab Spring” has had a significant impact on the policies of major exporters of small arms to the region.

Libya is the only state affected by the uprisings to be subject to a U.N. arms embargo.

And efforts to impose such an embargo on Syria have failed, and the option has not been discussed with regard to Egypt.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Garment Sweatshops in Argentina an Open Secret Sat, 30 May 2015 13:59:12 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet A clandestine textile sweatshop in the Flores neighbourhood of the Argentine capital that suffered two fires: one on Apr. 27 that killed two Bolivian boys, aged seven and 10, and the second on May 7, which gutted the building and was apparently intentionally set to eliminate evidence of illegal activities. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A clandestine textile sweatshop in the Flores neighbourhood of the Argentine capital that suffered two fires: one on Apr. 27 that killed two Bolivian boys, aged seven and 10, and the second on May 7, which gutted the building and was apparently intentionally set to eliminate evidence of illegal activities. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 30 2015 (IPS)

The death of two Bolivian boys in a fire and the mistreatment and sexual abuse of a young Bolivian woman put the problem of slave-like labour conditions in clandestine sweatshops back in the headlines in Argentina.

The state, the textile and fashion industries, and consumers mutually blame each other for the problem.

The two brothers aged seven and 10 died on Apr. 27 in a fire in one of the numerous clandestine garment workshops in Flores, a Buenos Aires neighbourhood, where their parents, immigrants from Bolivia, were living and working.

A few days earlier, Rosa Payro, a 21-year-old from Bolivia, was rescued from another sweatshop on the outskirts of Buenos Aries after nearly three years of being raped, beaten, tortured and held captive by distant relatives she was working for.

These two cases reflect a complex situation, Juan Vásquez, a former sweatshop worker who now forms part of Simbiosis Cultural, a collective of Bolivian immigrants seeking to draw attention to the appalling conditions in the clandestine workshops, told IPS.

“When people talk about slave labour, they think of it as a ‘Bolivian’ thing and they don’t associate it with consumerism, with local working class people, with the connivance of the national and city governments,” said Vásquez. “We are merely the leftovers, the excluded, the exiled.”

According to the Alameda Foundation, there are some 3,000 sweatshops in and around Buenos Aires alone, with an average of 10 employees each. The majority of the roughly 30,000 workers are from Bolivia, South America’s poorest country. But there are also Peruvians, as well as workers from other Argentine provinces.

“They live in the same place where they are exploited, and they work over 16 hours a day,” said Lucas Schaerer, spokesman for the Alameda Foundation, which fights slave and child labour and the trafficking of persons for sexual exploitation. “They are completely under the control of their boss.”

He told IPS that “they’re forced to pay taxes, they eat in the same place they work, in inhumane conditions. Their meals, discounted from their wages, are skimpy, which is why they have a high incidence of tuberculosis. They live in concentration camp-style dormitories with bunkbeds and bathrooms shared by 30, 50, 60 people.”

In Argentina, a country of 41 million people, including 1.8 million foreign nationals, the law on immigration guarantees the right to work, education and healthcare for South American immigrants. But many of these modern-day slaves are undocumented. And according to estimates by non-governmental organisations, 90 percent of them work in agriculture or the textile industry.

“They often traffic them without documents or identification,” said Schaerer, referring to the sweatshop owners, who are sometimes relatives or acquaintances of the trafficking victims.

“Many don’t want to try to legalise their status because they think they’ll be deported,” Alfredo Ayala, the president of the Asociación Civil Federativa Boliviana, told IPS.

Schaerer said that the sweatshops are the last link in the garment industry chain, and that nearly 80 percent of the industry depends on them.

“It’s all part of a big scheme: people are trafficked, reduced to slavery conditions, and forced to work making clothes” for big and small brand names, street fairs, famous designers, fashion boutiques, counterfeit clothing markets, and even government departments, he said.

He cited a 2006 internal audit by the Defence Ministry, which found that the army procured supplies from clandestine workshops.

“Many different parties share responsibility for this criminal activity,” where national and municipal laws are violated, Schaerer said. “A large number of immigrants come into the country illegally in buses. They enter from Bolivia (over the northern border), and ride across nearly half of Argentina without running into any kind of controls,” he added.

He also said the racket is closely linked to drug trafficking, which uses the sweatshops to launder money.

Schaerer said the national government was responsible for failing to codify the Law on the Prevention and Punishment of Trafficking in Persons, and the Buenos Aires city government for failing to monitor and carry out inspections, and for protecting the clothing brands that have been denounced.

Ayala complained that members of the police “guarantee that the sweatshops will be safe from problems in exchange for bribes.”

One example was the workshop where the two boys died. Despite the police guard after the first fire, it was set ablaze on May 7, in an apparently intentional fire aimed at eliminating documents and evidence.

Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri blamed the sweatshop problem on the lack of jobs, “combined with illegal immigration,” and said the factories often do not let the city inspectors in.

In 10 years, the Alameda Foundation received some 5,000 complaints of slave and child labour, mistreatment and sexual abuse, as in the case of Payro.

But although 110 national and international brands – some of them famous – have been named in legal proceedings for allegedly buying from sweatshops, only one was found guilty.

“It’s a complex system…that is necessarily nourished by immigration” – in other words, a segment of the population without a social safety network or money, said Vásquez.

“When you come here you’re very vulnerable because you don’t know the place…they tell you ‘this is where you’ll work, and we’ll bring your meals,’ and you start to just accept the situation as normal. You don’t question anything because they’re giving you a solution after things were really hard back in your own country,” he said.

He was nine years old when he came to Argentina with his brother and his mother, who pawned their house to find a job. “The idea was to come here and not go back, because we didn’t have money. My last memory of Bolivia is being hungry. I remember her desperation to find some money,” he said.

After a complicated border crossing, they made it to the small factory where his father worked. For three months the family shared a single bunk.

These hardships were compounded by discrimination. At school Vásquez was teased and bullied for his accent and dark skin.

At the age of 16, he started to work in a sweatshop, and his parents opened their own.

“It’s all just seen as normal, and it doesn’t have to do with cultural characteristics,” he said. “When my mom opened up her workshop she didn’t think: now I’m going to exploit people and make money off of them. She had learned how the system worked. She saw working 16 hours, in those conditions, as something normal.

“It’s capitalism overlapping with the issue of immigration,” Vásquez said.

“My fellow Bolivians are often unfamiliar with the laws, and break them,” Ayala said. “They don’t know for example that what they’re doing is trafficking in persons. Sometimes they bring over a relative, thinking they’re doing them a favour, without knowing that they’re committing a crime.”

The Alameda Foundation proposes alternatives like textile cooperatives in workshops that have been confiscated or recovered by the workers.

They are also calling for an obligatory label to guarantee to consumers that what they’re buying was not made in a sweatshop, with slave labour. The governmental National Institute of Industrial Technology tried to adopt a voluntary label, but only one big clothing store accepted it.

Ayala is asking the government “to raise awareness about the laws so people don’t keep bringing people in” and to monitor the big clothing manufacturers, “because without them slave labour wouldn’t exist.”

For its part, the government encourages people to report sweatshops and cases of abuse to the special prosecutor’s office to fight human trafficking and exploitation.

“We say that instead of closing the workshops, we have to open them up, in order to find the solution together with the main actor: the textile worker,” said Vásquez.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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