Inter Press Service » Crime & Justice Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:54:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ‘Record’ Illicit Money Lost by Developing Countries Triples in a Decade Tue, 16 Dec 2014 21:46:25 +0000 Carey L. Biron There is a broad spectrum of potential avenues for the illegal skimming from or shifting of profits in developing countries, carried out by criminal entities, corrupt officials and dishonest corporations.  Credit: epSos .de/cc by 2.0

There is a broad spectrum of potential avenues for the illegal skimming from or shifting of profits in developing countries, carried out by criminal entities, corrupt officials and dishonest corporations. Credit: epSos .de/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 16 2014 (IPS)

Developing countries are losing money through illicit channels at twice the rate at which their economies are growing, according to new estimates released Tuesday. Further, the total volume of these lost funds appears to be rapidly expanding.

Findings from Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a watchdog group based here, re-confirm previous estimates that developing countries are losing almost a trillion dollars a year through tax evasion, corruption and other financial crimes. Yet in a new report covering the decade through 2012, GFI’s researchers show that the rate at which these illicit outflows are taking place has risen significantly.“If we take [these] findings seriously, we can address extreme poverty in our lifetimes.” -- Eric LeCompte

In 2003, for instance, cumulative illicit capital leaving developing countries was pegged at around 297 billion dollars. That’s significant, of course, but relatively little compared to the more than 991 billion now estimated for 2012 – a record figure, thus far.

In less than a decade, then, these illicit outflows more than tripled in size, totalling at least 6.6 billion dollars. GFI reports that this works out to an adjusted average growth of some 9.4 percent per year, or twice the average global growth in gross domestic product (GDP).

One of the most common mechanisms for moving this money has been the falsification of trade invoices.

“After turning down following the financial crisis, global trade is going up again and so it’s increasingly easy to engage in misinvoicing – a lot more people are coming to understand how to do this and are willing to indulge,” Raymond Baker, GFI’s president, told IPS.

“These rates are not only growing faster than global GDP but also faster than the rate of growth of global trade.”

Further, these estimates are likely conservative, and don’t cover a broad spectrum of data that is not officially reported – cash-based criminal activities, for instance, or unofficial “hawala” transactions.

Baker emphasises that these capital losses are a problem affecting the entire developing world. Yet given that illicit outflows run in tandem with a country’s broader interaction with global trade, these rates are particularly strong in the world’s emerging economies, led by China, Russia, Mexico and India.

There are also significant differentials between regions, both is size and the rate at which they’re increasing. In the Middle East and North Africa, for instance, illicit financial flows are growing far higher than the global average, at more than 24 percent per year.

Even in sub-Saharan Africa, home to some of the world’s poorest communities, these rates are growing at more than 13 percent per year. Such figures eclipse both foreign assistance and foreign investment – indeed, the 2012 figure was more than 11 times the total development assistance offered on a global basis.

“If we take [these] findings seriously, we can address extreme poverty in our lifetimes,” Eric LeCompte, an expert to U.N. groups that focus on these issues, said Monday. “Countries need resources and if we curb these illicit practices, we can get the money where it’s needed most.”

Lucrative misinvoicing

There is a broad spectrum of potential avenues for the illegal skimming from or shifting of profits in developing countries, carried out by criminal entities, corrupt officials and dishonest corporations. And for the first time, certain of these key issues are receiving new and concerted international attention.

Multiple nascent multinational actions are now unfolding aimed at cracking down particularly on tax evasion by transnational companies. New transparency mechanisms are in the process of being rolled by several multilateral groups, including the Group of 20 (G20) industrialized nations and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a Paris-based grouping of rich countries.

Such initiatives are receiving keen attention from civil society groups, and would likely constrict these illicit flows. Yet in fact, GFI’s research suggests that the overwhelming method by which capital is illegally leaving developing countries is far more mundane and, potentially, complex to tackle.

This has to do with simple trade misinvoicing, in which companies purposefully use incorrect pricing of imports or exports to justify the transfer of funds out of or into a country, thus laundering ill-gotten finances or helping companies to hide profits. Over the past decade, the new GFI report estimates, more than three-quarters of illicit financial flows were facilitated by trade misinvoicing.

And this includes only misinvoicing for goods, not services. Likely the real figure is far higher.

Experts say that stopping misinvoicing completely will be impossible, but note that there are multiple ways to curtail the problem. First would be to ensure greater transparency in the global financial system, to eliminate tax havens and “shell corporations” and to require the automatic exchange of tax information across borders.

Efforts are currently underway to accomplish each of these, to varying degrees. Last month, leaders of the G20 countries agreed to begin automatically sharing tax information by the end of next year, and also committed to assist developing countries to engage in such sharing in the future.

GFI’s Baker says that developing countries need to bolster their customs systems, but notes that other tools are already readily available to push back against trade misinvoicing.

“There is a growing volume of online pricing data available that can be accessed in real time,” he says. “This gives developing countries the ability to look at transactions coming in and going out and to get an immediate idea as to whether the pricing accords with international norms. And if not, they can quickly question the transaction.”

Development goal

There is today broad recognition of the monumental impact that illicit financial flows have on poor countries’ ability to fund their own development. Given the centrality of trade misinvoicing in this problem, there are also increasing calls for multilateral action to take direct aim at the issue.

In particular, some development scholars and anti-poverty campaigners are urging that a related goal be included in the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), currently under negotiation at the United Nations and planned to be unveiled in mid-2015.

Under this framework, GFI is calling for the international community to agree to halve trade-related illicit flows within a decade and a half. The OECD is hosting a two-day conference this week to discuss the issue.

“We’re not talking about an aspirational goal but rather a very measurable goal. That’s doable, but it will take political will,” Baker says.

“We think the SDGs should incorporate very specific, targetable goals that can have huge impact on development and helping developing countries keep their own money. In our view, that’s the most important objective.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

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OPINION: Give Peace a Chance – Run with Youth Mon, 15 Dec 2014 16:21:41 +0000 Ettie Higgins Children at play at the Yida settlement in Unity state, in northern South Sudan. Opened in 2011, Yida has over 70,000 refugees. Some 85 percent are children and women from the Nuban Mountains of South Kordofan, who fled bombardments and violence there. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Children at play at the Yida settlement in Unity state, in northern South Sudan. Opened in 2011, Yida has over 70,000 refugees. Some 85 percent are children and women from the Nuban Mountains of South Kordofan, who fled bombardments and violence there. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Ettie Higgins
JUBA, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

Rambang “Raymond” Tot Deng was 18 and attending his final year of school when fighting erupted in South Sudan’s capital Juba, one year ago. In the ensuing violence, as Raymond’s schoolbooks burned, thousands of South Sudanese were killed, including two of his cousins.

Many fled to U.N. bases for protection or to neighbouring countries. “I saw children killed and women killed and everybody was crying,” Raymond recalls.“Let all youth in the world facing the same thing we are, know that forgiveness is the first priority. Give us the tools, and we will create peace.” -- Rambang “Raymond” Tot Deng

It was never meant to be this way. The bells of celebration that rang around South Sudan just two years ago are today emergency sirens. And while South Sudan is a crisis for children and of young people, sparse global attention has been paid to them. This must change.

The well of pain runs deep in many parts of Africa, and yet it is young people who offer the best chance for true conflict resolution, and lasting peace. Conflict-affected youth are often the most ambitious, the hardest workers.

They want back what was taken from them: opportunity. They want an education and they want to earn a livable wage.

Since conflict began, an estimated 1.8 million South Sudanese have fled their homes. Many remain on the move, while tens of thousands are living in camps in South Sudan, such as the UN Protection of Civilian camp #1 on the outskirts of southern Juba.

Here Raymond lives alongside 10,000 other youth. Whilst ever grateful for the protection the camp offers, Raymond says: “Life in the camp is difficult. You can see people just lying, sitting down, there’s nowhere people can go, nothing for them to do.”

Raymond’s experience of war, violence and suffering has been shared by hundreds of thousands across the region. But during the past two to three decades, it has consistently been young people who have been most affected by the conflicts that have raged.

This early experience of conflict leaves young people in a kind of no man’s land. Education interrupted, opportunities crushed. In South Sudan 400,000 young people have lost the chance to have an education, in this year alone.

Hundreds of thousands more are jaded, frustrated and disconnected, putting them at a critical crossroads, do they fight or fight for peace?

“Some of the youth with whom I was together outside [the camp] joined the rebellion,” says Raymond. “They would say, ‘if I could be in this dire situation we are now in, why should I be here’?”

And yet Raymond offers an important caveat: “Fighting cannot take everybody everywhere. Only peace can unite people as one.”

How then to do this? UNICEF believes one answer is through providing essential services, and in particular, education. Basic education and vocational-skills training can lift people out of poverty by providing opportunity.

But an education can be so much more, teaching war-torn children things many of us take for granted. At school children learn about the environment, about sanitation, and the importance of good nutrition. In turn, they become agents of change, conveying good practices to their families.

Importantly, children who go to school are less likely to be recruited by armed groups. UNICEF, through Learning for Peace, our Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme, is helping to rebuild and improve schools in both conflict and former conflict zones in South Sudan, providing materials and psychosocial support to help children cope with the traumas they have suffered.

UNICEF believes a key strategy for governments, the African Union, IGAD and development agencies is to counter insecurity through harnessing and connecting with youth.

On this, Raymond should be a poster child. Despite the horror he experienced a year ago, the boredom of the camp and the frustrations of having his education suspended, he is a born peacemaker. Now part of a youth forum in the Juba camp, he leads discussions on the root causes of conflict and reconciliation.

Raymond deserves to have his voice heard. “Let all youth in the world facing the same thing we are, know that forgiveness is the first priority, he says. “Give us the tools, and we will create peace.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Filipino Children Make Gains on Paper, But Reality Lags Behind Mon, 15 Dec 2014 00:38:52 +0000 Diana Mendoza Teenage pregnancy affects 1.4 million Filipino girls aged 15 to 19. Credit: Stella Estremera/IPS

Teenage pregnancy affects 1.4 million Filipino girls aged 15 to 19. Credit: Stella Estremera/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

Mae Baez sees some of the darkest sides of communications technology.

A child rights advocate with the secretariat of the Philippine NGO Coalition on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Baez says, “Teenage pregnancies continue to rise, street children are treated like criminals who are punished, children in conflict with the law and those affected by disasters are not taken care of, and now, with the prevalence of child porn, children know how to video call.”“The government has not intervened in protecting children from early marriage and in ending the decades-long war between Muslims and Christians to achieve true and lasting peace." -- Mark Timbang

The most notable case of this last scourge was early this year in the island of Cebu, 570 kilometres south of Manila, where the Philippine National Police arrested and tried foreign nationals for pedophilia and child pornography in a large-scale cybersex business.

While the Philippines is praised by international human rights groups as having an advanced legal framework for children, child rights advocates like Baez said “violations continue to persist,” including widespread corporal punishment at home, in schools and in other settings.

The Bata Muna (Child First), a nationwide movement that monitors the implementation of children’s rights in the Philippines consisting of 23 children’s organisations jointly convened by Save the Children, Zone One Tondo Organization consisting of urban poor communities, and Children Talk to Children (C2C), said these violations were contained in the United Nations reviews and expert recommendations to the Philippine government.

The movement listed the gains on the realisation of children’s rights with the existence of the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act, Anti-Child Trafficking, Anti-Pornography Act and Foster Care Act, among other policies protecting children.

There is also the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), a social welfare programme intended to eradicate extreme poverty by investing in children’s education and health; the National Strategic Framework for the Development of Children 2001-2025; the Philippine Plan of Action for Children; and the growing collective efforts of civil society to claim children’s rights.

But Baez said these laws have not been fully implemented, and are in fact clouded by current legislative proposals such as amending the country’s Revised Penal Code to raise the age of statutory rape from the current 12 to 16 to align the country’s laws to internationally-accepted standard of age of consent.

The recently-enacted Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, which endured 15 years of being filed, re-filed and debated on in the Philippine Congress, has yet to be implemented. Many civil society groups have pinned their hopes on this law on the education of young people on sexual responsibility and life skills.

Teenage pregnancy, which affects 1.4 million Filipino girls aged 15 to 19, is widespread in the country, according to the University of the Philippines Population Institute that conducted the Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Survey in 2013.

There are 43 million young Filipinos under 18, according to 2014 estimates of the National Statistics Office, and these youth, especially those in the poorest households and with limited education, need to be informed about their bodies, their health and their rights to prevent early pregnancies.

The child advocates said early pregnancies deny young girls their basic human rights and prevent them from continuing their schooling. The advocates said if the Reproductive Health Law is implemented immediately, many girls and boys will be able to receive correct information on how to protect and care for their bodies.

On education, Baez said the government’s intention to provide more access has yet to be realised with the introduction in 2011 of the K to 12 program to provide a child ample time to be skilled, develop lifelong learning, and prepare them for tertiary education, middle-level skills development, employment, and entrepreneurship.

“While the programme does not solve the high drop-out rate in primary education, children in remote and poor areas still walk kilometres just to go to school,” Baez said.

This situation was echoed by Mark Timbang, advocacy coordinator of the Mindanao Action Group for Children’s Rights and Protection in the country’s predominantly Muslim south, who said the government has not shown its intentions to provide children a more convenient way of going to school.

Timbang also said “the government has not intervened in protecting children from early marriage and in ending the decades-long war between Muslims and Christians to achieve true and lasting peace” where children can grow safely.

Sheila Carreon, child participation officer of Save the Children, added that another pending bill seeks to raise the age of children who can participate in the Sangguniang Kabataan (Youth Council), a youth political body that is a mechanism for children’s participation in governance, from the current 15-17 years to 18-24.

“We urged the government not to erase children in the council. Let the children experience the issues that concern them. The council is their only platform,” said Carreon.

Angelica Ramirez, advocacy officer of the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development, said existing laws do not give enough protection to children, citing as an example pending legislative measures that seek positive discipline instead of using corporal punishment on children.

Foremost among them is the Positive Discipline and Anti Corporal Punishment bill that promotes the positive discipline approach that seeks to teach children that violence is not an acceptable and appropriate strategy in resolving conflict.

It promotes non-violent parenting that guides children’s behaviour while respecting their rights to healthy development and participation in learning, develops their positive communication and attention skills, and provides them with opportunities to evaluate the choices they make.

Specifically, the bill suggests immediately correcting a child’s wrongdoing, teaching the child a lesson, giving tools that build self -discipline and emotional control, and building a good relationship with the child by understanding his or her needs and capabilities at each stage of development without the use of violence and by preventing embarrassment and indignity on a child.

Citing a campaign-related slogan that quotes children saying, “You don’t need to hurt us to let us learn,” Ramirez said corporal punishment is “rampant and prevalent,” as it is considered in many Filipino households as a cultural norm.

She cited a 2011 Pulse Asia survey that said eight out of 10 Filipino children experience corporal punishment and two out of three parents know no other means of disciplining their children.

Addressing this issue by stopping the practice can have a good ripple effect on future generations, said Ramirez, because nine out of 10 parents who practice corporal punishment said it was also used by their parents to discipline them.

The U.N. defines corporal punishment as the physical, emotional and psychological punishment of children in the guise of discipline. As one of the cruelest forms of violence against children, corporal punishment is a violation of children’s rights. It recommends that all countries, including the Philippines as a signatory to the convention, implement a law prohibiting all forms of corporal punishment in schools, private and public institutions, the juvenile justice system, alternative care system, and the home.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Georgia Confronts Domestic Violence Thu, 11 Dec 2014 13:11:23 +0000 Giorgi Lomsadze Georgians gathered in central Tbilisi on Nov. 25 to rally against domestic violence during the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Credit: Giorgi Lomsadze

Georgians gathered in central Tbilisi on Nov. 25 to rally against domestic violence during the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Credit: Giorgi Lomsadze

By Giorgi Lomsadze
TBILISI, Dec 11 2014 (EurasiaNet)

The issue of domestic violence is moving to the forefront of public attention in Georgia after a series of killings of women at the hands of their respective spouses or ex-spouses made headlines in local mass media.

While no quick fix exists for the spike in violence, observers believe that changing the way police respond to abuse complaints is a good place to start.

When 22-year-old model Salome Jorbenadze phoned the police earlier this year in the western town of Zugdidi, she was hoping to receive protection against her abusive former husband. But all she received was a lecture from two policewomen about what a woman has to do to pacify an embittered ex, a source familiar with the case told”For many, being a man means to show that you've got the power, that you are in charge, and some just flip when they cannot assert that role and they take it out on women.” -- Naniko Vachnadze

Jorbenadze went on to complain to an in-house police-oversight agency. But no restraining order was issued against her former husband, Sergi Satseradze, a police officer. He later shot Jorbenadze dead in a crowded Zugdidi park on Jul. 25.

Twenty-four other women are estimated to have met similar fates this year. One analyst studying the trend asserts police have repeatedly failed to act on women’s reports of receiving threats from their former or current spouses.

“Such cases show that the state is failing to fulfill its ultimate human rights commitment: protecting the lives of its citizens,” said Tamar Dekanosidze, an attorney specialising in human-rights law at the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, a civil-rights watchdog.

English teacher Maka Tsivtsivadze also reported death threats she was receiving from her former husband, but he only received a verbal warning from police. Her Oct. 17 murder, taking place in broad daylight inside a centrally located university building in the capital, Tbilisi, shocked city residents.

The number of such killings is believed to be a record for a single year, but the way the police categorise such murders muddies the picture. A killing involving a man and his current or former wife is almost always classified as an unintentional, rather than premeditated murder – even in one 2013 case when an ex-husband fired 24 shots at his ex-wife, Dekanosidze said.

The misclassification of many killings skews official crime statistics and also leads to less severe sentences for those convicted of crimes. Premeditated murders carry a seven-to-15 year prison sentence; death from bodily injuries, six to eight years.

Prosecutors and police did not respond to requests for comment.

Tsivtsivadze’s case may be a tipping point for change. Amid a recent series of protests and rallies designed to heighten awareness of domestic violence, officials have acknowledged that Georgia has a femicide problem. It has set up an ad-hoc commission to collect recommendations from civil society groups and international experts on how to tackle gender-based violence.

UN Women, the United Nations agency that focuses on women’s issues, has advised that simplifying procedures for issuing restraining orders could help. The organisation’s Georgia branch has suggested allowing police to issue a restraining order even without court approval, and using bracelets “to control compliance,” said Irina Japaridze, who runs a gender-equality programme for UN Women.

At the same time, many recent public discussions have tried to put Georgians collectively on the couch to try to gain insight into the motivations behind the violence. Social psychologists worry about a copycat-killing effect, but Georgian society’s patriarchal norms are broadly seen as the root of the problem.

“I think we generally have very wrong ideas about what it means to be a man,” commented Naniko Vachnadze, a female graduate student at the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs in Tbilisi. ”For many, being a man means to show that you’ve got the power, that you are in charge, and some just flip when they cannot assert that role and they take it out on women.”

Thirty-four percent of 2,391 respondents in a 2013 poll run by the UN Women programme said that violence against women “can be justified in certain domestic circumstances, such as neglect of maternal duties or other family cares,” Japaridze said.

Men are often given the benefit of the doubt for such behaviour, an attitude that can result in psychological abuse, Vachnadze said. “Many husbands are telling their wives not to go to work, not to visit friends, stay home and raise the kids,” she elaborated.

The perception of a husband’s role can continue even after a divorce. Many Georgians see an ex-wife leading an independent life as a humiliation for the man.

As elsewhere in the macho Caucasus, male and female frequently are not seen as created equal. The tradition of parents passing on property exclusively to a male heir still exists; a female fetus tends more often to lead to an abortion.

Other underlying psychological issues are believed to contribute to abuse – namely, the traumatizing post-Soviet experience of wars, lawlessness and economic collapse, as well as stress associated with the fast pace of societal change over the past two decades. Some see the violence even as a manifestation of men’s reaction to urban Georgian women’s increasing public prominence, whether as entrepreneurs, politicians, civil-society figures or, even, car drivers.

“Although we say that we live a very traditionalist society, many cultural changes have happened in recent years and it is clashing with ossified views on gender roles,” commented prominent art critic and feminist activist Teo Khatiashvili.

Tackling the cultural aspects of violence against women may be a far greater challenge than improving the police response, but Georgia, as a signatory of the U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, has international commitments to do so.

Parliament is expected soon to ratify the Istanbul Convention, a treaty that stipulates that a failure to address domestic violence constitutes a human-rights violation. Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili has underlined that Georgia does not shy away from such definitions.

“Respect for women is a lasting tradition in Georgia and the increased acts of violence against women are incompatible with this tradition and are extremely shameful,” he said on Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Editor’s note:  Giorgi Lomsadze is a freelance journalist based in Tbilisi. He is a frequent contributor to’s Tamada Tales blog. This story originally appeared on

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Faulted for Undermining Torture Convention Thu, 11 Dec 2014 01:26:36 +0000 Thalif Deen Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, recently appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, notes that few countries will admit their state apparatus has been practising torture, even when the scars are all too visible on the victims who manage to escape. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, recently appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, notes that few countries will admit their state apparatus has been practising torture, even when the scars are all too visible on the victims who manage to escape. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Thalif Deen

The timing was inadvertently impeccable as two stinging reports on harsh interrogation techniques – by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the United States and former military regimes in Brazil – were released on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

Not surprisingly, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric was peppered – and metaphorically tortured – with a barrage of non-stop questions on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s response to the charges."They knew they were outside the lines, they concealed it from their own people, and yet no one will be held accountable." -- Prof. Vijay Prashad

“The secretary-general believes the prohibition of torture [by the U.N. convention] was absolute and non-negotiable,” Dujarric told reporters at Wednesday’s noon briefing.

But the questions seemed never ending – even as he refused to be pinned down.

“No, I do not believe the secretary-general had direct communication with anyone in the U.S. administration [after the report was released Tuesday].”

“No, no one is taking the report as gospel. And it is not for the secretary-general to say it is a definitive report,” he shot back. “There is an open debate – and this is the start of a process,” he added.

The release of the two reports – by a U.S. Senate committee on the CIA’s interrogation tactics, and also the systematic human rights violations in Brazil as revealed in a report by the country’s National Truth Commission – also coincided with Human Rights Day, which the United Nations commemorates annually on Dec. 10.

“Strange coincidence indeed,” Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, told IPS.

He said the report by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee shows they were well aware the revelations “stink”.

“There is a very telling section [in the report] where they say that [then U.S. Secretary of State] Colin Powell must not be informed, because if he is, he would blow his stack,” said Prashad, who has written extensively on international politics and is the author of 15 books.

“They knew they were outside the lines, they concealed it from their own people, and yet no one will be held accountable,” he added.

The United States ratified the 1987 U.N. Convention Against Torture back in October 1994 and Brazil in September 1989.

Responding to the two reports, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad Al Hussein, urged the U.N.’s 193 member states to act unequivocally in their effort to stamp out torture.

He said the U.S. report shows torture is still taking place in quite a few of the 156 countries that have ratified the Convention and have domestic legislation making torture illegal.

“To have it so clearly confirmed that it was recently practised as a matter of policy by a country such as the United States is a very stark reminder that we need to do far, far more to stamp it out everywhere,” he continued.

This has been true at the best of times, he added.

It is particularly true during this period of rising international terrorism, when it has shown a tendency to slither back into practice, disguised by euphemisms, even in countries where it is clearly outlawed, said Zeid, a former permanent representative of Jordan to the United Nations.

However, he “warmly welcomed” the publication of the Senate Committee’s summary report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Programme, as well as the report of Brazil’s National Truth Commission which documents the extensive use of torture, among other gross and systematic human rights violations, over a 42-year period, including the 1964-85 military dictatorship.

The Brazilian Commission, which was established in May 2012, investigated the serious human rights violations that occurred between 1946 and 1988 – the period between the last two democratic constitutions in Brazil.

These violations include unlawful imprisonment and torture; sexual violence; executions and subsequent concealing of corpses; and enforced disappearances.

“When practiced massively and systematically against a population, these violations become a crime against humanity,” the report said.

The report on the CIA said terrorist suspects, after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, were subjected to sleep deprivation (as long as a week), water-boarding, rectal-hydration, with some prisoners “literally hooked like a dog that had been kenneled.”

The CIA defended its techniques by arguing that its brutal treatment of suspects was aimed at protecting the country from further terrorist attacks.

Zeid said: “Although there are very significant differences between these two exceptionally important reports, not least in their scope and the periods they cover, I commend the governments of Brazil and the United States for enabling their release.”

Few countries, he pointed out, will admit their state apparatus has been practising torture, and many continue shamelessly to deny it – even when it is well documented by international human rights treaty bodies, and the scars are all too visible on the victims who manage to escape.

“While it will take time to fully analyse the contents of these two landmark reports – and I do not wish to pre-empt that analysis – we can still draw some stark conclusions about the failures to eradicate this serious international crime, for which there should be no statute of limitations and no impunity,” Zeid declared.

He also said one question neither report can answer on its own is how both countries will fulfil their obligation to ensure accountability for the crimes that have been committed.

In all countries, he pointed out, if someone commits murder, they are prosecuted and jailed. If they commit rape or armed robbery, they are prosecuted and jailed.

“If they order, enable or commit torture recognized as a serious international crime they cannot simply be granted impunity because of political expediency.”

When that happens, he said, “we undermine this exceptional Convention, and as a number of U.S. political leaders clearly acknowledged yesterday, we undermine our own claims to be civilized societies rooted in the rule of law.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Groups Push Obama to Clarify U.S. Abortion Funding for Wartime Rape Wed, 10 Dec 2014 00:49:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron Survivors at a workshop in Pader, northern Uganda. Thousands of women were raped during Uganda’s civil war but there have been few government efforts to assist them. Credit: Rosebell Kagumire/IPS

Survivors at a workshop in Pader, northern Uganda. Thousands of women were raped during Uganda’s civil war but there have been few government efforts to assist them. Credit: Rosebell Kagumire/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Nearly two dozen health, advocacy and faith groups are calling on President Barack Obama to take executive action clarifying that U.S. assistance can be used to fund abortion services for women and girls raped in the context of war and conflict.

The groups gathered Tuesday outside of the White House to draw attention to what they say is an ongoing misreading by politicians as well as humanitarian groups of four-decade-old legislation. That law, known as the Helms Amendment, specifies women’s health services that can be supported by U.S. overseas funding."We want to prevent these acts but also, when that violence does occur, to make sure that organisations and government agencies are providing the necessary post-rape care, including legal and social services, as well as mental and physical health services. Abortion services need to be part of that package.” -- Serra Sippel

This mis-interpretation, advocates warn, results in ongoing mental suffering, social disgrace and even additional abuse for women who have been raped.

“For over 40 years, the Helms Amendment has been applied as a complete ban on abortion care in U.S.-funded global health programmes – with no exceptions,” Purnima Mane, the president of Pathfinder International, a group that works on global sexual health issues, said in comments sent to IPS.

“The result is that Pathfinder and other U.S. government-funded agencies are unable to provide critical abortion care services to those at risk even under circumstances upheld by U.S. law and clearly allowable under the Helms Amendment. With the stroke of a pen, President Obama can change the outcome for many of these women and start to reverse more than four decades of neglect of their basic human rights and harm to their health.”

Advocates say such an executive action would be in line with both the law and broader public opinion. Indeed, on the face of it, the Helms Amendment seems to be quite clear.

The amendment bans U.S. funding from being used to “pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning” or to “motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” While the law does not specifically bar U.S. assistance being used for abortion services in the case of rape, critics have long noted that this has been the impact since the start.

“No U.S. administration has ever implemented this correctly, in terms of making exemptions in certain instances,” Serra Sippel, the president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) and a key organiser of Tuesday’s demonstration, told IPS.

“This comes down to politics and the political environment in Washington. But what we need is for the president to take leadership and direct USAID” – the federal government’s main foreign assistance agency – “and the State Department to say the U.S. government is taking a stand and supporting access to abortion in these cases.”

Misinterpretation, self-censorship

Abortion has been, and remains, one of the most divisive issues in U.S. politics. By many metrics, this polarisation has only worsened with time.

This came to the cultural and political forefront in 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a landmark decision that a state law banning abortion (except to save the mother’s life) was unconstitutional. The ruling resulted in a lasting moral outrage among broad sections of the U.S. public, though polls suggest that a majority of those in the United States support services following rape, incest or when a mother’s life is at risk.

The Helms Amendment was among the first legislative responses to the court’s ruling, passed just months later. Since then, the amendment has resulted in a discontinuation of U.S. assistance for all abortion services in other countries.

It is important to note that these procedures remain legal in the United States, as well as in many of the countries in which U.S.-funded entities, including government departments, are operating. Humanitarian groups often feel they cannot even make abortion-related information available to women, including those raped during conflict – even if the Helms Amendment doesn’t specifically proscribe doing so.

“These restrictions, collectively, have resulted in a perception that U.S. foreign policy on abortion is more onerous than the actual law … [leading to] a pervasive atmosphere of confusion, misunderstanding and inhibition around other abortion-related activities beyond direct services,” analysis published last year by the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual health-focused think tank here, reports.

“Wittingly or unwittingly, both NGOs and U.S. officials have been transgressors and victims alike in the misinterpretation and misapplication of U.S. anti-abortion law … whether through misinterpretation or self-censorship, NGOs are needlessly refraining from providing abortion counseling or referrals.”

Global statistics on conflict-time rapes and resulting pregnancies are hard to come by. Human Rights Watch points to 2004 research carried out in Liberia, where rape was used as a weapon of war, suggesting that around 15 percent of wartime rapes led to pregnancy.

“Human rights practitioners and public health officials from Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, and other countries at war, have collected evidence from conflict rape survivors showing both that pregnancy happens and that it has devastating consequences for women and girls,” Liesl Gerntholtz, the executive director of a Human Rights Watch’s women’s rights division, wrote Tuesday.

“They are left to continue unwanted pregnancies and bear children they often cannot care for and who are daily reminders of the brutal attacks they suffered. This, in turn, makes these children more vulnerable to stigmatization, abuse, and abandonment.”

Global acknowledgment

On Tuesday, the groups participating in the White House demonstration also called on President Obama to clarify that the Helms Amendment does not apply to pregnancies resulting from incest or if the mother’s life is at risk. Yet the focus of the calls remains on rape in the context of war and conflict.

Advocates say public consciousness on this issue has risen significantly over the past year and a half. To a great extent, this has been driven by the conflict in Syria and the rise of the Islamic State, as well as the ongoing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the centrality of sexual violence in each of these.

“We know that rape has been used as a weapon of war throughout history. What’s new is the attention from governments and advocates over the past 18 months,” CHANGE’s Sippel says.

“The prevention of violence cannot stand alone. We want to prevent these acts but also, when that violence does occur, to make sure that organisations and government agencies are providing the necessary post-rape care, including legal and social services, as well as mental and physical health services. Abortion services need to be part of that package.”

The United States has been a strong global advocate against sexual violence in recent years, including with regard to conflict situations. President Obama has created the first U.S. action plan on women’s role in peace-building, a White House strategy on gender-based violence, among other actions.

Advocates say that clarifying the Helms Amendment would be the next logical step. Although the White House was unable to comment for this story, organisers of Tuesday’s rally say President Obama’s aides did meet with advocates working on sexual violence in Colombia, the DRC and elsewhere.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

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Release of Senate Torture Report Insufficient, Say Rights Groups Wed, 10 Dec 2014 00:24:05 +0000 Jim Lobe Seven of 39 detainees who were subject to the most aggressive interrogation techniques provided no intelligence at all, while information obtained from the others preceded the harsh treatment, according to the report. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

Seven of 39 detainees who were subject to the most aggressive interrogation techniques provided no intelligence at all, while information obtained from the others preceded the harsh treatment, according to the report. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Tuesday’s release by the Senate Intelligence Committee of its long-awaited report on the torture by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of detainees in the so-called “war on terror” does not go far enough, according to major U.S. human rights groups.

While welcoming the report’s release, the subject of months of intensive negotiations and sometimes furious negotiations between the Senate Committee’s majority and both the CIA and the administration of President Barack Obama, the groups said additional steps were needed to ensure that U.S. officials never again engage in the kind of torture detailed in the report."Their actions destroyed trust in clinicians, undermined the integrity of their professions, and damaged the United States’ human rights record, which can only be corrected through accountability." -- Donna McKay of PHR

“This should be the beginning of a process, not the end,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “The report should shock President Obama and Congress into action, to make sure that torture and cruelty are never used again.”

He called, among other steps, for the appointment of a special prosecutor to hold the “architects and perpetrators” of what the George W. Bush administration called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) accountable and for Congress to assert its control over the CIA, “which in this report sounds more like a rogue paramilitary group than the intelligence gathering agency that it’s supposed to be.”

He was joined by London-based Amnesty International which noted that the declassified information provided in the report constituted “a reminder to the world of the utter failure of the USA to end the impunity enjoyed by those who authorised and used torture and other ill-treatment.

“This is a wake-up call to the USA; they must disclose the full truth about the human rights violations, hold perpetrators accountable and ensure justice for the victims,” said Amnesty’s Latin America director, Erika Guevara.

The Senate Committee’s report, actually a 524-page, partially-redacted summary of a still-classified 6,300-page report on the treatment of at least 119 terrorist suspects detained in secret locations overseas, accused the CIA not only of engaging in torture that was “brutal and far worse” than has previously been reported, but also of regularly misleading the White House and Congress both about what it was doing and the purported value of the intelligence it derived from those practices.

Water-boarding, for example, was used against detainees more often and in more of the CIA’s “black sites” than previously known; sleep deprivation was used for up to a week at a time against some suspects; others received “rectal feeding” or “hydration’; and still others were forced to stand on broken feet or legs.

In at least one case, a detainee was frozen to death; in the case of Abu Zubayda, an alleged “high-value” Al Qaeda detainee who was subject to dozens of water-boardings, the treatment was so brutal, several CIA officers asked to be transferred if it did not stop.

While the CIA officers and former Bush administration officials, notably former Vice President Dick Cheney, have long insisted that key information – including intelligence that eventually led to the killing of Osama bin Laden — was obtained from EITs, the report concluded that these techniques were ineffective.

Seven of 39 detainees who were subject to the most aggressive EITs provided no intelligence at all, while information obtained from the others preceded the harsh treatment, according to the report, which relied on the CIA’s own cables and reports.

In some cases, detainees subjected to EITs gave misinformation about “terrorist threats” which did not actually exist, the report found. Of the 119 known detainees subject to EITs, at least 26 should never have been held, it said.

Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, who fought hard for months to release the report over the CIA’s fierce objections, wrote in its Forward that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks, “she could understand the CIA’s impulse to consider the use of every possible tool to gather intelligence and remove terrorists from the battlefield, and CIA was encouraged by political leaders and the public to do whatever it could to prevent another attack.”

“Nevertheless, such pressure, fear and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security,” according to Feinstein.

For his part, CIA director John Brennan, a career CIA officer appointed by Obama whose role in the Bush administration’s detention programme remains cloudy, “acknowledge(d) that the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the Agency made mistakes.”

“The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the Agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected al-Qa’ida and affiliated terrorists.”

But he also defended the EITs, insisting that “interrogations of detainees on whom EITs were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.” A fact sheet released by the CIA claimed, as an example, that one detainee, after undergoing EITs, identified bin Laden’s courier, which subsequently led the CIA to the Al Qaeda chief’s location.

With several notable exceptions, Republicans also defended the CIA and the Bush administration’s orders to permit EITs. Indeed, the Intelligence Committee’s Republican members released a minority report that noted that the majority of staff had not interviewed any CIA officers directly involved in the programme.

“There is no reason whatsoever for this report to ever be published,” said the Committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Saxby Chambliss. “This is purely a partisan tactic” which he said was designed to attack the Bush administration. Republicans also warned that the report’s release would endanger U.S. service personnel and citizens abroad by fuelling anti-American sentiment, especially in the Muslim world.

But Sen. John McCain, who was himself tortured as a prisoner of war in the Vietnam war, defended the report, calling it “a thorough and thoughtful study of practices that I believe not only failed their purpose …but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.”

McCain has championed efforts to pass legislation outlawing torture, particularly because Obama’s 2009 executive orders prohibiting such practices could be reversed by a future president.

Passage of such a law – whose prospects appear virtually nil in light of Republican control of both houses of Congress for the next two years – is one of the demands, along with release of the full report, of most human-rights groups here.

“The Obama administration and Congress should work together to build a durable consensus against torture by pursuing legislation that demonstrates bipartisan unity and fidelity to our ideals,” said Elisa Massimino, director of Human Rights First.

Many groups, however, want Obama to go further by prosecuting those responsible for the EIT programme, a step that his administration made clear from the outset it was loathe to do.

“We renew our demand for accountability for those individuals responsible for the CIA torture programme,” said Baher Azmy, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented a number of detainees at Guantanamo, including Abu Zubaydah, in U.S. courts. “They should be prosecuted in U.S. courts; and, if our government continues to refuse to hold them accountable, they must be pursued internationally under principles of universal jurisdiction.”

“The report shows the repeated claims that harsh measures were needed to protect Americans are utter fiction,” according to Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth. “Unless this important truth-telling process leads to prosecution of the officials responsible, torture will remain a ‘policy option’ for future presidents.”

Noting that health professionals, including doctors and psychologists also played a role in the EITs, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) also called for legal accountability. “For more than a decade, the U.S. government has been lying about its use of torture,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director.

“The report confirms that health professionals used their skills to break the minds and bodies of detainees. Their actions destroyed trust in clinicians, undermined the integrity of their professions, and damaged the United States’ human rights record, which can only be corrected through accountability,” she said.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at He can be contacted at

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Leading Investigative Reporter Detained in Azerbaijan Tue, 09 Dec 2014 12:19:44 +0000 Justin Burke Khadija Ismayilova, an Azerbaijani investigative journalist critical of the government of President Ilham Aliyev, was detained Dec. 5 in the capital Baku. Credit: Aziz Karimov

Khadija Ismayilova, an Azerbaijani investigative journalist critical of the government of President Ilham Aliyev, was detained Dec. 5 in the capital Baku. Credit: Aziz Karimov

By Justin Burke
BAKU, Dec 9 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Authorities in Azerbaijan took steps Dec. 5 to muzzle Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist who is the country’s most vocal government critic. A Baku court granted a motion to hold Ismayilova in jail pending a criminal trial, while her Facebook page mysteriously went dark.

Observers say the criminal charges against Ismayilova are politically motivated and her detention is widely seen as connected with an ongoing government crackdown on all forms of dissent. The ruling by the Sabail District court in Baku allows for Ismayilova to be held for two months. In the case, she is accused of goading another journalist to commit suicide.Ismayilova had long expected that she would one day end up behind bars. In February, she posted instructions on Facebook to her supporters on what to do if she was taken into custody.

“The arrest of Ismayilova is nothing but orchestrated intimidation, which is a part of the ongoing campaign aimed at silencing her free and critical voice,” Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media, said in a written statement.

On the same day as the court hearing, Ismayilova’s Facebook page was “deactivated.” Friends and colleagues of Ismayilova expressed doubt that she herself would have taken down her Facebook page, which had thousands of followers and is widely seen as one of the most comprehensive sources of news about Azerbaijan from an opposition viewpoint.

In the days prior to her detention, Ismayilova posted particularly fierce critiques of news items involving President Ilham Aliyev and Presidential Chief-of-Staff Ramiz Mehdiyev.

On Dec. 4, Mehdiyev, in a lengthy written statement, painted Ismayilova as an enemy of the state, and hinted that she worked in concert with foreign entities to undermine the government.

“She puts on anti-Azerbaijani shows, makes absurd statements, openly demonstrates a destructive attitude towards well-known members of the Azerbaijani community, and spreads insulting lies. It is clear this sort of defiance pleases Ms. Ismayilova’s patrons abroad,” wrote Mehdiyev.

In recent years, Ismayilova has worked mainly as a freelance investigative journalist and radio programme host for such outlets as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. She has also written occasionally for

Ismayilova’s crusading investigative journalism has long taken aim at Aliyev’s administration. In 2012, for example, she documented various corrupt dealings involving top government officials and construction projects connected with Baku’s hosting the Eurovision song contest. Later, Ismayilova asserted she was subjected to a blackmail attempt.

According to her, when she refused to cease her investigative activities, her unknown, would-be blackmailers posted an illicitly recorded sex video featuring her on social media.

Ismayilova had long expected that she would one day end up behind bars. In February, she posted instructions on Facebook to her supporters on what to do if she was taken into custody. Addressing international diplomats, she expressed skepticism about the utility of quiet diplomacy. Instead, she urged the diplomatic community in Baku to go public.

“I don’t want any private diplomacy for my case. I don’t believe in human rights advocacy behind closed doors,” she wrote. “Please [show] support by standing for freedom of speech and freedom of privacy in this country as loudly as possible. Otherwise, I rather prefer you not to act at all.”

She went on to insist that the criminal cases against her are retribution for her journalistic activities. “Anti-corruption investigations are the reason of my arrest,” she wrote in the February posting.

RFE/RL’s chief editor, Nenad Pejic, characterised Ismayilova’s detention as outrageous. “The arrest and detention of Khadija Ismayilova is the latest attempt in a two-year campaign to silence a journalist who has investigated government corruption and human rights abuses in Azerbaijan,” Pejic said in a written statement.

Editor’s note:  Justin Burke is the Managing Editor of EurasiaNet. This story originally appeared on

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Only Half of Global Banks Have Policy to Respect Human Rights Tue, 09 Dec 2014 01:07:33 +0000 Carey L. Biron Children from one of the communities in Ocean Division, southern Cameroon, who lost much of their forestland after the government leased it to a logging company. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

Children from one of the communities in Ocean Division, southern Cameroon, who lost much of their forestland after the government leased it to a logging company. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 9 2014 (IPS)

Just half of major global banks have in place a public policy to respect human rights, according to new research, despite this being a foundational mandate of an international convention on multinational business practice.

Further, of the 32 global banks examined, researchers found that none has publicly put in place a process to deal with human rights abuses, if identified. None has even created grievance mechanisms by which those impacted by potential abuses can complain to the banks.“The findings of this report are quite sobering about what can be expected from self-regulatory principles.” -- Aldo Caliari

The findings, published by BankTrack, an international network of watchdog groups, come three and a half years after the adoption of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These principles, unanimously endorsed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2011, specify a range of actions and obligations for all businesses, including the financial sector.

Yet banks have a unique role in underwriting nearly all of the business activity around the globe, even as they are typically shielded from the impacts of those investments.

“Banks covered in this report have been found to finance companies and projects involving forced removals of communities, child labour, military backed land grabs, and abuses of indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination,” the report, released last week, states.

“Policies and processes, open to public scrutiny and backed by adequate reporting, are important tools for banks to ensure that these kinds of abuses do not happen, and that where they do, those whose rights have been impacted have the right to effective remedy … If these policies and procedures are to be meaningful, the finance for such ‘dodgy deals’ must eventually dry up.”

One of the banks studied in the new report, JPMorgan Chase, is one of the leading U.S. financiers of palm oil, through loans and equity investments. While the bank does have a human rights policy, BankTrack’s researchers find this policy applies only to loans, not investments.

“When it comes to reporting on implementation, the bank falls flat, making the policy little more than window-dressing,” Jeff Conant, an international forests campaigner with Friends of the Earth U.S., a watchdog group that is working on palm-oil financing, told IPS.

“We’ve spoken with JPMorgan Chase about the need to give impacted people an opportunity to file complaints about the human rights impacts of its financing, with the belief that this is a first step towards accountability. Frankly, from the bank’s response, I don’t see them stepping up anytime soon.”

While private finance today facilitates almost the full range of corporate activity, Conant notes, “the finance institutions themselves are wholly unaccountable.”

Sobering results

According to the new study, a few banks appear to be well on their way to conformity with the Guiding Principles. The top-ranked institution, the Dutch Rabobank, received a score of eight out of 12, with Credit Suisse and UBS close behind.

These are the exceptions, however. Against a set of 12 criteria, the average score was only a three.

Many scored at or near zero. While those ranked at the very bottom include several Chinese institutions, they also include banks in the European Union and the United States.

Indeed, Bank of America, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, scored just 0.5 out of 12, receiving a minor bump for having expressed some commitment to carrying out human rights-related due diligence. (The bank failed to respond to request for comment for this story by deadline.)

“The findings of this report are quite sobering about what can be expected from self-regulatory principles,” Aldo Caliari, the director of the Rethinking Bretton Woods Project at the Center of Concern, a Washington think tank, told IPS.

“The Guiding Principles are the bare minimum of any human rights framework in the corporate sector, a framework that has the companies’ consent. So the fact that there is so little [adherence to] such a relatively weak tool, where every effort to court corporations’ support has been made, is, indeed, very telling.”

Despite the spectrum of findings on implementation, the financial services industry as a whole has taken note of the Guiding Principles.

In 2011, four European banks met to discuss the principles’ potential implications for the sector. Three more banks eventually joined what is now called the Thun Group, and in October 2013 the grouping released an initial paper on the results of these discussions, including recommendations for compliance.

A previously existing set of voluntary guidelines for the banking sector, known as the Equator Principles, were also updated in 2013 to reflect the new existence of the Guiding Principles. So far, the Equator Principles have been signed by 80 financial institutions in 34 countries.

“To date, banks’ efforts to implement the UN Guiding Principles have mainly revolved around producing discussion papers on the best way forward,” Ryan Brightwell, the new report’s author, said in a statement.

“BankTrack has welcomed these discussions, but some three and a half years on from the launch of these Principles, it is time to move onto implementation.”

Strengthening accountability

The new findings on lagging implementation will strengthen arguments from those who want to tweak or supplant the Guiding Principles. Some suggest, for instance, that the framework be changed to treat financial institutions differently from other sectors.

“[T]he financial sector requires an exceptional treatment when it comes to the application of the Guiding Principles,” the Center of Concern’s Caliari wrote last year in comments for the Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

“Financial companies, more than other companies, have the potential, with their change of behaviour, to influence the behaviour of other actors. That means they also should be upheld to a greater level of responsibility when they fail to do so.”

Caliari and others are also part of a movement to move beyond voluntary frameworks such as the Guiding Principles (at least in their current form), and instead to see through the creation of a binding mechanism.

This decades-long effort received a significant boost in June, when the U.N. Human Rights Council voted to allow negotiations to begin toward a binding treaty around transnational companies and their human rights obligations. (This same session also approved a popular second resolution, aimed instead at strengthening implementation of the Guiding Principles process.)

The new data on banks’ relative lack of compliance with the Guiding Principles, Caliari says, is one of the reasons the call for a legally binding treaty “has been gaining ground.”

He continues: “It is increasingly clear that mechanisms that rely on the consent of the companies cannot be the total of available accountability mechanisms. More is needed.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

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Mubarak Acquitted as Egypt’s Counterrevolution Thrives Wed, 03 Dec 2014 17:27:45 +0000 Emile Nakhleh Egyptian army units block a road in Cairo, Feb. 6, 2011. Credit: IPS/Mohammed Omer

Egyptian army units block a road in Cairo, Feb. 6, 2011. Credit: IPS/Mohammed Omer

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Dec 3 2014 (IPS)

The acquittal of former Egyptian President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak is not a legal or political surprise. Yet it carries serious ramifications for Arab autocrats who are leading the counterrevolutionary charge, as well as the United States.

The court’s decision, announced Nov. 29 in Cairo, was the last nail in the coffin of the so-called Arab Spring and the Arab upheavals for justice, dignity, and freedom that rocked Egypt and other Arab countries in 2011.If the United States is interested in containing the growth of terrorism in the region, it must ultimately focus on the economic, political, and social root causes that push young Muslim Arabs towards violent extremism.

Chief Judge Mahmud Kamel al-Rashidi, who read the acquittal decision, and his fellow judges on the panel are holdover from the Mubarak era.

The Egyptian judiciary, the Sisi military junta, and the pliant Egyptian media provided the backdrop to the court’s ruling, which indicates how a popular revolution can topple a dictator but not the regime’s entrenched levers of power.

Indeed, no serious observer of Egypt would have been surprised by the decision to acquit Mubarak and his cronies of the charges of killing dozens of peaceful demonstrators at Tahrir Square in January 2011.

Arab autocrats in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and elsewhere have worked feverishly to stamp out all vestiges of the 2011 revolutions. They have used bloody sectarianism and the threat of terrorism to delegitimise popular protests and discredit demands for genuine political reform.

The acquittal put a legal imprimatur on the dictator of Egypt’s campaign to re-write history.

Following the 2013 coupe that toppled President Mohamed Morsi, who is still in jail facing various trumped up charges, Arab dictators cheered on former Field Marshall and current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, lavishing him with billions of dollars. They parodied his narrative against the voices—secularists and Islamists alike—who cried out for good governance.

Regardless of how weak or solid the prosecution’s case against Mubarak was, the court’s ruling was not about law or legal arguments—from day one it was about politics and counter-revolution.

The unsurprising decision does, however, offer several critical lessons for the region and for the United States.

Removing a dictator is easier than dismantling his regime

Arab authoritarian regimes, whether dynasties or presidential republics, have perfected the art of survival, cronyism, systemic corruption, and control of potential opponents. They have used Islam for their cynical ends, urged the security service to silence the opposition, and encouraged the pliant media to articulate the regime’s narrative.

In order to control the “deep state” regime, Arab dictators in Egypt and elsewhere have created a pro-regime judiciary, dependable and well-financed military and security services, a compliant parliament, a responsive council of ministers, and supple and controlled media.

Autocrats have also ensured crucial loyalty through patronage and threats of retribution; influential elements within the regime see their power and influence as directly linked to the dictator.

The survival of both the dictator and the regime is predicated on the deeply held assumption that power-sharing with the public is detrimental to the regime and anathema to the country’s stability. This assumption has driven politics in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and several other countries since the beginning of the Arab Spring.

In anticipating popular anger about the acquittal decision, Judge Rashidi had the temerity to publicly claim that the decision “had nothing to do with politics.” In reality, however, the decision had everything to do with a pre-ordained decision on the part of the Sisi regime to turn the page on the January 25 revolution.

Dictatorship is a risky form of governance

Authoritarian regimes across the Arab world are expected to welcome Mubarak’s acquittal and the Sisi regime’s decision to move away from the pro-democracy demands that rocked Egypt in January 2011.

Bahrain’s King Hamad, for example, called Mubarak the day the decision was announced to congratulate him, according to the official news agency of the Gulf Arab island nation.

The New York Times has also reported that the Sisi regime is confident that because of the growing disinterest in demonstrations and instability, absolving Mubarak would not rile up the Egyptian public.

If the Sisi regime’s reading of the public mood proves accurate, Arab autocrats would indeed welcome the Egyptian ruling with open arms, believing that popular protests on behalf of democracy and human rights would be, in the words of the Arabic proverb, like a “summer cloud that will soon dissipate.”

However, most students of the region believe Arab dictators’ support of the Sisi regime is shortsighted and devoid of any strategic assessment of the region.

Many regional experts also believe that popular frustration with regime intransigence and repression would lead to radicalisation and increased terrorism.

The rise of Islamic State (ISIS or IS) is the latest example of how popular frustration, especially among Sunni Muslims, could drive a terrorist organization.

This phenomenon sadly has become all too apparent in Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, and elsewhere. In response to popular resistance, however, the regimes in these countries have simply applied more repression and destruction.

Indeed, Sisi and other Arab autocrats have yet to learn the crucial lesson of the Arab Spring: People cannot be forced to kneel forever.

Blowback from decades of misguided U.S. regional policies

Focused on Sisi’s policies toward his people, Arab autocrats seem less attentive to Washington’s policies in the region than they have been at any time in recent decades.

They judge American regional policies as rudderless and preoccupied with tactical developments.

Arab regimes and publics have heard lofty American speeches in support of democratic values and human rights, and then seen US politicians coddle dictators.

Time after time, autocrats in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Syria have also seen Washington’s tactical policies in the region trump American national values, resulting in less respect for the United States.

Yet while Mubarak’s acquittal might soon fade from the front pages of the Egyptian media, the Arab peoples’ struggle for human rights, bread, dignity, and democracy will continue.

Sisi believes the US still views his country as a critical ally in the region, especially because of its peace treaty with Israel, and therefore would not cut its military aid to Egypt despite its egregious human rights record. Based on this belief, Egypt continues to ignore the consequences of its own destructive policies.

Now might be the right time, however, for Washington to reexamine its own position toward Egypt and reassert its support for human rights and democratic transitions in the Arab world.

If the United States is interested in containing the growth of terrorism in the region, it must ultimately focus on the economic, political, and social root causes that push young Muslim Arabs towards violent extremism.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Stand in Solidarity with Courageous Women’s Human Rights Defenders Tue, 02 Dec 2014 22:35:29 +0000 Zeid Raad Al Hussein

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and has extensive experience in international diplomacy and the protection of human rights.

By Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein

Almost two decades ago, in Beijing, 189 countries made a commitment to achieve equality for women, in practice and in law, so that all women could at last fully enjoy their rights and freedoms as equal human beings.

They adopted a comprehensive and ambitious plan to guarantee women the same rights as men to be educated and develop their potential. The same rights as men to choose their profession. The same rights to lead communities and nations, and make choices about their own lives without fear of violence or reprisal.

Credit: OHCHR

Credit: OHCHR

No longer would hundreds of thousands of women die every year in childbirth because of health care policies and systems that neglected their care. No longer would women earn considerably less than men. No longer would discriminatory laws govern marriage, land, property and inheritance.

In the years that followed, the world has witnessed tremendous progress: the number of women in the work force has increased; there is almost gender parity in schooling at the primary level; the maternal mortality ratio declined by almost 50 percent; and more women are in leadership positions.

Importantly, governments talk about women’s rights as human rights and women’s rights and gender equality are acknowledged as legitimate and indispensable goals.

However, the world is still far from the vision articulated in Beijing. Approximately one in three women throughout the world will experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. Less than a quarter of parliamentarians in the world are women.Attacks against women who stand up to demand their human rights and individuals who advocate for gender equality are often designed to keep women in their “place.” In some areas of the world, women who participate in public demonstrations are told to go home to take care of their children.

In over 50 countries there is no legal protection for women against domestic violence. Almost 300,000 women and girls died in 2013 from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Approximately one in three married women aged 20 to 24 were child brides.

In many parts of the world, women and girls cannot make decisions on their most private matters – sexuality, marriage, children. Girls and women who pursue their own life choices are still murdered by their own families in the dishonourable practice of so-called honour killings.

All of our societies remain affected by stereotypes based on the inferiority of women which often denigrate, humiliate and sexualise them.

Today we have the responsibility to protect the progress made in the past 20 years and address the remaining challenges. In doing so, we must recognise the vital role of women who defend human rights, often at great risk to themselves and their families precisely because they are viewed as stepping outside socially prescriptive gender stereotypes.

We must recognise the role of all people, women and men, who publicly call for gender equality and often, as a result, find themselves the victim of archaic and patriarchal, but powerful, threats to their reputations, their work and even their lives.

These extraordinary individuals – women’s human rights defenders – operate in hostile environments, where arguments of cultural relativism are common and often against the background of the rise of extremist, misogynistic groups, which threaten to dismantle the gains of the past.

Attacks against women who stand up to demand their human rights and individuals who advocate for gender equality are often designed to keep women in their “place.” In some areas of the world, women who participate in public demonstrations are told to go home to take care of their children.

Consider the recent example of a newspaper publishing naked photos of a woman, claiming she was a well-known activist – an attack designed to shame this defender into silence. In other places, when women claim their right to affordable modern methods of contraception, they are labelled as prostitutes in smear campaigns seeking to undermine their credibility.

Online attacks against those who speak for women’s human rights and gender equality by so-called “trolls” – who threaten heinous crimes – are increasingly reported.

These attacks have a common thread – they rely on gender stereotypes and deeply entrenched discriminatory social norms in an attempt to silence those who challenge the age old system of gender inequality. However, these defenders will not be silenced, and we must stand in solidarity with them against these cowardly attacks.

This is why my office has decided to launch a campaign to pay tribute to women and men who defy stereotypes and fight for women’s human rights. The campaign runs from Human Rights Day, Dec. 10 this year, to International Women’s Day, Mar. 8, 2015. We encourage everyone to join the ranks of these strong and inspiring advocates, on social media (#reflect2protect) and on the ground.

As we approach the 20-year anniversary of Beijing, discrimination and violence against women, and the stereotypes that confine them into narrowly fixed roles must end. Women have the right to make their own decisions about their lives and their bodies.

Guaranteeing and implementing these rights are non-negotiable obligations of all states. Women human rights defenders were instrumental in securing the ambitious programme laid out in Beijing. Their work, their activism and their courage deserve our recognition, our support and our respect.

Edited by Kitty Stapp


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Kyrgyzstan Debates Russian-Style “Foreign Agents” Law Mon, 01 Dec 2014 19:37:53 +0000 David Trilling The Kyrgyz parliament, as seen here in November 2014, may vote in December to consider a possible new law that would label foreign-funded organisations “foreign agents.” But some critics of the bill, which closely resembles a similar law already passed in Russia, argue it would add layers of bureaucracy and possibly force some civil society NGOs to close their doors. Credit: David Trilling

The Kyrgyz parliament, as seen here in November 2014, may vote in December to consider a possible new law that would label foreign-funded organisations “foreign agents.” But some critics of the bill, which closely resembles a similar law already passed in Russia, argue it would add layers of bureaucracy and possibly force some civil society NGOs to close their doors. Credit: David Trilling

By David Trilling
BISHKEK, Dec 1 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Kyrgyzstan must protect itself from Arab Islamists and gay-loving Americans; so say supporters of a sweeping draft law that could shutter many non-governmental organisations and, like a Russian bill adopted in 2012, label foreign-funded activists as “foreign agents.”

Kyrgyzstan currently has the most vibrant civil society in Central Asia. But critics of the bill feel that with Russia expanding its grip on the region, and Kyrgyz lawmakers seemingly eager to please Moscow, the walls are fast closing in on free speech and other civil liberties.

Even if this particular bill does not pass, other legislative changes are chipping away at basic rights, they say. In recent weeks, for example, the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) has prosecuted a local anti-torture campaigner and harassed the American watchdog Freedom House for merely distributing an opinion poll that asks sensitive questions.Questions about Moscow’s influence over the legislature are hotly debated in Bishkek. The city is rife with rumours about the Kremlin buying MPs, local media outlets, and even whole ministries.

Lawmaker Nurkamil Madaliev – a co-sponsor of the bill who promises a vote in parliament as soon as December – says the existing law governing NGO activities, adopted in 1999, was written at a time when Kyrgyzstan was too open to the world.

“Back then, there was a unipolar world order, the Unites States was the dominant country, and now we see that this order was unjust. Not all the funds that finance NGO activities in Kyrgyzstan are aimed at creating a favourable situation,” Madaliev told

Madaliev says his legislative changes would help protect an embattled nation from two existential threats: Islamic extremism funded by wealthy Gulf Arabs and the efforts by some Western-funded organisations to educate young Kyrgyz about gay rights and reproductive health.

Legal analyst Sheradil Baktygulov contends that an underlying aim of the bill is to weaken checks on governmental authority: officials could use the bill, he says, to settle personal vendettas against a once-thriving watchdog culture. “They can say [to an NGO], ‘If you don’t do this or that you will be closed,’” Baktygulov explains.

Dinara Oshurahunova, the head of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, sees a Russian hand behind the bill, which she says would bury organisations like hers with bureaucratic reporting requirements.

“Russia would like to have its policy and rule here. Our state cannot protect us or [the openness] we had before. Or they don’t want to,” she says.

Some officials have lobbied against the legislation. During a parliamentary debate on Nov. 24, a Justice Ministry official said the bill is unnecessary and would create expensive layers of bureaucracy the state cannot afford. MPs shouted him down.

Local and international NGO representatives also spoke out against the initiative during the hearing. The session resulted in the adoption of a non-binding recommendation to shelve the measure.

The law is “too vague,” says parliament’s vice speaker, Asiya Sasykbaeva, who was a prominent activist before entering politics. Sasykbaeva also fears the bill will be used to silence government critics. She says the “foreign agent” label deliberately evokes a mood reminiscent of the Stalinist terror in the 1930s, when millions were executed or sent to labour camps for allegedly being enemies of the state.

But NGOs are not without fault. “Sometimes they exaggerate and they do it unprofessionally,” Sasykbaeva says, describing avoidable conflicts between several NGOs. “And because of these three or four NGOs others are suffering.”

Questions about Moscow’s influence over the legislature are hotly debated in Bishkek. The city is rife with rumours about the Kremlin buying MPs, local media outlets, and even whole ministries.

Madaliev concedes his bill is based on Russia’s, but denies Moscow has pressured or bought him or his colleagues. “This particular bill gives us an opportunity to resist the influence of all interested parties, including Russia,” he insists.

Over the next month, parliament is expected to rubberstamp changes to dozens of laws and regulations as Kyrgyzstan prepares to join the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

One opposition-minded politician considering a run in next year’s parliamentary elections says that “fear of Russian influence during the election is a big factor” in why lawmakers are tripping over themselves to back EEU accession. He describes a parliament packed with sycophants afraid of Moscow.

“Our lawmakers think these laws don’t mean anything. They think this is not serious, but it is,” the politician says.

Arguments that Russia is playing dirty are bolstered by negative articles in the local press that use familiar Russian tropes to target American-funded NGOs. And a video currently circulating online is similar in its accusations and insinuations to the specious exposes aired on Russian state-run television.

The video, entitled “Trojan Horses,” accuses Washington of using NGOs to foment revolution around the world and of threatening to destabilise Kyrgyzstan with a Ukraine-style, anti-Russian uprising. Over a montage of violent war footage it names Freedom House, USAID, Human Rights Watch, the local Soros Foundation and others as front organisations that serve the U.S. government’s nefarious purpose of changing regimes and destroying sovereign states.

[Editor’s Note: The Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan is part of the Soros Foundations network. EurasiaNet is a separate entity in the Soros Foundations network.]

“We are getting attacked by Russian-funded groups and our government just keeps silent. It is very naïve to hope they will protect us. But after us, I tell them, ‘It will be you next, and there will be no one here to protect you,’” says Oshurahunova of the Coalition.

The state security police’s harassment of Freedom House “makes us very nervous,” says the expatriate head of another NGO. Several NGO leaders also complain that the American Embassy is having trouble helping American-funded NGOs secure visas for their foreign staff. “We’re left to fend for ourselves,” the expatriate says. The U.S. Embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

Oshurahunova believes the “foreign agents” bill will end up not being adopted. She feels that the NGO regulatory measure, along with pending anti-gay legislation that has a much better chance of passage, are distractions to keep civil society watchdogs busy while parliament quietly approves reams of EEU legislation.

“They are changing many laws to come into line with Eurasian Union regulations and doing it without any discussion. They’re changing laws about peaceful meetings, changing laws about free media. They tell us this is only about economics, but they’re taking away our civil rights,” Oshurahunova says.

Editor’s note:  David Trilling is EurasiaNet’s Central Asia editor. This story originally appeared on

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Illegal Logging Wreaking Havoc on Impoverished Rural Communities Mon, 01 Dec 2014 08:37:00 +0000 Catherine Wilson Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Dec 1 2014 (IPS)

Rampant unsustainable logging in the southwest Pacific Island states of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, where the majority of land is covered in tropical rainforest, is worsening hardship, human insecurity and conflict in rural communities.

Paul Pavol, a customary landowner in Pomio District, East New Britain, an island province off the northeast coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland, told IPS that logging in the area had led to “permanent environmental damage of the soil and forests, which our communities depend on for their water, building materials, natural medicines and food.”

Four years ago, a Malaysian logging multinational obtained two Special Agricultural Business Leases (SABLs) in the district, but local landowners claim their consent was never given and, following legal action, the National Court issued an order in November for the developer to cease logging operations.

“Within ten years nearly all accessible forests will be logged out and at the root of this problem is endemic and systematic corruption." -- Spokesperson, Act Now PNG
According to Global Witness, the company had cleared 7,000 hectares of forest and exported more than 50 million dollars worth of logs.

“We never gave our free, prior and informed consent to the Special Agricultural Business Leases (SABLs) that now cover our customary land … and we certainly did not give agreement to our land being given away for 99 years to a logging company,” Pavol stated.

One-third of log exports from PNG originated from land subject to SABLs in 2012, according to the PNG Institute of National Affairs, despite the stated purpose of these leases being to facilitate agricultural projects of benefit to local communities.

Pavol also cited human rights abuses with “the use of police riot squads to protect the logging company and intimidate and terrorize our communities.”

Last year an independent fact-finding mission to Pomio led by the non-governmental organisation, Eco-Forestry Forum, in association with police and government stakeholders, verified that police personnel, who had been hired by logging companies to suppress local opposition to their activities, had conducted violent raids and serious assaults on villagers.

Papua New Guinea, situated on the island of New Guinea, home to the world’s third largest tropical rainforest, has a forest cover of an estimated 29 million hectares, but is also the second largest exporter of tropical timber.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicts that 83 percent of the country’s commercially viable forests will be lost or degraded by 2021 due to commercial logging, mining and land clearance for oil palm plantations.

Papua New Guinea recently pledged to bring forward plans to end deforestation by a decade at the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit held in Sydney, Australia, but indigenous activists remain unconvinced.

“Within ten years nearly all accessible forests will be logged out and at the root of this problem is endemic and systematic corruption,” a spokesperson for the non-governmental organisation, Act Now PNG, said.

“We do not have tough penalties for law breakers and our laws are not enforced,” Pavol added, a view supported by London’s Chatham House.

Environmental devastation and logging-related violence is increasing adversity in Pomio, one of the least developed districts in East New Britain, where there is a lack of health services, decent roads, water and sanitation. Life expectancy is 45-50 years and the infant mortality rate of 61 per 1,000 live births is significantly higher than the national rate of 47.

In the neighbouring Solomon Islands, where 2.2 million hectares of forest cover more than 80 percent of the country, the timber-harvesting rate has been nearly four times the sustainable rate of 250,000 cubic metres per year.

While timber has accounted for 60 percent of the country’s export earnings, this is unlikely to continue, given the forecast by the Solomon Islands Forest Management Project that accessible forests will be exhausted by next year.

High demand for raw materials by growing Asian economies is a major driver of legal and illegal logging in both countries, with the industry dominated by Malaysian companies, and China the main export destination.

Unscrupulous practices, including procuring logging permits with bribes and breaching agreed logging concession areas, are extensive. More than 80 percent of the wood-based trade from PNG and Solomon Islands derives from unlawful extraction with illegal log exports from both island states worth 800 million dollars in 2010, reports the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Since 2003, international companies, most involved with logging, have gained access to 5.5 million hectares of forest in PNG, in addition to the 8.5 million hectares already subject to timber extraction, through fraudulent acquisition of SABLs, according to a Commission of Inquiry and study by the California-based Oakland Institute.

The UNODC highlights the collusion between transnational crime networks, logging companies, politicians and public officials.

“In Solomon Islands the links between politicians and foreign logging companies are complex and well-entrenched. We regularly hear stories of politicians using their power to protect loggers, influence police and give tax exemptions to foreign businesses. In return, loggers fund politicians,” a spokesperson for Transparency Solomon Islands said.

Many national forestry offices in developing countries lack the technical and human resources to adequately monitor logging operations and are ill-equipped to deal with organised crime networks that facilitate the extraction and movement of illicit timber. Associated money laundering is also an issue with the Australian Federal Police estimating that 170 million dollars of funds deriving from crime in PNG are laundered through banks and property investment in Australia every year.

But while an Illegal Logging Prohibition Act recently came into force in Australia, making it a criminal offence to import or process illegal timber, no such legislation exists in the main market of China.

Transparency Solomon Islands says that government accountability needs to be strengthened and rural communities educated about their rights, the law and affective action that can be taken at the local level.

Inequality and low human development among the rural poor is further entrenched by the failure of both countries to channel resource revenues into provision of infrastructure, basic services and equitable economic opportunities.

In Papua New Guinea, one of the most unequal nations with a Gini Index of 50.9, poverty increased from 37.5 percent in 1996 to 39.9 percent in 2009, according to the World Bank.

In the Solomon Islands, logging has been the government’s main source of revenue for nearly 20 years, with GDP growth reaching 10 percent in 2011.

But the Pacific Islands Forum reports that “strong resource-led growth is failing to trickle down to the disadvantaged”, with the country ranked 157th out of 187 countries for human development.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Led by INTERPOL, U.N. Tracks Environmental Criminals Fri, 28 Nov 2014 19:19:48 +0000 Thalif Deen A carpenter organises a load of mahogany, precious wood seized by the authorities in Cuba's Ciénaga de Zapata wetlands. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A carpenter organises a load of mahogany, precious wood seized by the authorities in Cuba's Ciénaga de Zapata wetlands. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Thalif Deen

A coalition of international organisations, led by INTERPOL and backed by the United Nations, is pursuing a growing new brand of criminals – primarily accused of serious environmental crimes – who have mostly escaped the long arm of the law.

Described as a worldwide operation, it is the first of its kind targeting individuals wanted for a wide range of crimes, including logging, poaching and trafficking in animals declared endangered species.

Widespread poaching, particularly in central Africa, has resulted in the loss of at least 60 percent of elephants in that region during the last decade.

Last week, INTERPOL, the world’s largest international police organisation, released photographs of nine fugitives charged with these crimes – and who are on the run.

The individuals targeted include, among others, Feisal Mohamed Ali, alleged to be the leader of an ivory smuggling ring in Kenya, according to the U.N. Daily News.

The international coalition is seeking help from the public for information that could help track down the nine suspects whose cases have been singled out for the initial phase of the investigations.

Rob Parry-Jones, manager of international policy at World Wildlife Fund (WWF), told IPS, “It sends a strong message that environmental crime is not merely an animal being illegally shot here or a tree illegally felled there. Environmental crime is highly organised crime and can have devastating impacts.”

He said INTERPOL’s response is something that WWF has wanted for some time. “It is also something that enforcement agencies have wanted for some time.”

The political platform and enabling environment for INTERPOL and other institutions to undertake the necessary research, and to be in a position to release such findings, is a welcome advance from a few years back when WWF and TRAFFIC first started their campaign to raise the political profile of wildlife crime, Parry-Jones said.

TRAFFIC (Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce) is a wildlife trade monitoring network supported by WWF.

Code-named INFRA-Terra (International Fugitive Round Up and Arrest), the global operation is supported by the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) – which is a collaborative effort of the Secretariat of the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), along with INTERPOL, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank and the World Customs Organisation.

In a press statement last week, Ben Janse van Rensburg, chief of enforcement support for CITES, said, “This first operation represents a big step forward against wildlife criminal networks.”

He said countries are increasingly treating wildlife crime as a serious offence, and “we will leave no stone unturned to locate and arrest these criminals to ensure they are brought to justice.”

Nathalie Frey, deputy political director at Greenpeace International, told IPS her organisation strongly supports the INTERPOL initiative to strengthen law enforcement against environmental crimes.

“Whilst INTERPOL has been looking more closely into environmental crimes for a number of years, this is the first time we have seen them reach out to the public appealing for further information and leads,” she said.

By giving environmental criminals a name and a face, she said, “it shows that law enforcement agencies are finally starting to take crimes such as illegal logging and fishing as seriously as murder or theft.”

WWF’s Parry-Jones told IPS that addressing environmental crimes effectively across international borders requires legal frameworks that can talk with each other.

Dual criminality where crimes of this scale are recognised in countries’ legal frameworks as serious crimes — a penalty of four-plus year’s imprisonment — brings the crimes within the scope of the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC), enabling international law enforcement cooperation and mutual legal assistance, he said.

The nature of the crimes illustrates the links with other forms of transnational crime, including people trafficking and arms smuggling, and reinforces the argument over the past few years, both by WWF and TRAFFIC, that environmental crime is a cross-sectoral issue and a serious crime, he added.

Greenpeace’s Frey told IPS environmental crime is “big business”, and at an estimated 70-213 billion dollars per year, the earnings are almost on a par with other criminal activities such as drugs and arms trafficking. That estimate includes logging, poaching and trafficking of a wide range of animals, illegal fisheries, illegal mining and dumping of toxic waste.

Behind these perpetrators, she pointed out, are large networks of criminal activities, with corruption often permeating the whole supply chain of valuable commodities such as timber or fish.

Illegal logging, for example, is rife in many timber-producing countries, and is one of the main culprits for wiping out vast areas of forest that are often home to endangered species.

“Consumer markets are still awash with illegal wood despite regulations to ban the trade,” Frey said.

This, she said, is reflected in the staggering figures released by INTERPOL that illegal logging accounts for 50-90 percent of forestry in key tropical producer countries.

“Whilst we strongly welcome INTERPOL’s initiative to track down offenders and crack down on corruption it is very important that CITES [the U.N. convention to regulate international trade in endangered species] takes much greater action to encourage its parties to step up enforcement and controls,” Frey said.

She singled out the example of Afrormosia, a valuable tropical hardwood found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

This species is under threat and has been listed as requiring special trade regulation under CITES, yet a blind eye continues to be turned to many cases of illegal trade.

Industrial loggers have a free pass to harvest Afrormosia in the country, despite illegal logging estimated to be almost 90 percent, she said.

CITES is supposed to verify legality, yet hundreds of CITES permits were unaccounted for. Traceability in the country is also non-existent, Frey added.

By allowing the continued trade of species that have been illegally harvested, CITES fails to protect species from extinction, and its lack of controls and weaknesses only serve to fuel environmental crimes, she declared.

According to the U.N. Daily News, wildlife crime has become a serious threat to the security, political stability, economy, natural resources and cultural heritage of many countries.

The extent of the response required to effectively address the threat is often beyond the sole remit of environmental or wildlife law enforcement agencies, or even of one country or region alone, it said.

Last June, the joint U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP)-INTERPOL Environmental Crime Crisis report, pointed to an increased awareness of, and response to, the growing global threat.

It called for concerted action aimed at strengthening action against the organised criminal networks profiting from the trade.

According to the report, one terrorist group operating in East Africa is estimated to make between 38 and 56 million dollars per year from the illegal trade in charcoal.

“Wildlife and forest crime also play a serious role in threat finance to organized crime and non-State armed groups, including terrorist organizations,” it said.

Ivory provides income to militia groups in the DRC and the Central African Republic. And it also provides funds to gangs operating in Sudan, Chad and Niger.

Last week, Uganda complained the loss of about 3,000 pounds of ivory from the vaults of its state-run wildlife protection agency.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Survivors of Sexual Violence Face Increased Risks Tue, 25 Nov 2014 19:10:55 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands Students at Columbia University carry mattresses on the Carry That Weight National Day of Action to show their support for survivors of sexual assault. Credit: Warren Heller

Students at Columbia University carry mattresses on the Carry That Weight National Day of Action to show their support for survivors of sexual assault. Credit: Warren Heller

By Lyndal Rowlands

“A recurring nightmare for me is I’m trying to tell someone something and they are not listening. I’m yelling at the top of my lungs and it feels like there is a glass wall between us.”

Jasmin Enriquez is a two-time survivor of rape. Like two-thirds of rape survivors, Enriquez knew her rapists. The first was her boyfriend when she was a high school senior, the second a fellow student she had been seeing at college."What I hear from women is that they are told to shut up: they are told to shut up during it, they are told to shut up after it, and they are told by some institutions to continue keeping their mouths shut." -- Dr. Dana Sinopoli

“[The nightmare] shows how I’ve always felt that even as someone coming forward as a survivor, as soon as I start giving details to some people, they instantly start to shut it down. As in, you’re being crazy or hyperemotional, instead of taking it as one whole piece and looking at it holistically,” Enriquez told IPS.

Women who have experienced gender-based violence are at a significantly increased risk of developing a mental disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression, within one to three years after the assault.

Enriquez explains, “People don’t seem to understand that after being sexually assaulted, it’s something that you have to live with the rest of your life.

“Most of the time there is an incredible amount of anxiety or depression or other mental health issues that people just don’t understand,” she says. “It’s been five years since I was sexually assaulted and I still live through the trauma.”

A special Lancet series published Friday says that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence from their partner.

Researcher Dr. Susan Rees from the University of New South Wales told IPS that there is strong evidence that if you are exposed to gender-based violence, you are at a much higher risk for the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression as well as attempted suicide.

Rees’ research into the connection between gender-based violence and mental disorders has shown that women who have been assaulted are significantly more likely to experience a mental disorder in their lifetime.

Women who have experienced one form of gender-based violence have a 57 percent chance of developing a mental disorder compared with only 28 percent of women who have not experienced gender-based violence. Significantly, 89 percent of women who have experienced gender-based violence three to four times will develop a mental disorder.

It is important for survivors of assault to get early support to help prevent the onset of an associated mental disorder, Rees said.

However, experiencing sexual assault can be confusing, especially for young women and girls, and this may prevent them from getting early intervention.

Enriquez explains that she didn’t initially realise the connection between her response to the trauma of sexual violence and the symptoms she was experiencing.

“I’ve recently been very jumpy, kind of always tense and I get startled easy, I didn’t understand why that was happening and it was very frustrating.”

Enriquez’ fiancé, who is not the person who assaulted her, used to jump out at her or play games to surprise her, and she found this really upsetting,

“I didn’t understand that it was related to me being sexually assaulted until probably my senior year of college. I feel like if I had been educated about what normal symptoms are of PTSD, I would have known that there was more to it and that it was a normal piece of it.”

Community attitudes affect prevalence

Community attitudes towards women, including strong patriarchal attitudes, power imbalance and gender inequality contribute to the prevalence of violence against women, said Rees.

“It makes sense that if you change attitudes then you can change prevalence, you can reduce the risk for women,” she said.

This is what Enriquez aims to do with her organisation Only With Consent. Together with her fiancé, Enriquez speaks with students to raise awareness and change young people’s attitudes towards sexual assault.

“I definitely think that there’s a gender piece that goes with both the mental health and the sexual assault and that it ties back to any time a woman expresses an emotion of being angry or upset we immediately call her out for being irrational or emotional.” Enriquez told IPS.

“If the majority of survivors who are speaking out are women, and they are expressing these feelings of being upset or being angry, or being really hurt, or any of those feelings, we discredit what they are saying, because we see them as irrational creatures,” Enriquez said.

Psychologist Dr. Dana Sinopoli told IPS that it is also important to consider how gender-based violence affects men, especially men who experience childhood sexual assault. She said that this should involve addressing gender stereotypes such as that men are aggressive or impulsive.

As Carry That Weight explains on its website:

“People of all gender identities can experience and be affected by sexual and domestic violence—women are not the only survivors just as men are not the only perpetrators. We strive to challenge narrow and inaccurate representations of what assault looks like and also acknowledge that these forms of violence disproportionately affect women, transgender, gender nonconforming, and disabled people.”

Sinopoli added however that changing community attitudes towards women was an important part of addressing gender-based violence.

“Consistently what I hear from women is that they are told to shut up, they are told to shut up during it, they are told to shut up after it, and they are told by some institutions to continue keeping their mouths shut.

“That is what we can link to the depression and the anxiety and a lot of the re-experiencing and retriggering that is so central to PTSD,” Sinopoli said.

Sinopoli added that “the way that society reacts, to someone who discloses or is struggling, is so important.

“The more that people speak up the more that we will actually see a decline in such significant psychological symptoms.”

Early intervention can help

When helping someone who has experienced violence, Rees said that it is important that friends and family reassure the victim that it “it is never acceptable to be hit, or to be treated violently or to be raped.”

Unfortunately, population studies show that women who have experienced gender-based violence are also at increased risk of experiencing it again in their lifetime.

“This might be the case because often men target women who are vulnerable, so if she has a mental disorder or trauma as a result of an early childhood adversity, she may be more likely to be targeted by men who in a sense benefit from powerlessness, inequality and fear.”

She said that warning bells that a relationship is unhealthy include controlling, jealous behaviour such as telling you who you should socialise with, or getting jealous because you are doing better than he is at university.

“Often women think that’s because he cares about me, he’s worried about me and that why he wants to know where I am all the time,”

But this type of behaviour should actually be seen as a warning of future emotional and perhaps physical abuse, Rees said.

Rees said that the reasons women don’t leave violent relationships are complex,

“She may be suffering depression. She may not have the economic resources to leave. She may worry about the children, and rightly so, because often people end up homeless, and she also may know that she’s at high risk of retaliation from the perpetrator if she leaves.”

Rees also explained that it is important for health practitioners to receive training so they can be confident to ask about domestic violence and respond appropriately.

She added that primary health care responses need to be integrated with community-based services to ensure that survivors have access to help that is sensitive to the complex impact of sexual violence.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Jewellery Industry Takes Steps to Eliminate “Conflict Gold” Tue, 25 Nov 2014 00:50:39 +0000 Carey L. Biron Gold from eastern Congo. The war in Congo is fueled by a thriving gold trade today, with armed groups controlling mines and earning an estimated 50 million dollars last year from selling gold and minerals. This gold is from a day's work at Kaniola mine. Credit: ENOUGH Project/cc by 2.0

Gold from eastern Congo. The war in Congo is fueled by a thriving gold trade today, with armed groups controlling mines and earning an estimated 50 million dollars last year from selling gold and minerals. This gold is from a day's work at Kaniola mine. Credit: ENOUGH Project/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Major U.S. jewellery companies and retailers have started to take substantive steps to eliminate the presence of “conflict gold” from their supply chains, according to the results of a year-long investigation published Monday.

Rights advocates, backed by the United Nations, have been warning for years that mining revenues are funding warlords and militia groups operating in the Great Lakes region of Africa, particularly in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 2010, such concerns resulted in landmark legislation here in the United States aimed at halting this trade, and those laws have since spurred similar legislative proposals in the European Union and Canada.“Just a few years ago, jewellery companies were pretty resistant to making progress on this, but today there is clearly interest in supporting peace and finding out more about the role they can play in this issue." -- Holly Dranginis of Enough Project

Three of the most problematic of these “conflict minerals” – tin, tantalum and tungsten, collectively known as 3T – are used primarily by the electronics industry. In recent years, that sector has made notable progress in certifying and otherwise regulating its use of these materials.

Yet forward movement has been slower on the fourth conflict mineral from the Great Lakes region – gold.

“Over two-thirds of the eastern Congo’s 3T mines are conflict-free today,” a new report from the Enough Project, a Washington-based watchdog group, states.

“Gold, however, remains a major financial lifeline for armed actors. Ninety-eight percent of artisanally mined gold … is smuggled out of the country annually, and much of that gold benefits armed commanders.”

Last year, the report estimates, some eight to ten tons of gold were smuggled out of eastern DRC. That would have been worth more than 400 million dollars.

Much of this smuggling is thought to take place through Congo’s neighbours, particularly Uganda and Burundi, and onwards to Dubai. From there, most of this gold is able to anonymously enter the global marketplace.

The jewellery industry, meanwhile, is the largest user of global gold supplies, constituting slightly less than half of worldwide demand. “Conflict gold thus taints the industry as whole,” the report warns.

Pledging to stay

According to the Enough Project’s new rankings, however, the industry is starting to respond to these concerns. Researchers looked at both past and pledged actions by 14 of the largest jewellery companies and retailers in the United States – part of an industry worth some five billion dollars a year – and found a spectrum of initiatives already underway.

On the one hand, some companies appear to have undertaken no conflict minerals-related initiatives whatsoever, at least as far as the new report’s metrics were concerned. Three companies scored zero points, while others – including major retailers such as Walmart, Sears and Costco – scored very low.

On the other hand, the researchers found a few key companies that have undertaken particularly notable responses. They say there is reason to believe that these leaders could now influence the rest of the industry.

“We really wanted to focus on the leading jewellery retailers in the U.S. because of their leverage over the industry – we wanted to take lessons from our experience with the electronics industry, that leading companies can move an entire industry,” Holly Dranginis, a policy analyst with the Enough Project and the lead author on the new report, told IPS.

“Just a few years ago, jewellery companies were pretty resistant to making progress on this, but today there is clearly interest in supporting peace and finding out more about the role they can play in this issue. We found two very clear leaders among the 14.”

Those are two of the most recognizable jewellery brands and retailers in the world, Signet Jewelers and Tiffany & Co. Three others highlighted for recognition in the rankings are the commercial retailers J.C. Penney Company, Target Corp. and Cartier.

The Enough Project researchers sent a broad questionnaire to these companies, and Signet and Tiffany received the highest overall rankings. Yet Dranginis notes that what differentiates these companies is merely the fact that they have put in place policies around the sourcing of gold from the Great Lakes region.

Perhaps more importantly, these companies have also started engaging on the ground in countries such as the DRC. Over the past three years, for instance, Signet has pledged to continue sourcing certified gold from the country, rather than simply moving on to another country entirely. The company is also making its sourcing strategies open to others in the industry.

“We see our involvement in industry guidance and standards in the gold sector and the development and implementation of the Signet Responsible Sourcing Protocols as part of a broader initiative of ensuring responsible business practices through the entire jewellery supply chain, for gold and for all other materials,” David A. Bouffard, a vice president for Signet Jewelers, told IPS in a statement.

“It is important to us that our SRSPs are open public protocols which can be used by anyone in our industry, and which Signet’s suppliers can use to their benefit in their relationships with other customers.”

Tiffany, meanwhile, is making a concerted effort to assist local communities, particularly small-scale miners and their families. Both companies reportedly have individual executives that have taken a particular interest in the issue.

“One of the concerns has been that compliance with [U.S. conflict minerals laws] has pushed some companies to think they should leave the region and source elsewhere,” the Enough Project’s Dranginis says.

“Supporting community initiatives in the region is critical, because a lot of communities are affected by major market changes. We also need to ensure that gold miners and their families are supported in a comprehensive way, looking into sustainable projects, alternative livelihoods, financial inclusion and related issues.”

Certification capacity

Action by major brands is, of course, a key component in driving the global response to the impacts of conflict gold. Yet an important collection of multistakeholder and trade mechanisms has also sprung up in recent years, directly facilitating these initiatives.

Central to any attempt at tracking and regulating raw commodities, for instance, is a system of certification. And just as the electronics industry has been able to use metals smelters as an important lynchpin in this process, so too has the gold industry been able to start certifying gold refiners.

According to the new report, in 2012 just six gold refiners had been certified as “conflict free” by one such initiative, the Conflict Free Smelter Program. Two years later, that number has risen to 52 – though “there are still many refiners outside the system,” the study notes.

Advocates are also calling for stepped-up and coordinated action by governments. While the United States, European Union and Canada could all soon have legislation on the use of conflict minerals, some are increasingly pushing for action from the government of the United Arab Emirates aiming to constrict the flow of conflict gold through Dubai.

Likewise, India, Pakistan and China are among the most prominent consumers of gold worldwide, and thus constitute key sources of demand.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

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Proposal for International Anti-Corruption Court Seeing “Significant” Momentum Fri, 21 Nov 2014 01:28:00 +0000 Carey L. Biron By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

The key U.S. advocate of a proposal to create a multilateral body mandated to investigate allegations of political corruption says the idea is receiving significant interest from civil society, politicians and major business leaders.

Mark L. Wolf, a U.S. federal judge, first proposed the idea of an International Anti-Corruption Court (IACC) in two articles this summer (available here and here). Since that time, Wolf told a recent briefing at the U.S. Congress, the proposal has seen “remarkable progress”.“In the developed world we can make the mistake of seeing corruption as merely stealing money, but in fact political corruption kills more people than war and famine put together – 140,000 children a year, by our estimates.” -- Akaash Maharaj of GOPAC

“There are, of course, challenges to refining the concept of an IACC,” Wolf told a House of Representatives committee last week. “However, since July 2014 significant support has developed for meeting these challenges.”

Wolf reported ongoing meetings with U.S. officials and the World Bank, and reported that the new United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, has made the IACC proposal a “personal priority”. Hussein was a key force in the creation of the International Criminal Court, a potential model for the IACC.

This week, Wolf is addressing representatives of major global companies.

“American companies generally want to behave ethically and, in addition, are significantly deterred by the threat of prosecution,” Wolf stated. “They know they would benefit from the more level playing field an IACC would provide.”

Indeed, many say the speed with which the congressional committee moved to hold last week’s briefing is remarkable. It underscores a uniquely broad consensus, both domestically and internationally, around the need to crack down on what is referred to as “grand corruption” – the abuse of political office for personal gain.

Increasingly, this issue is being seen as less one of theft than of basic human rights.

“Today’s briefing seeks to foster an understanding that human rights and anti-corruption efforts are inseparable,” James McGovern, the member of Congress who chaired the committee’s discussions, stated in opening remarks.

“Currently, there is a lack of reference to human rights in international anti-corruption commitments and, conversely, the lack of reference to corruption in international human rights instruments.”

140,000 children a year

Grand corruption is today thought to eat up more than five percent of global gross domestic product. According to estimates cited by Judge Wolf, illicit financial flows out of developing countries are 10 times larger than the foreign assistance those countries receive – losses that have direct human consequences.

“In the developed world we can make the mistake of seeing corruption as merely stealing money, but in fact political corruption kills more people than war and famine put together – 140,000 children a year, by our estimates,” Akaash Maharaj, the executive director of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC), told IPS.

“If a political actor were to kill that many people, there would be very few people who wouldn’t say that we have to deal with this problem. But those who bring about human suffering through political corruption are no less guilty.”

GOPAC, which includes legislators from almost every country, has been mobilising around the need for concerted international action against corruption for the past three years. Maharaj says that his organization’s membership has lost faith in the ability of many countries to deal with political corruption at the national level.

While there are international mechanisms that threaten penalties for egregious human rights abuse, for the most part corruption continues to fall into a nebulous zone of national responsibility. Existing multilateral agreements, including the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which came into effect in 2003, lack substantive enforcement mechanisms.

Yet while anti-corruption legislation exists in almost every country, advocates note that many of the most corrupt officials are often able to use their wealth and power to subvert these laws. These figures are typically the least likely to face domestic justice, and thus can come to expect impunity.

“There are certain crimes so beyond the pale and beyond state capacity to prosecute that it becomes appropriate for the international community and for international law to become engaged. Certainly the harm grand corruption causes in many developing countries is enormous,” Zorka Milin, a legal adviser with Global Witness, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“An international court would be a good mechanism for trying to translate that momentum into meaningful accountability, which we haven’t really seen so far. It’s important to frame the discussion in terms of ending impunity, and this court would be one piece of that, together with other legal anticorruption tools at the domestic level.”

Under Wolf’s proposal, an IACC would be mandated to investigate and prosecute officials from countries that are unable or unwilling to undertake such actions on their own. He suggests making acceptance of the proposed court’s jurisdiction a pre-condition for membership under the Convention Against Corruption or at the World Trade Organisation, or for obtaining loans from multilateral banks.

Inevitable, unclear action

The global discussion today is increasingly conducive to some sort of concerted global action against political corruption. In part, this trend is driven by strengthened concern around the effects that tax evasion is having on public coffers in both developed and developing countries.

“Unquestionably, there is today more momentum and awareness on the issue of grand corruption, and that’s the major reason these issues are rising on the international agenda,” Milin says.

GOPAC’s Maharaj agrees. “I’m struck by the extraordinary level of consensus across the world,” he says. “This is absolutely inevitable. It’s not a matter of if, but when.”

Exactly what should be done about the issue, however, remains highly contentious. There are multiple potential options, after all, with an international court being just one.

Others include expanding the purview of the International Criminal Court or other regional human rights courts. Likewise, the jurisdiction of national judicial systems could be enlarged to be able to deal with allegations of corruption in other countries.

Another possibility could be to coordinate national legislation – and priority – in developed countries, aimed at seizing the assets of or denying visas to corrupt officials. While this would not result in jail time, it would make it harder to spend ill-gotten wealth while simultaneously emphasising international disapproval.

Importantly, some countries have become increasingly aggressive in this regard in recent years, particularly the United States and Switzerland. Watchdog groups say these nascent initiatives are important and already having impact.

“Over the last eight years there’s been growing official action against kleptocracy in the U.S. and elsewhere,” Arvind Ganesan, the head of the business and human rights programme at Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

“Strengthening those efforts now – meaning fully resourcing and expanding them, and pushing other countries to put in place similar policies – will build momentum towards an International Anti-Corruption Court.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at

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Mexico’s Undead Rise Up Thu, 20 Nov 2014 21:37:59 +0000 Charlotte Maria Saenz Credit: Proyecto Diez Periodismo con Memoria, via Ilustradores con Ayotzinapa

Credit: Proyecto Diez Periodismo con Memoria, via Ilustradores con Ayotzinapa

By Charlotte María Sáenz
MEXICO CITY, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

“Alive they were taken, and alive we want them back!”

That’s become the rallying cry for the 43 student teachers abducted by municipal police and handed over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang last September in Iguala, Mexico. None have been seen since.In Mexico’s unraveling, there is an opportunity for the rest of the world to witness—and support—the emergence of more direct and collective forms of democracy.

It remained the rallying cry even after federal officials announced that the missing students had most likely been executed and burnt to ashes.

Since then, Argentine forensic experts have concluded that burned remains found in Iguala do not belong to the missing young men—and so the 43 remain undead. The findings speak to a growing scepticism about the Mexican government’s competence—not only to deliver justice, but also to carry on an investigation with any kind of legitimacy or credibility.

It has become ever clearer that the state is in fact deeply implicated in the violence it claims to oppose. The student teachers were originally attacked by municipal police—allegedly at the orders of Iguala’s mayor and his wife, who were at a function with a local general when the attack took place.

Although the exact details of who ordered the attack are not yet clear, the handing over of the student teachers to a violent drug gang betrays a thorough merger of the police force, local officials, and organised crime.

This growing realisation has ignited rage all over Mexico, with social media campaigns flaring up alongside massive street protests. Peaceful marches happen almost daily in Mexico City, while elsewhere there are starker signs of unrest. Some demonstrators even set fire to government buildings in the Guerrero state capital.

Meanwhile, the government has carried on an increasingly clumsy investigation, first purporting to have found the students in nearby mass graves—as The Nation reports, plenty of mass graves have turned up, but none has yet been proven to contain the missing teachers—and then claiming to have extracted confessions from the alleged killers.

In a November press conference, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam showcased detailed video testimonies from three alleged hit men who claimed to have burned the 43 at a nearby garbage dump. Parents of the missing went to inspect the alleged site and found evidence lacking. Many doubted that a fire of such magnitude—the supposed killers claimed that they had spent 14 hours burning the bodies—could have happened due to the rain of that night.

When Argentine forensic specialists disproved Karam’s narrative, the federal government pledged to “redouble efforts” to find the students. Now President Enrique Peña Nieto is hinting at a conspiracy against his government. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Mexican officials want this issue put to rest as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the mounting number of mass graves investigators are turning up serves as a reminder that this kind of violence has been going on for years. Police round up, detain, beat, arrest, and shoot at student activists routinely, as when state police shot and killed two Ayotzinapa students during a protest action on the highway in 2011. As with over 90 percent of such crimes in Mexico, no one has been punished.

These kinds of killings and disappearances have a long and sordid history as a practice of state violence in Mexico—and particularly in Guerrero—since the so-called Dirty War of the 1970s.

The many discrepancies in Karam’s press conference are feeding into a growing popular refusal to trust the government’s ability to investigate the disappearances independently.

In response to a reporter’s question about whether the parents of the missing believed him, Karam quipped that the parents are people who “make decisions together.” The question was not so much about whether the parents, as individuals, believed or disbelieved Karam’s evidence—although they have since visited the alleged crime scene and reaffirmed their scepticism.

Instead, ordinary Mexicans are increasingly employing their collective intelligence in making sense of the events and refusing to accept the state’s evidence on the grounds that the state itself is compromised. And just as importantly, they’re condemning the government’s silence about its own complicity in the probable execution of their sons.

In their increasing rejection of the Mexican narco-state’s legitimacy, the parents of the missing 43 are signaling their membership in what anthropologist Guillermo Bonfíl Batalla famously termed México Profundo—that is, the grassroots culture of indigenous Mesoamerican communities and the urban poor, which stands in stark contrast to the “Imaginary Mexico” of the elites.

Recalling the Zapatista movement, the rumblings from below in the wake of the mass abduction in Guerrero are merging with older modes of indigenous resistance to give new life to Mexico’s deep tradition of popular struggle.

Bolstered by social media, this new life is expressing itself in a number of colourful ways. Defying the government’s theatre of death, artists from all over the world are creating a “Mosaic of Life” by illustrating the faces and names of the disappeared. Mexican Twitter users have embraced the hashtag #YaMeCansé—“I am tired”—to appropriate Karam’s complaint of exhaustion after an hour of responding to questions as an expression of their own rage and resilience.

Gradually, a movement calling itself “43 x 43”—representing the exponential impact of the 43 disappeared—is rising up to greet the undead, along with the more than 100,000 others killed or disappeared since the start of this drug war in 2006 under former President Felipe Calderón. This refusal of the dead to remain dead made for a particularly poignant Dia de Muertos celebration earlier this month.

This form of resistance recalls what happened last May in the autonomous Zapatista municipality of el Caracol de la Realidad in the state of Chiapas, where a teacher known as Galeano was murdered by paramilitary forces. At the pre-dawn ceremony held there in Galeano’s honor on May 25, putative Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos announced that he, Marcos, would cease to exist.

After Marcos disappeared into the night, the assembled then heard a disembodied voice address them: “Good dawn, compañeras and compañeros. My name is Galeano, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano. Does anybody else respond to this name?”

In response, hundreds of voices affirmed, “Yes, we are all Galeano!” And so Galeano came back to life collectively, in all of those assembled.

And now 43 disappeared student teachers have multiplied into thousands demanding justice from the state and greater autonomy for local communities, which are already building alternative healthcare, education, justice, and governmental systems. A general strike is scheduled for the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution on November 20th.

In Mexico’s unraveling, there is an opportunity for the rest of the world to witness—and support—the emergence of more direct and collective forms of democracy. As the now “deceased” Marcos said: “They wanted to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pakistani Sikhs Back in the ‘Dark Ages’ of Religious Persecution Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:03:47 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai Sikhs in northern Pakistan are fleeing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where threats, intimidation and attacks are making life impossible for the religious minority. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Sikhs in northern Pakistan are fleeing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where threats, intimidation and attacks are making life impossible for the religious minority. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan , Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

Balwan Singh, an 84-year-old shopkeeper living in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, is well past retirement age, but any illusions he may have had about living out his golden years in peace and security have long since been dashed.

The elderly man is a member of Pakistan’s 40,000-member Sikh community, which has a long history in this South Asian nation of 182 million people.

“The constitution limits the political rights of Pakistan’s non-Muslims." -- Javid Shah, a Lahore-based lawyer
Though constituting only a tiny minority, Sikhs feel a strong pull towards the country, believed to be the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.

Sikhs have lived on the Afghan-Pakistan border among Pashto-speaking tribes since the 17th century, but in the last decade the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) – once a cradle of safety for Sikhs fleeing religious persecution – have become a hostile, violent, and sometimes deadly place for the religious community.

For many, the situation now is a veritable return to the dark ages of religious persecution.

Today, Balwan is just one of many Sikhs who have abandoned their homes and businesses in FATA and taken refuge in the neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

“We are extremely concerned over the safety of our belongings, including properties back home,” Balwan, who now runs a grocery store in KP’s capital, Peshawar, tells IPS.

Balwan is registered here as an Internally Displaced Person (IDP), along with 200,000 others who have left FATA in waves since militant groups began exerting their control over the region in 2001.

Calling Sikhs ‘infidels’, the Taliban and other armed groups set off a wave of hostility towards the community. Shops have been destroyed and several people have been kidnapped. Others have been threatened and forced to pay a tax levied on “non-Muslims” by Islamic groups in the area.

According to police records, eight Sikhs have been killed in the past year and a half alone. When Balwan arrived here in Peshawar, he was one of just 5,000 people seeking safety.

“We want to go back,” he explains, “but the threats from militants hamper our plans.”

Karan Singh, another Sikh originally hailing from Khyber Agency, one of seven agencies that comprise FATA, says that requests to the government to assist with their safe return have fallen on deaf ears.

“Maybe the government doesn’t grant us permission to go back because it doesn’t want to enrage the Taliban,” speculates Karan, also an IDP now living in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The 51-year-old, who now runs a medical store in Peshawar, is worried about the slow pace of business. “We earned a good amount from the sale of medicines in Khyber Agency, but we have exhausted all our cash since being displaced.”

Indeed, many Sikhs were business owners, contributing greatly to the economy of northern Pakistan.

Now, hundreds of shops lie abandoned, slowly accumulating a layer of dust and grime from neglect, and scores of Sikhs are reliant on government aid. The average family needs about 500 dollars a month to survive, a far greater sum than the 200-dollar assistance package that currently comes their way.

The situation took a turn for the worse in June of this year, when a government-sponsored offensive in North Waziristan Agency, aimed at rooting out militants once and for all from their stronghold, forced scores of people to flee their homes amidst bombs and shelling.

Some 500 Sikh families were among those escaping to Peshawar. Now, they are living in makeshift camps, unable to earn a living, access medical supplies and facilities or send their children to school.

Male children in particular are vulnerable, easily identifiable by their traditional headdress.

While some families are being moved out and resettled, Sikhs say they are consistently overlooked.

“We have been visiting registration points established by the government to facilitate our repatriation, to no avail,” Karan laments.

Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, says, “About 65 Christian families, 15 Hindu families and 20 Sikh families are yet to be registered at the checkpoint after leaving North Waziristan Agency, which has deprived them of [the chance to access] relief assistance.”

Such discrimination, experts say, is not conducive to a pluralistic society.

According to Muhammad Rafiq, a professor with the history department at the University of Peshawar, Sikhs are the largest religious minority in Pakistan after Hindus and Christians.

Thus the current situation bodes badly for “religious harmony and peaceful coexistence in the country”, he tells IPS.

He says that minorities have to contend not only with the Taliban but also Islamic fundamentalists who regard any non-Muslim as a threat to their religion. By this same logic, Hindus and Christians have faced similar problems: threats, evictions and, sometimes, violent intimidation.

Kidnapping for ransom has also emerged as a major issue, with some 10 Sikhs being kidnapped in the past year alone, prompting many to pack up their belongings and head for cities like Peshawar, says Lahore-based Sardar Bishon Singh, former president of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC).

Bishon’s shop in Lahore, capital of the Punjab province, was looted in September 2013, but he says the police didn’t even register his report.

“Thieves broke into my shop and took away 80,000 dollars [about eight million rupees] but the Lahore police were reluctant to register a case,” Bishon recalls.

He says the police are afraid, “because the Taliban are involved and the police cannot take action against them [Taliban].”

Some experts say the problem runs deeper than religious persecution in Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas, extending into the very roots of Pakistan’s political system.

“The constitution limits the political rights of Pakistan’s non-Muslims,” says Javid Shah, a Lahore-based lawyer.

“Only Muslims are allowed to become the president or the prime minister. Only Muslims are allowed to serve as judges in the Federal Shariat Court, which has the power to strike down any law deemed un-Islamic.”

He believes these clauses in the constitution have “emboldened” the people of Pakistan to treat minorities as second-class citizens.

This mindset was visible on Aug. 6 when a Sikh trader, Jagmohan Singh, was killed and two others injured in an attack on a marketplace in Peshawar.

“We have no enmity with anyone,” says Pram Singh, who sustained injuries in the attack. “This is all just part of the Taliban’s campaign to eliminate us.”

He alleges that the gunmen, who arrived on a motorbike, did not face any resistance when they rode in to the marketplace. “Police arrived after the gunmen had left the scene,” he adds.

On Mar. 14 this year, two Sikhs were killed in the Charsadda district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but their killers are yet to be identified, Pram says.

While eyewitness accounts point to negligence on the part of the authorities, some believe that the government is doing its best to address the situation.

Sardar Sooran Singh, a lawmaker in KP, insists that the government is providing security to members of the Sikh community, who he says enjoy equal rights as Muslims citizens.

Peshawar Police Chief Najibullah Khan tells IPS that they have been patrolling markets in the city where Sikh-owned shops might be vulnerable to attack.

“We have also suggested that they avoid venturing out at night, and inform the police about any threat [to their safety],” he says.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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True Gender Equality for Both Women and Men Thu, 20 Nov 2014 05:52:38 +0000 Joseph Chamie

Joseph Chamie is a former Director of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie

Numerous international and national efforts have focused on gender equality and the empowerment of women. The United Nations, for example, has convened four world conferences on women – Beijing in 1995, Nairobi in 1985, Copenhagen in 1980 and Mexico City in 1975 – and Member States have adopted various international agreements, such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Achieving true gender equality, however, requires resolving the many inequities, discriminations and barriers that are encountered by both women and men. Concentrating attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities, biases and obstacles confronting women, while largely ignoring those of men is an unproductive and limited strategy for attaining true gender equality.

In hazardous jobs, such as mining, logging, fishing, iron and steel work, men are the overwhelming majority of workers. Consequently, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal injury or work-related disability than women.
It is important to acknowledge at the very outset that women’s rights and men’s rights are human rights. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and are entitled to life, liberty and security of person.

Moreover, empowering women and men is also an indispensable tool for advancing both human and national development, reducing poverty and improving prospects for future generations.

Men suffer a widely acknowledged disadvantage compared to women with respect to perhaps the most important dimension: longevity. Men have shorter life spans and higher mortality than women at virtually all ages. Males, on average live four years less than females worldwide, five years less in the United States, seven years less in Japan and 10 years less in Russia.

The gender gap is considerable at older ages due to men’s shorter lives. Men are a growing minority across each 10-year age group of the aged population worldwide (Figure 1). For example, men represent 40 percent of those in the age group 80-89 years.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

In some countries, for example, Austria, China, Italy, Russia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, statutory retirement ages for men are higher than for women, even though men have fewer potential years for retirement than women. Furthermore, when they meet the same participatory requirements, men receive similar social security benefits as women, without regard to men’s fewer years of retirement.

With respect to education, girls generally outperform boys in most developed countries by receiving better grades and teacher assessments, while having lower school dropout rates than boys. In the crucial area of higher education, women now outnumber men worldwide in both university attendance and graduation.

Regarding childbearing and childrearing, fathers in most industrialised countries generally have little to say about the outcome of a pregnancy even though they will likely incur responsibilities and costs for the child.

Women have the right to choose whether to have an abortion or carry the pregnancy to term, even if the father objects to her decision. Moreover, while women may opt for artificial insemination to have a child, men are generally barred from using surrogacy to have a child.

Men who stay home to raise children are often looked down upon for not financially supporting their families. However, it is still acceptable for women to stay at home and focus on childcare.  Also in contrast to women, men are still expected to enter the labour force early in their lives and are under enormous pressure to be successful providers for the material needs of their families.

Also in cases of divorce in the Western world where child custody is involved, courts most often rule in favour of the mother rather than the father. Moreover, in those instances where the father does receive child custody, he is less likely to receive child support than custodial mothers.

With regard to the occupational structure of most countries, men have to cope with the widely unacknowledged “glass floor”.The glass floor is the invisible barrier limiting the entry of men into the traditional occupations of women, such as pre-school and primary teachers, secretaries/administrative assistants, nurses and medical/dental aides. If gender equality is desired at higher occupational levels, then it is also necessary at lower levels as well.

In hazardous jobs, such as mining, logging, fishing, iron and steel work, men are the overwhelming majority of workers. Consequently, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal injury or work-related disability than women. Moreover, the construction, manufacturing and production sectors are shrinking in many developed countries, resulting in fewer traditional jobs for men.

Concerning sports, boys and men are more often encouraged to participate in more violent activities, such as football, hockey and boxing, than girls and women. As a result, men are at greater risk of suffering serious sports-related injuries and incurring long-term or permanent brain damage.

In armed conflicts both domestic and international, men and boys are more likely to participate in combat than women. Consequently, men suffer more trauma, disability and death than women in such conflicts.

Men have a higher probability of being victims of homicide. Among ethnic minorities, homosexuals and marginalised groups, men are also more likely to experience discrimination, hostility and violence than women. In addition, men are more often incarcerated in jails, prisons and hospitals and serve longer jail terms than women for the same criminal offenses, with women being released earlier on parole than men.

Men are more likely than women to be homeless, often the result of job loss, insufficient income, mental health issues or drug addiction. The consumption of tobacco and alcohol is greater for men than women globally, with men smoking nearly five times as much as women and six percent of male deaths related to alcohol compared to one percent of female deaths.

Also, in most countries more men than women commit suicide. Nevertheless, men are less likely than women to seek help and treatment for alcoholism, substance abuse, mental illness and chronic health problems.

It should be evident that simply focusing attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities and biases that women encounter while largely ignoring those facing men will obstruct and delay efforts to attain gender equality. Achieving true gender equality requires recognising and resolving the inequities, discrimination and barriers that are encountered by both women and men alike.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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