Inter Press Service » Crime & Justice http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 21 Feb 2017 10:10:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.15 Corruption Brings Down an Empire: Odebrecht in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/corruption-brings-down-an-empire-odebrecht-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corruption-brings-down-an-empire-odebrecht-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/corruption-brings-down-an-empire-odebrecht-in-brazil/#comments Thu, 16 Feb 2017 00:29:24 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148966 The American Airlines Arena, a stadium and entertainment complex in Miami, Florida, is one of the many projects carried out by Odebrecht in the United States, where prosecutors have begun to produce figures reflecting the scope of the company’s corruption. Credit: Odebrecht

The American Airlines Arena, a stadium and entertainment complex in Miami, Florida, is one of the many projects carried out by Odebrecht in the United States, where prosecutors have begun to produce figures reflecting the scope of the company’s corruption. Credit: Odebrecht

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 16 2017 (IPS)

People in Brazil have been overwhelmed by the flood of news stories about the huge web of corruption woven by the country’s biggest construction company, Odebrecht, which is active in dozens of fields and countries.

The business empire built by three generations of the Odebrecht family is falling apart after three years of investigation by the Lava Jato (car wash) operation launched by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s office in Brazil, which is investigating the corruption that diverted millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for major public works contracts from the state-run oil giant Petrobras.The business group had created a specialised bribe department. According to U.S. justice authorities, every dollar “invested” in bribes produced 12 dollars in contracts.

Marcelo Odebrecht, who headed the company from 2008 to 2015, was arrested in June 2015 and was initially sentenced to 19 years in prison.

In October he and the company reached plea bargain deals to cooperate with the investigation. A total of 77 former and present Odebrecht executives provided over 900 sworn statements to Lava Jato prosecutors, causing a political earthquake in Brazil and throughout Latin America.

In December, the U.S. Justice Department revealed that Odebrecht allegedly spent 1.04 billion dollars in bribes to politicians and government officials in ten Latin American and two African countries, including Brazil, which accounted for 57.7 per cent of the total.

The United States is carrying out its own investigation, which could end in criminal convictions, since several Odebrecht subsidiaries, such as the petrochemical company Braskem, operate there, and their shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

That is also happening in the case of Petrobras, implicated in the corruption scandal and under investigation at the initiative of shareholders in the U.S.

The U.S. and Switzerland, where banks were allegedly used to funnel bribes or launder money, signed cooperation agreements with legal authorities in Brazil, as part of the ongoing offensive against corruption in Latin America’s giant.

The impacts are overwhelming. In Brazil, the revelations about Odebrecht are expected to provoke a tsunami in the political system. Two hundred parliamentarians and government officials may have received bribes, including senior members of the current administration and legislature.

The business group had created a specialised bribe department. According to U.S. justice authorities, every dollar “invested” in bribes produced 12 dollars in contracts.

That estimate is based on more than 100 projects carried out or in progress in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela, plus Angola and Mozambique in Africa.

Part of the Caracas valley seen from the San Agustín Metrocable, one of the many works assigned to Odebrecht in Venezuela during the government of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), when the Brazilian company became the biggest construction firm in the country. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

Part of the Caracas valley seen from the San Agustín Metrocable, one of the many works assigned to Odebrecht in Venezuela during the government of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), when the Brazilian company became the biggest construction firm in the country. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

The arrest warrant issued by a court in Peru against former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), who has been living in the United States, and allegations implicating current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, are just the tip of the iceberg.

What was revealed by Odebrecht executives and former executives, as well as former directors of different departments, such as external affairs, infrastructure, industrial engineering or logistics, has not yet been made public.

New figures involving alleged bribes are expected to come out over the next few months, added to those already disclosed in the United States, including 599 million dollars distributed in Brazil, 98 million in Venezuela, 92 million in the Dominican Republic, 59 million in Panama and 50 million in Angola.

In Peru the total revealed so far is “only” 29 million dollars since 2005. The sum is small, considering that for the Southern Peru pipeline – still under construction – alone, the projected investments amount to seven billion dollars. The Peruvian government has decided to terminate the contract with Odebrecht for the project.

Besides Odebrecht, the Inter-Oceanic Highway, which runs across southern Peru from the Brazilian border to Pacific Ocean ports, is being built by three other Brazilian construction firms – Camargo Correa, Andrade Gutierrez and Queiroz Galvão – which are also under investigation for suspicion of corruption.

During the presidency of Alan Garcia (2006-2011), Peru and Brazil signed an agreement for the construction of five large hydropower plants in Peru, which was cancelled by his successor, Ollanta Humala (2011-2016), who, however, is suspected of receiving three million dollars from Brazil for his election campaign.

Odebrecht, which has a concession to manage Chaglla, the third biggest hydroelectric plant in Peru, with a capacity of 462 MW, was to be the main construction company in charge of building the new plants.

The growing wave of local and industry scandals sheds light on the reach of Odrebrecht’s tentacles. Braskem is accused of distributing 250 million dollars in bribes to sustain its leadership position in the Americas in the production of thermoplastic resins, with 36 plants spread across Brazil, Mexico, the United States, as well as Germany.

The empire, born in 1944 as a simple construction company, started diversifying in the last half century into activities as diverse as the sugarcane business, the development of military technologies or oil services, logistics or shipbuilding companies.

In the early 1970s the group built the Petrobras headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, sealing a connection that led to the current disaster which destroyed the reputation of the company that was so proud of its “Entrepreneurial Technology”, a set of ethical and operational business principles to which its fast expansion was attributed.

But Odebrecht’s success could actually be attributed to a strategic vision and a modus operandi that proved successful until the Lava Jato operation. Part of its methods included being “friends with the king”.

Angola is the best example. The current chairman of the company’s board of directors, Emilio Odebrecht, son of founder Norberto Odebrecht, meets every year with Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos in Luanda, to discuss projects for the country.

Officially, what they do is assess the projects carried out by the company and define new goals.

The explanation given for the special treatment received by Odebrecht is that it has such a strong presence in vital infrastructure works in the country in areas such as reconstruction, energy, water, highways and urbanisation.

Odebrecht has great prestige in Angola, since it built the Capanda hydroelectric plant on the Kwanza River between 1984 and 2007, facing delays and risks due to the 1975-2002 civil war. Now it is building the biggest plant in Angola, Lauca, also on the Kwanza River, with a capacity to produce 2,067 MW.

The conglomerate is ubiquitous in the country, managing the Belas Mall – an upscale shopping centre in the south of Luanda, Angola’s capital – implementing the water plan to supply the capital, developing the first part of the industrial district in the outskirts of Luanda, building housing developments and playing a key role in saving the national sugarcane industry.

In Cuba it also led the strategic project of expanding the Mariel Port and managing a sugar plant, to help boost the recovery of this ailing sector of the Caribbean nation’s economy.

In other countries, such as Panama, Peru and Venezuela, the number of works and projects in the hands of the Brazilian conglomerate is impressive, in fields as diverse as urban transport, roads and bridges, ports, power plants, fossil fuels, and even agriculture.

But that cycle of expansion came to an end. Heavily indebted, with a plummeting turnover and no access to loans, not even from Brazilian development banks, and carrying the stigma of corruption, the conglomerate is trying to cooperate with justice authorities in the involved countries, seeking agreements to allow it to keep operating and eventually recover.

Now it remains to be discovered whether Odebrecht is “too big to go bankrupt,” as was said of some banks at the start of the global crisis that broke out in 2008.

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Mistrust Hindering Global Solutions, says Secretary Generalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 23:55:31 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148935 By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

The global lack of confidence and trust is undermining the ability to solve the world’s complex problems, said UN Secretary-General during an international conference.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

The 5th Annual World Government Summit (WGS), hosted by Dubai from February 12-14, has brought together over 4000 participants from more than 130 countries.

Speaking at the second day of the conference, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted the growing lack of confidence in institutions, as many people feel left behind from progress.

“It is clear that globalisation has been an enormous progress…but globalisation had its losers,” Guterres said, pointing to the example of frustrated youth in countries unable to find jobs or “hope.”

“Lots of people [feel] they were left behind and that the political establishments of their countries have not taken care of them,” he continued.

The former High Commissioner for Refugees cited the migration crisis in Europe, stating that countries’ inability to implement a fair and coordinated response spurred a sense of abandonment, fear and frustration among the public.

“This is the best ground for populists, for xenophobes, for those that develop forms of anti-Muslim hatred, or anti-Semitism…to play a role in our societies. And I think that it is not enough to condemn xenophobia, it is not enough to condemn populism, I think we need to be able to engage in addressing the root causes that lead to the fact that to be populist is so simple in today’s world,” Guterres told delegates, urging for reform to reconcile people with political institutions and to empower citizens and young people.

He also noted that the deep mistrust between countries is contributing to the multiplication of conflicts and the difficulties in solving them.

Most recently, the U.S. blocked the Secretary General’s appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as the new UN peace envoy in Libya after U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the UN has been “unfairly biased” for too long in favor of the Palestinian Authority.

Though he highlighted the need for impartiality, Guterres said that there was no valid reason to have rejected the nomination.

“[Fayyad] is the right person for the right job at the right moment…he has a competence that nobody denies and Libya requires the kind of capacity that he has and I think it’s a loss for the Libyan peace process and for the Libyan people that I am not able to appoint him,” he stated, adding that bringing an end to the conflict in Libya is in everybody’s interest.

When moderator and CNN anchor Becky Anderson asked about the new U.S. administration’s “America First” principle, Guterres noted the need for the UN to respect its values but also stressed the importance of multilateral solutions to global problems.

“In a world in which everything is global, in which the problems are global – from climate change to the movement of people – there is no way countries can do it by themselves. We need global responses, and global responses need multilateral institutions able to play their role,” Guterres stated.

“That is where the other gap of confidence becomes extremely important,” he continued, proposing reforms in the UN system to help build trust in such institutions.

Despite 2016 being a “chaotic” year, Guterres followed after French diplomat Jean Monnet in expressing his hope for the future.

“I’m not optimistic, I’m not pessimistic, I am just determined,” he concluded.

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Human Rights For Rohingya Worsening, Warns Special Rapporteurhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2017 21:59:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148862 Refugees Rohingya from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

Refugees Rohingya from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 8 2017 (IPS)

A UN Special Rapporteur has expressed grave concern over escalating violence and discrimination against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

Following a fact-finding mission, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee expressed concern over atrocities committed against the Rohingya, as well as the government’s denial of allegations.

“For the Government to continue being defensive when allegations of serious human rights violations are persistently reported, that is when the Government appears less and less credible,” she said during a press conference.

Lee added that this response is “not only counterproductive but is draining away the hope that had been sweeping the country,”

After half a century of military rule, Myanmar saw its first democratic elections when Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a majority win. However, she faced criticism for failing to protect Myanmar’s minority groups, namely the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Myanmar’s government disputes the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and have since enacted discriminatory policies including restrictions on movement and exclusion from healthcare, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

Violence once again reignited following attacks on border guard posts in October in Rakhine state, prompting Myanmar’s military to conduct an ongoing offensive.

According to a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces have emerged since the retaliation.

In one incident, an eyewitness told OCHR that the military beat their grandparents, tied them to a tree and set them on fire. The UN office also found that more than half of the 101 women interviewed experienced rape or other forms of sexual violence, including pregnant women and pre-adolescent girls.

The attacks “seem[ed] to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity,” the report stated.

Approximately 90,000 people fled the area since the attacks with an estimated 66,000 Rohingya crossing the border into Bangladesh.

Lee said the government’s response to her regarding the military attacks was that it had “rightly launched a security response.” Though authorities must respond to such attacks, Lee noted that the response must be in full compliance with the rule of law and human rights.

“I saw with my own eyes the structures that were burnt down in Wa Peik, and it is hard for me to believe that these are consequent to actions taken in a hurry or haphazardly,” she stated.

OHCHR found that hundreds of Rohingya houses, villages and mosques were deliberately burned down with one eyewitness noting that only Buddhist houses in her village were left untouched.

Human Rights Watch estimates at least 1500 buildings were destroyed, further driving Rohingya from their homes.

The government has denied these allegations, telling Lee that it was villagers who had burnt down their own houses in order to lure international actors to help build better houses. Authorities also said that this was part of the Rohingya’s propaganda campaign to smear the country’s security services.

“I find it quite incredible that these desperate people are willing to burn down their houses to be without a home, potentially displaced…just to give the Government a bad name,” Lee said.

“I must remind again that these attacks took place within the context of decades of systematic and institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya population,” she continued.

Those that do flee face further challenges in host nations. Bangladesh has been one of the primary hosts of displaced Rohingya, but due to population pressure and security concerns, the South Asian country has been pushing back on refugees. According to Amnesty International, Bangladeshi authorities have denied Rohingya refugees asylum and have detained and pushed hundreds back to Myanmar.

The government had also proposed a plan to relocate refugees to an island.

“We cannot just open our doors to people coming in waves,” said Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In a country of an estimated 160 million people, her government has its own share of issues to take care of.

The crisis has prompted international groups and leaders to call for actions including unfettered humanitarian access to all parts of northern Rakhine state.

Though Myanmar’s government announced the creation of a committee to investigate the situation in the border state, Human Rights Watch also urged the government to invite the UN to assist in an impartial investigation.

“Blocking access and an impartial examination of the situation will not help people who are now at grave risk,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director Brad Adams said.

In December, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak also called on Asian neighbors and the international community to address the crisis.

“The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place,” Razak said while protesting violence against the Rohingya minority.

““We must defend them [Rohingya] not just because they are of the same faith but they are humans, their lives have values,” he continued.

In addition to accepting assistance from international actors, Lee encouraged the Government of Myanmar to “appeal to all communities…to be more open and understanding of each other, to respect each other instead of scapegoating others for the sake of advancing their own self-interests.”

“I stand ready to assist in the journey towards a more free and democratic Myanmar,” Lee concluded.

The Special Rapporteur is due to present her final report on her trip to the UN Human Rights Council in March.

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Syrian Prison, a “Human Slaughterhouse” – Amnesty Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/syrian-prison-a-human-slaughterhouse-amnesty-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrian-prison-a-human-slaughterhouse-amnesty-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/syrian-prison-a-human-slaughterhouse-amnesty-international/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2017 12:19:42 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148860 Prison beatings. © Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun

Prison beatings. © Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 8 2017 (IPS)

At Saydnaya Military Prison, “the Syrian authorities have quietly and methodically organised the killing of thousands of people in their custody,” according to a new Amnesty International (AI) report.

The AI report says that “the murder, torture, enforced disappearance and extermination carried out at Saydnaya since 2011 have been perpetrated as part of an attack against the civilian population that has been widespread, as well as systematic, and carried out in furtherance of state policy.”

“We therefore conclude that the Syrian authorities’ violations at Saydnaya amount to crimes against humanity.” Amnesty International urgently called for an independent and impartial investigation into crimes committed at Saydnaya.

Every week, often twice per week, between 20 and 50 people are taken from their cells to be hanged, in the middle of the night, says AI, adding that as many as 13,000 people have been killed in Saydnaya since 2011, in utmost secrecy, between September 2011 and December 2015.

According to this global movement of more than 7 million people campaigning for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all, many other people at Saydnaya have been killed after being repeatedly tortured and systematically deprived of food, water, medicine and medical care.

“The bodies of those who are killed at Saydnaya are taken away by the truckload and buried in mass graves. It is inconceivable that these large-scale and systematic practices have not been authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government.”

Before they are condemned to death, adds AI, victims face what the Syrian authorities call a “trial” at the Military Field Court. “In reality, this is a one or two-minute procedure in an office, in front of a military officer, where effectively the detainee’s name is logged into a death registry.”

On the day of the execution, which prison guards refer to as “the party”, they collect those who will be executed from their cells in the afternoon, says AI. “The authorities inform the detainees they will be transferred to one of the civilian prisons, which many believe have much better conditions. They are instead brought to a cell in the basement of the building, where they are severely beaten.’

Amnesty International reported that a former prison guard described how detainees are severely beaten throughout the night before being driven to an “execution room”: “The execution room at Saydnaya was expanded after June 2012, so that more people could be executed at once. Nooses line the wall. On entry to the room, the victims are blindfolded, and do not know that they are about to be killed.”

AI reported that they are then asked to place their fingerprints on statements documenting their death. Finally they are taken, still blindfolded, to concrete platforms, and hanged.

“They do not know how or when the execution will be carried out until the nooses are placed around their necks. Detainees held in the building in the floors above the execution room reported that they sometimes heard the sounds of these hangings.”

To this day, “detainees are still being transferred to Saydnaya, and ‘trials’ at the Military Field Court in al-Qaboun continue. There is therefore no reason to believe that executions have stopped,” according to Amnesty International.

Middle East, Scenario of Torture

Like other major human rights organisations, Amnesty International also denounced cases of torture in other Middle East and the so-called “Greater Middle East” countries.

In addition to abuses in the U.S. military base Bagram near Afghanistan capital Kabul, Amnesty International focused on “human rights violations for which the US-led Multinational Force is directly responsible and those which are being committed by Iraqi security.”

In its Mar. 6, 2006 report “Beyond Abu Ghraib: Detention and torture in Iraq”, AI said: “since the invasion in March 2003 tens of thousands of people have been detained by foreign forces without being charged.”

“Many cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees held in facilities controlled by the Iraqi authorities have been reported,” AI added. “Amnesty International is calling on the Iraqi, US and UK authorities to take urgent, concrete steps to ensure that the fundamental human rights of all detainees in Iraq are respected.”

For his part, Human Rights Watch’ senior legal adviser Clive Baldwin on Jan. 27, 2017 wrote: “Last week, the United Kingdom Supreme Court delivered several key rulings about the application of human rights protections to British military detention overseas and accountability for alleged involvement of British forces in torture in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. The rulings are mixed in terms of ensuring the rule of law and prevention of torture.”

A high number of cases of rights violations and torture have also been denounced by major international human rights organisations in other Middle East states, some of them considered close allies of Western countries.

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World’s 40,000 MP’s Must Enjoy Their Rights – But Are They?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/worlds-40000-mps-must-enjoy-their-rights-but-are-they/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worlds-40000-mps-must-enjoy-their-rights-but-are-they http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/worlds-40000-mps-must-enjoy-their-rights-but-are-they/#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2017 06:31:43 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148822 Map of IPU member States 2009. Credit: Joowwww - IPU. Public Domain

Map of IPU member States 2009. Credit: Joowwww - IPU. Public Domain

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 6 2017 (IPS)

“Members of Parliament must be free to enjoy their human rights. If not, how can they defend and promote the rights of those who elected them? Yet, around the world vocal parliamentarians find themselves under threat. The 40,000-strong community of parliamentarians includes many men and women who have risked careers and even their lives to express their beliefs.”

This bold statement by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, presages heated debates during the IPU 136th session, scheduled to take place in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 1-5 April.

In fact, “it is not rare to see that legal steps are taken to silence outspoken members of parliament,” says the Committee. There are a number of cases where individual parliamentarians, if not even the entire opposition, have been prevented from exercising their mandate,” the IPU Committee reports.

“Among the methods used are the undue revocation or suspension of the parliamentary mandate, politically motivated bankruptcy proceedings and revocation of the parliamentarian’s citizenship.”

In order to protect parliamentarians against abuses and thus defend the parliament institution, the IPU established in 1976 a Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians, which has since examined cases in over 100 countries and in many instances helped to provide those at risk with protection or redress.

This has taken a variety of forms, such as the release of a detained parliamentarian, reinstatement to a previously relinquished parliamentary seat, the payment of compensation for abuses suffered and the investigation of such abuses and effective legal action against their perpetrators, the IPU informs.

“Sometimes the abuse arises from the application of flawed legislation or parliamentary rules. A satisfactory solution may then require a change in these legal provisions so as to bring them into line with applicable human rights standards.“

The IPU Human Rights Committee cites the types of prejudice suffered by Parliamentarians, basing on cases it has considered.

According to a 2009 study, 121 Parliamentarians suffered “undue exclusion from political life; 99 of “lack of due process”; 93 from “arbitrary arrest, detention”, and 70 from undue restriction of freedom of speech”, let alone 31 cases of “murder, en forced disappearance,” as well as cases of “torture, ill-treatment”, “kidnaping and abduction.”

The IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians also reports that often, parliamentarians have fallen victim to unfounded legal proceedings. Some of these proceedings are locked into paralysis.

“In cases in which proceedings have run their course, parliamentarians have frequently been prosecuted without any respect for fundamental fair trial standards. Irrespective of whether or not the case comes to trial, due process is at issue in each of these different scenarios.”

While freedom of expression is under threat in one way or another, the Committee informs, in all cases before the Committee, only a minority of the cases relate to undue action taken as a direct response to criticism voiced by parliamentarians.

“In such situations defamation laws provide for a very narrow interpretation of freedom of expression and are often used to deal with unwanted criticism.“

“If the violation is of a particularly serious nature, for instance in the case of the assassination or torture of a parliamentarian and/or if the authorities are not cooperating in a procedure, the Committee may render its reports and recommendations public by submitting them to the IPU Governing Council.” Here, a complete list of decisions on human rights cases adopted by the Governing Council in recent years.

The IPU Human Rights Committee is composed of 10 members of parliament, elected by the Governing Council in an individual capacity on the basis of their competence, commitment to human rights and availability. The Committee elects its own President and Vice-President.

“The protection and promotion of human rights are among the main goals of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Article 1 of the Organization’s Statutes defines human rights as an essential factor leading to democracy and development.”

Parliament is the State institution representing the people and through which it participates in the management of public affairs. It therefore bears a special responsibility in promoting and ensuring respect for human rights.

Here, the IPU helps parliaments and their members to live up to this responsibility in two ways.

First, the it strengthens parliaments’ action, notably through their human rights committees, in areas such as legislation, oversight and adoption of budgets for the promotion and protection of fundamental freedoms.

Second, by contributing to their concrete protection and redress when they are at risk, the IPU ensures that individual members of parliament enjoy their own human rights.

The coming IPU’s meeting in Dhaka will discuss, among others, the issue of Redressing inequalities: Delivering on dignity and well-being for all; the role of Parliament in preventing outside interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, and promoting enhanced international cooperation of the Sustainable development Goals, in particular on the financial inclusion of women as a diver of development.

The IPU is the international organization of Parliaments (Article 1 of the Statutes of the Inter-Parliamentary Union). It was established in 1889.

The Union is the focal point for worldwide parliamentary dialogue and works for peace and co-operation among peoples and for the firm establishment of representative democracy.

To that end, it fosters contacts, co-ordination, and the exchange of experience among parliaments and parliamentarians of all countries, and considers questions of international interest and concern and expresses its views on such issues in order to bring about action by parliaments and parliamentarians.

It also contributes to the defence and promotion of human rights – an essential factor of parliamentary democracy and development; contributes to better knowledge of the working of representative institutions and to the strengthening and development of their means of action. The IPU works in close co-operation with the United Nations.

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Pakistan Moves to End Impunity for Rapistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/pakistan-moves-to-end-impunity-for-rapists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-moves-to-end-impunity-for-rapists http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/pakistan-moves-to-end-impunity-for-rapists/#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2017 13:06:20 +0000 Irfan Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148795 Protesters gather outside the Lahore Press Club in the capital of Pakistan's Punjab province on July 12, 2016 to demand justice for victims of sexual violence. Credit: Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Protesters gather outside the Lahore Press Club in the capital of Pakistan's Punjab province on July 12, 2016 to demand justice for victims of sexual violence. Credit: Irfan Ahmed/IPS

By Irfan Ahmed
LAHORE, Feb 3 2017 (IPS)

Amid a wave of reforms to tighten the country’s laws on honour killings and sexual assault, on Feb. 2, the Sindh Assembly passed a law making DNA testing in rape cases mandatory in the province.

It follows on the heels of a unanimous vote by Pakistan’s Parliament last October to plug gaps in the criminal justice system and boost the rate of conviction in rape cases.The conviction rate for rape in Pakistan has been less than four percent, prompting protests and legal reforms.

For long, the sole reliance on eyewitnesses and circumstantial evidence has benefitted the accused in rape cases and conviction rates have remained negligible in the country.

The new national law, called The Anti-Rape Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act, also makes DNA evidence admissible, calls for verdicts in rape cases to be announced within three months, and allows filing of appeals within six months.

It also gives approval to holding of in-camera trials and use of technological aids to record testimony of victims and witnesses in order to save victims from humiliation. In the past, many victims and their families would not pursue cases for this very reason.

Another important feature of the law is that it tries to ensure protection of victims’ identity in the media. Those who violate victims’ privacy face jail terms of up to three years and fines. Mass media in the past has been criticised for disclosing names and sometimes even publishing the pictures of rape victims.

Fauzia Viqar, chairperson of the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), told IPS that the law will require police to collect evidence from rape victims in the presence of a female officer.

She added that stringent action has also been recommended in cases of custodial rape by police officers. Furthermore, the past conduct of a rape victim and her acquaintance with the alleged rapist will not imply that the sexual act was done with the former’s consent, as it would often happen in the past.

Cases “mishandled from the very start”

Amina Bibi, an 18-year-old from Pakistan’s Punjab province, was allegedly raped by four men on Jan. 5, 2014. All the accused were granted bail. A desperate Amina set herself on fire outside a police station on Mar. 13 that year and succumbed to her burn injuries the next day.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan took up the case and sought a report from police. The report was presented Apr. 21, 2014, only to be dismissed by the court. The report claimed that Amina had not been raped – something the court was not ready to believe, especially when it could find no other reason for her suicide.

Amina’s case trained the spotlight on the plight of thousands of rape victims in Pakistan who suffer due to flaws in the criminal justice system, socio-cultural inhibitions, the negative attitudes of investigators, police failure to collect evidence and the humiliation of victims in trial courts.

According to the National Police Bureau (NPB) of Pakistan, around 3,000 cases of rape are reported every year – 3,173 cases were reported in 2012 and 3,164 in 2013. The conviction rate, however, is less than four percent, according to a report released by the NGO War Against Rape (WAR).

“One of the foremost reasons for the poor conviction rate is rape cases are mishandled from the very start,” Asad Jamal, a Lahore-based lawyer who has represented several rape victims, told IPS.

He says very few police officials know how to collect scientific evidence in rape cases or record the statements of traumatised rape victims. Citing the example of a case he is fighting right now, Jamal says the police investigator concerned even forgot to preserve the clothes that the victim was wearing at the time of the sexual assault.

In the case of Amina Bibi too, it was found that police had failed to conduct timely forensic and DNA tests. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif suspended several senior police officers and ordered the arrest of others in connection with the case.

Jamal said sometimes police insist on including the names of fake witnesses to strengthen rape cases but such practices end up benefiting the accused, especially in appellate courts. “Ideally, scientific and DNA evidence should be enough to convict an accused, but unfortunately trial courts depend a lot on eyewitnesses for primary evidence,” he says.

Jamal pointed to another reality – rape victims often belong to disadvantaged sections of society while rapists are mostly powerful people.

He says crime data indicates that girls in the 9-19 age group from lower income families are most vulnerable to rape. “That’s why the number of domestic workers subjected to rape is on the rise,” he said.

Zia Awan, founder of the Madadgar National Helpline for women and children, told IPS, “The number of rape cases reported in Pakistan is only a fraction of the actual number.”

He receives a large number of calls from women who are undecided on whether to report the case or remain silent in order to avoid humiliation and life-long stigma. The impunity of rapists and the ordeal of rape victims deter the latter from seeking justice, he says.

“The shameful attitude of society, police and lawyers towards rape victims is the biggest hurdle in securing justice,” said Faisal Siddiqui, a Karachi-based lawyer.

His own client, a rape victim, had to seek psychological treatment for two years after appearing in court for cross-examination, he says. The defence lawyer, he says, asked her about the minutest details of the assault and made her recall the traumatic incident over and over again.

Unfortunately, he says, many lawyers deliberately confuse rape victims during cross-examination in order to get relief for the accused. “They ask shameful questions which no woman can answer.”

Sources privy to rape investigations reveal that due to socio-cultural mores police usually try to put the blame on complainants and prove that rape victims are women of loose morals. Their perception is that a woman who has really been raped would not dare to report the crime out of shame and fear of public humiliation.

If the victim has had any association with the alleged rapist or has been socially active or has a ‘modern’ lifestyle, police tend to believe that her allegations are fabricated.

In the past, legal provisions in Pakistan also made this possible. Shahid Ghani, a Lahore-based lawyer, cites such a provision: “When a man is prosecuted for rape or an attempt to ravish, it may be shown that the prosecutrix was of generally immoral character.”

He says this provision allowed for looking into a victim’s history to prove that she may not be innocent and may be sexually active.

Speaking to IPS in 2014, top police officials admitted that investigators needed to handle rape cases differently.

Inspector Amjad Naeem, master trainer at the Police Training College, Lahore, said there has to be an element of empathy in rape cases and special care must be shown by investigators in seeking information from victims.

“The victim has to be told not to change clothes, wash herself or go to the washroom before evidence is collected,” he told IPS. “In case it is necessary to go to the washroom, the urine and stool should be collected for later examination.”

Thanks to a project called Gender Responsive Policing (GRP), launched by the German development agency GIZ in collaboration with NBP, many policymakers have begun to believe that more women should join the police force and handle cases of violence against women.

Ali Mazhar, communication manager at GIZ, told IPS that a large number of policewomen have been trained under the programme to understand cases of violence against women.

Under the programme, he says, Ladies Complaint Units (LCUs) are being set up at police stations where women officers attend to women’s complainants in an environment that is free of harassment and fear.

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Families of the “Disappeared” Search for Clandestine Graves in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/families-of-the-disappeared-search-for-clandestine-graves-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=families-of-the-disappeared-search-for-clandestine-graves-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/families-of-the-disappeared-search-for-clandestine-graves-in-mexico/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 23:52:55 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148775 Eight-year-old Juan de Dios Torres, whose five-year-old sister Zoe Zuleica Torres went missing in December 2016 on the outskirts of the northeastern city of San Luis Potosí, participates along with his mother in the brigade searching for the remains of missing people in the northwestern state of Sinaloa. Credit: Marcos Vizcarra/IPS

Eight-year-old Juan de Dios Torres, whose five-year-old sister Zoe Zuleica Torres went missing in December 2016 on the outskirts of the northeastern city of San Luis Potosí, participates along with his mother in the brigade searching for the remains of missing people in the northwestern state of Sinaloa. Credit: Marcos Vizcarra/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
NAVOLATO, Mexico, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Juan de Dios is eight years old and is looking for his younger sister, Zoe Zuleica Torres Gómez, who went missing in December 2015, when she was only five years old, in the northeastern state of San Luis Potosí. He is the youngest searcher for clandestine graves in Mexico.

With pick and shovel, in the last week of January he joined the Third National Brigade for the Search for Disappeared Persons, which on Monday Jan. 30 found the remains of a body in a grave hidden in a corn and sorghum field on the communal land in Potrero de Sataya, in the municipality of Navolato, in the northwestern state of Sinaloa.

It is the second body found by this brigade, made up of a handful of women and men who search in the ground for signs of their children, siblings and parents gone missing during the years of the so-called war against drug trafficking, together with human right defenders and Catholic priests.

“A problem that has not been recognised cannot be solved, nor can it heal,” said Juan Carlos Trujillo Herrera, who is behind the creation of the brigades, told IPS during the brigade’s work in Sinaloa.

“All the public prosecutor offices in the country are saturated with this issue, there is no structure in place that would allow us to think that the institutions are going to work. That is why we have had to go out to look ourselves for our family members,” insisted Trujillo, who is searching for four disappeared siblings.

On taking office in December 2006, right-wing president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) militarised the security of the country to combat the drug mafias and threw Mexico into a spiral of violence from which it has not escaped.
One aspect reflects the seriousness of the problem: before that year, the Mexican government identified seven major drug cartels. Ten years later, there are nearly 200 organised crime groups operating in the country, according to information published this month by the Drug Policy Programme of the Centre for Economic Research and Teaching (Cide).

The data from Cide, one of the country’s most prestigious educational institutions, also registers at least 68 massacres in that period of time.

In 10 years, the so-called war on drugs launched by Calderón has left more than 177,000 murder victims, 73,500 of them during the administration of his successor, the also conservative Enrique Peña Nieto.

It has also left at least 30,000 missing people, although registers on disappearances vary greatly among the different authorities and civil society organisations.

In 2011, the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity headed by the poet Javier Sicilia brought to the forefront the issue of forced disappearance, reporting hundreds of cases in this country of 122 million people.

But it was in October 2014, with the forced disappearance of 43 rural student teachers in Ayotzinapa, in the southwestern state of Guerrero, and in January 2016, when five young people were detained and “disappeared” by state police in Tierra Blanca, in the state of Veracruz, that the country discovered that many of the disappearances attributed to organised crime were actually carried out by the authorities.

“That is why they did not look for them,” said Miguel Trujillo, Juan Carlos´ younger brother.

Since then, groups of family members who, desperate because of the absence of the state, started their own searches, have mushroomed around the country.

To do this, they train: they take courses in forensic anthropology, archeology, law; and they gear up: they buy caving equipment, they get trays to find small bones; they form crews and have become experts in identifying graves and bones.

The first brigades were organised in March 2016 in Veracruz, a state in eastern Mexico where several clandestine graveyards have been discovered, where the remains of160 people have been found so far.

There are now at least 13 brigades in the country. And since Jan. 24, different groups have gone out into the field in Tamaulipas, Veracruz and Sinaloa, where people belonging to brigades from five states arrived for a 12-day collective search.

“There are two different kinds of searches, for people who are alive or for people who are dead. I think this is where we’re failing, because we also have to look for people who are alive, but the thing is that nobody was doing this,” said Juan Carlos Trujillo.

The groups are supported by civil society organisations, such as the Marabunta Peace brigade, a group of young people from Mexico City who provide security for the families.

“It is very hard for young people to deal with these realities, for them to not get disillusioned with humanity, but escorting the groups gives them hope. Because when they realize that they are able to help, they find hope and they reaffirm themselves as builders of peace,” Miguel Barrera, the head of Marabunta, told IPS.

Sinaloa is the land of the cartel created by the powerful drug lord Joaquín “el Chapo” Guzmán, who was extradited to the United States on Jan. 19.

The brigade has made two findings: the one in Potrero Sataya and another in the municipality El Quelite, 10 km from port Mazatlán. The little boy from San Luis Potosí came with his mother, to help search for human remains.

“This is something we have to do because the government is not doing it and it was never going to,” said Mario Vergara, who founded the group The Other Disappeared from Iguala, the municipality where the students from Ayotzinapa disappeared, and now helps brigades all over the country.

“We are making progress in terms of organisation and we are going to continue. The people that remain in each state are going to learn how to coordinate to carry out better searches; we need to replicate the model in each state and engage the governments to help the search groups,” said Miguel Trujillo.

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The US War on Muslim Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2017 16:23:00 +0000 Salil Shetty http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148723 Salil Shetty is Secretary General of Amnesty International]]> People from seven Muslim-majority countries have been banned from coming to the United States. Credit: Rebecca Murray / IPS

People from seven Muslim-majority countries have been banned from coming to the United States. Credit: Rebecca Murray / IPS

By Salil Shetty
LONDON, Jan 30 2017 (IPS)

The gloves are off. With today’s Executive Order on “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” President Donald J. Trump has declared war on Muslim refugees around the world.

With the stroke of a pen, the President has – among other actions – banned Syrian refugees from the USA and has also effectively prevented anyone (including refugees) from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the USA. These seven countries have two main things in common: they are predominantly Muslim, and they are the countries from where the majority of people seeking asylum from serious human rights violations like persecution or torture are trying to escape.

Were it not so disturbing and dangerous, this Executive Order would be pathetic in its absurdity.

It is ludicrous because there is no data to support the view that refugees – Muslim or otherwise – pose more risk of committing acts of terrorism than citizens. A refugee is not a person who commits acts of terrorism. It is someone fleeing people who commit acts of terrorism. Under international law, perpetrators of these crimes are automatically disqualified from refugee status. Additionally, the US Refugee Admissions Program puts refugees through the most rigorous and detailed security screenings of any category of persons – immigrant or visitor – to enter the USA.

The Executive Order is preposterous in its irrationality. But no one should be laughing about it.

This is a deeply frightening document. Faced with a global emergency in which 21 million people have been forced to flee their homes, one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries on earth responds by obliterating one of their only avenues for hope: “resettlement.” This is a process whereby vulnerable people (such as survivors of torture, or women and girls at risk) trapped in dire circumstances in countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya, and Pakistan, are allowed to move to a country such as the USA. In sum, this Executive Order abandons host countries and punishes the most vulnerable among an already vulnerable group.

Does the Executive Order explicitly ban Muslim refugees? No. But the anti-Muslim rationale is brazen. All the countries subject to these severe restrictions are predominantly Muslim. With this action, President Trump has sent a clear message that the USA needs to be protected from Muslim people, and that they are inherently dangerous.

Also, the text identifies one of the exceptions to the new restrictions as people with religious persecution claims, but only if they are part of a religious minority. A plain reading of this provision is that the Trump administration will resettle Christians fleeing predominantly Muslim countries. This provision cloaks religious discrimination in the language of religious persecution. It is even conceivable that this favoured treatment could accentuate a risk to Christian minorities in some countries where they face discrimination and violence on grounds of allegedly belonging to a foreign or American religion.

All in all, this Executive Order would function admirably as a recruitment tool for armed groups such as the Islamic State – groups keen to show that countries like the USA are inherently hostile to Muslim people.

Make no mistake: people will lose their lives because of this Executive Order. Countries hosting large numbers of refugees, feeling aggrieved and abandoned by the international community, will begin or increase their forcible expulsions of refugees. Vulnerable women, men and children who would otherwise be able to move to the USA, and who are trapped in unbearable situations, will “choose” to return home to a risk of torture or death.

It is important to remind ourselves who these people are. In 2016, 72% of the refugees resettled to the US were women and children. In my view, the term “refugee” doesn’t do justice to the people who have braved deadly seas, deserts, and human-caused dangers, in the hopes of restarting their lives in peace. I have had the privilege of meeting some of these people, and have always been humbled by their resilience in the face of almost unimaginable adversity. Any country, including the US, would benefit from welcoming them.

Your gloves may be off, Mr. President. But – in solidarity with the 21 million refugees in the world today, and the countless people and organizations who work alongside and for people seeking protection – so are ours.

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Pakistani Reporters in the Crosshairshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/pakistani-reporters-in-the-crosshairs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistani-reporters-in-the-crosshairs http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/pakistani-reporters-in-the-crosshairs/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2017 13:32:55 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148714 Journalists in Peshawar protest an attack on Dawn News near the Peshawar Press Club in November 2016. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

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

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Jan 30 2017 (IPS)

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas located on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border remain one of the most perilous places in the world to be a reporter, with journalists walking a razor’s edge of violence and censorship.

FATA has been a bastion of Taliban militants since they crossed over to Pakistan and took refuge when their government was toppled in neighbouring Afghanistan by the U.S.-led Coalition forces towards the end of 2001.“Most of the 200 reporters from FATA have migrated outside their districts and do their work from safer places. We are unsafe. There’s no protection at all.” --Muhammad Ghaffar

Militants have used the area as a base to target security forces as well as journalists whom they perceive as pro-government.

Muhammad Anwar, who represents FATA-based Tribal Union of Journalists (TUJ), said that excessive violence, threats and intimidation remain a fact of life.

“There are two options with FATA’s journalists: either to face death or stay silent over what is going on there,” he said.

Hayatullah Khan was the first journalist killed, in June 2006 after being kidnapped in December 2005 in Waziristan. Since then more than 20 journalists have been killed in the seven agencies of FATA, allegedly by Taliban militants who were unhappy over their reporting.

“Taliban militants set on fire a newspaper stall when they saw news highlighting their activities. They also warned the reporters to stay away from coverage of the Taliban’s punishments of local people,” Muhammad Shakoor, a journalist from North Waziristan, told IPS.

Shakoor, who now lives in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), one of Pakistan’s four provinces, recalls how militants’ threats have prompted many journalists to flee to other parts of the country.

The situation in Swat district in KP also turned sour for journalists during the unlawful rule of the Taliban from 2007 to 2009. “Taliban militants intimidated local journalists. At least three of them were killed because they were disliked by the Taliban militants or the Pakistan Army,” Muhammad Rafiq, a local journalist, told IPS.

Reporters fear for their lives and take extreme caution while filing their stories. “We are stuck between militants and the army. We don’t know about the killers of our colleagues who have fallen in the line of their duties,” Rafiq said.

The Taliban may have disappeared as a result of military operations, but they still have the capability to target journalists, he said.

“Most of the 200 reporters from FATA have migrated outside their districts and do their work from safer places. We are unsafe. There’s no protection at all,” Muhammad Ghaffar said.

Ghaffar, who works with an Urdu newspaper in Mohmand Agency, said that it’s not only insurgents. They also face threats from the local political administration who wants them to toe the line.

“It is almost impossible to do independent reporting due to lack of protection. Journalists are surrounded by a host of problems, due to which they have to remain careful,” he said.

Journalists in Pakistan are targeted from “all sides” even as the conditions for media in the country improved slightly.

“Journalists are targeted by extremist groups, militant organisations and state organisations,” says a new report on press freedom by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The report, released early in January, showed that Pakistan had jumped 12 spots to 147 in RSF’s in 2016 World Press Freedom Index, up from 159 in 2015 and 158 in 2014.

Pakistan stands at number two in the international index of the most dangerous places for journalists, who face harassment, kidnappings and assassinations, RSF said. During the last 10 years, more than 100 journalists have been killed in Pakistan, with almost 98 per cent belonging to FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan province.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists has demanded that the government file cases or reopen old investigations into dozens of murdered journalists but there has so far been no action.

Last year, the International Federation of Journalists reported that Pakistan was amongst the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with 102 journalists and media workers having lost their lives since 2005.

The IFJ’s report said that since 2010 alone, 73 journalists and media workers have been killed — almost one journalist every month. It termed Balochistan province a ‘Cemetery for Journalists’, where 31 journalists were killed since 2007.

“The armed insurgency and sectarian violence account for a number of these killings but many of them raise suspicions of the involvement of the state’s institutions,” it said.

The killers of journalists mostly walk free, as Pakistan has so far recorded only three convictions.

Mar. 16, 2016 marked a rare occasion for journalists in Pakistan to celebrate the third verdict convicting a murderer of journalist when a district court in KP sentenced a man named Aminullah to life imprisonment for the killing of journalist Ayub Khattak on Oct. 11, 2013 for his reporting on the drug trade, in which Aminullah was involved.

In March 2016, senior journalist Hamid Mir was targeted by unknown assailants who inflicted grievous injuries. The attackers were never found.

Mir, who later received the “Most Resilient Journalist” award by International Free Press in Holland in November, said he escaped the assassination attempt but wouldn’t leave Pakistan because people stood behind him. He dedicated his award to the people of Pakistan for showing bravery against militancy and terrorism.

“The award is recognition of my sacrifices for advancement of journalism, which encourages me,” he said.

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Can Africa Slay Its Financial Hydra?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/can-africa-slay-its-financial-hydra/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-africa-slay-its-financial-hydra http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/can-africa-slay-its-financial-hydra/#comments Thu, 26 Jan 2017 11:23:49 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148677 Curbing illicit financial flows will free finances for development projects like the provision of safe drinking water. A man collecting water at a government-funded borehole in Southern Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Curbing illicit financial flows will free finances for development projects like the provision of safe drinking water. A man collecting water at a government-funded borehole in Southern Zimbabwe. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Jan 26 2017 (IPS)

Thanks to growing investor interest, increasing respect for democratic reforms, and its vast food production potential, the Africa Rising narrative is only getting better.

But Africa’s development success story will only be complete when the continent plugs the hemorrhaging of its financial resources badly needed for its own development. Africa is losing an estimated 50 billion dollars annually through illicit financial flows (IFFs) — half of all global losses and the equivalent of Morocco’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP)."[Illicit Financial Flows] are only a tip of the iceberg. Within the paradigm of Africa's natural capital losses, part of which is in the form of IFFs, the losses are mind-boggling.” --UNEP's Richard Munang

According to the World Bank, IFFs refer to the deliberate loss of financial resources through under-invoicing, which researchers say is a blot on the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative. Worst, IFFs are depriving Africans of needed resources to access better food, education and health care. Despite a decline in the prevalence of undernourishment in Sub-Saharan Africa, the World Food Programme says the region still has the highest percentage of population going hungry, with one in four persons undernourished.

As cancerous as corruption, illicit financial flows are costing Africa big time. This is despite a continental initiative to curb them at a time Africa is making some progress on good governance, according to the seminal Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance 2016.

Can the wings of capital flight be clipped?

A 2015 report by the High-level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa established by the African Union and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) puts the average financial losses at between 50 billion and 148 billion dollars a year through trade mispricing. South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Mozambique and Liberia are some of the countries that have suffered most due to trade mispricing.

“IFFs significantly hamper Africa’s development and progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) considering the astronomical investments the region needs to mobilize and the declining international sources,” climate change expert and the United Nations Environment Programme’s Regional Climate Change Programme Coordinator, Richard Munang, told IPS.

Cumulatively, IFFs range from natural resources plundering and environmental crimes like illegal logging, illegal trade in wildlife, and unaccounted for and unregulated fishing (IUU) to illegal mining practices, food imports, and degraded ecosystems. Munang estimates that Africa loses up to 195 billion dollars annually of its natural capital — an amount exceeding the total annual cost Africa needs to invest in infrastructure, healthcare, education and adapting to climate change under a 2°C warming scenario.

“Reversing IFFs and other natural capital losses is an urgent imperative if the region is going to develop and achieve the SDGs,” said Munang, adding that in terms of climate resilience, for instance, it is projected that to meet adaptation costs by the 2020s, funds disbursed annually to Africa need to grow at an average rate of 10-20 percent annually from 2011 levels.

“So far, this has not been achieved. And no clear pathway exists from international sources,” Munang said. “But IFFs are only a tip of the iceberg. Within the paradigm of Africa’s natural capital losses, part of which is in the form of IFFs, the losses are mind-boggling.”

A recent study called “Financing Africa’s Post-2015 Development Agenda” shows that from 1970 to 2008, Africa lost between 854 billion and 1.8 trillion dollars in illicit financial flows — good money in bad hands.

UNECA says illicit financial flows are unrecorded capital flows derived from the proceeds of theft, bribery and other forms of corruption by government officials and criminal activities, including drug trading, racketeering, counterfeiting, contraband and terrorist financing.

In addition, proceeds of tax evasion and laundered commercial transactions are counted under IFFs. Africa is also losing much-needed money to drug trafficking, tax dodging, wildlife poaching, human trafficking and theft of minerals and oil.

Tax Inspectors without Borders (TIWB), a project launched by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2015, has helped collect more than 260 million dollars in additional tax revenues in eight pilot countries, indicating the potential of tightening tax audits.

Head of the TIWB Secretariat James Karanja noted that capacity-building can help companies pay their taxes, stop tax dodging and help raise domestic resources to fund government services.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, GDP growth has averaged five percent in Africa in the last decade, consistently outperforming global economic trends. This growth has been boosted by among other factors, rapid urbanization, expanding regional markets, sound macroeconomic management and improved governance.

The Panel chaired by former South African President Thabo Mbeki also fingered large commercial corporations as culprits in IFFs, which have been fueled by corruption and weak governance. The solution, the panel said was to boost transparency in mining sector transactions and stop money laundering via banks, actions which rested on coordinated action between government, private sector and civil society.

“Illicit financial flows are a challenge to us as Africans, but clearly the solution is global. We couldn’t resolve this thing by just acting on our own as Africans,” Mbeki told the UN’s Africa Renewal magazine in a 2016 interview in New York.

For instance, Zimbabwe is currently in a financial crisis, having lost close to 2 billion dollars to illicit financial flows in 2015, according to the Reserve Bank. The figure is four times the money Zimbabwe attracted in Foreign Direct Investment in 2015 and more than half the 2016 national budget. The Global Financial Integrity Report estimates that over the last 30 years, Zimbabwe has lost a cumulative 12 billion dollars to IFFs.

“It is a grave concern. I looked at the statistics and found out that it’s a cancer that we are brewing,” Central Bank Governor John Mangudya conceded.

Is transparency the tool for slaying development’s demon?

The World Bank says curbing IFFs requires strong international cooperation and concerted action by developed and developing countries in partnership with the private sector and civil society.

IFFs pose a huge challenge to political and economic security around the world, particularly to developing countries. Corruption, organized crime, illegal exploitation of natural resources, fraud in international trade and tax evasion are as harmful as the diversion of money from public priorities, says the World Bank.

Advice on how to make tax policies more transparent — such as requiring all tax holidays to be publicly disclosed, along with names of officials involved in granting the holiday — would likely increase tax revenues collected by governments while reducing the risk of corruption and the potential for firms to abuse tax holiday provisions.

Global initiatives to limit tax evasion and stop proceeds of crime such as the the OECD/Global Forum on Taxation and the UN Conventions against Drugs, Trans-national Organized Crime and Corruption (UNODC) are yielding results. The World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery (StAR) programme found that of nearly 1.4 billion dollars in frozen corrupt assets in OECD countries between 2010 and 2012, less than 150 million has been recovered.

Proceeds of illicit financial flows are difficult to recover despite some high-profile cases like that of Teodorin Nguema Obiang, the son of Africa’s longest serving leader, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea. In 2014, a U.S. court ordered Teodorin to sell 30 million dollars’ worth of property believed to have been the proceeds of corruption. In 2013, 700 million in assets stolen and stashed in Switzerland by the Sani Abacha regime was returned to Nigeria.

A 2016 report by the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution, “Foresight Africa: Top Priorities for the Continent 2017”, says good governance significantly impacts the mobilization of domestic resources such as tax revenues, as well as external financial flows such as FDI, ODA, remittances, and illicit financial flows.

The report said lowest levels of corruption and highest levels of political stability correlated with the highest tax-to-GDP ratio while “conversely, countries with low political stability scores have a relatively high ODA-to-GDP ratio. In addition, though the differences are subtle, the charts hint that more corrupt countries have higher FDI-to-GDP ratios.”

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Decades-Old U.S. Sanctions on Sudan Liftedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/decades-old-u-s-sanctions-on-sudan-lifted/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=decades-old-u-s-sanctions-on-sudan-lifted http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/decades-old-u-s-sanctions-on-sudan-lifted/#comments Thu, 26 Jan 2017 08:43:47 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148675 By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
United Nations, Jan 26 2017 (IPS)

Among his final actions, President Obama lifted U.S. sanctions against Sudan, a move welcomed by some.

On January 13, the Obama administration announced its change to the 20-year old policy, stating that it is “easing” comprehensive unilateral sanctions on Sudan.

Idriss Jazairy

Idriss Jazairy

The UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures Idriss Jazairy applauded the move, stating: “By lifting sanctions on Sudan, after adopting similar decisions on Cuba and Iran, President Obama will be remembered as a leader who listened to the international community and stakeholders, in particular the poor and the wretched who were the unintended main victims of such measures.”

The U.S. Treasury Department said the action was a result of “sustained progress” by the Government of Sudan including a reduction in offensive military activity, a pledge to maintain the cessation of hostilities and steps toward improving humanitarian access throughout the country. They also added that the change in regulations aim to further incentivize the Sudanese government to continue to improve its conduct.

The amendment now allows U.S. individuals to process transactions to Sudan and engage in trade of goods and oil.

The move received criticism, including from Human Rights Watch which expressed concern over the government’s continued role in Sudan’s conflict. However, Jazairy reported that such coercive measures have significantly impacted human rights on the ground including the rights to health, food and education.

In a report to the Human Rights Council, Jazairy found a lack of vaccines, preventative and treatment drugs for infectious diseases, and medical equipment including computer programmes used for medical diagnostics, obstructing effective emergency and epidemic response in the country.

Though sanctions targeting Sudan have exemptions for the health sector, they are ineffective when financial transactions are also prohibited, he noted.

U.S. sanctions also affected education by limiting technology and scholarship opportunities which would allow citizens to improve and update resources for teaching and learning.

Sanctions have also had a role in compounded Sudan’s external debt, affecting the ability and realization of development projects and thus resulting in increased costs of living and higher rates of poverty among civilians. In 2009, poverty rate increased to 46 percent of the population, largely due to the embargo on the country.

Meanwhile, the measures have not had a significant impact on officials or any elite group, Jazairy said.

Jazairy, who is also the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue, noted that U.S. decision to revoke sanctions is in line with recommendations made in the report, including lifting restrictions on commercial and financial transactions.

He also advocated for a reduction of coercive measures in accordance with the fulfillment of objectives by the Sudanese government, and applauded President Obama’s acknowledgement of “positive actions” by the Government of Sudan.

“I urge the Sudanese authorities to intensify their efforts to enhance peace and stabilization efforts and uphold human rights,” Jazairy said.

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Populist Leaders Endanger Human Rights: Advocacy Organisationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/#comments Thu, 12 Jan 2017 22:56:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148492 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/feed/ 0 Poland’s Morbid Politicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/polands-morbid-politics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=polands-morbid-politics http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/polands-morbid-politics/#comments Fri, 23 Dec 2016 10:53:44 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148292 Lech Kaczyński at an energy conference three years before his death. Credit: Archive of the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland/GNU license

Former President Lech Kaczyński at an energy conference three years before his death. Credit: Archive of the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland/GNU license

By Claudia Ciobanu
WARSAW, Dec 23 2016 (IPS)

Despite the pain to victims’ families, critics say the Polish government is turning the Smolensk plane crash into a macabre reality show for political gain.

The remains of former president Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria were exhumed Nov. 14 from Wawel Castle in Krakow as part of a state-sponsored investigation into whether the plane crash that killed them in Apr. 10, 2010 was an accident or foul play."This catastrophe ...initially united us in mourning [and] later became a tool in the political fight between Law and Justice and Civic Platform.” --Barbara Nowacka, whose mother Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, a former deputy prime minister, died at Smolensk.

A state-owned Tupolev plane went down while taking Lech Kaczyński and top Polish military and political figures to Russia to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre in which more than 20,000 Polish soldiers and intellectuals were killed by the Stalinist secret police. Ninety-six people died in the crash.

An investigation conducted under the previous government — the center-right Civic Platform — concluded that the crash was an accident caused by adverse weather conditions and pilot error.

But Jaroslaw Kaczyński, leader of ruling party Law and Justice and twin brother of Lech, has an alternative reading. “The one interpretation that clarifies everything is an assassination,” Kaczynski said, as quoted by the web portal natemat.pl. “If that’s not 100 percent sure, then it’s 99 percent.”

Victimisation

Since the Kaczynski twins founded the party in 2001, Law and Justice has represented a counterbalance to the pro-European, liberal direction of the Polish post-communist transition. Law and Justice are Euro-skeptic and nationalist, Catholic and socially conservative, and advocate for a statist economy.  They speak to those left behind by the transition.

To build up political support, Law and Justice relied on a vision of a Poland under persecution by foreign enemies (especially Russia and Germany) and of Poles as victims of political elites at home, an alleged alliance of communists and liberals.

The Smolensk plane crash happened right at the start of the campaign for the 2010 presidential elections in which incumbent Lech Kaczynski faced Civic Platform’s Bronislaw Komorowski. During the previous three years, Lech’s presidency had been marked by conflicts with Donald Tusk, the head of Civic Platform and prime minister since 2007.

The shock of the tragedy was absorbed into the Law and Justice grand narrative, answering the needs of the campaign: Lech Kaczyński, claimed Law and Justice, was a national hero who fell victim to a lurid alliance between his foreign and domestic enemies, as had happened to Poles many times before.

While Jaroslaw Kaczyński did not win the 2010 presidential election (he ran instead of his brother) nor did his party win the parliamentary election in 2011, Law and Justice spent the next four years in opposition building up a cult of Smolensk which contributed to it winning last year’s election.

The party organised monthly commemoration events and its message was echoed by the Polish Catholic Church and the influential media empire centered around Radio Maryja.

Civic Platform’s strategy of waiting it out and letting Law and Justice politicians make fools of themselves by endorsing a conspiracy theory was a mistake.

According to an October poll by Ipsos, 27 percent of Poles believe Smolensk was not an accident, at least twice as many as five years ago.

Ireneusz Krzeminski, from Warsaw University’s Institute of Sociology, who has looked into responses to Smolensk in Polish society, said the Law and Justice version of the air crash resonated with Poles who “felt unhappy in their lives for different reasons.”

The feeling of perceived injustice was fertile ground for Law and Justice’s rhetoric about a Poland martyred by its enemies, said Krzeminski. The result was hatred towards the alleged enemies, especially Russia and Civic Platform.

Escalation

Since it got to power in 2015, Law and Justice intensified the instrumentalisation of Polish history. Sociologist Krzeminski notes that commemorations of historical events where Poles have suffered (like the 1944 anti-Nazi Warsaw uprising) are a bigger deal now. School curricula have changed to include more on the traumatic episodes. Krzeminski argues that Law and Justice keeps Poles “in a state of permanent mourning” – it brings support for the party.

This year, Poland announced that it would not back Donald Tusk for a second mandate as President of the European Council. Law and Justice members have mentioned the possibility of putting Tusk on trial for treason over Smolensk, once his Brussels term finishes. With Law and Justice moving to control the justice system in Poland, Tusk’s prospects if prosecuted could be bleak.

The focus on Smolensk is a useful distraction from socio-economic woes. Law and Justice remains popular among its voters because of measures such as subsidies for families with children or lowering the retirement age, but the economy has been slowing down this year and foreign investments are dropping.

Crossing the line?

In a country with a strong cult of the dead, unearthing bodies and examining them breaks the biggest taboo.

“The (planned) exhumation of my wife represents for me a big trauma and pain, it destroys the peace of my family, it affects our privacy, and it encroaches on our personal wellbeing, which is based on the cult of the memory of our dead,” said Pawel Deresz, whose wife Jolanta Szymanek-Deresz, a lawyer and politician, died in the crash.

Before answering a single question, Deresz pulled out a large photo of his wife and a copy of the Polish Constitution, before reading out Article 47 about “the right to the legal protection of private and family life.”

Deresz had written to Poland’s prosecutor general Zbigniew Ziobro asking him not to exhume his wife. He said he was prepared to sue the Polish government if needed.

He’s not the only relative angered by the decision.

Last month, Izabella Sariusz-Skąpska, the daughter of Smolensk victim Andrzej Sariusz-Skąpski, published an open letter to President Andrzej Duda, asking for the exhumations to be halted.

“We stand alone and helpless against this ruthless and cruel act: our beloved are to be dragged out of their graves despite the sacred taboo of not disturbing the dead,” Sariusz-Skąpska wrote in the letter, which was signed by 238 family members of 17 victims.

Other families, however, want their loved ones dug up and given a proper burial. In six of the nine exhumations carried out under the previous government, there was evidence that Russian authorities had mixed up body parts or coffins in the chaos after the crash.
 Others share the government’s suspicions that the crash was no accident.

“This catastrophe …initially united us in mourning [and] later became a tool in the political fight between Law and Justice and Civic Platform,” said Barbara Nowacka, whose mother Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, a former deputy prime minister, died at Smolensk.

“What is most difficult for me is that now Smolensk has become a kind of religion for some core Law and Justice supporters and they would do anything to prove it was more than a plane crash,” said Nowacka. “And on the other hand the majority of society is either getting tired or trying to get rid of the topic by turning it into a joke, which is painful.”

The Ipsos poll in October showed that only 10 percent of Poles are in favour of the exhumations.

The government is treading carefully and has sought the official backing of the powerful Polish Catholic Church. The unearthing of Lech and Maria Kaczyński was accompanied by a religious mass.

However, the Catholic Church warned that Smolensk should not be exploited for political purposes. Some individual priests have publicly objected.

The government wants to unearth all the bodies by the end of next year, but the investigation could last years.

Unearthing the remains of those whose families think the dead should rest in peace will be hard to justify to the public, especially if nothing suspicious is found upon inspecting the first coffins.

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Food Insecurity: An Agent for Violent Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/food-insecurity-an-agent-for-violent-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=food-insecurity-an-agent-for-violent-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/food-insecurity-an-agent-for-violent-conflict/#comments Sun, 11 Dec 2016 10:02:24 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148175 By Dominique Von Rohr
ROME, Dec 11 2016 (IPS)

Up to two billion people live in countries affected by violence, conflict and fragility. Often, such political instability goes hand in hand with food insecurity. “Conflicts have pushed over 56 million people either into crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity”, Kimberly Flowers, Director of the Global Food Security Project, said at this years’ John McGovern Lecture held at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The number continues to grow with the escalation of conflicts and violence in countries like Syria, Yemen or South Sudan.

Families can no longer afford regular meals because of rising food and fuel costs. Credit: IPS

Families can no longer afford regular meals because of rising food and fuel costs. Credit: IPS

However, since the food price crisis in 2007/08 pushed the total number of hungry people to over one billion – a sixth of the worlds population – political leaders have started to pay attention to food insecurity.

Under President Obama, the United States has invested 6,6 billion dollars in “Feed the Future”, a long-term development program focusing on reducing poverty and hunger. The program aims at teaching farmers in developing countries new agricultural techniques, how to increase productivity and improve nutrition.

Kimberly Flowers underlined that in the United States, opinions on food security are not divided among party lines. The U.S Congress has enacted the Global Food Security Act this summer, a law that will ensure that global hunger and poverty remain a top U.S. foreign policy. “Food security is real and evidence based. Congress understands the importance of addressing this issue”, Kimberly Flowers told IPS.

Despite the uncertainty a Trump administration will bring with it, with the Global Food Security Act, food-security investments will continue for at least two more years.

For the first time, the U.S. intelligence community has recognized the linkage between political instability and food insecurity and has assessed that the overall risk of food insecurity in many countries will increase during the next ten years because of production, transport and market disruptions to local food availability.

“Food insecurity is both the cause and consequence of conflict”, Kimberly Flowers told the audience, linking it with political stability and calling food insecurity a “national security imperative”.

The lack of access to food can be used as a strategic instrument of war. “Hungry populations are more likely to express frustration with troubled leadership, perpetuating a cycle of political instability and further undermining long-term economic development”, Kimberly Flowers said.

In a paper released by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the authors state that food insecurity heightens the risk of democratic breakdown, civil conflict, protest, rioting, and communal conflict.

In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad as well as the Islamic State have used food or the absence of food as war tactics, deliberately cutting off Syrians from humanitarian assistance or offering starving citizens food in return for them to join their ranks. The war has devastated Syria’s agriculture and has cost the country 35 years of development. Its food production is at a record low as farmers are unable to hold on to, let alone cultivate their land.

In Nigeria, food insecurity has risen as a result of instability and especially affects areas where Boko Haram operates. “Boko Haram’s actions are preventing food production; they have placed landmines in farmer’s fields, stolen cattle, and forced civilians to flee, leaving land unfarmed”, said Kimberly Flowers. The result is that certain areas are deprived of their harvest, and where food is available, prices have increased drastically.

In Venezuela, on the other hand, food insecurity is linked to economic mismanagement. “90 per cent of Venezuelans report that food has become too expensive to buy”, said Kimberly Flowers. Once a rich country with strong leadership, Venezuela’s dependence on oil revenues has brought the economy to the verge of collapse after a global drop in oil prices. As the population grows hungry, the government has resorted to increasingly authoritarian response tactics.

In South Sudan, conflicts between the government and oppositional groups have had such an impact on the economy that food prices increased dramatically. The denial of food and food aid has played a central part in countering insurgencies in the country. Up to 95 per cent of the population in South Sudan depends on agriculture to survive, “yet there is no underlying state infrastructure to support the agricultural industry”, Kimberly Flowers said. “The dangerous combination of armed conflict, weak infrastructure and soaring staple food prices could result in famine conditions.”

In 2015, the international community has adopted 17 key objectives to be achieved by 2030, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The first two goals are to eradicate poverty and hunger. But can these goals really be achieved when instability and conflict are constant threats?

“The SDGs underestimate the difficulties of helping more than a billion people to regain a sustainable path of economic growth and reconstruct a torn social fabric within a short 15 years”, said Kimberly Flowers. To believe that hunger and poverty can completely be abolished within the next 14 years is unrealistic. However, the efforts to implement the SDGs will have a sustainable impact on the countries in need of help. For example on food insecurity: “The number of food insecure people is projected to fall significantly, 59 per cent, by 2026.”

Kimberly Flowers believes that the most important factors to decrease food insecurity are a strong government and keeping agriculture high up on the development agenda.

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Anti-Torture Law Helps Pay Off Chile’s Debt to Human Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/anti-torture-law-helps-pay-off-chiles-debt-to-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=anti-torture-law-helps-pay-off-chiles-debt-to-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/anti-torture-law-helps-pay-off-chiles-debt-to-human-rights/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2016 23:10:50 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148142 About 20,000 people a year visit the Villa Grimaldi Park for Peace, built in the foothills of the Andes mountains, where the city of Santiago lies, from the ruins of what was the biggest torture centre during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

About 20,000 people a year visit the Villa Grimaldi Park for Peace, built in the foothills of the Andes mountains, where the city of Santiago lies, from the ruins of what was the biggest torture centre during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Dec 8 2016 (IPS)

After 26 years of democratic governments, Chile has finally passed a law that defines torture as a criminal act, but which is still not sufficient to guarantee that the abuses will never again happen, according to human rights experts.

On Nov. 11, President Michelle Bachelet enacted a law that typifies torture, cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment as crimes, in what she described as “a decisive step in the prevention and total eradication of torture” in Chile.

“It is good that this law has been enacted and that torture can be prevented at a national level, which is what the United Nations demands. But for us this doesn’t mean anything,” Luzmila Ortiz told IPS.

Ortiz’s husband, sociologist Jorge Fuentes, was a leader of the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR). He was detained in Paraguay in May 1975 and handed over in September of that year to the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA), the Augusto Pinochet military dictatorship’s (1973-1990) secret police."To fully recognise the phenomenon of torture as a serious crime to be eradicated and punished with sentences proportionate to its gravity is part of the state’s obligation to not repeat these acts in the future." -- Nelson Caucoto

DINA repatriated him to Chile, where he was tortured and later “disappeared” in January 1976 under Operation Condor, a plan involving the coordination between the military dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay to track down, kidnap, torture, transfer across borders, disappear and kill opponents of the regimes such as guerrilla fighters, political activists, trade unionists, students, priests or journalists.

“They destroyed our lives, because this is a wound that will not close until we know what happened to him. This is terrible, and it not only hangs over me but over my son as well,” Ortiz said.

She recalled with sorrow that in Villa Grimaldi, a notorious torture centre, “they subjected him to atrocities. He was confined to a dog house. It is a pain so profound that you can’t get over it.”

For Cath Collins, director of the Diego Portales University’s Transitional Justice Observatory, the new law is welcome, but “no law can, by itself, guarantee that these things will never again happen.”

“To that end, efforts are needed in many areas, including a change in the institutional culture and day-to-day practices of the armed forces, police, prison guards and other state entities,” she said.

“Never again” was a demand set forth by groups of victims of human rights violations in the “Truth and Reconciliation” report drafted in 1991, a year after Chile’s return to democracy.

The report stated that reconciliation is impossible unless the truth comes out about every case, in order to avoid a repeat of human rights abuses.

Approximately 2,000 people were tortured in Londres 38 between October 1973 and January 1975. In the building, there are plaques with the names of the 98 people murdered and disappeared there. Credit: Courtesy of Memory Space Londres 38

Approximately 2,000 people were tortured in Londres 38 between October 1973 and January 1975. In the building, there are plaques with the names of the 98 people murdered and disappeared there. Credit: Courtesy of Memory Space Londres 38

Collins said that, to make progress towards the eradication of torture, “we have to eliminate every vestige of tolerance or normalisationof actions of brutality, incidental or systematic, and break the culture of denial and impunity.”

However, she cautioned, “institutional interventions are not enough.”

“The authorities as well as civil society also have to educate and educate ourselves, in favour of ethics and respect, and against authoritarianism, arrogance, verbal and physical violence that often invades our
social interactions and day-to-day relationships,” said the expert.

President Bachelet was herself a victim

Socialist President Michelle Bachelet, who governed Chile between 2006 and 2010, before beginning her second term in 2014, was also a victim of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Her father, Chilean Air Force General Alberto Bachelet, who opposed the 1973 military coup, died in March 1974 in a prison in Santiago of a heart attack caused by torture, according to the official ruling issued in 2012.

After her father’s arrest and death, Bachelet and her mother, Ángela Jeria, went into hiding until they were detained and taken to Villa Grimaldi in 1975, before being forced into exile. Bachelet returned to Chile in 1979 and in 2002 became the first female defence minister in Latin America.

Despite its limitations, the law enables Chile to present itself as a country that has accomplished this task, on Dec. 10 when Human Rights Day is celebrated. This year’s theme is “Stand up for someone’s rights today” – a reference to the need for everyone to play an active role in defending the rights of others – part of the new ethics that have to be promoted in this country, said Collins.

Nelson Caucoto, a human rights lawyer who has defended many victims of the dictatorship, says the new law that typifies torture “provides better protection for fundamental rights.”

“Every measure that entails the advancement, recognition, protection and guarantee of human rights helps build the edifice of ‘nunca mas’ (‘never again)’ To fully recognise the phenomenon of torture as a serious crime to be eradicated and punished with sentences proportionate to its gravity is part of the state’s obligation to not repeat these acts in the future,” he told IPS.

He added that “the issue of torture and its victims in Chile has been one of the poor cousins in the struggle to enforce human rights with respect to the dictatorship. Pinochet was arrested in London for (cases linked to) torture, but in Chile there were no legal proceedings against him for torture,” he said.

In 2004, the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture classified more than 40,000 Chileans as victims of this crime.

But human rights organisations say the figure is much higher. They estimate that half a million Chileans were victims of torture during the dictatorship, Caucoto said.

According to official figures, 2,920 people were killed in the political violence during the military dictatorship, including 1,193 who were “disappeared”, while 40,280 were tortured and one million fled into exile. Of the disappeared, the remains of 167 have been identified, according to the forensic medicine institute.

For Leopoldo Montenegro, member of the Londres 38 Memory Space, which was another major detention and torture centre, the new legislation is of utmost importance.

But in his opinion, “the state has failed to take strong decisions with respect to issues such as justice, restitution, compensation and measures to ensure non-repetition.”

Montenegro told IPS that while the new law has a preventive effect, in order to guarantee that the abuses will never again be committed, the most important element is justice. This means “that the courts must admit the charges of torture filed by the victims and punish the perpetrators. In that sense, there have only been symbolic rulings,” he said.

Two verdicts that stand out were handed down by Judge Alejandro Solís in cases involving 23 survivors of Villa Grimaldi, which has been turned into a Park for Peace and Memory, and 19 survivors of Tejas Verde, another illegal detention centre.

Caucoto hailed Bachelet’s announcement of the creation of a National Mechanism for Prevention of Torture, “which is required by the Optional Protocol to the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatments or punishment.”

“Its creation is important because in Chile there is no body with the necessary powers to prevent torture. It has to be noted as a great advance,” he said.

Montenegro, meanwhile, advocated the adoption of measures to create the conditions to ensure that the abuses will never again occur, and complained about the state’s lack of will “to carry out public policies of justice with respect to crimes committed during the dictatorship.”

Collins said that what is needed is “a cultural shift and a change of mindset with respect to eliminating the acceptance of inflicting violence or tolerating passively that it be inflicted on our behalf. It doesn’t matter whether it is the political opponent of the past or the alleged ‘criminal’ of today.”

An annual report by the Ministry of the Interior’s Human Rights Programme pointed out that as of Dec. 1, 2015 there were 1,048 human rights cases in the courts.

Of the 1,373 former agents of the dictatorship facing prosecution, 344 have been convicted, 177 are serving prison sentences – 58 with benefits – and six are on parole.

Meanwhile, Luzmila Ortiz continues to face the trauma of her past and to deal with the psychological problems suffered by her son, who is now 45. “He was two and a half years old when he witnessed my detention (when agents of the regimebroke into their house searching for her husband) after being separated from his father. He has been affected since then,” she said.

Her case, dismissed by the Chilean justice system, is now pending in the Inter American Court of Human Rights “where there are many other legal proceedings and there is practically no hope.”

“There are always legal mechanisms to protect the perpetrators,” she lamented, arguing that “the crucial thing is to do away with the protection that the torturers still enjoy.”

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India Steps Up Citizen Activism to Protect Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/india-steps-up-citizen-activism-to-protect-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-steps-up-citizen-activism-to-protect-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/india-steps-up-citizen-activism-to-protect-women/#comments Wed, 07 Dec 2016 14:34:28 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148122 Red Brigade, a female-only collective, equips Indian women and girls with self-defence techniques and targets males who have committed sexual assault. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Red Brigade, a female-only collective, equips Indian women and girls with self-defence techniques and targets males who have committed sexual assault. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Dec 7 2016 (IPS)

Last month, Delhi Police launched a unique initiative to check spiralling crimes against women in the city, also known dubiously as the “rape capital” of India. It formed a squad of plainclothes officers called “police mitras” (friends of the police) — comprising farmers, homemakers and former Army men — to assist them in the prevention and detection of crime and maintenance of law and order.

In another scheme, police chiefs launched their own version of “Charlie’s Angels” — a specially trained squad of crime-fighting, butt-kicking constables in white kimonos who take on sexual predators across the country. The 40-member women’s squad trained in martial arts guards “vulnerable” landmarks in the city such as schools and metro stations, while undercover as regular citizens."I carry pepper spray and a knife with me as I return late from the office." -- Shashibala Mehra, 52, an accountant in New Delhi

India, considered one of the world’s most unsafe countries for women, has lately seen a raft of innovative initiatives to safeguard women from sexual crimes. Ironically, despite increasingly stringent laws and a visible beefing up of police protection, crimes against women have surged.

According to a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, such crimes (primarily rapes, molestations and stalking) have skyrocketed by a whopping 60 percent between 2010 and 2011 and 2014 and 2015.

A report by the National Crime Records Bureau found 337,922 reports of violence, including rape, cruelty and abduction, against women in 2014, up 9 percent from 2013. The number of reported rapes in the country also rose by 9 percent to 33,707 in 2014, the last year for which such figures were available.

In addition, sexual harassment on Indian streets or in other public spaces is a common experience for women. A survey by the NGO ActionAid found 79 percent of Indian women have been subjected to harassment or violence in public.

The rise in attacks on women has also led to a mushrooming of volunteer-led projects which provide a valuable social service. For instance, one such initiative — Blank Noise — in one of its campaigns #WalkAlone, asked women across the country to break their silence and walk alone to fight the fear of being harassed on the streets. In another campaign, women were urged to send in the clothing they were wearing when they were harassed which were then used to create public installations.

By engaging not only perpetrators and victims, but also spectators and passers-by, Blank Noise, launched in 2003, relies on ‘Action Heroes’ or a network of volunteers, from across age groups, gender and sexuality to put forth its message. Effective legal mechanisms, staging theatrical public protests and publicizing offences help the organization mobilize citizens against sexual harassment in public spaces. Week-long courses are also offered to teach women how to be active in building safe spaces.

Schoolboys are sensitized about sexual crimes at a seminar in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Schoolboys are sensitized about sexual crimes at a seminar in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Although the Indian Parliament passed a strong anti-rape law while also making human trafficking, acid attacks and stalking stringently punishable, it hasn’t translated into diminishing crimes against women. Some women’s rights activists believe that women are inviting a counter-attack by claiming their right in public spaces.

“There’s a lot of media coverage, candlelight marches and social media angst if women are outraged but in reality little has changed, ” says Pratibha Malik, an activist with a pan-India non-profit Aashrita. “I feel the very presence of women in non-traditional spaces like offices, in bars, restaurants etc in a patriarchal society like India’s is responsible for this backlash.”

The trigger for much of legislative and police action was the December 2012 rape of a 23-year-old Indian medical student in a moving bus when she was returning from a movie with a male friend. The couple were attacked by a group of men, including one aged 14. The woman was raped several times and later died, while her friend was beaten with an iron rod. The incident sparked mass protests demanding action.

Following the episode, which created global headlines, a committee — Justice Verma Committee — was instituted and its report cited “the failure of governance to provide a safe and dignified environment for the women of India, who are constantly exposed to sexual violence.”

The three attackers in the 2012 rape were sentenced to death and within months the government passed a bill broadening the definition of sexual offences to include forced penetration by any object, stalking, acid violence and disrobing.

However, such actions by the State haven’t really resulted in much succour for the fairer sex.
They feel they have to take charge of their own security. Many women IPS spoke to, say they feel danger still lurks around street corners, especially in the big cities, where venturing out at night is still considered an `adventure’.

“I don’t feel safe in public places at all nor while using public transport. I know nobody will come forward to help me if I get into trouble,” says Rekha Kumari, 30, a cook.

“I carry pepper spray and a knife with me as I return late from the office,” says Shashibala Mehra, 52, an accountant in New Delhi. “Throughout my 40-minute commute back home I keep talking to my husband on phone just so that he knows when I’m in trouble.”

Laxmi Aggarwal, 27, an acid attack victim who has now become an activist championing the ban on the sale of acid in India, says the government has done little to prevent its sale. “Young, vulnerable girls are attacked in many parts of rural India,” she says.

Aggarwal has joined hands with an organization called Stop Acid Attacks to assist other victims of such attacks and also fight for their rights in local courts.

Realizing how some Indian law enforcement agencies can no longer be trusted for their safety, many women are also resorting to buying weapons and pepper spray, downloading security apps, signing up for self-defence classes, and joining self-help groups.

Campaigns which help victims of violence fight social stigma have urged the government to enforce stricter laws and promote gender equality. Red Brigades, a female-only collective, for instance, equips women and girls with self-defence techniques and targets males who have committed sexual assault. Blank Noise, another volunteer-led project, is working to tackle street harassment and change public attitudes towards sexual violence.

Such initiatives, say activists, are vital to safeguard Indian women who are stepping out of their homes to work, travel and lead a full life.

“We try to make erring men see reason after talking to the man and his parents. If he still doesn’t listen, we go to the police station,” says Usha Vishwakarma. “If he’s still adamant, we go into the action stage.”

An important part of the support Red Brigade offers involves helping victims get rid of the self-guilt that the violence they suffered was their fault.

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Trump Needs Lessons in Geopolitics : Musharrafhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/trump-needs-lessons-in-geopolitics-musharraf/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-needs-lessons-in-geopolitics-musharraf http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/trump-needs-lessons-in-geopolitics-musharraf/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2016 09:28:01 +0000 David White http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148080 By David White
LONDON, Dec 5 2016 (IPS)

US President-elect Donald Trump has shown he has much to learn about South Asia,
Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf said in an interview with IPS. But he counted on Trump having an open mind.

Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

Musharraf was commenting on statements made by Trump in a radio talk show during his presidential campaign in September, when he described India as being “the check to Pakistan”.

“I think that these statements do cause worry,” Musharraf said. However, he thought that Trump had a “fresh” and “uninitiated” mind on the subject..

“He maybe lacks full understanding of international issues and regional geostrategic issues here, confronting us,” Musharraf said. “But he has an open mind, he can learn, he can be told, he can be briefed.”Musharraf said America’s “War on Terror”, declared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, had been “to an extent successful” in military terms. But he added: “Wherever military victory takes place it has to be converted into a political victory, and I personally feel that is where the United States fails.”

He added a warning that pro-India US policy might force Pakistan to rely more heavily on its already extensive ties with China. “I think Donald Trump must understand you are no longer in a unipolar world, so countries will have choice to shift towards other poles. So don’t do that,” he urged, making clear that by “other poles” he was referring to China and Russia.

Failure to move towards a détente between Pakistan and India was another factor that might force Pakistan more into China’s zone of influence, Musharraf said. But he added: “It is not in Pakistan’s interest to be in the orbit of any one force.”

He emphasised Pakistan’s deep linkages with the US and other western countries and its reliance on them as export markets. “We can’t switch trade to China, and that would be a very foolish policy and strategy,” he said. However, China’s support and economic presence put Pakistan in a difficult situation of needing to balance its relations.

“Pakistan has a relationship with China. The United States should not mind it,” Musharraf said.

Commenting on other remarks made by Trump during his campaign – suggesting that it might be better if Japan, South Korea and possibly Saudi Arabia had their own nuclear weapons – Musharraf rejected the idea of Pakistan supplying the Saudis with a nuclear capability.

“We won’t do that. Once bitten, many times shy, I think. We were proliferators once. I think we’ve learnt. And this is not a mere trade of industrial goods,” Musharraf said. “I think this is too serious a matter. We can’t do that.”

Musharraf said America’s “War on Terror”, declared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, had been “to an extent successful” in military terms. But he added: “Wherever military victory takes place it has to be converted into a political victory, and I personally feel that is where the United States fails.”

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Pakistan and India Unlikely to Move to All-out War: Musharrafhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf/#comments Sat, 03 Dec 2016 11:53:54 +0000 David White http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148065 By David White
LONDON, Dec 3 2016 (IPS)

High levels of both conventional and nuclear deterrence are likely to prevent the recent surge in clashes between India and Pakistan from escalating into all-out war, according to Pakistan’s former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf.

Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

In an exclusive interview with IPS in London, Musharraf predicted that low-intensity conflict would continue in disputed border areas. But he did not share the belief of many Pakistanis that hostilities could slide into full-scale war between the two nuclear-armed countries.

“Any military commander knows the force levels being maintained by either side,” he said. “I don’t think war is a possibility because the lethality and accuracy of weapons has increased so much.”

Although Pakistan has reserved the right to make a nuclear first strike, he said it had sufficient controls to ensure that its nuclear weapons, including new short-range tactical missiles, were not used accidentally or stolen by terrorist groups. “They are in good hands, in secure hands.” he said.

“Thank God, the level of conventional deterrence that we have in terms of weapons and manpower is enough to deter conventional war. So therefore I’m reasonably sure that in case of a war it is the conventional side which will be played and we will not go on to the unconventional.”

The 73-yeasr-old Musharraf made his comments during a wide-ranging discussion at his London home, in which he set out plans for a return to front-line politics in Pakistan. He said he might have reacted “more strongly” in recent clashes than the Pakistani authorities had done.Although Pakistan has reserved the right to make a nuclear first strike, he said it had sufficient controls to ensure that its nuclear weapons, including new short-range tactical missiles, were not used accidentally or stolen by terrorist groups. “They are in good hands, in secure hands.” he said.

The two countries had previously made progress on territorial disputes including in Kashmir. But India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi , who won power in 2014, was “on a collision course” with Pakistan that precluded a peaceful resolution, he said.

Musharraf also issued a strong warning about the threat to Pakistan coming from sectarian conflicts in the Middle East, saying it would be “extremely dangerous” for Pakistan to get dragged into the war in Yemen alongside its long-standing Saudi allies.

Pakistan was initially named by Saudi Arabia as part of a 34-nation coalition but held back from participating in the Saudi-led campaign supporting Yemen’s exiled government against Houthi Shia rebels.

Pakistan, with Iran as its neighbour, should not be taking sides, he warned. “We cannot do something which arouses internal conflict within Pakistan.”

The vexed question of terrorist “safe havens”, which Pakistan has been accused of providing near the border with Afghanistan, had to be addressed by both sides, Musharraf insisted. “Why is it Pakistan’s responsibility to control movement across the border?” he asked, arguing that terrorists were also being harboured in Afghanistan.

He had warm words, however, for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, describing him as “definitely a good person”. This was despite the fact that efforts to build closer ties by training Afghan cadets in Pakistan had fizzled out.

His relationship with Ghani’s predecessor Hamid Karzai was more difficult. “I just didn’t like him,” Musharraf said, “because I think he was not a straight dealer.”

This is the second of three articles based on Musharraf’s interview with IPS.

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Pervez Musharraf Sets out ‘Higher’ Comeback Planshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pervez-musharraf-sets-out-higher-comeback-plans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pervez-musharraf-sets-out-higher-comeback-plans http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pervez-musharraf-sets-out-higher-comeback-plans/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2016 10:14:51 +0000 David White http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148028 Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

By David White
LONDON, Dec 1 2016 (IPS)

Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf says he intends to make a second bid for a political comeback next year, aiming to return from self-imposed exile to forge a new party that would bridge ethnic and sectarian divides.

In an exclusive interview with IPS in London, Musharraf said he wanted to have “something effective on the ground” in Pakistan by June next year so that the new political entity could contest general elections scheduled for March 2018. He was prepared to go to court in Pakistan to face any charges against him as long as he was allowed to move around.

He laid out his plans in a wide-ranging interview that also dealt with responses to terrorism, the recent escalation in border hostilities between Pakistan and India, the threat from sectarian conflict in the Middle East and concerns about Donald Trump’s impending presidency in the US.

“I have to bring the people together and give them the proper leadership,” he said. Speaking in the living-room of the central London flat that became his main base after he resigned from office in 2008, he said the current leadership was incapable of meeting Pakistan’s internal and external challenges.

“At the moment politics in Pakistan is polarised and all parties are ethnically based. I think that is bad for the Federation of Pakistan,” Musharraf said.

He claimed he still had popular support, despite a disappointing reception on his previous return to Pakistan in 2013, which he blamed partly on a change of venue. Facing a treason trial and other charges that include alleged complicity in the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, he was allowed to leave Pakistan again in March this year.

musharrafstanding_300Musharraf, who is 73, admitted that the outlook for resolving the court cases was “not all that good”, accusing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government of conducting a vendetta against him. “The cases have to be dealt with to a certain extent so that my movement does not get restricted. Otherwise they can continue,” he said.

“I know that the military will always be in my favour to protect me,” Musharraf, a former army commander, added, although they could not dictate terms to the courts.

In May, the former president was declared an absconder by a special court hearing treason charges against him for taking emergency rule powers in 2007.

On the Benazir Bhutto assassination, Musharraf stood by the version put forward by the government at the time blaming Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who denied involvement and was later killed in a US drone attack. But the former president said he had no knowledge of any conspiracy behind the attack.

In remarks following the interview, Musharraf made clear he had no intention of seeking a seat in the national assembly, having been debarred from standing in the 2013 election. “The aim is far greater, far higher,” he said.

He said he had held discussions with other Pakistani politicians in person in Dubai and by telephone. He dismissed media reports suggesting a possible role as president of Muttahida Qaumi Movement and its splinter group the Pak Sarzameen Party, arguing that they were too narrowly based in Urdu-speaking urban areas of southeast Pakistan. However, these so-called Muhajir groups would be an important part of the new national party he was planning to form, he said

Musharraf said a harder clampdown was required on all elements of separatist and sectarian terrorism in the country. “We haven’t taken a very holistic approach towards it,” he said, saying the authorities could make more use of “second-line” auxiliary forces such as the Frontier Corps, which should be strengthened with better weaponry. “The army should be relieved of these policing jobs.”

More needed to be done to regulate madrassas and bring them into Pakistan’s mainstream education system, he said. “Most of them are not oriented towards terrorism. Some of them certainly are, and we need to close them down.”

Musharraf played down the danger of a “blowback” for Pakistan from its support for irregular militant groups in Kashmir and Afghanistan. But he accepted that “some elements” had links to terrorist attacks in Pakistan and there was a risk that some might now become proxies for ISIS.

He defended humanitarian work carried out by associates of militant Islamic group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India has blamed for deadly attacks including those in Mumbai in 2008 and which is widely banned as a terrorist organisation. The organisation had been “much maligned”, Musharraf said. “They have taken the religious youth away from terrorism towards welfare activity,” he argued. “And if we keep pushing them to the wall these same youths are going to turn towards terrorism and the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.”

Musharraf maintained that up to his departure his government “achieved tremendously” in its aims or promoting welfare, development and security. But he admitted making errors in sidelining Pakistan’s chief justice – a move that provoked nationwide protests although Musharraf still says it was deserved – and in ordering a corruption amnesty for civil servants and politicians, “which made me unpopular.”

Further articles from this interview dealing with regional security and relations with the US and China will be published shortly.

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Journalism in Honduras Trapped in Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalism-in-honduras-trapped-in-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalism-in-honduras-trapped-in-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalism-in-honduras-trapped-in-violence/#comments Mon, 28 Nov 2016 20:38:47 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147989 Reporters in Tegucigalpa staged a demonstration in April this year with coffins outside the office of the public prosecutor, to protest the murders of media workers in Honduras in the last decade. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

Reporters in Tegucigalpa staged a demonstration in April this year with coffins outside the office of the public prosecutor, to protest the murders of media workers in Honduras in the last decade. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

By Thelma Mejía
TEGUCIGALPA, Nov 28 2016 (IPS)

It was in the wee hours of the morning on October 19 when journalist Ricardo Matute, from Corporación Televicentro’s morning newscast, was out on the beat in San Pedro Sula, one of the most violent cities in Honduras.

He heard about a vehicle that had rolled and was the first on the scene of the accident. When he saw four men in the car, he called the emergency number, for help. Little did he know that they were members of a powerful “mara” or gang.

Furious that he was making the phone call, they shot and wounded him, and forced him to get back into the TV station’s van, along with the cameraman and driver, and drove off with them.

But other journalists who also patrol the city streets each night saw the kidnapping and chased the van until the gang members crashed it and fled. If they hadn’t been “rescued” this way, the three men would very likely have been killed, because the criminals had already identified Matute and they generally do not leave loose ends, the journalists involved in the incident told IPS.“Now it turns out that reporters not only have to avoid commenting or giving news that affect the country’s groups of power, but also common criminals, and meanwhile the authorities don’t give us any real assurance of protection” -- Juan Carlos Sierra

Matute, who is part of TV5´s so-called Night Patrol, was wounded in the neck with an Ak-47. The reporters lamented that in spite of the fact that the accident occurred near military installations and that they asked for help, the military failed to respond.

“The state does not protect us, but rather attacks us,” one journalist told IPS on condition of anonymity.

Now Matute, a young reporter who was working for Televicentro, the biggest broadcasting corporation in Honduras, is safeguarded by a government protection programme, under a new law for the protection of human rights activists, journalists, social communicators and justice system employees.

Some 10 journalists, according to official figures, have benefited from the so-called Protection Law, in force for less than a year.

Matute sought protection under the programme after the authorities released, a day after the accident, a video showing the gang members who attacked him, captured by a local security camera. They were members of Mara 18 and carried AK-47 and AR-15 rifles.

Mara 18 and MS-13 are the largest gangs in Honduras. Mara 18 is the most violent of the two. Through turf wars they have basically divvied up large towns and cities for their contract killing operations, drug dealing, kidnappings, money laundering and extortions, among other criminal activity.

The authorities recommended that Matute take refuge under the protection programme and leave his job, since after the video was broadcast, the gang members felt exposed and could act against him in retaliation.

The young reporter Mai Ling Coto, who patrolled with Matute in search of night-time news scoops, told IPS that reporting in Honduras is no longer a “normal” job but is now a dangerous occupation.

This is especially true in a belt that includes at least eight of the country’s 18 departments or provinces, according to the Violence Observatory of the Public National Autonomous University of Honduras.

“Now the only thing that is left is to entrust ourselves to God. We used to report normally without a problem, but now things have changed, especially for those of us who work at night. We have to learn new codes to move around danger zones in the city and the outskirts,” she said.

“If we go to gang territory, we have to roll down our windows and flash our headlights; we move around in groups so they see that we are not alone,“ said Coto from San Pedro Sula, describing some of the security protocols they follow.

Reporters protested in seven cities in Honduras in May 2014 for the kidnapping and murder of Alfredo Villatoro, a reporter with Emisoras Unidas, the country’s main radio station. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

Reporters protested in seven cities in Honduras in May 2014 for the kidnapping and murder of Alfredo Villatoro, a reporter with Emisoras Unidas, the country’s main radio station. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

San Pedro Sula, 250 kilometres from the capital, is the city with the most developed economy in Honduras. It has a population of 742,000, and in 2015 had a homicide rate of 110 per 100,000 people.

This Central American nation of 8.8 million people is considered one of the most violent countries in the world.

The Commission for Free Expression (C-Libre), a coalition of journalists and humanitarian organisations, reported that between 2001 and 2015 63 journalists, rural communicators and social communicators were murdered.

In 2015 alone, C-libre identified 11 murders of people working in the media: the owner of a media outlet, a director of a news programme, four camerapersons, a control operator, three entertainment broadcasters, and one announcer of a religious programme. Most of them occurred outside of Tegucigalpa.

Ana Ortega, director of C-Libre, believes that journalism is not only a victim of violence, but also of laws and impunity.

She stated this in the group’s annual report on freedom of expression, observing that a secrecy law obstructs the right of information, while new reforms to the criminal code are planned with references to the press.

“Now it turns out that reporters not only have to avoid commenting or giving news that affects the country’s power groups, but also common criminals, and meanwhile the authorities don’t give us any real assurance of protection,” Juan Carlos Sierra, director of the news broadcast where Matute worked, told IPS in Tegucigalpa.

Another journalist from San Pedro Sula who asked to remain anonymous added: “We are helpless because we cannot trust the authorities, the police or the public prosecutors, since when they see us, they attack us and sometimes send us as cannon fodder to certain scenes, and they arrive afterwards.”

“We feel like neither the state nor the authorities respect us,” he said.

The state, Sierra added, “has not had any interest, now or before, in resolving murders of journalists, let alone violations of freedom of expression.”

For human rights defender and former judge Nery Velázquez, the vulnerability faced by reporters, “far from dissipating, is growing, and we have come to accept tacitly that the impunity surrounding these murders becomes the norm, while freedom of the press is restricted.”

Of the 63 documented murders, legal proceedings began in just four cases, and of these, only two made it to the last stage – an oral public trial – and ended with the conviction of the direct perpetrators, but not of the masterminds who ordered the murders.

“Investigation in Honduras is a failure, everything is left in prima facie evidence, and not only the press is trapped here by violence, but also human rights activists and lawyers,” Velázquez told IPS.

According to reports by human rights groups, corruption and organised crime are the main threats to freedom of speech in Honduras, where being a journalist has become a high-risk occupation over the last decade.

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