Inter Press ServiceCrime & Justice – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 22 Jan 2018 17:32:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.5 Argentina Continues to Seek Truth and Justice, Despite the Hurdleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/argentina-continues-seek-truth-justice-despite-hurdles/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-continues-seek-truth-justice-despite-hurdles http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/argentina-continues-seek-truth-justice-despite-hurdles/#respond Sun, 21 Jan 2018 22:56:21 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153964 Thirty-four years after Argentina’s return to democracy, more than 500 cases involving human rights abuses committed during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship are making their way through the courts. This high number not only shows that the process of truth and justice is ongoing, but also reflects the delays and the slow process of justice. Since […]

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Outside the courtroom in the city of Buenos Aires, the relatives of victims of the dictatorship and human rights activists watched on a big screen the late November sentencing in the trial for the crimes committed during the de facto regime at the Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA). In the trial, which lasted five years, 29 people were sentenced to life imprisonment. Credit: Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS)

Outside the courtroom in the city of Buenos Aires, the relatives of victims of the dictatorship and human rights activists watched on a big screen the late November sentencing in the trial for the crimes committed during the de facto regime at the Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA). In the trial, which lasted five years, 29 people were sentenced to life imprisonment. Credit: Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS)

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 21 2018 (IPS)

Thirty-four years after Argentina’s return to democracy, more than 500 cases involving human rights abuses committed during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship are making their way through the courts. This high number not only shows that the process of truth and justice is ongoing, but also reflects the delays and the slow process of justice.

Since the human rights trials got underway again in 2003, after amnesty laws were overturned, 200 sentences have been handed down, but 140 of them have been appealed.

This was revealed by a December 2017 report by the Office of the Prosecutor for Crimes against Humanity, which stated that 856 people have been convicted and 110 acquitted.

At the same time, there are another 393 ongoing cases, but 247 are still in the initial stage of investigation of the judicial process, which precedes the oral and public trial.

“The trials for the crimes committed in Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship have been an example for all of humanity, because there has no been no other similar case in the world. And it is very positive that the State is transmitting today the message that the trials are continuing,” Santiago Cantón, former executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), told IPS.Since President Mauricio Macri took office in December 2015, "the dismemberment or cutting of research areas and the emptying of prosecutors’ offices dedicated to these cases has been noted with concern." -- Daniel Feierstein

“However, the delays are serious, because we are talking about defendants who in most cases are over 80 years old,” said Canton, currently Secretary of Human Rights of the province of Buenos Aires, the country’s largest and most populous.

“It is important for everyone for the trials to be completed: so that the accused do not die surrounded by a mantle of doubt, and so that the victims and society as a whole see justice done,” he added.

The dictatorship was responsible for a criminal plan that included the installation of hundreds of clandestine detention, torture and extermination centres throughout the country. According to human rights organisations, 30,000 people were “disappeared” and killed.

After the return to democracy, then president Raúl Alfonsín (1983-1989) promoted the investigation and punishment of crimes. The culminating point was the famous trial of the military junta members, which convicted nine senior armed forces officers.

Thus, in 1985, former General Jorge Videla and former Admiral Emilio Massera, leading figures of the first stage of the dictatorship, the time of the most brutal repression, were sentenced to life in prison.

However, under pressure from the military, Congress passed the so-called Full Stop and Due Obedience laws in 1986 and 1987, which effectively put a stop to prosecution of rights abuses committed during the dictatorship. The circle was closed by then president Carlos Menem (1989-1999), who in 1990 pardoned Videla, Massera and the rest of the imprisoned junta members.

Not until 2001 did a judge declare the two laws unconstitutional, on the argument that crimes against humanity are not subject to amnesties.

That decision marked a watershed, reaffirmed in September 2003, when Congress, at the behest of then President Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), revoked the amnesty laws.

The prosecution of “Dirty War” crimes was then resumed and the last hurdle was removed in 2005, when the Supreme Court ruled that no statute of limitations or pardon applied to crimes against humanity.

“It is very important that since 2003, 200 trials have been carried out, thanks to the effort and commitment of victims and relatives,” said Luz Palmás Zaldúa, a lawyer with the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), the organisation that pushed for the first declaration that the amnesty laws were unconstitutional, in 2001.

Palmás Zaldúa mentioned some trials in particular, such as the one involving Operation Condor, which ended in 2016 with 15 convictions, “in which it was proven that there was a plan of political repression implemented by the dictatorships in the Southern Cone of South America.”

He also highlights the trials involving abuses at the Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA), the dictatorship’s largest detention and torture centre, which ended last November with life sentences for 29 people.

“The so-called death flights, where the founders of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, for example, were thrown (alive) into the River Plate, were proven in those trials,” Palmás Zaldúa told IPS.

The lawyer, however, warned that the process of justice and memory “faces a number of difficulties, which are the responsibility of the three branches of the State.”

CELS was one of the 13 Argentine human rights organisations that denounced, in an October 2017 hearing before the IACHR in Montevideo, that the Argentine government had undermined or dismantled official bodies dedicated to reviewing dictatorship-era documents to provide evidence in the courts.

They also complained that Congress did not put into operation the bicameral commission that was to investigate economic complicities with the dictatorship, created by law in November 2015.

Since President Mauricio Macri took office in December 2015, “the dismemberment or cutting of research areas and the emptying of prosecutors’ offices dedicated to these cases has been noted with concern,” sociologist and researcher Daniel Feierstein told IPS.

In addition, “it would appear that a new judicial climate has been created which has led many courts to easily grant house arrest to those guilty of genocide, significantly increase the number of acquittals, and reject preventive detention at a time when its use is no the rise for less serious crimes,” added Feierstein.

“So the outlook is contradictory, with a process that seems to be ongoing but under changing conditions, which generate great uncertainty,” he said.

The report by the Public Prosecutor’s Office states that of the 2,979 people charged since the cases were resumed in 2003, 1,038 were detained, 1,305 were released, 37 went on the run, and 599 died – 100 after receiving a sentence and 499 while still awaiting sentencing.

A significant fact is that more than half of the prisoners (549) enjoy the benefit of house arrest, which in some cases has aroused strong social condemnation.

“Even if they go home, they are condemned by history, by society and in some cases even by their own families,” stressed Norma Ríos, leader of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDH), in a dialogue with IPS.

“A few years ago, we would never have imagined all this. And perhaps the most important thing is that it has been broadly proven that we were not lying when we denounced the crimes committed by the dictatorship,” she added.

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Groups Condemn U.S. Cuts to Palestinian Refugee Agencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/groups-condemn-u-s-cuts-palestinian-refugee-agency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=groups-condemn-u-s-cuts-palestinian-refugee-agency http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/groups-condemn-u-s-cuts-palestinian-refugee-agency/#comments Fri, 19 Jan 2018 06:04:16 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153938 International organizations have criticized the United States’ decision to cut more than half of planned funding to a UN agency serving Palestinian refugees. This week, the U.S. administration announced that it is withholding 65 million dollars from a planned 125-million-dollar aid package for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). UNRWA serves […]

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Displaced children in a UN-run school in the Shujaiyeh neighbourhood of Gaza.Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 19 2018 (IPS)

International organizations have criticized the United States’ decision to cut more than half of planned funding to a UN agency serving Palestinian refugees.

This week, the U.S. administration announced that it is withholding 65 million dollars from a planned 125-million-dollar aid package for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).

UNRWA serves over 5 million refugees with education, healthcare, social services, and emergency assistance in the Middle Eastern region.

As the U.S. was the agency’s biggest donor, contributing over 350 million dollars in 2017, UNRWA is now facing its biggest financial crisis.

“At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees in need of emergency food assistance and other support…at stake is the access of refugees to primary healthcare including pre-natal care and other life-saving services. At stake are the rights and dignity of an entire community,” said UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl.

“The reduced contribution also impacts regional security at a time when the Middle East faces multiples risks and threats, notably that of further radicalization,” he added.

Former UN Undersecretary General and current Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland noted that the funding cut will have devastating consequences for vulnerable Palestinian refugee children who depend on the agency for their education.

“It will also deny their parents a social safety net that helps them to survive, and undermine the UN agency’s ability to respond in the event of another flare-up in the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict,” he said.

UNRWA provides education to over half of a million boys and girls in 700 schools and manages more than 9 million refugee patient visits at over 140 clinics.

Human Rights Watch’s Deputy UN Director Akshaya Kumar noted that many Palestinian refugees live in poverty, including the majority of those in Syria who require humanitarian assistance to survive.

“Unless other governments fill the gap soon, the U.S. cuts will jeopardize children’s schooling, vaccinations, and maternal health care for refugees,” she said.

Politics Over Humanitarianism?

The Trump administration said that the decision was made as a way to press for unspecified reforms in the agency.

Though the State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the move was not made to pressure Palestinians to enter negotiations, President Donald Trump suggested otherwise in a series of tweets just weeks before the decision.

“We pay the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect…with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” he tweeted.

Kumar pointed out that UNRWA is an aid agency rather than a party to the peace process.

“The administration seems intent on holding them hostage—and ultimately punishing vulnerable Palestinian refugees—as an indirect way to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to join peace talks,” she said.

Head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) U.S. delegation Husam Zomlot echoed similar sentiments, stating that refugees’ access to basic humanitarian services is not a “bargaining chip, but a U.S. and international obligation.”

“Taking away food and education from vulnerable refugees does not bring a lasting and comprehensive peace and [the] rights of Palestinian refugees will not be compromised by a financial decision,” he said.

Egeland also tweeted that cutting aid is a “bad politicization of humanitarian aid.”

UNRWA has long been controversial since its establishment in 1949.

Though it has evolved into a quasi-government, the agency was first set up to temporarily assist those who fled or were forced from their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

However, as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continued, so did UNRWA’s existence.

The agency allows refugee status to be passed down from generation to generation and does not remove people from its list who have gained citizenship elsewhere, contributing to an ever expanding population and questions as to who qualifies as a refugee.

From the approximately 700,000 Palestinians who fled after the 1948 war, there are now over 5.2 million registered refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.

While UNRWA has been criticized for not working to resettle refugees, Israel has not granted refugees the right to return and other countries such as Lebanon have largely denied Palestinians citizenship and access to employment or land.

Even if the funding cut is meant to target Palestinian authorities, many note that vulnerable Palestinian refugees will bear the brunt of the impact as they will be left in a renewed state of limbo.

UNRWA has since launched a global fundraising campaign to try to close its funding gap before it is forced to cut safety-net services.

Donors have begun to step up including the Government of Belgium which pledged 23 million dollars to UNRWA soon after the move was announced.

“For a lot of Palestinian refugees the UNRWA is the last life buoy,” said Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

“Let us draw our strength from the Palestine refugees who teach us every day that giving up is not an option. UNRWA will not give up either,” Krahenbuhl said.

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Caught Between Two Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/caught-two-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caught-two-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/caught-two-countries/#respond Thu, 18 Jan 2018 00:01:36 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153915 Three friends are relaxing in a quiet courtyard. They speak English with a strong American accent and talk about their disadvantaged neighborhoods. Their tattoos depict a rough life on the street. One of them calls Massachusetts home, while the others grew up in Georgia. But home is far away, on the other side of the […]

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Chhean was four years old when he moved to the U.S. His impoverished and traumatised parents ended up in the margins of society. "Life was hard. We were a minority in a minority.”

Chhean was four years old when he moved to the U.S. His impoverished and traumatised parents ended up in the margins of society. "Life was hard. We were a minority in a minority.”

By Pascal Laureyn
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

Three friends are relaxing in a quiet courtyard. They speak English with a strong American accent and talk about their disadvantaged neighborhoods. Their tattoos depict a rough life on the street. One of them calls Massachusetts home, while the others grew up in Georgia.

But home is far away, on the other side of the world. They have been living in Cambodia for a number of years, against their will. They were deported by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to their country of origin, one completely unknown to them. Most have no or little knowledge of the Cambodian language, Khmer."Officially I'm Cambodian, but I don't feel that way. My home country is the U.S. but they don't want me there anymore." --Jock, 49

These American Cambodians belong to a group of more than 500 ‘deportees’ who have been sent back since 2002. They have lived the biggest part of their lives in the U.S. Their parents fled in the eighties, when Cambodia was torn apart by the genocidal Khmer Rouge and the following civil war. Between 1975 (start of the Khmer Rouge) and 1994 (end of the civil war) 158,000 Cambodians were allowed into the U.S.

“I was born in Thailand, in a refugee camp. Before I was deported, I had never visited Cambodia,” explains Chhean* (35). “I didn’t know nothing of this country. I didn’t speak Khmer. I grew in America, I am an American.”

Chhean was four years old when he moved to the U.S. His impoverished and traumatised parents ended up on the margins of society. “Life was hard. We were a minority in a minority. It was a tough time trying to survive, there was a lot of violence. I had to protect myself. That’s how I ended up in a gang.”

“I made bad choices. I was a threat to society. I can’t make no excuses, I can only blame myself.” After Chhean finished his time in prison, he was deported by ICE.

Five Years for a Fistfight

Legal residents in the U.S. who have no citizenship and get convicted for a crime can be sent back to their country of origin. No appeal is possible. The nature of the crime is not taken into account. “Immigration came to my home to detain me,” remembers Jock* (49). “I once got a conviction for a fistfight at school. I was 18. Twenty years later I get deported for a fistfight.”

Jock recounts what happened to him with disbelief. “I have spent five years in a cell, they thought I was an escape risk. Five years! For a fistfight 20 years ago! For years I have been begging them: ‘Please deport me’.” His friend Chhean was also incarcerated before his flight to Cambodia, but ‘only’ for two years.

Jock has been living in Cambodia for six years. He didn’t know the country at all. “I cried a long time when I arrived here. I thought my life was over. Someone who robs a bank is released after 15 years in prison and can start over again. I can’t.”

The deported Cambodians have trouble finding work. This country has a high rate of unemployment. They speak the local language badly and lack the necessary skills. Cambodia has an agrarian economy, but they are city boys. They are also met with distrust. They dress and behave differently. In Cambodian culture, their tattoos are considered signs of serious crimes.

“I worked the first six years in the rice fields. That is simple but hard work. I couldn’t find anything else,” says a deported Cambodian who wishes to stay anonymous. Last year, he acquired a certificate to teach English. He works in a classroom now.

“In the U.S. I worked in construction, but here it makes very little money. So I became a farmer,” explains Jock. “When I’m picking mangos, I can stop thinking.”

Chhean has familiar problems. “When I arrived here, I suffered from panic attacks. And even now I’m not adapted yet. Officially I’m Cambodian, but I don’t feel that way. My home country is the U.S. but they don’t want me there anymore. Now, Cambodia is my ‘land of opportunity’. I have to make the best of it. But I don’t plan big things for my life anymore.”

Lasting Trauma

The U.S. government wants Cambodia to take back more of its ‘lost’ children. That is required by international law when Cambodians are deported. But the government in Phnom Penh is hesitant. These citizens have no sense of the culture and can never really integrate into society. Some have serious mental illnesses, says Jock.

“I know a mental ‘deportee’ in my neighborhood. He walks all day in the middle of the street. He doesn’t realize where he is, he thinks he is still in the U.S. They shouldn’t bring those people here.”

The families that found a new home in the U.S. in the eighties brought few belongings but many war traumas. “My parents survived famine and mass murder,” says the teacher. “They don’t talk about it much. They try to forget.”

Research by the Leitner Center in New York showed that 62 percent of Cambodian refugees in California suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Fifty-two percent had severe depression. Many were in a state of shock and not able to take care of themselves or their children. They ended up in poor neighborhoods where crime was the norm.

For these specific circumstances, psychiatrists and lawyers say that refugees from Cambodia deserve special treatment. But President Donald Trump wants to increase the deportations. Some 1,900 are eligible for deportation, says ICE. In the “Kingdom of Wonder” – as Cambodians call their country – many refugees who return are confronted with alcohol and drug abuse. Many suffer from depression, and at least six deported Cambodians have committed suicide.

“I miss my three children (24, 18 and 13),” says Jock. “I call them once a week. I don’t tell them how I’m doing here. I don’t want them to worry.”

The teacher has a child in the U.S. as well. “I talk to her with Messenger. I can’t do much more. I can miss her as much as I like, it will not change a thing.”

Once deported, there is no way back. They can never visit the country where they grew up ever again. “Hell yeah! I would go back immediately if I could. Not tomorrow but today,” shouts Chhean jokingly.

His friend Jock has another view. “Once you have a criminal record in the U.S. they will never leave you in peace. I don’t want to go back. Period.”

*Last names omitted to protect the sources’ privacy.

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Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-two/#respond Tue, 16 Jan 2018 00:01:45 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153883 With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state. A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of […]

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Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees carry blankets at a camp in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 16 2018 (IPS)

With discussions underway between Bangladesh and Myanmar about the repatriation of more than a half a million Rohingya refugees, many critical questions remain, including how many people would be allowed back, who would monitor their safety, and whether the refugees even want to return to violence-scorched Rakhine state.

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees."Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable." --Caroline Gluck of UNHCR

A high-ranking Bangladeshi foreign ministry official who requested anonymity told IPS, “The Myanmar government has been repeatedly requested to allow access to press and international organisations so they can see the situation on the ground. Unless the world is convinced on the security issues, how can we expect that the traumatized people would volunteer to settle back in their homes where they suffered being beaten, tortured and shot at?”

He says, “The crimes committed by the Myanmar regime are unpardonable and they continue to be disrespectful to the global community demanding access for investigation of alleged genocide by the regime and the dominant Buddhist community.

“The parties who signed the deal need to consider meaningful and effective and peaceful refugee protection. In Myanmar, as a result of widespread human rights abuses, hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country and are living as refugees in camps or settlements also in Thailand and India. The same approach of reconciliation and effective intervention by the international community must be in place.”

A human right activist pointed out that the very people who are to return to Myanmar have no say in the agreement. Their voices are not reflected in the agreement which does not clearly outline how and when would the Rohingyas return home.

Asked about the future of the Rohingyas, Fiona Macgregor, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) spokesperson in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS, “Formal talks on repatriation have been held bilaterally between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar and IOM has not been involved in these.”

“According to IOM principles it is crucial that any such return must be voluntary, safe, sustainable and dignified. At present Rohingya people are still arriving from Myanmar every day who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. IOM continues to focus efforts on supporting the needs of these new arrivals, as well as those who have arrived since August 25, those who were living here prior to August and the local host community in Cox’s Bazar.”

Recently, top brass in the Myanmar regime said that it was “impossible to accept the number of persons proposed by Bangladesh” for return to Myanmar.

The deal outlines that Myanmar identify the refugees as “displaced residents.” Repatriation will require Myanmar-issued proof of residency, and Myanmar can refuse to repatriate anyone. Those who return would be settled in temporary locations and their movements will be restricted. In addition, only Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh after October 2016 will be repatriated.

According to official sources, a meeting of the Joint Working Group supervising the repatriation will be held on January 15 in Myanmar’s capital to determine the field arrangement and logistics for repatriation with a fixed date to start repatriation.

As of January 7, a total of 655,500 Rohingya refugees had arrived in Cox’s Bazar after a spurt of violence against the minority Muslim Rohingya people beginning in August 2016, which left thousands dead, missing and wounded.

Caroline Gluck, Senior Public Information Officer at UNHCR Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, told IPS that the agency is currently appealing for 83.7 million dollars until the end of February 2018 to fund humanitarian operations.

In March, the UN and its partners will launch a Joint Response Plan, setting out funding needs to assist Rohingya refugees and host communities for the 10-month period to the end of the year.

Regarding the repatriation process, Gluck said, “Many refugees who fled to Bangladesh have suffered severe violence and trauma. Some have lost their loved ones and their homes have been destroyed. Any decision to return to Myanmar must be based on an informed and voluntary choice. Three elements of safety – physical, legal and material – must be met to ensure that return is voluntary and sustainable.

“While UNHCR was not party to the bilateral arrangement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, we are ready to engage with the Joint Working Group and play a constructive role in implementing the modalities of the arrangement in line with international standards.”

She added that UNHCR is ready to provide technical support to both governments, including registering the refugees in Bangladesh and to help determine the voluntary nature of their decision to return.

“As the UN Secretary-General has noted, restoring peace and stability, ensuring full humanitarian access and addressing the root causes of displacement are important pre-conditions to ensuring that returns are aligned with international standards.

“Equally important is the need to ensure that the refugees receive accurate information on the situation in areas of potential return, to achieve progress on documentation, and to ensure freedom of movement. It is critical that the returns are not rushed or premature, without the informed consent of refugees or the basic elements of lasting solutions in place.”

Gluck noted that while the numbers of refugees have significantly decreased, their needs remain urgent – for food, water, shelter and health care, as well as protection services and psychosocial help.

“The areas where the refugees are staying are extremely densely populated.  There is the risk of infectious disease outbreaks and fire hazards,” she said. “And, with the rainy season and monsoon rains approaching, we are very concerned at how this population, living in precarious circumstances, will be affected. UNHCR it working with partners to prepare for and minimize these risks.”

She said UNHCR has already provided upgraded shelter kits for 30,000 families; and will expand distributions for around 50,000 more this year. The kits include bamboo pieces and plastic tarpaulin, which will allow families to build stronger sturdier, waterproof shelters, better able to withstand heavy rains and winds.

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Pardon of Former Peruvian President Fujimori Deals Blow to Fight Against Gender Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/pardon-former-peruvian-president-fujimori-deals-blow-fight-gender-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pardon-former-peruvian-president-fujimori-deals-blow-fight-gender-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/pardon-former-peruvian-president-fujimori-deals-blow-fight-gender-violence/#respond Mon, 15 Jan 2018 19:15:25 +0000 Mariela Jara http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153871 The political crisis triggered in Peru by the presidential pardon of former president Alberto Fujimori granted on Christmas Eve casts a shadow of doubt over what actions will be taken to curb violence against women in this country, where 116 femicides were registered in 2017, and which ranks eighth with respect to gender-related murders in […]

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Peru ended 2017 with 116 victims of femicide and 223 women who survived this gender-based crime. Credit: Courtesy of Julia Vicuña

Peru ended 2017 with 116 victims of femicide and 223 women who survived this gender-based crime. Credit: Courtesy of Julia Vicuña

By Mariela Jara
LIMA, Jan 15 2018 (IPS)

The political crisis triggered in Peru by the presidential pardon of former president Alberto Fujimori granted on Christmas Eve casts a shadow of doubt over what actions will be taken to curb violence against women in this country, where 116 femicides were registered in 2017, and which ranks eighth with respect to gender-related murders in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“The pardon devalues the actions that the government may undertake to achieve a life without violence, because it has released one of the worst violators of the human rights of women,” said Liz Meléndez, director of the non-governmental Flora Tristán Women’s Centre.

Meléndez pointed out that in the 1990s, Fujimori was responsible for a public policy that forcibly sterilised more than 200,000 Andean indigenous peasant women, a crime for which he will not be investigated or penalised since he was granted a presidential pardon.

“This impunity is outrageous,” she said, since due to problems of access to justice, poverty and discrimination, it was only possible to put together a file of 2,074 cases.

The distrust towards the government’s actions was accentuated by the official designation of 2018 as the year of Dialogue and Reconciliation, a phrase coined by current President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to justify the pardon granted to the ex-convict, sentenced for corruption and human rights violations.

It rankled even more given that Decade of Equal Opportunities for Women and Men is beginning.

“The declaration of the Decade warns us that the gender focus will continue to be undermined, as happened throughout 2017, by the pressure of conservative groups, whose representatives are likely to be part of the next new cabinet; and we are worried that there may be setbacks in the fight against violence against women, despite the advances in legislation and regulations,” said Meléndez.

Peru is in fact, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women, one of the countries in the region with laws, plans and public policies against gender violence, specific legislation against femicide (gender-related murders), and new laws such as the elimination of prison benefits for those sentenced for rape, passed in 2017.

However, crime rates remain high.

Conference given by women’s collectives in Peru on Nov. 25, 2017 in the Flora Tristán Centre to announce the march for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The centre’s director Liz Meléndez is holding the microphone. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

Conference given by women’s collectives in Peru on Nov. 25, 2017 in the Flora Tristán Centre to announce the march for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The centre’s director Liz Meléndez is holding the microphone. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

According to statistics from the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations (MIMP), between 2009 and 2017, there were 2,275 cases of gender-based violence: 991 femicides and 1,275 attempts. In this country there is an average of 10 murders of women for gender reasons per month.

The MIMP reported that last year ended with 116 victims of femicide and 223 women survivors of this kind of crime. The majority of cases, 79 percent, occurred in urban areas.

In almost 80 percent of the cases, the aggressors were men with an intimate relationship with the victims, 90.4 percent of whom were adult women.

This places Peru in eighth place in terms of femicide in the region, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and in fourth place compared to the countries in the Southern Cone of South America.

In Peru, seven out of 10 women suffer physical, psychological or sexual abuse on a routine basis by their partners, according to the Demographic and Family Health Survey (ENDES 2016), despite the current legal and regulatory framework.

Precisely to call attention to the need to act more effectively in the face of this scourge, the Ombudsman’s Office, an autonomous government body, carried out a campaign in November and December to declare 2018 as the “Year of equality and non-violence against women.”

The proposal received broad support, the commissioner at the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Women’s Rights of that public body, Patricia Sarmiento, had told IPS before the government declared the Decade of Equal Opportunities for Women and Men.

Commissioner at the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Women’s Rights of the Peruvian Ombudsman's Office, Patricia Sarmiento. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

Commissioner at the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for Women’s Rights of the Peruvian Ombudsman’s Office, Patricia Sarmiento. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

Sarmiento said her institution has contributed to preventing, punishing and eradicating violence against women and other members of the family carried out in the public or private sphere, under Law 30,364.

She was referring to the training of judges and police to eradicate the mistaken belief that they can apply a reconciliation mechanism in cases of violence against women committed by an intimate partner. “That is unacceptable,” she said.

“Unfortunately, this idea reaches the victims, so some believe that when they are insulted or pushed it is not an act of violence and can be subject to reconciliation, and that is what leads us to continue perpetuating this situation in the country,” Sarmiento added.

Another recommendation is to grant a budget allocation to the police for it to provide adequate protection measures for the victims. “The institution lacks sufficient logistics, staff and equipment, such as for example a georeferenced map to monitor the cases,” she said.

A 2015 report by the ombudsman’s office, based on the analysis of court records of cases of gender-based violence, reveals that in 30 percent of femicides, the victims had brought complaints against their aggressors for domestic violence.

“One of the cases was of a woman who had filed complaints four times and did not receive protection. That cannot keep happening,” said Sarmiento.

In February 2017, a similar case occurred in the central highlands region of Ayacucho, where lawyer Evelyn Corahua was murdered after reporting an attempted femicide, and requested protection measures.

“A sufficient budget is needed for proper enforcement of the law and for the implementation of policies to eradicate gender violence. Otherwise the law will only be dead letter,” Sarmiento warned.

Civil society organisations such as the Flora Tristán Centre are worried about the degree of political will that the new cabinet, named after Fujimori was granted his pardon, will have.

Melendez, the director of the organisation, said that in the face of the cruelty shown in cases of gender violence in 2017, the main challenge for this year must be to strengthen prevention.

“That would entail ensuring comprehensive sex education with a gender focus in the classroom, something that unfortunately with this government remains in question,” she said. “It is clear that the current crisis will impact the management of public policies and will affect the fight against violence against women.”

This view is shared by human rights activists and feminists through the social networks, as is the case of lawyer Patricia Carrillo, who participated in the marches against Fujimori’s pardon and in those promoted by women’s organisations for the right to live without violence. “They want to silence us but they will not succeed,” Carrillo said, in dialogue with IPS.

“Declaring the decade in this way, without taking into consideration what was proposed by the ombudsman’s office, undermines our demand for equality and non-discrimination based on gender,” she lamented. “We do not want equal opportunities in the same conditions of oppression as men, our space of struggle will continue on the streets,” she said.

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Thousands Still Dying at Sea En Route to Europehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/thousands-still-dying-sea-en-route-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thousands-still-dying-sea-en-route-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/thousands-still-dying-sea-en-route-europe/#respond Mon, 15 Jan 2018 07:39:23 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153861 Amid concerns that 160 people may have drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean this week alone, the UN refugee agency have urged countries to offer more resettlement places. Though the influx of refugees and migrants has slowed, many are still embarking on dangerous journeys to Europe. “[We] have been advocating for a comprehensive approach […]

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Somali refugees on the Tunisian desert. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 2018 (IPS)

Amid concerns that 160 people may have drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean this week alone, the UN refugee agency have urged countries to offer more resettlement places.

Though the influx of refugees and migrants has slowed, many are still embarking on dangerous journeys to Europe.

“[We] have been advocating for a comprehensive approach to address movements of migrants and refugees who embark on perilous journeys across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean,” said spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) William Spindler.

On Monday, the Italian coastguard picked up 60 survivors and recovered eight corpses. Up to 50, including 15 women and 6 children, are feared to have drowned.

Most recently on Wednesday, an inflatable boat carrying 100 refugees sank off the coast of Libya. Libya is among the major countries of departure for refugees.

Approximately 227,000 refugees are estimated to be in need of resettlement in 15 priority countries of asylum and transit along the Central Mediterranean route.

Despite appealing for just 40,000 resettlement places last year, UNHCR has thus far received 13,000 offers of resettlement places.

“Most of these are part of regular established global resettlement programmes and only a few represent additional places,” Spindler said.

After stories of migrants being sold at an auction and being held in horrific conditions in detention centers were revealed, both UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have helped evacuate hundreds of vulnerable refugees from Libya to Niger.

However, the European Union has continued its policy of assisting the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept and return migrants in the Mediterranean.

“The suffering of migrants detained in Libya is an outrage to the conscience of humanity…what was an already dire situation has now turned catastrophic,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, adding that the EU’s policy is “inhuman.”

“We cannot be a silent witness to modern day slavery, rape and other sexual violence, and unlawful killings in the name of managing migration and preventing desperate and traumatized people from reaching Europe’s shores,” he continued, calling for the decriminalization of irregular migration in order to help protect migrants’ human rights.

Human rights officials have also criticized the EU-Turkey deal which returns migrants who have entered the Greek islands to Turkey. Many have found that asylum seekers are also not safe in Turkey as the country does not grant asylum or refugee status to non-Europeans.

UNHCR called for efforts to strengthen protection capacity and livelihood support in countries of first asylum, provide more regular and safe ways for refugees to find safety through resettlement or family reunification, and address the root causes of refugee displacement.

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Fate of the Rohingyas – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fate-rohingyas-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/fate-rohingyas-part-one/#respond Sun, 14 Jan 2018 12:11:41 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153857 The repatriation of Rohingya refugees driven from their villages through violence and terror appears uncertain, with critics saying the agreement legalising the process of their return is both controversial and impractical. Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, one of the oldest women’s rights organisations here, told IPS, “In my view […]

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Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh wait in limbo. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh wait in limbo. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Jan 14 2018 (IPS)

The repatriation of Rohingya refugees driven from their villages through violence and terror appears uncertain, with critics saying the agreement legalising the process of their return is both controversial and impractical.

Shireen Huq, a leading women’s rights activist and founder of Naripokkho, one of the oldest women’s rights organisations here, told IPS, “In my view Bangladesh should not have rushed into the bilateral ‘arrangement’ and especially without the involvement of the United Nations or consulting the refugees themselves."It is the same old story. They would move from a camp in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar." --Shireen Huq

“Bangladesh should have engaged in a diplomatic tsunami to gain the support of its neighbours and in particular to win the support of China and Russia. The international community has to step up its pressure on Myanmar to stop the killings, the persecution and the discrimination.”

The uncertainty deepened with Myanmar regime still refusing to recognize the refugees as their citizens, throwing the possibility of any peaceful return into doubt.

UNHCR estimates there have been 655,000 new arrivals in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, 2017, bringing the total number of refugees to 954,500.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding on Nov. 23, 2017 on the repatriation of Rohingya people who fled their ancestral home in Rakhine state in the wake of military assaults on their villages.

But Huq notes that a similar 1993 bilateral agreement to repatriate Rohingya refugees who had fled to Bangladesh was not very successful as the voluntary repatriation was opposed by the majority of the refugees.

She describes Bangladesh government’s generosity and the subsequent responsibilities as a ‘job well done’ but she fell short of praising the deal, saying, “This is going to be a repeat of the 1993 agreement where involving only bilateral efforts clearly showed that it does not work.”

“They [Rohingyas] are going to be here for a long time,” Huq predicted. “If we understand correctly, the Rohingyas will not be allowed to return to their previous abode, their own villages, but moved to new settlements. In that case, it is the same old story. They would move from a camp in Bangladesh to a camp in Myanmar. It will be another humanitarian disaster.”

She continued, “If this arrangement is implemented as it is, it will be like another ‘push back’ of the refugees by Bangladesh, unless the international community oversees the repatriation and can guarantee their safe and peaceful settlement and rehabilitation.”

While the deal has been welcomed by the international community, including the US, the European Union and the United Nations, others urged the government to involve a third party to ensure a sustainable solution to the crisis.

They say that Bangladesh has little experience in managing an international repatriation process and unless it fulfills the international repatriation and rehabilitation principles, the agreed terms may not be strong enough to create a lasting solution.

Muhammad Zamir, a veteran diplomat, told IPS that the world should not leave Bangladesh to shoulder the complex problem alone.

“It is unfair to burden Bangladesh with such a huge task that requires multiple factors to be considered before initiating the process of repatriation. The foremost issue is ensuring security or protection of the refuges once they return.”

Zamir, who just returned from a visit to the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, says, “The situation in the camps is already a humanitarian disaster and it is getting worse by the day. These people [Rohingya] are already traumatized and confused. They have suffered enough with the ordeals they have gone through. There is no guarantee that with the nightmares still fresh in their minds they would want to return so early unless there are strong and serious efforts to guarantee their protection in the long run.”

A Joint Working Group (JWG) consisting of government representatives from Myanmar and Bangladesh was formed on Dec. 19 and tasked with developing a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees. The first meeting of the JWG is due to take place on Jan. 15, 2018.

Former army general M Sakhawat Husain, a noted columnist and national security and political analyst, told IPS, “The Rohyngas’ legitimate and minimum demand to be recognised as citizens of their native land is completely ignored in the agreement. In the face of continuous persecution still going on, as widely reported, how can voluntary repatriation take place?”

“The most damaging clause seems to be agreeing on the terms of Myanmar that is scrutiny of papers or authenticity of their being residence of Rakhaine,” he added.

“Most of these people fled under sub-humane and grotesque torture. It would be difficult for Bangladesh to send them back voluntarily. The report suggests that unless a guarantee of security and minimum demand of citizenship not given these people may not go back.”

Former ambassador Muhammad Shafiullah said, “It is quite uncertain to execute such a huge repatriation process without involving the UN system although Myanmar has outright rejected involving the UN. In such a situation how can we expect a smooth repatriation process?”

Shafiullah expressed deep concern about the inadequate financial support for humanitarian aid to the Rohingya camps.

“The UN system so far could garner funds for six month. Another pledging meeting is expected before the fund is exhausted. Bangladesh cannot support such an overwhelming burden alone for a long time. Precisely for this reason Bangladesh signed the agreement for repatriation although the terms were not favorable to her.”

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Philippines Most Dangerous Country in Southeast Asia for Journalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/philippines-dangerous-country-southeast-asia-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=philippines-dangerous-country-southeast-asia-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/philippines-dangerous-country-southeast-asia-journalists/#respond Wed, 10 Jan 2018 22:05:14 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153815 It’s not just suspected drug users and dealers at risk of targeted killing in the Philippines. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) reported last week that the Philippines is the most dangerous country in Southeast Asia for journalists. Globally, the island nation came sixth on the list of most murderous countries. Joaquin Brinoes, Rudy Alicaway, […]

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A police commando stands guard as forensics investigators unearth the victims of the Ampatuan massacre. Credit: InterAksyon file photo

A police commando stands guard as forensics investigators unearth the victims of the Ampatuan massacre. Credit: InterAksyon file photo

By Pascal Laureyn
MANILA, Jan 10 2018 (IPS)

It’s not just suspected drug users and dealers at risk of targeted killing in the Philippines. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) reported last week that the Philippines is the most dangerous country in Southeast Asia for journalists. Globally, the island nation came sixth on the list of most murderous countries.

Joaquin Brinoes, Rudy Alicaway, Leodoro Diaz and Crisenciano Ibon Lozada. These are new names to be added to a tragic roster of killed journalists. In August, a gunman shot columnist Crisenciano Ibon in the back and seriously wounded his driver. The police speculate the attack may have been in retaliation for his columns criticizing illegal gambling. He had received many death threats.

Broadcaster Rudy Alicaway and columnist Leodoro Diaz were attacked within two days time. They were both riding motorcycles when gunmen came up behind and shot them dead. Their murders are likely linked to their reports on political corruption, underground gambling and the drug trade. Journalist Joaquin Briones was killed the same way. He was known for his hard-hitting radio program.

There is a fifth killing, not included in the statistics of IFJ. In August, Michael Marasigan, a respected former newspaper editor, was shot dead in a Manila suburb. Rodrigo Duterte’s administration says it is doing all it can to apprehend those responsible. But so far, no arrests have been made.

President Duterte is a vocal critic of the press. Even before he took office, as president-elect, he sent a chilling message to the press corps: “Just because you’re a journalist, you’re not exempted from assassination if you are a son of a bitch,” he said at a press conference. “Free speech won’t save you, my dear.”

Need for independent reporting

The numbers of journalists being killed are dropping in recent years. But there is no room for complacency, says IFJ. Only a year ago, the Philippines was reported to be the second most dangerous country for journalists in the past 25 years. Only Iraq had more deaths. And in the Philippines, the IFJ warned, unprecedented numbers of journalists were jailed or forced to flee, self-censorship was widespread and impunity for the killings, harassment, attacks and threats against independent journalism was running at epidemic levels.

In September, Edito Mapayo, the editor-in-chief of Diaryo Balita, a local newspaper on the Mindanao island, was choked and punched by Surigao del Norte Vice Mayor Francisco Matugas Gonzales. And in August, a government official filed a libel case against ABS-CBN’s broadcast journalist Ted Failon and three members of his staff. They were looking into the “allegedly irregular purchase of secondhand motorcycles for Pope Francis’ visit to Manila in 2014”.

The country is in great need of independent journalists to report on human rights abuses, like the continuing war on drugs and the extended martial law in Mindanao. According to Human Rights Watch, the war on drugs has claimed 12,000 lives since president Rodrigo Duterte decided to purify his people from the evil of cheap drugs. Critics say he doesn’t let the law get in the way of his mission.

Last month, Congress approved Duterte’s request to extend martial law on the southern island of Mindanao until Dec. 31, 2018. UN special rapporteurs Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Cecilia Jimenez-Damary released a statement on Jan. 3 saying  that the Lumads, the non-Muslim indigenous people living on Mindanao, are suffering from the island’s ongoing militarisation.

“Thousands of Lumads have already been forcibly displaced by the conflict and have seen their houses and livelihoods destroyed,” the experts said in their statement. There were also reports indicating that military forces had killed local farmers in early December.

The restive island of Mindanao is also the location of the single deadliest event for journalists in history. The Maguindanao massacre is named after the town where mass graves where found in November 2009. A convoy was on route to file a candidacy for local elections when it was attacked. Fifty-eight people were killed, including at least 34 journalists.

‘End impunity’

“We welcome the reduction for the third year in a row in the loss of life suffered by journalists and media staff during 2017,” says IFJ President Philippe Leruth. “While this represents a downward trend, the levels of violence in journalism remain unacceptably high. We find it most disturbing that governments refuse to tackle the impunity for these crimes targeting journalists. Instead, the patterns don’t change in the most violent countries.”

While Mexico and India are extremely dangerous places for journalists, no region was spared the scourge of violence, including Western democracies. Investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia of Malta paid for her pursuit of the truth with her life. She was killed by a car bomb after she reported on government corruption, nepotism, patronage and allegations of money laundering.

“There is a safety crisis in journalism,” added IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger. “There is a desperate need for a new instrument that finally would make it possible to implement a numerous of existing resolutions on media protection. We urge the adoption of this new convention to sustain other ongoing efforts to further promote the safety of journalists.”

In anticipation of such a guarantee for the safety of journalists, a few brave Philippinos are working hard to maintain an independent press.

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Big Little Lieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/big-little-lies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=big-little-lies http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/big-little-lies/#respond Thu, 21 Dec 2017 20:35:14 +0000 Owen Bennet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153671 Pakistan has had plenty of genuine conspiracies. The assassinations of Liaquat Ali Khan, Gen Zia and Benazir Bhutto were all planned and plotted — and yet no one was brought to justice. Hidden hands have influenced elections and jihadis have been given secret funds. In such cases conspiracy theories seem entirely appropriate. Even so, there […]

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By Owen Bennett-Jones
Dec 21 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Pakistan has had plenty of genuine conspiracies. The assassinations of Liaquat Ali Khan, Gen Zia and Benazir Bhutto were all planned and plotted — and yet no one was brought to justice. Hidden hands have influenced elections and jihadis have been given secret funds. In such cases conspiracy theories seem entirely appropriate. Even so, there is a national tendency to explain just about any event by way of a conspiracy theory. With the dreary, and more often than not, unenlightening phrase ‘who benefits?’, people claim to be able to see the schemes behind the most mundane happenings.

Owen Bennett-Jones

While conspiracy theorists have always been a global phenomenon, until recently they were most numerous in places such as Pakistan where Americans, Zionists, corrupt politicians, generals and spies have all been ascribed superhuman powers of foresight as they act out their dastardly plots.

But something new is happening in the world of conspiracy theories. They are becoming increasingly common in the West. True, there were always some Westerners willing to blame everything on communists or Catholics but for the most part they remained on the fringe.

Take, as a benchmark, the 9/11 attacks in New York. Many Pakistanis still believe, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, that the attacks were a Jewish plot. It is a claim that flies in the face of the overwhelming evidence about who actually organised the attack and should not be given even momentary consideration. Yet millions believe it.

There’s something new in the world of conspiracy theories.

In the West too there were conspiracy theories concerning 9/11: by using misleading versions of contemporaneous reporting and spurious claims about pictures of what happened, a few fringe anti-establishment activists tried to claim that the CIA did it. Very few believe that.

Back in 2001 many would have explained the Westerners’ greater willingness to reject outlandish claims by reference to higher education levels. Because Western education puts greater emphasis on critical thinking, the argument went, people were in a better position to make up their own minds of the basis of evidence.

Today, the American president constantly tweets about so-called fake news. And many believe him. One of the many things President Trump has brought to politics is the insight that if you control the information bubbles in which people live, some people will believe just about anything. It’s partly about trust. With good reason, many Pakistanis have for many years had next to no trust in their political and legal institutions, not to mention their corrupt leaders.

But trust is now breaking down in the West too. When some judges in the UK handed down a verdict on Brexit that was not to the liking of those who want to leave the EU, they were denounced by one of the best-selling British newspapers as ‘enemies of the people’ with hidden pro-European agendas. Meanwhile, politicians are widely viewed as self-serving and dishonest; journalists are dismissed as biased and even doctors — who once enjoyed very high levels of trust — are suspected of making decisions based not on the best interests of their patients but rather on the inducements they receive from drugs companies.

As a sceptical journalist I have always thought that the public was too ready to believe the bland assurances of politicians that the world was a series of cock-ups rather than conspiracies. To take the most glaring of all examples, it is really not controversial to say that companies and individuals do not give money to political parties out of any sense of altruism as they claim but so as to curry favour with those in power.

But a reasoned, evidence-based scepticism about how the world works now seems somewhat archaic. Because today communities of activists loyal to their particular political tribe gorge themselves on the unending nonsense that turns up on their Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Many thought social media would be a democratising force that would challenge dictatorships. Instead, master manipulators have learnt how to use the new platforms to drive people deeper into ideological camps. The process has gone so far in the US that studies have shown significant problems in families when a Republican Party supporter marries into a Democratic Party family and vice versa. The new tribalism has enabled the most crackpot theories to be repeated ad nauseam until significant numbers of people believe them. The much-maligned mainstream media used to be believed by most people for good reason. For all its inaccuracies and failings, mainstream media outlets were — and still are — committed to trying to report on the world as it actually is.

So it is now the age of the conspiracy theories not just in Pakistan but in the West too. As public trust recedes and mutual suspicion increases, fantasists have an ever-greater chance to use social media to publish their ideas and ever greater numbers of like-minded people believe them.

The writer is a British journalist and author of Pakistan: Eye of the Storm.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Perpetrators of Crimes against Humanity Must be Brought to Justicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/perpetrators-crimes-humanity-must-brought-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=perpetrators-crimes-humanity-must-brought-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/perpetrators-crimes-humanity-must-brought-justice/#respond Wed, 20 Dec 2017 11:46:11 +0000 Geneva Centre http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153631 On the occasion of the 2017 International Day of Human Solidarity observed on 20 December, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim calls for peace for and human solidarity with, the Rohingya minority in Myanmar. The Chair of the Geneva Centre emphasized that […]

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By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Dec 20 2017 (IPS)

On the occasion of the 2017 International Day of Human Solidarity observed on 20 December, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim calls for peace for and human solidarity with, the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

The Chair of the Geneva Centre emphasized that the forcible expulsion of more than 600,000 Rohingya from Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh has aggravated the dire human rights and humanitarian situation of the Rohingya.

He remarked inter alia that international decision-makers, members States of the United Nations and NGOs have a “moral responsibility to stand in solidarity with the Rohingya minority in Myanmar and other persecuted people worldwide.”

In this regard, Dr. Al Qassim stated that “the Geneva Centre took the initiative on 11 and 12 October 2017 to call upon the members of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations to hold a special session in solidarity with the Rohingya people and to address the situation in Myanmar.

Our call for peace, solidarity and justice in Myanmar was heard; on 5 December 2017 a special session was convened at the United Nations Office in Geneva to identify a common platform to end the atrocities committed on the Rohingya people guided by the principles of justice and human solidarity. It is only through joint action and human solidarity that world society can respond with a unified voice to address the plight of the Rohingya people in Rakhine State and in Bangladesh,” stated Dr. Al Qassim.

Although the holding of the special session on the human rights situation of Rohingya Muslim population and other minorities in the Rakhine Sate of Myanmar reached its objective, the world society must keep its gear high in calling for peace and social justice. Dr. Al Qassim added:

Our efforts to address the situation in Myanmar will be in vain if the international community limits its action to include the adoption of resolutions and declarations in support of the Rohingya people.

Endemic poverty, violence and stark inequalities remain high in Rakhine State. Once the Rohingya refugees start to return to their home societies as envisaged in the ‘Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State’ signed on 23 November between Bangladesh and Myanmar which presupposes that it will become safe for them to do so, the main task will lie in rebuilding a safe, stable and inclusive society for all.

The Rohingya people and other minorities in Rakhine State must be allowed to enjoy full and unconditional legal protection and fundamental freedoms. I appeal to the government of Myanmar to review and revoke the 1982 Citizenship law that degrades the status of the Rohingya people and other minorities to second-class citizens. All citizens of Myanmar are entitled to enjoy equal and inclusive citizenship rights,” stated Dr. Al Qassim.

In conclusion, he added that perpetrators of crimes against humanity must be brought to justice. Strengthening accountability and transitional justice in post-conflict Myanmar are imperative to end impunity and bring peace and stability to the region.

Myanmar must take its future into its own hands and address all human rights concerns deriving from the current situation in Rakhine State. Decision-makers in Myanmar must remain committed to developing a peaceful and inclusive society in which the Rohingya people and other minorities are considered as integral components of the society of Myanmar and the international community must continue to assist victims to ensure their livelihoods and Bangladesh to enable it to be in a position to provide them with decent shelter,” concluded Dr. Al Qassim.

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“We Need to Be Strong” – Award Spotlights Courageous Journalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/need-strong-award-spotlights-courageous-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=need-strong-award-spotlights-courageous-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/need-strong-award-spotlights-courageous-journalists/#respond Fri, 15 Dec 2017 17:00:06 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153578 As press freedom becomes increasingly limited, journalists are frequently finding themselves in more dangerous predicaments than ever before. Every year, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) honors courageous journalists from around the world at the International Press Freedom Awards. “Journalists around the world face growing threats and pressure,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Those […]

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Awardees Pravit Rojanaphruk, Patricia Mayorga, Afrah Nasser with Joel Simon and Christiane Amanpour. Credit: CPJ/Barbara Nitke

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 15 2017 (IPS)

As press freedom becomes increasingly limited, journalists are frequently finding themselves in more dangerous predicaments than ever before.

Every year, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) honors courageous journalists from around the world at the International Press Freedom Awards.

“Journalists around the world face growing threats and pressure,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Those we honor are the most courageous and committed. They stand as an example that journalism matters.”

Among the awardees is award-winning Yemeni reporter and blogger Afrah Nasser, who noted that being a journalist in Yemen is like walking through a minefield.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) found that the Houthi rebel group is the second biggest abductor of journalists following the Islamic State. When they are not victims of air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition, journalists are constantly at risk of detention, forced disappear-ance and assassination.

“I was getting death threats – even subjected to my family – and I was also getting pressure from my family out of protection and love not to write,” Nasser told IPS.

In 2011, as the uprising began in Yemen, Nasser started writing about human rights viola-tions and gender issues in the country, which were soon followed by death threats due to her critical coverage of the regime.

She became a political refugee in Sweden later that year where she now lives and continues to report on Yemen.

“I always believed in the strong power of stories… Freedom of expression is a very vital tool for any community to bring change,” Nasser said.

Though women are often expected to talk about soft topics, Nasser said that she had to express herself.

“I’m not a male, white, Western journalist writing about Yemen…I thought that nobody would take me seriously,” she told IPS about her reaction to CPJ’s award.

But she took the opportunity to highlight the plight of Yemenis and call for international action.

“Being here is not to represent Yemeni journalists only but all Yemenis who feel abandoned by world leaders and international media that are not covering their suffering sufficiently…let’s make sure international media are on the right side of history,” Nasser told attendees.

Like Nasser, Patricia Mayorga also had to seek protection after her colleague was killed in the northwestern state of Chihuahua.

Miroslava Breach Velducea, who covered politics and crime in Chihuahua, was shot eight times in March. A note was found at the crime scene which read, “For being a snitch.”

Mayorga worked alongside her, reporting on the links between politics, corruption, and organized crime. After publishing a story about political candidates ties to organized crime, both Mayorga and Velducea began receiving threats.

“In this moment, I don’t feel fear. I felt courage that I wanted to shout there needs to be justice. But at the same time, you feel like you are living under anesthesia and you have to sort of give yourself up to the experts…because everything got worse,” she told IPS.

Soon after Velducea was killed, Mayorga sought refuge in Peru.

She noted that organized crime was not the only issue for journalists, but also the government’s campaign to silence media on reporting on the reality on the ground.

“When reporters start to question the government, the government starts using surveillance against them. They do campaigns to discredit and criminalize them,” Mayorga said.

“Press freedom isn’t just for journalists, it’s for the people,” she continued.

Mexico continues to be the Western Hemisphere’s deadliest country for the media. An estimated 100 journalists have been murdered since 2000.

“Two months before they killed her in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, Miroslava Breach and I asked ourselves why we kept going. She refused to be complicit, and I refused to betray the people who had put their trust and final hope in journalism,” Mayorga told attendees.

“We need to be strong because Mexico needs us to be strong and clear.”

Other journalists who were honored were Thai reporter Pravit Rojanaphruk, Cameroonian corespondent Ahmed Abba, and managing editor of PBS NewsHour Judy Woodruff.

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Rohingya Refugees Endure Lingering Traumahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/rohingya-refugees-endure-lingering-trauma/#comments Thu, 14 Dec 2017 14:24:19 +0000 Farid Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153560 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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Rubina (extreme left) along with her friend at the Islamic School at Kutupalong camp, home to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Rubina (far left) along with her friend at the Islamic School at Kutupalong camp, home to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

By Farid Ahmed
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

Twelve-year-old Rubina still struggles with the horrors she witnessed in her homeland in Myanmar before fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh three months ago.

Despite reaching the relative safety of a refugee camp at Kutupalong in Bangladesh’s southeast town of Cox’s Bazar – now home to nearly a million ethnic Rohingya people, mostly women and children, who fled military persecution in Myanmar – Rubina suffers from post-traumatic stress caused by the harrowing experiences back in her country.

Conservative estimates by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) state at least 6,700 of Rohingya deaths have been caused by violence, including at least 730 children under the age of five
“Barely a night passes without nightmares,” she told IPS at an Islamic school in the camp where she comes every day to learn the Quran.

“I’m fine as long as I’m with my friends, but sometimes I feel alone even amidst a crowd… I can’t forget anything that I have seen.”

Rubina was orphaned in the latest spate of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. She fled to Bangladesh along with her grandparents and three siblings after her parents were hacked to death by local Buddhist people in the presence of the army.

Rubina is among thousands of others who endured similar ordeals.

Different NGOs and aid groups are now working in more than a dozen camps stretching from Teknaf to Ukhia in Cox’s Bazar. A 45-kilometre drive reveals settlement after settlement, with thousands of bamboo and tarpaulin shanties lining both sides of the hilly road.

Nur Mohammad, 12, witnessed soldiers killing his father. “My father, a fisherman, tried to escape by running away, but the military chased him and shot him to death,” said Mohammad, who was staying at his maternal grandparents’ house in Shahporir Dwip. Mohammad’s father was a Myanmar national and his mother was Bangladeshi.

“As soldiers chased my father, my mother and I ran for cover through a jungle… we ran and walked for several days until we reached Bangladesh,” he said. “Sometimes I wake up at night and I feel like soldiers are knocking on the door… In that moment, I forget I’m in Bangladesh.”

Twelve-year-old Rohingya boy Nur Mohammad holds up Myanmar currency in Shah Porir Dwip. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Twelve-year-old Rohingya boy Nur Mohammad holds up Myanmar currency in Shah Porir Dwip. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

The latest figures by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) indicate that 647,000 Rohingyas have arrived in Bangladesh since the latest spate of violence in Rakhine that began in August. The Bangladesh government estimated 300,000 to 400,000 Rohingyas were already here before the current influx.

A Rohingya community leader, Dil Mohammad, now lives in a camp in the no-man’s-land between Bangladesh and Myanmar at Tambru of Naikhongchhari in Bangladesh’s Bandarban district. He told IPS that women and children were the worst victims of violence.

Dil Mohammad, who has a degree in psychology from Yangon University (1994), worries about the future of those children, and especially young women, who will carry emotional scars from their experiences.

Though the Myanmar military denies it, many rights groups and UN officials have confirmed deliberate and planned atrocities, including murders, gang rapes and arsons against the Rohingyas.

“In most cases, children saw the brutality and the wrath of military against the Rohingyas, but many women were also showing the signs of brutality as they were raped and abused by the military and others,” said a Rohingya man, Mohammad Faisal, at a settlement at Teknaf Nature Park and Wildlife Sanctuary.

Faisal’s teenage wife Hajera, who was expecting her second baby, said they were lucky to have escaped with other family members, and everybody was safe and alive.

“I saw a soldier killing a baby – just throwing it onto the ground. I can’t forget the scene. I have a one-year-old baby girl,” Hajera said. “It could be my daughter… I tried to erase it from my mind, but I can’t. When I close my eyes I see the military man killing the baby and hear the baby crying.”

In most cases, women were unable to share their experiences with others, she said. “They can’t tell people how they have been abused, so they will bear their trauma [in silence],” Hajera said.

A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature's Park, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

A Rohingya couple, Mohammad Faisal and his wife Hajera, pose for a photo with their child at their camp at Teknaf Nature’s Park, Bangladesh. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

An aid worker at a centre of Save the Children, who asked not to be named, told IPS about the children she worked with. “They come here and spend the whole day making new friends and playing with them, but they need time to recover fully,” she said.

Professor Tasmeem Siddiqui of Dhaka University, the founder and chair of Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit in Dhaka, said, “Those who are coordinating there must build up leadership from the community, especially women’s leadership.”

“Trauma management is a big challenge after any genocide. People can’t easily forget what they have seen. It should be handled very carefully with the people who have expertise in those fields,” she told IPS, adding, “I don’t think there is a very systematic co-ordination among the groups working in the Rohingya settlements.”

As women and children were the primary victims, women and children from their community should be engaged, along with the experts, so that the victims can speak up without inhibition, she said.

For women, trauma and sexual assaults are not the only issues to be addressed. In this vast stretch of unprotected settlements, they face other risks, from hygiene, and sanitation to trafficking.

Rohingya people interviewed for this story didn’t fear the type of attacks they faced in Myanmar, but said there were still opportunists who would try to exploit the helplessness of the Rohingya women and children who were struggling to survive.

“Besides systematic aid work by groups with expertise, community participation is essential for the protection of women and children,” Professor Siddiqui stressed.

Bangladesh and Myanmar recently signed a deal regarding repatriation of Rohingya. Many see the step as a ray of hope, but others who have suffered from decades of poverty, underdevelopment and sectarian violence at home were more cynical.

Even 10-year-old Mohammad Arafat expressed doubts. “They killed my father in front of me. My mother and I escaped,” he said. “If we go back there, they will kill us.”

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

 

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Arming Poor Countries Enriches Rich Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/arming-poor-countries-enriches-rich-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arming-poor-countries-enriches-rich-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/arming-poor-countries-enriches-rich-countries/#respond Thu, 14 Dec 2017 09:35:42 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153534 Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University and the University of New South Wales; held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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The iconic statue of a knotted gun barrel outside U.N. headquarters. Credit:Tressia Boukhors/IPS.

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY/KUALA LUMPUR , Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

Although the Cold War came to an end over a quarter century ago, international arms sales only declined temporarily at the end of the last century. Instead, the United States under President Trump is extending its arms superiority over the rest of the world.

The five biggest importers were India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), China and Algeria. Indian arms imports increased by 43 per cent. Its imports during 2012–2016 were far greater than those of its regional rivals, China and Pakistan, as Pakistan’s arms imports declined by 28 per cent compared to 2007–2011. UAE imports increased by 63 per cent while Saudi Arabia’s rose a staggering 212 per cent
Meanwhile, some fast-growing developing countries are now arming themselves much faster than their growth rate. Such expensive arms imports mean less for development and the people, especially the poor and destitute who constitute several hundred million in India alone.

The end of the Cold War in the early 1990s had raised expectations of a ‘peace dividend’. Many hoped and expected the arms race to decelerate, if not cease; the resources thus saved were expected to be redeployed for development and to improve the lives of ordinary people.

But the arms trade has continued to grow in the new millennium, after falling briefly from the mid-1990s. And without the political competition of the Cold War, official development assistance (ODA) to developing countries fell in the 1990s. Such ODA or foreign aid only rose again after 9/11, the brutal terroristic attack on US symbols of global power, only to fall again after the global financial crisis.

 

Arms sales

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) latest report on the world’s arms trade offers some revealing new data. The volume of international transfers of major weapons in 2012–2016 was 8.4 per cent more than in 2007–2011, the highest for any five-year period since 1990.

As Figure 1 shows, international arms exports rose steeply until the early 1980s, after a brief decline during 1955–1960. It fell once again from the mid-1980s as Mikhail Gorbachev sought to end the Cold War which had diverted resources to military build-ups in developing countries.

Foreign sales of military arms and equipment across the world totalled $374.8 billion in 2016, the first year of growth (by 1.9 per cent), after five years of decline. American companies had a $217.2 billion lion’s share of foreign arms sales. Seven out of ten of the world’s top arms companies were American, earning $152.1 billion, with Lockheed Martin leading with $40.8 billion.

 

Arms Sales: Arming Poor Countries Enriches Rich Countries - Source: SIPRI Arms Transfer Database (20 Feb. 2017) Note: The bars show annual totals while the line shows the five-year moving average, with each data point representing an average for the five-year period ending that year. The SIPRI trend-indicator value (TIV) measures the volume of international transfers of major weapons.

Figure 1. International transfers of major weapons, 1950–2016. Source: SIPRI Arms Transfer Database (20 Feb. 2017) Note: The bars show annual totals while the line shows the five-year moving average, with each data point representing an average for the five-year period ending that year. The SIPRI trend-indicator value (TIV) measures the volume of international transfers of major weapons.

 

Arms exporters

The five biggest exporters during 2012–2016 were the United States, Russia, China, France and Germany (Figure 2).

 

 

Arms Sales: Arming Poor Countries Enriches Rich Countries - Source: SIPRI Arms Transfer Database (20 Feb. 2017)

Source: SIPRI Arms Transfer Database (20 Feb. 2017)

 

US exports of major weapons increased by 21 per cent during 2012–2016 compared to 2007–2011. The major destination was the Middle East which accounted for 47 per cent. The USA exported major weapons to at least 100 states during 2012–2016, significantly more than any other supplying country.

Russian major weapons exports increased by only 4.7 per cent. It sold weapons to only 50 states, with exports to India alone accounting for 38 per cent. Meanwhile, China’s exports increased by 74 per cent, as its share of global arms exports rose from 3.8 to 6.2 per cent. China’s arms exports to Africa grew most, by 122 per cent, to account for 22 per cent of its total arms exports.

 

Arms importers

The five biggest importers were India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), China and Algeria. Indian arms imports increased by 43 per cent. Its imports during 2012–2016 were far greater than those of its regional rivals, China and Pakistan, as Pakistan’s arms imports declined by 28 per cent compared to 2007–2011. UAE imports increased by 63 per cent while Saudi Arabia’s rose a staggering 212 per cent! Saudi Arabia is the largest buyer of US weapons followed by South Korea.

India, the world’s largest arms importer, has more of the world’s abject poor (280 million) than any other country, accounting for a third of the world’s poor living below the international poverty line of US$1.90 a day. Using a US$3.10 a day poverty line, more appropriate for a middle-income country, the number of poor in India goes up dramatically to 732 million.

A study in 2014, led by the former chairman of the Indian Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, C Rangarajan, estimated that 363 million, or 29.5 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion people, lived in poverty in 2011–2012, i.e., on less than Rs 32 daily in rural areas, and below Rs 47 a day in urban areas.

Asia and Oceania was the main importing region in 2012–2016, accounting for 43 per cent of global imports, followed by the Middle East, with 29 per cent, and African states accounting for 8.1 per cent. Between the two five year periods, arms imports in Asia and Oceania increased by 7.7 per cent and in the Middle East by 86 per cent. Arms imports by European states fell by 36 per cent while African arms imports declined by 6.6 per cent.

Tensions in Southeast Asia have driven up demand for weapons. Viet Nam’s arms imports increased by 202 per cent, pushing it to become the 10th largest arms importer in 2012–2016 from being 29th in 2007–2011. This was the fastest increase among the top ten importers. Philippines’ arms imports increased by 426 per cent while Indonesia’s grew by 70 per cent.

 

Fuelling conflicts

Six rebel groups are among the 165 identified recipients of major weapons in 2012–2016. Even though deliveries to the six accounted for no more than 0.02 per cent of major arms transfers, SIPRI argues the sales fuel conflicts.

Conflict regions alone accounted for 48 per cent of total arms imports to sub-Saharan Africa. According to SIPRI, governments fighting rebel groups used major arms against anti-government rebels.

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The Protracted Refugee and Migrant Crisis: A Challenge to Multilateralismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/protracted-refugee-migrant-crisis-challenge-multilateralism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protracted-refugee-migrant-crisis-challenge-multilateralism http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/protracted-refugee-migrant-crisis-challenge-multilateralism/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 10:52:47 +0000 Idriss Jazairy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153482 Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, is Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, is Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By Idriss Jazairy
GENEVA, Dec 12 2017 (IPS)

It is an incontrovertible fact that more people are on the move owing to globalization. Fifteen percent of the world’s population are on the move worldwide. In other words, of the world population of 7 billion, one billion are on the move. Seven hundred and forty million people are referred to as internal or as domestic migrants within their countries of origin. The number of internally displaced persons reaches about 60 million. On top of this, the world has more than 244 million international migrants who cross borders often into the unknown. Lastly, there are 22.5 million refugees – encompassing the 5.3 million Palestinian refugees – registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees who have been forced to flee their home societies as a result of violence and armed conflict. The first two decades of the 21st century will go down in history as the era in which the world has witnessed the most complex and massive movement of people since the end of the Second World War.

Idriss Jazairy

Although we can conclude that global human mobility is an integral part of the Earth’s DNA, the unprecedented cohorts of people on the move has resulted in the emergence of new challenges that call for urgent attention and action. The inflow of displaced people to Europe has been exploited by a populist tidal-wave to fuel xenophobia and in particular Islamophobia. Walls and fences are being built in the North in flawed attempts to prevent displaced people from reaching their destination countries and to criminalize migrants and refugees. Although the arrival of displaced people to Europe only add up to 0.2% of Europe’s population, human solidarity and justice are being frayed by the fear of the Other.

On the eastern and southern side of the Mediterranean Sea, millions of people have sought refuge and protection. They have found shelter in countries of the Arab region as the right to free movement further to the North has been “postponed” and denied to displaced people. Lebanon – a country of approximately 4 million people – is providing protection and refuge to approximately 1 million displaced people. Jordan – neighbouring both Iraq and Syria – has accommodated around 1.2 million refugees. Although Iraq and Egypt face internal turmoil, Bagdad and Cairo are hosting about 240,000 and 120,000 people respectively. Turkey has likewise given refuge to roughly 3 million refugees, primarily Syrians. In summary, the majority of the burden in hosting and in providing assistance and protection to, displaced people is being taken up by countries in the less developed parts of the world despite the fact that they often lack adequate resources to respond to the influx of displaced people.

While rich countries in the North bicker about burden-sharing between them of inflows of migrants representing 0.2% of their global population, MENA countries provide access without blinking to inflows that may add up to 25% of their own nationals!

How can the world move forward to respond in unison to address the resulting rise of populism and the lack of social justice that prevails in our modern societies in relation to human mobility?

“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land,” said the British-Somali poet Warsan Shire in response to the growing number of people who perish on a daily basis in their perilous and hazardous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea. According to IOM, the 2017 migrant death tolls in the Mediterranean has exceeded 2,950 casualties. Despite that, migrants risk their lives to seek protection. Populist and right wing extremist forces continue – in a flawed and misleading attempt to promote policies of exclusion – to depict migrants and refugees as the source of instability, although the adverse impact of globalization is mainly to blame. The campaign of fear waged against migrants and refugees is bringing back the spectre of nationalism and chauvinism that threatens international cooperation and peace over the long run.

How can this threat be overcome? We need to return to a climate in which diversity is embraced and celebrated. I often refer to the example of the United States as a shining example of a country that became one of the world’s most successful owing to the fact that it embraced and celebrated diversity in earlier times, if not currently. If contemporary nations want to repeat the successes of the United States and of other countries with strong traditions in upholding and harnessing the power of diversity, they must resort to the promotion of equal and inclusive citizenship rights for all peoples regardless of religious, cultural, ethnic, and/or national backgrounds. Societies that demonstrate respect for human dignity are the ones most likely to be winners in the long run.

Governments in the Middle East and in the West should address jointly the protracted refugee and migrant crisis in a multicultural context. The UN Global Compact for Refugees to be convened in 2018 will offer an opportunity to proceed along these lines. Enhancing international cooperation among countries in Europe and in the Arab region is indeed key to identifying a more equitable burden – and responsibility-sharing system in response to the current situation in which displaced people are restricted in the exercise of their right to seek refuge and protection.

This goal can be achieved through inter alia the allocation of resources, development aid as well as through internationally funded capacity-building programmes to raise the preparedness level for hosting large numbers of displaced people. In the words of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration Mr. Peter Sutherland – in his 2015 report:

“States must agree on how to address large crisis-related movements, not only to save people on the move from death or suffering, but also to avoid the corrosive effect that ad hoc responses have on our political institutions and the public’s trust in them.”

Identifying new approaches to promote equitable burden – and responsibility-sharing mechanisms would enable countries in Europe and in the Arab region to speak with one voice and to build coalitions on a variety of issues related to the safe and orderly movement of people in accordance with international law. The international community needs to commit to sharing responsibility for hosting displaced people more fairly and proportionately, being guided by the principles of international solidarity and justice. This is an occasion for all to recommit themselves to the lofty aims of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Global problems require global solutions. Attempts to regionalize such issues – as witnessed in many societies – are doomed to failure.

Over the long term the international community must act to eradicate the underlying causes leading to an excessive flow of destitute migrants. That means phasing out foreign military interventions, respecting sovereignty, supporting democracy and human rights through peaceful means only and joining forces to address impoverishment of the Global South as a result of climate change.

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Pakistan Gets Its First One-Stop Shop for Women Fighting Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/pakistan-gets-first-one-stop-shop-women-fighting-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-gets-first-one-stop-shop-women-fighting-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/pakistan-gets-first-one-stop-shop-women-fighting-violence/#respond Sun, 10 Dec 2017 14:48:58 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153431 Sliced noses, broken ribs, fractured fingers, slashed arms, bruised and bloodied faces with teeth missing and eyes swollen… Sana Jawed, 30, has been witnessing these brutalities for over a decade. “You can never get over the physical and psychological mutilation that scores of women go through every day in our society,” says Jawed, who is […]

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Station House Officer Nazima Mushtaq speaking to a survivor at the VAWC. Photo courtesy of VAWC

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Dec 10 2017 (IPS)

Sliced noses, broken ribs, fractured fingers, slashed arms, bruised and bloodied faces with teeth missing and eyes swollen… Sana Jawed, 30, has been witnessing these brutalities for over a decade.

“You can never get over the physical and psychological mutilation that scores of women go through every day in our society,” says Jawed, who is currently managing the new state-of-the-art all-women Violence Against Women Centre (VAWC) in Multan, in Southern Punjab. Before this she was working in the Punjab government’s social welfare department and managing shelters for women across the province."We provide a fully functional police station, medical facility, forensic lab and legal aid as well as post trauma rehabilitation, all under one roof." --Sana Jawed

A 2011 Thomson Reuters Foundation expert poll found Pakistan to be among the three most dangerous countries for women, where they faced a barrage of violence from rape to murders in the name of honour. The other two were Afghanistan and Democratic Republic of Congo. On the gender equality index of the Global Gender Gap, Pakistan scored dismally, coming second lowest (143 out of 144). On a more recent Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security‘s Women, Peace, and Security Index, Pakistan was ranked 4th among the worst countries for women to live in.

The VAWC has been set up in an agricultural belt which is particularly dangerous for the Pakistani woman, who are treated worse than cattle. It is the same region infamous for the Mukhtaran Mai gang rape case that shook the world and where after nine years of relentless pursuit for justice by Mai, five of the six accused were acquitted.

“In some villages, until just a few years ago, women were not allowed to wear any footwear. That meant they wouldn’t be able to walk with ease  around the village. If that happened, it would mean they would become more confident and not remain mere doormats. They would eventually find a tongue…and men certainly didn’t want that happening,” said Jawed.

Women, she said, are used as bargaining chips to settle family feuds, living in constant fear of being forced to marry, wedded in exchange, or punished for having spurned a marriage proposal. Even when married, she may find no peace or respect in her husband’s home where she may be punished at the slightest of provocation.

“Women have come to us with severe burns on their face, with scalding tea thrown at them,” said Jawed.

But all this is about to change and men will have to mend their brutal ways or face serious repercussions.

In what can only be termed as groundbreaking, the Punjab government has come up with a law to protect women. But unlike laws that have come with great fanfare and been forgotten just as quickly, this one comes complete with a mechanism for strict adherence to implementation.

The Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act (VAWA) passed in 2016 covers sexual, domestic, physical, economic, cyber, or psychological abuse.

To breathe life into the act, the Punjab government has set up what it calls a “one-stop shop” VAWC in Multan.

It began functioning in March this year with the aim of providing legal, medical and psychological counselling to survivors.

Salman Sufi with the fashion designer Diane Van Furstenberg. Photo courtesy of Vital Voices

“It was a conscious decision to open the first centre in Multan because women are the most vulnerable and meted with the most violent attacks there,” said Salman Sufi, the director general of the Punjab Chief Minister’s think-tank, the Strategic Reform Unit who drafted the law and who conceived of this centre.

“In the first six months since we opened the centre, we received over 1,000 cases from Multan district alone,” said Sufi. The number of violence-related cases is far more. Overall, in Punjab, according to data gathered by the Aurat Foundation, in 2017, of the 5,979 reported cases of violence, 178 were of women killed in the name of honour, 1,086 were raped/gang-raped and 1,626 were kidnapped.

“Even these over 1,000 cases are the tip of the iceberg,” said Sufi who was recently honoured with the Voices of Solidarity Award 2017 by Vital Voices Global Partnership, an organisation under the chairmanship of Hillary Clinton, in his pursuit to end VAW.

By March 2018, three more centres will start operating in other big cities of Punjab including Lahore, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi. “The idea is to eventually have one centre in each of the province’s 36 districts,” said Sufi.

Jawed explained that the VAWC aims to eliminate the lengthy process of registering a complaint about violence. “We provide a fully functional police station, medical facility, forensic lab and legal aid as well as post trauma rehabilitation, all under one roof.” In addition, there is a toll-free 24-hour help line where women can register any complaint of violence immediately.

“This is excellent and this will encourage more women to come and record their complaints,” said Sheraz Ahmed, programme officer at War Against Rape, a Karachi-based non-governmental organisation. Currently, the method in which sexual violence cases are handled in Pakistan at police stations and government health facilities is highly problematic, he said.

“This centre is ideal so that they do not need to go running from one place to another to get assistance, treatment, investigation and shelter,” said Maliha Zia, associate director at Legal Aid Society, adding: “If effectively run, it would cause a lesser degree of humiliation to the survivors.”

For the past ten years, WAR has noticed a discrepancy in the data it gathers from Karachi’s three public sector hospitals, which oscillates between 340 to 380 cases per year, and the complaints registered at the city’s police stations that come to not more than 110 in a given year. “That is because the woman or her family retracts either due to family pressure or the trauma that they have to go through before the case reaches the court,” he said.

“From the time a survivor enters the police station where she’s eyed and questioned by not less than four to five police officers and asked to repeat her story that many times, to the time she goes through medical investigation, valuable evidence is lost,” explained Ahmed. He said for a city of over 20 million, Karachi has only two female medico-legal officers (MLOs) and if the woman comes to the hospital after their duty hours, the delay may cause loss of solid evidence. The same sorry situation, he said, was found all over Pakistan, which has 14 female MLOs and the same misogynistic mindset at police stations.

Back in 2016, when the law for the protection of women was presented to the parliament, it was met with much ire from the  religio-political parties as well as members of the legal fraternity who termed it “un-Islamic”. Many found it an affront to a male ego in this patriarchal country and insisted it would lead to breaking up families.

“We addressed each and everyone’s concerns but not a single clause was amended to appease anyone,” said Sufi, who found the furor caused by the law “exciting” and pointed to the fact that they were doing “something radical”.

The law seems to have everything covered — a monetary order ensures a woman’s earnings are safe and another order sees to it that the woman is not kicked out of the home by her husband or the family.

And yet, despite there being a series of “good legislations” that have been promulgated in recent past, Zohra Yusuf, a council member of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, says violence against women continues because of “weak enforcement” of those laws.

But more than laws that provide “potential tools for survivors”, Zia said until attitudes and bias inherent not only in society, but also within our institutions, change, VAW will continue. “There is social impunity and lack of recognition of many practices as VAW.”

To which Yusuf added: “Coupled with that is the misogyny that the administration and justice systems suffers from.”

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“Banging on the Door” – Women Fight for a Voice and Space in Civil Societyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/banging-door-women-fight-voice-space-civil-society/#respond Sat, 09 Dec 2017 14:51:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153427 The space for civil society organizations is shrinking around the world, with particular impacts on women activists and human rights defenders who face additional barriers due to their gender or sexual orientation. Civil society organizations (CSOs) and activists from around the world convened in Fiji over the last week to tackle some of the world’s […]

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Women activists demanding a fair share of power. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Women activists demanding a fair share of power. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 9 2017 (IPS)

The space for civil society organizations is shrinking around the world, with particular impacts on women activists and human rights defenders who face additional barriers due to their gender or sexual orientation.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) and activists from around the world convened in Fiji over the last week to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges.Two years before she was murdered, indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres said that it was her gender as much as her work that threatened her life.

Participants attended workshops and donned shirts saying “activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet” and “we will never give up on our beautiful planet.”

Among the challenges discussed is the rise in populism which has lead to restrictions in rights to expression and public assembly and thus actions taken by CSOs.

According to civil society alliance CIVICUS, only 2 of every 100 people live in a country with decent protections for civil society.

From Venezuela to Russia, state actors have put significant pressure on CSOs, preventing them from accessing foreign funding and registrations due to their role in defending human rights.

“When there is little or no support from government, the activist is in danger of discrimination and abuse by police and other authorities,” Pacific Women Advisory Board member Savina Nongebatu told IPS.

Human rights defenders (HRDs) have been increasingly subject to intimidation, harassment, and are at times killed for the work they do around the world.

Last year was the deadliest year ever recorded for HRDs with almost 300 killed across 25 countries, 49 percent of whom were defending land, indigenous, and environmental rights.

In addition to threats they face for their work, women human rights defenders (WHRDs) are frequently targeted because of their gender or sexual orientation, experiencing attacks that are traditionally perpetrated against women including rape, defamation campaigns, and acid attacks.

In August 2016, Turkish activist Hande Kader was brutally raped and murdered for her outspoken work in lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender (LBGT) rights.

Human rights later Bertha de Leon was subject to a sexualized smear campaign as photos circulated suggesting she had a sexual relationship with a judge who ruled favorably in a case in which she was involved in El Salvador.

Indian tribal rights activist Soni Sori who has been an outspoken critic of police violence towards her community was attacked with a chemical substance in February 2016.

Two years before she was murdered, indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres said that it was her gender as much as her work that threatened her life.

“We are women who are reclaiming our right to the sovereignty of our bodies and thoughts and political beliefs, to our cultural and spiritual rights—of course the aggression is much greater,” she said.

Analysts have found that the trend of closing civic space and restrictons to civil society often go hand in hand with the intensification of a fundamentalist discouse on national identity and traditional patricarchal values.

Such threats and actions work to silence WHRDs, limiting their resources and capacity to do work in already restricted civic spaces.

“When we have defenders with limited resources and capacity, the possibility of not being heard or consulted is high,” Nongebatu said.

“The ability to work and build partnerships rests squarely on the few women activists who may have learnt to work smarter from lessons learnt in their journey,” she added.

Such threats and restrictions do not stay isolated within borders, but are often brought over to international fora like the UN.

During International Civil Society Week (ICSW) in Fiji, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former UN Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark noted UN’s continuous struggle to include civil society voices, reminding participants that the UN Charter begins with the words “We the peoples.”

“It doesn’t say we the countries or we the member states,” she said, adding that barriers to civil society participation often comes from member states.

“Not all member states like civil society very much…you just have to keep banging on the door and force it to respond,” Clark said.

LGBT rights have been particularly long contested at the UN. In 2016, Russia with the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) banned 11 LGBT organizations from attending a UN High-Level meeting on Ending AIDS.

And it was only recently that women were formally recognized for their role in climate action during the UN Climate Change Conference in Germany, kickstarting a process to integrate gender equality and human rights into climate action.

Nongebatu also told IPS of the “North and South divide” where larger civil society organizations take up more resources and space and urged for them to ensure that all women who work in human rights are consulted.

She also called on the UN to be inclusive of those in the Pacific Islands who often are unable to make the long journey to New York.

Despite the numerous challenges, Nongebatu remained motivated and asked women activists to stay determined.

“Intersection of all issues is inevitable!…The work we do is never done! Don’t give up! We need to keep fighting!”


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific and small island states who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world met in Suva, Fiji from 4-8 December for International Civil Society Week.

 

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New ‘Anti-Hate Law’ Threatens Freedoms in Venezuelahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/new-anti-hate-law-threatens-freedoms-venezuela/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-anti-hate-law-threatens-freedoms-venezuela http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/new-anti-hate-law-threatens-freedoms-venezuela/#respond Wed, 06 Dec 2017 20:51:47 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153371 Hate speech in the media or social networks in Venezuela is now punishable with prison sentences of up to 20 years, according to a new law issued by the government-controlled National Constituent Assembly (ANC). “A laudable objective, such as preventing hate speech that can lead to crimes and other damages, creates new crimes of opinion […]

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By a show of hands, Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly passed on Nov. 8 the new law against hate, which represents a threat to freedom of expression according to organisations that work to defend free speech. Credit: Zurimar Campos / AVN

By a show of hands, Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly passed on Nov. 8 the new law against hate, which represents a threat to freedom of expression according to organisations that work to defend free speech. Credit: Zurimar Campos / AVN

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Dec 6 2017 (IPS)

Hate speech in the media or social networks in Venezuela is now punishable with prison sentences of up to 20 years, according to a new law issued by the government-controlled National Constituent Assembly (ANC).

“A laudable objective, such as preventing hate speech that can lead to crimes and other damages, creates new crimes of opinion and is aimed at controlling content and freedom of expression,” Marianela Balbi, executive director of the Venezuelan chapter of the Lima-based Press and Society Institute (IPyS), told IPS.

The “Constitutional Law against hatred, for peaceful coexistence and tolerance” was approved by the ANC, which is made up exclusively of supporters of the government of Nicolás Maduro. The ANC was elected on Jul. 30, in elections boycotted by the opposition. It is not recognised by many governments, while the single-chamber National Assembly, where the opposition is in the majority, rejects it as unconstitutional.

“We do not call it a law because laws, in accordance with domestic and international human rights law, are made by parliaments – in this country, the National Assembly – to allow debate and participation, which in this case did not happen,” Carlos Correa, of the non-governmental organisation Espacio Público, dedicated to freedom of expression and information, told IPS.

It was President Maduro, in power since 2013 and political heir of the late leader of the Bolivarian revolution, Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), who requested the approval of the law against hatred.

“The time has come, through a broad political process of awareness-raising, to punish the crimes of hate and intolerance, in all their forms of expression, and to put an end to them definitively,” Maduro said when presenting the bill in August.

Tips for context
* Before the law was passed, 14 people were imprisoned in the last three years, some for several months under ongoing judicial proceedings, for sending messages via Twitter, investigated as accessories to crimes committed in the context of opposition demonstrations, human rights organisations point out.

* The Press Workers’ Union reports that in 2010, 49 media outlets were closed in the country, including 46 radio stations. Espacio Público counts 148 closures of media outlets during the governments of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro.

* Espacio Público registers a record number of 887 violations of freedom of expression in the period Jan.-Sept. 2017, 259 percent more than in 2016. The list covers hundreds of intimidations, attacks and threats to press workers, especially in the context of demonstrations, as well as 83 administrative restrictions on media and 157 cases of censorship.

* The Internet connection speed in Venezuela is 1.9 megabytes per second, comparted to a regional average of 4.7, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

* The International Telecommunications Union records a decrease in the population's access to Internet, from 61.9 to 60 percent between 2015 and 2016, and a decrease in mobile phone coverage from 102 to 87 percent between 2012 and 2016.

Former minister of Foreign Affairs and president of the ANC, Delcy Rodríguez, said that a comparative study was carried out with similar laws in Germany and Ecuador, and that in addition to establishing penalties, the Venezuelan law incorporated provisions to promote education in favour of tolerance.

In July, Germany passed a law that orders service providers such as YouTube or Twitter to remove content considered criminal within 24 hours.

In Ecuador, former president Rafael Correa (2007-2017) proposed a “law that regulates acts of hatred and discrimination in social networks,” with possible sanctions against service providers, but the legislature shelved the bill after Lenin Moreno became president in May.

The 25-article law passed by the ANC does not define what it means by “hate”. According to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language hatred is “antipathy and aversion to something or a person to whom one wishes ill.”

“It is serious that this law puts in the hands of a few officials the assessment of what is or is not a hate crime, because the legal instrument lacks a definition,” Alberto Arteaga, former dean of the Central University of Venezuela’s law school, told IPS.

The rapporteur for freedom of expression in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Uruguayan Edison Lanza, warned that “the law against hatred in Venezuela could severely hinder the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and generate a strong intimidation effect incompatible with a democratic society.”

Lanza lamented the establishment of “exorbitant criminal sanctions and powers to censor traditional media and the Internet, that run counter to international standards on freedom of expression.” In his opinion, “the last free space in Venezuela, the social networks, will be censored.”

The law aims to prevent and repress all expressions that “promote war or incite hatred of national, racial, ethnic, religious, political, social, ideological, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and any other nature that constitutes incitement to discrimination, intolerance or violence. ”

Political organisations will have to reform their statutes to expel any members who spread expressions of hatred. The penalty for not following this rule will be the cancellation of the registration of the party considered to have infringed the law.

Any print or audiovisual media outlets that emit messages punishable by law will be subject to fines, closure or termination of their concession, independently of the penalties that may fall individually on those responsible.

Administrators of social networks and online media outlets must withdraw messages that contravene the law within a maximum period of six hours, or they will be sanctioned.

The penalty for spreading messages that instigate hatred, war, discrimination or intolerance can range from 10 to 20 years in prison.

The sanctions will be imposed by courts and by the state National Telecommunications Commission.

In addition, the law creates a Commission for the Promotion and Guarantee of Peaceful Coexistence, which will dictate the measures that the authorities and official agencies and citizens must follow to fulfill the objectives of the law and avoid impunity.

The new 15-member Commission, appointed by the ANC itself, will be made up of representatives of that body, the executive branch, the other branches of government, excluding parliament, and three social organisations that promote coexistence.

Balbi argued that the new law “establishes a very dangerous discretionality, which is unnecessary to protect aspects such as security or the good repute of people, because they already are covered by the Constitution, other laws and international treaties that Venezuela has signed.”

The National Assembly rejected “the supposed law”, because it was produced by a body that it sees as not having the authority to create laws, and because “it constitutes a gross attempt to criminalise and sanction political dissidence, putting at risk plurality, freedom of expression and the right to information.”

But the decisions by the parliament elected in December 2015 are systematically blocked and ignored by the Supreme Court of Justice, the executive branch and other Venezuelan authorities.

Correa said the new law “is aimed towards building a logic of fear. It seeks censorship and self-censorship. It tries to get into people’s feelings, something characteristic of not only authoritarian but of totalitarian regimes.”
The new law, which entered into force on Nov. 8, has not yet been applied to any institution or person.

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“Ending the genocide is not profitable”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/ending-genocide-not-profitable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ending-genocide-not-profitable http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/ending-genocide-not-profitable/#respond Wed, 06 Dec 2017 17:15:21 +0000 Naznin Tithi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153364 Dr Maung Zarni, a UK-based Burmese genocide scholar and human rights activist who campaigns for the end of Myanmar genocide against Rohingyas, talks with The Daily Star's Naznin Tithi about how the international community has failed to take concrete and effective actions to end the state-directed persecution spanning 40 years.

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Dr Maung Zarni, a UK-based Burmese genocide scholar and human rights activist who campaigns for the end of Myanmar genocide against Rohingyas, talks with The Daily Star's Naznin Tithi about how the international community has failed to take concrete and effective actions to end the state-directed persecution spanning 40 years.

By Naznin Tithi
Dec 6 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

What made you take up the role of an activist on the Rohingya issue?

Personally, there are layers of connections with this issue.

Dr Maung Zarni

First, I have been a human rights and political activist for the last 29 years. I can’t call myself a human rights defender and turn my back on my own country’s genocide, like most human rights defenders in Myanmar are doing today.

Second, and on a more personal level, my own late great uncle was the deputy commander-in-charge of Arakan in the late 1950s when Rohingyas were considered both an ethnic group of the Union of Burma and full citizens. Since my own relative was directly involved in this issue at a time when the army treated them well, I felt that I needed to get involved when the army is treating them so brutally.

The third reason is that I am a Buddhist. And I cannot keep quiet when I see genocide, the most anti-Buddha Dharma, being committed by the military, aided and abetted by the Buddhist society at large, including monks. Every time Suu Kyi denies and dismisses genocide allegations she too is guilty. For denial is part of genocide.

You said genocide has been going on for a long time. How then did it manage to evade international attention?

The problem is not that the UN-clustered world of governments and human rights organisations had not known this. They have known this for a long, long time. But they did not take the persecution of Rohingyas seriously enough to see the genocidal nature of the persecution, much less take any effective policy measures to end it.

Bangladeshi governments since the 1970s have known what has been happening because refugees were flowing into Bangladesh by the hundreds of thousands. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has been aware of this issue since 1978 because it was brought in to help with the first refugee crisis in mid-1978. So if UNHCR knew, it means the UN knew. Countries like the US and UK and key UN agencies have known this for the last 39 years. In 1978, the late US Senator Ted Kennedy, John F Kennedy’s younger brother, came to Bangladesh and the US Congress donated about USD 150,000 to manage the refugee crisis.

Dawn, Bangkok Post and Far Eastern Economic Review based in Hong Kong all knew about this. Back in 1978 news headlines were something like “Burmese Muslims, machine-gunned down by the Burmese government troops” or “Burma’s brand of apartheid”.

Around two weeks ago, Amnesty International published a report saying dehumanising “apartheid” is ongoing in Myanmar. Well, the word “apartheid” was used as early as July 1978 in a magazine article in the Far Eastern Economic Review. “Burma’s brand of apartheid” was the title! It seems the world’s oldest human rights watchdog was asleep throughout these decades. For Amnesty International to characterise a full, institutionalised genocide in slow motion as “apartheid” is utterly unconscionable. It is just infinitely pathetic!

The UN has passed resolution every year for the last 25 years with the exception of last year. We have had at least six special rapporteurs since 1993 investigating inter alia the persecution of Rohingyas.

UNHCR has a huge operation in Myanmar. To my deep dismay, it has even issued orders to its staff in Myanmar telling them not to say the word “Rohingya” in any writing but to call them “Muslims from Rakhine” in clear violation of the group’s fundamental right to self-identify. The UN Resident Coordinator in Myanmar and World Food Programme were concealing information about the genocide!

So the world did not just “discover” this, it’s a lie. Those in international politics and the humanitarian world are not even lifting a finger because helping the Rohingyas is not profitable. Ending genocide is not profitable. Working with the killers is profitable. Because the killers have monopoly over natural gas, strategic coastlines, deep sea ports, visas, etc. So it’s not the lack of knowledge. It’s self-interest and the pretence of not knowing that are in play.

Dr. Maung Zarni with his late great uncle Zeya Kyaw Htin Major Ant Kywe in November 2005.

The UN has not gone so far as calling it genocide. Your comments?

Legal scholars, genocide scholars and even practitioners of international law from Yale Law School and Queen Mary U Law, from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to the Permanent People’s Tribunal on Myanmar, have all called it genocide.

Because there is no political will to use force to end the genocide, the UN, US and UK play what Austrian philosopher Wittgenstein called “language games”. But some of us including renowned genocide scholars such as Greg Stanton and Daniel Fierstein refuse to use the word “ethnic cleansing”: it is a euphemism that was originally released into mass media by Milosevic, the Serbian genocidal leader.

We now have a new doctrine called “Responsibility to Protect” or R2P, post-Rwanda and Srebrenica. And if a UN member state fails to protect people, not just citizens, who live within its territory, the neighbours and the entire UN system have a responsibility to go in and protect that community and to punish the perpetrating regime such as Myanmar. And that principle can be invoked if four crimes take place; one of them is ethnic cleansing which has no legal basis in international law. My Rwandan friends are outraged that UN is letting another genocide unfold.

So yes, the UN should call it genocide. But even if it is not prepared to call it genocide, ethnic cleansing is enough of an inhuman deed for the international community to intervene. NATO bombed Milosevic’s palace, and the genocidal bully was forced to accept a deal to stop the genocide.

How would you assess Bangladesh’s role in this crisis?

I want to separate Bangladesh’s role in two different ways. There is palpable and genuine compassion and outrage among the Bangladeshi people regarding the genocide next door. This is such a positive and welcome shift in public opinion. Previously, Rohingyas were seen as potential criminals, or exploitable cheap labourers.

The Bangladeshi government does not feel that resolving the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar is its main concern; its main concern is to make sure that the Rohingyas return to their country. Bangladesh is a very populous country. So understandably, Dhaka places its primary emphasis on repatriating the Rohingyas, who belong in Myanmar.

But there is a major problem with that. The Rohingyas did not come here voluntarily nor were they merely displaced across the border. They came as survivors of Myanmar’s genocide. These attacks need to be stopped and their safety in Myanmar established with armed UN protection. The solution lies in ending the genocide in Myanmar. Repatriation is just a temporary relief.

Sending the Rohingyas back while what I call “slow-burning genocide” is ongoing will not work and has not worked in 39 years. Dhaka needs to come to terms with the fact that the fate and wellbeing of the Rohingyas have become interlinked with its national interests and stability—they are not two separate issues. Bangladesh has played an exemplary humane role in the world’s opinion. This newfound prestige and moral influence should be fully capitalised on, not simply to repatriate the survivors, but also to end the genocide.

Dr Maung Zarni is co-author (with Natalie Brinham) of the pioneering genocide study “The Slow Burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingyas” (Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal, University of Washington School of Law, Spring 2014).


This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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New Safety Handbook by IAWRThttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/new-safety-handbook-iawrt/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-safety-handbook-iawrt http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/new-safety-handbook-iawrt/#respond Mon, 04 Dec 2017 18:39:24 +0000 Ronalyn Olea and Bibiana Piene http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153309 Female, journalist and caught in a crossfire?

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Female, journalist and caught in a crossfire?

By Ronalyn V. Olea and Bibiana Piene
OSLO, Dec 4 2017 (IPS)

Hopefully female journalists have read it by now “What if…? Safety Handbook for Women Journalists”. The handbook, written by renowned safety trainer Abeer Saady, an Egyptian, and published by The International Association for Women in Radio and Televison (IAWRT), provides hands on tips on what to do when caught in a crossfire , when stopped at checkpoints, arrested during coverage, or kidnapped and held hostage.

Abeer Saady, and Nonee Walsh

Security and safety for journalists, especially females, is often not taught in schools and rarely discussed in newsrooms. Still, a global survey of security risks for women journalists revealed that the majority preferred not to report on gender-based violence for fear of harassment, losing their job or being stigmatized.

More male journalists are killed every year than women, but female journalists are increasingly entering the field of high risk journalism and covering conflicts. In the Philippines twelve women journalists were killed in the line of duty since the restoration of democratic institutions in 1986, four them in the Ampatuan massacre in 2009. None of the perpetrators were brought to justice.

The handbook compiles experiences, not only Saady’s as a journalist with 27 years of experience, but also of other women journalists who have faced different and difficult situations.

Saady underscores the importance of physical, psychosocial and digital safety and security, and points out risk assessment, profile management, situational and digital awareness and a safety plan as crucial tools.

Many of the tips shared in the handbook are practical enough for any journalist or newsroom to follow.

Psychosocial security is something that’s not always attended to. What to do if you as a journalist lose sleep after covering war or violence? The handbook also suggests ways of dealing with trauma.

The handbook provides tips in dealing with online harassment, such as naming and shaming the online harasser and moderating the comments section as well aspreventing people from remaining anonymous, among others.

A Norwegian journalist, interviewed in the book, became a victim of online harassment. She believes that a better solution would be to develop what she calls harassment competence, such as distinguishing between ‘the angry’, ‘the crazy’, and ‘the dangerous’ bullies.

– The ‘angry’ are people you can respond to, and perhaps even make them understand that you’re a person who might get hurt by their utterances. Harassment coming from ‘the crazy’ and ‘the dangerous’ had better be ignored…since a reply often makes the bullying even worse, she says.

In social media women journalists should take precaution in protecting their digital safety and security. Social media accounts and emails can be hacked. The handbook lists tips on how to carry out a digital clean up.

The handbook has a separate section on ethical safety decisions. The main point is to do no harm.

Another section is devoted to legal safety. Knowing one’s rights as a journalist and the libel and other media laws in one’s country is helpful.

The handbook, which can be downloaded from the IAWRT’s website, is a must-read for every female journalist. The aim is to help creating an environment where women journalists can perform their job without fear or danger.

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Women Activists are Targets of Gender-Biased Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/women-activists-targets-gender-biased-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-activists-targets-gender-biased-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/women-activists-targets-gender-biased-violence/#respond Tue, 28 Nov 2017 02:10:31 +0000 Mariela Jara http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153220 This article is part of the special IPS coverage for the 16 days of activism that start on Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

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Fanny Kaekat, indigenous leader of the Shuar Arutam people, has spent her life defending the territories of indigenous communities in southeastern Ecuador from the threat of mining. She poses at the 14th Latin American Feminist Meeting, in Montevideo, in front of a poster that reads: "my body, my territory", a slogan of women human rights defenders. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

Fanny Kaekat, indigenous leader of the Shuar Arutam people, has spent her life defending the territories of indigenous communities in southeastern Ecuador from the threat of mining. She poses at the 14th Latin American Feminist Meeting, in Montevideo, in front of a poster that reads: "my body, my territory", a slogan of women human rights defenders. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

By Mariela Jara
MONTEVIDEO, Nov 28 2017 (IPS)

Veiled and direct threats, defamation, criminalisation of activism, attacks on their private lives, destruction of property and assets needed to support their families, and even murder are some forms of gender violence that extend throughout Latin America against women defenders of rights.

“They want to throw us off our land, they do not leave us alone. The helicopters fly at midnight, there are rumours that they are going to attack us,” Fanny Kaekat, an indigenous leader of the Shuar Arutam people in Ecuador, who for decades have been resisting the harassment of mining companies interested in the gold in their territories in the southeast of the country, told IPS.

In 2016, the government of then President Rafael Correa (2007-2017) declared a state of emergency and the military entered to force the families out of their village. They focused their brutality on women, denounced Kaekat, at the 14th Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Conference (Eflac), held in the Uruguayan capital."Women rights activists challenge many traditional and cultural roles, breaking with the stereotype of women dedicated to the home, and they mobilise for a double agenda, the sovereignty of their bodies and of their territories, the freedom to decide over them. The system’s response is to discipline them." -- Denisse Chávez

“Because of our culture, we have a number of children, five or six, we cannot move easily as men, who quickly climb into the mountains. When the soldiers came, they burned our huts and kicked over ourpots with food,” Kaekat said, describing the destruction of homes and household implements necessary for sustenance.

The violence against women rights activists was one of the main topics discussed at Eflac, which brought together some 2,000 feminists between Nov. 23 and 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which marks the start of 16 days of activism to eradicate a problem that is growing rather than declining in the region.

This is shown by the report “Commitment to Action: Public Policies to Eradicate Violence against Women in Latin America and the Caribbean”, launched on Nov. 22 by UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which stresses that the region has the highest rates of gender violence not perpetrated by a partner and the second highest committed by an intimate partner.

One case discussed at the Eflac was the 2016 murder of internationally renowned environmentalist Berta Cáceres, a leader of the Lenca people in Honduras and a feminist activist who was leading the defence of the right to water and the fight against the construction of a dam on the Zarca River.

Although no one has been charged with planning her murder, Cáceres’ family blames Desarrollos Energéticos SA, the company in charge of construction of the dam.

That year was especially cruel for those who defend their territories from the greed of companies that develop extractivist projects without respecting the right to prior and informed consultation of indigenous peoples, and without taking into account the irreparable damage to the environment and local communities.

The 2016 annual report of the non-governmental organisation Global Witness points out that 60 percent of the 200 murders of human rights defenders in the world occurred in Latin America.

For Denisse Chávez, from the Peruvian group Women and Climate Change, there is an escalation of violence against women in local communities, with a greater emphasis on activists, because of the role they play in strengthening community ties.

Yanet Caruajulca, a Peruvian activist for the right to water and a healthy environment, stands in front of a poster at the 14th Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Conference, in the city of Montevideo, where one of the focal points was the analysis of gender-based attacks on women human rights defenders in the region. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

Yanet Caruajulca, a Peruvian activist for the right to water and a healthy environment, stands in front of a poster at the 14th Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Conference, in the city of Montevideo, where one of the focal points was the analysis of gender-based attacks on women human rights defenders in the region. Credit: Mariela Jara / IPS

“This alliance of extractivist capitalism with patriarchy targets women and seeks to control and subdue both their bodies and their territories. Those who rebel, protest and defend their rights to be free and sovereign are repressed and subject to different forms of violence,” she told IPS.

Chávez recalled that the first Tribunal for Justice in Defence of the Rights of Pan-Amazonian and Andean Women, held within the VIII Pan-Amazonian Social Forum, in April in Peru’s central jungle, analysed emblematic cases from six countries, which showed that violence against women activists is due to their role in defending the territories and community life, along with specific gender biases.

“It is a role that also contributes to preserving nature and the cultures and worldviews that contribute to the sustainability of life,” said the activist, whose organisation, together with other groups, is carrying out a regional campaign for the rights of women defenders during the Eflac.

Nilde Sousa, of the Brazilian Women’s Articulation, denounced in the conference the plunder of territories in her country. One of the emblematic cases is that of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant on the Xingu River, which began operating in 2016, in the Amazon state of Pará.

The construction of this megaproject, she said, entailed the displacement of families, the destruction of ecosystems and an increase in violence, especially the sexual exploitation of girls and adolescents.

“We have been fighting relentlessly, and we tell this encroachment by capitalism that our bodies should not be violated, our territories should not be violated, they should be respected,” Sousa declared.

In spite of everything, thanks to their struggles, women activists have gained a public space, participants in Montevideo concluded.

“Women rights activists challenge many traditional and cultural roles, breaking with the stereotype of women dedicated to the home, and they mobilise for a double agenda, the sovereignty of their bodies and of their territories, the freedom to decide over them. The system’s response is to discipline them,” said Chávez, alluding to the concept contributed by the Argentine feminist academic Rita Segato.

Yanet Caruajulca is one of the women who has shaken the traditional moulds and in the Andean highlands of Peru, in the region of Cajamarca, defends the right to water and demands the withdrawal of several mining companies.

She heads the Regional Federation of Rondas Campesinas (literally “peasant rounds”) and has taken to the streets numerous times to protest. She is currently on trial, for vandalism charges brought in 2013. “I am summoned on Dec. 12 to hear the sentence,” she told IPS, describing the judicial proceedings as tortuous.

“I had no defence counsel, the hearings are not in my district, Bambamarca, but in the capital city of Cajamarca, more than two and a half hours away by road. And I do not have the financial means for all those expenses,” she said.

The wrongful use of criminal law is precisely one of the methods reported by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), used to criminalise social protests and activism.

According to a 2015 report by the IACHR, the effects of criminalisation include damages to mental health, disruption of family life and implications for community life.

“For me it is a constant worry, I think about what will happen to my children if I am convicted, and also that if that happens, I would not be able to do anything. In addition, it would be a message to the population to not speak out, to not protest, to not claim their rights, because if they do, the same thing may happen to them,” said Carajualca.

As in her case or that of Berta Cáceres and other rights defenders, the institutions are weak to protect them.

The UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights and the IACHR have made successive appeals to countries in the region to comply with protecting and guaranteeing the rights of activists. There is even a UN resolution in this regard.

However, the dangers persist for women activists. But, as participants in the Eflac stressed, it is by joining efforts that women will find the support and the strength to continue, under the slogan of the meeting: “diverse but not dispersed”.

The post Women Activists are Targets of Gender-Biased Violence appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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