Inter Press Service » Crime & Justice http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Wed, 16 Apr 2014 09:32:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Russian Law Corners Drug Users http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russian-law-corners-drug-users/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russian-law-corners-drug-users http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russian-law-corners-drug-users/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 06:54:40 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133685 As local authorities prepare to put an end to opioid substitution treatment (OST) programmes in the newly annexed Crimean peninsula, drug users there say they are being forced to choose between a return to addiction and becoming refugees. OST – where methadone and buprenorphine are given to opioid addicts under medical supervision – has been […]

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An OST patient in Simferopol, Crimea. OST programmes are to finish soon following annexation of the region by Russia. Credit: HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine.

An OST patient in Simferopol, Crimea. OST programmes are to finish soon following annexation of the region by Russia. Credit: HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine.

By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

As local authorities prepare to put an end to opioid substitution treatment (OST) programmes in the newly annexed Crimean peninsula, drug users there say they are being forced to choose between a return to addiction and becoming refugees.

OST – where methadone and buprenorphine are given to opioid addicts under medical supervision – has been available in Ukraine for almost a decade.

But Russian law forbids its provision, and Russian government officials have said they intend to close OST services in the region by the end of this month."We don’t know what the future holds. Without substitution therapy, I will die."

Organisations working to provide services to drug users on the peninsula say this has put the future health of more than 800 people receiving OST in the region in doubt.

They say that distances to the nearest facilities in Ukraine offering the treatment mean it would be impossible for drug users to access OST services without leaving Crimea permanently.

Without this lifeline treatment, they warn, many users will turn back to dangerous drug habits, reverting to crime or prostitution to support their addiction, and sharing contaminated needles.

Anton Basenko, a member of the All Ukrainian Association of OST Participants, told IPS: “Many of these people, just like me, have HIV, hepatitis C and other chronic diseases complementing their drug dependence. Stopping substitution therapy for the majority of them is the same as denying them oxygen to breathe. They are being thrown back to crime and despair.”

Drug users in Crimea who spoke to IPS said they were dreading their futures without OST.

One 32-year-old drug user from Sevastopol, a mother of one who gave her name only as Ludmila, told IPS: “I am hoping to start a full-time job in a few weeks but this will be impossible for me if I cannot receive OST. My husband, who also receives OST, currently has a job but he will lose it if he stops getting his treatment. Ending these programmes will be a disaster for this whole family.”

Another, who gave his name only as Vitaliy, told IPS he had been helped by the OST he had been receiving for the last four years. He said he did not want to leave his home in Sevastopol but was afraid of what might happen to him if he did not.

The 27-year-old said: “I don’t want to go but at the same time I don’t want to return to injection drug use.”

A 37-year-old man who asked to be called ‘Yevgeny Kovalenko’ (not his real name), who has been receiving OST in Simferopol since 2008, said he faced a stark choice.

He told IPS: “I am scared, my friends are scared. We don’t know what the future holds. Without substitution therapy, I will die. And that is not me just being dramatic or using a figure of speech, I will literally die.  So will many others.”

Groups such as the HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine say some drug users have already left Crimea to ensure they can continue to access OST. The Alliance is preparing for hundreds to arrive in Kiev looking for help when the programmes close in Crimea.

But while those who make it to Kiev will be able to get help, those that cannot, or choose not to leave their homes in Crimea, will be left to deal with their addiction in a region where local authorities will be enforcing repressive Russian policies on drugs.

Under Russian legislation, minor drug offences are punished severely with, for example, convictions for possession of even the smallest amounts of heroin – including residue in a syringe. Such offences carry lengthy jail sentences.

Russia has one of the world’s fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics, which UNAIDS and other bodies say has been historically driven by injection drug use.

Ukraine, which also has a serious HIV/AIDS epidemic, has recently reduced the rate of new HIV infections – a success put down to the widespread implementation of harm reduction programmes.

It is unclear at the moment what effect Crimea becoming part of Russia will have on the provision of harm reduction services other than the OST programmes.

Ukrainian groups working with drug users say there are more than 14,000 people in Crimea who access such services, and that any threat to their provision could have devastating consequences for their health and create a serious public health threat in Crimea.

Meanwhile, drug users in Kiev are calling on the Ukrainian Ministry of Health to act.

They say that, even if they cannot persuade authorities in Crimea to allow the extension of OST programmes at least until January next year, when all legislation in the peninsula should be brought fully into line with that of the rest of Russia, the ministry should be setting up facilities for OST programmes in other parts of Ukraine.

Basenko told IPS: “Practical steps need to be taken to organise the accommodation of these refugees, these patients from Crimea, so they can continue their treatment in Ukraine.

“Drugs available in Ukraine must be redistributed and additional OST facilities need to be set up to meet the needs of these patients.”

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Court Upholds Most of U.S. “Conflict Minerals” Law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/court-upholds-u-s-conflict-minerals-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=court-upholds-u-s-conflict-minerals-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/court-upholds-u-s-conflict-minerals-law/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 21:14:21 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133691 The United States’ second-highest court has upheld most of a landmark U.S. law requiring companies to ascertain and publicly disclose whether proceeds from minerals used to manufacture their products may be funding conflict in central Africa. The ruling, released Monday, means that U.S.-listed companies will need to file their first such reports with federal regulators by […]

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National police arrive on a boat at Goma's port in DRC as U.N. peacekeepers look on. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

National police arrive on a boat at Goma's port in DRC as U.N. peacekeepers look on. Credit: William Lloyd-George/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The United States’ second-highest court has upheld most of a landmark U.S. law requiring companies to ascertain and publicly disclose whether proceeds from minerals used to manufacture their products may be funding conflict in central Africa.

The ruling, released Monday, means that U.S.-listed companies will need to file their first such reports with federal regulators by the end of May. The statute, known as Section 1502 and covering what are referred to as “conflict minerals”, became law in 2010, but the details of its actual implementation have remained up in the air ever since.The ruling is “a major step backward for atrocity prevention in the Great Lakes region of Africa and corporate accountability in the United States.” -- Holly Dranginis

“There are very encouraging aspects of this ruling, and the bottom line is that the rule hasn’t been overturned and now companies will need to move forward,” Corinna Gilfillan, head of the Washington office of Global Witness, a watchdog group that supports Section 1502, told IPS.

“The heart of this statute is companies carrying out due diligence on their supply chains so they can figure out whether their minerals are coming from conflict areas. Due diligence is a process – first knowing the supply chain and then taking action to address any problems. This ruling has upheld the due diligence and reporting aspects.”

The U.S. Congress hoped Section 1502 would help quell the violence that has wracked Africa’s Great Lakes region, particularly in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for the past decade and a half. Findings by the United Nations, rights groups and others have warned that rebels in these areas have funded their operations in part by mining and selling any of five minerals that have become particularly sought after by the international electronics industry.

The rule has come under attack by U.S. business groups who say the requirements would be onerous and infringe on their constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech, by forcing them to label their products “conflict free”. But agreeing with previous rulings, a three-judge bench on Monday dismissed most of these concerns.

The dismissal included business concerns that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had not adequately analysed costs and benefits of the regulation.

“The rule’s benefits would occur half-a-world away in the midst of an opaque conflict about which little reliable information exists, and concern a subject about which the [SEC] has no particular expertise,” the court stated in its decision.

“Even if one could estimate how many lives are saved or rapes prevented as a direct result of the final rule, doing so would be pointless because the costs of the rule – measured in dollars – would create an apples-to-bricks comparison.”

Compelled speech

Yet the court also offered a split decision in favour of the manufacturers on the free speech concern, allowing both proponents and critics of Section 1502 to claim victory.

U.S. law allows for certain “compelled” public disclosures, but generally only if those are recitations of straight fact. However, the court found the issue of conflict minerals to be far more complex.

“[I]t is far from clear that the description at issue – whether a product is ‘conflict free’ – is factual and nonideological. Products and minerals do not fight conflicts,” the court stated.

“The label ‘conflict free’ is a metaphor that conveys moral responsibility for the Congo war. It requires an issuer to tell consumers that its products are ethically tainted, even if they only indirectly finance armed groups … By compelling an issuer to confess blood on its hands, the statute interferes with that exercise of the freedom of speech.”

It is unclear whether the SEC will appeal this part of the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court (the agency says it’s reviewing the ruling). For now, the decision undermines a key strategy for groups hoping to use a labelling requirement to shame companies into compliance, though related information will still be publicly available.

The ruling is “a major step backward for atrocity prevention in the Great Lakes region of Africa and corporate accountability in the United States,” Holly Dranginis, a policy associate with the Enough Project, an advocacy group here, said Monday.

“The court’s proposal that a conflict-free determination is ideological is unfounded and undercuts the power of society’s growing awareness that global markets and security in fragile states are in fact linked.”

Meanwhile, a separate case before the same court could soon undermine the free speech finding. A smaller bench has already ruled in favour of requiring meat producers to include “country of origin” information on their products, and the case is now slated to be heard by the full court in mid-May.

A dissenting opinion in the conflict minerals ruling noted that the meat-labelling decision could have a significant impact on Monday’s ruling.

6,000 reports

The complexities of implementing Section 1502 remain highly problematic in central Africa, and some are warning that the law could soon collapse under its own weight. Yet others say the regulation is already having a noticeable impact, with the Enough Project suggesting that “over two-thirds of tin, tantalum and tungsten mines [are] now free of armed groups.”

Monday’s ruling should now allow the U.S. side of the statute’s implementation to proceed. This means that around 6,000 U.S. companies will need to file reports with the SEC, and post them to company websites, by the end of May.

The lawsuit against Section 1502 was brought by three of the United States’ largest business lobbies, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable. In a joint statement sent to IPS, the three lauded the decision.

“[W]e are pleased with the D.C. Circuit’s decision … finding the statute and regulation are unconstitutional,” the groups stated. “We understand the seriousness of the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and abhor the violence in that country, but this rule was not the appropriate way to address this problem.”

Yet other businesses are already complying with the spirit of Section 1502. Perhaps the most significant of these companies, Intel, is actually a member of NAM.

In January, the company pledged to remove all conflict minerals from its microprocessors. It says it now has no plans to change course.

“Regardless of this decision, we will continue to do our part to achieve conflict-free supply chains and to report publicly on these efforts,” Lisa Malloy, an Intel spokesperson, told IPS.

“The challenge of responsible minerals sourcing requires a comprehensive solution that involves government agencies in the U.S. and internationally, non-profit groups and industry. We urge all partners to continue the momentum towards a solution.”

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Conflict Fuels Child Labour in India http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/conflict-fuels-child-labour-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflict-fuels-child-labour-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/conflict-fuels-child-labour-india/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 07:35:17 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133665 Early in the morning, 14-year-old Sumari Varda puts on her blue school uniform but heads for the village pond to fetch water. “I miss school. I wish I could go back,” she whispers, scared of being heard by her employer. Sumari is from Dhurbeda village, but now lives in another, Bhainsasur, both located in central India’s […]

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Sumari, a child trafficked from Maoist-affected district Narayanpur cleans the floor instead of going to school. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Sumari, a child trafficked from Maoist-affected district Narayanpur cleans the floor instead of going to school. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
KANKER, India, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

Early in the morning, 14-year-old Sumari Varda puts on her blue school uniform but heads for the village pond to fetch water. “I miss school. I wish I could go back,” she whispers, scared of being heard by her employer.

Sumari is from Dhurbeda village, but now lives in another, Bhainsasur, both located in central India’s Chhattisgarh state. She puts on her school uniform to fetch water because it is one of the few pieces of clothing she has.“Some are employed as domestic workers, others are sold to sex traders." -- child rights activist Mamata Raghuveer

Her native village Dhurbeda falls in Abujhmad, a forest area in Narayanpur district that is reportedly one of the largest hideouts of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist, which leads a violent rebellion against the state in some parts of the country.

Nine months ago, a distant relative from state capital Raipur visited Sumari’s parents, who were worried that she might be asked to join the Maoists some day. The relative, whom Sumari calls “Budhan aunt”, took her away, promising to send her to a city school.

Instead, she sent Sumari to Bhainsasur, about 180 km from Raipur. Now the girl toils for more than 14 hours a day in the house of the aunt’s brother, cooking, washing, fetching water and sometimes also looking after cattle.

Sumari is one of thousands of children trafficked out of Chhattisgarh every year. According to a 2013 study published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), more than 3,000 children are trafficked from the state each year.

The report focuses on the northern districts that are deemed less affected by the conflict. Districts such as Dantewada, Sukma, Bijapur, Kanker and Narayanpur, which are considered the hotbed of the Maoist movement, are not included in the report.

The reason is an acute shortage of data, says a government official at the department of rural development who doesn’t wish to be named for fear of punitive action. The official tells IPS that researchers and surveyors stay away from the remote districts.

“In April 2010, Maoists killed 76 security personnel in Dantewada. Since then, the conflict has reached such a level that few actually dare to visit districts like Dantewada, Sukma or Narayanpur. If you don’t go into the field, how will you collect information and data.”

Bhan Sahu, founder of Jurmil Morcha, the state’s only all-tribal women’s organisation that fights forced displacement of forest tribal communities, believes the absence of data is actually helping the traffickers.

“Every time a massacre or an encounter takes place between the Maoists and the security forces, many families flee their villages. Traffickers target these families, pay them some money and offer to take care of their children.

“But the government doesn’t want to admit either the migration or the trafficking. So the traffickers are not under any pressure,” Sahu tells IPS. She has reported several cases of trafficking for CG-Net Swara, a community newswire.

Jyoti Dugga, 11, who plays hula-hoop with iron rings to entertain tourists on the beaches of Goa in western India, also hails from Chhattisgarh. Her elder brother had been jailed for alleged links with Maoists. Her parents were worried that she too might be arrested. Three years ago they agreed to send her away with a neighbour called Ramesh Gota, addressed by Jyoti as “uncle”.

“Uncle said he had many contacts and could give me work, so my parents sent me with him,” says Jyoti, who also massages tourists’ feet. She shares a small room with three other children, all of whom are from Chhattisgarh and look malnourished.

Earlier this month, 20 children who were being forced to work in a circus in Goa were rescued by the police. But Gota, Jyoti’s employer, seems too clever to be caught – he keeps moving the children from one beach to another.

The government denies such trafficking and exploitation of children.

Ram Niwas, assistant director-general in the Chhattisgarh police department, claims that human trafficking has “gone down considerably” since anti-human trafficking units were sanctioned. “The process of identifying such districts is under way and they would be prioritised,” he tells IPS.

The UNODC report says Chhattisgarh’s performance in implementing child protection schemes is inadequate. “The district child protection units are not in existence, and the child welfare committees are not working to their proper strength,” says the report.

According to the report, the state is not serious in taking back children who have been trafficked out.

Child rights activist Mamata Raghuveer, in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state agrees. She heads the organisation Tharuni, which rescues trafficked children in collaboration with the state government. According to Raghuveer, 65 girls have been rescued in the past two years. Most were from Chhattisgarh’s conflict-hit districts.

“Girls as young as seven and eight are brought out of their home by men,” Raghuveer tells IPS. “Some are employed as domestic workers, others are sold to sex traders. When the men are in danger of being caught, they vanish, abandoning the girls.”

The government has a National Child Labour Policy (NCLP) for rehabilitation of children forced into labour. Rescued children in the 9-14 age group are enrolled at NCLP special training centres where they are provided food, healthcare and education, says Kodikunnil Suresh, national minister of state for labour and employment told parliament in February. “Currently there are 300,000 children covered by the scheme,” he said.

This IPS correspondent met nine-year-old Mary Suvarna at an NCLP centre in Warangal in Andhra Pradesh. She was rescued a year ago from the city railway station. Mary says she lived in a forest village called Badekeklar. It’s unlikely she will ever return home.

She has a dream. “I want to be a police officer.”

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Q&A: Malawi’s President Banda Confident ‘I Will Win this Election’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-malawis-president-joyce-banda-confident-will-win-election/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 13:37:27 +0000 Mabvuto Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133637 Mabvuto Banda interviews Malawian President JOYCE BANDA

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Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has vowed to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal where more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006. She is currently campaigning ahead of the country’s May tripartite elections. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has vowed to get to the bottom of a corruption scandal where more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006. She is currently campaigning ahead of the country’s May tripartite elections. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

By Mabvuto Banda
Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Malawi’s President Joyce Banda is campaigning ahead of next month’s elections to extend her term of office. But many believe that the massive public service corruption scandal here has weakened her chances of winning.

This southern African nation goes to the polls on May 20. However, after a February auditor’s report into the scandal revealed that 30 million dollars were stolen over just six months in 2013, Africa’s second female president has faced calls to resign. She become president in April 2012 after her predecessor President Bingu wa Mutharika died in office."We have repealed repressive laws, we have changed the status of women, the media is free, and we allowed everyone to demonstrate freely when just two years ago people were being killed for doing just that." -- Malawi's President Joyce Banda

But Banda is confident that she has done more than enough to address the corruption  — where a total of more than 100 million dollars were suspected to have been looted from the government since 2006 — and ensure her chances of retaining office.

She has taken on the powerful players involved in the corruption scandal and arrested 68 people, including a former cabinet minister, businessmen and senior public officers. “Cashgate” was first exposed last September after a failed assassination attempt on a government budget director who was believed to be on the verge of revealing the theft.

Banda has frozen over 30 bank accounts and 18 cases are currently in court. In this interview, Africa’s most influential woman discusses with IPS correspondent Mabvuto Banda her two years in power, the challenges, and what her hopes are for the future. Excerpts follow:

Q: President Banda, it’s been a tough two years of fighting to right a sputtering economy left by your predecessor, the late President Mutharika. How have you fared?

A: We inherited an economy that was in a crisis. Today, we have turned around the economy because we took decisive action to heal the country, recover the economy, and build a strong foundation for growth. It’s been two years since our people spent hours in fuel queues, it’s been two years since businesses struggled to access foreign exchange.

Q: How did you manage to do that?

A: We agreed to swallow the bitter pill and made unpopular decisions like the devaluation of the Kwacha, we have been implementing a tight monetary policy…our fiscal policy has been tight. These are some of the pills that have set the economy on a path of healing and represent the foundation of a transformational agenda that we will implement in the next five years.

Q: You rightly said that your first job was to bring back donor confidence and unlock aid which was withdrawn. You did that but now because of the “Cashgate” scandal, donors have suspended 150 million dollars in budget support. Do you take responsibility for this?

A: Yes, I do because “Cashgate” happened on my watch and my job entails that I take responsibility and deal with it. This is why we have taken far-reaching measures in dealing with fraud and corruption and engaged foreign forensic auditors to get to the bottom of this corruption in the public service.

Q: Your critics think your administration is not doing much to get to the bottom of all this. Any comment?

A: Sixty-eight people, including a former member of my cabinet, have been arrested, more than 18 cases are already in court, 33 bank accounts have been frozen. This is the risk I have taken which very few African leaders do when they are facing an election.

I have vowed not to shield anyone, even if it means one of my relations is involved. Now tell me, is this not proof enough that we are taking this corruption very seriously?

Q: But many believe that you personally benefited from this “Cashgate” scandal. What do you say?

A: When you are fighting the powerful, an influential syndicate like this one, this is not surprising. Secondly, this is an election year and you will hear a lot of things but the truth shall come out.

The other thing you should know is that I am a woman in a role dominated by men and I am therefore not surprised that I am getting such amount of pushback…we shall overcome this, and those responsible for stealing state funds will be jailed and their properties confiscated.

Q: You face an election next month and the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit has projected that you will win the election despite the scandal. Do you believe that?

A: Yes I do believe that I will win this election. I also know though that it’s a close one but the advantage is that people have seen what we have done in two years.

We have repealed repressive laws, we have changed the status of women, the media is free, and we allowed everyone to demonstrate freely when just two years ago people were being killed for doing just that.

Q: Forbes Magazine named you as the continent’s most powerful woman. Do you feel that powerful?

A:  No, I don’t. I will feel that powerful when every woman in Malawi and Africa is free from hate and is empowered.

I will feel powerful when woman no longer have to lose their lives because they are abused, when they stop dying from avoidable pregnancy-related deaths. I will feel powerful when women in Africa take their rightful place as equals.

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Taliban Screens a New Silence http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-back-scene/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taliban-back-scene http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-back-scene/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 08:57:43 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133628 Mushfiq Wali, a 22-year-old shoemaker in northern Pakistan, loves watching films in the local Pashto language. But he says the Taliban are a killjoy: their bomb attacks have led to the closure of movie theatres, again. “They don’t spare anything that brings happiness.” The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to […]

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After brief and scattered successes, entertainment has gone back into hiding following bomb attacks by the Taliban. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

After brief and scattered successes, entertainment has gone back into hiding following bomb attacks by the Taliban. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Apr 13 2014 (IPS)

Mushfiq Wali, a 22-year-old shoemaker in northern Pakistan, loves watching films in the local Pashto language. But he says the Taliban are a killjoy: their bomb attacks have led to the closure of movie theatres, again. “They don’t spare anything that brings happiness.”

The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to the cinema has become a barometer of the influence of the Taliban, and of just normal living. Music and cinema have been emerging as the language of a challenge to the Taliban, as surely as the Taliban have attacked music.The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to the cinema has become a barometer for the influence of the Taliban.

“The past five years have been very difficult for musicians because of Taliban militants. Now we are heaving a sigh of relief as acts of terror have gone down,” singer Gul Pana told IPS earlier this year. But the Taliban have hit back.

On Feb. 11, Taliban militants hurled two grenades at Shama Cinema in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the north of Pakistan, killing 15 people. The attack came soon after five people were killed at the Picture House cinema hall in another terror attack on Feb. 2.

“Such incidents are very depressing for people who seek a few moments of leisure after a hard day’s work,” Wali said. “We have no internet, TV or other entertainment facilities at home, so we would go to cinema halls for some happiness.”

Opposition to movies, music and dance has always been a part of the Taliban agenda. They killed Wazir Khan Afridi, a veteran singer who recorded 50 albums, on Feb. 26. Afridi had been kidnapped three times before, but was freed on those occasions on condition he quit singing.

“The Taliban have set fire to over 500 CD and music shops in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to frighten people and force them to wind up businesses that are against their brand of Islam,” Ghulam Nabi, who seeks to promote culture in the region, told IPS.

The Taliban have many bases in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the north bordering Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They have been targeting music shops and musicians, and believe that music is un-Islamic.

In January 2009, militants had slit the throat of dancer Shabana Begum in Swat, one of the districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and hung her body from an electricity pole. The incident forced other artistes to stay at home or leave the city. Thousands of dancers and musicians fled Swat from 2007 to 2009 when the area was under Taliban rule.

Peshawar used to have 21 cinema houses, each with a capacity of around 200, before the advent of militancy. The city is now left with just 11 movie theatres. Cinema halls are also being closed down in neighbouring Mardan district.

Jehangir Jani, 54, a well-known Pashto film actor, is perturbed. “It is highly condemnable that the Taliban are depriving people of entertainment. I am sure the insurgents will not be able to shut down cinema houses for very long as people cannot live without movies,” he told IPS.

Jani, who is a household name in Pashtun areas, has had to go to Afghanistan many times to film. “In Afghanistan, films are being produced for CDs. Pashtuns have traditionally been film buffs.”

Films in the Pashto language, widely spoken in Afghanistan, are popular in some Pakistani areas as well. “They are watched by people from FATA as well as Afghanistan,” said cine-goer Zahirzada Khan.

Cinema houses are a cheap source of entertainment, he said. “The closure of cinema halls after back-to-back bombings is very upsetting.”

Kashif Shah, manager of a Peshawar cinema hall, said hall owners received letters earlier this year asking them to stop the “shameful trade” of screening movies. “The Taliban warned that they would make an example of us,” Shah said. His hall is now shut.

Shah said the Taliban’s campaign would end up isolating them. “Even their well-wishers have turned against them.”

But the terror threat persists. Police say they don’t have enough personnel to guard cinema halls, and have directed cinema theatres to make their own security arrangements.

“We have told movie hall owners to install cameras and metal detectors at the gates,” senior superintendent of police Najibullah Khan told IPS. “We don’t have enough personnel, but we are ready to train private security guards to prevent such incidents.”

The police have arrested 15-year-old Hasan Khan, who was paid 80 dollars by the Taliban to hurl grenades at the Shama Cinema.

For the time being, Peshawar is going without films.

Jehanzeb Ali, a 35-year-old mechanic from Mardan, told IPS that he used to watch a film every Sunday. “We used to visit Peshawar, watch films and eat out. Now I haven’t seen a movie for a month.”

The cultural challenge to the Taliban had made tentative but isolated advances in recent years. “In the last few years, I have sung more than a dozen songs against the Taliban,” award-wining singer Khyal Muhammad told IPS in 2011. “I got threatening messages on the mobile phone,” he said. “But I will continue to sing because it gives me strength.”

For some time after 2010 it did appear that music and cinema were on a winning track – despite repeated attacks on musicians and music stores. Cinema houses that were closed down began to reopen.

But all along, those in the business have struggled to keep music playing and the show going. “The endless series of bomb attacks on CD and music shops has become the order of the day, but we are undeterred,” Sher Dil Khan, president of the CD and Music Shops Association in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the north of Pakistan, told IPS in 2011. “We will continue to produce new dramas and songs.”

The big encouragement came with the elections in 2013 when cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf party won the election in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. After the resumption of open sales of music, and the occasional theatre performance, music returned in full swing – in many if not all areas. Now, silence has advanced again.

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Iraqi Sunnis Seek a Say http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iraqi-sunnis-seek-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraqi-sunnis-seek-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iraqi-sunnis-seek-say/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 09:33:34 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133624 Sunni Muslims have set up a new party amidst uncertainties as to whether elections can be held as scheduled in the troubled western regions of Iraq. Polling for the 328-seat Iraqi parliament is due Apr. 30. Ahead of the scheduled election, tribal, political and religious leaders, and also lawyers, engineers and other professionals,  gathered in Erbil […]

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Members at the inaugural meeting of Karama, a newly founded umbrella party for Iraqi Sunnis. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

Members at the inaugural meeting of Karama, a newly founded umbrella party for Iraqi Sunnis. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

By Karlos Zurutuza
ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan , Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

Sunni Muslims have set up a new party amidst uncertainties as to whether elections can be held as scheduled in the troubled western regions of Iraq. Polling for the 328-seat Iraqi parliament is due Apr. 30.

Ahead of the scheduled election, tribal, political and religious leaders, and also lawyers, engineers and other professionals,  gathered in Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq April 8 to set up a new party, Karama (Dignity).Karama hopes to become an effective political voice for Sunnis, but Jassim cautions that Karama is a project “in the long-term”.

The Sunni Arabs came from several western towns of Iraq, where fighting and unrest have not yet ended, 11 years after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was toppled.

No bloc is expected to get a majority but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is the favourite to lead. Shia Arabs are split between the prime minister’s State of Law party, the Sadrist Movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Karama candidate Afifa Agus al-Jumaili says a third consecutive term for Maliki would be “disastrous” for all Iraqis.

“The Sunni provinces of Iraq have turned into a combat zone between tribal militias, Al-Qaeda and Maliki’s Shias,” Jumaili tells IPS. She sees Karama as the “only chance for Sunni Iraqis of all walks of life to get back their rights and dignity.”

Karama is among 276 political entities approved by the Independent High Electoral Commission to contest the election. It’s among several parties looking to win over supporters of the now fragmented secular and Sunni Iraqiya coalition. That coalition won the last elections but was ousted by a Shia coalition, that brought Maliki to power.

The Sunni population is variously estimated to be 20 to 40 percent of Iraq’s population of 32 million. Sunnis have been complaining of increasing marginalisation by the predominantly Shia political leaders.

“The sad irony of all this is that we are forced to gather in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq because an event like this is simply not feasible in Arab Iraq,” says Jumaili.

Despite their initial opposition to a federal model for the country, Iraqi Sunnis have increasingly been demanding an autonomous region similar to that for the Kurds.

Jumaili is originally from Hawija town 230 km north of Baghdad. Apr. 23 will mark a year since Iraqi special forces killed 51 protesters in this town. At least 215 more were killed in violence that followed.

In its World Report 2014, Human Rights Watch says security forces “responded to peaceful protests with threats, violence, and arrests, using lethal force on demonstrators who had been gathering largely peacefully for five months.” It spoke of “arbitrary and often massive arrests.”

Following the killings, anti-government protests picked up new momentum, particularly in mid-December after several bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi, the highest-ranking Sunni Arab in the cabinet, were arrested on suspicion of engaging in terrorism.

Sunnis are functionally excluded from government. The few who participate are coopted by Maliki.

The protests for rights and over the deaths has dragged the west of the country into unprecedented chaos since the peak of sectarian violence between 2006 and 2008.

Among the most prominent protesters is Ghanim Alabed, a resident of Mosul town about 400 km northwest of Baghdad.

“Mosul has become a real nightmare over the last year,” Alabed, who has joined Karama, tells IPS. “Car bombs, kidnappings, killing of tribal leaders or simply ordinary civilians are sadly common currency among us, yet again.”

Alabed says most attacks are carried out by “either the army or Shia militias.” He says local journalists are increasingly being targeted. At least 50 journalists have been killed in Mosul alone since 2003.

The U.S. based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) named Iraq the “worst nation” in its 2013 Impunity Index of unsolved journalist murders.

“I cannot set foot in Mosul, Baghdad or any other Arab part of Iraq because I know they will kill me straightaway,” says Alabed, who moved to Erbil with his family a few months ago.

His face is familiar to almost every Iraqi, and not just for his public appearances at many demonstrations. Cartoons portraying him as a terrorist leader have been shown on a government-funded TV channel.

“Americans had labelled all Sunni insurgents ‘Al-Qaeda’ and, today, Maliki still sticks to that line,” says Alabed. “But the truth is that most of us hate Al-Qaeda because we know that they are backed by Iran. Their sole aim is to destroy our society and prevent us from sharing power.”

The proof, he says, is that Islamic extremists hardly ever target Shias in his hometown.

The death toll is increasing by the day. Mera Faris Hassan, a tribal leader from Samarra, 130 km northwest of Baghdad, is mourning the death last week of Sheikh Juma al-Samarrai in his hometown.

Hassan tells IPS a curfew is in force in Samarra. He condemns constant attacks from both the government and unidentified groups.

“Through Karama we will struggle to get rid of policies meant only to justify repression against our people,” says Hassan. “We deserve to get back our legitimate rights as Iraqis.”

The emergency situation extends to virtually every Sunni area in Iraq. But Fallujah, 60 kilometres west of Baghdad, could well be facing the worst of the unrest.

Karama candidate Mohamed Jassim speaks of a mass exodus of civilians from Fallujah to Baghdad and Erbil. The situation in Fallujah, he says, is a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

“Every main road is blocked and the only way in and out is through secondary roads, and often on foot. The outskirts of the city are under the control of armed gangs but it’s difficult to know whether they are Al-Qaeda fighters or tribal militias because most are masked and carry no emblems.

“The biggest threat, though, comes from the constant bombings by the Iraqi air force,” the 44-year-old candidate tells IPS.

Karama hopes to become an effective political voice for Sunnis, but Jassim cautions that Karama is a “long-term” project. At this nascent stage and under the difficult circumstances it is hard to gauge whether Karama can emerge as a Sunni political force to contend with.

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The Iranian Nuclear Weapons Programme That Wasn’t http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iranian-nuclear-weapons-programme-wasnt/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iranian-nuclear-weapons-programme-wasnt http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iranian-nuclear-weapons-programme-wasnt/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 01:07:26 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133622 When U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz unsealed the indictment of a Chinese citizen in the UK for violating the embargo against Iran, she made what appeared to be a new U.S. accusation of an Iran nuclear weapons programme. The press release on the indictment announced that between in November 2005 and 2012, Sihai […]

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By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

When U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz unsealed the indictment of a Chinese citizen in the UK for violating the embargo against Iran, she made what appeared to be a new U.S. accusation of an Iran nuclear weapons programme.

The press release on the indictment announced that between in November 2005 and 2012, Sihai Cheng had supplied parts that have nuclear applications, including U.S.-made goods, to an Iranian company, Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing, which it described as “involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”The text of the indictment ...was yet another iteration of a rhetorical device used often in the past to portray Iran’s gas centrifuge enrichment programme as equivalent to the development of nuclear weapons.

Reuters, Bloomberg, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune and The Independent all reported that claim as fact. But the U.S. intelligence community, since its well-known November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, has continued to be very clear on the pubic record about its conclusion that Iran has not had a nuclear weapons programme since 2003.

Something was clearly amiss with the Justice Department’s claim.

The text of the indictment reveals that the reference to a “nuclear weapons program” was yet another iteration of a rhetorical device used often in the past to portray Iran’s gas centrifuge enrichment programme as equivalent to the development of nuclear weapons.

The indictment doesn’t actually refer to an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, as the Ortiz press release suggested. But it does say that the Iranian company in question, Eyvaz Tehnic Manufacturing, “has supplied parts for Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.”

The indictment claims that Eyvaz provided “vacuum equipment” to Iran’s two uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow and “pressure transducers” to Kalaye Electric Company, which has worked on centrifuge research and development.

But even those claims are not supported by anything except a reference to a Dec. 2, 2011 decision by the Council of the European Union that did not offer any information supporting that claim.

The credibility of the EU claim was weakened, moreover, by the fact that the document describes Eyvaz as a “producer of vacuum equipment.” The company’s website shows that it produces equipment for the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, including level controls and switches, control valves and steam traps.

Further revealing its political nature of indictment’s nuclear weapons claim, it cites two documents “designating” entities for their ties to the nuclear programme: the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737 and a U.S. Treasury Department decision two months later.

Neither of those documents suggested any connection between Eyvaz and nuclear weapons. The UNSC Resolution, passed Dec. 23, 2006, referred to Iran’s enrichment as “proliferation sensitive nuclear activities” in 11 different places in the brief text and listed Eyvaz as one of the Iranian entities to be sanctioned for its involvement in those activities.

And in February 2007 the Treasury Department designated Kalaye Electric Company as a “proliferator of Weapons of Mass Destruction” merely because of its “research and development efforts in support of Iran’s nuclear centrifuge program.”

The designation by Treasury was carried out under an Executive Order 13382, issued by President George W. Bush, which is called “Blocking Property of Weapons of Mass destruction Proliferators and Their Supporters.” That title conveyed the impression to the casual observer that the people on the list had been caught in actual WMD proliferation activities.

But the order required allowed the U.S. government to sanction any foreign person merely because that person was determined to have engaged in activities that it argued “pose a risk of materially contributing” to “the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery”.

The Obama administration’s brazen suggestion that it was indicting an individual for exporting U.S. products to a company that has been involved in Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” is simply a new version of the same linguistic trick used by the Bush administration.

The linguistic acrobatics began with the political position that Iran’s centrifuge programme posed a “risk” of WMD proliferation; that “risk” of proliferation was then conflated with nuclear proliferation activities, when than was transmuted into “development of nuclear weapons”.

The final linguistic shift was to convert “development of nuclear weapons” into a “nuclear weapons program”.

That kind of the deceptive rhetoric about the Iranian nuclear programme began with the Bill Clinton administration, which argued, in effect, that nuclear weapons development could be inferred from Iran’s enrichment programme.

Although Cheng and Jamili clearly violated U.S. statutes in purchasing and importing the pressure transducers from the United States and sending them to Eyvaz in Iran, a close reading of the indictment indicates that the evidence that Eyvaz provided the transducers to the Iranian nuclear programme is weak at best.

The indictment says Cheng began doing business with Jamili and his company Nicaro in November 2005, and that he sold thousands of Chinese parts “with nuclear applications” which had been requested by Eyvaz. But all the parts listed in the indictment are dual use items that Eyvaz could have ordered for production equipment for oil and gas industry customers.

The indictment insinuates that Eyvaz was ordering the parts to pass them on to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz, but provides no real evidence of that intent. It quotes Jamili as informing Cheng in 2007 that his unnamed customer needed the parts for “a very big project and a secret one”. In 2008, he told Cheng that the customer was “making a very dangerous system and gas leakage acts as a bomb!”

The authors do not connect either of those statements to Eyvaz, but they suggest that it was a reference to gas centrifuges and thus imply that it must have been Eyvaz. “During the enrichment of uranium using gas centrifuges,” the indictment explains, “extremely corrosive chemicals are produced that could cause fire and explosions.”

That statement is highly misleading, however. There is no real risk of gas leaks from centrifuges causing fires or explosions, as MIT nuclear expert Scott R. Kemp told IPS in an interview. “The only risk of a gas leak [in centrifuge enrichment] is to the centrifuge itself,” said Kemp, “because the gas could leak into the centrifuge and cause it to crash.”

On the other hand, substantial risk of explosion and fire from gas leaks exists in the natural gas industry. So even if the customer referred to in the quotes had been Eyvaz, they would have been consistent with that company’s sales to gas industry customers.

Pressure transducers are used to control risk in that industry, as Todd McPadden of Ashcroft Instruments in Stratford, Connecticut told IPS. The pressure transducer measures the gas pressure and responds to any indication of either loss of pressure from leaks or build up of excessive pressure, McPadden explained.

The indictment shows in detail that in 2009 Eyvaz ordered hundreds of pressure transducers, which came from the U.S. company MKS. But again the indictment cites no real evidence that Eyvaz was ordering them to supply Iran’s enrichment facilities.

It refers only to photographs showing that MKS parts ended up in the centrifuge cascades at Natanz, which does constitute evidence that they came from Eyvaz.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, was published Feb. 14.

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Lynchings on the Rise in Argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/lynchings-rise-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lynchings-rise-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/lynchings-rise-argentina/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 23:11:31 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133574 The term “lynching”, which emerged in the United States and refers to vigilantism or a mob taking justice into its own hands, has now entered the vocabulary in a number of Latin American countries. But while in some countries of Central America and South America’s Andean region mob justice is a longstanding phenomenon, it is […]

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“Organised neighbours: Thief if we catch you, you’re not going to the police station, we’re going to lynch you!” Credit: Courtesy of the Cosecha Roja network

“Organised neighbours: Thief if we catch you, you’re not going to the police station, we’re going to lynch you!” Credit: Courtesy of the Cosecha Roja network

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

The term “lynching”, which emerged in the United States and refers to vigilantism or a mob taking justice into its own hands, has now entered the vocabulary in a number of Latin American countries.

But while in some countries of Central America and South America’s Andean region mob justice is a longstanding phenomenon, it is new in Argentina. What is not new, however, is that the targets are the same old victims: the darker-skinned poor, in a modern-day version of vigilante justice.

In less than two weeks, a dozen lynchings or attempted lynchings were reported in Argentina. In the first, 18-year-old David Moreyra was killed on Mar. 22, after he allegedly tried to steal the purse of a woman in the central city of Rosario.

The term lynch law originated during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), when Charles Lynch, a justice of the peace and militiaman, presided over extralegal trials of Tories loyal to the British crown

The loyalists were executed even though they had previously been acquitted by a jury, says a study by sociologist Leandro Gamallo, who studied the phenomenon of lynching for his master’s thesis at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences.

Decades later, the term “lynch mob” began to be used to refer to the practice of groups of white men in the South of the United States setting out on patrols to hunt down blacks for whatever reason.

This “popular justice” later gave way to “the use of collective force as a method of racial exploitation and segregation by whites against blacks,” Gamallo said.

Lynchings are back in the headlines in Latin America today, whether “instigated” or merely “reported” by the media – depending on where one stands in an ongoing debate. They have now reared their ugly head in Argentina, a country where there is no deep-rooted tradition of “tribal community justice”, as there is in countries like Bolivia, Ecuador or Guatemala.

In Bolivia, the Defensoría del Pueblo or ombudsperson’s office reported 53 cases of vigilante justice killings between 2005 and October 2013.

Mob justice is also present to a greater or lesser extent in Brazil, Mexico, and countries in the Andean and Central American regions.

In Guatemala, political scientist Marcelo Colussi said they were linked to the breakdown in the social fabric by over three decades of civil war (1960-1996), when some 200,000 people – mainly Maya Indians in the highlands – were killed and 50,000 people were forcibly disappeared.

But in every case, the common denominator would seem to be the same: the victims are poor, indigenous or black people who are targeted by mobs taking justice into their own hands in response to a real or perceived rise in crime.

The victims “are still the same ones who suffered the worst of the repression in years past, and who historically have been left out of the benefits of development in Guatemala: impoverished Maya indigenous people,” Colussi said.

“There is a process of stigmatisation of poor young men,” Argentine historian Diego Galeano, at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, told IPS. He said, however, that it was premature to talk about a “wave” of lynchings in his country.

Argentine sociologist Maristella Svampa cited the looting that broke out in late 2013, starting in the central province of Córdoba, pointing out to IPS that “there were attempts to lynch suspected looters whose only ‘crime’, besides [being young and dark-skinned] was that they had tried to cross through the Nueva Córdoba upscale middle-class neighbourhood.”

But there is another problem that, according to Svampa, a researcher with the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research, a public institution, merits a warning: the appearance of armed groups ready to take action against looters – as seen in photos published on online social networks, which she interpreted as “a frightening attempt at the privatisation of justice.”

“Both developments [attempted lynchings and vigilante groups], as a collective response to the looting, were a symptom of a profound setback for democracy and human rights,” Svampa said.

“In a context marked by new social conflicts, greater inequality, growing social disorganisation and tough-on-crime rhetoric, our country seems to be opening up a dangerous Pandora box,” she said.

In Argentina, as expert on security policies Luis Somoza told IPS, the lynchings are occurring against a background of a sensation of rising crime.

“They are the reflection of a society that is totally fed up with the levels of crime,” said the professor at the University Institute of the Argentine Federal Police.

“People have the perception that the state isn’t protecting them, whether or not that is real,” he said.

“But this backsliding to a primitive state of society poses the additional risk of a probable appearance of non-state forces that take on the role of defenders, who refer to themselves as self-defence forces, militias, paramilitaries, death squads,” he said.

The juvenile public defender of the eastern city of La Plata, Julián Axat, associates the phenomenon with the impunity surrounding less-publicised lynchings that have been ignored by the media.

There are thousands of cases of poor adolescents being beaten up before they are arrested – kicked, slapped, pushed and spit on by crowds in incidents that appear to be accepted by the police.

“The impunity surrounding lynchings is what has contributed the most to generating the climate created by the repetition of these events. It’s not the media; it’s the police and the justice systems, who don’t arrest them,” Axat wrote in an article.

“To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, today it’s the dark-skinned people with kinky hair, tomorrow possibly those who go after them, while the powers-that-be and the police will thank them because they will continue to do brisk business with the ‘insecurity’ and with a society where the poor kill the less poor and the authoritarian middle class applauds,” human rights lawyer Claudia Orosz told IPS.

In any case, the experience of Guatemala, one of the countries with the highest homicide rates in the world, demonstrates that lynchings do not dissuade crime.

“Although numerous criminals have been the victims of ‘mob justice’, the crime rates throughout the country, and in former war zones as well, remain alarmingly high,” Colussi said.

In Argentina, President Cristina Fernández said on Mar. 31 that “anything that generates violence will always, always engender more violence,” referring to a phenomenon – lynching – that she avoided naming.

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Indigenous Leaders Targeted in Battle to Protect Forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indigenous-leaders-targeted-battle-protect-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-leaders-targeted-battle-protect-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indigenous-leaders-targeted-battle-protect-forests/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 17:45:22 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133548 Indigenous leaders are warning of increased violence in the fight to save their dwindling forests and ecosystems from extractive companies. Indigenous representatives and environmental activists from Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas met over the weekend here to commemorate those leading community fights against extractive industries. The conference, called Chico Vive, honoured Chico Mendes, a […]

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The open wounds of the Amazon. Credit:Rolly Valdivia/IPS

The open wounds of the Amazon. Credit:Rolly Valdivia/IPS

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

Indigenous leaders are warning of increased violence in the fight to save their dwindling forests and ecosystems from extractive companies.

Indigenous representatives and environmental activists from Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas met over the weekend here to commemorate those leading community fights against extractive industries. The conference, called Chico Vive, honoured Chico Mendes, a Brazilian rubber-tapper killed in 1988 for fighting to save the Amazon.“Right now in our territory we can’t drink the water because it’s so contaminated from the hydrocarbons from the oil and gas industry." -- Chief Liz Logan of the Fort Nelson First Nation in BC, Canada

The gathering also recognised leaders who are continuing that legacy today.

“His struggle, to which he gave his life, did not end with his death – on the contrary,” John Knox, the United Nations independent expert on human rights and the environment, said at the conference. “But it continues to claim the lives of others who fight for human rights and environmental protection.”

A 2012 report by Global Witness, a watchdog and activist group, estimates that over 711 people – activists, journalists and community members – had been killed defending their land-based rights over the previous decade.

Those gathered at this weekend’s conference discussed not only those have been killed, injured or jailed. They also shared some success stories.

“In 2002, there was an Argentinean oil company trying to drill in our area. Some of our people opposed this, and they were thrown in jail,” Franco Viteri, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, told IPS.

“However, we fought their imprisonment and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in our favour. Thus, our town was able to reclaim the land and keep the oil company out.”

Motivated by oil exploration-related devastation in the north, Ecuadorian communities in the south are continuing to fight to defend their territory. Viteri says some communities have now been successful in doing so for a quarter-century.

But he cautions that this fight is not over, particularly as the Ecuadorian government flip-flops on its own policy stance.

“The discourse of [President Rafael] Correa is very environmentalist, but in a practical way it is totally false,” he says. “The government is taking the oil because they receive money from China, which needs oil.”

China has significantly increased its focus on Latin America in recent years. According to a briefing paper by Amazon Watch, a nonprofit that works to protect the rainforest and rights of its indigenous inhabitants, “in 2013 China bought nearly 90% of Ecuador’s oil and provided an estimated 61% of its external financing.”

The little dance

Many others at the conference had likewise already seen negative impacts due to extractives exploration and development in their community.

“We have oil and gas, mines, we have forestry, we have agriculture, and we have hydroelectric dams,” Chief Liz Logan of the Fort Nelson First Nation in British Columbia, Canada, told IPS.

“Right now in our territory we can’t drink the water because it’s so contaminated from the hydrocarbons from the oil and gas industry … The rates of cancer in our community are skyrocketing and we wonder why. But no one wants to look at this, because it might mean that what [extractives companies] are doing is affecting us and the animals.”

Logan described the work of protecting the community as a “little dance”: first they bring the government to court when they do not implement previous agreements, then they have to ensure that the government actually implements what the court orders.

Others discussed possible solutions to stop the destruction of ecosystems, and what is at stake for the communities living in them. The link between local land conflicts and global climate change consistently reappeared throughout many of the discussions.

“My community is made up of small-scale farmers and pastoralists who depend on cattle to live. For them, a cow is everything and to have the land to graze is everything,” said Godfrey Massay, an activist leader from the Land Rights Institute in Tanzania.

“These people are constantly threatened by large-scale investors who try to take away their land. But they are far more threatened by climate change, which is also affecting their livelihood.”

Andrew Miller of Amazon Watch described the case of the contentious Belo Monte dam in Brazil, which is currently under construction. Local communities oppose the dam because those upstream would be flooded and those downstream would suddenly find their river’s waters severely reduced.

“People are fighting battles on local levels, but they are also emblematic of global trends and they are also related to a lot of the climate things going on,” Miller told IPS. “[Hydroelectric] dams, for example, are sold as clean energy, but they generate a lot of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.”

According to Miller, one value of large gatherings such as this weekend’s conference is allowing participants to see the similarities between experiences and struggles around the world, despite often different cultural, political and environmental contexts.

“In each case there are things that are very specific to them,” Miller said. “But I think we are also going to see some trends in terms of governments and other actors cracking down and trying to limit the political space, the ability for these folks to be effective in their work and to have a broader impact on policy.”

Yet activists like Viteri, from Ecuador, remain determined to protect their land.

“We care for the forest as a living thing because it gives us everything – life, shade, food, water, agriculture,” Viteri said. “It also makes us rich, even if it is a different kind of richness. This is why we fight.”

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U.S.-Colombia Labour Rights Plan Falls Short http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-colombia-labour-rights-plan-falls-short/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-colombia-labour-rights-plan-falls-short http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-colombia-labour-rights-plan-falls-short/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 00:18:23 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133528 Three years after Colombia agreed to U.S. demands to better protect labour rights and activists, a “Labour Plan of Action” (LPA) drawn up by the two nations is showing mixed results at best, according to U.S. officials and union and rights activists from both countries. Pointing to continuing assassinations of union organisers, among other abuses, […]

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Military checkpoint on the Atrato River. Credit: Jesús Abad Colorado/IPS

Military checkpoint on the Atrato River. Credit: Jesús Abad Colorado/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

Three years after Colombia agreed to U.S. demands to better protect labour rights and activists, a “Labour Plan of Action” (LPA) drawn up by the two nations is showing mixed results at best, according to U.S. officials and union and rights activists from both countries.

Pointing to continuing assassinations of union organisers, among other abuses, U.S. lawmakers and union leaders here are calling on President Barack Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to do much more to ensure that the LPA achieves its aims.“In spite of numerous new labour laws and decrees... companies still are violating worker rights in Colombia with impunity." -- Richard Trumka

“(V)iolence against trade unionists continues; in the three years since the Labour Action Plan was signed, 73 more trade unionists were murdered in Colombia. That alone is reason enough to say the Labour Action Plan has failed,” said Richard Trumka, the president of the biggest U.S. union confederation, the AFL-CIO, Monday in response to a new report by the Colombia’s National Labour School (ENS).

“In spite of numerous new labour laws and decrees, and hundreds of new labour inspectors not a single company fined by the Ministry of Labour for violating the law and workers’ rights has paid up, and companies still are violating worker rights in Colombia with impunity,” he added.

For years Colombia has been considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for trade unionists, more than 3,000 of whom have been killed since the mid-1980s.

While Colombia has long been given preferential trade treatment by Washington as part of its broader “war against drugs” in the Andean region, the administration of President George W. Bush negotiated a free-trade agreement (FTA) with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in 2006.

But the deal was strongly opposed by the AFL-CIO, labour and human rights-groups, and their allies in Congress who refused to ratify the FTA without provisions designed to substantially improve the country’s labour rights performance.

The pact was essentially put on ice until Obama and Santos signed what is formally known as the United States–Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement in April 2011 to which the Labor Action Plan (LAP) was attached.

The LAP — which, among other provisions, required the Colombian government to protect union leaders; enact legislation to ensure that workers could become direct employees instead of subcontractors; establish a new ministry of labour; and prosecute companies that prevent workers from organising — aimed to bring Colombia’s labour practices up to international standards.

While the original intention was to delay the FTA’s implementation until after the LAP’s conditions had been met, Congress approved the FTA in October 2011.

The activists insisted this week that the approval was premature in that it relieved the pressure on the Santos government to fully carry out the LAP.

“The approval of the FTA by the United States Congress, without verifying full compliance with the LAP, significantly reduced the political will behind the plan and contributed to decisively in turning the LAP into a new frustration for Colombian workers,” according to a joint statement issued Monday by Trumka and the leaders of two of Colombia’s trade union movements, the Confederation of Workers of Colombia (CTC) and the Union of Colombian Workers (CUT).

The statement, which also called for a “serious review” of the FTA’s impact on Colombia’s agricultural and industrial sectors and on its exports to the U.S., was also signed by more than a dozen other trade-union and human rights groups in the U.S. and Colombia.

For its part, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), which oversees the implementation of both the LAP and the FTA, gave the record of the past three years a more positive spin in its own report released Monday.

“Three years ago, the Colombian Labor Action Plan gave the United States and Colombia an important new framework, tools and processes to improve safety for union members and protections for labor rights. We have made meaningful progress to date, but this is a long-term effort and there is still work to be done,” USTR Michael Froman said.

The department’s report noted that 671 union members have been placed in a protection programme, which in 2013 had a nearly 200 million dollar budget; that more than 250 vehicles had been assigned assigned to union leaders and labour activists for full-time protection; and that the prosecutor general has assigned over 20 prosecutors to devote full-time to crimes against union members and activists, among other achievements.

It also noted that the number of union members who have been murdered for their organising activities has been reduced to an average of 26 per year since the LAP took effect from an annual average of nearly 100 in the decade before it.

“The action plan has been a good effort, and I know the government [in Bogota] has been taking it seriously,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue (IAD), a hemispheric think tank.

“Of course, the activist groups are right to press harder for compliance and to hold both the U.S. and the Colombian governments to account on this, but the fact is that there has been progress and there should be more,” Shifter, a specialist on the Andean countries, told IPS.

In its report, the ENS concluded that the LAP had overall failed to produce meaningful results in protecting worker rights, including the right to be free from threats and violence or in prosecuting recent and past murders of trade union leaders.

“We would like to emphasize that thousands of workers and their trade union organizations have tried to make use of the new legal provisions that protect them against labor abuses, but mmost have found themselves more vulnerable since judges, prosecutors, and labor inspectors almost always refuse to provide the protection available under the new legal framework,” the ENS report concluded.

In many cases, it said, efforts to gain protection had “only backfired on workers,” particularly those working in ports and palm plantations.

ENS’s conclusions echoed those of a report released last October by U.S. Reps. George Miller and James McGovern, both of whom serve on the Congressional Monitoring Group on Labor Rights in Colombia.

“The ENS report reminds us that we have a very long way to go in successfully implementing the LAP and ensuring that workers can safely and freely exercise their fundamental rights,” the Group said, adding that the new U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, make LAP’s implementation a priority and highlight illegal forms of hiring, the use of collective pacts by companies to thwart union organising, and the problem of impunity for anti-union activity.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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Criminal Court a U.S.-Israeli “Red Line” for Palestinians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/criminal-court-u-s-israeli-red-line-palestinians/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=criminal-court-u-s-israeli-red-line-palestinians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/criminal-court-u-s-israeli-red-line-palestinians/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 22:52:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133495 When Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas decided to defy the United States and Israel over stalled peace negotiations, he formally indicated to the United Nations last week that Palestine will join 15 international conventions relating mostly to the protection of human rights and treaties governing conflicts and prisoners of war. But he held back one of […]

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Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., briefs journalists Apr. 2 on the signing of international treaties and conventions by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., briefs journalists Apr. 2 on the signing of international treaties and conventions by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

When Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas decided to defy the United States and Israel over stalled peace negotiations, he formally indicated to the United Nations last week that Palestine will join 15 international conventions relating mostly to the protection of human rights and treaties governing conflicts and prisoners of war.

But he held back one of his key bargaining chips that Israel and the United States fear most: becoming a party to the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court (ICC) to punish war crimes and genocide – and where Israelis could be docked.

Asked whether it was a wise move, Darryl Li, a post-doctoral research scholar at Columbia University, told IPS, “I would call it a clever move, not necessarily a wise one.”

There’s no question avoidance of ICC was deliberate, that’s clearly a U.S.-Israeli “red line,” he said. So it makes sense as a way to prolong negotiations.

A Flurry of Treaty Signing by Abbas

The United Nations said last week it had received 13 of the 15 letters for accession to international conventions and treaties deposited with the world body.

They include: the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations; Vienna Convention on Consular Relations; Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in armed conflict; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Also included were the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; United Nations Convention against Corruption; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Meanwhile, accession letters for the following two conventions were submitted respectively to the Swiss and Dutch representatives respectively: the Four Geneva Conventions of Aug. 12, 1949 and the First Additional Protocol, for the Swiss; and the Hague Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land, for the Dutch.

“But since the current framework for negotiations won’t yield just outcomes due to the Palestinians’ lack of leverage, I wouldn’t call it ‘wise’,” he declared.

And in a blog post for the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) last week, Li underlined the political double standards: “Israel demands that Washington release the convicted spy Jonathan Pollard while the Palestinians are blamed for voluntarily shouldering obligations to respect human rights and the laws of war.”

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said, “It is disturbing that the Obama administration, which already has a record of resisting international accountability for Israeli rights abuses, would also oppose steps to adopt treaties requiring Palestinian authorities to uphold human rights.”

He said the U.S. administration should press both the Palestinians and the Israelis to better abide by international human rights standards.

In a statement released Monday, HRW said Palestine’s adoption of human rights and laws-of-war treaties would not cause any change in Israel’s international legal obligations.

The U.S. government should support rather than oppose Palestinian actions to join international treaties that promote respect for human rights.

HRW also said that U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power last week testified before Congress that in response to the new Palestinian actions, the solemn commitment by the U.S. to stand with Israel “extends to our firm opposition to any and all unilateral [Palestinian] actions in the international arena.”

She said Washington is absolutely adamant that Palestine should not join the ICC because it poses a profound threat to Israel and would be devastating to the peace process.

The rights group pointed out the ratification of The Hague Regulations and Geneva Conventions would strengthen the obligations of Palestinian forces to abide by international rules on armed conflict.

Armed groups in Gaza, which operate outside the authority or effective control of the Palestinian leadership that signed the treaties, have committed war crimes by launching indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli population centres, HRW said.

HRW also said Washington appears to oppose Palestine joining human rights treaties in part because it is afraid they will gain greater support for Palestinian statehood outside the framework of negotiations with Israel.

Li said the choice of agreements signed indicated a desire to ruffle feathers but go no further.

Notably, Abbas did not sign the Rome Convention of the ICC, which would have exposed Israeli officials to the possibility, however remote, of prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Moreover, Abbas also declined to set into motion membership applications to any of the U.N.’s various specialised agencies, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) or Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Such a move would have triggered provisions under U.S. law that automatically cut U.S. funding to those bodies, as occurred when Palestine joined the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2011, Li wrote in his blog post.

Meanwhile, the group known as The Elders, which include former world political leaders, said in a statement Monday that the Palestinian move is consistent with the U.N. non-member observer state status obtained by Palestine in November 2012.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Norwegian prime minister and deputy chair of The Elders, said, “As a U.N. non-member observer state, Palestine is entitled to join international bodies. We welcome President Abbas’ decision to sign the Geneva Conventions and other important international human rights treaties.”

This move opens the way to more inclusive and accountable government in the West Bank and Gaza, she added.

It has the potential to strengthen respect for human rights and provide ordinary Palestinians with essential legal protections against discrimination or abuses by their own government, Brundtland noted.

“In global terms, it will also increase their ability to enjoy, in practice, the protection of their basic rights granted to them by international law,” she said.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, also a member of The Elders, said the decision by the Palestinians to exercise their right to join international organisations should not be seen as a blow to peace talks.

“I hope that, on the contrary, it will help to redress the power imbalance between Israelis and Palestinians, as we approach the 29 April deadline set by [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry.”

More than ever, he said, both parties urgently need to make the necessary compromises to reach a lasting peace with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

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Taliban Provokes New Hunger for Education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 06:41:26 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133460 Following scattered defiance of the Taliban earlier, a new wave of students is now heading for education in schools and colleges across the troubled north of Pakistan. “There is a steady increase in enrolment of students because parents have realised the significance of education, and now they want to thwart the Taliban’s efforts to deprive […]

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Girls at a makeshift school in Khyber Agency in the troubled northern region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Girls at a makeshift school in Khyber Agency in the troubled northern region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Following scattered defiance of the Taliban earlier, a new wave of students is now heading for education in schools and colleges across the troubled north of Pakistan.

“There is a steady increase in enrolment of students because parents have realised the significance of education, and now they want to thwart the Taliban’s efforts to deprive students of education,” Pervez Khan, education officer in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), tells IPS.

In 2012, he says, the literacy rate for girls was three percent in FATA. That rose to 10.5 percent in 2013."Anything opposed by the Taliban benefits the people.” -- Muhammad Darwaish, a shopkeeper in Khyber Agency

The boys literacy rate shot up correspondingly to 36.6 percent compared to 29.5 percent.

The Taliban are opposed to modern education. They have destroyed about 500 schools, including 300 schools for girls.

Khan says the Taliban’s campaign against education is only propelling more of the tribal population towards schools.

“The majority of people know that the Taliban are pursuing anti-people activities, such as damaging schools, and therefore they are now coming in droves,” he says.

Muhammad Darwaish, a shopkeeper in Khyber Agency, agrees with Khan. “I enrolled my two daughters and one son in school because I am now convinced that education will benefit them. Anything opposed by the Taliban benefits the people.”

Saeeda Bibi, one of his daughters, says she enjoys school. “I go to school everyday and am very happy there. Before, I used to pass the whole day in the streets.”

Darwaish says he will make every effort to keep his children in school. “I am poor but I will make all efforts to see my children educated.”

Khyber Agency, one of the seven tribal agencies within FATA, has faced some of the worst of Taliban violence. Since 2005, 85 schools have been blown up, depriving about 50,000 children of a school to go to on the militancy-stricken Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

But Khyber Agency saw a 16.1 percent rise in enrolment last year compared to 2012.

Like Darwaish, scores of parents in FATA are now taking the education of their sons and daughters more seriously.

Abdul Jameel of Kurram Agency sends both his sons to school. “Militants have blown up three schools in our area, due to which my children sat at home. They are back because now the Taliban-damaged schools have been reconstructed.”

Director of Education in FATA, Ikram Ahmed, says they have seen a 21.3 percent rise in boys and girls enrolment in Kurram Agency, 7.5 percent in South Waziristan, 4.3 percent in North Waziristan and 5.1 percent in Orakzai Agency.

In all 124,424 girls are enrolled in 1,551 primary schools, 19,614 girls in 158 middle schools, 13,837 girls in 42 high schools and 1,134 girls in five higher secondary schools in FATA, Ahmed tells IPS.

“In the past few years, militant activities and the poor law and order situation in tribal areas badly hampered girls’ education but the government’s measures have paid off,” he says.

“The massive allocation of 3.67 billion rupees [37 million dollars] offset the impact of damage caused to educational institutions during the war against terrorism.”

Annually, education was given top priority in the development programme of 2013 – at 24.64 percent of the FATA budget of 18.5 billion rupees (188 million dollars).

The current year will bring 38 new middle schools, 125 primary schools and three hostels for female teachers.

Akram says that in some areas the army damaged schools because militants had been using them. “About 10 schools were destroyed by the army in South Waziristan where Taliban militants lived,” he says. All those schools are being rebuilt.

“In some areas, the government has established tent schools to provide education to children and at other places dozens of well-off people have offered private buildings and structures to be used as schools,” he says.

Bismillah Khan, one of the 20 lawmakers from FATA, tells IPS that the government will provide more scholarships and free textbooks to support poor students.

“We have suffered a great deal due to prolonged militancy,” says Iqbal Afridi, a leader of the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek Insaf. “Our students have suffered, businessmen and farmers have lost their work, and the only way to make progress is education. The good news is that people now want to educate their children at any cost.”

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Cuba’s Youth Were the Target of USAID’s ZunZuneo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/cubas-youth-target-usaids-zunzuneo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cubas-youth-target-usaids-zunzuneo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/cubas-youth-target-usaids-zunzuneo/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 02:59:04 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133449 The generations born in Cuba in the last two or three decades, permeated by the influences of societies that differ radically from the one their government is trying to build, are in the eye of the ideological storm that feeds the conflict between Havana and Washington. On Thursday Apr. 3 the White House acknowledged that […]

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A young Cuban man wearing a New York cap and an Adidas T-shirt using a cell-phone in Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A young Cuban man wearing a New York cap and an Adidas T-shirt using a cell-phone in Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

The generations born in Cuba in the last two or three decades, permeated by the influences of societies that differ radically from the one their government is trying to build, are in the eye of the ideological storm that feeds the conflict between Havana and Washington.

On Thursday Apr. 3 the White House acknowledged that from 2009 to 2012, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was behind the ZunZuneo social network – the “Cuban Twitter” that targeted young people and reached a peak of 40,000 subscribers.

Its apparent aim was to destabilise and topple the government of Raúl Castro. But the programme came to an end when it ran out of funds.“For the White House spokesman to say that it’s not a covert operation is simply a bald lie.” – Peter Kornbluh

“Young people today dislike equally pressure [from the Cuban government] to go to the May 1 march and calls, through text messages, to hold protests,” 29-year-old journalist Antonio Rodríguez, who decided to immigrate to the Unites States for economic reasons and to join his father, told IPS. “It’s the same idea: telling them to do what others want them to do.”

However, “young people are the main target [for this kind of activity] because they are always the ones who push forward social changes. Older people have preconceived notions, while young people are rebellious by nature and try to change things.

“But we are very busy dealing with economic difficulties, caught up in the day to day. The spirit of protest, of holding strikes, has been lost,” he added.

Miguel Castro, a 32-year-old self-employed worker, said that people who are today 25 years old are the children of the crisis that broke out in Cuba in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which the Cuban economy depended on.

“Their political commitment to the historic generation [that experienced the 1959 revolution] has been injured; they haven’t seen the government update its discourse and adapt it to the reality and needs of the young,” he argued.

A study by the Centre for Psychological and Sociological Research found that “socio-political aspirations” continue to be important among university students, unlike among segments with lower levels of education or less skilled jobs, where political participation dropped to the bottom of their list of concerns.

Young people “are the perfect target group for this project which also benefited from the fact that it could be done remotely,” Latin America researcher Peter Kornbluh, of the Washington-based National Security Archive, which requests and publishes declassified U.S. government documents, told IPS.

“All of the good research on Cuban society points out that the younger generation is completely detached from the revolution. They’ve grown up almost entirely in this period – from the collapse of the Soviet Union onwards – they’ve never really seen the benefits of the Cuban revolution. They have an interest in communications and the modern world,” he added.

ZunZuneo – the term in Cuba for the noise made by “zunzunes” or hummingbirds – was based on text messages and took advantage of a Cuban problem: the restricted access to telecommunications and the Internet for the average Cuban, which the government blames on economic problems.

In May 2012, the authorities in Venezuela announced that the underwater fibre optic cable to Cuba was operational. But the Cuban government kept mum about it until January 2013, and an overall improvement in connectivity has not been noted.

The use of social networks has grown in Cuba since the government opened 145 Internet cafes, which offer connection to the worldwide web, international email service or the national web, depending on what the client pays for. And since March, cell-phone users can check their email using the domain @nauta.cu.

In this Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million people, as of mid-March there were two million people with cell-phones – more than the 1.27 million fixed lines, a density of just 28.9 per 100 inhabitants.

ZunZuneo was financed with 1.6 million dollars in funds that were publicly allocated to an unspecified USAID project in Pakistan.

The users never knew that a U.S. agency linked to the State Department was behind the network, or that the programme was gathering information to be used for political purposes in the future.

“This is a modern version of a CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] covert propaganda operation. In many ways, this is a classic covert operation with shell companies, cut-outs, multinational actors with companies in London and Spain and Managua, and hidden bank accounts,” said Kornbluh.

“For the White House spokesman [Jay Carney] to say that it’s not a covert operation is simply a bald lie. It looks like AID is the new CIA, particularly AID’s Office of Transitional Initiatives, which is a murky, mysterious entity clearly working covertly on regime change projects targeting Cuba,” he added.

The revelations about ZunZuneo were the result of an investigation published Thursday by the AP news agency, which created a considerable stir in the Cuban government and state-controlled media.

According to the AP report, the programme’s aim was to reach a critical mass of perhaps 200,000 subscribers, at which point political content would be introduced in the messages sent by ZunZuneo, in order to prompt Cubans to organise “smart mobs” – mass protests arranged via text message that could trigger a “Cuban spring”, a reference to the revolutions that broke out in 2011 in the Middle East.

In a statement to foreign correspondents to Cuba Thursday, Josefina Vidal, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s North American affairs division, said the ZunZuneo programme “shows once again that the United States government has not renounced its plans of subversion against Cuba.”

According to Kornbluh, USAID “gets 20 million dollars dumped into its coffers for its Cuba Democracy project every year, and it has to figure out creative ways to spend it.

“This was creative, but, in the end, it completely and utterly failed, just like the Alan Gross project failed,” he said, referring to the USAID contractor serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for plotting against the state.

“This operation in hindsight looks silly except that its revelation right now threatens to undercut any momentum in Washington and Havana coming to a meeting of minds on better relations in the future,” Kornbluh stated.

With reporting by Ivet González in Havana and Jim Lobe in Washington.

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Misgivings Rise Over Afghan Poll http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/misgivings-rise-afghan-poll/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=misgivings-rise-afghan-poll http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/misgivings-rise-afghan-poll/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 06:40:40 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133407 “If Abdullah will become president, the will of [the] Afghan people will be respected. Otherwise – especially if Zalmai Rassoul will be indicated as the winner – a new conflict will start and our country will become more insecure.” The remark by Abdullah Abdullah supporter Qazi Sadullah Abu Aman is typical of the uncertainties and […]

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Local party workers on the campaign trail in Mazar-e-Sharif. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

Local party workers on the campaign trail in Mazar-e-Sharif. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

By Giuliano Battiston
FAIZABAD, Afghanistan, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

“If Abdullah will become president, the will of [the] Afghan people will be respected. Otherwise – especially if Zalmai Rassoul will be indicated as the winner – a new conflict will start and our country will become more insecure.” The remark by Abdullah Abdullah supporter Qazi Sadullah Abu Aman is typical of the uncertainties and accusations rising as election day draws close on Saturday.

Sitting in his two-storey house in Faizabad, the largest city in the northeastern Badakhshan province, Abu Aman says only a massive fraud in favour of Rassoul, the presidential candidate backed by outgoing President Hamid Karzai, can stop former foreign minister and prominent Tajik leader Abdullah winning."The Independent Election Commission is independent only in name. It knows the ways here, but does not act.” -- Dr Anisgul Akhgar, director of the Relation & Cooperation Women Organisation

Abu Aman is one of the most authoritative figures in the province, as former head of the Provincial Peace Council, the government institution that runs the peace process with armed opposition groups, and a former member of the Afghan Upper House (Meshrano Jirga).

Abu Aman is a member of Jamiat-e-Islami, the predominately Tajik Islamist political party founded in the 1970s by Burhanuddin Rabbani. This was one of the major Afghan mujahedeen parties that fought the Soviet occupation in the eighties. He is also a candidate for election to the council of Badakhshan, one of the 34 Afghan provinces whose representatives will be elected Apr. 5, simultaneously with a new president to succeed Karzai.

“People will vote for him [Abdullah Abdullah] because he was a mujahed [religious fighter] who bravely fought the Soviets, and because he understands the problems of ordinary people. He is the right man to replace Karzai, whose government is corrupt and was unable to provide a better life for Afghans,” Abu Aman tells IPS.

Karzai, he says, has “activated the governmental machine to help Rassoul.”

Just a few hundred metres from Abu Aman’s house is the provincial office for Rassoul’s campaign. The office is headed by Basiri Khaled, a former mujahed with huge appeal.

He admits that Abdullah is a strong competitor: “He is known by everybody, kids and old men – and when you go to the bazaar you buy the product you already know. This is true. But Zalmai Rassoul has more chances to win, due to his programmes: he has promised to build schools, hospitals, roads, and to create new jobs through the mineral sector.”

In 2009, Khaled had coordinated Abdullah’s campaign; now he is running Rasoul’s. He sees no incoherence here, and says he still is a member of the Jamiat-e-Islami: “I’m a Jamiati since I was a kid,” he tells IPS. “I was a strong commander, the first to push away the Soviets from Badakhshan. I have fought together with commandant Masoud [the iconic leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, killed in September 2011, whose portraits overlook the main buildings here]. Nobody can expel me from the party.”

As evidence of the strength of his preferred candidate, Khaled says “thousands of people took part in his rally here in Faizabad.”

That may not mean much. “All candidates spend a lot of money to bring a huge number of people to their gatherings,” says Samiullah Saihwn, who works for the local radio Bayan-e-Shamal. “They gave money to the local commanders, and to community and village leaders to ensure broader participation. So it’s hard to understand who really will get the votes.”

On Mar. 31, Saihwn chaired a debate with some of the provincial council candidates. Promoted by the Badakhshan Civil Society Forum (BCSF), the debate was vibrant and frank. Many of the 250 or so people gathered at the Setara-e-Shar wedding hall in the city fired some very blunt questions.

“We had organised something similar in the earlier elections,” BCSF director Saifuddin Sais tells IPS. “But this was the first debate in town for the 2014 elections. We also have promoted debates and seminars in five rural districts, reaching more than 1,000 people and explaining to them the electoral process and their rights.”

Despite the awareness programmes by the BCSF, the gap between Faizabad and the rural areas remains huge.

“In Faizabad people somehow know their political rights, they know they can choose whoever they want, but in districts they have no information, no idea of what is going on,” says Saihwn. “They just follow what a local mullah, a commander or a power broker tells them. Ability is not a criterion.”

Dr Anisgul Akhgar, director of the Relation & Cooperation Women Organisation (RCWO), agrees. “Here in the city I perceive a great will to vote. Here anyone is free to select any of the candidates. But in rural districts local power brokers collect voter cards or indicate the people who have to be voted for.”

She fears that the election may therefore be unfair. “No effective measures have been taken to prevent fraud and rigging. The Independent Election Commission [the institution that should manage all the electoral process] is independent only in name. It knows the ways here, but does not act.”

Despite such apprehensions, Akhgar, a women’s rights activist since the days of the Taliban regime, will vote. “I will use my constitutional rights and I am encouraging all the women I know to do the same,” she tells IPS.

Zofanoon Hassam, head of the provincial Women Affairs Department, is also trying to encourage women’s participation.

“Through our awareness programmes we have spoken with more than 2,000 women. We have a registration centre here at our main office, and many women got their electoral cards here. According to our estimate, around 78,000 women in Faizabad – 44 percent of the total number – got it. We are particularly proud of this.”

The road to equal inclusion of women in politics is still long and difficult. “In many areas women are told who to vote for by their husbands. It’s a bad habits like this we are trying to dismiss. But more time is needed,” Hassam tells IPS.

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Afghans Set to Vote on Ethnic Lines http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghans-set-vote-ethnic-lines/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghans-set-vote-ethnic-lines http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghans-set-vote-ethnic-lines/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 08:11:29 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133368 Ethnicities will come to the fore in the Afghan elections due Saturday this week, even though it appears that the young are beginning to break away from such loyalties. On Apr. 5, around 12 million voters will have the chance to elect a new president to replace President Hamid Karzai, constitutionally barred from a third […]

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Young girls prepare to sing a song in support of presidential candidate Gul Agha Sherzai in Kunduz city in North Afghanistan. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

Young girls prepare to sing a song in support of presidential candidate Gul Agha Sherzai in Kunduz city in North Afghanistan. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

By Giuliano Battiston
KABUL, Apr 2 2014 (IPS)

Ethnicities will come to the fore in the Afghan elections due Saturday this week, even though it appears that the young are beginning to break away from such loyalties.

On Apr. 5, around 12 million voters will have the chance to elect a new president to replace President Hamid Karzai, constitutionally barred from a third mandate."What is more important is that the people – particularly the civil society – have pushed the candidates to present articulated platforms.” -- Aziz Rafiee, director of the Afghan Civil Society Forum Organisation

Officially opened on Feb. 2, the race remains open and it’s still hard to predict who will get the chair at the Arg, the presidential palace in Kabul where Karzai has been since 2001 – just after the overthrow of the Taliban regime.

The political and economic power Karzai has accumulated is likely to be inherited by his replacement – whatever the ethnicity.

Pashtuns form the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, about 40 to 60 percent, followed by Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks. Precise numbers are disputed, and ethnicities often overlap.

There are three in the lead among the eight candidates: Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, an academic and former World Bank official and former minister of finance; Abdullah Abdullah, former foreign minister and a prominent leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and Karzai’s main rival in the disputed 2009 elections; and Zalmai Rassoul, national security adviser to President Karzai for eight years and foreign minister 2010-2013. He is seen as the contender backed by the outgoing president.

Many promises are being made – reconstructing the fragile economy, relaunching the peace process with armed opposition groups, and bringing security to the war-torn country – but the contenders seem to focus above all on ethnicity.

“The candidates are relying on ethnic, linguistic, or religious affiliation, because they do not have any political source of legitimacy,” Hamidullah Zazai, managing director of Mediothek Afghanistan, an organisation promoting pluralism in the media, tells IPS.

“One contender says ‘I’m the Tajik representative, you Tajik people should vote for me’, another says ‘I’m the Pashtun representative, you Pashtun people should vote for me’. The ethnic appeal occludes what is more important: programmes, ideas, plans for our future, which are still uncertain.”

Aziz Rafiee, director of the Afghan Civil Society Forum Organisation, tells IPS “there are five important factors in the voting process: ethnicity, regional location, language, branch of religion and political affiliation. Amongst these five dividing and sometimes overlapping lines, ethnicity is still considered the most important by many voters.”

To ensure broader constituencies, candidates have drawn the political chessboard also along ethnic lines: Zalmai Rassoul, considered a weak candidate without the support of Karzai’s pervasive power system, has chosen as his running mate the Tajik Ahmad Zia Massoud, brother of Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was the iconic commander of the Northern Alliance before he was killed in 2001. For second vice-president he has proposed Habiba Sarabi, a Hazara, former governor of Bamiyan province.

Rassoul does not speak Pashtu fluently and is not regarded by many Afghans as a “real Pashtun”. He enthusiastically announced the support of both Qayum Karzai, President Karzai’s elder brother (with a huge constituency in Pashtun-dominated south Afghanistan), and Nader Naeem, son of Mohammed Zahir Shah, the last king of Afghanistan from 1933 until 1973.

Abdullah is a mixed Tajik and Pashtun, but he is seen as a Tajik due to his prominent role within the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance. “By choosing for vice-president the Pashtun Mohammad Khan, he made an interesting choice,” Fabrizio Foschini, researcher with the Afghanistan Analysts Network, tells IPS. “Mohammad Khan is a member of the political branch of the Hezb-e-Islami party, and thanks to him Abdullah can compensate his weakness in the south-south east of the country.”

However, according to Foschini, Abdullah’s real strength is his second vice-presidential candidate, Mohammed Mohaqeq, a Hazara who could secure a large number of votes in the central areas.

Some believe that Abdullah is losing ground while Ahmadzai is gaining. “Ghani [Ahmadzai] had a stroke of genius selecting for vice-president General [Abdul Rashid] Dostum,” says Foschini. “While the Hazara and Tajik vote is highly fragmented, the Uzbek vote will go almost completely to Dostum. Prior to Ghani’s choice, nobody would ever have guessed that an Uzbek might aspire to the second chair.”

To be accepted as running mate, the Uzbek Abdul Rashid Dostum – a powerful northern warlord in the 1990s and founder of the Jombesh party, National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan – “was asked by Ghani to apologise for his past crimes, and this is something revolutionary,” Mir Ahmad Joyenda, former parliamentarian and now deputy director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, an NGO based in Kabul, tells IPS.

Joyenda say ethnicities still play a role in the Afghan political landscape but believes that things are changing. “In the past 12 years we have seen changes, mostly in the main cities. There are people – especially the young – who are interested in voting for a candidate offering effective programmes.”

Rafiee of the Afghan Civil Society Forum Organisation agrees. “We can say that Afghans are acting more politically compared to the 2005 and 2009 elections. People will not vote 100 percent along ethnic lines. What is more important is that the people – particularly the civil society – have pushed the candidates to present articulated platforms.”

The next Afghan president will be elected mostly on the ethnic balance of the vote “but ethnic/religious walls are going to be slowly demolished,” says Zazai of Mediothek Afghanistan.

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The Lady’s Allure Is Challenged http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ladys-spell-challenged/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ladys-spell-challenged http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/ladys-spell-challenged/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 07:29:16 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133302 For over a quarter of a century Uhla Min has lived under the spell of “The Lady”, the popular nickname for Nobel Peace Laureate Aung Sung Suu Kyi. His involvement with Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party dates back to the days when Suu Kyi launched a campaign in the late […]

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Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's legacy faces public scrutiny as she embarks on a campaign to form the next government in 2015. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's legacy faces public scrutiny as she embarks on a campaign to form the next government in 2015. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

By Amantha Perera
YANGON, Mar 31 2014 (IPS)

For over a quarter of a century Uhla Min has lived under the spell of “The Lady”, the popular nickname for Nobel Peace Laureate Aung Sung Suu Kyi.

His involvement with Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party dates back to the days when Suu Kyi launched a campaign in the late eighties to rid Myanmar of military rule.

Min, now 75, has vivid memories of listening to Suu Kyi speak at the famed Shwedagon Pagoda in capital Yangon, and of running from soldiers chasing down street protestors. He lost his government job because of his support for the NLD.She has now had to plunge into the world of realpolitik.

Min was jailed in July 1989 when Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest. The next 25 years their lives took parallel paths. Suu Kyi would be confined to her house in Yangon under house arrest, Min would be in and out of jail. He was tortured, like many other NLD activists.

“Jail was an endless horror, we were beaten till we fainted,” Min, now chairman of the organising committee at the NLD headquarters in Yangon tells IPS.

Like many others in jail facing a bleak future, Min had one hope. “We all new that The Lady was with us, she was like that small beacon of hope in that very dark place we found ourselves in.”

The allure of The Lady has not diminished for him, and for many others. Earlier this month, Zaw Linn Oo, programme director for the Sopyay Myanmar Development Organisation, a non-governmental organisation working on development issues, sat transfixed in a hotel lobby where Suu Kyi launched her new Suu Foundation.

He had not heard her speak in person for more than a decade. “I am so excited,” Oo said after listening to the icon of democracy in the country.

Oo’s associations with the NLD were peripheral. He remembers the big meetings in 1988 and then again in 2008. “I was never a full time activist,” says Oo. But, he said, he knows that “she is the only one who has been true to us.”

At the NLD office U Thein, a young woman in her late twenties, shares the same sentiment. She became an NLD volunteer 10 years back, soon after she left school. Her family was against the move. “They felt it was dangerous, and it was. People were being arrested and put in jail just for speaking her name in public,” U Thein tells IPS.

She said that Suu Kyi appealed to her because she was taking on a corrupt and violent leadership without resorting to violence herself. “Every time I saw her picture or heard her voice, I felt so much peace.”

She joined Suu Kyi’s then underground party, and dropped earlier thoughts of seeking a government job.

This enduring image of The Lady, as the champion of rights in the Gandhian mold, is  now being challenged by the more practical image of Suu Kyi the politician.

After she was released from house arrest in November 2011, and Myanmar opened up under the leadership of President Thein Sein, Suu Kyi has embarked on a campaign to wrest control from the Sein government that is backed by the army. The challenge will be the next elections due in 2015.

She has now had to plunge into the world of realpolitik.

“She is faced with a tough decision here,” says a western diplomat. “There is no one as charismatic as her who can lead the party, there is no one with her star power. But by getting into street politics she has allowed her image of the unsullied democracy icon to be open to attack.”

Suu Kyi has been criticised for not taking a tougher stance on raging racial violence in Myanmar. And some of her party supporters now say that years of isolation have made her uncompromising.

She also faces constitutional challenges that prevent her from assuming leadership of the country. Article 59 of the 2008 Constitution states that national leadership is not permitted to anyone whose spouse or children are citizens of another country. This effectively bars Suu Kyi from the presidency.

Suu Kyi has called for amendments to the constitution. But she has been ambiguous whether she would push for an all-out campaign ahead of the next elections.

“A politician thinks of the next election, a statesman thinks of the next generation,” she said at the launch of her foundation. “We all have to remember that the 2015 election is just a stepping stone, and a long journey lies ahead of this country.”

Reacting to criticism that she has been too quiet on racial violence, Suu Kyi said the answer to most problems facing Myanmar would be establishment of the rule of law.

Min has no doubt that Suu Kyi, if elected president, would inherit a monumental mess. “This is a divided country ruled by the military for over 50 years, she cannot make it right overnight.”

The next few months will be pivotal to how future generations remember her, he says.

“No matter what happens, for us she has always been and will always be pure.”

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Fighting Now Brings Disease http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/fighting-now-brings-disease/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-now-brings-disease http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/fighting-now-brings-disease/#comments Sat, 29 Mar 2014 10:21:11 +0000 Mutawalli Abou Nasser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133295 For just that moment, the refugees in Yarmouk camp in Damascus made news. After months of facing starvation and death in the shadows of the Syrian civil war came packets of food and aid in January – with cameras in tow. The refugees poured out on the streets in a river of desperation to claim […]

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The celebrations over food aid at Yarmouk camp in Damascus were short-lived. Credit: Niraz Saeed/IPS.

The celebrations over food aid at Yarmouk camp in Damascus were short-lived. Credit: Niraz Saeed/IPS.

By Mutawalli Abou Nasser
DAMASCUS, Mar 29 2014 (IPS)

For just that moment, the refugees in Yarmouk camp in Damascus made news. After months of facing starvation and death in the shadows of the Syrian civil war came packets of food and aid in January – with cameras in tow.

The refugees poured out on the streets in a river of desperation to claim the first deliveries of aid that made it into the besieged area. Grown men were reduced to tears as their terror and isolation were momentarily broken.The escape from siege and warfare in January was as brief as it was desperate.

But the camera crews have since moved on, and hunger, violence and disease have returned to torment the people stuck in the camp.

Yarmouk camp in Damascus used to be the largest community of Palestinians living in Syria. They had to leave their homeland in the wars of 1948 and then 1967. It was a flourishing and vibrant neighbourhood in the capital, home to more than 100,000 people.

By late 2012 the camp became embroiled in the increasingly malignant civilian conflict, and it has suffered for it. Rebels have been engaged in long and bloody battles with the forces of President Bashar Assad.

Yarmouk has faced siege tactics, indiscriminate bombardment, and sniper fire, as have other neighbourhoods. The tactic seems to have been to subdue whole populations. It seems to have succeeded.

Rebels in many of the besieged areas, including Yarmouk, entered into fragile truce with government forces and their allied militias earlier in the year. A string of local agreements were brokered to put the fighting on hold, and to allow food and medicine in and civilians out.

The escape from siege and warfare in January was as brief as it was desperate. “UNRWA [the United Nations Relief and Works Agency] remains deeply concerned about the desperate humanitarian situation in Yarmouk and the fact that repeated resort to armed force has disrupted its efforts to alleviate the desperate plight of civilians,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said in a statement.

Until recently resourceful volunteers had been working to maintain some rudimentary education system for the children and adolescents trapped in the camp. Working without institutional support, they were doing what they could to ensure the conflict would not leave a lost generation in its wake.

Now, the teachers and volunteers have had to close the classrooms. It’s not just bombs and snipers that have put a stop to their work but disease. The collapse of the healthcare system, chronic shortages of food and clean water, and accumulation of waste are combining to give rise to a number of health epidemics.

“One of our students fell unconscious in class, we took him to hospital and they diagnosed him with hepatitis,” Dr Khalil Khalil, a founding teacher of the makeshift school project, told IPS. “We then had all of our students tested and found at least seven other cases. The spread of this and other contagious diseases means a decision has been made to stop convening the classes.”

Making all this worse, fighting has erupted again. “The recent truce failed and the amount of vaccines and medication that made it into the camp were nowhere near sufficient to treat the plethora of diseases and illnesses we see spreading through the camp, especially among children,” Wissam Al-Ghoul, community health worker at the local Palestine Hospital, told IPS.

Fighters from both sides used the insufficient quantities of aid that did make it into the camp to reward their own.

“Members of the security services at the checkpoints seized some of the aid to distribute among their people, and rebel fighters stole some of the aid for their families and people close to them,” said food aid organiser Abou Salmi. “There is no order, and we suffer for that.”

About 7,000 parcels of aid are believed to have made it through the blockade in January. UNRWA concedes this was a “drop in the ocean” for the approximately 20,000 people who remain trapped in the camp.

In the spell when the siege was lifted, government forces and the Palestinian factions allied to them kidnapped many they suspected of supporting the rebels. Those picked up included children.

At least 30 men and adolescents have been detained, and their whereabouts remain unknown.

“Members of the Syrian security services, along with their allies from the PFLP-GC [a Palestinian faction allied to the Syrian government] detained at least 10 young men in front of my own eyes…We also know of people being lured to outlying buildings, and they were then kidnapped and whisked away,” said an UNRWA staff member who was among the team that oversaw the food aid. She asked not to be named for security reasons.

Each side blames the other for the breakdown in the ceasefire. “The regime did not release any of the detainees it had promised to, or secure the safe passage of food,” said Abu Khitaab from the ideologically extreme rebel battalion Jubhet al-Nusra.

“We pulled out of the camp fully as agreed but instead of releasing prisoners the regime began kidnapping young students and activists and to occupy some buildings inside the camp. We could not tolerate this, so we moved back in and resumed the battle.”

Regardless of who carries the responsibility for breaking the deal on which the ceasefire was built, for the innocent within Yarmouk the reality has returned to the same difficulties – a steady descent back into virtual imprisonment, and the chaos of fighting. Now, with disease added on.

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OP-ED: Egypt’s Death Sentences Test U.S. Resolve http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-egypts-death-sentences-test-u-s-resolve/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-egypts-death-sentences-test-u-s-resolve http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-egypts-death-sentences-test-u-s-resolve/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 18:56:26 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133285 The summary mass trial and sentencing of 529 Egyptians to death this week is yet another example of Egypt’s descent into lawlessness and blatant miscarriage of justice. The rushed decision showed no respect for the most basic standards of due process under the military dictatorship. The Egyptian court spent less than a minute on each […]

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U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel participates in an arrival honours ceremony with then Egyptian defence minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, Apr. 24, 2013. Credit: public domain

U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel participates in an arrival honours ceremony with then Egyptian defence minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, Apr. 24, 2013. Credit: public domain

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Mar 28 2014 (IPS)

The summary mass trial and sentencing of 529 Egyptians to death this week is yet another example of Egypt’s descent into lawlessness and blatant miscarriage of justice.

The rushed decision showed no respect for the most basic standards of due process under the military dictatorship.Sisi, much like Vladimir Putin and his land grab in Ukraine, feels empowered to defy the U.S. because he perceives it as unwilling or unable to confront him.

The Egyptian court spent less than a minute on each of the 529 defendants before sentencing them. Defence lawyers were barred from challenging state “evidence” and defendants were not allowed to speak. Yet, the Sisi government and the pliant Egyptian media did not question the sentences.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement in Secretary of State John Kerry’s name condemning the sentences. Kerry said he is “deeply troubled” and called on the Egyptian interim government to “remedy the situation.”

The decision, according to the statement, “simply defies logic” and fails to satisfy “even the most basic standards of justice.” Amnesty International deemed the death sentences “grotesque.” Most Western countries have expressed “deep concern” over the sham trial and convictions and the hope the decision would be overturned on appeal.

In his heady rush to seek the presidency, however, Field Marshall turned civilian Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is not paying much attention to Washington’s warnings or to international condemnations of the Minya judge who dispensed the ruling.

Sisi sees the Barack Obama administration moving away from values of good governance and the rule of law in Egypt to a myopic doctrine of national interest, which includes coddling Arab dictators and tribal ruling potentates.

Since the Arab upheavals of 2011, President Obama has identified U.S. values of tolerance, justice, fairness, and democracy as a guiding principle of post “Arab Spring” relations with Arab countries. These values, the U.S. president frequently said, “define who we are” as a people and as a nation.

Sisi, on the other hand, much like Vladimir Putin and his land grab in Ukraine, feels empowered to defy the U.S. because he perceives it as unwilling or unable to confront him or to shun him or cut military aid to Egypt. He counts on Washington’s inaction against him despite rising lawlessness by state institutions because of Egypt’s pivotal standing in the region.

By ignoring the Egyptian constitution and its traditional claim of judicial independence, the Egyptian judiciary seemed to kowtow to the military-run interim government.

The mass death sentences coupled with Sisi’s announcement of his candidacy for the presidency seem to bring the coup that toppled President Mohamed Morsi full circle. For Sisi, the January 25 Revolution is history, and the demands for democracy are now subsumed under the rubric of fighting “terrorism”, which he equates with the Muslim Brotherhood.

It’s symbolic that Sisi made the announcement on Egyptian television in military uniform even though he had just resigned as minister of defence and as a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). He told the Egyptian public he would continue the struggle “against terrorism” and would fight to “regain Egypt” and restore its “dignity and stature.”

Sisi must have taken a page from the American Tea Party book about “taking back America” and from Putin about taking back Crimea. As if someone has stolen America from the Tea Party, or Ukraine from Russia, or Egypt from Sisi.

In fact, it was Sisi and the military junta that stole Egypt from the January 25 Revolution in a military coup. It was Sisi’s regime that has put over 15,000 Egyptians – Islamists and secularists – in jail through illegal arrests, sham trials, and without due process for challenging the coup.

Sisi envisions his presidency to rest on a three-legged stool of pliant media, submissive public, and adulation of him as a rising “selfie” star. In the name of “serving the nation,” Egyptians are being brainwashed not to question the personality cult of Sisi’s budding populist dictatorship.

In addition to frightening the public into submission, Sisi has also shuffled SCAF by sidelining potential challengers like General Ahmed Wasfi and promoting supporters like General Sidqi Sobhi. He sees these actions as an insurance policy against a possible coup that could topple him, much like he did against Morsi.

Although much has been written about Egypt in recent days, the death sentences and Sisi’s presidency have created two serious concerns, which Washington and other Western capitals must confront.

First, these actions likely will result in a growing radicalisation of some elements within the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups in Egypt. Radicalisation usually begets violence and terrorism.

It would be a nightmare scenario for any Egyptian government if the new radicals join forces with Salafi jihadists in Sinai. Such coordination, which could create an opening for al-Qa’ida in Egypt, would wreak havoc on the country and on Western interests and personnel there.

Second, continued instability, lawlessness, and repression in Egypt under a Sisi presidency would begin to attract Islamist jihadists from Syria to Egypt.

Unlike their counterparts from Afghanistan, the new jihadists are honed by combat experience and trained in the use of all kinds of weapons. A jihadist base in Egypt would certainly spread to neighbouring countries, including the Gulf tribal monarchies.

To stem this nightmarish tide, the United States and its Western allies must urge Gulf monarchies to start serious dialogue with their peoples toward inclusion and tolerance.

They also must convince Sisi that no stable political system would emerge in Egypt without including secularists and Islamists in the process. An adoring public, a pliant media, a sycophantic government, and an unfettered and corrupt military are a formula for disaster for the Egypt and the region.

Emile Nakhleh is a former Senior Intelligence Service Officer, a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

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To Spy To Live http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/spy-live/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=spy-live http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/spy-live/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 09:05:17 +0000 Khaled Alashqar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133274 “If you want to live and receive medical treatment, you have my number, so you can call me and agree to my request. You will then get medical help, and survive.” The request, the patient said, was from an Israeli intelligence officer looking to recruit him in exchange for treatment. The 28-year-old Fadi Al-Qutshan never […]

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The mother and father of Fadi Al-Qutshan beside their son's framed picture outside their home in Gaza. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS.

The mother and father of Fadi Al-Qutshan beside their son's framed picture outside their home in Gaza. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS.

By Khaled Alashqar
GAZA CITY , Mar 28 2014 (IPS)

“If you want to live and receive medical treatment, you have my number, so you can call me and agree to my request. You will then get medical help, and survive.” The request, the patient said, was from an Israeli intelligence officer looking to recruit him in exchange for treatment.

The 28-year-old Fadi Al-Qutshan never did become a spy for Israel. And he did not survive long.The centre has documented several cases of arrest and manipulation of patients from Gaza needing to pass through the Erez crossing.

Qutshan suffered from a rare illness that led to artery blockage. With no help possible in Gaza, he was advised to go for treatment at a hospital in the West Bank. His application to Israeli authorities – needed for a Palestinian to enter another Palestinian area – was refused several times. It was finally granted on the intervention of the Palestinian Centre of Human Rights in Gaza.

At the West Bank hospital Qutshan was told he needed treatment at the Israeli hospital, Tel Ha Shomar. He did get passage and admission to the Israeli hospital and was operated on successfully. He needed a follow-up visit to complete treatment. That return became conditional.

“His phone rang when he was sitting next to me, and his expressions started to change and he suddenly ended the call and switched off his phone,” his mother Zeina Al-Qutshan told IPS. “He told me after that the caller was an officer from the Israeli intelligence services offering a permit to return to the hospital in exchange for working with Israel as a spy in Gaza.” Zeina said her son refused to collaborate. He died soon after.

“Blackmail of patients because of their need to travel through Israeli checkpoints has turned these checkpoints into traps for Palestinian patients,” Ahlam Al-Aqra’, solicitor with the legal aid unit of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, told IPS. “Many needing to go through checkpoints are either arrested or pressured to work as spies,” he said. “This is against basic human rights, and it must stop.”

The centre has documented several cases of arrest and manipulation of patients from Gaza needing to pass through the Erez crossing (at the intersection of Gaza, the West Bank and Israel), and of harassment of their family members or others accompanying them.

The number of patients arrested and put in Israeli jails has increased, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners. The total number of Palestinian political prisoners and detainees in Israel is 4,800, and it says about a quarter require medical help.

Ministry spokesperson Eslam Abdo gave a specific breakdown. “In all 170 prisoners need surgery, 23 prisoners have cancer, and 45 are suffering from a physical disability and need support with their movement. Eighteen prisoners are serving a sentence in Ramallah jail-clinic because of their critical health situation.”

More than 1.5 million people live in Gaza Strip on a small area of 360 sq km. As a result of the Israeli-imposed blockade, Gaza is suffering from severe shortage of hospitals and medical equipment. Hospitals in Gaza are unable to deal with all medical needs, and they refer critical cases to the West Bank and Israel depending on permits from the Israeli army who control the Erez crossing point.

The health system in the West Bank is in a better situation but it is Israeli hospitals that are well-equipped.

Mahmould Shamlakh was detained by the Israeli army on his way to an Israeli hospital. “After obtaining all required permits I accompanied my wife for medical treatment to the West Bank,” he told IPS. “My wife was sent back to Gaza and I was detained for nine months in Israeli jails under difficult circumstances for no reason.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR Israel) has condemned Israeli policies towards Palestinian patients seeking medical access.

“Physicians for Human Rights-Israel had called in the past on the Israeli security authorities to stop this manipulation of the most basic humanitarian needs of medical patients from Gaza as a means of coercing them and their families,” the organisation told IPS in a statement.

“This conduct of arresting patients or persons who escort them after giving them permits or clearance to pass through Erez is a policy that constitutes cruel, inhuman [treatment] that PHR Israel strongly condemns and objects to.”

Over the last three years, 13,000 cases have been referred for further and urgent medical treatment to Israeli and Palestinian hospitals outside Gaza, according to the Ministry of Health. The Israeli blockade of Gaza, coupled now with closure of the Rafah crossing with Egypt, means that this number is likely to increase over the coming weeks and months.

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Executions on the Upswing http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/executions-upswing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=executions-upswing http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/executions-upswing/#comments Thu, 27 Mar 2014 23:32:03 +0000 Samuel Oakford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133271 The number of recorded executions carried out worldwide rose 14 percent last year, as anti-terrorism measures in Iraq and hardline drug polices in Iran accounted for more than half of all reported government-sanctioned killings in 2013. In a report released Thursday, the human rights group Amnesty International said at least 778 people were executed in […]

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Prisoners on Pakistan's death row have been singled out for abuse in the past, rights groups say. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

Prisoners on Pakistan's death row have been singled out for abuse in the past, rights groups say. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Samuel Oakford
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2014 (IPS)

The number of recorded executions carried out worldwide rose 14 percent last year, as anti-terrorism measures in Iraq and hardline drug polices in Iran accounted for more than half of all reported government-sanctioned killings in 2013.

In a report released Thursday, the human rights group Amnesty International said at least 778 people were executed in 22 countries last year, though the total did not include several nations, most notably China, where official execution statistics are a state secret. The Chinese government is estimated to put thousands of prisoners to death by firing squad every year, dwarfing the rest of the world."Armed attacks amongst insurgents are on the rise and the Iraqi government wants to use the death penalty as a quick fix, to pretend to be tough." -- Jan Wetzel

“China is a case of its own – nothing comes close to them in terms of real executions,” said Jan Wetzel, advisor on the death penalty to Amnesty International. “However we do see some glimmers of hope, especially in regard to internal discussions – within the Chinese elite more doubt is being created over the death penalty.”

Outside of China, four in five executions took place in three adjoining Middle Eastern states: Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

An escalation in sectarian conflict in Iraq and increased government crackdowns saw a 30-percent upswing in death sentences in the country. Most of the at least 169 killings there fell under Iraq’s strict 2005 anti-terrorism law, passed in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion. In its report, Amnesty expressed concern over the law’s language, vaguely encompassing “acts such as provoking, planning, financing, committing or supporting others to commit terrorism.”

“In Iraq, we have to see this against the worsening security situation – armed attacks amongst insurgents are on the rise and the Iraqi government wants to use the death penalty as a quick fix, to pretend to be tough,” Wetzel told IPS.

But sectarian attacks in Iraq have risen along with increased use of the death penalty, says Wetzel, belying the intended effect of the death penalty.

“We know the death penalty does not have a deterrent effect vs. long term imprisonment.”

Amnesty was unable to determine if judicial executions were carried out in Egypt or Syria, though Syria’s brutal civil war would raise questions over the legality of any such confirmed killings. Egypt announced this week the mass death sentences of 528 alleged supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi.

At least 369 were put to death in Iran during 2013, though Amnesty cited hundreds more not officially reported.

Iran, one of four countries that practices public executions – along with North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Somalia – wields the morbid spectacle as a political tool, says Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, co-founder of the advocacy group Iran Human Rights.

“The Iranian government uses the death penalty to spread fear in society,” Amiry-Moghaddam told IPS. “The timing of executions over the past 10 years have been carefully coordinated – for instance when authorities fear protests or right after protests, the number of executions has increased, but when the international community is focused on Iran, the numbers are quite low.”

Most Iranian executions stem from drug cases and often target the poorest in Iranian society, including Afghan migrants allegedly involved in opium and heroin smuggling. Public hangings, of which Iran Human Rights estimates 59 took place in 2013, are not only death sentences but torture, says Amiry-Moghaddam.

“They are pulled up by a crane and it often takes more than 10 minutes until they die – it’s a slow death,” he said.

Footage emerged this year of one such hanging, showing the prisoner crying out for his mother who responds “My child, my child,” as he dangles from a noose, legs flailing.

Earlier this month, U.N. anti-drug chief Yuri Fedotov drew criticism when he applauded Iranian authorities for their effort to curb the flow of illicit narcotics within Iran’s borders, even as several European countries withdrew funding from U.N. anti-drug programmes in Iran due to its use of the death penalty.

“Iran takes a very active role to fight against illicit drugs,” said Fedetov. “It’s very impressive.”

Although capital punishment is not forbidden by international law, torture is, as several recent cases in the U.S. brought to light.

In January, an Ohio man took more than 15 minutes to die after being injected with an experimental new sedative and painkiller cocktail intended to replace traditional drugs European pharmaceutical companies no longer agree to provide if they may be used for killings. In Oklahoma, one prisoner’s last words upon being injected with another mixture were, “I feel my whole body burning.”

In the Americas, the United States was the only country to put inmates to death. Just nine, mostly southern, states accounted for 39 of 43 executions in the U.S. Though executions fell 10 percent nationwide, Texas put to death 16 prisoners, over a third more than in 2012.

Amnesty did report “progress towards abolition was recorded in all regions of the world.” The number of countries practicing the death penalty has nearly halved in the past two decades.

Though Indonesia, Kuwait, Nigeria and Vietnam all resumed executions in 2013, only nine countries – Bangladesh, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan the United States and Yemen – have carried out killings in each of the past five years. In Europe and Central Asia, no executions took place.

But Saudi Arabia, in contravention of international law, put to death at least three prisoners for crimes allegedly committed when they were under 18.

The post Executions on the Upswing appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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