Inter Press Service » Crime & Justice http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 19 Jan 2017 23:18:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.14 Populist Leaders Endanger Human Rights: Advocacy Organisationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/#comments Thu, 12 Jan 2017 22:56:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148492 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/feed/ 0 Poland’s Morbid Politicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/polands-morbid-politics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=polands-morbid-politics http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/polands-morbid-politics/#comments Fri, 23 Dec 2016 10:53:44 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148292 Lech Kaczyński at an energy conference three years before his death. Credit: Archive of the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland/GNU license

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

By Claudia Ciobanu
WARSAW, Dec 23 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

Victimisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escalation

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

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

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

Crossing the line?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, Dec 8 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Bachelet was herself a victim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pervez Musharraf

By David White
LONDON, Dec 1 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Thelma Mejía
TEGUCIGALPA, Nov 28 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Let’s Unite to End Violence Against Women in Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/lets-unite-to-end-violence-against-women-in-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lets-unite-to-end-violence-against-women-in-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/lets-unite-to-end-violence-against-women-in-kenya/#comments Fri, 25 Nov 2016 01:48:16 +0000 Sicily Kariuki2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147952 Mrs Sicily Kariuki, is the Cabinet Secretary for Gender, Youth and Public Service in the Government of Kenya, Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kenya and Stefano A. Dejak is the European Union Ambassador to Kenya.]]> Rally against violence to women in 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya

Rally against violence to women in 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya

By Sicily Kariuki, Siddharth Chatterjee and Stefano A. Dejak
NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 25 2016 (IPS)

Consider this. According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey of Kenya, 4 out of every 10 Kenyan women undergo some form of violence, whether physical or sexual. This figure is staggering and should compel us to pause and reflect.

Today, on the International day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, let us join together to say: enough is enough!

Gender Based Violence, including domestic and sexual violence, human trafficking and harmful practices, such as forced child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is still endemic in Kenya, despite the existence of legislation, administrative directives, judicial sanctions, and awareness-raising efforts by a variety of agencies and the government.

It is time for every man to start doing something to end the scourge of violence against women and girls in their homes and communities. A call to action was made by the President of Kenya, HE Mr Uhuru Kenyatta when he urged every citizen to join the government’s efforts to end violence against women and girls during the #HeForShe (a solidarity movement for gender equality) launch in November 2014.

The #HeForShe campaign aims to bring home the message that although laws exist to deal with gender violence and guarantee gender equality, every man must take personal responsibility to root out the vice of gender discrimination in his home. Only then can a society begin to take a stand together to bring to an end injustice committed against women and girls, denying them basic human rights such as a life in dignity, choice and freedom.

Did you know that gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa on average US$ 95 billion a year, peaking at US$105 billion in 2014– or six percent of the region’s GDP – jeopardising the continent’s efforts for inclusive human development and economic growth, according to UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report 2016.

Violence and discriminative structures contribute to keeping women out of the workforce, thus dragging down women, their families, and entire communities for generations, in Kenya and elsewhere. For Kenya to reach the goals enshrined in Vision 2030 the potential of all Kenyans, women and men, have to be realized.

Kenya is at a demographic transformation. Fertility levels are declining gradually and Kenyans are living longer. There is reason for optimism that Kenya can benefit from a demographic dividend within 15 to 20 years. It is estimated that Kenya’s working age population will grow to 73 percent by year 2050, bolstering the country’s GDP per capita 12 times higher than the present, with nearly 90 percent of the working age in employment. (NCPD Policy Brief: Demographic dividend opportunities for Kenya, July 2014.)

For this to happen women have to join the work force. So improvements in health and nutrition status, especially of girls, women and children, is critical. Appropriate education and skills will enable them to participate in the economy and provide needed labor for its growth. In addition, studies have shown that girls’ education particularly secondary level, and empowerment will delay early marriage and slow adolescent fertility.

Cultural, social and economic barriers that hinder empowerment of girls and women must be addressed and we have to raise our voices to end the scourge of violence against women and girls.

Women are half of Kenya’s demographic dividend; if they are given the right tools and community support, they can not only become financially independent, but be the engines that fuel Kenya’s future growth.

So we need to continue to raise awareness – in Kenya, in the EU, and around the world – to provide information and raise awareness about violence against women, targeting the general public as well as professionals who can help change this situation: police officers, teachers, doctors, judges amongst others. And beyond raising awareness, Kenya has for the first time formulated a comprehensive framework encompassing practical interventions that we hope will drastically reduce cases of Gender-Based Violence.

We must, once and for all, say no to this clear violation of our fundamental rights. All women and girls should be able to lead a life free from fear and violence: in Kenya, in the European Union, and everywhere in the world.

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Violence Against Black Women in Brazil on the Rise, Despite Better Lawshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/violence-against-black-women-in-brazil-on-the-rise-despite-better-laws/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-against-black-women-in-brazil-on-the-rise-despite-better-laws http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/violence-against-black-women-in-brazil-on-the-rise-despite-better-laws/#comments Thu, 24 Nov 2016 21:38:58 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147943 A group of black women take part in Black Awareness Day celebrated on Nov. 20 in the city of São Paulo. Gender-related violence has increased, in particular among women of African descent in Brazil, despite the passage of better laws. Credit: Rovena Rosa/ Agência Brasil

A group of black women take part in Black Awareness Day celebrated on Nov. 20 in the city of São Paulo. Gender-related violence has increased, in particular among women of African descent in Brazil, despite the passage of better laws. Credit: Rovena Rosa/ Agência Brasil

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 24 2016 (IPS)

Four months in hospital and a number of operations saved the life of Maria da Penha Fernandes of Brazil, but the rifle shot left her paraplegic at the age of 37. When she returned home, her husband tried to electrocute her in the bathroom.

It eventually became clear that the author of the first attack, the shot in the back while she was sleeping one night in May 1983, had also been her husband, who claimed four thieves had broken in, tied him up, and shot her.

She left the family home protected by a court order that gave her custody over the couple’s three daughters, and launched, from her wheelchair, a 19-year battle in court to bring him to justice for the two murder attempts.“The Maria da Penha Law stipulates that first you have to file a complaint with the police, in order for it to reach the judicial authorities, and we know that the police don’t protect black women. The obstacle is racism, and if this is not recognised public policies will not be adjusted to meet the needs of black women. We have to face racism, train civil servants, police as well as administrators, to treat us as human beings.” -- Jurema Werneck

After his lawyers managed to overturn two convictions in Brazilian courts, she turned in the 1990s to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in 2001 held the government of Brazil accountable for judicial tolerance of domestic violence in the case and recommended that it adopt more effective measures to combat violence against women.

Finally in 2002, the attempted murderer was sentenced to 10 years in prison. But he managed to walk free after just two years.

The main accomplishment of Da Penha, a bio-pharmacist in Fortaleza, capital of the northeast Brazilian state of Ceará, was to inspire a law that was named after her, adopted by the national Congress in 2006, against domestic violence.

However, gender-related murders continued to increase in Brazil, though at a slower rate.

From 1980 to 2006 the number of murdered women grew 7.6 per cent annually, while from 2006 to 2013 the rate dropped to 2.6 per cent, according to the Violence Map, produced by Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz, Latin American Social Sciences Institute (Flacso) coordinator of studies on violence in Brazil.

The Maria da Penha law, special police units for women and other instruments “are effective against violence, but the resources are insufficient,” Clair Castilhos Coelho, executive secretary of the National Feminist Network of Health, Sexual and Reproductive Rights, told IPS.

But there is an important reality in this Latin American country of 205 million people: results differ depending on skin colour.

“For black women the situation has worsened,” Dr. Jurema Werneck, one of the coordinators of Criola, an NGO that promotes the rights of black women, told IPS.

In 10 years gender-based murders of black women increased 54.2 per cent, reaching 2,875 in 2013, while murders of white women dropped 9.8 per cent, from 1,747 in 2003 to 1,576 in 2013, according to the Violence Map.

“Racism lies beneath this contrast. Mechanisms to combat violence do not protect the life of everyone in the same way,” said Werneck.

“The Maria da Penha Law stipulates that first you have to file a complaint with the police, in order for it to reach the judicial authorities, and we know that the police don’t protect black women,” she added.

“The obstacle is racism, and if this is not recognised public policies will not be adjusted to meet the needs of black women. We have to face racism, train civil servants, police as well as administrators, to treat us as human beings,” she said.

Demonstrators call for full enforcement of the Maria da Penha Law against domestic violence in Brazil, 10 years after it was passed. One of the signs reads: ”When you remain silent, violence speaks louder.” Credit: Tony Winston/ Agência Brasília

Demonstrators call for full enforcement of the Maria da Penha Law against domestic violence in Brazil, 10 years after it was passed. One of the signs reads: ”When you remain silent, violence speaks louder.” Credit: Tony Winston/ Agência Brasília

A more effective application of the Maria da Penha Law would be to take the complaints directly to the offices of the public prosecutor and the ombudsperson, which would require a larger number of public prosecutors and public defenders rather than more police officers, said Werneck, who pointed out that this is already being done in some neighborhoods in the southern city of São Paulo.

It is also necessary to combat “institutionalised racism”, which permeates many law enforcement bodies, for example, and “to work together with society to value black women,” who have historically been marginalised in Brazil, she said.

Another accomplishment by women was the adoption in March 2015 of a law that establishes stricter sentences for femicide, defined as the murder of a woman due to gender-related motives.

Brazil thus became the 16th country in Latin America to adopt a law against femicide. According to the Violence Map, Brazil ranks 7th in the world with respect to the number of femicides: official figures indicated in 2015 that 15 women a day were the victims of gender-related killings.

However, violence against women includes other forms of aggression that affect the female population in their daily lives.

Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, kicks off 16 days of activism.

In Brazil, murders of men and boys represent 92 per cent of a total that is reaching 60,000 murders a year, a figure that only compares to the numbers seen in war-stricken areas.

But with regard to specific kinds of violence, such as physical, psychological and economic abuse, rape and abandonment, women tend to represent a majority of victims.

In 2014, a total of 147,691 women who had suffered some kind of violence were treated in Brazil’s Unified Health System, two times the number of men. That meant 405 women a day needed medical care because they were victims of violence.

The last National Health Survey, which is carried out by the Ministry of Health and the Brazilian Geography and Statistics Institute every five years, found that 2.4 million women were victims of physical aggression at the hands of someone that they knew, against 1.3 million men.

With regard to rape, the Brazilian Public Security Forum’s Annual Report registered 47,646 cases in Brazil, 6.7 per cent fewer than in the previous year. But the drop, which is based on documented cases, does not reflect a trend because experts believe that at least two-thirds, or up to 90 per cent of cases, go unreported.

”Violence against women may be increasing due to the new stronger role of women, who in the past were submissive in their homes and were used to suffering in silence. But with the old patterns broken, with women achieving rights, working, voting and reporting abuse, the oppressors respond with more violence,” said Castilhos.

There is also an increase in complaints as a result of gains achieved, such as the Maria da Penha and femicide laws and regulations that make reporting cases of abuse obligatory in the public health system, she said.

In her opinion, ”the greatest violence against a woman in the last few years in Brazil was the removal of former president Dilma Rousseff (Jan. 1, 2011 – Aug. 31, 2016), who had committed no proven crime to justify it, by a parliament where the majority of its members are accused of electoral crimes and corruption.”

The political environment generated by the new government headed by Michel Temer, Rousseff’s former vice president, ”paves the way for more violence against women, due to its misogynistic nature,” she said, pointing out that no ministry is headed by a woman and complaining about proposals to reverse previous progress made in empowering women.

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Students Under Siege as Schools Burn in India’s Troubled Kashmirhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/students-under-siege-as-schools-burn-in-indias-troubled-kashmir/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=students-under-siege-as-schools-burn-in-indias-troubled-kashmir http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/students-under-siege-as-schools-burn-in-indias-troubled-kashmir/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2016 14:15:55 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147897 Shugufta Barkat, a former teacher, and her brother Rasikh Barkat, a former student, stand the charred remains of the Nasirabad Government High School in Kulgam – one of the many schools in India’s Kashmir that have been recently burnt down. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Shugufta Barkat, a former teacher, and her brother Rasikh Barkat, a former student, stand in the charred remains of the Nasirabad Government High School in Kulgam – one of the many schools in India’s Kashmir that have been recently burnt down. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
KULGAM, Kashmir, India, Nov 23 2016 (IPS)

In the fading light of a November afternoon, 12-year-old Mariya Sareer bends over a textbook, trying to read as much as she can before it gets dark. It’s been nearly five months since the seventh grader from Shurat, a village 70 kms south of Srinagar city, last went to school, thanks to a raging political conflict.

“Studying like this is hard. I don’t know where to focus. My scores won’t be as good as before,” says the young student, who has always been top of her class. Her siblings Arjumand, 9, and Fazl, 6, both students at the same school, nod in agreement.Unlike other terror attacks, the arsons have remained a mystery, with no one claiming responsibility.

Mariya is still luckier than many of her friends. Although her school – the Taleem-Ul-Islam Ahmadiyya Institute – has been closed for the past four and half months, the building is still standing. But for thousands of others, there will be no classrooms to return to when the shutdown ends because their schools have been destroyed in fires.

Burning down a generation’s future

Schools across Kashmir were closed for Eid ul Fitr, which was celebrated on July 6. They were expected to reopen soon after the festival. But violence erupted across the valley after Burhan Wani, a young militant, was gunned down by security forces on July 8. Amidst mass rallies, stone-throwing and renewed demands for “freedom” from India, the pro-separatist parties called for a total shutdown of the valley.

The shutdown effectively kept the valley’s 1.4 million students from returning to their classrooms.

A few weeks later, on Sep. 6, the first news of a school fire was reported in Mirhama village of Kulgam district. Soon, similar reports began to pour in from all over the valley. So far, nearly three dozen schools – both government-run and privately-owned – have been burnt down. A majority of these schools are in South Kashmir where Burhan Wani was killed.

One of them is the Nasirabad Government High School in Kulgam. The building was set on fire on the evening of Oct. 16 and although locals and police tried to douse the flames, the library, gymnasium, computers, laboratory and desks were destroyed. Locals allege that the arsonists wanted to prevent the school from reopening – a reason why they burnt the upper floor, instead of the ground floors that had little equipment.

Shugufta Barkat, a former teacher at the school, says it was among the best in the district. “They are burning down the children’s future,” a visibly shaken Barkat told IPS.

Mariya, Arjumand and Fazl Sareer, students from the village of Shurat in India’s Kashmir valley, study at their home. Educational institutions have been closed for four and half months due to political unrest in the state. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Mariya, Arjumand and Fazl Sareer, students from the village of Shurat in India’s Kashmir valley, study at their home. Educational institutions have been closed for four and half months due to political unrest in the state. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Surprisingly, unlike other terror attacks, the arsons have remained a mystery, with no one claiming responsibility. Separatists and the government have both blamed each other, while some locals say they are the work of “fringe elements” in society who just want to cause disruptions. The police have made some arrests, but in each case, the accused has been identified as a “pro-separatist” without any clear link with any terror group.

With the increased cases of arson, the government has asked teachers to protect their schools during the nighttime hours. Accordingly, schools have created charts of teachers on “night duty”. Female teachers have been asked to send a male relative to patrol on their behalf.

Unease in a minority community

Basharat Ahmed Dar is the head of Asnoor, a village of the minority Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Kulgam. In a state of long political turmoil, violence, murders and torture, this is a community campaigning for love, peace and harmony. Their unique principles have earned them global respect, as well as scorn from many, especially the radicals.

The community strongly advocates for education as a healthy path to progress and also runs five schools in South Kashmir. The schools – which admit both Ahmadiyya and non-Ahmadiyya students – are known for a high standard of education and superior infrastructure.

Since the shutdown began, the Ahmadiyya youths, including some of the teachers, have been guarding their schools to repel possible attacks and arson. The patrolling will continue until the snow begins to fall, says Dar.

“It has not rained here for several months, so everything is very dry and prone to catching fire. But once snowfall begins, setting fire will not be as easy,” he explained.

Mass promotions and continued uncertainty

In Kashmir, a study year begins in April and ends in November- just before the three-month long winter vacation begins. The annual examinations are held in late October. However, this year, none of the schools could conduct the final examinations. With no signs of an end to the shutdown, government this week declared a mass promotion for students from first to ninth grade across the valley.

Private schools have decided to conduct examinations, even though they had completed only about 40 percent of the syllabus.

Farooq Ahmed Nengroo, a private school teacher, calls the mass promotions a “dangerous mistake.”

“In 2014 also, after a flood hit the valley, the students had a mass promotion although only two to three percent of all schools were affected. In future, we will definitely see a vacuum of knowledge and skills in the state’s labour force,” he warned.

High school students are also not pleased with the government decision. Ishfaq Ahmed, an eleventh grade student in Kulgam, says, “I had joined a coaching institute to prepare for the engineering college entrance test next year. But because of the shutdown, all the coaching institutes are closed. Unless those are allowed to function, nothing else is going to help.”

Meanwhile, Mariya Sareer is praying for an end to the shutdown and the burning of schools so she can get her life back. “I just want to return to school, study and play cricket,” she says.

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This is No Way to Honour Kenya’s Contribution to Peace in South Sudanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/this-is-no-way-to-honour-kenyas-contribution-to-peace-in-south-sudan-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=this-is-no-way-to-honour-kenyas-contribution-to-peace-in-south-sudan-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/this-is-no-way-to-honour-kenyas-contribution-to-peace-in-south-sudan-2/#comments Mon, 21 Nov 2016 10:54:30 +0000 Ambassador Amina Mohamed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147863 Ambassador Amina Mohamed is Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kenya. ]]> U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) force commander Lt. Gen. Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki of Kenya (R) stands next to Ellen Loj (C), Special Representative of the U.N. secretary-general. Photo Credit: AP

U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) force commander Lt. Gen. Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki of Kenya (R) stands next to Ellen Loj (C), Special Representative of the U.N. secretary-general. Photo Credit: AP

By Ambassador Amina Mohamed
NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 21 2016 (IPS)

The dismissal of Lt-Gen Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki as commander of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) comes off as a knee-jerk reaction that fails to address structural limitations of the UN peacekeeping operations.

Even more worrying for Kenya is that the action practically eviscerates the country’s unrivaled contribution to peace and stability in Sudan.

The reason given for the action was that the commander had failed to protect civilians during the violence in Juba last July. He arrived in Juba on 10 June 2016 and officially took over on 17 June 2016. The violence in Juba took place from 08 July to 12 July 2016. The tragic attack on the Terrain Hotel happened on 11 July 2016. The ex parte decision was arrived at against an individual who had arrived at the workplace just three weeks earlier, raising reasonable doubts about his culpability. This was clearly a scapegoating verdict rather than an honest intent to troubleshoot.

Kenya has taken part in peace keeping operations in more than 40 countries, sending out over 30,000 soldiers in the process. However, its military involvement was not the first contribution to peace in Sudan.

Kenya provided a huge logistics and operations hub for Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), way back in 1989, following a devastating famine and the civil war between the then Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement Army. Kenya supported the first humanitarian programme that sought to assist internally displaced and war-affected civilians during an ongoing conflict which helped save millions of lives. It was by far the largest humanitarian assistance programme.

Kenya also took the lead in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in January 2005, by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Government to end the civil war. It also set a timetable for a Southern Sudanese independence referendum. A top Kenyan soldier, General Lazaro Sumbeiywo, led in mediating the negotiations.

The two processes were quite long-drawn and laden with disappointments as would be expected of any belligerent setting, and Kenya bore the brunt squarely. This is why the latest decision to, as it were, blame the country’s military leadership on peacekeeping’s structural weakness did not go down well in Nairobi.

The government of Kenya has already protested the lack of formal consultation prior to the dismissal of Lt-Gen Ondieki, terming it a demonstration of disregard of Kenya’s key role in South Sudan.

What’s more, one discerns a whiff of jury inconsistency; in August last year following allegations of multiple sex abuse allegations against peacekeeping troops in Central African Republic, it was the UN peacekeeping envoy Babacar Gaye who was fired. Inexplicably, in South Sudan case the axe fell on the newly-arrived military commander.

Kenya’s ire is quite expected, given that the international community was already getting exasperated with the situation in South Sudan. Just a few months before the incident in Juba, the United Nations Security Council had authorised an increase in troops and the use of lethal force to protect civilians.

At the time, we in the region were acutely aware that something was amiss and the ability of UNMISS to operate was so crippled that it required urgent attention if its mandate was to be achieved. That was also precisely why most of South Sudan’s neighbours offered to contribute to the protection force and started working on making it operational.

It was also critical that the peace process in South Sudan be continuously encouraged along and any challenges that arise be quickly addressed, if justice was to become the cornerstone of the governance architecture in South Sudan. It had become abundantly apparent to many of us that in fact the situation in South Sudan required more sustained political negotiation and support than military presence.

A report by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services released recently acknowledged that operational and political constraints within missions were at odds with their legal authority and mandate to act and that some missions felt outnumbered and stretched “making the use of force only a paper option”.

As was the case in many conflict areas, military action without commensurate effort in political negotiations sets any mission up for only limited impact. Tough questions must then be asked not only regarding the success rate of UN peacekeeping missions, but also how to deal with the center when it is reluctant or too slow to respond to the needs of the field. Perhaps we have not learnt from Srebrenica, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Security Council should much more actively support regional efforts by ensuring that the forces on the ground have the enablers and multipliers needed to ensure successful missions. History shows that missions with adequate resources and attention are more often than not successful.

Unless the international community goes back to the drawing board, well-intentioned efforts by countries who contribute troops such as Kenya will appear unappreciated, and the civilians in South Sudan will continue to shed blood needlessly. Member states will not want to participate in missions set for failure ab initio and where the speed to condemn is disproportionate to the urgency in supporting the mission.

Firing one of our generals for the systemic weaknesses of UN peacekeeping and without prior consultation is not only disrespectful, but dishonors Kenya’s contribution to peace in South Sudan.

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Will Free Expression Equal Terrorism in Zimbabwe?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/will-free-expression-equal-terrorism-in-zimbabwe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-free-expression-equal-terrorism-in-zimbabwe http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/will-free-expression-equal-terrorism-in-zimbabwe/#comments Wed, 09 Nov 2016 13:09:18 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147693 Journalists from the weekly Sunday Mail as they were arrested on Nov. 4, 2015 on charges of reporting falsehoods. Pictured from left to right in handcuffs are the journalists, who included the Sunday Mail reporter Tinashe Farawo, the paper's investigations editor Brian Chitemba and The Sunday Mail editor Mabasa Sasa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Journalists from the weekly Sunday Mail as they were arrested on Nov. 4, 2015 on charges of reporting falsehoods. Pictured from left to right in handcuffs are the journalists, who included the Sunday Mail reporter Tinashe Farawo, the paper's investigations editor Brian Chitemba and The Sunday Mail editor Mabasa Sasa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Busani Bafana
HARARE, Nov 9 2016 (IPS)

Four years ago, a faceless writer using the nom de guerre Baba Jukwa set Facebook agog with detailed exposes of machinations within the ruling Zimbabwe National People’s Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF).

Garnering over 400,000 followers on Facebook, Jukwa pierced the veil over freedom of expression in a conservative Zimbabwe. The enigmatic character, thought to be a mole within ZANU PF, remains unknown and has never been caught."The government is afraid the social media might be used the same manner it was used during the Arab Spring revolutions.” -- Njabulo Ncube, chair of the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum

Now the government – with a history of intolerance to dissent – is not taking chances with social media ‘dissidents’ in the ilk of Baba Jukwa. It is crafting a bill to clamp down on cybercrime and terrorism, but journalists fear the bill will trample the fragile freedoms of the press and expression in the country.

Should it become law, the Computer and Cyber Crime Bill will ensure that ‘abusers of social media’ are stopped dead in their tracks if statements by the government, the police and the army are anything to go by.

Commander of the Zimbabwe National Army, Lieutenant General Valerio Sibanda, recently told the government-run Herald newspaper that the army was training its officers to deal with “cyber warfare where weapons – not necessarily guns but basic information and communication technology – are being used to mobilise people to do wrong things.”

The country’s Information Media and Broadcasting Services Minister, Chris Mushowe, has dismissed fears that the Computer and Cyber Crime Bill will be a death knell for press freedom, but his threats reflect the opposite.

“This Bill is not intended to kill freedom of expression, it is not intended to silence people…If anything, this is intended to ensure we join other nations in fighting the threat of terrorism,” Mushowe told the local media following a briefing with the British Ambassador to Zimbabwe Catriona Laing in August. “We do not want information to be transited through Zimbabwe or information here that threatens the national security of other countries.”

Despite guaranteeing freedoms of expression and of the press under its new Constitution, Zimbabwe is not the most conducive of places for journalists to do their jobs freely, especially those working for the independent press.

The Washington-based media advocacy organisation Freedom House named Zimbabwe, alongside Bangladesh, Turkey, Burundi, France, Serbia, Yemen, Egypt and Macedonia, as countries which suffered the largest declines in press freedom in 2015 in its Freedom of the Press report for 2016.

Already burdened by a raft of laws that restrict access to information, journalists have reason to worry. The Computer and Cyber Crime Bill could be the biggest and meanest strategic weapon the government has yet unleashed on free expression and press freedom.

Information has become the political currency for self-expression. Social media, especially Facebook and WhatsApp, has given Zimbabweans an affordable platform to gather and share information, vent about their daily grind and even organise public actions against a deteriorating economic and political situation at home.
Crippled by a severe drought, Zimbabwe has made a global appeal for 1.6 billion dollars for food and other humanitarian aid as more than four million people will need food until the next harvest season in March 2017. Fears abound about a worsening economic situation when government introduces its own bond notes later this month as a measure to ease the current shortage of cash since dumping the Zimbabwe dollar and introducing a multi-currency regime in September 2009.

Editor of the privately owned Zimbabwe Independent weekly Dumisani Muleya says life in the globalised and technology-driven 21st century presents two great challenges to governments across the world: thwarting terrorism and protecting national liberties. Technology, Muleya says, has played a part in making these challenges tougher, necessitating governments to balance security and liberty.

“The Zimbabwe government, which has a history of stifling political and civil liberties, particularly media freedom, must do the same,” Muleya told IPS. “The current Computer and Cyber Crime Bill must thus not be used as tool to snoop on citizens unduly and reinforce Zimbabwe’s image as a police state, but mainly protect people’s rights.”

Making a joke about President Mugabe, who is now 92, is no laughing matter in Zimbabwe and can land you in court or jail. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights has represented more than 150 defendants since 2010 charged with insulting President Mugabe. In most cases the charges were dropped. Videos pocking fun at President Mugabe have gone viral, prompting the government to denounce ‘the gutter journalism’ on social media it says should not be allowed in the mainstream media.

“Government is aware of activists in the country collaborating with the diaspora cyber terrorists. They must be warned that the long arm of the law is encircling them,” Mushowe told the Zimbabwean press.

Acting chairman Zimbabwe National Editors Forum and past Chairman of the Media Institute for Southern Africa- Zimbabwe Njabulo Ncube describes the Computer and Cyber Crime Bill as a nullification of press freedom.

“The future looks bleak with the seemingly proliferation of harsh media laws that seek to criminalise the practice of the journalism profession in Zimbabwe,” Ncube told IPS. “The government is afraid the social media might be used the same manner it was used during the Arab Spring revolutions.”

Ncube believes government has muddied the waters by creating the impression that cyber terrorism is the production of subversive, inflammatory and inciting messages shared through the social media, which was in fact misconduct online or abuse of social media in breach of the country’s contentious laws such as the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act), the Interception of Communications Act and Postal and Telecommunications Act (PTA).

“This continuous misleading of the citizenry on what constitutes cyber terrorism is aimed at instilling fear and self-censorship among citizens when exercising their rights to free expression, access to information and freedom of conscience,” Ncube said.

Despite government underplaying its effectiveness, social media has given Zimbabweans a loud voice to amplify their struggles. The crackdown on the social media is meant to deal with activists calling for reforms within the government, Executive Director of the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe and Secretary-General of the World Association of Press Councils, Loughty Dube, argued.

“If the government intends to use the law to curb internet crimes there should be a clear demarcation that should show that there are no sinister intentions by the state to snoop on citizen communications and to criminalise those that are using internet platforms to seek reforms and expose government excesses.”

Last August and two months after the online campaign led by Pastor Evans Mawawire using the #This Flag successfully mobilized Zimbabweans to stay away from work, Zimbabwe passed the National Information Communication Technology (ICT) policy. The policy which allows government to snoop on its citizens and control cyberspace by putting all internet gateways and infrastructure under a single company it controls.

It is the cohesive power of social media that the Zimbabwe government seeks to weaken through a carte blanche law to snoop on and even shut down social media. While it may raise the cost of accessing social media, block its operation and resort to threats, government cannot control social media, argues, lawyer and political strategist, Alex Magaisa.

“In physical spaces, the state can always deploy anti-riot police and use physical force to drive away demonstrators expressing their view,” Magaisa wrote on his blog, The Big Saturday Read. “However, on social media, the state is not well equipped to handle users…Social media presents a new terrain over which the state has no control.

Magaisa said the Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill would create very wide, vague and indeterminate offences in respect of social media activity, while giving police extensive search and seizure powers. Measured against the Constitution, which protects freedoms of communication and the right to privacy, Magaisa said the Bill falls woefully short and a number of its provisions in the present form could be stuck down by the Constitutional Court if challenged.

“While some of the purported reasons for introducing the Bill, such as protecting children, preventing racial and ethnic hatred sound noble, most critics believe the real motive which has promoted the rapid response is political. This is the cause of the citizen’s mistrust, suspicion and resistance in respect of the Bill,” wrote Magaisa.

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Beyond Calais: A Perspective on Migration, Agriculture and Rural Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/beyond-calais-a-perspective-on-migration-agriculture-and-rural-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beyond-calais-a-perspective-on-migration-agriculture-and-rural-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/beyond-calais-a-perspective-on-migration-agriculture-and-rural-development/#comments Mon, 07 Nov 2016 06:15:10 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147657 José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).]]> José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, Nov 7 2016 (IPS)

Migration is part of the process of development. It is not a problem in itself, and could, in fact, offer a solution to a number of matters. Migrants can make a positive and profound contribution to the economic and social development of their countries of origin, transit and destination alike. To quote the New York Declaration, adopted at the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants on 19 September, “migrants can help to respond to demographic trends, labour shortages and other challenges in host societies, and add fresh skills and dynamism to the latter’s economies”.

So far this year, already more than 320,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean in search of a better future. Thousands have lost their lives doing so. Those that have survived face uncertain prospects at their destinations. Many are confronted with hostility and inhumane new realities. Migrants and refugees are often perceived negatively in their host communities, deemed to “steal’’ jobs and drain financial and social services. At personal and collective levels, this creates a certain sense of disquiet.

Tighter border controls are not the solution. They have instead resulted in more deaths at sea and more human rights violations. Without adequate policies that respond to migrants’ need to leave and that offer accessible, regular, safe and affordable avenues for migration, countries risk being left alone to deal with very complex challenges, possibly falling into chaos and disorganization.

In many cases, this translates into the adoption of less than desirable informal solutions, where the risk of abuses of the rights of migrants and asylum seekers is high. What has been happening in the Jungle camp near Calais in France shows that the most vulnerable, such as unaccompanied children, are those most at risk.

The challenge is huge. If we do not act in a timely manner, tensions will only rise further.

We need to address the root causes behind large movements of migrants and refugees, bringing together humanitarian and development responses. We also need channels for regular migration, facilitating migrants’ integration and contributions to development.

FAO argues that investing in sustainable rural development, climate change adaptation and resilient livelihoods is an important part of the solution, including in conflict-affected and protracted crisis situations.

Forty percent of international remittances are sent to rural areas, indicating that a large share of migrants originate from rural locations. Globally, three-quarters of the extreme poor base their livelihoods on agriculture. And by 2050, over half of the population in least developed countries will still be living in rural areas, despite increased urbanisation.

Agriculture and rural development can help address the root causes of migration, including rural poverty, food insecurity, inequality, unemployment, and lack of social protection, as well as natural resource depletion due to environmental degradation and climate change.

Agriculture and rural development can create sustainable livelihood options in rural areas. This kind of support can also help prevent the outbreak of conflicts over natural resources, and help host communities and displaced people cope with and recover from shocks by building their resilience.

Youth deserve particular attention. One-third of international migrants from developing countries are aged 15-34, moving mainly in search of better employment opportunities. By making agriculture a sustainable and attractive employment option and developing food value chains, millions of new and better jobs could be created.

Together with its partners, FAO supports global and country efforts on migration, bringing its specialized expertise on food security, resilience-building and sustainable agriculture and rural development. It does so by generating data on migration and rural development, supporting capacity development at country and regional level, facilitating policy dialogue and scaling-up innovative solutions to enhance agriculture-based livelihoods, social protection coverage and job opportunities in rural areas, as well as to build resilience in protracted crisis situations.

Since 2014, FAO has been a member of the Global Migration Group (GMG). The GMG has played an important role in coordinating inputs from different UN agencies for the process of intergovernmental negotiations that led to the adoption of the New York Declaration during the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants.

GMG will assume the same role in preparation of the adoption of the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration by 2018. FAO stands ready to lend its technical expertise and share best practices, to ensure that the need to address the root causes of migration, including from rural areas, is taken into account in major global fora.

FAO will also enhance the collaboration with key partners in the area of migration and development, at global, regional and country level. In this regard, FAO is discussing ways to foster country-level collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Note on the terminology: FAO uses the term migration to refer to the movement of people, either within a country or across international borders. It includes all kinds of movements, irrespective of the drivers, duration and voluntary/involuntary nature. It encompasses economic migrants, distress migrants, internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees and asylum seekers, returnees and people moving for other purposes, including for education and family reunification.

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Reparations owed for “Racial Terrorism” says UN Committeehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/reparations-owed-for-racial-terrorism-says-un-committee/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reparations-owed-for-racial-terrorism-says-un-committee http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/reparations-owed-for-racial-terrorism-says-un-committee/#comments Mon, 31 Oct 2016 00:02:18 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147560 A vigil for Ferguson at McGill University in Montreal in November 2014. Credit: Gerry Lauzon / Flickr Creative Commons CC BY 2.0.

A vigil for Ferguson at McGill University in Montreal in November 2014. Credit: Gerry Lauzon / Flickr Creative Commons CC BY 2.0.

By Phoebe Braithwaite
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 31 2016 (IPS)

Stressing the enduring relationship between injuries inflicted by slavery and contemporary injustices, a UN committee has recently issued a strongly-worded call for reparations for black U.S. Americans.

“A systemic ideology of racism ensuring the domination of one group over another continues to impact negatively on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of African Americans today,” said the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, in a report released in August.

So far this year 212 black people have been killed by police in the United States, according to statistics collected by The Guardian. This is almost a quarter of the total 883 people killed by police in 2016, despite the fact that only 14.4 percent of US Americans are of African descent.

While only 6.5% of the US population are African American men, they constitute 40.2% of prison populations, according to Ana DuVernay’s recent film 13TH. While 1 in 17 white men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime, one in three black men can expect to be incarcerated.

The group’s report, which focuses especially on police brutality against black Americans as “reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching,” makes 35 diverse recommendations, from establishing sovereign human rights commissions to the reinstatement of voting rights of former felons.

Yet critics question whether the liberal human rights paradigm can adequately address this kind of cruelty and oppression, originating as it does in 20th century Europe, where fascism had recently taken root, and in light of Europe’s own role in creating and perpetuating racial injustice.

“Not only is there no curriculum recognition about the real history of our country… but there’s also no cultural recognition,” -- Kesi Foster.

“In the era of the Atlantic slave trade,” says Andrew Johnson, Professor of African American Studies at Harvard University, “new notions of difference – absolute, racial notions of difference – were used to define, describe, and justify the political economy of slavery”, articulating the centrality of racism in capitalist exploitation.

Demands for reparations have been largely ignored in the political mainstream. A bill, HR-40, introduced in 1989 to establish a commission examining the “fundamental injustice, cruelty” and brutality of slavery has gained little traction – though the UN committee recommends its passage through Congress. Last year, then-presidential candidate democratic socialist Bernie Sanders dismissed the question of reparations saying that it wouldn’t get through Congress and would be “too divisive”.

Noting Sanders’ determination to push the boat out on issues of class, celebrated writer and proponent of reparations Ta-Nehisi Coates deplored this lack of political imagination: “I thought Sanders’s campaign might remind Americans that what is imminently doable and what is morally correct are not always the same things, and while actualising the former we can’t lose sight of the latter,” Coates said.

He urged that class-based solutions are inappropriate to address “racial plunder” – borne out by the fact that the median income for African American households ($36,898) is almost half their white counterparts ($62,950). The median value of total assets of black families, $4,900, versus white families, $97,000, reveals an even starker difference.

Movement for Black Lives

The Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of over 50 black-led organisations, has set out five key requests which would begin to restore what has been being stolen “since the time that the first black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa,” in the words of Black Panther Angela Davis.

They focus especially on education, a particular site of harm since it was made illegal to teach enslaved people to read, a law which began in South Carolina in 1740 and was punishable by death in Louisiana. Since then, owing to redlining policies and explicit disinvestment in primarily-black schools, African Americans have continued to suffer from worse educational opportunities, with black students expelled at three times the rate of white students.

“You’re more likely to walk into your hallway and interact with a police officer – in a school – than a guidance counselor,” Kesi Foster, Coordinator at the Urban Youth Collaborative, and contributor to the policy recommendations for the Movement for Black Lives’ demand for reparations, told IPS, saying that in New York, there is one guidance counselor for every 322 students, but a police officer for every 192 students.

These officers are more prevalent in schools with metal detectors, which are usually primarily non-white. Describing what is often called the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’, Foster says that reparative justice could begin by defunding the COPS programme which stations police in schools in line with the perception that black and brown males are “inherently dangerous”.

Reparations

After the end of the American Civil War in 1865, people who were formerly enslaved were given forty acres of tillable land – and, sometimes a mule. But after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination the same year, his successor Andrew Johnson reversed Lincoln’s directive for redistribution.

Calls for reparations have a long history proceeding from this date, and have tended to focus on material restitution, which makes the Movement for Black Lives’ emphasis on education salient. “Not only is there no curriculum recognition about the real history of our country… but there’s also no cultural recognition,” Foster says. “In Germany and other places… where really atrocious things have taken place, there are markers.”

They call for “mandated public school curriculums that critically examine the political, economic, and social impacts of colonialism and slavery, and funding to support, build, preserve, and restore cultural assets and sacred sites to ensure the recognition and honoring of our collective struggles and triumphs.”

It is clear that fulsome reparations for the continued atrocities perpetrated against people of African descent are not about to be freely given simply because whites are made to see the error of their ways. In the words of Mariame Kaba, organiser, educator and founder of Project NIA, speaking at a recent conference on the disproportionate effect the war on drugs has had on black communities, “the system can’t indict itself. You can’t think that the system that is killing you is going to save you.”

Kaba, who helped in the fight for plaintiffs’ justice in the Burge torture trials, discussed the extensive public apology that was eventually won by some of those Burge tortured, and the history’s inclusion in Chicago’s curriculums, demonstrating the essential role honest expressions of responsibility can play in processes of healing for black communities who have been brutalised by the state.

But the Movement’s foremost demand is for the “full and free access for all Black people (including undocumented and currently and formerly incarcerated people) to lifetime education” in its every form, including the “retroactive forgiveness of student loans”.

Professor Harold McDougall, who teaches law at Howard University, has, among many others, argued for the necessity of black-only education. McDougall would like to see Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), like Howard, funded to set up “Reparations Academies” for the descendents of people who were “damaged by educational racism”. This is a practical measure as much as it compounds Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton’s view that “group solidarity is necessary before a group can operate effectively from a bargaining position of strength”.

McDougall, like others in this struggle, wears two hats: “you have to be able to firmly advance your point of view in the governance process, but even at that time to have your feet firmly grounded in the community, so that the broad-base of the population is continually informing your sense of what needs to be done,” he told IPS.

“When this is going to happen is not something we’re necessarily wrestling with,” Foster says. “For me, it’s more important [to ask]… how does this struggle lead us forward in a way that’s actually transformational, and that’s actually trying to significantly change the material conditions that black people are living under, because of the way that the system was set up, which is to basically profit off of our bodies, profit off our labour, and then give nothing back to us,” citing Chicago’s victory as an example.

Taking a long view, McDougall says that “it’s important to look at these struggles as multi-generational – the problems were not created in a generation. It is unlikely, although not impossible, that they will be solved in your lifetime, so what you do is you roll the ball forward for as long as you can.”

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Are Public Enterprises Necessarily Inefficient?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/are-public-enterprises-necessarily-inefficient/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=are-public-enterprises-necessarily-inefficient http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/are-public-enterprises-necessarily-inefficient/#comments Thu, 27 Oct 2016 14:22:57 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147537 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]> Improvements in SOE management must be required by the national political leadership and can be enabled by increased enterprise and administrative autonomy as well as new incentive systems. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Improvements in SOE management must be required by the national political leadership and can be enabled by increased enterprise and administrative autonomy as well as new incentive systems. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct 27 2016 (IPS)

From the 1980s, various studies purported to portray the public sector as a cesspool of abuse, inefficiency, incompetence and corruption. Books and articles with pejorative titles such as ‘vampire state’, ‘bureaucrats in business’ and so on thus provided the justification for privatization policies. Despite the caricature and exaggeration, there were always undoubted horror stories which could be cited as supposedly representative examples. But similarly, by way of contrast, other experiences show that SOEs can be run quite efficiently, even on commercial bases, confounding the dire predictions of the prophets of public sector doom.

SOE inefficiency

To be sure, unclear and contradictory objectives – e.g. to simultaneously maximize sales revenue, address disparities, generate employment, etc. – often meant ambiguous performance criteria, many open to abuse. Often, SOE failure on one criterion (e.g., cost efficiency) was justified on the grounds of fulfilling other objectives (e.g., employment generation). However, the ambiguity of objectives is not necessarily due to public or state ownership per se.

Problems of co-ordination among various government agencies and inter-departmental rivalries also played a role. Some consequences included ineffective monitoring, inadequate accountability, or alternatively, over-regulation. ‘Moral hazard’ has also been a problem as SOE management’s expected sustained financial support from the government, come what may attributed to weak fiscal discipline or ‘soft budget constraints’.

Often, SOE managements lacked adequate or relevant skills but were constrained from addressing them expeditiously. But privatization does not automatically solve the problem of lack of managerial skills. Similarly, privatization of SOEs which are natural monopolies (e.g. public utilities) will not solve problems of inefficiency due to the monopolistic or monopsonistic nature of the industry or market.

Can SOE inefficiency be improved?

Improvements in SOE management must be required by the national political leadership and can be enabled by increased enterprise and administrative autonomy as well as new incentive systems. Such changes do not require privatization as a prerequisite, but can be achieved by greater decentralization or devolution of administrative authority.

Many SOEs enjoyed monopoly or monopsony powers de jure or de facto, often providing cover for inefficiencies and other abuses. Hence, competition and enterprise reorganization – rather than mere changes in ownership status – are more likely to induce greater enterprise efficiency. Instead of presuming that privatization is the only solution, reformers should consider the variety of modes of enterprise reform, privatization, marketization and other measures as options for improving the public sector.

With such an approach, privatization becomes one among several options available to the government for dealing with the undoubted malaise of many public sectors. After all, there may well be instances where privatization offers the superior option (e.g., the Hungarian privatization of retail shops), but this should be the policy conclusion after serious consideration of all options available rather than the default option it has become in recent decades.

Options need consideration

Remember that many SOEs were set up precisely because the private sector was believed to be unable or unwilling to provide certain services or goods. Such arguments may still be relevant in some cases, but no longer relevant in other cases, and perhaps, never even true or relevant in yet other cases.

Many SOEs have undoubtedly proven to be problematic, often inefficient. However, privatization has not proved to be the universal panacea for the myriad problems of the public sector it was touted to be.

In many instances, the problem with an SOE is not due to ownership per se, but rather to the absence of explicit, feasible or achievable objectives, or even to the existence of too many, often contradictory goals. In other cases, the absence of managerial and organizational systems (e.g., flexibility, autonomy) and cultures supportive of such goals and objectives may be the key problem.

Privatization may facilitate the achievement of such organizational goals or objectives with the changes it may bring about in train, but this does not necessarily mean that privatization per se is responsible for the improvements. In such cases, managerial and organizational reforms may well achieve the same objectives and goals, or even do better, at a reduced cost, and thus prove to be the superior option.

However, the superior option cannot be presumed a priori, but should instead be the outcome of careful consideration of the roots of an organization’s malaise.

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Freedom of the Press Faces Judicial Harassment in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/freedom-of-the-press-faces-judicial-harassment-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=freedom-of-the-press-faces-judicial-harassment-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/freedom-of-the-press-faces-judicial-harassment-in-brazil/#comments Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:58:14 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147449 Journalists working for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo, harassed by a series of lawsuits after reporting the high remunerations of judges and prosecutors in the southern state of Paraná, during a meeting at the newspaper’s offices with Governor Carlos Alberto Richa. Credit: PSDB

Journalists working for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo, harassed by a series of lawsuits after reporting the high remunerations of judges and prosecutors in the southern state of Paraná, during a meeting at the newspaper’s offices with Governor Carlos Alberto Richa. Credit: PSDB

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 20 2016 (IPS)

The same justice that exists to ensure rights can become a tool to violate them and restrict freedom of the press, as seen with the recent wave of lawsuits against journalists and the media in Brazil.

The latest high-profile case involves the Gazeta do Povo, the main daily newspaper in Curitiba, the capital of the southern state of Paraná, which is facing 48 lawsuits from judges and public prosecutors who are suing the paper and several of its employees for reporting their incomes in February.

“There were weeks when four workdays out of five were spent running from one town to another in Paraná, to appear at hearings. I think overall we traveled more than 10,000 kilometres,” Rogerio Galindo, one of the three reporters facing legal action, told IPS.“This happened precisely in the midst of political upheaval in the country, jeopardising the sustainability of the newspaper and revealing a great potential (for a wave of lawsuits) to cause irreversible damage, when the press already faces serious economic difficulties.” -- Mendes Junior

Elvira Lobato, a journalist who writes for the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, went through a similar ordeal after publishing a Dec. 15, 2007 article titled “Universal celebrates its 30th birthday, with a business empire”, about the obscure dealings of the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which owns television and radio networks and newspapers.

Lucio Flavio Pinto, an award-winning journalist who has published the independent newsletter Jornal Pessoal since 1988 in Belém, the capital of the northern state of Pará, has faced 33 legal actions brought by the local media empire “O Liberal” since 1992, after he uncovered illegal activities allegedly engaged in by its owners, the Maiorana family.

In Gazeta do Povo, three journalists, a computer graphics artist, a systems analyst, and the newspaper publishing company face legal action, accused of causing damage to the plaintiffs, who are demanding monetary compensation.

These legal proceedings have been brought in small courts scattered through dozens of towns – civil lawsuits that do not exceed 40 legal minimum monthly wages (about 11,000 dollars).

“Counting the lawyer and the driver, seven of us had our family and professional lives disturbed” from April to June, said Galindo, who underscored the case of Euclides García, who was not able to be with his wife in the last months of her pregnancy.

Fortunately, the Federal Supreme Court ordered a suspension of all proceedings, in a preliminary ruling by Judge Rosa Weber on Jun. 30, on the eve of the birth of Garcia’s son.

The lawsuits were filed in response to a Feb. 15 Gazeta do Povo article which revealed that judges in Paraná received in 2015 remuneration averaging 527,500 Brazilian reals (165,000 dollars at the current exchange rate) – 28 per cent above the ceiling set by the constitution, which stipulates that judges cannot earn more than 90.25 per cent of what Supreme Court justices are paid.

In the case of the Paraná public prosecutors, their pay was 23 per cent above the constitutional limit.

This distortion was created by payments for different expenses, compensations, retroactive payments and subsidies, which were added to salaries.

“At no time was it stated that they were illegal remunerations, but that legal accumulations resulted in amounts that exceeded the constitutional limit,” Leonardo Mendes Junior, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, told IPS.

The information disclosed is publicly available on the government’s Transparency web site. What the newspaper articles did was put it in a legal context and point out that the judicial branch cost Brazil 1.8 per cent of GDP, compared to an average of 0.4 per cent in Europe.

Lucio Flavio Pinto has won a number of international awards for his investigative reporting on corruption in the northern state of Pará, which has led to a number of lawsuits against him. Credit: Garapa.org

Lucio Flavio Pinto has won a number of international awards for his investigative reporting on corruption in the northern state of Pará, which has led to a number of lawsuits against him. Credit: Garapa.org

But the Association of Paraná Judges said in a statement that the “offensive content” in the articles suggested the presence of illegalities in the judicial branch and led to criticism of judges. They also denied having agreed on a number of individual lawsuits by its members, and that these actions threatened the freedom of press.

However, by forcing the accused to travel from town to town, some of them up to 500 kilometres away from the newspaper office in Curitiba, Gazeta do Povo’s reporting was undermined, as three of its seven political reporters were kept away from their jobs for many days.

“This happened precisely in the midst of political upheaval in the country, jeopardising the sustainability of the newspaper and revealing a great potential (for a wave of lawsuits) to cause irreversible damage, when the press already faces serious economic difficulties,” said Mendes Junior.

“It is interesting to note the concept of ‘judicial censorship’ mentioned by Carmen Lucia Rocha, the new president of the Federal Supreme Court, to describe the sequence of actions that keep away from their jobs a significant part of (a newspaper’s) journalists,” he said.

Each trip made by the defendants around the state to appear in hearings cost the newspaper about 25,000 reals (7,800 dollars), estimated Galindo, adding up costs of transport, hotels, meals and attorney’s fees, let alone the lost hours of journalistic work.

With the suspension of the legal proceedings, the journalists expect a final decision from the Federal Supreme Court, which is to take up the case as requested by Gazeta do Povo, arguing that judges in Paraná cannot try these cases since they are interested parties.

“Some of the judges have acknowledged that they cannot decide these cases, but most have not,” said Mendes.

This is an extreme case, in which justice system officials hand down rulings in their own interest, while punishing their alleged attackers with forced trips and proceedings that limit their freedom.

But the abuse of the right to sue journalists who report on awkward issues has become a common practice in Brazil.

In 2007 and 2008, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God brought a total of 107 legal actions, filed by its followers around the country, to smother Elvira Lobato and Folha de São Paulo, Brazil’s most widely circulated newspaper. It does not really matter that the journalist and the paper won every case; the punishment preceded the judgment.

Lucio Flavio Pinto had to study law to defend himself, which took time away from his one-man publication, the Jornal Pessoal. The sales of the bimonthly newsletter, with a print run of 2,000 copies, is his source of income, since he accepts no advertising.

The legal proceedings against him lasted four to five years on average. But four lawsuits, filed 11 years ago, are still pending. Having been convicted twice, he counted on the solidarity of people all over the country to pay the monetary penalties.

In many cases, those suing him are not seeking the implementation of the sentences, he said. “They prefer to keep the sword hanging over my head, by dragging out the proceedings,” the journalist, whose investigative reporting prevented illegal appropriations of vast extensions of land in Pará, while costing him several physical assaults, told IPS.

“Recurrent legal actions are the most efficient form of censorship,” said Pinto, recognised as an “information hero” by the Paris-based Reporters without Borders.

In his case he did not receive solidarity from business organisations such as the National Association of Newspapers, which granted the 2016 Freedom of the Press award to Gazeta do Povo, reinforcing the general reaction from the journalism sector to the harassment from judges and prosecutors in Paraná.

There have been other “attempts to curtail freedom of the press that in turn help to prevent new cases” with their strong repercussions, Ángela Pimienta, head of the Institute for Journalistic Development that maintains the internet portal Press Observatory, told IPS.

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Gang Violence Drives Internal Displacement in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/gang-violence-drives-internal-displacement-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gang-violence-drives-internal-displacement-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/gang-violence-drives-internal-displacement-in-el-salvador/#comments Fri, 07 Oct 2016 21:52:29 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147277 Girls skip rope in the camp where they are staying in the town of Caluco, in western El Salvador, in makeshift accommodations on a basketball court. Dozens of families have fled from the neighbouring rural community of El Castaño, owing to the criminal violence and threats from gangs.

Girls skip rope in the camp where they are staying in the town of Caluco, in western El Salvador, in makeshift accommodations on a basketball court. Dozens of families have fled from the neighbouring rural community of El Castaño, owing to the criminal violence and threats from gangs.

By Edgardo Ayala
CALUCO, El Salvador, Oct 7 2016 (IPS)

A basketball court in this small town in western El Salvador was turned overnight into a shelter for some two dozen families forced to flee their homes after a recent escalation of gang violence.

But they are still plagued with fear, grief and uncertainty.

“I am devastated, I have lost my father and now we are fleeing with my family, as if we had done something wrong”, said a 41-year-old woman, waiting for lunchtime in the camp set up in Caluco, a rural municipality in the western department of Sonsonate in El Salvador.

She, like the rest of the victims interviewed by IPS, asked that her name not be used, for fear of retaliation.

Her father was killed mid-September by members of the Calle 18 gang, which then threatened to kill the rest of the family. Calle 18 and Mara Salvatrucha, the two main gangs, are responsible for most of the criminal activity in this Central American country of 6.3 million people.“The phenomenon is not well known because it is shrouded in silence: people are threatened and forced to leave their homes in silence, since it is safer than filing a complaint.” -- Osvaldo López

In 2015, the murder rate was 103 per 100,000 inhabitants in El Salvador, which made it the most violent country in the world, with the exception of countries suffering from armed conflict, like Syria.

The left-wing administration of Mauricio Funes (2009-2014) facilitated a gang truce in 2012, which lead to a dramatic drop in homicides.

But his successor, former guerrilla leader Salvador Sánchez Cerén, also from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FLN), ruled out an extension of the truce as it was widely rejected by the public, and the homicide rate soared once again.

“Back in El Castaño we left the fields where my father worked growing corn and beans, and I left my chicken breeding,” said the woman in the shelter, next to her husband and two children, and surrounded by children playing amidst makeshift tents and rooms built with plastic and wood.

The shelter was set up by local authorities in Caluco, when dozens of the 60 families in El Castaño, a rural community in this municipality, fled on Sept. 18 because of a recent surge in violence unleashed by Calle 18, which has controlled the area for the last two years.

In the territory under their control, the gangs freely rob, rape and extort, according to the people in the shelter. Anyone who fails to make the required “protection payments” is given three days to get out or be killed, they said.

For now, the gang members have retreated in the face of the police and military incursion that occurred in response to the mass displacement of villagers. On Sept. 4 a group of refugees returned home for a few hours, under police guard, to check their crops and feed their animals.

Most of the families in the community sought shelter with family and friends in other localities in the area, since they left their homes before the shelter had been built.

“I feel out of place but at the same time calm, because there are no armed people around me,” said one 64-year-old victim, who fled to a friend’s house in Izalco, about 10 km from El Castaño.

He has left behind his livelihood, small-scale farming and dairy production, and now he will have to figure out another way to make a living. For the time being, he earns some money ferrying people and cargo back and forth in his worn-down old truck.

“I have to see what I’ll do to put food on the table,” he told IPS, as he drank a soft-drink in the shade of a tree, in his forced new place of residence. He has already sold his six cows, which produced 70 litres of milk per day that he would sell to a nearby dairy.

This is not a new phenomenon in the country and has been reported on occasion by the local press, but the exodus of local people of El Castaño and the shelter assembled in Caluco have exposed the serious problem of forced displacement in El Salvador.

In a report published on Sept. 26, the Civil Society Bureau against Forced Migration and Organised Crime reported 146 cases of displacement between Aug. 2014 and Dec. 2015, in a partial recount since the organization does not cover the whole country.

The victims filed complaints in just 36 per cent of the cases, according to the report. This low rate was due mainly to fear of retaliation and mistrust in state institutions.

Government authorities have played down the phenomenon. Vice President Oscar Ortiz recently stated that it should not be blown out of proportion because “it’s not as if things were similar to Afghanistan.”

“The government has tried to avoid acknowledging the issue of internal displacement,” said Nelson Flores of the Foundation for the Study of the Application of Rights (FESPAD), one of the 13 organisations that make up the Bureau.

As a result, it has also failed to make an assessment of the problem and its impacts, he told IPS.

“The phenomenon is not well known because it is shrouded in silence: people are threatened and forced to leave their homes in silence, since it is safer than filing a complaint,” said Osvaldo López, head of the Dignity and Justice Programme of the Episcopal Anglican Church of El Salvador – one of the religious organisations that tracks gang-related violence.

He said the government does not officially recognise the critical situation of forced displacements driven by criminal violence, because that would entail an admission that it had lost its ability to provide security, and was in need of international protection and support.

“Other countries might open their doors to let in people who want to leave El Salvador, but a declaration of this kind would have strong political and economic repercussions for the country,” he told IPS.

From 2006 to 2014, López headed the Programme of Assistance for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in El Salvador, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (Acnur).

Reports from international organisations indicate that thousands of people are compelled to leave their homes in silence, without leaving any trace in the official statistics.

The Global Report on Internal Displacement 2016 said that in 2015 there were 289,000 victims of forced displacement in El Salvador. The total for El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico combined – among the most violent areas in the world – amounts to one million.

“Displacement in the region tends to remain unquantified and unaddressed for reasons ranging from political to methodological,” according to the report, issued by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, linked to the United Nations, and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

In most of Central America, there is a lack of recognition that criminal violence causes internal displacement, the report says, adding that Honduras is the only country that has officially recognised the phenomenon.

Meanwhile, the victims at the Caluco camp are waiting to be able to return in a few days to their homes, once the authorities set up a permanent police post in El Castaño.

Girls skip rope in the camp where they are staying in the town of Caluco, in western El Salvador, in makeshift accommodations on a basketball court. Dozens of families have fled from the neighbouring rural community of El Castaño, owing to the criminal violence and threats from gangs.

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Environmental Crimes Could Warrant International Criminal Court Prosecutionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/environmental-crimes-could-warrant-international-criminal-court-prosecutions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=environmental-crimes-could-warrant-international-criminal-court-prosecutions http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/environmental-crimes-could-warrant-international-criminal-court-prosecutions/#comments Sat, 01 Oct 2016 20:13:50 +0000 Phoebe Braithwaite http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147186 The International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

The International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

By Phoebe Braithwaite
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 1 2016 (IPS)

The International Criminal Court (ICC) will pay more attention to crimes of environmental destruction and land-grabs, according to a new policy paper published by the court.

This may see business executives and government officials in cahoots to exploit natural resources prosecuted for crimes that displace millions. 38.9 billion hectares – an area the size of Germany – has been leased to investors in resource-rich but cash-poor countries since 2000, Alice Harrison, Director of Communications at Global Witness, told IPS.

“It is an important acknowledgement that crimes against humanity are not exclusively perpetrated by warlords in so-called failed states, they can also be linked back to company directors in our financial capitals,” she said. The ICC has been criticised since it was set up in 2002 for convicting too few people and being too expensive. African leaders have also accused the courts of unfairly targeting their continent.

According to the policy paper, the court will pay special attention to crimes committed in light of “the destruction of the environment, the illegal exploitation of natural resources or the illegal dispossession of land” in the selection of cases. The proposal does not increase the Hague-based court’s mandate, established by the Rome Statute in 1998 to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

This has been hailed as a landmark shift in international criminal law that could reshape the way business is done in poorer countries. Global Witness have said that it shows the ICC adapting to the “modern dynamics of conflict,” to violations and displacements which happen in times of peace.

There are hopes that this change in policy signals good news for hundreds of thousands of victims of land grabbing in Cambodia, ten of whom are represented by international criminal law firm Global Diligence LLP, and whose case is currently under review at the ICC.

This has been hailed as a landmark shift in international criminal law that could reshape the way business is done in poorer countries.

“The government talks about poverty reduction, but what they are really trying to do is to get rid of the poor. They destroy us by taking our forested land, 70 percent of the population has to disappear, so that 30 percent can live on. Under Pol Pot we died quickly, but we kept our forests. Under the democratic system it is a slow, protracted death. There will be violence, because we do not want to die,” a Cambodian victim of land grabbing recounts.

Speaking to IPS, Richard Rogers, who lodged the case with the ICC, said this is an indication that Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda “has accepted the argument of Global Diligence and others that the systemic crimes committed under the guise of ‘development’ are no less damaging to victims than many wartime atrocities – forced population displacement destroys entire communities and leads to massive suffering.”

“I feel very confident that the ICC Prosecutor will soon move forward with the case that I filed relating to the land grabbing and forcible evictions in Cambodia,” he said. “That case is a perfect test case for the new policy.”

But Senior Appeals Counsel at the ICC, Helen Brady, has disputed any connection between the two situations, saying that the Cambodian victims’ case and the policy document are “two completely separate things. We wrote a policy, and separately, we have under analysis in our office a preliminary examination going into the Cambodian [case],” she told IPS.

Brady, who also chaired the working group that came up with the policy document, stressed that the court’s policy on the selection of individual cases, which takes place after the decision to commence a full investigation into an overall series of crimes, is a distinct issue from whether the court decides to formally declare a preliminary examination into the Cambodian victims’ case, which will be determined by different means laid out in a policy document published in November 2013.

In fact, this earlier document already determines that cases where there is “social, economic and environmental damage inflicted on the affected communities” will be given special attention.

Yet it is clear that the recent announcement describes these kinds of environmental crime in more detail, even specifically mentioning “land grabbing” in its introduction. Paying heed to other major watchwords of supranational judicial bodies, it also refers to the increased vulnerability of victims instilled by terror, and of the trafficking of arms and persons.

Perhaps this isn’t the watershed moment environmental activists have been campaigning for, but it remains a promising step towards accountability for the victims of environmental crimes. “I think it’s highly important and it’s not just symbolic – it means something,” the ICC’s Helen Brady said.

Legal experts have played down the significance of the shift since the ICC’s mandate has not changed, with some saying this looks more like an attempt for the ICC to work with national judicial authorities in helping them to prosecute crimes of this kind, provided for in the paper’s seventh clause.

As it stands the ICC can only prosecute Rome Statute crimes if the perpetrator comes from one of the 124 countries that have ratified its statute, or if the UN refers a case. Three of the five members of the UN Security Council – the US, Russia and China – have not ratified the court’s statute and can veto crimes referred to it.

Nevertheless, as Rogers argues, should the Cambodian victims see a fair hearing, prosecution for environmental crimes would be entering new waters: “the impact of the new ICC focus can be enormous. Those who commit land grabbing and related crimes have a lot to lose – they tend to be government ministers and businessmen with reputations to protect. Therefore, they are far more likely to change their behavior than regular war criminals,” Rogers said.

In Cambodia, 10 percent of the country’s land has already been carved up among 230 companies. There are estimates that 770,000 people have been affected by land grabs in Cambodia since 2000, 6 percent of Cambodia’s total population.

“Chasing communities off their land and trashing the environment has become a common and accepted way of doing business,” Harrison said.

“More than three people a week – ordinary citizens – are murdered for defending their land, forests and rivers against destructive industries like mining, logging and agribusiness. These numbers are increasing. In 2015 we documented 185 deaths – by far the highest annual death toll on record.”

Women are disproportionately targeted in these killings, which were brought greater attention after Honduran activist Berta Caceres’ high profile murder in March.

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