Inter Press Service » Crime & Justice http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 28 Mar 2017 16:25:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.16 UN to Investigate Violations Against Rohingyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/un-to-investigate-violations-against-rohingya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-to-investigate-violations-against-rohingya http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/un-to-investigate-violations-against-rohingya/#comments Mon, 27 Mar 2017 20:03:32 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149667 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2017 (IPS)

A top UN human rights group has decided to investigate human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

The UN Human Rights Council agreed to send an international fact-finding mission to investigate alleged killings, torture, and rape by security forces against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims.

Since October, Myanmar’s military has been conducting an ongoing offensive in the Northwestern state of Rakhine following attacks on border guard posts.

After speaking to hundreds of Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh following the retaliation, Special Rapporteur on Myanmar’s human rights Yanghee Lee found cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces.

Nearly half of the 220 Rohingya interviewed by the UN said a family member had been killed, while 52 out of 101 women interviewed said they had experienced some form of sexual violence from security forces.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the actions indicated “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

The government of Myanmar has denied the abuse allegations and expressed disappointment in the Council’s move.

“Such kind of action is not acceptable to Myanmar as it not in harmony with the situation on the ground and our national circumstances. Let the Myanmar people choose the best and the most effective course of action to address the challenges in Myanmar,” said Myanmar’s Ambassador Htin Lynn.

Myanmar’s investigatory committee had recently interviewed alleged victims and is due to announce its findings by August.

Proposed by the European Union, the resolution was adopted without a vote in the 47-member Human Rights Council and called for “full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.”

India and China did not back the decision, stating that they, along with Myanmar, would “disassociate” themselves from the mission.

Though Lee had initially urged for a full international commission of inquiry, many human rights groups applauded the move.

“[An] international fact-finding mission is crucial for ensuring that allegations of serious human rights abuses in Burma are thoroughly examined by experts, and to ensure that those responsible will ultimately be held accountable,” said Human Rights Watch’s Advocacy Director John Fisher.

“Burma’s government should cooperate fully with the mission, including by providing unfettered access to all affected areas,” he continued.

Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific Champa Patel echoed similar sentiments, stating that the mission is “long overdue” and that Myanmar’s government should “welcome” it.

“The world has a right to know the full truth of events,” she stated.

Myanmar’s government has long disputed the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and enacted several discriminatory policies, 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.”

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Women and Tribal Leaders Call for “Balanced” Libyan Peace Processhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/women-and-tribal-leaders-call-for-balanced-libyan-peace-process/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-and-tribal-leaders-call-for-balanced-libyan-peace-process http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/women-and-tribal-leaders-call-for-balanced-libyan-peace-process/#comments Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:42:42 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149611 "Women attend a workshop on advantages of reconciliation and peace-making in Sabha City."  Credit: MAFO

"Women attend a workshop on advantages of reconciliation and peace-making in Sabha City." Credit: MAFO

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2017 (IPS)

A delegation of Libyan tribal leaders and women leaders has called on the UN to take a balanced approach to the Libyan peace process.

The delegation from the National Movement for Libya (NML) met with UN officials and U.S. government representatives while visiting New York and Washington D.C. to discuss the UN-led peace process in Libya.

“We don’t have a state, we don’t really have a government to control everything. The whole institution has collapsed after 2011,” said Libya Institute for Advanced Studies’ Head of the Mediation Department Ali Masoud to IPS.

“The only thing to help people find a solution and help peace-building is the tribal leaders or community leaders,” he continued.

Despite a UN-brokered peace deal known as the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) in 2015, which established the internationally-backed unity government headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, armed factions have continued to battle for control over the oil-rich nation.

Most recently, pro-unity government armed forces expanded their control in the capital of Tripoli, fighting rival militias including groups allied with former Prime Minister Khalifa Ghweli.

Ghweli was ousted from power when al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) took office and has refused to recognize the new administration, instead forming his own Government of National Salvation (GNS).

Khalifa Haftar, who leads troops for a third rival government in the Eastern region of the country, also opposes the UN-backed GNA but has focused on battling Islamist militias including the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar Al-Sharia and Islamic State (ISIS). His Libyan National Army (LNA) recently recaptured major oil ports from militias.

The NML was formed to address the country’s complex conflicts and engage in reconciliation efforts. However, community leaders have been left out of the peace process.

“[The UN] has carried on with the political track with politicians who are really not representative of the Libyan people,” Masoud told IPS.

"Women attend a workshop on advantages of reconciliation and peace-making in Sabha City."  Credit: MAFO

“Women attend a workshop on advantages of reconciliation and peace-making in Sabha City.” Credit: MAFO

“They failed to start the tribal track which is really very important to engage tribes in Libya where they feel they own this political agreement and own the [dialogue] process,” he continued, adding that the dialogues stopped inviting tribal leaders as they were hosted outside of Libya.

Another NML representative Nour Elayoun Mohamed Abdul Ati Alobeidi highlighted the role that women have played in mediation, pointing to a case in the southern Libyan town of Ubari where Tuareg and Tebu tribes have clashed.

“In that war, men tried to mediate to stop the fire, but it was only when women decided to build a mobile tent in the middle of the shooting—only then the war stopped immediately because of those brave women who initiated this even though it was risky but they weren’t scared because they wanted the war to stop,” she told IPS.

Alobeidi said that tent was established to bring together the two sides to have a dialogue.

“This led both sides of women to understand that their pain is the same. And those women, the same women who were against each other, helped in bringing peace back to the Ubari area,” she continued.

Masoud and Alobeidi called on the inclusion of community leaders to create a National Charter that represents and ensures the rights of all Libyans.

“There is no national charter, no constitution, no surveys to understand what Libyan people demand, what they would like exactly, and what kind of a system they hope to have after this era of dictatorship,” Masoud told IPS.

They believe that creating a National Charter is essential before holding elections in order to help unite Libyans.

They also called on the international community to support inclusive tribal and political tracks that focus on building institutions rather than on one person or politician.

“All these tracks should feed each other, and when a national agreement is reached, then we will shrink the power of these politicians–they will have no space for violence, only the vision of Libyans that they should rely on,” Masoud told IPS.

The NML consists of tribal groups that both supported and opposed Gaddafi during the 2011 revolution. The delegation of tribal and women leaders was sponsored by the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers and the Libya Institute for Advanced Studies, with the support of Finn Church Aid.

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Together We are Stronger Against Police Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/together-we-are-stronger-against-police-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=together-we-are-stronger-against-police-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/together-we-are-stronger-against-police-violence/#comments Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:41:38 +0000 Shackelia Jackson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149569 Shackelia Jackson's brother Nakeia was murdered by police in Jamaica. Credit: Amnesty International

Shackelia Jackson's brother Nakeia was murdered by police in Jamaica. Credit: Amnesty International

By Shackelia Jackson
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Mar 22 2017 (IPS)

As a relative of a young man killed by the police in Kingston, Jamaica, many people have asked me how my family copes with the pain, with having lost a part of us, with the immense frustration of not having found justice for Nakiea.

The answer is not easy. Some days, the strength to continue fighting for justice comes from within, others, from the support we have received from so many people from around the world.

Some days feel lonely, as if we were the only ones going through this pain.

But a recent visit to Brazil with Amnesty International showed me that we are not alone. We are not alone in our pain, nor in the seemingly endless struggle for justice.

Unlawful police killings and impunity is a tragic phenomenon that crosses borders across this continent. From the USA to Brazil, hundreds of young men – most of them black, most of them poor – are killed by the police. Hardly any officers are taken to justice to respond for their actions, for the immeasurable suffering they cause to families like mine.

Unlawful police killings and impunity is a tragic phenomenon that crosses borders across this continent.

I had never been to Brazil before. I had never expected to feel so close to home.

While in Rio de Janeiro, a city where police officers killed two people every day in the run up to the 2016 Olympic Games, I met with some of the many relatives with whom I share the same struggle for justice.

Zé Luis is one of them. He lost his son Maicon, after police shot him dead in 1996. Police said it was in self-defense. Maicon was two years old. No one was ever held responsible for this killing. In 2016 the statute of limitation expired which means the case will now never be brought to a national court.

My heart broke with the families I met in Brazil.

But these stories, and my story, although immeasurably tragic are the catalysts augmenting my drive to never stop. To not only engage the Jamaican authorities in a conversation but to ensure that we work towards preventing what happened to my brother from happening to others. The only way for impunity to flourish, is for good people to be silent and to fight alone.

Our strength comes from working together.

I fight for me, for my brother and for all those around me, in Jamaica and beyond.

So their fight becomes my fight. Their world becomes mine. We become stronger together and the memories of their love ones and desire to save those who remain are our collective impetus.

And this fight is also yours because Nakiea was my brother but tomorrow this tragedy could happen to you, to your brother, to your father, to your friend. And as long as justice is not done, we are all in danger.

But together, we are stronger.

I fight because I have no other choice, to stop would mean I am giving another police officer permission to kill another of my brothers.

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Sweetened Research, Sugared Recommendationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/sweetened-research-sugared-recommendations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sweetened-research-sugared-recommendations http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/sweetened-research-sugared-recommendations/#comments Wed, 22 Mar 2017 06:54:30 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Tan Zhai Gen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149540 Jomo Kwame Sundaram is a former economics professor who served as a senior UN official during 2005-2015. Tan Zhai Gen is an University of Oxford biochemistry graduate currently involved in research. Both are Malaysians.]]> Health problems stemming from carbohydrates, especially sugar over-consumption are correlated to growing overweight, obesity and non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, throughout the world. Credit: IPS

Health problems stemming from carbohydrates, especially sugar over-consumption are correlated to growing overweight, obesity and non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, throughout the world. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Tan Zhai Gen
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Mar 22 2017 (IPS)

In 2015, Coca Cola’s chief scientist was forced to resign after revelations that the company had funded researchers to present academic papers recommending exercise to address obesity and ill health, while marginalizing the role of dietary consumption. Coca-Cola, the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, had provided millions of dollars to fund researchers to downplay the links between sugar and obesity, tooth decay and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Corrupt research
This was not new. In September 2016, a New York Times article highlighted a JAMA Internal Medicine research article showing that sugar industry interests had paid scientists in the 1960s to do likewise for sugar.

The Sugar Research Foundation, now known as the Sugar Association, paid three Harvard scientists to publish a 1967 review of research chosen by the Foundation on sugar, fat and heart disease in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). A total of $6500 ($48 900 in 2016 dollars) was paid to the Nutrition Department head and two colleagues including one who went on to draft the first ever US dietary guidelines.

The review article downplayed the link between sugar and heart disease while implicating saturated fats instead. Until recently, subsequent US dietary guidelines reflected these studies’ findings and policy conclusions. As other countries followed, millions have shifted to more low fat, but ‘high-energy (sugar)’ food.

The practice continues. In June 2016, the Associated Press reported that confectionary producers had similarly funded studies claiming that children who eat what Americans call ‘candy’ tend to weigh less than those who do not.

A December 2016 review article in the highly respected Annals of Internal Medicine by researchers linked to the sugar industry claimed that the studies justifying recent reduced sugar intake guidelines are of poor quality. While the World Health Organization (WHO) and governments around the world have begun to promote and implement guidelines on sugar intake, the article claimed there is little scientific basis to expect improved health from lowering sugar intake.

Mars Inc., one of the world’s leading confectioners, has broken ranks with its rivals to denounce the industry funded paper. Top researchers in the field have denounced the article for ignoring the numerous rigorous and high-quality studies finding otherwise, but doubt has been sown to good effect that perhaps sugar is not that bad after all as there is no ‘scientific consensus’ on the issue. Similar arguments have been invoked to try to discredit the near consensus on the human caused acceleration of global warming.

Sugar causes obesity
Sugar, corn syrup and most sweeteners are minor sources of an essential category of nutrients or dietary energy called carbohydrates, measured in terms of calories or joules. Most of our carbohydrate intake comes from food staples such as rice, potatoes and wheat. Sugars are simpler carbohydrates, absorbed by the body at faster and higher rates.

When we consume too much carbohydrate-rich food, the excess carbohydrates not used by the body, e.g., for physical activity, is converted and transported by the blood vessels as glucose (known as blood sugar), and then transformed into fats. Hence, too much carbohydrate – including sugar – in our diets can lead to obesity and diabetes.

The best way to avoid obesity is by limiting calorie intake, i.e., the amount of food we eat, and increasing energy expenditure through physical activity. The publicity given to such research sponsored by the food and beverages industry to absolve sugar is part of a larger public relations effort to mislead the public around the world.

Diets are important in determining the quality of life, especially health. Good health reduces health costs and also raises productivity. Balanced food intake in moderation, dietary diversity and physical activity all contribute to health and wellness.

Developing country menace

Health problems stemming from carbohydrates, especially sugar over-consumption are correlated to growing overweight, obesity and non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, throughout the world. In the second half of the twentieth century, these were popularly associated with affluence and the US.

Since the turn of the century, the problem has spread to many other ‘middle income countries’, initially especially in Mexico and Central America. These changes are increasingly associated with lifestyle, behavioural and cultural changes associated with urbanization, mechanization and changes in the nature of work.

In Asia, Malaysia has the highest share of overweight and obese people. In 2014, 43.8% of men and 48.6% of women over 20 years of age were overweight, of whom many were obese. Diabetes rates among adults have also increased from 11.6% in 2006 to 15.2% in 2011 and 17.9% in 2015. Recent removal of the sugar subsidy seems to have had little impact on sugar consumption, underscoring the need for non-market interventions.

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Secret Tax Deals Increased Dramatically After Luxleakshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/secret-tax-deals-increased-dramatically-after-luxleaks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=secret-tax-deals-increased-dramatically-after-luxleaks http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/secret-tax-deals-increased-dramatically-after-luxleaks/#comments Mon, 20 Mar 2017 15:39:43 +0000 Ida Karlsson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149493 European Commission Building. Credit: Ida Karlsson

European Commission Building. Credit: Ida Karlsson

By Ida Karlsson
STOCKHOLM, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

Despite the LuxLeaks scandal, the number of secret tax deals is skyrocketing. Such deals between companies and governments across Europe increased by almost 50 percent the year after the scandal broke.

Despite the controversy, the number of these individual secret agreements drawn up between European governments and multinational corporations in the EU have soared from 545 in 2013, to 1444 by the end of 2015, according to official data from the European Commission. It is an increase of 160 percent in just two years.

“This is obviously deeply concerning and shows that reforms in Luxembourg and elsewhere are a bit of a mirage, in particular since there is still no public scrutinity of these rulings yet,” Fabio De Masi, a politician from Die Linke in Germany and a Member of the European Parliament, told IPS.

The LuxLeaks scandal erupted in 2014 and sparked a major global push against generous deals handed to multinationals, which grew even stronger with new revelations such as the Panama Papers.

The two whistleblowers who exposed the profit-shifting of some multinationals such as Apple, Ikea and Pepsi were convicted again last Wednesday by Luxembourg’s court of appeal, but with reduced sentences compared to the first verdict. Antoine Deltour, a former PWC employee was given a 6-month suspended sentence and a 1,500 euro fine and Raphaël Halet, another PWC employee, was given a 1,000 euro fine.

“It is scandalous that those who did an invaluable service to society, risking their careers, have again been found guilty while the rich and powerful rob hundreds of billions of euros from citizens,” Fabio de Masi said.

Luxembourg’s finance minister, Pierre Gramegna, has described the leak as “the worst attack” his country has ever experienced.

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager appeared to back the whistleblowers in comments last week.

“I think it was a good thing (the leaks),” she told a news conference in Brussels last Wednesday.

“I think it is important when people tell if they find that something is not the way it should be. Then authorities, law enforces, can do their job and do that in a better way. I think that a lot of people actually have benefitted from them telling what they knew.”

Developing countries lose an estimated 1,000 billion dollars annually to corporate tax dodging according to Global Financial Integrity.

For the first time, the group of countries in Europe in favour of transparency around the true owners of businesses is larger than the group against, according to the report “Survival of the Richest” by the European Network on Debt and Development, Eurodad. But there are still more governments against measures to show what multinationals are paying in taxes in the countries they operate in than those in favour.

Eurodad, the coalition of civil society organizations campaigning for greater tax transparency, analyzed European Commission data for 18 countries.

Eurodad also warned that European governments were signing controversial tax treaties with developing countries. The treaties were undermining taxations in those countries, it said. On average these treaties lower tax rates in developing countries by 3.8 percent, according to the coalition.

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Former Boko Haram Abductees Speak Outhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/former-boko-haram-abductees-speak-out/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=former-boko-haram-abductees-speak-out http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/former-boko-haram-abductees-speak-out/#comments Sat, 18 Mar 2017 22:39:31 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149482 Chibok girls who survived Boko Haram, Sa'a (left) and Rachel (right) at a press conference moderated by Vikas Pota, CEO, Varkey Foundation, at the Global Skills and Education Forum, Dubai. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Chibok girls who survived Boko Haram, Sa'a (left) and Rachel (right) at a press conference moderated by Vikas Pota, CEO, Varkey Foundation, at the Global Skills and Education Forum, Dubai. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
DUBAI, UAE, Mar 18 2017 (IPS)

Though still fearful for her life and the safety of her family, one of the girls who escaped abduction by Boko Haram in Nigeria has appealed to global leaders to intervene and help bring back 195 schoolgirls still being held by the terrorist network.

Next month it will be three years since the Nigerian militants abducted more than 270 girls from the town of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria.

Last October, the Boko Haram fighters freed 21 of the girls, including one with a baby that triggered global outrage and spurred the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls.

Telling our story

“We have to share our story and tell the world about it for the world to know,’ the student, using a pseudonym to protect her identity, Sa’a* (20) said at press conference on the sidelines of the two-day Global Education and Skills Forum.

Earlier SAA and another girl, identified as Rachel*, who lost her father and siblings to Boko Haram, told the Forum that the kidnapping of the schoolgirls was a painful episode that the world should not forget.

“The only thing we need to do is to ask the world leaders to bring back the girls. We cannot do anything other than speak out,” said SAA, who escaped from the clutches of Boko Haram. She jumped off a moving truck when the group attacked and burnt her school and books in Borno State in April 2014.

Sa’a, who was moved from Nigeria and is currently studying in the United States, said the traumatic ordeal should not be allowed to happen to any student. Her resolve to continue her schooling was the reason she has come out publicly about her experience.

“Every child needs to be educated and to go to school,” Sa’a said. “We must never forget this until all the girls are safely back. Next month it will not be three days but three years and they are not back. It is painful.”

Sa’a told the conference that after they were abducted and forced at gunpoint into trucks, she decided to jump off a moving truck together with a friend who sustained injuries. They were helped by a shepherd and made their way to safety.

Emmanuel Ogebe is a human rights lawyer and director of the Education Must Continue Initiative, which has assisted child victims and IDPs from conflicts, primary Boko Haram. Most of the victims are in Nigeria and a handful in the United States.

“Most venerable targets of Boko Haram have been educational institutions and religious institutions. Pastors have been killed in thousands and over 600 teachers have been killed by Boko Haram and we see vulnerability in both areas,” Ogebe told IPS.

“It is a painful situation of what happened to the girls because we understand that there were early warnings that the terrorists were going to strike and supported by the fact that teachers escaped and left the girls. The sense of failure to protect is very story in addition to the fact that the government did not protect the girls at school even when they were warned.”

Since January this year, Sa’a has started college under a project by the Education Must Continue Initiative, a charity which has helped about 3000 other internally-displaced children go to school. She now has an ambition to study science and medicine.

Hope persists

“My dream is to be a medical doctor in the future and inspire others and go back to my home country and help those kids to go back to school and assist others get the education they deserve,” Sa’a says.

Rachel, who is back at school in Nigeria, says she wanted to be medical doctor as well but would now like to be a top ranking military officer after what happened to her father and three brothers.

“I would like to contribute to a better nation. I am not conformable because of what I have seen and I feel bad,” Rachel said. “Some girls cannot go to school now because of what happened and do not value education because without education they can survive. This is sad.”

Rachel is a teenager that went to school in northeast Nigeria. Her father was a plainclothes policeman who had moved his family with him to a smaller town where he thought it would be safer. He was assigned to protect the local church. Rachel’s mum found a job working in the Education department of the church that her father was on security detail to.

Then one day in late 2014, Boko Haram terrorists attacked the church that her father had been assigned to protect.  Rachel’s father fled to his house to gather his children. Unfortunately, as they tried to escape, they ran into the terrorists who shot dead her father and three younger brothers on the spot. They were 14, 12 and 10 years old and in secondary and primary school, respectively.

Vikas Pota, Chief Execuive of the Varkey Foundation, the hosts of the Global Education Forum, said the Boko Haram question is wider than simply the question of the girls, and is related to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria and elsewhere. He said collective action was needed to make the world more inclusive thereby creating an environment to access education to all.

“I think it is ridiculous in today’s age that so many girls and all the human intelligence that exists that we do not know where these girls are. It shows we do not care,” Pota told IPS, adding that,” As a father, how can we tolerate this situation? I think the government not – just the Nigerian one but governments around the world – should help and make sure this situation is resolved.”

*True identities have been changed to protect their families.

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From Barriers to Bridges: Transformation of the Kenya-Ethiopia Border Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/from-barriers-to-bridges-transformation-of-the-kenya-ethiopia-border-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-barriers-to-bridges-transformation-of-the-kenya-ethiopia-border-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/from-barriers-to-bridges-transformation-of-the-kenya-ethiopia-border-region/#comments Fri, 17 Mar 2017 14:02:24 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149471 Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya. ]]> President Kenyatta of Kenya and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn lay the foundation for the Kenya-Ethiopia cross border program in the border town of Moyale on 07 Dec 2015. Photo Courtesy of PPS

President Kenyatta of Kenya and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn lay the foundation for the Kenya-Ethiopia cross border program in the border town of Moyale on 07 Dec 2015. Photo Courtesy of PPS

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 17 2017 (IPS)

Consider this. The communities around the Kenya-Ethiopia border in Moyale-Borona area, have long been associated with internecine violence, extreme poverty, and environmental stress. These have led to disastrous societal consequences, including displacement, criminality and violent extremism.

Siddharth Chatterjee

Siddharth Chatterjee

The 2012-2013 intercommunal clashes in Moyale town, claimed the lives of over 200 people, destroyed thousands of properties, including schools and other social amenities. The region has been viewed as largely peripheral, both economically and politically, and therefore attracted limited public and private resources.

However, an innovative, comprehensive and integrated cross-border programme initiated by the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments, in partnership with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the United Nations (UN) is changing this narrative.

During the recent visit to Kenya by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, President Uhuru Kenyatta specifically mentioned, the Kenya-Ethiopia cross-border programme and noted the importance of this innovative area-based development programme, which he said has the potential of being replicated elsewhere.

President Kenyatta hoped that the initiative would help transform the region. “The programme will see Moyale being turned into the Dubai of Africa,” he said.

The strong commitment of the two governments is reflected in an article the Foreign Ministers of Kenya and Ethiopia, co-authored. Kenya and Ethiopia: A cross-border initiative to advance peace and development.

President Kenyatta and UN Secretary-General meet at the State House on 08 March 2017. Photo @StateHouse

President Kenyatta and UN Secretary-General meet at the State House on 08 March 2017. Photo @StateHouse


The initiative is driven by the need to foster peace and sustainable development in the cross-border area of Marsabit County, Kenya, and the Borana/Dawa Zones, Ethiopia. It was launched in December 2015 by President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia.

The European Union Ambassador to Kenya, Dr Stefano Dejak remarked, “I am seeing positive signs of change and therefore the European Union has decided to partner with the UN and IGAD, to expand the cross-border programme to include Mandera Triangle (Kenya-Ethiopia-Somalia), the Omo (Kenya-South Sudan) and Karamoja (Kenya-Uganda) clusters”.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn witness as former Foreign Minister Ethiopia, Tedros Adhanom and Foreign Minister Kenya, Amb Amina Mohamed sign an MOU to create jobs, reduce poverty and foster trade in their restive borderlands, where conflict had intensified in recent years. Photo: UN Kenya

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn witness as former Foreign Minister Ethiopia, Tedros Adhanom and Foreign Minister Kenya, Amb Amina Mohamed sign an MOU to create jobs, reduce poverty and foster trade in their restive borderlands, where conflict had intensified in recent years. Photo: UN Kenya


Among the positive signs is a determination to establish peace as the basis for integration. Local peace committees, comprising of different ethnic groups, have been working relentlessly to maintain the peace and promoting harmonious coexistence. The elders also testified to the fact that the number of young people getting radicalised and tempted to join extremist/terror groups had declined significantly.

Devolution has also empowered local authorities and communities, and has contributed to poverty reduction and effective service delivery in Marsabit County. The Isiolo-Merille-Marsabit-Moyale road, is now complete; and it will be a transformational as it will link the region to Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa, and promote cross-border trade. In addition, this completes the Trans-Africa highway linking South Africa to Egypt.

The Isiolo-Moyale-Borona highway has had a massive positive impact on the region’s security, having opened up an area that was previously viewed as “marginalized”. Photo media commons

The Isiolo-Moyale-Borona highway has had a massive positive impact on the region’s security, having opened up an area that was previously viewed as “marginalized”. Photo media commons


The region’s socio-economic development potential is great. The large numbers of livestock can be harnessed for leather, meat and dairy industries. The cross-border trade between the border communities could generate tremendous revenue for both countries. The region’s diverse and rich culture and heritage, evidenced by its historical and geographical sites, present huge tourism potential. There is also a latent resource for clean and renewable energy exploitation, as proven by the recent launch of the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project that is expected to generate 310MW into the national grid and power one million households.

The UN is collaborating with development partners to tap this enormous potential to reduce poverty and spur development in various ways. This will especially benefit women who are significantly involved in cross-border trade. The UN will soon launch a “HeforShe” initiative/campaign to empower women and address the problem of gender inequality, and enhance women’s participation in the development process in both regions.

Lake Turkana Wind Power Project. Photo Media commons

Lake Turkana Wind Power Project. Photo Media commons


A UN supported “Biashara Centre” – a business incubation centre – was opened in Marsabit Town to empower the youth and address the problem of youth unemployment, and promote small and medium enterprises.

Studies carried out, in collaboration with the communities, are helping to understand the causes, drivers, dynamics and impacts of conflict in the cross-border areas, and possible factors or stakeholders that could contribute to sustainable peace in the region. This is an important parameter of the African Union vision on peace and security in the first plan of action under the progressive Agenda 2063.

A UN supported Biashara center.Photo Credit: @undpkenya

A UN supported Biashara center.Photo Credit: @undpkenya


The UN has worked with Marsabit County to review and mainstream the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP). The revised CIDP aims at improving the living standards of the people of Marsabit County through employment creation, reduction of poverty and creation of wealth and expanding public service delivery in general.

Though integration and trade along the border is still in nascent stages, there is reason for optimism that it will have long-term positive macroeconomic and social ramifications such as food security and income generation, particularly for populations who would otherwise suffer from social exclusion.

Ms Ruth Kagia, in the Office of the President of Kenya who coordinates the programme says, “This initiative if properly executed may well be a game changer by turning cross border barriers into bridges of opportunity. Especially among the marginalized and poor communities to expedite the achievement of a core goal of the SDGs and ending poverty by 2030”.

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Bolivia Passes Controversial New Bill Expanding Legal Coca Productionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/bolivia-passes-controversial-new-bill-expanding-legal-coca-production/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bolivia-passes-controversial-new-bill-expanding-legal-coca-production http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/bolivia-passes-controversial-new-bill-expanding-legal-coca-production/#comments Thu, 09 Mar 2017 01:23:05 +0000 Franz Chavez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149340 Coca leaf growers from the traditional region of Yungas, in northwest Bolivia, surround the legislature in the city of La Paz, demanding an expansion of the legal cultivation area by the new law. Credit: Franz Chávez.

Coca leaf growers from the traditional region of Yungas, in northwest Bolivia, surround the legislature in the city of La Paz, demanding an expansion of the legal cultivation area by the new law. Credit: Franz Chávez.

By Franz Chávez
LA PAZ, Mar 9 2017 (IPS)

A new bill in Bolivia, which will allow the amount of land allocated to producing coca to be increased from 12,000 to 22,000 hectares, modifying a nearly three-decade coca production policy, has led to warnings from independent voices and the opposition that the measure could fuel drug trafficking.

Since 1988, the amount of land authorised for growing coca has been 12,000 hectares, according to Law 1,008 of the Regulation of Coca and Controlled Substances, which is line with the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

This United Nations Convention pointed the way to a phasing-out of the traditional practice among indigenous peoples in the Andean region of chewing coca leaves, which was encouraged during the Spanish colonial period, when the native population depended heavily on coca leaves for energy as they were forced to extract minerals from deep mine pits.

But the traditional use of coca leaves instead grew in Bolivia. According to the president of the lower house of Congress, Gabriela Montaño, some 3.3 million of the country’s 11 million people currently use coca in traditional fashion.

Citing these figures, lawmakers passed the new General Law on Coca on Feb. 24. The bill is now awaiting President Evo Morales’ signature.“This law is making available to the drug trafficking trade more than 11,000 metric tons of coca leaves per year, the average yield from the 8,000 hectares which the law grants to producers.” – Public letter signed by local intellectuals.

Morales originally rose to prominence as the leader of the seven unions of coca leaf growers in the central region of Chapare, in the department of Cochabamba, fighting against several conservative governments that wanted to eradicate coca cultivation, in accordance with Law 1,008 and the U.N. Convention.

The law had enabled the anti-drug forces, financed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), to wage an all-out war against coca cultivation. The struggle against the law catapulted Morales as a popular figure and later as a politician and the country’s first indigenous president, in January 2006.

Montaño estimates that annual production amounts to 30,900 metric tons, 24,785 of which are used for medicinal purposes, in infusions or rituals, she said.

The remaining 6,115 tons are processed into products, or used for research and export, she said.

Assessing compliance with the 1961 Convention, medical doctor and researcher Franklin Alcaraz told IPS that in South America, only Ecuador has managed to eradicate the practice of chewing coca leaves.

On Feb. 28, some fifty intellectuals signed a public letter titled: “Public Rejection of the General Law on Coca”, which stated that “this law is making available to the drug trafficking trade more than 11,000 metric tons of coca leaves per year, the average yield from the 8,000 hectares which the law grants to producers.”

Bolivia was one of the 73 signatory countries to the 1961 Convention where clause “e” of article 49 declared that the practice of chewing coca leaves would be banned within 25 years of the (1964) implementation of the accord.

In January 2013, Bolivia recovered the right to practice traditional coca chewing, when it won a special exemption to the 1961 Convention. Its request was only voted against by 15 of the 183 members of the U.N., including Germany, Japan, Mexico, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Wives of coca leaf farmers from Yungas during a vigil at the gates of the La Paz police station, where dozens of leaders were taken, accused of inciting disturbance during the demonstrations held to demand an expansion of the legal cultivation area in their region in northwest Bolivia. Credit: Franz Chávez.


Wives of coca leaf farmers from Yungas during a vigil at the gates of the La Paz police station, where dozens of leaders were taken, accused of inciting disturbance during the demonstrations held to demand an expansion of the legal cultivation area in their region in northwest Bolivia. Credit: Franz Chávez.

In a January 2014 communique, the representative of the United Nations Office On Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonino De Leo, stated that the exemption “only applies to the national territory.”

The new bill repeals the first 31 articles of the 1988 law and legalises 22,000 hectares for cultivation – 10,000 more than before.

In practice, the new legal growing area is just slightly larger than the 20,200 hectares of coca which UNODC counted in 2015, according to its July 2016 report on the country.

President Morales has defended the increase in the legal cultivation area and reiterated his interest in carrying out an old project for the industrialisation of coca leaves.

On Feb. 28, Morales expressed his support for the new bill and accused conservative governments of supporting the demonisation and criminalisation of coca leaf chewing at an international level.

Montaño said that in 2006, when Morales first took office, 17,000 hectares of coca were grown in the Chapare region. Ten years later, UNODC registered only 6,000 hectares devoted to coca production.

She said that under Morales, the reduction of coca crops has been negotiated and without violence, in contrast to the repression by conservative governments that generated “blood and mourning”.

Before Congress passed the law, coca producers from the semitropical region of Yungas, in the department of La Paz, held violent protests in the capital.

Between Feb. 17 and Feb. 23, hundreds of demonstrators surrounded Murillo square in La Paz, where the main buildings of the executive and legislative branches are located, demanding 300 additional hectares, on top of the 14,000 presently dedicated to coca in Yungas.

There are an estimated 33,000 coca farmers in Yungas, and 45,000 in Chapare.

In the midst of clashes with the police, destruction of public property and the arrest of at least 143 organisers, talks were held with the government, which ended up giving in to the demands.

The settlement also granted growers in the Chapare region an additional 1,700 hectares, on top of the 6,000 currently registered and monitored by UNODC.

Political analyst Julio Aliaga told IPS that traditional use of coca leaves only requires 6,000 hectares, rather than the 22,000 hectares that the government of the leftist Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) is about to legalise.

This figure of 6,000 hectares is drawn from a European Union study on demand for coca leaves in Bolivia for infusions, chewing or in rituals. This study was not mentioned by the authorities or MAS legislators.

“Bolivia has a large surplus of coca which goes toward drug trafficking. The cocaine ends up in Africa, Europe and Russia, and the new colossal market of China,” Aliaga said.

Samuel Doria Medina, the leader of the opposition centre-left National Unity (UN), questioned the 80 per cent expansion of the lawful cultivation area and told IPS that the measure is “a clear sign of an interest in increasing the production of narcotic drugs.“

“The new policy will be indefensible before multilateral drug control agencies,“ since the UNODC certified that “94 per cent of the coca production from Chapare goes toward the production of cocaine,” he said.

In his opinion, the new law provides an incentive for the drug trafficking mafias to sell drugs in Bolivia, “with the well-known violence that this business entails.”

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In Asia Pacific, 900 Million People Pay Bribes for Public Serviceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/in-asia-pacific-900-million-people-pay-bribes-for-public-services/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-asia-pacific-900-million-people-pay-bribes-for-public-services http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/in-asia-pacific-900-million-people-pay-bribes-for-public-services/#comments Tue, 07 Mar 2017 18:47:23 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149304 A billboard in Zambia exhorting the public to "Just say no to corruption". Photo: Lars Plougmann. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

A billboard in Zambia exhorting the public to "Just say no to corruption". Photo: Lars Plougmann. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

By IPS World Desk
ROME/BERLIN, Mar 7 2017 (IPS)

Around 900 million – or just over one in four – people living in 16 countries in Asia Pacific, including some of its biggest economies, are estimated to have paid a bribe to access public services, with governments failing to stop corruption, according to a new public opinion poll from a major anti-corruption watchdog.

The Berlin-based Transparency International (TI), a global anti-corruption movement working in over 100 countries, spoke to nearly 22,000 people about their recent experiences with corruption for People and Corruption: Asia Pacific, part of the Global Corruption Barometer series.

The results show lawmakers across the region “need to do much more to support whistle-blowers; governments must keep promises to combat corruption.”

In China, nearly three-quarters of the people surveyed said corruption has increased over the last three years, suggesting people do not see the major offensive on corruption is working, TI reports.

Only one in five people surveyed thought the level of corruption had decreased, while half of people polled said their government was doing a bad job fighting corruption.

“Governments must do more to deliver on their anti-corruption commitments. It’s time to stop talking and act. Millions of people are forced to pay bribes for public services and it is the poor who are most vulnerable,” said José Ugaz, chair of Transparency International, on March 7.

Thirty-eight per cent of the poorest people surveyed said they paid a bribe, the highest proportion of any income group.

“Without proper law enforcement corruption thrives. Bribery is not a small crime, it takes food off the table, it prevents education, it impedes proper healthcare and ultimately it can kill,” Ugaz said.

Police Top the List

Police top the list of public services most often demanding a bribe, with just under a third of people who had come into contact with a police officer in the last 12 months saying they paid a bribe.

People said that the most important action to stop corruption is speaking out or refusing to pay bribes. But more than one in five said they felt powerless to help fight corruption.

Transparency International recommends that governments integrate anti-corruption targets into all Sustainable Development Goals including hunger, poverty, education, health, gender equality and climate action, and develop mechanisms to reduce corruption risks.

It also recommends that legislatures adopt and enforce comprehensive legislation to protect whistle blowers, based on prevailing international standards, including those developed by Transparency International.

The anti-corruption watchdog also exhorts authorities to prevent and sanction bribe paying/taking to end impunity related to bribery, and that anti-corruption agencies engage with and encourage large numbers of citizens who are willing to refuse paying bribes and report corruption.

The surveys were carried out face-to-face or by telephone between July 2015 and January 2017. They were sampled and weighted to be nationally representative of all adults.

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Stemming Illicit Financial Outflowshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/stemming-illicit-financial-outflows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stemming-illicit-financial-outflows http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/stemming-illicit-financial-outflows/#comments Tue, 28 Feb 2017 16:59:37 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149164 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. ]]> Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimates that in 2013, US$1.1 trillion left developing countries in illicit financial outflows. Credit: IPS

Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimates that in 2013, US$1.1 trillion left developing countries in illicit financial outflows. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Feb 28 2017 (IPS)

International capital flows are now more than 60 times the value of trade flows. The Bank of International Settlements (BIS) is now of the view that large international financial transactions do not facilitate trade, and that excessive financial ‘elasticity’ has been a major cause of recent financial crises.

Illicit financial outflows
Illicit financial flows involve financial movements from one country to another, especially when funds are illegally earned, transferred, and/or utilized. Some examples include:
• A cartel using trade-based money laundering techniques to mix legal money, say from the sale of used cars, with illegal money, e.g., from drug sales;
• An importer using trade mis-invoicing to evade customs duties, VAT, or income taxes;
• A corrupt public official or family members using an anonymous shell company to transfer dirty money to bank accounts elsewhere;
• An illegal trafficker carrying cash across the border and depositing it in a foreign bank; or
• A terrorist financier wiring money to an operative abroad.

Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimates that in 2013, US$1.1 trillion left developing countries in illicit financial outflows. Its methodology is considered to be quite conservative, as it does not pick up movements of bulk cash, mispricing of services, or most money laundering.

Beyond the direct economic impact of such massive haemorrhage, illicit financial flows hurt government revenues and society at large. They also facilitate transnational organized crime, foster corruption, undermine governance and decrease tax revenues.

Where does the money flow to?
Most illicit financial outflows from developing countries ultimately end up in banks in countries like the US and the UK, as well as in tax havens like Switzerland, the Cayman Islands or Singapore. GFI estimates that about 45 per cent of illicit flows end up in offshore financial centres and 55 per cent in developed countries. University of California, Berkeley Professor Gabriel Zucman has estimated that 6 to 8 per cent of global wealth is offshore, mostly not reported to tax authorities.

According to GFI, Malaysia lost US$418.542 billion during 2004-2013, losing US$48.25 billion in 2013 alone. The illicit capital outflows stem from tax evasion, crime, corruption and other illicit activities. Malaysia is fifth among the top five countries for illicit capital flight, after China, Russia, Mexico and India, but tops the list, by far, on a per capita basis.

GFI’s December 2015 report found that developing and emerging economies had lost US$7.8 trillion in illicit financial flows over the preceding ten-year period, with illicit outflows increasing by an average of 6.5 per cent yearly. Over the decade, an average of 83.4 per cent of illicit financial outflows were due to fraudulent trade mis-invoicing, involving intentional misreporting by transnational companies of the value, quantity or composition of goods on customs declaration forms and invoices, usually for tax evasion.

Stemming the haemorrhage
Many tax avoidance schemes are not illegal. But just because it is not illegal does not mean it is not a form of abuse, fraud or corruption. To tackle the corruption at the heart of the global financial system, tax havens need to be shut down, not reformed. ‘On-shoring’ such funds, without prohibiting legitimate investments abroad, will ensure that future investment income will be subject to tax as in the US and Canada.

If not compromised by influential interests benefiting from such flows, responsible governments should seek to enact policies to:
• Detect and deter cross-border tax evasion;
• Improve transparency of transnational corporations;
• Curtail trade mis-invoicing;
• Strengthen anti-money laundering laws and enforcement; and
• Eliminate anonymous shell companies.

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Corruption: Promises, But Not Enough Progress from G20 Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/corruption-promises-but-not-enough-progress-from-g20-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corruption-promises-but-not-enough-progress-from-g20-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/corruption-promises-but-not-enough-progress-from-g20-countries/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2017 08:07:16 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149120 ///UPDATE to IPS article: Five Key G20 Powers Break Promise to Help Tackle Corruption]]> Credit: Transparency International

Credit: Transparency International

By IPS World Desk
ROME/BERLIN, Feb 27 2017 (IPS)

Open data is a pretty simple concept: governments should publish information about what they do to fight corruption– data that can be freely used, modified and shared by anyone for any purpose, according to two major international anti-corruption watchdogs. This is particularly important in the fight against corruption.

In 2015 the Group of 20 (G20) governments agreed on a set of G20 Anti-Corruption Open Data Principles. These principles aim to make crucial data public specifically because they can help stop corruption, a joint research published by Transparency International (TI) and the Web Foundation has revealed.

“In 2015 the G20 (Group of the 20 most industrialised countries) agreed that in order to help stop corruption, governments should publish data on open data platforms so that civil society could monitor the use of public resources, including how taxes are spent, how contracts are awarded and how money is funnelled into political campaigns.”

Publishing this data would allow civil society to monitor things like the use of public resources and taxes, the awarding of public contracts, and the sources of political party finance, the research underlines, explaining that this would make it easier to hold governments to account and deter criminal activities like bribery and nepotism, adds the research.

“Alongside the overview report, five country-level studies (Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa) revealed a range of shortcomings in national commitments to G20 open data principles. The graphics below summarise the main finding and recommendation for improvement per country.”

Transparency International and the Web Foundation examined the extent to which five G20 countries – Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa – are living up to these principles. There are individual country reports (see below) as well as an overall report.

The basic conclusion: there isn’t enough progress. No country released all the data-sets required, and much of the information proved either hard to find or difficult to use.

 

Access the Brazil report

brazil_

 

Access the France report

france_

 

Access the Germany report

germany_

 

Access the Indonesia report

indonesia_

 

Access the South Africa report

south-africa_

 

Read previous IPS article: Five Key G20 Powers Break Promise to Help Tackle Corruption

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Five Key G20 Powers Break Promise to Help Tackle Corruptionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/five-key-g20-powers-break-promise-to-help-tackle-corruption/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=five-key-g20-powers-break-promise-to-help-tackle-corruption http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/five-key-g20-powers-break-promise-to-help-tackle-corruption/#comments Thu, 23 Feb 2017 15:09:45 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149086 Credit: IPS

Credit: IPS

By IPS World Desk
ROME/BERLIN, Feb 23 2017 (IPS)

Five key G20 countries are failing to meet commitments to publish data that helps tackle corruption, warns a new report by international anti-corruption watchdogs.

“If the data was publicly available it could be used to curb criminal activities, including money laundering and tax evasion,” according to the joint research, published on February 23 by Transparency International (TI) and the Web Foundation.

“In 2015 the G20 (Group of the 20 most industrialised countries) agreed that in order to help stop corruption, governments should publish data on open data platforms so that civil society could monitor the use of public resources, including how taxes are spent, how contracts are awarded and how money is funnelled into political campaigns.”

Connecting the Dots: Building the Case for Open Data to Fight Corruption looked at how much progress Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa have made in implementing the G20 Anti-Corruption Open Data Principles, according to the research. These countries were chosen as a representative global and economic cross-section of G20 countries.

The conclusion is clear: there is not enough progress, says the report, adding that no country has released all the information and much of the information that has been released is hard to find and use.

According to the report, none of the countries posted any information about who owns companies (beneficial ownership information). France was the only country to publish some information on lobbying activities and only Brazil published information about government spending.

“Governments need to step up their game if open data is to put a dent in global corruption. ..They must work to change attitudes among civil servants, invest in vital technology and the development of skills, and crucially, they must enshrine G20 Principles into national law,” said Robin Hodess, interim Internal Managing Director of Transparency International and a co-author of the report.

“The Panama Papers showed us the scale of corruption happening in the shadows that datasets can help reveal. These developments called for urgent solutions. That governments are instead dragging their feet on mobilising open data raises questions about their commitment to transparency,” said Craig Fagan, Web Foundation Policy Director.

Transparency International and the Web Foundation analysed ten data sets linked to anti-corruption measures. These included public information on lobbying, land registrations, government spending, beneficial ownership of companies and political financing.

According to the report, researchers scored the quality of each data set using a nine-point checklist that includes an assessment of the timeliness for publication and updates, ease of access, provision of supporting documents, and the ability to cross-reference data sets.

“France performed best, scoring an average of 5.4 out of a possible 9 points. Indonesia received the lowest score, managing just 1.5 points.”

The dataset that had the most information was on government budgets with an average score of 7.8 across the five countries, says the report.

However, government spending and lobbying registers each scored 1.6 and land registers scored 1.8. This shows that governments are not collecting or disseminating crucial information in key areas prone to corruption.”

Key Findings:

No country released all anti-corruption datasets
• France showed the most progress, publishing eight of ten datasets identified as key to anti-corruption
• Brazil was the only country to publish data on government spending
• No country has a beneficial ownership register – despite all showing some level of commitment to do so at last year’s Anti-Corruption Summit in London.

When released, data is not always useful and useable
• In many cases the data is stale and lacks granularity – making meaningful insights difficult to draw
• Access is a problem in all countries, with datasets hard to find and not all available from a single platform, meaning those looking to identify corruption need to dig further to find critical information

Data not published to open data standards
• Only France published the majority of its datasets in line with open data standards
• This lack of adherence to open data standards makes merging and comparing datasets difficult, particularly between countries

Lack of open data skills

• Although some countries do offer some level of open data training for staff, these rarely incorporate an anti-corruption focus

Transparency International and the Web Foundation call for governments to take immediate steps to publish more information that can be used to fight corruption.

The report makes recommendations on the required legal measures needed to enforce open data and for commitments to invest in training.

Finally, the report suggests that in order for governments to make open data the default option, there will need to a change of culture, which will only come about when there are formal incentives for openness.

The full report can be downloaded here. The five country case studies: Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa.

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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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