Inter Press Service » Crime & Justice http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 25 Jun 2016 17:26:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 Islamists and Secularists Adjust to Work Togetherhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/islamists-and-secularists-adjust-to-work-together/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=islamists-and-secularists-adjust-to-work-together http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/islamists-and-secularists-adjust-to-work-together/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2016 20:56:56 +0000 Ruby Amatulla http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145803 By Ruby Amatulla
Jun 24 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

It is encouraging to watch how Rachid Ghannouchi and Nahdha, the largest and most popular Islamic political party in Tunisia which is now widely expected to come to power again in the next election, have been transforming over time. Recently Ghannouchi astonished the world by declaring that “We will exit political Islam”, meaning that the country would be working to separate religious work from politics. Coming from one who once advocated Sharia law in governance, this change is amazing. Ghannouchi’s leadership of remaining flexible, without compromising fundamental values and principles of Islam, has played a major role in helping Tunisia to become a vibrant democracy today, when other countries in the region have failed.

The goals of the revolution in Tunisia have not yet been achieved but the country is seeing some progress. photo: afp

The goals of the revolution in Tunisia have not yet been achieved but the country is seeing some progress. photo: afp

While Nahdha was in power, two opposition leaders were assassinated in 2013 and there were mass protests. To restore trust and confidence among people, Nahdha resigned and handed over power to a neutral caretaker government, who would be in charge until the next election. A secular party, Nidaa Tounes, got the majority in the Parliament in the subsequent election held in October 2014. Nahdha readily conceded defeat and pledged its cooperation. Thus a dignified political tradition, complying with the democratic spirit, was initiated. People’s trust was restored. Even the parties who lost in the last two elections in Tunisia confirm that elections were fair and the system is working well.

Going back, in June 2003, representatives of three major secular political parties made a visionary and courageous move in meeting representatives of Nahdha, then in exile, to negotiate and sign a joint declaration: “Call from Tunis” (issued from Paris). That document laid down rules of future political engagements that would ensure upholding democratic principles as well as respecting religious traditions and guaranteeing religious freedom. Since then, constructive engagements and protracted negotiations for a decade or so have produced a progressive Constitution, including terms of gender parity, proportional representation (PR) electoral system, and so on; a political system that should be emulated by the rest of the Muslim world.

This is an enormous achievement for a previously divided society that was ruled by autocrats since its independence from France in 1956, and torn between modernity and religious traditions. Since the Jasmine Revolution that ended President Ben Ali’s 23-year autocratic rule in January 2011, the nation has gone through difficulties but has survived with amazing resilience. The main contributing factor is the constructive engagement of the oppositions and the consequent changes in the greater society creating optimism and public trust in the political processes.

Right after the revolution, Nahdha was very popular and was widely expected to win about 90 percent seats in the Constituent Assembly without the PR [proportional representation] system. That would be unacceptable to the secular and liberal parties. To avoid turmoil in the country, Nahdha accepted PR whereby, they knew, the party’s share of the Assembly would drastically shrink.

In fact in the October 2011 elections, after using the PR system, Nahdha got only 41 percent seats. In spite of being the largest party in the Assembly, Nahdha formed coalition and shared power with the two secular groups. Paradoxically, the constraints and compromises of power-sharing among the oppositions have been the key to Tunisia’s success in having a functional democracy today.

On the other hand, Egypt, a regional power, could not hang on to the emancipation process after ending the long repressive rule of Hosni Mubarak around the same time of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution in January 2011. Only two-and-a-half years after the Revolution, and one year after Mohamed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was elected president, a military coup removed Morsi from power on July 3, 2013. Again a military man, the former Defence Minister, Abdel Fateh al-Sisi, who led the last coup, is on the throne, claiming to have received over 90 percent votes in the last election. Egypt is back full circle.

he main reason Egypt was unsuccessful is because secularists and Islamic groups failed to reach out to each other. President Morsi, after assuming power, refused to listen to the secular voices in the country, took an uncompromising approach, tried to consolidate power fast, and sent a signal of another authoritarian rule in Egypt. Massive protests erupted nationwide and turmoil ensued. The army took over power. The nation, since its independence from Britain in 1922, lost a historic opportunity for self-rule. The Islamic party bears a lion’s share of the blame for this failure. However, looking back, secular forces also remain responsible for this unfortunate outcome. Moderate Islamists have been persecuted at the hands of autocratic secular rulers going back to Nasser’s time over 60 years ago, while secular groups and civil society gave lip service to pluralism but remained silent when moderate Islamists were oppressed and their rights were violated.

Many western and eastern scholars have been repeatedly pointing out that whenever constructive moves of moderate Islamist groups are ignored and they are persecuted, extreme radical forces emerge. Ghannouchi confirms: Salafist and Jehadist groups emerged both in Tunisia and Egypt during the repressive secular rules.

As radicalism intensifies, autocratic regimes find more excuses to continue their grip in the name of fighting terrorism. In reality, they imprison opposition leaders at will and violate the civil rights of citizens. The western powers, in the name of stability, support and do business with these undemocratic ruthless regimes. Their support reinforces the status quo and their hypocrisy creates cynicism and distrust among the people under such a repressive rule. The anger and frustration of some segments of the society, especially of the younger generation, help reinforce radicalism. Radicals find more justifications for their vicious work. That also increases the ferocity of repression.

This vicious cycle continues with the reckless way of pursuing de-radicalisation. The recent events in many countries is a testament to the fact that the ‘War on Terror’ policy has failed, in spite of spending hundreds of billions of dollars by the powerful western countries. There is no military solution to radicalism, especially in this global society with an ever higher intolerance for subjugation and humiliation, and with the ever more availability of arms through reckless arms businesses. It is long overdue that the world powers focus on a deep rooted agenda to address radicalism, such as helping establish power-sharing democratic rule. The counterproductive strategy of pursuing stability at the expense of democracy ultimately helps create a stagnant situation devoid of both stability and democracy.

Tunisia seems to be getting out of this quagmire. Radicals have either mostly been transformed or marginalised. Both Islamists and secularists are finding common grounds and democracy is thriving in the country.

The writer is Executive Director, US based Justice, Peace and Progress.
E-mail: rubyamatullah@yahoo.com

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Disagreement Continues Over Global Drug Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/disagreement-continues-over-global-drug-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=disagreement-continues-over-global-drug-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/disagreement-continues-over-global-drug-policy/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2016 14:44:23 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145793 A Libyan drug and alcohol trafficking police squad. Credit: Maryline Dumas/IPS

A Libyan drug and alcohol trafficking police squad. Credit: Maryline Dumas/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 24 2016 (IPS)

A new report has found that global drug use largely remains the same, but perspectives on how to address the issue still vary drastically.

The new World Drug Report, released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), provides a review on drug production and use and its impact on communities around the world.

UNODC has estimated that 1 in 20 adults, or quarter of a billion people between the ages of 15 and 64 years, used at least one drug in 2014. Though the figure has not changed over the past four years, the number of people classified as suffering from drug use disorders has increased for the first time in six years to over 29 million people.

Of those, 12 million are people who inject drugs and 14 percent of this population lives with HIV.

UNODC’s Executive Director Yury Fedotov noted the significance of such a comprehensive review, stating: “The 2016 World Drug Report highlights support for the comprehensive, balanced and integrated rights-based approaches.”

However, Kasia Malinowska, Director of Open Society Foundation’s (OSF) Global Drug Policy Program, expressed her disappointment in the document.

“It is really important that we stop thinking of it as a drug problem but that we look at it as a problem of severe underdevelopment in some regions." -- Kasia Malinowska.

“It’s a little bit of business as usual,” she told IPS.

She particularly pointed to the lack of recognition of drug prohibition policies.

For instance, in the report, UNODC notes that drug-associated violence is higher in Latin America than in Asia. Malinowska told IPS that this overlooks a history of militarised narcotics interventions in Latin America that did not exist in Asia.

In the 1990s, the United States funded anti-narcotics police operations in Colombia which contributed to a spike in drug-fuelled violence as well as the longest war in the Western hemisphere which killed over 220,000 civilians.

Although the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP signed a historic ceasefire agreement this week, Colombia continues to be a major coca and cocaine producing country.

“My question is how have external actors contributed to violence…and there is no recognition of that bigger context, and that’s the problem with the report,” Malinowska told IPS.

“It does not take responsibility of how much current prohibitionist policies have contributed to that problem,” she continued.

Malinowska highlighted the need to recognize that prohibition is not the only way to address drugs, and that policies must be contextualised according to the wellbeing of countries’ own citizens rather than international conventions.

UNODC’s Director of Policy Analysis and Public Affairs Jean-Luc Lemahieu echoed similar sentiments during a briefing, stating that “not one shoe fits all.”

He pointed to Netherlands and Sweden as two examples.

In the Netherlands, the government implemented a “separation of markets” approach, which separated cannabis from other hard drugs. Its aim was to limit exposure and access to harder drugs.

This proved to be a success for the country as cannabis use remained low. The Dutch government also invested in treatment, prevention and harm reduction approaches which helped it to maintain low rates of HIV among people who use drugs and low rate of problem drug use.

Sweden, on the other hand, implemented more restrictive drug policies that punish drug use and curb drug supply. UNODC noted that the country’s approach is a “success” as it has low rates of drug abuse and needle-associated HIV transmission.

Both Lemahieu and Malinowska also stressed the need to integrate sustainable development with global drug policy.

In the report, UNODC recognized the contribution of poverty and lack of sustainable livelihoods to the cultivation of crops such as coca leaves.

“Illicit drug cultivation and manufacturing can be eradicated only if policies aimed at the overall social, economic and environmental development communities,” the report states.

Malinowska, however, told IPS of the need to offer “proper” choices and opportunities to poor smallholder farmers engaged in the drug economy. Though not everyone may choose other economic activities, she remarked that no one has tried the approach.

“What we need is thoughtful, sustainable development…we are using the same matrix, the same paradigm, the same language and that really needs to dramatically change,” she said.

“It is really important that we stop thinking of it as a drug problem but that we look at it as a problem of severe underdevelopment in some regions,” Malinowska concluded.

The World Drug Report 2016 has been published following the Special Session of the UN General Assembly on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in April.

During the launch of the report, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson described it as an issue of “common global concern” that affects all nations and sectors of society.

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Brits Shouldn’t ‘Brexit’http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/brits-shouldnt-brexit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brits-shouldnt-brexit http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/brits-shouldnt-brexit/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 16:53:25 +0000 Editor Manila Times http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145778 By Editor, The Manila Times, Philippines
Jun 23 2016 (Manila Times)

Today the British will vote in their “Brexit” referendum whether to stay in or exit from the European Union.

The United Kingdom applied for the first time to join what was then called the European Economic Community, in 1961. The Brit movers for membership were afraid their country would get politically isolated from Western Europe. At that time the USA’s and its allies’ Cold War with the Soviet Union was still ablaze.

UK’s bid for EEC membership had strong US support but the French Government (with Gen. De Gaulle as President) vetoed it in 1963 and also the second British application in 1967. Only on Jan. 1, 1973 did the UK (along with Denmark and Ireland) get to join the EEC.

At first opposed to EEC membership, the UK Labour Party wanted to renegotiate the membership but settled for a referendum to determine if the people of Britain really wanted to remain in the EEC. In the referendum held in 1975, 67 percent of the Brits voted to remain.

These days, polls show only a slight majority of the British public to be in favor of remaining.

This is because the Brits are doing very well compared to the countries of the EU, whose only solidly rich country is Germany. Europe seems to be in one kind of economic crisis after another.

The problem of refugees flooding into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa has become too much for the EU countries to bear. It has caused anti-immigrant militancy among the poor in nearly every European country. Terrorist ISIS bombings in Paris and Brussels and false-alarm news of new attacks are agitating Europeans, who have lost their former sense of security.

These tensions in the continent have made the anti-Europe side in Britain restive. For decades now they have been calling for their country’s exit from the EU.

Today’s Brexit referendum, if won by the Yes side, would still have to be ratified by the British parliament. The majority and ruling Conservatives would not dare go against the winning public vote.

But for all the mess that Europe is in, it is still in the British people’s best interest to stay in the EU and keep it whole. For if the UK exits it, some other countries, also fed up with having to bear the continent’s troubles and having to share their wealth with the poorer European countries that are always in need of aid, would promptly follow the British lead. Europe would then break up.

The UK would also lose a lot of the economic advantages it has in the continent as an EU member. For one, a lot of the British products that are sold in Europe tariff-free would cost more to EU customers. And it is, despite any cultural protests from Frenchmen, looked up to as the country that is EU’s political leader, and shares EU’s economic leadership with Germany.

It is not true, as Brexit proponents argue, that Britain would become stronger by leaving the EU. It would instead become weaker. And it would begin to face problems in dealing with countries in Europe—as an outsider.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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Lords of the Campushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/lords-of-the-campus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lords-of-the-campus http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/lords-of-the-campus/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 16:11:39 +0000 Rafia Zakaria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145775 By Rafia Zakaria
Jun 23 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Thomas Pogge is a professor of philosophy at Yale University, one of the most eminent educational institutions in the world. From there he directs the Global Justice Centre, which advocates, among other issues, the premise that the wealthy countries of the world have a moral and ethical responsibility towards providing aid to poorer nations.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

In a dog-eat-dog world, Dr Pogge, at least on the face of it, stood for what is right.

But appearance and reality rarely coalesce, as an investigation by Buzzfeed News revealed last month. Pogge is also allegedly a sexual harasser. In 2010, a Yale graduate student named Fernanda Lopez Aguilar accused Dr Pogge of sexually harassing her and then retaliating against her for refusing him by rescinding a fellowship offer.

When the incident first took place, Aguilar, who is a foreign student, went to the Yale authorities to report what the professor had done. According to Aguilar, Yale University not only did not investigate her claim, but tried to buy her silence by offering a payment of $2,000. When she refused, a panel was finally convened to investigate the matter. Their report found that while it was clear that Prof Pogge had behaved in an unprofessional manner, there was insufficient evidence that the professor was guilty of sexual harassment. Pogge was permitted to keep his post, and teach at and direct the Centre for Global Justice.

All of that happened in the years 2010-2011. More recently, the Buzzfeed investigation revealed, Yale has been confronted with more evidence of Pogge’s alleged sexual harassment in his interactions with students from other institutions. In addition, in 2015, Fernanda Aguilar, whose case had been so deftly dismissed by Yale’s internal investigation, chose to file a federal lawsuit against Yale University for violating Title IX of the Equal Protection Act, under which educational institutions like Yale are responsible for eliminating hostile environments and taking action against sexual harassment. She has also filed a claim under Title VII, which prohibits racial discrimination.

Educational institutions offer excellent opportunities for power plays and harassment, whose targets are often, if not always, women.

Some of the allegations reveal the common modus operandi of most harassment situations: offers of better opportunities. In one illustrative incident, when Aguilar and Pogge were supposed to attend a conference together, she arrived to find that he had booked them not in separate rooms as she had expected, but only one room.

Yale University may be far away from Pakistan, but the issue of sexual harassment in the campus context is not. One recent case involves a pattern ironically quite similar to that of the esteemed Dr Pogge of Yale University. In March of this year, there was a news report about a case of sexual harassment filed at Karachi University against a member of the visiting faculty.

The complainant was a young assistant professor who said that the faculty member had barged into her office and behaved inappropriately with her. It was alleged that she was later subjected to similarly inappropriate behaviour, involving physical contact, by the same teacher in the office of another, senior faculty member.

In this case, like Fernanda Aguilar of Yale University, the teacher who alleged inappropriate behavior chose to do what most women do not: make a complaint. She is said to have first gone to the person in whose office the latter incident is supposed to have taken place and whom she believed would be supportive of her situation. When, as reported, he refused to take action, she filed a complaint with the vice chancellor. It took a month and a student protest for the university to form a three-member investigative committee.

The committee issued its report, stating that “there is no conclusive evidence available to the committee based on which the charges levelled by [the teacher] can be proved” and that she “took this incident too far ahead”. If it was not enough to dismiss a complaint that had allegedly taken place in the office of a senior professor, the investigation committee chose to level a charge of its own, saying that the complainant had “previous handshakes with him in the past”.

The tone of the report comes across as dismissive and accusatory, and is an indication of just the sort of obstacles that confront working women who insist on demanding a workplace that is free of harassment. Even while the investigation committee had to be formed under the Protection of Women against Workplace Harassment Act 2010, it appears that the members seemed determined to permit a culture of harassment to continue. In the words of an investigative reporter, such is the entrenched nature of sexual harassment that even dismissive comments by investigative committees have not been considered sufficient to establish that an inquiry could well have been biased.

Educational institutions, their formats of instruction and advancement, are by design hierarchical. Being so, they offer excellent opportunities for power plays and harassment, whose targets are often, if not always, women. In the case of Pakistan, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that allegations against progressive-minded professors are quickly co-opted by members of religious groups who want to ban women from the workplace and from educational institutions altogether.

All of it comes together to create a situation where men, religious or progressive, remain the lords of campus, their bad behaviour, their misogyny, their failure to respect women, all tolerated, promoted and considered entirely and completely acceptable.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy. rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Collective Indifference or Silent Acceptance?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/collective-indifference-or-silent-acceptance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=collective-indifference-or-silent-acceptance http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/collective-indifference-or-silent-acceptance/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 15:30:52 +0000 Moyukh Mahtab http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145773 By Moyukh Mahtab
Jun 23 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

When blogger Rajib Haider was killed in 2013, the outcry was tremendous. But, over the next three years, at least 38 more were added to the list of those murdered, which includes writers, publisher, foreigners, religious minorities and LGBT rights activists. There have been reports about alleged IS involvement, and last week, the security forces launched a drive that resulted in the arrest of 194 ‘militants’. But the collective outrage over people being murdered seems to have mellowed.

Alfredo Ramos Martínez, 1934.

Alfredo Ramos Martínez, 1934.

It’s almost as if there is a general indifference towards those being killed now – there has even been ‘doubts’ about whether the slain deserved their fate. Of course, most Muslims in this country are not radical in their belief. But certain attitudes towards minorities have made the situation worse. As long as there is an impression that many people find nothing wrong with the murder of those who might have differing beliefs, whoever is behind these killings, be it Hizb ut-Tahrir, Ansarullah Bangla Team, JMB or even IS, are being ‘legitimised’ in their acts.

A recent article by The New York Times tries to explain the situation. The report quotes the Chief of the Police Counterterrorism Unit, Monirul Islam: “They have tried to pick their targets with care, with the aim of gaining support from the public. . . Their goal was to convert Bangladesh’s mixed secular and religious culture to an Islamist one.” The report does not inspire hope. Further comments from Monirul Islam and the reporter run along the same lines: “To a surprising extent, the militants have succeeded in their aim of discrediting secularism”; “In general, people think they have done the right thing, that it’s not unjustifiable to kill”. (“Bangladesh Says It Now Knows Who’s Killing the Bloggers”, NYT, June 8, 2016)

The killers seem to have achieved what they wanted. They targeted the deep-rooted cultural biases and attitudes of the largely Sunni Muslim population of the country. The moment bloggers of the Shahbagh movement became branded as ‘atheists’, the public outrage over fanaticism shifted. A pervasive fear has taken hold that Islam is somehow under threat, and eliminating elements that supposedly run counter to the religion need to be discarded. In the week of the police crackdown on militancy, a Hindu college teacher was stabbed in Madaripur, and staff of Ramakrishna Mission received death threats. And yet, the majority of the people remain unconcerned.

And here we must confront some uncomfortable issues. Despite our loud proclamations of being a secularist country, are we truly, by any definition secular? Our Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech and safeguards against persecution due to religious belief. Secularism entails official neutrality of the state in matters of religion: that is religion is a personal issue, not a state one.

Yet, our minorities have been marginalised over the past four decades and the country’s Hindu population is on a decline (from about 30 percent before ’71 to less than 10 percent today). Since independence, secularism as a basic principle of the Constitution was removed, a state religion was ordained, and now we have the conflicting state of both being there at the same time.

Institutions like the Awami Olama League can today demand removal of Hindu ministers and judges with impunity and still operate under the AL banner. Age-old traditions of celebrating Pahela Baishakh are challenged as being un-Islamic. There has been increasing pressure from sections of society trying to impose parochial values and codes on women in the name of religious decency. Just this week a post that sparked a lot of debate on social media exemplified the manifestation of our belief when a woman was abused verbally on the road for driving a car instead of being at home, preparing iftari. The abuse was met with support of the general onlookers, as they berated the woman for not being at home, where she belonged.

Clearly, the state of affairs did not develop overnight; ghosts of unresolved communal issues, stretching from 1971 to as far as at least 1947, and the post-independence coups and countercoups have resulted in a fragile and fragmented society with serious identity issues. We seem to be grappling with the question of who we are. Instead of our identity being based on our roots in this country, with the corresponding effect of apathy and hostility towards not just other religions, but also towards other Islamic schools of thought like those of Shias and Ahmeddiyas. The root of the problem is that increasing number of people, including students, from universities and madrasas, are becoming radicalised.

On top of that, the educated liberal elites’ defensive stance on the issue has created further confusion. The Islamophobia in the West, and the repercussion of US foreign policy, has meant that Muslims here have been active in refuting the terrorist association with Islam. But, what they seem to miss is that the Islamophobia of Trump in a country where Muslims are a minority, and the case of a country like Bangladesh with a Muslim majority are not the same. Islam does not promote terrorism and killings in any form. That does not mean that certain schools of thought have not misinterpreted the religion in justifying vile acts. The flagging of all Muslims as terrorists is reprehensible, as is refusing to deal with the fact that in the name of the religion, actions are being carried out that go against its core values.

The previously mentioned New York Times article quotes authorities in Bangladesh as saying: “Only when the leaders are caught will the attacks be stopped, and at that, only for a while if the appeal of Islamic fundamentalism is not blunted.” Collectively, we are indifferent towards those being hunted down and butchered. We refuse to acknowledge the issues that plague our society. Religion is not at fault here. The problem is with how religion is being interpreted by some people; the killers are being used as pawns, while the general people stand aloof. As long as we do not confront our exclusionary beliefs and accept that people with different beliefs than ours live in this country, no amount of anti-militancy drives or constitutional amendments can stop the killings.

The writer is a member of the editorial team, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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UN Staff Unions Demand Stronger Action on Sexual Abusehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/un-staff-unions-demand-stronger-action-on-sexual-abuse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-staff-unions-demand-stronger-action-on-sexual-abuse http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/un-staff-unions-demand-stronger-action-on-sexual-abuse/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 15:04:35 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145767 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/un-staff-unions-demand-stronger-action-on-sexual-abuse/feed/ 0 Rethinking Fiscal Policy for Global Recoveryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/rethinking-fiscal-policy-for-global-recovery/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rethinking-fiscal-policy-for-global-recovery http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/rethinking-fiscal-policy-for-global-recovery/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 14:42:37 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145763 Anis Chowdhury was Professor of Economics, University of Western Sydney, and held various senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram was UN Assistant Secretary- General for Economic Development.]]>

Anis Chowdhury was Professor of Economics, University of Western Sydney, and held various senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram was UN Assistant Secretary- General for Economic Development.

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jun 23 2016 (IPS)

Global economic recovery is being held hostage by the ideological dogma of the last three and a half decades. After long contributing to neo-liberal conventional wisdom, in its October 2015 World Economic Outlook, the IMF identified the vicious circle undermining global recovery and growth. Low aggregate demand is discouraging investment; slower expected potential growth itself dampens aggregate demand, further limiting investment.

Investment in Europe, especially in crisis-ridden economies, has collapsed sharply despite very low interest-rates. The IMF also noted that prolonged recessions may have a permanent negative effect, not only on trend productivity levels but also on trend productivity growth as well as wage growth that, in turn, sustains low aggregate demand.

The rise of fiscal policy

From the mid-1930s until about the mid-1960s, fiscal policy has played a major role, both in developed and developing countries. The fiscal deficit was the main policy instrument to address the Great Depression of the 1930s and later, to maintain full-employment in developed countries. Deficits and surpluses were adjusted counter-cyclically over business cycles. In his 1936 budget speech, President Roosevelt noted, “the deficit of today … is making possible the surplus of tomorrow.”

Governments in developing countries have played a major role in building infrastructure and providing basic public services such as health-care and education. They often did not have the resources, domestic or foreign, as war-torn Europe had with the Marshall Plan, to rebuild their economies.

Thus, the main way to develop their newly decolonized countries was by running deficits, financed by printing money. This was also the case when the US emerged as a newly independent nation. Alexander Hamilton, the first US Treasury Secretary under President Washington, incurred debt to establish “sound credit”, laying the foundation for a robust future market in US debt.

There was a brief revival of fiscal activism when the 2008-2009 financial crisis hit the global economy. Developed countries responded with large fiscal stimulus packages, in addition to bailing out troubled financial institutions. Major developing countries also put in place carefully designed fiscal stimulus packages that included public infrastructure investment and enhanced social protection measures.

But instead of recognizing that deficits and surpluses should be adjusted counter-cyclically over business cycles rather than being held hostage by financial markets, this moment was soon lost to claims of ‘green shoots of recovery’ once the most influential financial interests had been saved.

The fall of fiscal policy

With the counter-revolution against Keynesian and development economics in the late 1970s and early 1980s, budget deficits became taboo. The fall from grace of fiscal policy followed the ascendancy of market-fundamentalist conservative politics with the election of Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US.

The conservative distrust of governments favoured rule-based policies to curb discretionary government spending, including the US Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-control legislation and the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact that set a 60 percent debt-GDP ratio ceiling. In fact, debt is sustainable if government expenditure enhances both growth and productivity. The claim that government deficits will need to be ‘financed’ with higher tax rates in future is spurious as revenues are bound to rise in an expanding economy.

Understanding this requires abandoning the narrow concept of “sound” finance in favour of “functional” finance, which evaluates government finance based on its impact. Thus, for Abba Lerner, “The central idea is that government fiscal policy, its spending and taxing, its borrowing and repayment of loans, its issue of new money and its withdrawal of money, shall all be undertaken with an eye only to the results of these actions on the economy and not to any established traditional doctrine about what is sound or unsound.”

Crowding-out or -in

A lingering concern is financing the deficit. The first recourse for governments is to borrow domestically, raising the spectre of “crowding-out”, i.e. government borrowings driving up interest rates, adversely affecting private investment. This view ignores the consequences (e.g. low profitability, bankruptcies, etc.) of a depressed economy. After all, government action is necessitated, in the first place, by inadequate private spending.

Moreover, the immediate financial implication of expansionary policy action is to augment the cash reserves of private sector banks where government cheques are deposited. This, in turn, increases (net) liquidity if the central bank does not implement offsetting money market operations. Hence, the actual central bank discount rate should decrease, exerting downward pressure on retail interest rates. This should, therefore, encourage, rather than crowd-out private investment.

In its October 2014 World Economic Outlook, the IMF favoured an infrastructure push in the face of low borrowing costs and weak aggregate demand. It also observed that “debt-financed projects could have large output effects without increasing the debt-to-GDP ratio if clearly identified infrastructure needs are met through efficient investment”. Maintaining this favourable view of debt-financed public investment, the IMF’s October 2015 World Economic Outlook asserted that debt-financed public investment in infrastructure, education, health and social protection would boost aggregate demand and productivity.

As outgoing Reserve Bank of Australia governor, Glenn Stevens has pointed out, “the impediments… are not financial. The funding would be available, with long- term interest rates the lowest we have ever seen or are likely to…The impediments are in our decision-making processes and, it seems, in our inability to find a political agreement on how to proceed.”

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Fearing Violence, LGBT Refugees Rarely Seek Helphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 04:28:47 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145751 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fearing-violence-lgbt-refugees-rarely-seek-help/feed/ 0 The Environment: Latin America’s Battleground for Human Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/the-environment-latin-americas-battleground-for-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-environment-latin-americas-battleground-for-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/the-environment-latin-americas-battleground-for-human-rights/#comments Wed, 22 Jun 2016 00:12:40 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145737 Indigenous Asheninka activist Diana Rios (centre) from the Amazon village of Saweto, Peru is the daughter of slain activist Jorge Rios who was murdered by illegal loggers in September 2014. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

Indigenous Asheninka activist Diana Rios (centre) from the Amazon village of Saweto, Peru is the daughter of slain activist Jorge Rios who was murdered by illegal loggers in September 2014. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Jun 22 2016 (IPS)

2015 was the deadliest year on record for the killings of environmental activists around the world, according to a new Global Witness report.

The report, On Dangerous Ground, found that in 2015, 185 people were killed defending the environment across 16 countries, a 59 percent increase from 2014.

“The environment is becoming a new battleground for human rights,” Global Witness’ Campaign Leader for Environmental and Land Defenders Billy Kyte told IPS.

“Many of these activists are being treated as enemies of the state when they should be treated as heroes,” he continued.

The rise in attacks is partially due to the increased demand for natural resources which have sparked conflicts between residents in remote, resource-rich areas and industries such as mining, logging and agribusinesses.

“The murders that are going unpunished in remote mining villages or deep within rainforests are fuelled by the choices consumers are making on the other side of the world." -- Billy Kyte.

Among the most dangerous regions for environmental activists is Latin America, where over 60 percent of killings in 2015 occurred. In Brazil, 50 environmental defenders were killed, the world’s highest death toll.

A majority of the murders in Brazil took place in the biodiverse Amazon states where the encroachment of ranches, agricultural plantations and illegal loggers has led to a surge in violence.

The report stated that criminal gangs often “terrorise” local communities at the behest of “timber companies and the officials they have corrupted.”

The most recent murder was of Antônio Isídio Pereira da Silva, the leader of a small farming community in the Amazonian Maranhão state. Isídio suffered years of assassination attempts and death threats for defending his land from illegal loggers and other land grabbers. Despite appeals, he never received protection and police have never investigated his murder.

Indigenous communities, who depend on the forests for their livelihood, particularly bear the brunt of the violence. Almost 40 percent of environmental activists killed were from indigenous groups.

Eusebio Ka’apor, member of the Ka’apor indigenous tribe living in Maranhão state, was shot and killed by two hooded men on a motorbike. He led patrols to monitor and shutdown illegal logging on the Ka’apor ancestral lands.

One Ka’apor leader told Survival International, an indigenous human rights organisation, that loggers have said to them that it is better to surrender the wood than let “more people die.”

“We don’t know what to do, because we have no protection. The state does nothing,” the leader said.

Thousands of illegal logging camps have been set up across the Amazon to cut down valuable timber such as mahogany, ebony and teak. It is estimated that 80 percent of timber from Brazil is illegal and accounts for 25 percent of illegal wood on global markets, most of which is sold to buyers in the United States, United Kingdom and China.

“The murders that are going unpunished in remote mining villages or deep within rainforests are fuelled by the choices consumers are making on the other side of the world,” Kyte stated.

Kyte also pointed to a “growing collusion” between corporate and state interests and high levels of corruption as reasons for the attacks on environmental defenders.

This is reflected through the ongoing corruption case involving the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam which continued despite concerns over the project’s environmental and community impact and was used to generate over $40 million for political parties.

Even in the face of a public scandal, Kyte noted that environmental legislation has continued to weaken in the country.

The new interim Brazilian government, led by former Vice President Michel Temer, has proposed an amendment that would diminish its environmental licensing process for infrastructure and development mega-projects in order to revive Brazil’s faltering economy.

Currently, Brazil has a three-phase procedure where at each step, a project can be halted due to environmental concerns.

Known as PEC 65, the amendment proposes that industries only submit a preliminary environmental impact statement. Once that requirement is met, projects cannot be delayed or cancelled for environmental reasons.

The weakening of key human rights institutions also poses a threat to the environment and its defenders.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), whose goal is to address and investigate human rights issues in Latin America, is currently facing a severe funding deficit that could lead to the loss of 40 percent of its personnel by the end of July, impacting the ability to continue its work. It has already suspended its country visits and may be forced to halt its investigations.

Many countries in Latin America have halted financial support to the commission due to disputes over investigations and findings.

In 2011, IACHR requested that Brazil “immediately suspend the licensing” for the Belo Monte project in order to consult with and protect indigenous groups. In response, the Brazilian government broke off ties with IACHR by withdrawing its funding and recalling its ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS), which implements IACHR.

“It’s a huge crisis,” Kyte told IPS.

While speaking to the Human Rights Council in May, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein also expressed concern over budget cuts to IACHR, stating: “When the Inter-American Commission announces it has to cut its personnel by forty percent – and when States have already withdrawn from it and the Inter-American Court…then do we really still have an international community? When the threads forming it are being tugged away and the tapestry, our world, is unravelling? Or are there only fragmented communities of competing interests – strategic and commercial – operating behind a screen of feigned allegiance to laws and institutions?”

He called on member states to defend and financially support the commission, which he noted was an “important strategic partner and inspiration for the UN system.”

In its report, Global Witness urged Brazil and other Latin American governments to protect environmental activists, investigate crimes against activists, expose corporate and political interests that lie behind the persecution of land defenders, and formally recognize land and indigenous rights.

Kyte particularly highlighted the need for international investigations to expose the killings of environmental activists and those responsible for them.

He pointed to the murder of Berta Cáceres, an environmental and indigenous leader in Honduras, which gained international attention and outrage.

“It’s a positive step that because of international outrage, the Honduran government was compelled to arrest these killers,” he said.

“If we can push for an international investigation into her death, which I think is the only way that the real criminal masterminds behind her death will be held to account, then that could act as an example for future cases,” Kyte concluded.

In March, Cáceres, who campaigned against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, was shot in her home by two armed men from the Honduras’ military.

A whistleblower alleges that Cáceres was on a hit list given to U.S.-trained units of the Honduran military.

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An Elite Club of Suicide Bombershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/an-elite-club-of-suicide-bombers-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=an-elite-club-of-suicide-bombers-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/an-elite-club-of-suicide-bombers-2/#comments Tue, 21 Jun 2016 16:50:10 +0000 Editor Dawn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145729 By Editor, Dawn, Pakistan
Jun 21 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

It is always baffling, isn’t it, to see the yawning difference in our responses in South Asia to a gathering communal threat, for instance, as opposed to the catastrophic prospect of nuclear annihilation? Only recently, Pakistan toggled between public outcry and terrified whispers when teeming mourners showed up at the funeral of an executed religious zealot, the savage killer of a popular provincial governor.

57682f60102e5_In India, the sight of glistening, unsheathed swords or trishuls used to disembowel helpless people, as happened in Gujarat in 2002, evokes outrage from the middle classes among others. The remorseless lynching of men, women and children and an almost formulaic public gang rape of women that accompanies such abhorrent outings fill us with horror. It all horrifies us because we abhor bloodshed and hurting innocents. We are outraged because we see the rule of law collapsing; we see injustice ruling, where women bear the brunt of a hideous mob.

Remember the piles of bodies on military trolleys in Jaffna? They included the sexually tortured cadavers of women from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. We acknowledged at the time that though the LTTE included ruthless killers in its ranks, the military response was even more inhuman. Some of the cases we petitioned before international arbiters.

The middle classes that quake at the thought of gore and fascist hordes seem incorrigibly sanguine about a nuclear calamity.

So one thing is clear. We abhor bloodshed or at least most of us do. We are not inclined to accept organised mass rape or torture and targeted lynching as an occurrence we have to learn to live with. In fact, even laden with our unending grief and sorrow, as glimpsed in the case of Zakia Jafri and her doughty supporter, Teesta Setalvad, we want the severest retribution for our killers but not capital punishment.

What goes wrong when it comes to the prospect of nuclear annihilation? Why do we go silent or even appear indifferent? The middle classes that quake at the thought of gore and fascist hordes seem incorrigibly sanguine about a nuclear calamity. The cavalier way in which we behave towards our own or someone else’s nuclear arsenal is clearly not the standard global response to weapons of mass destruction, not even to nuclear power. Are we thus behaving like the third world that we are, people who are so busy warding off starvation and so on, that we don’t have the time or inclination to reflect on a major existential issue? Or is it because very few among us believe that a nuclear exchange, say between India and Pakistan, or between India and China, is really possible?

Examine: India joining NSG will escalate nuclear race in South Asia: US senator

We hear ever so often from nation-first analysts who try to assure us that the concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD) is adequate to deter a nuclear war. If Pakistan, for example, targets India then Pakistan would be made extinct by India, or so goes the doctrine. In which case the world should relax. There cannot be war. Yet there is that lingering doubt. What if the Pakistani ruler or the man with the trigger control says enough is enough, it’s time for all the faithful to go to heaven? And he or they pull the trigger? This is a common and pervasive fear across the world. North Korea could do it. Vladimir Putin could. Donald Trump, if he succeeds in his presidential bid will only be a shade more fraught than Hillary Clinton in posing a global threat. That’s a given.

In the cluster of those that are genuinely sensitive to the ticking of the Doomsday Clock are New Zealand and South Africa. They have opposed the US-backed move to include India in the elite club called NSG, the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

But why should India or Pakistan or Israel, which would be the ultimate beneficiary of the current dogfight between India and Pakistan over the NSG bone, be indulged? What does it signal to the rest of the world — that we are ready to honour two more or possibly three new members to the elite club of suicide bombers? That is what they are, nothing less. Suicide bombers. How are they different — the so-called P5 from those that wear belts to blow up people? To suggest that India’s participation in the club of bombers would make the world more stable or secure is to ignore history. The NSG was barely a decade old in 1983 when the presence of mind of a Soviet officer manning the early warning system prevented a nuclear war and thereby the end of the world. India and Pakistan will not have the luxury of the time gap that may have saved us in 1983.

Read: Nuclear leak in Gujarat may be more serious than the Indian government is claiming

That doesn’t answer the question though. Why are we in South Asia, laden with the potential to destroy ourselves many times over, so blasé about the issue? One Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union sent shivers down the spine of the world. I was in Tokyo the day the Fukushima calamity took place in Japan. It was scary. But I have to say something about the discipline of the Japanese, the way they trooped out of their offices and schools and homes and forded through the crisis without treading on the toes of the person next to them.

The mile-long lines to the telephone booths moved steadily, with everyone sure they would get their chance to send a message to their folks. Consider the melee that occurs in our patch at the drop of a hat. So many crushed in a stampede in such and such religious fair. Can we even begin to imagine the stampede if and when a nuclear calamity takes place? It rained exploding missiles at a military arms depot in Maharashtra the other day. It was an accident. There have been several close calls at our nuclear facilities as well. That somehow doesn’t frighten us as much as fidayeen suicide bombers and unsheathed swords do. Why?

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi. jawednaqvi@gmail.com

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Islamic State: Foreign Fighter Trendshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/islamic-state-foreign-fighter-trends/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=islamic-state-foreign-fighter-trends http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/islamic-state-foreign-fighter-trends/#comments Tue, 21 Jun 2016 16:06:09 +0000 Syed Mansur Hashim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145726 Photo: snopes.com

Photo: snopes.com

By Syed Mansur Hashim
Jun 21 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Thanks to Edward Snowden dumping sensitive data on to the net, there now exists more accurate estimates on foreign fighters recruited by the Islamic State (IS). Indeed, going by The Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point (United States Military Academy) recently made available a report titled ‘The Caliphate’s Global Workforce: An Inside Look at the Islamic State’s Foreign Fighter Paper Trail’ which provides data of some 4,600 foreign fighters recruited between early 2013 and 2014. This study which is a compilation of 4018 Mujahid Data forms, 2 Excel files (with 155 individuals entered), Exit records (31 files, 431 individuals) and 15 miscellaneous files provide a pattern of recruitment, which interestingly points to something rather disturbing, i.e. Europeans are signing up in alarming numbers, mostly from smaller countries like Belgium and Denmark. We are talking continental Europe here and the IS has successfully recruited from East and West and the Balkans.

What has become clear from the data presented is that the IS recruits from over 70 countries and that means the global workforce IS commands brings with them different skills and capabilities. The educational backgrounds of foreign fighters vary widely and the group has benefitted enormously as most of the fighters have received higher education. This means that the group is actively “head hunting” for more than fighters, it is recruiting “individuals with specific educational, professional, or military backgrounds that might prove useful to the group in the future.” The average age of the foreign fighter is 26-27, but what should be noted here is that IS does not recruit based on age, rather on specific skills sets that these foreign citizens bring to the group. As pointed out in the report, information on 12 individuals born in the ’50s (two apparently are French citizens) “demonstrated relatively significant professional experience, to include multiple engineers, teachers, business owner, and a government employee (from Saudi Arabia).

All this points to IS’s efforts to recruit more than suicide bombers. We are looking at a divergent group of people who have skills linked to governance, business aptitude and technical knowhow. The IS has recruited heavily amongst people with IT background, especially those having media and communications background, which include amongst others, having knowledge in computer design and engineering, networks, programming, telecommunications, and website design. This would explain the savvy propaganda material coming out of the IS social media factory that make even the most gruesome acts of terror appealing or horrifying depending on the audience.

The IS has “facilitators” who travel widely to recruit. The data presented provides the name of top five border facilitators, viz. Abu-Muhammad al-Shimali who facilitated some 31 percent of all foreign fighter recruits (1,306) and the other four Abu-al-Bara’ al Shimali, Abu-Mansur al-Maghribi, Abu-Ilyas al-Maghribi and Abu-‘Ali-al-Turki combined recruiting some 637 fighters. The US government has offered a US$5 million reward for al-Shimali who has been identified as the IS’s Border Chief and following the Paris attacks is now chief accused for helping those who carried out the Paris operation to travel to France. Although IS allows for recruits to select their area of preference (suicide, frontline fighter), a mere 12 percent opted for suicide missions and that can perhaps be attributed to the fact that today, IS commands significant territory. By looking at these patterns, it would appear that the Islamic State is looking into the future where the “caliphate” that can successfully be governed. Hence, the shift is away from one-way missions (suicide bomber) to a combat role that allows for greater survivability.

So where does that leave countries at the receiving end of IS’s actions? IS has emerged as the first truly multi-national Islamic militant organisation that can and does strike across continents, many European countries are finding out the hard way that their counter-terrorism efforts are sorely lacking. In the aftermath of the Belgian bombings in March, it took authorities four months to locate Salah Abdeslam in the neighbourhood he grew up in. Belgium’s plight in combating terrorism is not unique. These nations have never faced anything as deadly as the IS which has successfully recruited fighters with prior combat experience, fighters who blend in with the local populace who are well educated and sophisticated in outward appearance.

As government agencies go back to the drawing board, whether in Europe or Asia, the message is clear. There has to be cooperation among agencies and countries. The IS apparently has mobilised some 400 operatives on the European continent. We have little idea of its operations in the Indian subcontinent. And there lies the danger. Bangladesh has been witness to rising militancy problems. Although we are informed there is no IS presence in Bangladesh and the killings have been carried out by our own home-grown outfits, what we should remember is that IS in all respects is the world’s first truly global jihadist movement with recruits from 70 nations. There is no room for complacency when it comes to our national security and it would be ill advised to sit back and relax.

The writer is Assistant Editor, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Unmet Expectationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/unmet-expectations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unmet-expectations http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/unmet-expectations/#comments Mon, 20 Jun 2016 17:49:58 +0000 Umair Javed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145710 By Umair Javed
Jun 20 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Donald Trump’s rise in America, a wave of pro-Brexit and xenophobic sentiment in the UK, mass demonstrations in France and Brazil, a political crisis in South Africa, communal polarisation in India, and religious zealotry coupled with anti-corruption agitation in Pakistan. On the face of it, there’s very little that connects these disparate events. Each appears unique to a country’s history and its contemporary interaction of domestic and global events.

faccione_However, strip away the details, and the names and faces of the actors involved, and a common theme emerges. At the heart of this decade of political crises, marked by conflict and disruption across the world, is a story of unmet expectations.

In 1962, James Davies published an article in the American Sociological Review titled ‘Towards a theory of revolution’. He borrowed the J-Curve model from non-linear mathematics to develop an understanding of why mass social disruptions, such as revolutions, take place.

His answer was that a period of prolonged prosperity followed by a sharp reversal in fortunes creates a crisis of unfulfilled expectations. By triggering sentiments of relative deprivation amongst upwardly mobile population segments, economic shocks or other exogenous factors (such as war) generate anger towards the established political order. In contemporary times, this order rests in the hands of the state and the political elite.

In a world where it takes little effort to see how the wealthy live, expectations from the state will be high.

In the 54 years since this article was published, we know human beings don’t function as angry automatons. Institutions, politicians, and ideological and cultural issues are very important in determining the scale and outcome of public anger and acquiescence. But perhaps there is a kernel of truth in the story of boiling frustrations.

For the last three decades, deindustrialisation and a complementary shift towards the services sector characterises the economies of many high- and low-income countries. The wake of this transformation has left behind a burgeoning mass of underemployed, semi-skilled labour, ruptured communities, and decaying cities. Over the same period, conservative political elites have capitalised on this crisis by shoring up support using scaremongering tactics and cultural markers such as gender roles, religion, and racial and ethnic identity.

Trump, for example, polls highest in areas, and amongst population segments (such as the white working class), ‘left behind’ by economic transformations of the last three decades. Unsurprisingly, these are the same areas where conservative cultural politics by the Tea Party and other radical fringes ran amok for the last two decades. The outcome? A heady combination of protectionist economic populism with visceral hatred towards racial minorities.

In the UK, a legitimate debate over immigration and a prolonged economic downturn has taken on ugly xenophobic contours. At its core, as John Hariss puts it, the anti-EU, anti-immigration movement is tapping into the frustrations of the precariously perched middle and working classes. Its support is loudest amongst those who have no space in London’s glamorous ‘knowledge economy’ and are now left at the mercy of whimsical, short-term employment contracts, a burdened social welfare system, rising house prices, and an increasingly inaccessible path towards social mobility.

The prosperity-followed-by-apocalypse model doesn’t just hold true for the US and UK. Brazil was jerked out of a decade of relatively egalitarian growth by a slump in commodity and oil prices, thus pushing the economy into recessionary free fall. The result is public anger over government corruption, directed towards the now-suspended president, Dilma Rouseff, and her party. The desire for a way out of relative or absolute deprivation has pushed many into the hands of politicians equally (and in some cases, even more) hollow only because they offer some element of change.

Similarly, Imran Khan and PTI are the prime beneficiaries of sentiments of relative deprivation amo-ngst Pakistan’s urban middle classes. As the heady days of consumption and mobility of Musharraf’s era gave way to expensive oil and incompetent governance under the PPP, anger became the most natural response. Even now, as the economy shuffles towards some semblance of stability, the anger hasn’t completely subsided. In a world where it takes very little effort to see how the wealthy live, and how the rest of the world progresses, expectations from the state will always remain high.

To this point, I’ve focused on unmet material expectations because, historically speaking, these have triggered the greatest unrest. However, unmet cultural and moral expectations are also potent factors for agitation. In India, provoked religious sentiment has led to the Hindutva right-wing asserting itself as a victim of Congress-ite secularism and minority appeasement. They now hold a prime seat at the BJP’s table, and will push the government’s supposed developmental agenda into one that caters to their communal demands as well.

For Pakistan, the biggest threat comes from a combination of material and cultural frustrations. The state pays lip service to its Islamic foundation, yet retains a comparatively secular orientation towards governance. Its existing political elite exhibits no intentions of turning the country into a Sharia-compliant state. However, decades of top-down soft-Islamism and cultural propaganda have resulted in an organic demand for a version of faith that stands proudly and violently on its own.

With fundamentalism and communal conflict rampant, the onus is on political elites and activists to construct an alternative cultural worldview that channels away and dilutes some of the moral anger. Similarly, politicians need to do a far better job of managing expectations by being better at delivering services and also by avoiding making unrealistic promises to the electorate.

So far, the country’s authoritarian history — with its patronage-tied political parties and a largely demoblised, cynical population — has acted as an inadvertent bulwark against mass Islamist mobilisation. Yet without adequate safeguards taken on an urgent footing, there is no guarantee that this ossified condition will persist indefinitely.

The writer is a freelance columnist. umairjaved@lumsalumni.pk
Twitter: @umairjav

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Case for Overcoming the Ostrich Syndromehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/case-for-overcoming-the-ostrich-syndrome/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=case-for-overcoming-the-ostrich-syndrome http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/case-for-overcoming-the-ostrich-syndrome/#comments Mon, 20 Jun 2016 17:30:09 +0000 C R Abrar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145707 refugee_day__

By C R Abrar
Jun 20 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The final week of May 2016 was a grisly one. More than 700 asylum seekers and migrants died as three boats attempting to carry them to Italy sunk in the Mediterranean, and the death toll for the year crossed 2000. A week ago, Unicef reported a doubling of the number of unaccompanied children arriving as asylum seekers this year. The report also highlighted that these children are subjected to sexual violence, forced prostitution and other forms of abuse.

UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, informs that, of the 157,574 arrivals in Europe in 2016, 90 percent were from the top 10 refugee producing countries of the world — fleeing war, violence and persecution in their countries of origin, and were in need of international protection. A breakdown of the total reveals almost 90 percent of the cases were from three countries: Syria (49 percent), Afghanistan (25 percent) and Iraq (14 percent). These figures debunk the myth that most are economic migrants, who have left their own countries by choice in search of economic opportunities.

The magnitude and nature of the global refugee situation has changed considerably over the last few decades. It has become increasingly ‘protracted, politicised and complex’. This has made the task of finding a durable solution further challenging.

Evidence is replete that states are not only reluctant to uphold ethical standards of refugee protection, but also that they are actively contributing to the erosion of the principle and practice of asylum. Refugees are increasingly been seen as subjects of charity. There is little acknowledgement that the principle of non-refoulement, the cornerstone of international refugee protection, is now a provision of customary international law, binding even on states that are not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Over time, many Western states, particularly those of Europe, have introduced measures to reduce the number of individuals seeking asylum in their territory through non-arrival policies, diversion policies, an increasingly restrictive application of the 1951 Convention and a range of deterrent policies, such as detention of asylum seekers and the denial of social assistance; on the other hand, some states, like the UK, have openly advocated for dismantling of the 1951 Refugee Convention and instituting of a new international refugee regime, premised on containing of refugees within their region of origin.

This two-facedness of the western states has placed significant burden on asylum countries of the South, especially of Africa and Asia. This, in turn, has led some of the Southern countries to close off their borders to prevent arrivals, push for early and unsustainable return of asylum seekers to the country of origin and, in a few instances, forcibly expel entire refugee populations.

There is little recognition that protracted refugee situations do not remain confined to the host states of the South and have major regional and international implications. A UNHCR commissioned survey on Somali refugees has indicated that the absence of durable solutions and effective international protection in the first country of asylum is a major motive for secondary migratory movements to Europe and elsewhere.

There is a propensity in most quarters to view the refugee problem as a humanitarian problem. However, protracted refugee situations require more than humanitarian engagement. They entail meaningful and sustained engagement of peace, security and development actors. A comprehensive and holistic approach is perhaps the only way forward.

Thus while there is an urgent need to work out creative solutions to the global refugee problems, the international community appears to be hanging on to the old approach, premised on the concept of national security. This has been evident in Europe’s pursuit of Operation Sophia in dealing with the current refugee inflow. The next part of this essay will explicate how ill-conceived the strategy was.

In October 2014, Italy abandoned its ‘search and rescue’ Mare Nostrum operation that prevented mass drowning of asylum seekers in the Mediterranean. This resulted in an increase in the number of deaths of migrants trying to seek asylum in the continent. The demand for re-launching of the operation was met with stiff opposition and, on April 23, 2015, the European Council adopted a British-drafted resolution vowing to “undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy (refugee) vessels”. This was a palpable shift from humanitarian commitments to a military solution. It is worthwhile to note that British fascist Nick Griffin made the proposal five years earlier.

The European border agency Frontex reported that since its adoption 14 vessels have been destroyed and 69 ‘suspected smugglers’ were apprehended. The strategy was modelled to impede the human smuggling syndicates and limit the opportunities for would be refugees to flee to Europe. There is a little evidence that the new strategy worked at all. In the period from September 2015 to January 2016, the marginal drop of 9 percent in the Mediterranean flow was supplemented by the opening up of the ‘Balkans route’ to Europe. In order to minimise ‘significant financial loss’, the human smugglers amended their business model and replaced expensive wooden or fibre-glass boats by cheap mass produced Chinese inflatable rubber dinghies that have less carrying capacity and are more limited by sea conditions. In addition, as the borders became more challenging to navigate, migrants turned to more sophisticated smugglers to facilitate their crossing.

All these led the UK House of Lords EU Committee to observe, “The Mission (Sophia) does not… in any meaningful way deter the flow of migrants, disrupt the smugglers’ networks, or impede the business of people smuggling on the Mediterranean route”. The House of Lords report quotes Amnesty International’s Steve Symonds that the EU’s reinforcement of external borders policing had brought about “the movement of ever larger number of people around different routes by different journeys, usually at greater danger and cost to them, and so of greater profit to smugglers”. The opening sentence of the report quoted Peter Roberts of the Royal United Services Institute, “migrants in the boat are symptoms, not causes, of the problem”.

The challenge, therefore, for the international community is to acknowledge that refugees constitute an overwhelming bulk of the flow and they are fleeing protracted conflict conditions that needs urgent political solution. Pursuing unworkable policies would only be acting like an ostrich.

Recently displaying a life jacket used by a Syrian girl who died while trying to reach the Greek island of Lesbos to a group of youngsters, Pope Francis explained, “Migrants are not a danger – they are in danger”. It’s time the policy makers of Western nations paid heed to the pontiff.

The writer teaches International Relations at the University of Dhaka. He writes and researches on rights and migration issues.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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The Paradox of Refuge: Rise of Gender-Based Violence in Times of Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/the-paradox-of-refuge-rise-of-gender-based-violence-in-times-of-crisis-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-paradox-of-refuge-rise-of-gender-based-violence-in-times-of-crisis-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/the-paradox-of-refuge-rise-of-gender-based-violence-in-times-of-crisis-2/#comments Mon, 20 Jun 2016 15:59:48 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145705 A Syrian refugee woman. In spite of the fact that women and girls make  up over half of the world's 18 million refugees, little attention or  resources have been dedicated to meeting their needs. Although all  refugees face health and security risks, women are susceptible to  additional problems such as violence as a result of their gender. Credit: IPS

A Syrian refugee woman. In spite of the fact that women and girls make up over half of the world's 18 million refugees, little attention or resources have been dedicated to meeting their needs. Although all refugees face health and security risks, women are susceptible to additional problems such as violence as a result of their gender. Credit: IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Jun 20 2016 (IPS)

Since the outbreak of war in 2011, 9 million Syrians have fled from their homeland, creating one of the gravest migrant crisis’ the world has ever seen. However, what happens to these vulnerable migrants once they secure the refuge they so perilously seek? Can refuge really bring safety to all? Or is ‘the refugee camp’ nothing more than the creation of another war, in this case, fought against one’s own troubled people. Particularly, for those who are traditionally stigmatized, such as women and girls.

In Lebanon, many Syrian women and girls bear the burden of the trauma their communities now carry. From the witnessing of ruthless warfare to the relentless struggle to secure a place of refuge, emotional scars run deep within the displaced psyche. As a result, many have identified a rise in intimate partner violence (IPV), early marriage and survival sex since arriving at the camps. In many cases, women and young girls have been used as commodities, providing sexual favours to men in order to cover the cost of living for their families. As one refugee explained in a focus group discussion , “And if you want help from other NGOS’ you should send your daughter or your sister or sometimes your wife, with full make-up on so you can get anything, I think you understand me”. (*)

The increase of domestic and sexual violence within these temporary settlements is not unique to the Syrian refugee crisis. With over 18 million of the refugee population being made up by women and girls, the increase of gender-based violence within these communities is a critical global issue. In spite of its severity, little attention is paid to the plight of refugee women and their struggle for safety. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees states that data on violence against women, are few and limited in scope. In most refugee camps, there is no effective reporting system, and there is still uncertainty about how to respond to such reports from victims, which in turn, leaves them with little or no protection, and more susceptible to acts of sexual and domestic violence.

As one Palestinian refugee commented on the conditions for females in the Bourj al-Barajneh refugee camp between 2003-2006 “It was better during the war“.(**) According to Nduna S. Goodyear, refugees, especially women, are made vulnerable to violence at every stage of their quest for safety. Reports of Burundi refugee women in the established camp of Kenembwa in Tanzania recounted acts of violence perpetrated by policemen, soldiers, fellow refugees and husbands, with one woman even describing a case of rape by a nongovernmental security staff member within the camp. In a survey conducted by the International Rescue Committee, 79% of the Afghan women interviewed reported being beaten by their husbands in a refugee camp in Pakistan. Jeff Crisp’s study on the security in Kenya’s refugee camps describes one case of a woman and her infant who were detained for seven days in a cell her offense; being found guilty of committing adultery. These are amongst the few examples of the thousands of gender-based acts of violence being committed on a daily basis in refugee camps everywhere.

Experts say the root cause of this violent epidemic which targets women in refugee settlements links back to masculinity. In what is known as “heightened male vulnerability” caused by bearing witness to torture, violence and rape many men feel helpless and isolated. As a result, they suffer from low self-esteem, stemming from the failure to protect their families, which, in turn, leads them to assert a negative form of masculinity upon relatives and other female refugees in the camps. Their feelings of powerlessness and frustration are reflected in the beatings, rape and other forms of violence they perpetrate against women. Ghida Anani recorded one Syrian man’s description of senseless violence against his wife “When my wife asks me for vegetables or meat to prepare food, I hit her. She does not know why she was hit, neither do I”.(***) In this sense, The wounds of war are still freshly open for these displaced men, whose defeated psyches have resulted in grave implications on their female counterparts.

Although many international organizations have been working on reducing gender-based violence in refugee camps across the world, many have proved ineffective due to the decentralized nature of their services. With limited resources, a lack of information and a rising number of unreported cases of sexual and domestic violence, the future looks grim for displaced women and girls, the most vulnerable group in these communities plagued by feelings of anger and loneliness. It is clear that if these pressing issues of gender violence continue to be kept in the shadows, millions of refugee women and girls will never obtain the information provision, awareness raising, and health and psychological services they so desperately need.

 

(*) Roula El Masri, Clare Harvey and Rosa Garwood, Shifting Sands: Changing gender roles among refugees in Lebanon, ABAAD- Resource Center for Gender Equality and OXFAM, 2013. http://tinyurl.com/Oxfam-ABAAD-ShiftingSands-2013

(**) Latif, Nadia. ‘It was better during the war': narratives of everyday violence in a Palestinian refugee camp. Feminist Review, 2012http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/41495231.pdf?_=1466432873876

(***) Roula El Masri, Clare Harvey and Rosa Garwood, Shifting Sands: Changing gender roles among refugees in Lebanon, ABAAD- Resource Center for Gender Equality and OXFAM, 2013. http://tinyurl.com/Oxfam-ABAAD-ShiftingSands-2013

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Fences and Walls: A Short-sighted Response to Migration Fears?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fences-and-walls-a-short-sighted-response-to-migration-fears/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fences-and-walls-a-short-sighted-response-to-migration-fears http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fences-and-walls-a-short-sighted-response-to-migration-fears/#comments Mon, 20 Jun 2016 14:16:09 +0000 Andrew MacMillan and Jose Graziano da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145688 José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Andrew MacMillan, former Director of Field Operations. ]]> Refugees at the Greek-Macedonian border near the town of Idomeni. Credit: Nikos Pilos/IPS

Refugees at the Greek-Macedonian border near the town of Idomeni. Credit: Nikos Pilos/IPS

By Andrew MacMillan and José Graziano da Silva
ROME, Jun 20 2016 (IPS)

European nations from which millions once left to escape hardship and hunger – Greece, Ireland, Italy – are today destinations for others doing the same.

Many people are on the move. The really big numbers relate to rural-urban migration in developing countries. In 1950, 746 million people lived in cities, 30 percent of the world’s population. By 2014, urban population reached 3.9 billion (54 percent).

By comparison, about 4 million migrants have moved into OECD countries each year since 2007.(*) And 60 percent of Europe’s 3.4 million immigrants in 2013 came from other European Union member states or already held EU citizenship. Those from outside amounted to less than 0.3 percent of the EU’s population.

Conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, along with the breakdown of law or of freedom in Libya, Eritrea, Somalia and South Sudan, have catalyzed a surge in asylum seekers – whose numbers climbed to 800,000 in OECD countries alone in 2014 and who, under international law, must be protected.

Growing apprehension in some recipient countries has led to calls for fences and walls to cut migrant flows. Barriers, however, are costly, can be circumvented, and are all too reminiscent of the restrictions on liberty from which many migrants are seeking refuge.

The urge for a better life is the main driving force for migration, both local and international. People are “pulled” by the belief that better prospects exist elsewhere. As mobile phones and internet access have reached the remotest corners of the world, such beliefs have proliferated.

For those countries wishing to reduce cross-border migratory pressures, the best option is probably to address the root causes. This entails actions that foster peace and security where there is conflict and oppression. It also implies closing the widening gaps in living standards, both between nations and between rich and poor in the countries that economic migrants are leaving.

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

Some destination countries have cut social security allowances for new arrivals in a bid to reduce their attraction. But more fundamental policy shifts in wealthier societies towards deterring their own people’s most conspicuous consumption behavior are needed. This will not be easy. It could involve having consumers meet the full costs of the environmental and social damage incurred in the production and use of what they buy.

Extreme poverty is found mainly in rural communities, where most internal migration begins. Poverty is not simply a matter of low incomes but also of limited access to adequate housing, clean water, energy, decent education and health services. On almost every score, rural people are worse off than city dwellers and also more vulnerable to shocks. Paradoxically, the incidence of hunger and malnutrition is highest in the very communities that produce much of the world’s food.

Urbanization seems bound to further widen these gaps. Cash remittances sent by first-generation local and international migrants to their relations back home help, but are usually modest in scale.

Policies to eliminate rural poverty must respond to locally expressed priorities for improved access to infrastructure and public services, including competent and honest local government institutions. They also need to include social protection programmes, ideally based on regular and predictable cash transfers to the poorest households, ensuring that all people are, at the very least, able to eat healthily and cope with periods of shortages.

The European Union has endorsed the principle of addressing the root causes of migration from Africa to Europe and, at a November 2015 summit in Malta, declared that investing in rural development is a priority. However, the EU’s nearly 30 members approved only EUR1.8 billion in extra resources. This is trivial, given the scale of poverty. It is about a quarter of what they offered Turkey to stem the flow of migrants into Europe.

Andrew MacMillan

Andrew MacMillan

Much greater funding is warranted. This is explicitly acknowledged in last September’s unanimous endorsement by all governments of the UN-brokered Sustainable Development Goals, including the eradication of poverty and hunger by 2030. Apart from being morally correct, this will reduce the conflicts that often drive international migration in the first place.

The link between the reduction of extreme deprivation and peace was acknowledged by FAO’s founders in 1945 when they wrote:
“Progress towards freedom from want is essential to lasting peace, for it is a condition of freedom from the tensions, arising out of economic maladjustment, profound discontent, and a sense of injustice which are so dangerous in the close community of modern nations.” (**) FAO today is guided by these principles in its ongoing work in rebuilding food security and creating greater resilience in countries torn apart by conflict.

Remittances and aid can help reduce inequalities but a more sustainable way of closing the urban-rural gap is offered by fairer trading in food, the main saleable output of most rural communities. When consumers begin to pay food prices that reward producers fairly for their investments, skills, risk exposure and labour, and for their responsible stewardship of natural resources, the market can become the main vehicle for eradicating the extreme deprivation and hunger that “push” migration. (***)

This move towards fairer food prices would be a first step towards harnessing the great power offered by the processes of globalization to create a world in which all people know they can, through their work, lead a decent life even when they choose to live where they were born.

 

(*) See OECD (2015), International Migration Outlook 2015, OECD Publishing, Paris

(**) See United Nations Interim Committee on Food and Agriculture, The Work of FAO, Washington DC, 1945

(***) Contrary to most predictions, the food price rises of 2008 and 2011 reduced extreme poverty in the long term in both rural and urban communities. See Headey, D., Food Prices and Poverty Reduction in the Long Run, IFPRI Discussion Paper 01331, Washington DC, 2014

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Children of a Lesser God: Trafficking Soars in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/children-of-a-lesser-god-trafficking-soars-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-of-a-lesser-god-trafficking-soars-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/children-of-a-lesser-god-trafficking-soars-in-india/#comments Mon, 20 Jun 2016 11:57:59 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145678 Children from rural areas and disempowered homes are ideal targets for trafficking in India and elsewhere. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Children from rural areas and disempowered homes are ideal targets for trafficking in India and elsewhere. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jun 20 2016 (IPS)

Sunita Pal, a frail 17-year-old, lies in a tiny bed in the women’s ward of New Delhi’s Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. Her face and head swathed in bandages, with only a bruised eye and swollen lips visible, the girl recounts her ordeal to a TV channel propped up by a pillow. She talks of her employers beating her with a stick every day, depriving her of food and threatening to kill her if she dared report her misery to anybody.

“I worked from 6am until midnight. I had to cook, clean, take care of the children and massage the legs of my employers,” Sunita recounts to the journalist, pain writ large on her face. “In exchange, I got only two meals and wasn’t even paid for the six months I worked at the house. When I expressed a desire to leave, I was beaten up.”

Sunita is one of the fortunate few who got rescued from her hell by an anti-slavery activist and is now being rehabilitated at a woman’s home in Delhi. But there are millions of Sunitas across India who continue to toil in Dickensian misery for years without any succour. Trafficked from remote villages to large cities, they are and sold as domestic workers to placement agencies or worse, at brothels. Their crime? Extreme poverty and illiteracy.

The Global Slavery Index released recently by the human rights organisation Walk Free Foundation states that globally, India has the largest population of modern slaves. Over 18 million people are trapped as bonded labourers, forced beggars, sex workers and child soldiers across the country. They constitute 1.4 percent of India’s total population, the fourth highest among 167 countries with the largest proportion of slaves. The survey estimates that 45.8 million people are living in modern slavery globally, of which 58 percent are concentrated in India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan.Between 2011 and 2013, over 10,500 children were registered as missing from Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest tribal states.

Grace Forrest, co-founder of the Australia-based foundation, told an Indian newspaper that all forms of modern slavery continue to exist in India, including inter-generational bonded labour, forced child labour, commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging, forced recruitment into non-state armed groups and forced marriage.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), trafficking of minor girls — the second-most prevalent trafficking crime in India – has surged 14 times over the last decade. It increased 65 percent in 2014 alone. Girls and women are the primary targets of immoral trafficking in India, comprising 76 percent of all human trafficking cases nationwide over a decade, reveals NCRB.

As many as 8,099 people were reported to be trafficked across India in 2014. Selling or buying girls for prostitution, importing them from a foreign country are the most common forms of trafficking in India, say experts. Sexual exploitation of women and children for commercial purposes takes place in various forms including brothel-based prostitution, sex-tourism, and pornography.

Last year, the Central Bureau of Investigation unearthed a pan-India human trafficking racket that had transported around 8,000 Indian women to Dubai. Another report about a man who trafficked 5,000 tribal kids from the poor tribal state of Jharkhand also caught the public eye.

Equally disconcerting are thousands of children which go missing from some of India’s hinterlands. Between 2011 and 2013, over 10,500 children were registered as missing from Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest tribal states. They were trafficked into domestic work or other forms of child labour in cities. Overall , an estimated 135,000 children are believed to be trafficked in India every year.

Experts point to the exponentially growing demand for domestic servants in burgeoning Indian cities as the main catalyst for trafficking. A 2013 report by Geneva-based International Labour Organization found that India hosts anywhere from 2.5 million to 90 million domestic workers. Yet, despite being the largest workforce in the country, these workers remain unrecognized and unprotected by law.

This is a lacuna that a national policy in the pipeline hopes to address. Experts say the idea is to give domestic workers the benefits of regulated hours of work with weekly rest, paid annual and sick leave, and maternity benefits as well entitlement of minimum wages under the Minimum Wages Act of 1948.

“Once these workers come under the ambit of law,” explains New Delhi-based human rights lawyer Kirit Patel, “it will be a big deterrent for criminals. But till then, domestic workers remain easy targets for exploitation.”

Despite growing awareness and media sensitization, however, registered human trafficking cases have spiralled up by 38.3 percent over five years from 2,848 in 2009 to 3,940 in 2013 as per NCRB. Worse, the conviction rate for such cases has plummeted 45 percent, from 1,279 in 2009 to 702 in 2013.

Not that human trafficking is a uniquely Indian phenomenon. The menace is the third-largest source of profit for organised crime, after arms and drugs trafficking involving billions of dollars annually worldwide, say surveys. Every year, thousands of children go missing in South Asia, the second-largest and fastest-growing region in the world for human trafficking after East Asia, according to the UN Office for Drugs & Crime.

To address the issue of this modern-day slavery, South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation recently held a conference on child protection in New Delhi. Ministers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan and the Maldives agreed to jointly combat child exploitation, share best practices and common, uniform standards to address all forms of sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking.

One of the pioneering strategies adopted at the conference was to set up a toll-free helpline and online platform to report and track missing children. “We need to spread the message to support rescue efforts and rehabilitate victims. With the rapid advance of technology and a fast-changing, globalized economy, new threats to children’s safety are emerging every day,” said India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh at the conference.

Rishi Kant, one of India’s leading anti-trafficking activists, says it all boils down to prioritizing the issue. “For poor Indian states, providing food, shelter and housing assume far greater importance than chasing traffickers. Besides, many people don’t even see trafficking as a crime. They feel it’s an opportunity for impoverished children to migrate to cities, live in rich homes and better their lives!”

Initiatives like anti-trafficking nodal cells — like the one under the Ministry of Home Affairs — can be effective deterrents, say experts. The ministry has also launched a web portal on anti-human trafficking, while the Ministry of Women and Child Development is implementing a programme that focuses on rescue, rehabilitation and repatriation of victims.

But the best antidote to the menace of human trafficking, say experts, is a stringent law. India’s first anti-trafficking law — whose draft was unveiled by the Centre recently — recommends tough action against domestic servant placement agencies who hustle poor children into bonded labour and prostitution. It also suggests the formation of an anti-trafficking fund.

The bill also makes giving hormone shots such as oxytocin to trafficked girls (to accelerate their sexual maturity) and pushing them into prostitution a crime punishable with 10 years in jail and a fine of about 1,500 dollars. Addressing new forms of bondage — such as organised begging rings, forced prostitution and child labour — are also part of the bill’s suggestions.

Once the law is passed, hopefully, girls like Sunita will be able to breathe a little easier.

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Combating Rape Requires Cultural Change in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/combating-rape-requires-cultural-change-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=combating-rape-requires-cultural-change-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/combating-rape-requires-cultural-change-in-brazil/#comments Fri, 17 Jun 2016 17:22:16 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145671 “No more rapes, everyone against the 33” reads a sign in a Jun. 8 mass protest by women in the city of São Paulo. Demonstrations against Brazil’s sexist culture have mushroomed around the country, after the global outrage caused by the gang rape of a teenager by 33 men. Credit: Paulo Pinto/AGPT

“No more rapes, everyone against the 33” reads a sign in a Jun. 8 mass protest by women in the city of São Paulo. Demonstrations against Brazil’s sexist culture have mushroomed around the country, after the global outrage caused by the gang rape of a teenager by 33 men. Credit: Paulo Pinto/AGPT

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 17 2016 (IPS)

The outrage in Brazil over the gang-rape of a 16-year-old girl by more than 30 men prompted mass protests by thousands of women on the streets of cities around the country, while activists complain that the response to the case by politicians has been misfocused.

The first reaction by the government, in the face of the national outcry, was to create a new women’s protection unit to support the public security forces. Critics say the policy is completely police-oriented and merely focused on stepping up law enforcement.

Rio de Janeiro state Governor Francisco Dornelles said he was in favour of executing rapists, even though capital punishment is actually prohibited by the Brazilian constitution.

The Senate rushed through a proposal to stiffen prison sentences for sexual assault, increasing them by one- or two-thirds when the rape is committed by two or more people. It is now pending approval in the lower house of Congress.

But Sonia Correa, one of the heads of the global organisation Sexuality Policy Watch, said stiffer sentences are not the solution, as shown in India which adopted the death penalty in 2013 for gang rapes or rapes that lead to death.The low rape reporting rates “are due to the fear of what friends, the family, the police or even the judge will think. Social opinion holds that men can’t control their sexual desires, and react to an attractive woman who is all made up and wearing provocative clothing.” -- Marisa Sanematsu

It is a cultural issue, she said. “Society itself has always fomented violence against women,” and a large part of the population blames the victims themselves, Correa added.

There is a perception that violence against women has increased, as a result of the publicity surrounding the rape of the teenage girl, who believes she was drugged at her boyfriend’s house in a Rio de Janeiro favela or slum on Saturday May 21 and woke up in a different house on Sunday May 22, surrounded by the men who apparently raped her.

She said she counted 33 attackers, some of whom were armed, when she regained consciousness. She only went to the police days later, after several of the men posted a video and photos of the rape on the social networks.

The police officer put in charge of the case was replaced for not taking her account seriously.

As a result of the public uproar and the evidence, a new lead investigator was named and the case was put in the hands of a police unit that specialises in crimes against children and adolescents, which accepted the video as proof of the rape. Using the video, several suspects were identified, and two have been arrested so far.

“The culture of rape has deep roots, nearly geological, and not only in Brazil, where its deepest layers lie in colonisation and slavery, with their male-oriented traditions of controlling the bodies of other people, not only women, but also slaves,” said Correa, an architect with a graduate degree in anthropology.

Brazil’s penal code, which dates to 1940 with subsequent amendments, included sexual assault among crimes against public morals; in other words, rape was an attack against society and the family, not against the woman and her body, she pointed out to IPS.

Not until 2009 was a reform adopted to correct that distortion and include male victims. Before that, only females were considered victims of rape.

The penalties, which range from six to 30 years in prison and are driven up by aggravating factors like physical injuries, death or the young age of the victim, have failed to curb the apparent rise in sexual assaults in this country of 205 million people.

Officially, 50,600 rapes were committed in 2011: 138 a day or one every 10 minutes, according to statistics from the governmental Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA).

But this is estimated to represent just 10 percent of the real number of rapes, which could exceed half a million cases a year. Most victims do not go to the police out of shame, fear of sexist police officers, or ignorance about how to report rape or about the crime itself.

A large part of the cases involve underage victims abused in their own homes by relatives or friends of the family – another major barrier standing in the way of reporting the incidents.

“It’s a tragedy that affects largely black people, who account for 51 percent of rape victims,” although this proportion is probably underestimated, according to Jurema Werneck, a medical doctor who is the coordinator of Criola, a non-governmental organisation that defends the rights of Afro-Brazilian women.

The large number of rapes “has its origin in sexism, but also in patriarchal racism,” because it is “an act of power against those who they see as inferior and powerless, like black women,” she told IPS.

The culture of rape is “a contradiction in the population, which mobilises to protest against an appalling crime, and even wants to lynch the suspects when children are raped, but shows a certain level of tolerance towards sexual violence against women,” said Marisa Sanematsu, contents director at the Patricia Galvão Institute, a local feminist organisation.

The Rio Peace organisation covered the sand on Copacabana beach, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, with blood-red or bloody women’s underwear and giant photos of women’s faces, also bloodied, representing the women who have been murdered in Brazil. Credit: Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil

The Rio Peace organisation covered the sand on Copacabana beach, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, with blood-red or bloody women’s underwear and giant photos of women’s faces, also bloodied, representing the women who have been murdered in Brazil. Credit: Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil

The apparent general condemnation is not reflected in the low rape reporting rates “which are due to the fear of what friends, the family, the police or even the judge will think. Social opinion holds that men can’t control their sexual desires, and react to an attractive woman who is all made up and wearing provocative clothing,” she said.

“A large part of the population thinks there are ‘rapable’ women, who know the risks they’re running and should know how to protect themselves, and shouldn’t expose themselves,” said Sanematsu, who added that society accepts the unequal social roles assigned to males and females.

Gender education, she said, is the best way to prevent and reduce all kinds of violence. But the current trend is to ban it in schools, as the state government did in São Paulo, Brazil’s richest, most populated state.

“Nothing will be achieved unless we attack the roots of the culture of trivialized violence,” which isn’t associated with poverty, but affects all social classes, she said.

To change the culture of rape “the central issue is a new construction of masculinity,” which is now based on “sexual predation,” said Correa.

The growth of conservative forces in Brazilian society, and especially in Congress, worries women’s rights activists.

Congress is studying several bills that would further restrict abortion, which is already illegal, and would restrict the rights gained by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community and unconventional families.

The wave of conservativism was accentuated with the new government of Vice President Michel Temer, who is now acting president due to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.

The old Ministry of Policies for Women, now demoted to a secretariat under the Ministry of Justice, is headed by an evangelical member of the lower house of Congress who has already publicly stated that she is opposed to abortion in case of pregnancy caused by rape, one of the few circumstances in which “therapeutic abortion” is currently allowed.

Temer’s cabinet is the first in years to not include a single woman or black person.

“Dogmatic religious forces are expanding and aim to control the country,” said Correa. They hold a large number of seats in Congress and own media outlets, especially TV stations, where they further their conservative agenda.

 Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The Roots of Misogynyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/the-roots-of-misogyny/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-roots-of-misogyny http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/the-roots-of-misogyny/#comments Thu, 16 Jun 2016 15:05:57 +0000 I.A. Rehman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145656 By I.A. Rehman
Jun 16 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The outpouring of anger and revulsion at the recent spate of murders of young women who tried to exercise their basic rights will go to waste if the causes of increase in such cases are not seriously tackled.

I.A. Rehman

I.A. Rehman

The first thing to be noted about these murders is the escalating level of brutality. The young woman from Murree who was severely tortured before being set ablaze by her closest relatives was punished for refusal to marry against her wishes.

In Kasur a young woman paid with her life for arguing with her husband and the latter was helped by his female relatives to burn her alive.

A woman in Lahore strangulated her daughter for taking a spouse of her choice and then set her on fire. In another incident in a village near Lahore, a man shot dead his daughter for having exercised her right to marry of her free will a year earlier, along with her husband and a bystander.

It has not been possible to make women-friendly laws due to the orthodoxy’s opposition.

Apart from confirming the continued brutalisation of society these incidents reveal a growing intolerance for women’s rights not only among men but also among women themselves.

While civil society organisations, women activists and some politicians have felt outraged, the public outcry has not been as loud as it is sometimes in other cases of violence against women, such as gang-rape under panchayat orders. Obviously, a section of society, including women, has been influenced by the orthodoxy’s opposition to women’s rights to the extent of justifying violence against all those who rebel against unjust constraints.

Oddly enough, in the debate over the surge in violence against women, the remedy is generally sought in developing new legal instruments to punish the culprits. This became abundantly clear from the brief debate in the Senate a week ago, thanks to chairman Raza Rabbani’s decision to suspend the business of the house and invite members to discuss woman-burning. All the members who are reported to have joined the discussion backed the chairman’s call for a strong law to punish the burning of women to death.

The Senate proceedings, though welcome, underscored the limited nature of the debate. First, no member of a religious party is reported to have considered the burning of women worth talking about, and that betrays how far Pakistan’s religio-political elements have gone in their psychopathic hostility towards women. Secondly, except for one senator’s reference to the role of the Council of Islamic Ideology in increasing society’s hostility towards women, the honourable senators seemed reluctant to discuss the causes of the failure of laws to protect women.

It is perhaps not correct to assume that there is no law to deal with burning women to death. The offence is recognised as premeditated homicide punishable by death. What is needed is only a reversal of the process whereby rich criminals or gangsters can escape punishment by forcing the victim family to forgive them.

The real issue is the fact that it has not been possible to make women-friendly laws, nor to fully implement such laws, because of the orthodoxy’s opposition. Only the other day the prime minister’s special assistant for law and human rights revealed how two bills, one on ‘honour killing’ and the other on rape, have been stuck in parliament due to the opposition of a single religio-political party, which is, incidentally, as indispensable an ally of the present government as it was of the previous one.

The seeds of misogyny in Pakistan were sown 66 years ago when the authors of the fundamental rights chapter of the Constitution ignored Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which upholds the right of both women and men to marriage by choice and equal rights of spouses. (The article has been excluded from the fundamental rights chapter in all of Pakistan’s constitutions.) Ever since then, the state has acted on a one-sided understanding with the most obscurantist among the religious lobby that women’s fate will be decided by the latter.

That women’s rights will forever remain subject to the veto of those who abuse religion for political purposes is a proposition the people of Pakistan cannot afford to accept. Their right to challenge the professional clerics’ invocation of religious injunctions cannot be denied. Also, the rise in woman-bashing in Pakistan since the Zia period, to a greater extent than in any other Muslim country, is a question the ulema must ponder over.

The reality is that the combination of patriarchal constraints, feudal emphasis on male supremacy and misogyny has left Pakistani women with little space to even breathe. That the party of Mufti Mahmud, who had backed the Family Laws Ordinance, should be represented by Senator Hamdullah only shows that arrogance has been added to the obscurantist’s armoury.

Unfortunately, the state has failed to convince the religious scholars of the disastrous consequences of a retrogressive interpretation of the scriptures for women, Pakistan society in general, and for Islam itself. One hopes that the few religious authorities who have begun to denounce ‘honour killings’ as un-Islamic will devote more time to converting their community of ulema than informing laymen of their sympathy for women.

However, a vast world of opportunities for women lies beyond the religious rigmarole in which the state has trapped itself; women can be enabled to fulfil their hopes through a strong social force of enlightened women and men. Such a force will surely materialise if women are given weightage in their share of jobs in the education and health sectors, are allowed a leading part in the local bodies, and if their role in policymaking institutions and services, including the judiciary, is progressively enhanced.

Much of this can be done if the state discovers its will to move earnestly against misogyny.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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The Orlando Massacre and the “Muslim Factor”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/the-orlando-massacre-and-the-muslim-factor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-orlando-massacre-and-the-muslim-factor http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/the-orlando-massacre-and-the-muslim-factor/#comments Thu, 16 Jun 2016 14:42:25 +0000 Hasan Ferdous http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145651 By Hasan Ferdous
Jun 16 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

When I first saw the news flash scrolling at the bottom of my TV screen, my first thought was, please God, not another Muslim!

With Donald Trump waging his own “jihad” against Muslims – all Muslims, including those who are American – I was hoping that the shooter was from another religion, any religion but Islam. My hope turned into a nightmare when the shooter was confirmed not only to be a Muslim, but someone who was born in New York and had gone to US schools. Omar Mateen was just a regular guy, it seems, who wore a bandana, loved taking selfies, dated a Pakistani woman, and even occasionally visited the same gay night club where he unleashed his vengeance. He may have been a closeted gay.

Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

Omar was also someone living amidst other Muslims. Some people might have known his darker side and could have stepped in to intervene. Nobody did, and now all Muslims living in the US are guilty by association. We are giving the Donald Trumps of the world a reason to gloat.

There could be a thousand theories to explain what motivated this “homegrown” terrorist to decide one night to gather all his guns and embark on a personal vendetta against a group of people he thought was different and deserved punishment. At the end of the night, his decision to play God left nearly 50 people dead and another 50 or so gravely wounded, and turned every Muslim in the US a marked person. Dana Milbank at the Washington Post has publicly wondered, how long would it be before American Muslims are forced to wear yellow badges featuring the star and crescent?

Donald Trump had already used his “Muslim card” to romp through the Republican primaries and to snatch the party nomination for president. Be fearful of Muslims, he had warned, while demanding a total ban on Muslims entering the US. Now, after Orlando, he is self-congratulating saying, ‘I told you so’.

Like it or not, this “Muslim card” is winning, as Trump’s words are echoing with many Americans. Six months ago, after the San Bernadino shooting carried out by another “homegrown terrorist” and his Pakistani wife, Trump cheerfully explained why he loved these mass shootings. “Whenever there’s a tragedy, my numbers go way up,” Mr. Trump gloated.

This time, he has amped up his attacks on Muslims, and even implicated President Obama, another “Muslim” in his estimation, for enabling such a massacre by refusing to condemn “radical Islam” as the real culprit behind all terror attacks. To many Trump supporters, Obama’s argument that terrorists use a perverted version of Islam to advance their political cause sounds hollow. “Look, he was a Muslim,” they now say, pointing to Mateen’s last minute declaration of allegiance to the so-called Islamic State.

“I told you so,” Trump smiles and gloats.

The wounds are still fresh and many of the dead have not yet been laid to rest, but he is already out there to collect a few extra votes.

Some opinion leaders have tried to redirect the conversation, focusing instead on the need for gun control. In the US, mass shootings – in which at least four people are killed or wounded – take place almost on a daily basis. In 2015, according to a Shooting Tracker Data, there were as many as 372 mass shootings in the US, killing 475 and wounding 1,870. That makes it more than one mass shooting per day throughout the year.

Mateen – who was known to FBI for his radical views – acquired his cache of guns legally. In any other country, in the aftermath of such a mass murder, the obvious action would be to impose stricter gun control, making sure that guns don’t fall into the hands of any deranged person, such as Mateen. Although there is strong support within the country for “common sense gun control”, the gun lobby is too strong and the politicians in Washington, in the view of The New York Times, “too cowardly.” So nothing happens, except for an occasional call for vigilance and prayer.

President Obama and some of his Democratic allies have tried for some common sense gun control measures. He tried again three days ago, after the Orlando shooting. “The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle. This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub,” he told a stunned nation.

Appearing exhausted and even resigned, he somberly said, “We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.”

Clearly, Americans have already chosen the kind of country they want for themselves. They want to remain armed to the teeth. Bearing arms is a sacred right and an expression of their free will, guaranteed by an amendment to the Constitution.

“My numbers go up, way up,” winks Trump and many people clap.

Meanwhile, there has been an outpouring of emotions and expressions of solidarity all across America, beyond all social and cultural boundaries.

While there is no reason for any Muslim to own this dastardly act, it is important that they publicly condemn Mateen and others like him. After all, these attacks are carried out by people who claim to be Muslims and do so in the name of Islam. The Islamic State, for example, quickly claimed responsibility for the Orlando massacre. No sensible and self-respecting Muslim should allow a group of perverts to hijack their religion. Now more than ever before, they must – with every fibre of their being – condemn such mindless killings.

Unfortunately, no leaders of the Muslim world have risen. Not in one Muslim country has there been a public demonstration of protest or solidarity. Yet, the massacre was committed in the name of their religion.

We may now deny but Omar Mateen was our son, growing up in a Muslim family that sympathised with the Taliban. It is also entirely possible that Omar was bipolar and needed help. Shouldn’t the family and members of his own community have been the first to notice this and come together to aid him?

Clearly, they did not do their part.

The time to act is now. We must not allow the self-proclaimed Islamic State and its ideology to enter stealthily into our homes and turn our children into monsters. We cannot and we must not.

The writer is an author and journalist based in New York.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Leaving Saudi Arabiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/leaving-saudi-arabia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=leaving-saudi-arabia http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/leaving-saudi-arabia/#comments Wed, 15 Jun 2016 15:53:22 +0000 Rafia Zakaria http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145634 By Rafia Zakaria
Jun 15 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia is not one pilgrims or foreign tourists normally visit. Set against the Persian Gulf, it is the heart of the kingdom’s oil industry. Unsurprisingly, it is also home to most of its migrant workers whose labour populates this sector.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

Other than migrant workers, mostly Pakistani, Indian, Sri Lankan or from one or another poor labour-exporting nation, the Eastern Province is also home to the majority of Saudi Arabia’s Shia population. Perhaps because of this diverse mix, the province has also been the place where the government has chosen to launch a programme called ‘Ehna al-Ahl’ or ‘We are one family’. According to an article in the Saudi Gazette, this programme, which organises performances in the region’s malls and arranges for the distribution of brochures, is meant to enhance national cohesion and denounce extremism and divisions. The programme is supposed to last throughout the month of Ramazan.

It can be safely assumed, however, that the Pakistanis labouring in the Eastern Province are not part of the ‘one family’ whose cohesion and lack of division is a priority for the kingdom. Among them is Mohammad Ilyas who works as the head of budgeting and finance at a multinational steel company. For several months now, Mr Ilyas has been trying to obtain an exit permit that would enable him to visit Pakistan. As some may remember, a confusing directive by the Saudi government several months ago stated that Pakistani workers living in Saudi Arabia would only be permitted to visit Pakistan once every year. A few weeks later, however, the Saudi government said that the directive had been withdrawn and that Pakistani workers could go back home for visits multiple times as they did in previous years.

The issue of Pakistani workers trapped in Saudi Arabia’s eastern region deserves the urgent attention of both Islamabad and Riyadh.

The renewed permission to leave more than once seems only to apply to Pakistanis in certain parts of the kingdom. In the Eastern Province, which includes the areas of Jubail and Dammam, however, things are far more complicated. As per the kingdom’s latest requirements, workers must apply for the entry/exit permit through the computerised system known as muqeem. However, when Mohammad Ilyas and others in the Eastern Province use it to apply for the permit, the system gives them an error message and asks them to visit the passport office in Jubail in person.

Both Mr Ilyas and his company representative have visited the passport office numerous times. When Mr Ilyas did so, the people at the passport office told him that he was only permitted to visit Pakistan once a year and that if he could not obtain a permit online, he simply could not go home. To add to the humiliation of denied workers like Mr Ilyas, colleagues of different nationalities, including Indians, have no problem obtaining the multiple exit/re-entry permit via the system and can visit home as many times as they wish.

Nor is Mohammad Ilyas alone in this predicament. According to the online forum Life in Saudi Arabia, where numerous overseas Pakistani workers share their issues, many other Pakistanis in the Eastern Province are similarly being denied exit permits to go home. Saudi officials at the passport office either tell them that they must try again online or simply state that no permit will be issued at the office itself. In other cases they are told that they have already visited Pakistan more than once this year and are hence not eligible for an exit permit.

On May 5, the embassy of Pakistan in Riyadh took note of the problem. The press release posted on the embassy’s website says: “The embassy of Pakistan, Riyadh is aware of the fact that some of our nationals face difficulty in obtaining multiple exit/re-entry visa from the passport offices of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The embassy is in constant contact with the concerned authorities to resolve the matter.” In a previous communication issued on April 16, the embassy has stated that it had brought up the issue in writing and in person with the Saudi authorities concerned and was trying its level best to handle the situation.

It is now June 15 and Mohammad Ilyas (who has lived and worked in Saudi Arabia for the past 10 years) and many other Pakistani workers in the Eastern Province continue to be without exit/re-entry permits and are hence unable to leave the kingdom. It is true that the embassy of Pakistan has many issues on its hands. Some weeks ago, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed that over 2,000 Pakistanis are languishing in Saudi jails on various charges. The Pakistani embassy is the only recourse for all of these accused. Add to this the demands of the upcoming Haj season and the ever larger number of pilgrims that wish to travel to Makkah, and you have a small consular staff beset with large problems.

Even so, the issue of Pakistani workers trapped in Saudi Arabia’s eastern region is one deserving the urgent attention of both governments. At the Saudi end, the kingdom’s commitment to the principles of justice and fair treatment, particularly in this, the holiest month of the Muslim calendar, means that they should not entrap Pakistani workers in a situation that is akin to enslavement.

At the Pakistani end, some honest answers must be demanded on the discrepancy between the ‘official’ statements given by the Saudi government’s representatives (ones that state that no restriction exists on the multiple exit/re-entry of Pakistani workers) and the reality via which Pakistani workers are being denied exit.

It is Ramazan now and soon it will be Eid. Pakistan’s workers — forced abroad because of the scant sources of employment at home — should not be permitted to become pawns of a Saudi government that seems to care little about whether or not they can be with their families for the holiday. Workers, it must be remembered, are not slaves chained to their place of employment and must be accorded the very basic right to leave and return.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy. rafia.zakaria@gmail.com

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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