Inter Press Service » Crime & Justice http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 31 Oct 2014 10:03:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Canada Accused of Failing to Prevent Overseas Mining Abuseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/canada-accused-of-failing-to-prevent-overseas-mining-abuses/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=canada-accused-of-failing-to-prevent-overseas-mining-abuses http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/canada-accused-of-failing-to-prevent-overseas-mining-abuses/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 00:09:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137497 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 31 2014 (IPS)

The Canadian government is failing either to investigate or to hold the country’s massive extractives sector accountable for rights abuses committed in Latin American countries, according to petitioners who testified here Tuesday before an international tribunal.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also heard concerns that the Canadian government is not making the country’s legal system available to victims of these abuses.“Far too often, extractive companies have double-standards in how they behave at home versus abroad.” -- Alex Blair of Oxfam America

“Canada has been committed to a voluntary framework of corporate social responsibility, but this does not provide any remedy for people who have been harmed by Canadian mining operations,” Jen Moore, the coordinator of the Latin America programme at MiningWatch Canada, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“We’re looking for access to the courts but also for the Canadian state to take preventive measures to avoid these problems in the first place – for instance, an independent office that would have the power to investigate allegations of abuse in other countries.”

Moore and others who testified before the commission formally submitted a report detailing the concerns of almost 30 NGOs. Civil society groups have been pushing the Canadian government to ensure greater accountability for this activity for years, Moore says, and that work has been buttressed by similar recommendations from both a parliamentary commission, in 2005, and the United Nations.

“Nothing new has taken place over the past decade … The Canadian government has refused to implement the recommendations,” Moore says.

“The state’s response to date has been to firmly reinforce this voluntary framework that doesn’t work – and that’s what we heard from them again during this hearing. There was no substantial response to the fact that there are all sorts of cases falling through the cracks.”

Canada, which has one of the largest mining sectors in the world, is estimated to have some 1,500 projects in Latin America – more than 40 percent of the mining companies operating in the region. According to the new report, and these overseas operations receive “a high degree” of active support from the Canadian government.

“We’re aware of a great deal of conflict,” Shin Imai, a lawyer with the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, a Canadian civil society initiative, said Tuesday. “Our preliminary count shows that at least 50 people have been killed and some 300 wounded in connection with mining conflicts involving Canadian companies in recent years, for which there has been little to no accountability.”

These allegations include deaths, injuries, rapes and other abuses attributed to security personnel working for Canadian mining companies. They also include policy-related problems related to long-term environmental damage, illegal community displacement and subverting democratic processes.

Home state accountability

The Washington-based IACHR, a part of the 35-member Organisation of American States (OAS), is one of the world’s oldest multilateral rights bodies, and has looked at concerns around Canadian mining in Latin America before.

Yet this week’s hearing marked the first time the commission has waded into the highly contentious issue of “home state” accountability – that is, whether companies can be prosecuted at home for their actions abroad.

“This hearing was cutting-edge. Although the IACHR has been one of the most important allies of human rights violations’ victims in Latin America, it’s a little bit prudent when it faces new topics or new legal challenges,” Katya Salazar, executive director of the Due Process of Law Foundation, a Washington-based legal advocacy group, told IPS.

“And talking about the responsibility for the home country of corporations working in Latin America is a very new challenge. So we’re very happy to see how the commission’s understanding and concern about these topics have evolved.”
Home state accountability has become progressively more vexed as industries and supply chains have quickly globalised. Today, companies based in rich countries, with relatively stronger legal systems, are increasingly operating in developing countries, often under weaker regulatory regimes.

The extractives sector has been a key example of this, and over the past two decades it has experienced one of the highest levels of conflict with local communities of any industry. For advocates, part of the problem is a current vagueness around the issue of the “extraterritorial” reach of domestic law.

“Far too often, extractive companies have double-standards in how they behave at home versus abroad,” Alex Blair, a press officer with the extractives programme at Oxfam America, a humanitarian and advocacy group, told IPS. “They think they can take advantage of weaknesses in local laws, oversight and institutions to operate however they want in developing countries.”

Blair notes a growing trend of local and indigenous communities going abroad to hold foreign companies accountable. Yet these efforts remain extraordinarily complex and costly, even as legal avenues in many Western countries continue to be constricted.

Transcending the legalistic

At this week’s hearing, the Canadian government maintained that it was on firm legal ground, stating that it has “one of the world’s strongest legal and regulatory frameworks towards its extractives industries”.

In 2009, Canada formulated a voluntary corporate responsibility strategy for the country’s international extractives sector. The country also has two non-judicial mechanisms that can hear grievances arising from overseas extractives projects, though neither of these can investigate allegations, issue rulings or impose punitive measures.

These actions notwithstanding, the Canadian response to the petitioners concerns was to argue that local grievances should be heard in local court and that, in most cases, Canada is not legally obligated to pursue accountability for companies’ activities overseas.

“With respect to these corporations’ activities outside Canada, the fact of their incorporation within Canada is clearly not a sufficient connection to Canada to engage Canada’s obligations under the American Declaration,” Dana Cryderman, Canada’s alternate permanent representative to the OAS, told the commission, referring to the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the document that underpins the IACHR’s work.

Cryderman continued: “[H]ost countries in Latin America offer domestic legal and regulatory avenues through which the claims being referenced by the requesters can and should be addressed.”

Yet this rationale clearly frustrated some of the IACHR’s commissioners, including the body’s current president, Rose-Marie Antoine.

“Despite the assurances of Canada there’s good policy, we at the commission continue to see a number of very, very serious human rights violations occurring in the region as a result of certain countries, and Canada being one of the main ones … so we’re seeing the deficiencies of those policies,” Antoine said following the Canadian delegation’s presentation.

“On the one hand, Canada says, ‘Yes, we are responsible and wish to promote human rights.’ But on the other hand, it’s a hands-off approach … We have to move beyond the legalistic if we’re really concerned about human rights.”

Antoine noted the commission was currently working on a report on the impact of natural resources extraction on indigenous communities. She announced, for the first time, that the report would include a chapter on what she referred to as the “very ticklish issue of extraterritoriality”.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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They Say the Land is ‘Uninhabited’ but Indigenous Communities Disagreehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/they-say-the-land-is-uninhabited-but-indigenous-communities-disagree/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=they-say-the-land-is-uninhabited-but-indigenous-communities-disagree http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/they-say-the-land-is-uninhabited-but-indigenous-communities-disagree/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 05:10:11 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137464 Indigenous communities that live in traditional forests likes these on the Indonesian island of Lombok are not consulted when such lands are handed over to commercial entities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Indigenous communities that live in traditional forests likes these on the Indonesian island of Lombok are not consulted when such lands are handed over to commercial entities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO/BALI, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

Disregarding the rights of indigenous people to their traditional lands is costing companies millions of dollars each year, and costing communities themselves their lives.

A new paper by the Washington-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) released on Oct. 30 found that a significant portion of forests and reserves in emerging markets is being allocated to commercial operations through concessions, ignoring indigenous communities who have lived on them for generations.

“The granting of concessions without the knowledge or approval of people directly affected by them is obviously a human rights issue of grave concern. But it may also have a real financial impact, and this impact concerns more than just those companies with ground-level operations,” the paper said.

“Most of the time [indigenous communities] are working without any kind of protection and taking on groups with lots of money and state support." -- Aleta Baun, 2013 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize
It noted that indigenous communities inhabit over 99 percent of lands used by commercial entities through concessions. In some instances, large portions of national land are being divested through concessions.

The figure was 40 percent of all land extent in Peru and 30 percent in Indonesia. With Indonesia’s total land extent covering some 1.8 million square km, the portion of land under concession works out to around 500,000 sq km.

“In most cases governments feel that it is easier and simpler to work when they don’t get the indigenous communities involved,” Bryson Ogden, private sector analyst at RRI, told IPS.

But while companies and governments enter into agreements on lands as if they were not inhabited, when work begins on commercial projects it invariably collides head-on with communities who call the same land their traditional home.

The financial damage resulting from such confrontations can run into millions. A recent paper by the U.S. National Academy of Science noted that one company reported a loss of 100 million dollars during a single year, due to stoppages forced by company-community conflict. The company was not named in the report.

“An economy wide valuation of ‘environmental, social and governance risks’ across the Australian Stock Market in 2012 by Credit Suisse identified 21.4 billion Australian dollars in negative share-price valuation impact,” the paper, entitled ‘Conflict Translates Environmental and Social Risk into Business Costs’, claimed.

RRI’s Ogden said that despite such losses, the global trend still was to sideline indigenous communities when entering into concession agreements. “They remain invisible in most of these contracts.”

Such invisibility on paper can be deadly on the ground. In South Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo, serious violence erupted between police and activists during a protest that took place a fortnight ago, Mina Setra, deputy secretary general of Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), told IPS.

Such violent altercations are not rare. Earlier this year research by Global Witness, an organisation working on environmental rights, found that between 2002 and 2013 at least 903 citizens engaged in environmental protection work were killed.

During the period under review, according to the report, 41 people were killed in the Philippines because of opposition to mining interests. And in 2012 alone, 68 percent of all land-related murders in Brazil were connected to disputes over deforestation in the Amazon.

The report said that activists facing prosecution lacked local as well as international networks that were tailor-made to assist them.

“The problem we are facing is that there is still no recognition for indigenous peoples’ rights,” AMAN’s Setra said.

For almost four years AMAN and other environmental organisations lobbied the Indonesian parliament to adapt a law that would recognise the rights of indigenous communities. It was to be passed this month, when the government changed, bringing fresh officials into power.

“Now we are back to zero,” Setra said.

RRI’s Ogden said there were signs that some global companies were taking note of the rights of indigenous communities to their land, but AMAN’s Setra said that till there was legal recognition of such rights, commercial agreements were unlikely to include them.

“The companies keep asking us under what terms such communities can be recognized and we have no effective answer until there is a law,” Setra said.

For activists, working in that gray area could turn deadly.

Take the case of Aleta Baun, the Indonesian activist from West Timor, the Indonesia portion of the island of Timor, who in 2000 launched a campaign to stop mining operations that were affecting the lives of her Molo tribe members. She has been waylaid, stabbed and threatened with death and rape.

“Most of the time you are working without any kind of protection and taking on groups with lots of money and state support,” said the 2013 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize.

In the Paracatu municipality of Brazil, the country’s largest gold mining operation run by a company called Kinross with a total investment of over 570 million dollars has been repeatedly interrupted since 2008 due to conflicts with traditional communities.

The parties signed a new agreement in 2010 that allowed operations to resume in 2011.

In Peru, two dam projects on the Ene-Tambo River have been abandoned after prolonged protests and legal action by the indigenous Ashaninka community, who claim that the projects could displace between 8,000 and 10,000 people.

In 2008 the Tata group pulled out a 350-million-dollar investment from the Indian state of West Bengal, where it intended to produce its signature Nano car, after protests by local communities.

The RRI report said that community rights to forests and other natural reserves were increasingly becoming a factor for commercial operations.

“As we have examined this problem, we have come to think of local populations as a kind of ‘unrecognized counterparty’ to concession agreements. We found that communities often used legal mechanisms to resolve their grievances with concessionaires. This suggests that local communities’ rights over an area have appreciable legal weight, even if government bodies and concessionaires haven’t attributed them much import in the terms of their agreements.”

Ogden said that more data was needed to clearly establish community rights over natural reserves.

Until then, indigenous peoples are left facing gigantic commercial entities in a David-and-Goliath scenario that shows no sign of improving in their favour.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Guatemalan Officers Face Sexual Slavery Charges in Historic Trialhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/guatemalan-officers-face-sexual-slavery-charges-in-historic-trial/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=guatemalan-officers-face-sexual-slavery-charges-in-historic-trial http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/guatemalan-officers-face-sexual-slavery-charges-in-historic-trial/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 18:05:24 +0000 Luz Mendez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137429

Luz Méndez Gutiérrez is the co-author of the book Mujeres q’eqchís: violencia sexual y lucha por la justicia (ECAP-IDRC) (forthcoming). She is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Union of Guatemalan Women (Unión Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas – UNAMG).

By Luz Mendez
GUATEMALA CITY, Oct 28 2014 (IPS)

On Oct. 14, Guatemala’s Court for High-Risk Crimes ruled that charges would be brought against two members of the Army for sexual slavery and domestic slavery against q’eqchís women in the military outpost of Sepur Zarco, and other serious crimes perpetrated in the framework of the government counterinsurgency policies during the armed conflict.

At the public hearing, Judge Miguel Angel Galvez ruled that there is sufficient evidence to open a trial against Colonel Esteelmer Reyes Girón, former chief of the Sepur Zarco military outpost, and Heriberto Valdéz Asij, former military commissioner in the region.

Credit: Luz Mendez

Credit: Luz Mendez

Reyes will be tried for the crimes against humanity of sexual violence and sexual slavery, domestic slavery, and the assassination of Dominga Coc and her two young daughters on the base. Valdez will face charges for the crimes against humanity of sexual violence and forced disappearance.

Acts of violence

For six years, women of rural communities of the Alta Verapaz and Izabal departments were the objects of sexual slavery and domestic slavery at the military outpost of the community of Sepur Zarco, located on the border between the townships of Panzós and El Estor.

These crimes formed part of attacks on the civilian population between 1982 and 1988. At the outpost, the women were organised in three-day shifts, and forced to do domestic work, including cooking and washing soldiers’ clothes with no pay whatsoever.

The forced work was accompanied by sexual violence – every time they did their shifts, they were systematically raped by soldiers at the outpost. The sexual and domestic slavery perpetrated against the women of Sepur Zarco formed part of a military plan executed in stages that started with the kidnapping, torture and forced disappearance of their husbands, who were peasant leaders.

After that, soldiers and officers brutally gang-raped the women in their homes, in front of their children. Their homes and belongings were burned and their crops destroyed. Then the women were named by the soldiers as “the widows” and had to move to Sepur Zarco, where they were forced into sexual and domestic slavery at the military outpost.

Even after the military outpost was closed in 1988, the women still faced the physical and psychological consequences of the sexual violence. One of the cruelest results has been that they are stigmatised in their communities.It will be a precedent-setting case for all efforts to end sexual violence during armed conflict, one of the most widespread and unrecognised violations of human rights, as well as eradicating impunity for these crimes.

According to the patriarchal logic, sexual violence is a crime for which the victims must pay. In spite of the fact that the rapes were committed in a context of terror and militarisation, today the women are blamed for the sexual violence they suffered.

The long road to justice

Today the women of Sepur Zarco are demanding justice for these horrendous crimes against them. The road to justice they’ve come down started 10 years ago.

One of the most important strategies they employed was to build groups of women and alliances on the local and national level. They broke the silence and told their hard truth in a process of constructing the historic memory of the sexual violence against indigenous women during the armed conflict, published in a book in 2009.

In 2010, the protagonists in this history, along with women of the other three regions of the country, participated in the Tribunal of Conscience against sexual violence against the women during the armed conflict in Guatemala.

And in 2011, 15 women of the Sepur Zarco group presented a criminal suit in a national court, demanding justice for the crimes committed against them and their family members in the framework of transitional justice.

In this process they have relied on the support of feminist and human rights organisations. For these organizations, the fight for justice of the women of Sepur Zarco is part of their political commitment in favor of eliminating gender violence and the emancipation of women.

A historic trial

The criminal trial brought by the Sepur Zarco women has national and international significance. In Guatemala, to date there is still total impunity for the crimes of sexual violence during the armed conflict.

Although the Commission on Historical Clarification documented the sexual violence against the women was widely and systematically carried out by agents of the state, this is the first time that the charge has been presented in a court of law specifically for rape and sexual slavery.

This case also has worldwide relevance, since it is the first legal proceeding for sexual slavery during armed conflict that has been presented in the national jurisdiction where the acts took place.

It will be a precedent-setting case for all efforts to end sexual violence during armed conflict, one of the most widespread and unrecognised violations of human rights, as well as eradicating impunity for these crimes.

This article originally appeared at cipamericas.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Bougainville Voices Say ‘No’ to Mininghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bougainville-voices-say-no-to-mining/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-voices-say-no-to-mining http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bougainville-voices-say-no-to-mining/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 04:41:41 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137411 Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Oct 28 2014 (IPS)

The viability of reopening the controversial Panguna copper mine in the remote mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in the east of Papua New Guinea, has been the focus of discussions led by local political leaders and foreign mining interests over the past four years.

But a report by an Australian non-government organisation warns that the wounds left on local communities by the corporate mining project, “the environmental destruction associated with it” and the civil war that stretched from 1988 to 1997 are far from healed.

Its findings include widespread opposition in directly impacted villages to the mine’s revival in the near future.

“We planted taro, but it wouldn’t grow like before [the mine] and the breadfruit trees didn’t have any fruits […]. In Panguna, the chemicals are still there in the river. No-one drinks the water, there is no fish there." -- Lynette Ona, a member of the Bougainville Indigenous Women Landowner Association
“I believe the report was honest and sincere in that it gave people from the mine-affected areas an opportunity they are not always accorded, to come out and really make known to the world their problems, hopes and fears,” Jimmy Miringtoro, member of parliament for Central Bougainville, where the mine is located, told IPS.

The mine was formerly operated by the Australian company Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL), which is 53 percent owned by Rio Tinto, from 1969, but forced to shut down 20 years later following an uprising by indigenous landowners angered by economic exploitation, loss and degradation of land, and political marginalisation.

The ‘Voices of Bougainville’ study was conducted at the end of last year with 65 individuals and a focus group of 17 living in 10 villages in and around the mine site by Jubilee Australia, which investigates Australian state and corporate responsibility for environmental and human rights issues, in association with a university research consortium called the International State Crime Initiative, and Papua New Guinean civil society organisation Bismarck Ramu Group.

“The study was not an opinion poll … our primary aim was to better understand local views on mining and development … it was felt that there was an absence of publicly available qualitative data offering a window into the past and its interspersion with the present in the mine affected region,” Kristian Lasslett of the International State Crime Initiative told IPS.

The former mine lease area covers 13,047 hectares of forested land and the main villages in the vicinity of the mine are home to an estimated 4,000-5,000 people, according to data obtained by IPS in 2011 through interviews with locals.

“BCL destroyed our lives, took our land, took our money and never properly compensated our parents who were the rightful titleholders of the land which they took … now they want to come and reopen Panguna mine, this is a no, I personally say no to the reopening of the Panguna mine,” said a villager from Dapera, near to the mine pit, quoted in the report.

His claims find echo among grassroots communities. Panguna landowner and member of the Bougainville Indigenous Women Landowner Association, Lynette Ona, agreed that most people in the area didn’t want mining. Ona recently led a women’s delegation to the PNG Prime Minister’s office to raise their opposition to mining before the region achieved complete self-government.

Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) President John Morris has publicly rejected the report and its findings, claiming that there is majority support for the industry if negative impacts are avoided.

He is supported by landowner associations, which are members, along with Bougainville Copper Ltd and the PNG Government, of the multi-stakeholder Joint Panguna Negotiations Co-ordinating Committee.

A troubled history

The Panguna copper mine opened when Papua New Guinea was under Australian administration and delivered around two billion dollars in revenues, of which 94 percent went to shareholders and the PNG Government and 1.4 percent to local landowners.

Hostility and opposition to the mine by local communities, apparent from the exploration phase, intensified when environmental devastation, air pollution and tailings from the mine, which contaminated agricultural land and the nearby Jaba River, decimated their health, food and water security.

“We planted taro, but it wouldn’t grow like before [the mine] and the breadfruit trees didn’t have any fruits […]. In Panguna, the chemicals are still there in the river. No-one drinks the water, there is no fish there,” Ona described.

When BCL refused to pay landowners compensation of 10 billion kina (about 3.9 billion dollars) in 1989, a 10-year civil war broke out between Bougainville revolutionary forces and the PNG military leading to widespread destruction on the island and an estimated death toll of up to 20,000.

Peace-building initiatives supported by the United Nations and international aid donors have been ongoing since the 2001 peace agreement, but post-conflict trauma remains mostly untreated and disarmament and reconciliation is unfinished.

A majority of the study’s respondents were concerned about problems related to the mine and conflict, which had not been addressed, and lack of justice in the peace process.

“No-one has been brought to court; the issue has been ignored despite its seriousness,” said a woman from Darenai village.

“Imperative” to generating state revenue

Reviving the mothballed mine is imperative to generating sufficient state revenue to “make greater progress towards autonomy and our choice about independence,” ABG President Morris said during a speech to the Bougainville House of Representatives in August.

A referendum on the region’s independence from Papua New Guinea (PNG) is planned within the next six years.

BCL estimates Panguna contains more than three million tonnes of copper reserves and could produce 400,000 ounces of gold per year. Restarting the mine would require an investment of five billion dollars with potential revenues estimated at more than 50 billion dollars.

Bougainville has an estimated population of 300,000 and potential direct employment of only 2,500 has been suggested with the ratio of local workers not identified.

Since 2010 the Bougainville government has established a framework for landowner consultations and conducted stakeholder forums across the island to assess public opinion, claiming these indicate a green light for mining.

Thirteen of 65 participants in the Jubilee study said they would support the extractive industry under certain conditions: after Bougainville has achieved independence in order to minimize foreign interference; after compensation and reparation are delivered; and after other forms of economic development, such as agriculture, have been explored.

“There has been anecdotal evidence that mining consultation forums have so far been geared too heavily towards advocacy. A significant number of participants felt the landowner associations were not relaying a popular consensus from their respective communities,” State Crime Initiative’s Lasslett claimed.

Miringtoro, the parliamentarian from Central Bougainville, told IPS that he was “satisfied that the 65 people interviewed were a fair and representative sample of the people who are totally against mining. [They] are from village communities situated all throughout mine and tailings area … which has been changed into a moonscape with arable land buried under tonnes of silt and rock.”

The state and corporate sectors promote mining revenues as necessary for growth and poverty reduction on Bougainville where many people live without basic services, such as a clean water supply, electricity and medical services. The province has 10 doctors serving more than a quarter of a million people; less than one percent of people are connected to electricity; and life expectancy is 59 years.

However, the record so far in Papua New Guinea is that economic dependence on the extraction of minerals, such as copper, gold and nickel, over the last 30-40 years, with GDP growth reaching 11 percent in 2011, has not resulted in development for the majority of citizens.

Forty percent of the population of seven million live below the poverty line, only 12 percent have access to electricity, adult literacy is 50 percent and malnutrition is high with stunting prevalent in half of all children, reports the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“In PNG, despite a booming economy, driven by extractive industry, income and human poverty persist and a majority of the population live in rural, isolated areas with little or no access to basic services, such as healthcare, education, sanitation and safe drinking water,” the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported this year.

The organisation added, “Foreign investors and contractors absorbed a large proportion of the benefits of the strong growth the country enjoyed over the last decade.”

The people of Bougainville desire development and better lives. But for many of those who have lived with the mine at their doorstep, the accelerating pace of discussions about its reopening are in stark contrast to lack of progress on resolving the problems, injustices and legacy of suffering that it has already caused.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Contras and Drugs, Three Decades Laterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-contras-and-drugs-three-decades-later/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-contras-and-drugs-three-decades-later http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-contras-and-drugs-three-decades-later/#comments Sun, 26 Oct 2014 21:28:10 +0000 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137384 President Ronald Reagan with top aides Caspar Weinberger, George Shultz, Ed Meese, and Don Regan discussing the president's remarks on the Iran-Contra affair, Oval Office. Nov. 25, 1986. Credit: Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library, official government record

President Ronald Reagan with top aides Caspar Weinberger, George Shultz, Ed Meese, and Don Regan discussing the president's remarks on the Iran-Contra affair, Oval Office. Nov. 25, 1986. Credit: Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library, official government record

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
SAN JUAN, Oct 26 2014 (IPS)

In late 1986, Washington was rocked by revelations that the Ronald Reagan administration had illegally aided a stateless army known as the contras in Central America.

Thus began the Iran Contra scandal. The contras were an irregular military formation put together by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1981 to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua. The war they provoked caused tens of thousands of deaths and devastating damage to Nicaragua’s economy.What’s truly tragic and ironic in this whole affair is that the main allegations in Webb’s contra reporting had been confirmed in 1998 by a CIA report authored by the agency’s inspector general, Frederick Hitz.

Reagan’s aid was illegal since Congress had banned it. The Reagan administration responded to the congressional ban by setting up secret and illegal channels to keep the contras supplied and armed. The operation was directly supervised by the office of Vice President George H. W. Bush, who himself had headed the CIA in the 1970s.

The contras also benefited from collaboration with South American cocaine cartels. This explosive information was uncovered at least as early as 1985 when Associated Press reporters Robert Parry and Brian Barger co-wrote an article that cited documentation and witness testimony from inside both the contra movement and the U.S. government implicating nearly all contra groups in drug trafficking.

John Kerry, then a U.S. senator, carried out an investigation into illegal contra activities, including drugs, as head of a Senate subcommittee. His investigation was all but ignored by the mainstream media, which was busy covering the congressional Iran Contra hearings, the ones that made a celebrity of National Security Council staffer Oliver North.

The media also ignored the final report of Kerry’s investigation, “Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy”, released in 1989.

In 1996, the subject of contra drug dealing reappeared in a series of investigative articles by reporter Gary Webb published by the San Jose Mercury News in California.

For these articles, Webb was savaged by fellow reporters and editors, particularly from the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. The Mercury News buckled under the pressure and got rid of Webb.

Unemployed, shunned by his own colleagues and practically abandoned by progressive sectors that had lost interest in the contra story, Webb took his own life in 2004. His journalistic saga and tragic end are the subject of a new Hollywood movie called “Kill The Messenger.”

Some insist that Webb was assassinated by the CIA. Regarding this, Robert Parry, who was friends with Webb, wrote:

“Some people want to believe that he was really assassinated by the CIA or some other government agency. But the evidence of his carefully planned suicide – as he suffered deep pain as a pariah in his profession who could no longer earn a living – actually points to something possibly even more tragic: Webb ended his life because people who should have supported his work simply couldn’t be bothered.”

What’s truly tragic and ironic in this whole affair is that the main allegations in Webb’s contra reporting had been confirmed in 1998 by a CIA report authored by the agency’s inspector general, Frederick Hitz.

But the mainstream media alleged that the report cleared the CIA and the contras of drug trafficking. The report indeed concluded that the CIA had not conspired to fund the contras with the help of drug cartels.

But Hitz, now a scholar at the University of Virginia’s Center for National Security Law, said in the report that the war against the Sandinistas had taken precedence over law enforcement, and that the CIA had evidence of contra involvement in cocaine trafficking and hid it from the Justice Department, Congress, and even from the agency’s own analytics division.

Hitz interviewed CIA officers who confessed to him that they knew of contra drug trafficking but kept quiet about it because they thought that such disclosures would undermine the fight against the Nicaraguan regime.

He also received complaints from agency analysts to the effect that field officers who worked directly with the contras hid evidence of drug trafficking, and that then, working with partial and incomplete information, they concluded that only a few contras were involved with drugs.

On Oct. 10, 1998, the New York Times ran a piece attacking Webb’s credibility while acknowledging, as if it were a minor detail, that contra drug dealing was worse than the newspaper had originally estimated.

In September the CIA declassified a number of articles from its in-house journal Studies in Intelligence. One of these showed that the agency was genuinely distressed by Webb’s contra articles, and that it took active steps against him, relying on “a ground base of already productive relations with journalists”.

The article even brags that the CIA discouraged “one major news affiliate” from covering the story.

The article’s author tries to fathom the hostility of broad sectors of the U.S. population toward the CIA: “We live in somewhat coarse and emotional times—when large numbers of Americans do not adhere to the same standards of logic, evidence, or even civil discourse as those practiced by members of the CIA community.”

That’s an actual quote.

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.

Editing by Kitty Stapp

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India’s Crusader Against Impunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/indias-crusader-against-impunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-crusader-against-impunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/indias-crusader-against-impunity/#comments Sat, 25 Oct 2014 12:01:25 +0000 Beena Sarwar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137372 Manoj Mitta speaks at MIT. Credit: Beena Sarwar

Manoj Mitta speaks at MIT. Credit: Beena Sarwar

By Beena Sarwar
BOSTON, Oct 25 2014 (IPS)

As senior Indian journalist Manoj Mitta was testifying before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress last month about mass violence and impunity in India, President Barack Obama escorted India’s newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Martin Luther King Memorial.

“They were just three miles away,” Mitta told IPS, commenting on the irony of this coincidence, remembering that the United States had banned Modi’s entry on the mass violence on his watch in 2002 leading to the killing of about 1,000 Muslims in Gujarat state.“We can no longer pass off the shielding of mass murderers as the ‘internal affairs’ of any country. " -- Manoj Mitta

“Why should the U.S. Congress hold a hearing on human rights violations in India?” asked one Boston-based Indian expatriate on hearing about this. “By that token, we can have hearings in India about racial killings in the USA.”

“Why not indeed?” responds Mitta, a senior editor with The Times of India in New Delh, speaking to IPS in Boston when he was here for a talk at MIT, one of several book talks at universities around the country.

Focusing on legal and public policy issues, transparency and judicial accountability, both his books dissect judicial inquiries into the deadliest instances of communal violence in India: “When a Tree Shook Delhi: The 1984 carnage and its Aftermath”, co-authored with the eminent lawyer H. S. Phoolka (2007), and “The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi and Godhra” (2014).

The Lantos Commission event titled “Thirty Years of Impunity“, in collaboration with the Sikh Coalition, commemorated the 1984 carnage of Sikhs in the aftermath of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards. Over 2,500 Sikhs were massacred in Delhi alone in just three days.

There is also a class-based element to such mass-violence, notes Boston-based writer and poet Sarbpreet Singh, whose long poem “Kultar’s Mime” about the 1984 carnage is currently being performed in the U.S., Canada and India. “Most people who suffered and died were very poor.”

After Boston, New York, Ottawa and Toronto, the compelling show will be performed in India — Delhi (Oct. 30-Nov. 1), Chandigarh (Nov. 2), and Amritsar (Nov. 4), before heading to the U.S. west coast: Los Angeles (Nov. 20-23) and San Francisco Bay Area (Dec. 6-7).

A scene from Kultar's Mime. Credit: Sikh Research Institute - sikhri.org

A scene from Kultar’s Mime. Credit: Sikh Research Institute – sikhri.org

“The ongoing struggles for justice in India gain strength from expressions of solidarity from abroad,” said Mitta. “We can no longer pass off the shielding of mass murderers as the ‘internal affairs’ of any country. As Martin Luther King famously put it, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’.”

Mitta quotes an old Sanskrit saying, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is one family) – which Modi also invoked in his speech before the United Nations General Assembly.

But Modi was speaking “in terms of commerce and business,” says Mitta. “With the world being increasingly globalised on the economic front, more than globalisation of the economy, we need a universalisation of human rights standards and practices.”

Mitta, who also addressed the British Parliament commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 1984 carnage five years ago, says he would like countries to talk about each other’s human rights violations.

“Those violations affect not just the country they take place in. There are also spin-off effects that impact other countries,” he says. “Like, an unstable Pakistan is bad for India, and violations in India are bad for America.”

“Human rights should remain on the agenda,” adds Mitta, who has written extensively on the undermining of the rule of law in India – patterns that are visible in other South Asian nations too.

“Could such a mass crime, in which rampaging mobs fatally attacked hundreds of people, have ever occurred in Washington DC?” he asks. “And could the perpetrators of mass murder have got away with it? Could the security forces in the USA have colluded with the mobs as blatantly as they did in Delhi.”

“Could your president have dared to justify the mass crimes, as Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi did, by declaring that when a big tree had fallen, the earth was bound to shake?” he asked in his presentation to the Lantos Commission.

Such questions would seem equally inconceivable about other leading capital cities too. Whatever the provocation, could there ever have been such massacres, at any rate post-World War II, in London, Paris, Berlin or Tokyo?”

Looking beyond liberal democracies, the scale of the bloodshed in Delhi 1984 is “perhaps comparable to what happened in Beijing five years later, during the Tiananmen Square massacre” – committed by security forces operating in a single-party political system.

In fact, the death toll of Delhi 1984 was similar to that of 9/11 – the big difference being that “9/11 was the result of sudden and unforeseen terror attacks, not mob violence that deliberately remained unchecked for three days. By any standards of the civilised world, Delhi 1984 is one of a kind, a monstrosity without a parallel.”

And yet, it took 23 years for the first book on this subject to be published – Mitta and Phoolka’s, in 2007. It was made possible by a new inquiry commission established in 2000 seeking to undo the damage caused by the earlier one that had held all its findings in secrecy and not given due hearing to survivors.

The new commission, headed by former Supreme Court judge G.T. Nanavati, conducted its proceedings in public and released many old records related to the 1984 carnage.

“India’s appalling lack of documentation culture, especially on human rights issues is clearly a deficiency that is another reason for the impunity,” believes Mitta.

In the case of 1984, there have been about 30 convictions for murder in 30 years. The Gujarat carnage of 2002 has seen some 200 convictions, due to the Supreme Court’s intervention. The SC transferred some high-profile cases out of Gujarat and appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to look into some of the worst cases from 2002.

However, the SIT “balked at asking questions” or challenging Modi on any of his evasive or contradictory replies while examining him. Because of this “fact-fudging rather than fact-finding,” says Mitta, Modi ended up not facing trial, as recommended by the Supreme Court appointed amicus curiae.

It was only after the SIT exonerated him that Modi became the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. “The Supreme Court has yet to pronounce on Modi’s innocence or guilt.”

The Indian prime minister has called for a 10-year moratorium on caste and communal violence, urging Indians to stay focused on the challenges of economic development.

But Modi has taken no action or even condemn those who have since violated this moratorium by stepping up their hate speech. His “strategic silence” and “denial mode, pretending that there’s no escalation of religious tensions under his rule, effectively adds another layer of impunity,” says Mitta.

The bottom line, he adds: If it is allowed to continue, impunity for hate speech and violence in India will eventually impact U.S. corporations seeking to do business with India. Impunity affects all, whether it is for corporate corruption or human rights abuses.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Halting Progress: Ending Violence against Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/halting-progress-ending-violence-against-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=halting-progress-ending-violence-against-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/halting-progress-ending-violence-against-women/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:09:52 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137345 By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

As Juan Evo Morales Ayma, popularly known as ‘Evo’, celebrates his victory for a third term as Bolivia’s president on a platform of “anti-imperialism” and radical socio-economic policies, he can also claim credit for ushering in far-reaching social reforms such as the Bolivian “Law against Political Harassment and Violence against Women” enacted in 2012.

“In many countries women in the political arena, whether candidates to an election or elected to office, are confronted with acts of violence ranging from sexist portrayal in the media to threats and murder,” says the World Future Council (WFC), which monitors the gap between policy research and policy-making.

Speaking to IPS after the 2014 Future Policy Award for Ending Violence against Women and Girls ceremony, organised by WFC, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women on Oct. 14, WFC founder Jacob von Uexkull told IPS that the Bolivian law “is a visionary law, particularly for protecting women against political harassment and violence.”“Achieving gender equality and ending violence against women and girls is a matter for both men and women ... violence against women is a human rights violation but also a social and public health problem, and an obstacle to development with high economic and financial costs for victims, families, communities and society as a whole” – Martin Chungong, IPU Secretary-General

“For the first time we introduced the category of what are called visionary laws which aim to curb violence against women in politics and other professions,” he said, adding that the passing of such a law in Bolivia is “very significant”, suggesting that other should emulate the Bolivian example.

The law against political harassment and violence against women was enacted in Bolivia by the Morales government following the assassination of Councillor Juana Quispe after she had complained about the abuse she suffered from other councillors and the mayor of her town. The law defines political harassment and political violence as criminal offences which carry imprisonment ranging from two to eight years depending on the magnitude of the offence.

The WFC, which promotes the world’s best laws and solutions for implementation by policy-makers in countries all over the world, chose to offer the “honourable mention” for the Bolivian law in the visionary category.

Based in Hamburg, Germany, the WFC was set up in 2007 to pioneer the campaign for the spread of best laws in different areas. Beginning in 2009, the WFC has been offering the Future Policy Award (FPA) for the strongest laws in the field of sustainable development.

The WFC identified the Belo Horizonte Food Security Programme in 2009 as the best law for the FPA to address the right to food. In 2010, the FPA went to Costa Rica for the best law to strengthen biodiversity. In 2011, it was awarded to Rwanda for its laws to protect forests, and in 2012 it was awarded to the Republic of Palau in the Pacific Ocean for the best laws to protect coasts.

Last year, the FPA went to the treaty for the prohibition of nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean.

With 2014 having been designated by WFC as the year for ending violence against women and girls, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says that governments must adopt a “comprehensive legal framework” that addresses violence against women, by “recognising unequal power relations between men and women” and advocating a “gender-sensitive perspective in tackling it.”

According to Martin Chungong, Secretary-General of IPU, the key message is that “achieving gender equality and ending violence against women and girls is a matter for both men and women.” Moreover, “violence against women is a human rights violation but also a social and public health problem, and an obstacle to development with high economic and financial costs for victims, families, communities and society as a whole.”

Michael Paymar (centre), member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, along with others behind the ‘Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence’  programme of Duluth, Minnesota, winner of this year’s gold Future Policy Award (FPA). Credit: Courtesy of World Future Council

Michael Paymar (centre), member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, along with others behind the ‘Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence’ programme of Duluth, Minnesota, winner of this year’s gold Future Policy Award (FPA). Credit: Courtesy of World Future Council

This year’s WFC gold award went to the “Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence” programme of the City of Duluth in the U.S. state of Minnesota. Among others, said von Uexkull, the “Duluth model” has a shared philosophy about domestic violence and a system that shifts responsibility for victim safety from the victim to the system.

The “Duluth model” has helped countries formulate laws and policies based on the principles of coordinated community response and paved the way for the intervention of criminal justice in cases of intimate partner violence.

Each year, an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner.

According to von Uexkull, such violence entails huge human, social, and economic costs which are estimated to be around 5.18 percent of world GDP.

HBO (Home Box Office), a U.S. pay television network, has recently produced a documentary entitled Private Violence, which looks at domestic violence against women. In an interview with The Guardian, Cynthia Hill, the documentary’s director, said: “The thing that I did not know that was so revealing to me was that anywhere between 50 percent and 75 percent of domestic violence homicides happen at the point of separation or after [the victim] has already left [her abuser].”.

One of the biggest issues facing women and girls today in the world, says Nyaradzayi GumbonzvandaGeneral Secretary of the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA), is violence. “I see the violence against women as a manifestation of inequalities, disempowerment and exclusion,” Gumbonzvanda told IPS. “It is the accumulation of many realities that women find in their own lives, particularly that of social disempowerment.”

To highlight the importance of enforcing and implementing existing laws to eradicate violence against women, the WFC gave awards this year to Austria and Burkina Faso for their stringent implementation of laws to protect women against violence. “When the justice system and specialised service providers work hand in hand, real progress can be made,” said von Uexkull.

However, as countries are preparing to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, there is not a single country in the world where we have succeeded in eliminating violence against women, warns Gertrude Mongella, Secretary-General of the Beijing conference, former President of the Pan-African Parliament and WFC Honorary Councillor from Tanzania.

“Many countries now have laws that protect women from violence,” Mongella told participants at the FPA ceremony. “However, women who report violence often face a range of challenges, including resistance or disbelief from law enforcement officers, judges and lawyers.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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U.S. Contractors Convicted in 2007 Blackwater Baghdad Traffic Massacrehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-contractors-convicted-in-2007-blackwater-baghdad-traffic-massacre/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-contractors-convicted-in-2007-blackwater-baghdad-traffic-massacre http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-contractors-convicted-in-2007-blackwater-baghdad-traffic-massacre/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 00:50:16 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137333 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

A federal jury here Wednesday convicted one former Blackwater contractor of murder and three of his colleagues of voluntary manslaughter in the deadly shootings of 14 unarmed civilians killed in Baghdad’s Nisour Square seven years ago.

The judge in the case ordered the men detained pending sentencing."To this day, the U.S. government continues to award Blackwater and its successor entities millions of dollars each year in contracts, essentially rewarding war crimes." -- Baher Azmy

The massacre, which resulted in a wave of popular anger in Iraq against the United States, and especially the army of private security contractors which it employed there, contributed heavily to the Iraqi government’s later refusal to sign an agreement with Washington to extend the U.S. military presence there.

It also sealed the reputation of Blackwater, a “private military” firm headed by Erik Prince, a right-wing former Navy Seal, as a trigger-happy mercenary outfit whose recklessness and insensitivity to local populations jeopardised Washington’s interests in conflict situations.

After the incident, the Iraqi government banned the company, which had a one-billion-dollar contract at the time to protect U.S. diplomats. Iraq’s parliament subsequently enacted laws making foreign contractors working in the country subject to Iraqi legal jurisdiction for criminal acts they committed.

It was Baghdad’s insistence in 2011 that such a condition also apply to all U.S. military forces that scotched a proposed Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that would have permitted Washington to maintain thousands U.S. troops in Iraq after the Dec. 31, 2011 deadline for their final withdrawal.

“The verdict is a resounding affirmation of the commitment of the American people to the rule of law, even in times of war,” said Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, after the Wednesday’s verdicts were announced.

“Seven years ago, these Blackwater contractors unleashed powerful sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers on innocent men, women and children. Today, they were held accountable for that outrageous attack and its devastating consequences for so many Iraqi families,” he said in a statement.

While praising the verdicts, some observers said that Blackwater itself should have been on trial. “(H)olding individuals responsible is not enough,” noted Baher Azmy, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represented Iraqi victims of the killings in a human-rights case against Blackwater that settled in 2010.

“Private military contractors …have engaged in a variety of war crimes and atrocities during the [2003 Iraq] invasion and occupation while reaping billions of dollars in profits from the war. To this day, the U.S. government continues to award Blackwater and its successor entities millions of dollars each year in contracts, essentially rewarding war crimes,” he said.

Wednesday’s verdicts, which confirmed initial findings by an FBI investigation carried out within two months of the massacre, are likely to be appealed to a higher court by the defendants’ attorneys who contend that the convoy they were leading had come under attack and that their clients were acting in self-defence at the time.

They are also likely to challenge the verdicts on the grounds that key evidence presented to the jury consisted of initial statements of what took place that were effectively “coerced” by interrogators who allegedly assured them that what they said would not be used in court. That issue has been bounced between courts since the Justice Department filed the case in 2010.

Altogether, 17 Iraqi civilians, including two boys aged nine and 11, were killed and 20 more injured when, on Sep. 16, 2007, a State Department convoy entered Baghdad’s busy Nisour Square with the armoured Blackwater vehicle in the lead.

While defendants and Blackwater itself insisted that the convoy came under attack, the FBI and prosecution contended there was no evidence to sustain such a conclusion.

According to the latter, the unit’s sniper, Nicholas Slatten, opened fire on a car which, according to the defence, had approached the Blackwater vehicle in a suspicious manner. Slatten’s shots, which killed the car’s driver, a medical student, triggered chaos throughout the circle.

In addition to Slatten, who was convicted of first-degree murder, a total of six members of the Blackwater team fired their weapons as they moved through the circle, according to the prosecution.

One team member, Jeremy Ridgeway, pleaded guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter in 2008 and served as a prosecution witness in the case. Charges against another defendant were dropped shortly afterwards. Several other team members also testified against the defendants.

Aside from Slatten’s conviction, three other guards Wednesday were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, as well as various weapons offences.

The Justice Department had charged that they “unlawfully and intentionally, upon a sudden quarrel and heat of passion,” did commit voluntary manslaughter.”

If sustained, Slatten’s murder conviction requires a sentence of life imprisonment. Each count of voluntary manslaughter – and each of the other three defendants were convicted of multiple counts – can carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

The trial itself began earlier this summer and lasted two months. In addition to the Blackwater guards who testified for the prosecution, the Justice Department brought 30 Iraqi witnesses, including surviving family members who witnessed or were injured in the incident, to testify. Despite their dramatic and often wrenching accounts, the trial received relatively little media attention.

The verdicts were hailed by Paul Dickinson, an attorney who represented six of the families – including the nine-year-old victim, Ali Kinani, whose father was the first witness to testify for the prosecution in the current case — whose members were killed or injured in the massacre in a separate civil lawsuit filed against Blackwater in North Carolina in 2009. That case settled with an undisclosed compensation agreement in 2012.

“I am confident that my clients are pleased with today’s verdict, knowing that the men they alleged killed their family members have been brought to justice and held criminally accountable for their actions,” he told IPS in an email. “While a criminal conviction can never fully satisfy a family that lost a loved one, it does provide some closure for my clients.”

The verdict, he said, was “significant because it shows that government contractors who commit crimes abroad can be prosecuted in US courts for their criminal actions.”

Pratap Chatterjee, an investigative reporter who has focused on the operations of U.S. military contractors, including Blackwater, in Iraq and Afghanistan, agreed with that assessment, but, echoing CCR’s Asmy, stressed that it was “only one step of many that need to be taken in bringing justice to Iraq.”

“Many similar incidents have neither been investigated nor anyone prosecuted,” Chatterjee, who currently heads California-based Corpwatch, told IPS. “To this day, the private companies and their executives who turned Baghdad into a free-fire zone have yet to be charged.”

Earlier this summer, the New York Times reported that the State Department had initiated an investigation of Blackwater’s operations in Iraq just before the Nisour incident but had abandoned it after Blackwater’s top manager there issued an apparent death threat. According to a State Department memo of the conversation, the Blackwater official said “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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We Must Think of “Security” in New Wayshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/we-must-think-of-security-in-new-ways/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=we-must-think-of-security-in-new-ways http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/we-must-think-of-security-in-new-ways/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 10:28:57 +0000 Zafar Adeel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137299 Protesters march through Port-au-Prince in April 2008 to demand the government lower the price of basic commodities.  Credit: Nick Whalen/IPS

Protesters march through Port-au-Prince in April 2008 to demand the government lower the price of basic commodities. Credit: Nick Whalen/IPS

By Zafar Adeel
HAMILTON, Canada, Oct 21 2014 (IPS)

Recent events in the Arab world and elsewhere have underscored the point that traditional notions of security being dependent solely on military and related apparatus are outmoded.

Security is a multi-faceted domain that operates at the nexus of human development and sustainable management of water, energy and food resources.The confluence of water scarcity with energy shortages, food-price hikes, ballooning numbers of jobless youth, and poor regional economic performance has created a dangerous recipe.

“Water, Energy and the Arab Awakening,” a new book from an association of former world leaders, the InterAction Council, co-edited and published by the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, explores dimensions of security from a range of angles and offers some uncommon conclusions.

Much has been written in the recent years about water security as the crucial fulcrum on which human development and overall security balances. Access to modern energy services and adequate food, safe drinking water and sanitation are now deemed key determinants.

A clear indication of this increased awareness was provided by global business and political leaders in Davos last year, who recognised water insecurity as one of the five most important world risks.

Energy generation and consumption are driven by access to clean water and often generate polluting wastewater. Conversely, about eight percent of energy generated is used for treating, pumping, and transporting clean water and wastewater.

And food production is integrally linked to water availability – in most water-scarce countries, over 80 percent of water withdrawals support agricultural production.

It is also increasing clear that our use of resources, particularly freshwater, is not in line with availability. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Arab region, where countries suffer water scarcity, worsening with rising population and changing (warming) climate patterns.

Some leading experts argue that Syria’s security crisis is rooted in ineffective water management and drought, problems amplifying long-standing political, religious and social disputes. The confluence of water scarcity with energy shortages, food-price hikes, ballooning numbers of jobless youth, and poor regional economic performance has created a dangerous recipe.

New window into security

The new book argues that reversing this situation requires consumption patterns realigned with available resources. And it downplays the significance of military might as part of the overall security equation.

Enhancements in the energy sector — utilising newer technologies and greener generation — can conserve water resources, improve access to energy and boost energy markets. In the book, Majid Al-Moneef of the Supreme Economic Council of Saudi Arabia argues that national energy companies must play an enhanced role in this re-alignment.

Meanwhile, the food prices spikes of 2006-2008, argues Rabi Mohtar of Texas A&M University, can be linked to steep energy prices and to steering agricultural land to biofuel crop production. While the precise drivers of the global food prices are debatable, it is clear that availability of water and productive land, and the cost of energy are key.

The nexus of water, energy and food security demands re-thinking governance of these sectors. We can no longer afford isolated, ‘siloed’ management. The magnitude of these sectors and the respective proportion each contributes to national GDP varies very significantly from country to country.

But the water sector almost always comes out as a junior ministry or bureaucracy in national governments, making its integration difficult.

The book presents the Red Sea – Dead Sea canal as an example of achieving multi-faceted energy, food and water security goals while promoting regional peace. This 180-km long canal will siphon water from Red Sea to replenish the disappearing Dead Sea.

Some of the water will be desalinised for consumption, while also facilitating energy generation and food production. Former Jordanian Prime Minister Dr Majali notes that Israel, Palestinian Authority, and Jordan are all potential beneficiaries.

Climate change as exacerbating factor

There is little argument left that the greatest impacts of climate change are on the water cycle. And these changes can already be observed in spades — for example, in the extreme floods in Australia, Pakistan, Western Europe, and Canada of the last five years. The same can be said of prolonged droughts in Middle East and Central Asia.

The InterAction Council (IAC) – an association of 40 member former heads of state including Bill Clinton (USA), Jean Chrétien (Canada), Vincente Fox Quesada (Mexico), Andrés Pastrana Arango (Colombia), and Gro Harlem Bruntland (Norway) – notes that the U.N. Security Council has recognised climate change as an agenda for its consideration.

The IAC, however, argues in the book that water security should be a major consideration for the UNSC as climate change impacts manifest themselves in the form of water insecurity.

Looking for solutions

How the international community delivers its response to these multi-faceted problems is key; piecemeal solutions are clearly inadequate. The international development community, often led by the U.N. system, has an obvious central role. Numerous caucuses, most notably the summit-level G20, also have an increasing role to play in ensuring that these responses are comprehensive, geographically appropriate, and adequately resourced.

The Arab region is truly the test-bed of whether these solutions will work or not. As all eyes are turned towards the recent developments in Syria and Iraq, there is a wider narrative that relates to stemming problems before they get out of control elsewhere in the region.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pakistan’s Ahmadis Faced with Death or Exilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pakistans-ahmadis-faced-with-death-or-exile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-ahmadis-faced-with-death-or-exile http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pakistans-ahmadis-faced-with-death-or-exile/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 14:21:32 +0000 Beena Sarwar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137258 Mujeeb-ur-Rahman (right) speaks at Harvard University. Amjad Mahmood Khan is seated to the left. Credit: Cara Solomon, Harvard Law School

Mujeeb-ur-Rahman (right) speaks at Harvard University. Amjad Mahmood Khan is seated to the left. Credit: Cara Solomon, Harvard Law School

By Beena Sarwar
BOSTON, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

Two years ago, gunmen shot dead Farooq Kahloun’s newly married son Saad Farooq, 26, in an attack that severely injured Kahloun, his younger son Ummad, and Saad’s father-in-law, Choudhry Nusrat.

Saad died on the spot. In Pakistan after travelling from his home in New York for the wedding, Nusrat died in hospital later. Four bullets remain in Kahloun’s chest and arm. A bullet lodged behind the right eye of Ummad, a student in the UK, was surgically removed months later.“In Karachi, people are being killed every day. Doctors, professors, not just Ahmadis but also Shias and others.” -- Farooq Kahloun

As an Ahmadi leader in his locality, Kahloun knew he was a target for hired assassins in the bustling but lawless metropolis of Karachi. General insecurity in Pakistan is multiplied manifold if you are, like Kahloun, an Ahmadi – a sect of Islam that many orthodox Muslims abhor as heretic.

“I never thought they would target my family,” says Kahloun, 57, a successful businessman who left everything behind, obtained political asylum and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and daughter.

In 1974, under pressure from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan’s parliament declared Ahmadis as non-Muslim (similarly pressured, the newly independent Bangladesh refused). A decade later, a military dictator made it a criminal offence for them to “pretend” to be Muslims.

These changes, say lawyers and human rights advocates, violate Pakistan’s own Constitutional provisions, specifically Articles 8-27 that are comparable to the U.S. Bill of Rights.

Saad Farooq-IPS-Ahmadi 300

Saad Farooq

“These are shameful laws,” says Kahloun. “If we have no other Prophet or Quran, what can we do?”

‘Takfiri’ ideology (declaring someone a non-Muslim) led to Pakistan’s first Nobel Prize winner Dr. Abdus Salam (Physics, 1979), an Ahmadi, being hounded out of the country, and to the attack on Swat schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai, now Pakistan’s second Nobel Laureate, also forced into exile.

Assailants behind such attacks are rarely caught, tried and punished, creating a culture of impunity that only encourages more attacks, say analysts.

Assailants whom Ahmadi survivors captured and handed over to the police in May 2010 following one of Pakistan’s deadliest terrorist attacks are yet to be punished. The attack targeted an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore, killing over 90 worshippers and injuring many more.

“We could not live in Pakistan anymore. No one would leave if he had a choice, but now, any Ahmadi will go out if given the opportunity,” Kahloun told IPS by telephone. “In Karachi, people are being killed every day. Doctors, professors, not just Ahmadis but also Shias and others.”

Takfiri militants also term Shias as ‘Kafir’ or infidel and have been targeting them in huge numbers.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says that 687 people were killed in over 200 sectarian attacks in 2013, 22 per cent more than in 2012, while 1,319 people were injured, 46 per cent more in 2012.

“The number of Ahmadis and religious communities seeking asylum abroad is steadily increasing,” says Qasim Rashid, a Pakistani-born, Virginia-based Ahmadi lawyer and author of ‘The Wrong Kind of Muslim’ (2013) that documents the Ahmadi persecution in Pakistan.

“This goes to show the importance of maintaining freedom of religion and conscience worldwide. It is the failure to uphold these rights that empowers and emboldens groups like Taliban and ISIS,” Rashid told IPS.

Some Pakistani Ahmadis are protected by their prominence, like Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, 83, a senior Supreme Court advocate who lives in Rawalpindi near the capital Islamabad, and has no intention of leaving the country.

“The Thurgood Marshall of Pakistan”, he is currently in the U.S., invited by the newly organised 52-member Ahmadi Muslim Lawyers Association (AMLA) to address their inaugural conference in Silver Spring, Maryland, last month and “pass on the torch”.

“All participants came at their own expense because they have a deep love and admiration for Mr. Rahman’s extraordinary career and advocacy,” says AMLA President Amjad Mahmood Khan, a Pakistani-origin American born in California.

AMLA has organised talks by Rahman at various universities, starting with Khan’s alma mater Harvard Law School. He spoke at Princeton University Oct. 17, and will appear at Columbia University, Oct. 23; New York University Law School, Oct. 27; University of California, Irvine, Oct. 30; and Stanford University, Nov. 4.

A lively and humorous speaker despite his age, Rahman peppers his talks with references to U.S. case law and pioneers like Martin Luther King — “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere” — besides Pakistan’s Constitution and legal cases.

He began his Harvard talk with the Muslim greeting “As-Salam-Alaikum” (peace be with you) — “almost a reflex greeting for any Pakistani, whether Christian or Muslim or from any religion”.

In Pakistan, the greeting could send him to jail for three years, he reminded the audience. So could saying the ‘Kalima’, the first prayer of Islam, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet.”

“The first departure from the secular concept of Pakistan,” says Rahman, was Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly’s passage of the 1949 Objectives Resolution. Overriding the strong objections by some members, it declared Islam to be the state religion. “The clerics gained an inch”.

The Second Constitutional Amendment of 1974 that termed Ahmadis as non-Muslim is a “usurpation of constitutional authority, not a valid piece of law,” said Rahman. “The state cannot call into question anyone’s faith.”

In 1993, he argued a landmark case against restrictions on the Ahmadis’ right to freely practice their faith, consolidating eight appeals by Ahmadis, imprisoned for saying the ‘kalima’.

Zaheeruddin v. State is also known as the “trademark” or the “Coca Cola judgement” because the Supreme Court dismissed it on the grounds that Ahmadis by professing to be Muslims were violating the “trademarks” of Islam.

“As if religion is a merchandise, saleable commodity with financial interests attached,” scoffs Rahman, who carries with him two books that he adheres to: the Quran and Pakistan’s Constitution.

Lawyers in Pakistani courts cite hundreds of U.S. cases, but in the Zaheeruddin case, “American laws were wrongly cited and misapplied to give the colour of fairness to the case,” asserts Rahman.

Legal experts elsewhere have taken apart the Zaheeruddin judgement, like Martin Lau in a report for the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and Karen Parker, J.D. in a study for the Humanitarian Law Project of the International Educational Development, USA.

Rahman pins his hopes on “intelligence of a future day” along the lines of what the U.S. witnessed when a U.S. Supreme Court bench overturned a case that earlier restricted the right of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to propagate their faith.

“The ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] was active in overturning the case,” says Rahman, noting that one of the judges who had been on the earlier bench admitted to having been wrong the first time.

Pakistan is the only country where it is a criminal offense for Ahmadis to profess and practice their faith as Muslims, but state-sanctioned discrimination and persecution of Ahmadis elsewhere are increasing.

“Pakistani laws are the most aggressive,” notes the advocate Qasim Rashid. “But other countries have started following Pakistan’s example. The onslaught is led not by locals but by Pakistani mullahs.”

Bangladesh has banned Ahmadi books on religion, Ahmadis are under attack in Malaysia, and Indonesia has started sealing Ahmadi mosques.

Khalida Jamilah, 21, lived in West Java in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population. She says Ahmadi families like hers were free to practice their faith as Muslims until 2005 when hard-line Muslims attacked an Ahmadi convention in West Java that her family was attending.

In 2008, they sought political asylum in the U.S., and moved to Los Angeles, where Jamilah’s father drives a cab.

“Here [in America] we can express our faith freely,” says Jamilah, now a journalism student at the University of California, Berkeley. “The U.S. government values freedom of religion and there is separation of church and state. I hope the Indonesian government does that too.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Iraq’s Minorities Battling for Survivalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-iraqs-minorities-battling-for-survival/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-iraqs-minorities-battling-for-survival http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-iraqs-minorities-battling-for-survival/#comments Sat, 18 Oct 2014 13:56:31 +0000 Mark Lattimer and Mahmoud Swed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137255 Demonstrators in front of the White House call for greater U.S. intervention against ISIS to save Iraqi minorities, including Yazidi and Christians, from genocide. Credit: Robert Lyle Bolton/cc by 2.0

Demonstrators in front of the White House call for greater U.S. intervention against ISIS to save Iraqi minorities, including Yazidi and Christians, from genocide. Credit: Robert Lyle Bolton/cc by 2.0

By Mark Lattimer and Mahmoud Swed
LONDON, Oct 18 2014 (IPS)

Through all of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s campaigns of ‘Arabization’, they survived. The diverse Iraqi communities inhabiting the Nineveh plains – Yezidis, Turkmen, Assyrians and Shabak, as well as Kurds – held on to their unique identities and most of their historic lands.

So too they survived the decade of threats, bombings and killings that followed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, remaining on lands that in some cases they have settled for over 4,000 years.Responsibility for many of these attacks falls to ISIS or its predecessors, but regular killings have also been carried out by other militia groups, and by members of the Iraqi Security Forces.

But in less than three months this summer, much of the Nineveh plain was emptied of its minority communities.

The advance by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was marked by a series of atrocities, some of them recorded and posted on the internet by ISIS itself, which have outraged the international community.

Now the first comprehensive report on the situation of Iraq’s minorities, released Thursday by Minority Rights Group (MRG) International and the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, documents the full extent of violations committed against all of Iraq’s minority communities and reveals ISIS as an organisation motivated by the logic of extermination.

Minorities have been principal targets in a systematic campaign of torture, killings, sexual violence, and enslavement carried out by ISIS.

It should be stressed that nearly all of Iraq’s communities have suffered at the hands of ISIS, including Shi’a and Sunni Arabs, but the varying religious and social status attributed by ISIS ideologues to different peoples – as well as the value of the lands they inhabit – have made some communities much more vulnerable, with the nature of abuse often being determined by the particular ethno-religious background of the victims.

Under the pretence of a religious edict, for example, ISIS confiscated Christian-owned property in Mosul and enforced an ultimatum on the community to pay jizya tax.

Yezidis have repeatedly been denied even a right of existence by ISIS, and some other extremist groups, on the erroneous grounds that they are ‘devil-worshippers’.

The report delineates a pattern of targeting of Yezidis and their property, now overshadowed by the latest wave of violence that has cost the lives of at least hundreds and the kidnapping of up to 2500 men, women and children since August.

Captured Yezidi men have been forced to choose between conversion or death, whilst Yezidi women and children have been sold to slavery and subjected to sexual abuse.

But it would be a mistake to imagine that the violations suffered by Iraqi minorities date from a few months ago – or to believe that ISIS was the only perpetrator.

Since 2003, Christians have been the target of bombings, assassinations and kidnappings, with groups often targeting property and places of worship. Most of Iraq’s Christian population, up to one million people, had already fled the country by the start of the year.

Yezidis suffered the single deadliest attack of the conflict, when a multiple truck bombing in Sinjar in 2007 killed as many as 796 people, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent.

And one of the most sobering pictures to emerge from the report is the series of mass killings of Turkmen and Shabak carried out in recent years, the violence intensifying in the latter half of 2013.

Responsibility for many of these attacks falls to ISIS or its predecessors, but regular killings have also been carried out by other militia groups, and by members of the Iraqi Security Forces.

Throughout these years of violence the Iraqi government has proved either unable or unwilling to protect its minority communities. Few incidents are properly investigated and the perpetrators nearly always go unpunished, in some cases with indications of official complicity.

Aside from the immediate threats of violence, communities including Yezidis, Roma and Black Iraqis continue to face chronic and institutionalised discrimination that hinders their cultural and religious rights as well as imposing restrictions on access to health care, education and employment.

The choice now confronting many of Iraq’s diverse communities is be forced to flee en masse or to endure a life of continuous fear and suffering. Some peoples, such as the Sabean-Mandaeans, have already seen their numbers reduced by emigration to the point where their very survival in Iraq as a distinct community is under threat.

Some community leaders interviewed expressed the hope and determination that they could return to their lands; others saw emigration as their only possibility.

A comprehensive plan for the restitution to minority communities of their former lands and properties in the Nineveh plains and elsewhere is thus an essential component of any positive vision for Iraq’s future.

The need to ensure that those responsible for attacks are held to account also requires Iraq to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

More immediately, there is nothing to stop the ICC prosecutor from opening a preliminary investigation into alleged crimes committed by the growing number of nationals of existing ICC state parties fighting in Iraq.

But Iraq’s own response to the ISIS threat holds serious dangers, including in particular the wholesale re-mobilisation of the Shi’a militias.

With the international coalition beginning to ratchet up its air campaign against ISIS, it is imperative that the international community does not appear to condone or even encourage the growing sectarianism now gripping Iraq’s security forces.

From a new sectarian war every community stands to lose.

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.

Editing by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: The Survivorshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-survivors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-survivors http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-survivors/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 15:19:03 +0000 Yury Fedotov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137243

Yury Fedotov is Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime

By Yury Fedotov
VIENNA, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

Oct. 18 is the EU’s Anti-Trafficking Day, as well as the United Kingdom’s Anti-Slavery Day. These events offer a good opportunity to talk about human trafficking within Europe’s borders, but we should not forget that there are victims and survivors all over the world.

People like Grace, not her real name, who grew up in a large family in Western Nigeria. On leaving high school her uncle lured Grace to Lagos with false promises that her education would continue. But instead of libraries and lessons, this young Nigerian girl was forced to wear suggestive clothing and work long hours in her uncle’s beer parlour. She was pressured into sleeping with any customer willing to pay. Her aunt kept the money.

Courtesy of UNODC

Courtesy of UNODC

Those who are trafficked, like Grace, are often destitute, alone and afraid. In the face of exploitation and constant abuse it is difficult to summon the courage to flee. Fortunately, she had access to a radio and overheard a show on human trafficking.

One of the interviewees, a staff member for the African Centre for Advocacy and Human Development, encouraged anyone needing help to contact the centre. Grace realised there might be a way out.

Grace approached the centre after running away from her aunt and uncle. She was given a medical examination, as well as a place to sleep and counselling. The centre later sponsored her training as a seamstress, and later, with support, she was able to open a shop to sell her clothes. Grace had successfully taken the long journey from victim to human trafficking survivor.

Although Grace’s cruel experiences are individual to her, they are sadly not unique. In its publication, Hear Their Story, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlights numerous stories of children and young people forced to sell themselves, and their labour.

UNODC’s human trafficking report found that 136 different nationalities detected in 118 countries between 2007 and 2010, making this a truly global crime.

Around 27 per cent of those trafficked are children forced into numerous sordid occupations, including petty crime, begging and the sex trade. 55-60 per cent of individuals trafficked globally are women. If the figure for women is added to those for young girls, it becomes 75 per cent.

The majority of these women are coerced into the sex trade; many others find themselves working as domestic servants or forced labour. There is also a commonly held myth that men are not trafficked. This is untrue. Men are also exploited for forced labour and can suffer extreme forms of abuse.

To counter this crime that shreds both dignity and human rights, there is a need to work constantly at the grassroots level. We have to be present where the traffickers are committing their gross crimes, and where victims can be helped to make the transition to a new life.

Countries also need to ratify and adopt the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocol on human trafficking. The Convention creates a legal framework for mutual legal assistance and other means of tackling organised crime. But what is really needed is comprehensive data, meaning better reporting from countries, and proper funding.

In 2011, the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for human trafficking managed by UNODC, and which has a special emphasis on children, provided grants to 11 organisations working at the ground level. Thanks to their work, children and young adults, such as Grace, have been supported. But more funds are needed to provide legal support and advice, treatment for physical abuse, safe houses, additional life skills, as well as schooling and training.

Grace’s life changed when she heard a radio story that helped her become a survivor. On the EU’s Anti-Trafficking Day and the UK’s Anti-Slavery Day, we have to ensure that other victims find their voices, and when they escape or are freed, we are waiting to offer much needed protection.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Mexico’s Cocktail of Political and Narco-Violence and Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/mexicos-cocktail-of-political-and-narco-violence-and-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-cocktail-of-political-and-narco-violence-and-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/mexicos-cocktail-of-political-and-narco-violence-and-poverty/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 14:45:29 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137238 Students from this school, the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, were attacked by the police in the city of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. Six were killed, 25 were injured and 43 are still missing. Credit: Pepe Jiménez/IPS

Students from this school, the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, were attacked by the police in the city of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. Six were killed, 25 were injured and 43 are still missing. Credit: Pepe Jiménez/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

The images filled the front pages of Mexico’s newspapers: 61 half-dressed state policemen kneeling, with their hands tied, in the main square of the town of Tepatepec in the central state of Hidalgo, while local residents threatened to burn them alive.

It was Feb. 19, 2000. The reason the townspeople were furious was the police occupation of the Normal Rural Luis Villarreal rural teachers college in the town of El Mexe, and the arrest of 176 of the students, who had been on strike because of the government’s announcement that enrollment would be reduced.

Between that episode and an incident on Monday Oct. 13 in the southwest state of Guerrero, when teachers, students and local residents of the town of Ayotzinapa set fire to the state government building, there has been a history of repression and criminalisation of the country’s poorest students: the sons and daughters of small farmers who study to become teachers in rural schools.

“It’s built-up anger,” Etelvina Sandoval, a researcher at the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional, Mexico’s national university for teacher training, told IPS. “For years there has been a campaign against the rural teachers colleges and they have been scorned for what they do. In the view of the government, they are very expensive, and the students have to constantly fight to keep their schools running. And no one says anything because they’re poor kids.”

Guerrero is the third-least developed state in the country, and one of the most politicised. It has been the birthplace of social movements, and four decades ago it was one of the targets of the “dirty war” – a time of military repression of opponents of the government, which left a still unknown number of dead and disappeared.“For years there has been a campaign against the rural teachers colleges and they have been scorned for what they do. In the view of the government, they are very expensive, and the students have to constantly fight to keep their schools running. And no one says anything because they’re poor kids.” -- Etelvina Sandoval

It is also one of the most violent states. And since Sept. 26 it has been in the global spotlight, after police in the city of Iguala attacked three buses full of students fom the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college of Ayotzinapa.

The reason for the attack is not yet clear. But it was reported that the police handed over a group of students to the Beltrán Leyva drug cartel.

In the clash with police, six people were killed, 25 were injured, and 43 mainly first-year students went missing.

Implicated in the massacre were Mayor José Luis Abarca and his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda, both of whom are fugitives from justice and who, according to investigations, were on the cartel’s payroll.

In the search for the students, 23 mass graves have been found so far, containing dozens of corpses.

“The indiscriminate violence against the civilian population that we saw during the six-year term of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) has been directed towards organised social movements since the change of government. What happened in Iguala was just a question of time,” said Héctor Cerezo, a member of the Cerezo Committee, an organisation that documents forced disappearances and the dirty war.

The young people who study at the rural teachers colleges – known as “normales” or normal schools – are the poorest students in the country, who receive training to educate poor “campesinos” or peasant farmers in the most marginalised and remote communities, where teachers who have trained in urban areas do not want to go.

The students are themselves campesinos whose only chance at an education is the normales, which were founded in 1921 and are the last bastion of the socialist education imparted in Mexico from 1934 to 1945.

In the normales, which function as boarding schools, and where students are given meals as well as a scholarship of three to seven dollars a day, the students are in charge.

They participate directly in administrative decision-making, and have established support networks among schools through the Federation of Socialist Campesino Students of Mexico, the country’s oldest student organisation, which has frequently been accused of churning out guerrillas.

Through its ranks passed legendary guerrillas like Lucio Cabañas, who in 1967 founded the Party of the Poor, and Genaro Vázquez (both of whom were graduates of the Ayotzinapa teachers college). Another was Misael Núñez Acosta, who studied at the “normal” in Tenería, in the state of Mexico, and in 1979 founded the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación teachers union and was killed two years later.

“They were created for that reason – to do political work and consciousness-raising. The students are very independent young people [in comparison with students at the urban ‘normales’] with very strict discipline,” said Sandoval, who added that the rural teachers colleges have been “a thorn in the side of the governments.”

Of the 46 original rural teachers colleges, only 15 are left. Half of them were closed after the 1968 student movement by then-president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (1964-1970).

The ones that are still open have been waging a steady battle since 1999 to avoid being turned into vocational-technical schools. But the state governments have financially suffocated them, with the argument that the country doesn’t need more primary school teachers, because the declining birth rate has reduced student enrollment.

As a result, fires and other incidents have become common in the rural teachers colleges as the installations have become more and more rundown. In 2008, for example, two students died in a fire caused by a short circuit in the first rural school of its kind in Latin America, the Normal Rural Vasco de Quiroga in the northwest state of Michoacán.

“What I can say is that there are not enough teachers in the most remote areas,” Sandoval said. “There are communities who go for months without a teacher. In some places a ‘non-teacher’ covers the gap temporarily, working without any contract or fixed timeframe.”

The attack on the buses carrying students from the Ayotzinapa school has put President Enrique Peña Nieto’s human rights policy to the test.

The incident occurred in the context of growing tension caused by attempts by the latest governments to close down the school.

In January 2007, then state Governor Zeferino Torreblanca tried to reduce the number of students enrolled and declared that his government’s aim was to reduce the “studentocracy”. In November of that year, the anti-riot police cracked down on students when they demonstrated outside the state legislature.

On Dec. 12, 2011 the police killed two normal school students: phys-ed student Gabriel Echeverría de Jesús and primary education student Jorge Alexis Herrera Pino.

They were taking part in a roadblock to protest cuts in the school budget. In addition, Édgar David Espíritu Olmedo was seriously wounded, and 24 other students were beaten and injured.

“Ayotzinapa is standing up to fight for justice. The academic excellence that we are seeking cannot be conditioned on our political submission,” the Federation of Socialist Campesino Students of Mexico stated in a communiqué at the time.

No one was held responsible or punished for the deaths.

Nearly three years later, as they were getting ready to visit Mexico City to take part in the commemoration of the anniversary of the Oct. 2, 1968 massacre of students in Tlatelolco square in Mexico City, the students from the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college in Ayotzinapa were ambushed by municipal police, and the detained students, according to the investigations and testimony, were handed over to a criminal group that the mayor worked for.

Since then, there has been no sign of the 43 missing students.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Cash-Strapped Human Rights Office at Breaking Point, Says New Chiefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/cash-strapped-human-rights-office-at-breaking-point-says-new-chief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cash-strapped-human-rights-office-at-breaking-point-says-new-chief http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/cash-strapped-human-rights-office-at-breaking-point-says-new-chief/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 21:47:50 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137225 Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks at the opening of the 27th session of the Human Rights Council on Sep. 8, 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks at the opening of the 27th session of the Human Rights Council on Sep. 8, 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

After six weeks in office, the new U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein of Jordan launched a blistering attack on member states for insufficient funding, thereby forcing operations in his office to the breaking point “in a world that seems to be lurching from crisis to ever-more dangerous crisis.”

“I am already having to look at making cuts because of our current financial situation,” he told reporters Thursday, pointing out while some U.N. agencies have budgets of over a billion dollars, the office of the UNHCHR has a relatively measly budget of 87 million dollars per year for 2014 and 2015."I have been asked to use a boat and a bucket to cope with a flood." -- U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein

“I have been asked to use a boat and a bucket to cope with a flood,” he said, even as the Human Rights Council and the Security Council saddles the cash-strapped office with new fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry – with six currently underway and a seventh “possibly round the corner.”

Jens Martens, director of the Global Policy Forum (GPF) in Bonn, told IPS that governments treat the United Nations like firefighters.

“They call them to a fire but don’t give them the water to extinguish the fire and then blame the firefighters for their failure,” he said.

Martens welcomed the “the powerful statement” by the UNHCHR, describing it as a wake-up call for governments to take responsibility and finally provide the necessary funding for the United Nations.

Martens said for many years, Western governments, led by the United States, have insisted on a zero-growth doctrine for U.N. core budget.

“They bear major responsibility for the chronic weakness of the U.N. to respond to global challenges and crises,” he added.

The Office of the UNHCHR depends on voluntary contributions from member states to cover almost all of its field activities worldwide, as well as essential support work at its headquarters in Geneva.

“Despite strong backing from many donors, the level of contributions is not keeping pace with the constantly expanding demands of my Office,” Zeid said.

Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS the dramatic gap between the demands on the U.N. human rights office and the resources it has available is unsustainable.

“It’s time for states to match their commitment to human rights by providing the resources needed for the High Commissioner and his team to do their jobs,” she said.

Renzo Pomi, Amnesty International’s representative at the United Nations, told IPS it is wrong that the office of the UNHCHR’s core and mandated activities are not fully funded from the U.N.’s regular budget.

This, despite the fact, – as the High Commissioner himself points out – human rights are regularly described as one of the three pillars of the United Nations (along with development and peace and security).

Pomi said the office receives just over three percent of the U.N.’s regular budget.

“That makes for a short pillar and a badly aligned roof. U.N. member states should make sure that its core and mandated activities are properly funded,” he added.

Singling out the cash-crisis in the World Health Organisation (WHO), Martens told IPS a recent example is the weakness of WHO in responding to the Ebola pandemic.

Due to budget constraints WHO had to cut the funding for its outbreak and crisis response programme by more than 50 percent in the last two years.

It’s a scandal that the fraction of the regular budget allocation for human rights is less than 100 million dollars per year, and that the Office of the High Commissioner is mainly dependent on voluntary contributions.

Human Rights cannot be promoted and protected on a mere voluntary basis.

He said voluntary, and particularly earmarked, contributions are often not the solution but part of the problem.

Earmarking tends to turn U.N. agencies, funds and programmes into contractors for bilateral or public-private projects, eroding the multilateral character of the system and undermining democratic governance, said Martens.

“In order to provide global public goods, we need sufficient global public funds,” he said.

Therefore, member states must overcome their austerity policy towards the United Nations.

For many years Global Policy Forum has been calling for sufficient and predictable U.N. funding from governments, said Martens. In light of current global challenges and crises this call is more urgent than ever before, he added.

Zeid told reporters human rights are currently under greater pressure than they have been in a long while. “Our front pages and TV and computer screens are filled with a constant stream of presidents and ministers talking of conflict and human rights violations, and the global unease about the proliferating crises is palpable.”

He said the U.N. human rights system is asked to intervene in those crises, to investigate allegations of abuses, to press for accountability and to teach and encourage, so as to prevent further violations.

But time and time again “we have been instructed to do these and other major extra activities within existing resources,” said Zeid, a former Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Corruption, Tax Evasion Fuel Inequality in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/corruption-tax-evasion-fuel-inequality-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corruption-tax-evasion-fuel-inequality-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/corruption-tax-evasion-fuel-inequality-in-latin-america/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 15:34:13 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137163 (1)	Tax evasion and fraud join forces in Latin America to exacerbate inequality in the region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

(1) Tax evasion and fraud join forces in Latin America to exacerbate inequality in the region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Oct 14 2014 (IPS)

Corruption and tax evasion are flagrant violations of human rights in Latin America, where they contribute to inequality and injustice in the countries of the region, according to studies and experts consulted by IPS.

“Tax evasion means that those who are most vulnerable are denied the full enjoyment of their economic and social rights, including health and education,” said Rocío Noriega, an adviser on governance, ethics and transparency for the United Nations Development Programme.

“Corruption has a negative impact on the enjoyment of human rights,” she added. It also constitutes “a threat to democracy, because it systematically violates the foundation of citizenship by perpetuating inequality based on access by the few to power, wealth and personal connections,” she told IPS.

Corruption, as a way of distributing public resources for purposes other than the common good, is a serious violation of human rights, experts agreed.

Perceptions of corruption

Most Latin Americans view corruption as one of the three main problems in their country, according to the 2013 Latinobarómetro public opinion poll.

In Costa Rica, 20 percent of respondents complained of corruption, 29 percent of economic problems and six percent of crime.

In Honduras the proportions were 11 percent for corruption, 61 percent for economic problems and 28 percent for crime. In Brazil and Colombia, 10 percent of respondents said corruption was their primary concern, in third place behind economic problems and crime.

In Argentina and Peru, eight percent of interviewees named corruption as their main problem: in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic it was seven percent; in Mexico six percent; in Ecuador, Panama and Paraguay five percent; in Guatemala four percent; in Nicaragua three percent; in El Salvador and Venezuela two percent; and in Chile and Uruguay, one percent.

Latinobarómetro said the poll appeared to show that corruption is not as serious a problem as experts and transparency reports would indicate, but this is because – as happened previously with crime – in many countries of the region corruption is a hidden issue, and they cited Mexico as a prime example.

Mexico is the country with the highest proportion of people who are aware of cases of corruption (39 percent), and transparency reports say its level of corruption is high; yet only six percent view corruption as the main problem.

Source: 2013 Latinobarómetro poll

In 2013 the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that, since corruption can occur in many different forms and contexts, it is almost impossible to identify all the human rights that are violated.

They added that corruption is an obstacle for the development of societies, but is also a serious problem for strengthening the legitimacy of democracy, because its prevalence and the perception of citizens of its incidence in public affairs and institutions can greatly undermine support for democratic regimes.

The 2013 Latinobarómetro poll indicates that 26 percent of all Latin Americans said they were aware of at least one case of corruption in their country in the past 12 months. A similar percentage said that nearly everyone in their government was corrupt.

Venezuela and Mexico top the ranking for perception of corruption, with 39 percent making these statements, followed by Paraguay (38 percent) and Chile (35 percent). Among the countries with the lowest perception of corruption were Uruguay (19 percent), Nicaragua (17 percent), Honduras Guatemala and Brazil (16 percent), and El Salvador (eight percent).

Francisca Quiroga, a political analyst and expert on public policies at the University of Chile, told IPS that both corruption and tax evasion are directly correlated to inequality and injustice.

She said: “Tax policies are a potential instrument for distributing resources and funding the development of social policies.

“The underlying rationale is the duty to combat inequality and to redistribute resources, as well as to build more sustainable economies,” she said.

“When talking about human rights and social rights, in particular, one of the elements to take into account is taxation policy, and the institutional mechanisms to ensure the legitimacy of the decisions taken,” she said.

High inequality is one of the most distinctive characteristics of Latin America’s social situation.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), income distribution inequality in the region is substantially higher than in other global regions, with an average Gini coefficient of 0.53.

The Gini coefficient is a measure of income inequality, expressed as an index between zero and one. Zero represents perfect equality, while a value of one represents complete inequality.

For example, the least unequal country in the region is more unequal than any non-Latin American member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), or than any country in the Middle East and North Africa, according to a report titled “Evasión y Equidad en América Latina” (Evasion and Equality in Latin America) by the ECLAC Economic Development Division.

The five Latin American countries with the worst income distribution, according to the report, are Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay and Chile, in that order.

In Chile, most employed people earn around 500 dollars a month, in a country where bread costs two dollars a kilo, while the richest 4,500 families live on more than 30,000 dollars a month.

“Tax evasion is a form of fraud that undermines equality, there is no doubt about it,” sociologist Marta Lagos, the head of Latinobarómetro, told IPS.

“There is massive empirical evidence that shows that income distribution improves when taxes are paid,” she said.

“The lack of formality of our state agencies allows tax evasion to occur,” and this may happen in powerful and wealthy circles as well as among ordinary citizens, she said.

She calls this phenomenon “social fraud,” pointing to its basis in customs overwhelmingly regarded as acceptable in social practice, so that the state is unable to eradicate it. “It is customary, however wrong, illegal and immoral,” she said.

Lagos stressed that social fraud may be wrong, immoral or illegal. Wrongness refers to offences that are not legally penalised but affect coexistence, such as parking a vehicle badly and paralysing traffic. Immoral acts include situations like eating something while shopping in a supermarket and not paying for it.

Illegal social fraud, in turn, may occur on a mass scale and covers those who avoid paying for a bus ticket, use state subsidies improperly, or evade paying taxes.

In Chile, as in other Latin American countries, it is common practice for retail outlets in outlying neighbourhoods not to issue receipts for every purchase, said Lagos, and this is wholly accepted by the population.

“I don’t really care,” Bernarda, a middle-aged woman who buys bread every day from a small store near her home in La Florida, a mainly middle class suburb southeast of Santiago, but who does not always receive a formal receipt for her purchase.

“I have known this woman (the store owner) for years and I know she is honest,” she said. “It’s all the same to me,” said another neighbour beside her. “What do I want a tax receipt for? Anyway, everybody does it,” she said.

This behaviour is widespread in the region and is reflected daily in the question that retailers and service providers in many countries constantly ask consumers when it is time to pay: “With IVA (value added tax) or without IVA?”

Lagos said that over the past decade tax evasion has come to be seen as increasingly legitimate, since corruption in high places “increases people’s perception that it is acceptable not to pay taxes, because the money is being stolen and misspent.”

Quiroga, however, believes the time has come for citizens to realise that their political and social rights are infringed whenever the system allows tax evasion and corruption to become common practice.

“This is the only way we are going to be able to overcome this scourge,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Uruguay’s Decision Could Come Too Late for Gitmo Detaineeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/uruguays-decision-could-come-too-late-for-gitmo-detainees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uruguays-decision-could-come-too-late-for-gitmo-detainees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/uruguays-decision-could-come-too-late-for-gitmo-detainees/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 22:36:12 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137150 Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area under the watchful eyes of Military Police at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during in-processing to the temporary detention facility on Jan. 11, 2002. Credit: public domain

Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area under the watchful eyes of Military Police at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during in-processing to the temporary detention facility on Jan. 11, 2002. Credit: public domain

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

Uruguayan President José Mujica bought time for his plan to host six prisoners of Guantánamo, handing over the decision to the winner of the incoming elections. But time is a scarce resource for the inmates of this United States military prison on Cuban soil.

The resettlement of a Palestinian, a Tunisian and four Syrian detainees in Guantánamo is a hot potato for Mujica while his party, the centre-left Broad Front, struggles to pull ahead in the final stretch to general elections set for Oct. 26.“The U.S. is letting them out because they pose no danger to the U.S. or Uruguay or any other country… They are accused of absolutely no wrongdoing and have never been charged with any crime.” -- Laura Pitter of HRW

Out of 149 inmates currently in Guantánamo, a prison established by George W. Bush (2001-2009) to function beyond the law, 79 are cleared for release at least since 2010, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which has gone to court on behalf of some of the detainees.

Mujica agreed in March to settle six inmates of this group – following a request by U.S. President Barack Obama — some of them suffering from very poor physical and mental health.

Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan, a 35-year-old Palestinian, is considered at high risk. Diagnosed with major depression, he has engaged in several hunger strikes in the last few years. Born in the West Bank, he was 23 when Pakistani security services arrested him and rendered him to the U.S. According to one of his attorneys, Lauren Carasik, there is not a single piece of evidence against him.

“The travesty of Guantanamo is that some of the men were rounded up not because of reasonable suspicions, but instead because areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan were blanketed with leaflets offering a bounty for ‘suspected terrorists’, sparking a frenzy of lucrative but wrongful accusations,” said Carasik in an op-ed published by Al Jazeera last year.

The CCR claims that 86 percent of the 789 men and teenagers once jailed in Guantánamo since January 2002 were essentially sold at times when the U.S. military offered bounties of around 5,000 dollars per capture.

Syrian Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a married father of four, has also been protesting via an intermittent hunger strike since February 2013. He suffers from extreme weakness and requires a wheelchair. With no charges against him, Washington cleared him for release in 2009.

Dhiab’s case gained notoriety this year when his attorneys challenged the force-feeding method applied by Guantanamo’s jailers against him and other hunger strikers. U.S. judge Gladys Kessler ordered the disclosure of 28 classified videotapes recording the forced cell extraction and forced feeding of Dhiab.

In a statement read by his lawyers in court, Dhiab claimed that he wanted the U.S. public “to see what is going on at the prison today, so they will understand why we are hunger-striking, and why the prison should be closed.” In August, one of his attorneys said he was “just a skeleton”.

Dhiab had lived with his family in Afghanistan, where he ran a business, but had to flee to Pakistan when the war began after 9/11, according to British human rights NGO Reprieve. A few months later, the Pakistani police arrested him and rendered him to the U.S., possibly in exchange for payment.

In a letter urging the U.S. government to proceed with the transfers to Uruguay, the lawyers of the six detainees said in June that a Uruguayan delegation had interviewed the inmates at Guantánamo and extended to them invitations to resettle, “which they gratefully accepted”.

Mujica, a former guerrilla who served 14 years in inhuman conditions, is one of the many critics of Guantánamo. In recent months, he has repeated that the detainees would move to Uruguay as “free men”.

But Washington usually requests that the receiving country monitor the transferred men and ban them from travelling abroad, measures which are beyond Uruguay’s refugee legislation.

In other words, the same fears which have prevented shutting Guantánamo for good, releasing the innocents and bringing evidence-based suspects to U.S. courts have also obstructed the transfers to Uruguay.

The U.S. “needs assistance from other countries in order to close Guantanamo because, as appears to be the case in Uruguay too, irrational fear about transferring detainees to the U.S. is being used for political gain in the U.S. elections,” said Laura Pitter, Human Rights Watch’s senior national security researcher.

“There is no reason whatsoever to fear letting these men come to Uruguay,” she told IPS by email. “The U.S. is letting them out because they pose no danger to the U.S. or Uruguay or any other country… They are accused of absolutely no wrongdoing and have never been charged with any crime.”

In an August interview with this reporter, the director of the Presidency’s Human Rights office, Javier Miranda, said Uruguayan society “harbours some fear of Muslims, and this is part of our growth. Some people have shown this assimilation of Islam and terrorism, which is an utterly false assumption.

“Those men who spent 12 years in a hole in Guantánamo, almost as disappeared persons, have the same right to a shelter as the Syrian refugees,” added Miranda, who successfully supervised the Oct. 9 arrival of a first group of 43 civilians who had fled the Syria civil war and were living in hard conditions in Lebanon.

But the Mujica administration’s failure to publicise the details of this second humanitarian operation and the legal plight and health of every one of the six inmates fuelled rather than assuaged public mistrust.

While 66 percent of one survey’s respondents supported the resettlement of Syrian refugees, the number who rejected the arrival of Guantánamo detainees rose from 50 percent in April to 58 percent in September.

Last month, The New York Times reported that Vice President Joe Biden had called Mujica, “pressing him to resettle the men”. Montevideo swiftly denied any pressure, and stated only Mujica had the authority to decide when the inmates should arrive. But the move paved the way for a heated electoral debate on this issue.

The centre-right opposition National Party, which is polling in second place, took advantage of this inconsistency and accused the government of acting “under pressure of imperialism”.

According to Pitter, Uruguay would do a great service “acknowledging that they recognise the human dignity and human rights of these men, and righting a grave injustice that the U.S. has perpetrated upon them for many years.”

The U.S. will hold elections in November. If the governing Democratic Party fails to retain a majority in the Senate, Republican opposition could add further obstacles to closing Guantánamo.

In the face of this political dysfunction, the best hopes to end the humanitarian crisis will continue to rest on the good will of third countries.

In Uruguay, the Broad Front is confronting its most competitive elections since it first came to power in 2004. After repeating that he alone would decide about Guantánamo, Mujica backtracked last week and announced he would hand over the decision to the incoming elected president.

If the Broad Front wins the election, a few inmates can still dream of travelling to South America before the end of the year. But if the winner is the National Party, Washington might have to re-open the agreement with the new government, no earlier than March 2015.

And for some of the prisoners, it could be too late.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Most Nations Reducing Worst Forms of Child Labourhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/most-nations-reducing-worst-forms-of-child-labour/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=most-nations-reducing-worst-forms-of-child-labour http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/most-nations-reducing-worst-forms-of-child-labour/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 00:27:27 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137061 Children such as these are used as smugglers across the India-Bangladesh border. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

Children such as these are used as smugglers across the India-Bangladesh border. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Oct 8 2014 (IPS)

Most of the world’s governments are taking measures to reduce the worst and most hazardous forms of child labour, according to a major report released here Tuesday by the U.S. Labour Department.

In its annual assessment of progress toward eliminating that kind of exploitation, the 958-page report found that roughly half of the 140-some countries and foreign territories covered by the report had made what it called “moderate” advances in the field.“I’m talking about children who carry huge loads on their backs and wield machetes on farms…who scavenge in garbage dumps and crawl in underground mine shafts." -- U.S. Labour Secretary Thomas Perez

Thirteen countries – most of them in Latin America — were found to have made “significant” progress in eliminating the worst forms of child labour during 2013 compared to the year before.

But another 13 nations and territories, notably the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela, were found to have made none at all.

“This report shines a light on children around the globe who are being robbed of their futures, who spend their days and often their nights engaged in some of the most gruelling work imaginable,” said U.S. Labour Secretary Thomas Perez, at the release of the ‘2013 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor’.

“I’m talking about children who carry huge loads on their backs and wield machetes on farms…who scavenge in garbage dumps and crawl in underground mine shafts searching for precious minerals from which someone else will profit,” he said. “Children with munitions strapped to their bodies, pressed into service as combatants in armed conflicts; children who are victims of trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation.”

The report, which consists mainly of specific profiles of the child labour situation and what national governments are doing about it in specific countries and territories that benefit under the U.S. Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) or other trade-boosting programmes, such as the Andean Trade Preference Act or the African Growth and Opportunities Act, has been mandated by Congress since 2002. The report also recommends steps governments can take to improve the situation.

It gains widespread praise from labour and child-welfare activist groups that use it as a way to raise public consciousness and as a source of pressure on foreign governments to do more to eliminate it.

While the Labour Department itself cannot take punitive action against unresponsive governments, the report can influence actions by other U.S. agencies, such as the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative that can, for example, reduce or eliminate trade benefits in cases of serious violations of international labour conventions.

“Overall, this report has been a fantastic tool for the advocacy community,” said Reid Maki of the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which includes more than two dozen labour, church, consumer, and human rights groups. “It gives us something to measure progress each year and allows countries to compare their performance with others.”

“I think the report is a tremendous achievement,” Brian Campbell of the Washington-based International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) told IPS. He praised, in particular, its treatment of Uzbekistan, whose government has long been criticised for forcing school students to take part in the cotton harvest.

“They demonstrated a lot of courage …by making very clear that not only have children been taken out of school, but also that the whole system is based on forced labour by the government,” he said. “The challenge will be for the other U.S. government agencies to take on this analysis – including the Customs Service which is required to ban imports produced by forced labour.”

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines the “worst forms of child labour” as all forms of slavery, such as debt bondage, child trafficking, and forced recruitment of children in armed conflicts; the use of children for prostitution or pornography; their use of illicit activities, such as the production or trafficking of drugs; and “hazardous work” which, in turn is defined as any that “jeopardises the physical, mental or moral well-being” of a child.

According to ILO statistics, the number of children engaged in the worst forms of child labour or whose age is below the minimum prescribed by national law has fallen from about 246 million in 2000 to 168 million in 2012. The latter figure still accounts for roughly one in every 10 children from five to 18 years old worldwide.

The number of children engaged in “hazardous work” halved – from 170 million to 85 million – over the same period, according to the ILO.

The report divided countries into those where advances in eliminating the worst forms of child labour were “significant”, “moderate”, “minimal”, and none. Progress was assessed according to a number of criteria, including the enactment of laws, efforts at enforcement and co-ordination, the adoption of specific policies, and the implementation of social programmes designed to eliminate the problem, and encourage children to remain in school.

The 13 countries whose progress was deemed “significant” included Albania, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Tunisia, and Uganda.

The CLC’s Maki, who also serves as the director of child labour advocacy at the National Consumers League, called the list “very encouraging.” “Most of these countries have had a lot of child labour problems in the past,” he told IPS.

He noted that “steady progress” had been made over the last several years, in particular. Since 2011, he said, the number of countries that had made “significant” progress had grown from two to 13, while the number with “moderate” advances had likewise increased from 47 to 72.

Conversely, the number of countries and territories with “minimal” or “no” progress has fallen from 82 to 50 – 20 of which were small islands, such as Anguilla, Barbados, Tonga, Tuvalu, and the Falkland/Malvinas Islands with small populations, Maki pointed out.

Besides the DRC, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela, the more-significant laggards in the “minimal” category included Algeria, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Mozambique, Serbia, South Sudan, Uruguay, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

One weakness of the report, according to ILRF’s Campbell was its failure to address how the private sector – including powerful multinational corporations — contributes to the worst forms of child labour.

“In the Malawi section, for example, the reports focuses at length what the government has done, but it doesn’t address the contract system of production of tobacco, as implemented by U.S. tobacco companies and their subsidiaries, which is a root cause of the child labour problem there,” he said.

“It’s largely because the Labour Department views its Congressional mandate as very limited; i.e., only what the governments are doing,” he said. “I think they could interpret the scope of the report to include other issues, such as the business practices of companies and how they also contribute to the problem.”

But Maki was more reserved. “If you expand the scope of the report to the business world,” he said, “you might muddy things enough to let the governments off the hook.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Iraq Looking for an ‘Independent’ Sunni Defense Ministerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 13:54:06 +0000 Barbara Slavin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136909 By Barbara Slavin
WASHINGTON, Sep 27 2014 (IPS)

Iraqi President Fouad Massoum said this past week that the government was looking for an independent Sunni Muslim to fill the post of defense minister in an effort to improve chances of reunifying the country and defeating the group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS).

Massoum, in his first extended comments to a U.S. audience since his recent selection as president of Iraq, also said Sept. 26 that Iraqi Kurds – while they might still hold a referendum on independence – would not secede from Iraq at a  time of such major peril.

“Today there is no possibility to announce such a state,” Massoum, a Kurd and former prime minister of the Kurdish region, told a packed room at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

“Forming a Kurdish state is a project, and a project like that has to take into account” the views of regional and other countries and the extraordinary circumstances of the current terrorist menace to Iraq.

Kurdish threats to hold a referendum and declare independence were widely seen as leverage to force the resignation of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki,also under pressure from President Barack Obama’s administration, Iraqi Sunnis and Iran, stepped down to allow a less  polarizing member of his Shi’ite Dawa party – Haider al-Abadi – to take the top job.

Abadi, however, has been unable so far to get parliament to approve his choices for the sensitive posts of defense and interior ministers. Queried about this, Massoum said, “There seems to be some understanding that the minister of defense should be Sunni and there is a search for an independent Sunni.”

As for interior minister, Massoum said, they were looking for an “independent Shiite” to take the post.

For the time being, Abadi is holding the portfolios, but unlike his predecessor, who retained them, has clearly stated that he does not want to assume those responsibilities for long. Massoum said a decision was likely after the coming Muslim holiday, the Eid al-Adha.

The Iraqi president also said there was progress on a new arrangement for sharing Iraq’s oil revenues, a major source of internal grievances under Maliki. A decision has been made that each of the regions will have representation on a higher oil and gas council, Massoum said. He also expressed confidence in Iraq’s new oil minister, Adel Abdel-Mahdi.

Asked whether Iraq would split into three countries – as Vice President Joe Biden once recommended – Massoum said there might be an eventual move toward a more confederal system but “partitioning Iraq … into three independent states is a bit far-fetched, especially in the current situation.”

Massoum began his remarks with a fascinating explanation of how IS – which he called ISIS, for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams – came into being. He said the group began “as a marriage” between nationalist military officers and religious extremists that took place when they were in prison together while the U.S. still occupied Iraq.

The notion of combining Iraq with the Levant – made up of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan – is actually an old Arab nationalist concept, Massoum said.

As for the religious aspects of the movement, Massoum traced that to the so-called Hashishin – users of hashish. This Shiite group, formed in the late 11th century, challenged the then-Sunni rulers of the day, used suicide attacks and were said to be under the influence of drugs. The English word “assassin” derives from the term.

“Many times these terrorist practices [were used] in the name of a religion or a sect,” Massoum said.

He praised the United States for coming to the aid of Iraqis and Kurds against IS and also expressed support for the recent bombing of IS and Jabhat al-Nusra positions in Syria. But Massoum sidestepped repeated questions about whether such strikes would inadvertently bolster the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Hitting ISIS in Syria should not mean this is to support the regime or as a beginning to overthrowing Bashar al-Assad,” Massoum said. “That’s why the attacks are limited.”

Asked about Iraqi relations with Iran and whether the Iraqis and Kurds were serving as go-betweens for the United States and Iran in mutual efforts to degrade IS, Massoum noted Iraq’s historic relations with its neighbour and that Iraq also had common interests with the United States.

“We don’t look at America with Iranian eyes and we don’t look at Iran with American eyes,” Massoum said. He evaded questions about Iran’s military role in Iraq, saying that while he had heard reports that Quds Force Chief Qasem Soleimani had visited the Kurdish region, requests for a meeting were not fulfilled.

As for Iranian military advisers who were said to have helped liberate the town of Amerli and relieve the siege of Mt. Sinjar, Massoum said, there were “many  experts” who had come to help the Kurdish peshmerga forces.

Massoum attributed the collapse of the Iraqi army at Mosul to poor leadership, corruption and decades of setbacks starting with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in 1980. This was followed a decade later by his invasion of Kuwait and subsequent refusal to cooperate with the international community.

“These blows all had an impact on the psychology of the commanders and soldiers,” Massoum said. Iraqi armed forces have gone “from failure to failure.”

The president confirmed that under the new Iraqi government, each governorate will have its own national guard made up of local people. This concept – which may be partly funded by the Saudis and other rich Gulf Arabs – is an attempt to replicate the success of the so-called sons of Iraq by motivating Sunni tribesmen to confront IS as they previously did al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Asked what would happen to Shi’ite militias – which have committed abuses against Sunnis and helped alienate that population from Baghdad – Massum said the militias would eventually have to be shut down but only after the IS threat had been eliminated. He did not indicate how long that might take.

Massum was also asked about reported IS plots against U.S. and French subway systems. Abadi earlier this week made reference to such plots, but U.S. officials said they had no such intelligence.

Iraqi officials accompanying Massoum, who spoke on condition that they not be identified, said Abadi had been misinterpreted and was referring only to the types of attacks IS might mount in the West. Massoum warned, however, that “sleeper cells” in the West as well as in Iraq might be planning terrorist attacks.

Asked about Turkey – which has been reticent about aiding Iraq against IS – Massoum, who met at the U.N. this week with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he expected more help now that 49 Turkish hostages in Mosul have been freed.

Massoum also urged Turkey to do a better job vetting young men who arrive there from Europe and America, and prevent them from reaching border areas and slipping into IS-controlled areas in Syria.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Living on a Ballpoint Pen in Kabulhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/living-on-a-ballpoint-pen-in-kabul/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 11:14:28 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136897 ‘Copyists’ (transcribers) on duty in downtown Kabul. Some 66 percent of Afghans are illiterate, with figures reaching 82 percent among women. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

‘Copyists’ (transcribers) on duty in downtown Kabul. Some 66 percent of Afghans are illiterate, with figures reaching 82 percent among women. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
KABUL, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Seventy-year-old Mohamad Arif still earns a living in the streets of Kabul. He prepares all kind of documents for those who cannot read or write – in other words, the majority of people in this country of 30.5 million people.

“I was a Colonel of the Afghan Air Force but I can barely survive with my pension. I had no other choice but to keep working so I took this up 10 years ago,” Arif tells IPS during a short break between two clients.

"People usually want me to write a letter to a relative, often someone in prison. However, most show up because they need us to fill out official forms or applications of all sorts." -- Seventy-year-old Mohamad Arif, a transcriber in Kabul
Arif says he has two sons in college, and that he only leaves his post on Fridays – the Muslim holy day. He spends the rest of the week sitting in front of the provincial government building, in downtown Kabul. That’s where he has his umbrella and his working desk, also essential tools for the rest of the transcribers lining up opposite the concrete wall that protects the government compound.

“People usually want me to write a letter to a relative, often someone in prison. However, most show up because they need us to fill out official forms or applications of all sorts,” explains the most veteran pen-worker in this street, just after his last service, which earned him 50 afghanis (0.80 dollars) for a claim over a family inheritance not yet received.

In its National Literacy Action Plan, statistics provided by the Afghan Ministry of Education speak volumes: some 66 percent of Afghans are illiterate, with figures reaching 82 percent among women.

At 32, Karim Gul is also illiterate so he’s forced to come here whenever he needs to tackle an administrative process. The problem this time is that he sold a car but he has not yet been paid.

“My parents came to Kabul from Badakhshan [a north-eastern Afghan province] when I was a child but they prevented me from going to school. They said the other children would laugh at me,” recalls this young Tajik, who thinks he is “already too old” to learn how to read and write.

Customers like him need only wait a few minutes before they’re attended to. The copyists – fifteen in total here – are experts in their trade, but probably none more so than Gulam Haydar, a 65-year-old man who has worked for decades behind the high wall.

‘Copyists’ (transcribers) in Afghanistan can earn up to one dollar for each letter or document they prepare for their illiterate customers. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

‘Copyists’ (transcribers) in Afghanistan can earn up to one dollar for each letter or document they prepare for their illiterate customers. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“I was a civil servant until I retired eight years ago but I had to keep working to survive,” this Kabuli tells IPS. His age, he adds, does not allow him to conduct any physical work, so this alternative came as “holy salvation.”

“Prices for all of us range from 20 to 100 afghanis [0.30-1.7 dollars] depending on the request,” explains Haydar, adding that his monthly income varies accordingly. In any case, he says, the amount he receives helping his illiterate countrymen and women is “far better” than the average 203 dollars an Afghan civil servant gets monthly.

Sitting next to him, Shahab Shams nods.

“I just get enough to survive and to send my two children to school,” says this 42-year-old man, who has spent the last 13 years in his post.

“In Afghanistan there is no work for anybody. Besides, corruption is rife,” adds the copyist. “You constantly need to pay under the table for everything: to get your passport or any other official certificate; to enrol your children in school; in hospitals, in every single government building,” laments this man with a degree in engineering from the University of Kabul. It was never of any use to him.

Starting from scratch

According to a joint survey conducted by the Afghan High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption (HOOAC) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), half of all Afghan citizens paid a bribe in 2012 while requesting a public service.

The 2012 study said most Afghans considered corruption, together with insecurity and unemployment, to be “one of the principal challenges facing their country, ahead even of poverty, external influence and the performance of the Government.”

Interestingly enough, such surveys also reveal that corruption is increasingly being considered an admissible part of day-to-day life. About 68 percent of citizens interviewed in 2012 said it was acceptable for a civil servant to top up a low salary by accepting small bribes from service users (as opposed to 42 per cent in 2009).

Similarly, 67 percent of the Afghan citizenry considered it “sometimes acceptable” for a civil servant to be recruited on the basis of family ties and friendship networks (up from 42 percent in 2009).

Leyla Mohamad had no chance whatsoever of ever becoming a civil servant. While it is no longer strange to come across female workers in the administration, illiteracy still poses an insurmountable hurdle. From under her burka, Mohamad explains she wants to denounce an assault she suffered in broad daylight, while she was accompanied by her three children, the oldest being just 10 years old.

“Every day we hear several cases like this one,” Abdurrahman Sherzai tells IPS after filling Mohamad’s form. “Too much time was lost in the failed election process and the economy has stalled because many companies and businesses depended on government subsidies. Eventually, sheer desperation leads to attacks against the most vulnerable [members] of society,” notes Sherzai, moments after being paid for the service.

After a presidential election that took place on Apr. 5, followed by a second runoff on Jun. 14, a fraud allegation forced a full ballot recount.

However, contenders agreed to share power on Sept. 21 so Ashraf Ghani was announced as the new Afghan president with his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, joining him in a unity government. Despite the two runoffs and the painful audit process, no results of any kind will finally be published.

It was the Afghan Education Minister himself, Ghulam Farooq Wardak, who assured IPS that “none of this would have happened” were Afghanistan a fully literate country.

“But also bear in mind that we literally started from scratch, with a 95-percent illiteracy rate only 12 years ago,” the senior official underlined from his ministerial office.

But current statistics, he claims, lead to optimism. “We’ve gone from just a million children in school 12 years ago to nearly 13 million today; from 20,000 teachers to over 200,000,” asserted Wardak, adding that 2015 “will be the year for full school [enrolment], and full literacy in Afghanistan will be a reality in 2020.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Georgia’s Female Drug Addicts Face Double Strugglehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/georgias-female-drug-addicts-face-double-struggle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=georgias-female-drug-addicts-face-double-struggle http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/georgias-female-drug-addicts-face-double-struggle/#comments Sun, 21 Sep 2014 09:27:33 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136769 By Pavol Stracansky
TBILISI, Sep 21 2014 (IPS)

Irina was 21 when she first started using drugs. More than 30 years later, having lost her husband, her home and her business to drugs, she is still battling her addiction.

But, like almost all female drug addicts in this former Soviet state, she has faced a desperate struggle not only with her drug problem, but with accessing help in the face of institutionalised and systematic discrimination because of her gender.

“Georgia’s society is very male-dominated,” she told IPS. “And this is reflected in the attitudes to drugs. It’s as if it’s OK for men to use drugs but not women. For women, the stigma of drug use is massive. There are many women who do not join programmes helping them as they would rather not be seen there.”

Women make up 10 per cent of the estimated 40,000 drug users in Georgia, according to research by local NGOs working with drug users.“Georgia’s society is very male-dominated and this is reflected in the attitudes to drugs. It’s as if it’s OK for men to use drugs but not women. For women, the stigma of drug use is massive. There are many women who do not join programmes helping them as they would rather not be seen there” – Irina, now in her 50s, who has been taking drugs for 30 years

However, because of very strong gender stereotyping, women users have very low access to harm reduction services – only 4 percent of needle exchange programme clients are women and the figure is even less for methadone treatment.

Local activists say this startling discrepancy is down to the massive social stigma faced by women drug users.

Dasha Ocheret, Deputy Director for Advocacy at the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (EHRN) told IPS: “In traditional societies, like Georgia’s, there is a much stronger negative attitude to women who use drugs than to men who use drugs. Women are supposed to be wives and mothers, not drug users.”

Many female addicts are scared to access needle exchanges or other harm reduction services because they fear their addiction will become known to their families or the police. Many have found themselves the victims of violence as their own families try to exert control over them once their drug use has been revealed. Others fear their drug use will be reported to the authorities by health workers.

Registered women drug users can have their children taken away while they routinely face violence – over 80 percent of women who use drugs in Georgia experience violence, according to the Georgian Harm Reduction Network– and extortion at the hands of police helping to enforce some of the world’s harshest drug laws. Possession of cannabis, for example, can result in an 11-year jail sentence.

Irina, who admits that she arranges anonymous attendance at an opioid substitution therapy (OST) programme so that as few people as possible can see her there, told IPS that she had herself been assaulted by a police officer and that police automatically viewed all female drug users as “criminals”.

But those who do want to access such services face further barriers because of their gender.

Free methadone substitution programmes in the country are extremely limited and because levels of financial autonomy among women in Georgia are low, other similar programmes are too expensive for many female addicts.

Discrimination is not uncommon among health service workers. Although some say that they have been treated by very sympathetic doctors, other female drug users have complained of abuse and denigration by medical staff and in some cases being denied health care because of their drug use.

Pregnant women are discouraged from accessing OST, despite it being shown to be safe in pregnancy and resulting in better health outcomes for both mother and child.

Eka Iakobishvili, EHRN’s Human Rights Programme Manager, told IPS: “Pregnant women don’t have access to certain services – they are strongly advised by doctors and health care workers to abort a baby rather than get methadone substitution treatment because they are told the treatment will harm the baby.”

While some may then undergo abortions, others will not, instead continuing dangerous drug use and the potential risk of contracting HIV/AIDS which could then be passed on to their child.

Meanwhile, those harm reduction services accessible by women are not gender-sensitive, according to campaigners, who say that female drug users need access to centres and programmes run and attended only by women.

Irina told IPS: “On some [harm reduction] programmes, the male drug users there will abuse the women drug users for taking drugs. This puts a lot of women off attending these programmes.”

She said that she had asked for a women-only service to be set up at the OST centre she attends but that it had been rejected on the grounds that only a few women were enrolled in it.

Together, these factors mean that many women are unable to access health services and continue dangerous drug-taking behaviour, sharing needles and injecting home-made drug cocktails made up of anything, including disinfectants and petrol mixed with over the counter medicines.

But there is hope that the situation may be about to change, at least to some degree, as local and international groups press to have the problem addressed.

At the end of July, CEDAW (UN Commission on Elimination of Discrimination against Women) released a set of recommendations for the Georgian government to ensure that women obtain proper access to harm reduction services after local NGOs submitted reports on the levels of discrimination they face.

These include, among others, specific calls for the government to carry out nationwide studies to establish the exact number of women who use drugs, including while pregnant, to help draw up a strategic plan to tackle the problem, and to provide gender-sensitive and evidence-based harm reduction services for women who use drugs.

The government has yet to react publicly to the recommendations but local campaigners have said they are speaking to government departments about them and are preparing to follow up with them on the recommendations.

Tea Kordzadze, Project Manager at the Georgian Harm Reduction Network in Tibilisi, told IPS: “We are hoping that at least some of the recommendations will be implemented.”

The Georgian government has been keen to show the country is ready to embrace Western values and bring its legislation and standards into line with European nations in recent years as it looks to create closer ties to the European Union. Rights activists say that this could come into play when the government considers the recommendations.

Iakobishvili said: These are of course just recommendations and the government is not obliged at all to accept or implement any of them. But, having said that, Georgia does care what other countries and big international rights organisations like Amnesty International and so on say about the country.”

Irina told IPS that only outside pressure would bring any real change. “The European Union, the Council of Europe and other international bodies need to put pressure on the Georgian government to make sure that the recommendations don’t remain on paper only.”

But, she added, “in any case, the recommendations alone won’t be enough. The whole attitude in society to women drug users is very negative. It has to be changed.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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