Inter Press Service » Crime & Justice http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 31 Jul 2015 22:30:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.6 ‘Ambassadors of Freedom’ – Palestine’s Resistance Babieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ambassadors-of-freedom-palestines-resistance-babies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ambassadors-of-freedom-palestines-resistance-babies http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ambassadors-of-freedom-palestines-resistance-babies/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 16:51:51 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141818 Karam and Adam, twin Palestinian babies born after their mother underwent IFV treatment using sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prison where their father has been held for the last 11 years. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Karam and Adam, twin Palestinian babies born after their mother underwent IFV treatment using sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prison where their father has been held for the last 11 years. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
GAZA CITY, Jul 31 2015 (IPS)

Thirteen-year-old Hula Khadoura sits on a large sofa in her grandfather’s home in the neighbourhood of Tuffah, Gaza City, her one-year-old twin brothers Karam and Adam on her lap. “I am so happy they arrived,” she beams, holding the babies’ feeding bottles in her hands.

There is an aura of mystery and something of the miraculous around the  twins’ births – their father, Saleh Khadoura, has spent the past 11 years in an Israeli prison and has had no physical contact with Hula’s mother, Bushra, since then.

Hula hears people refer to her brothers as ‘special babies’ but does not fully grasp what the fuss is about. She is completely unaware of the unusual obstacles her father’s sperm had to overcome to reach her mother’s eggs.“After the suffering I am put through with each visit [to her husband in an Israeli prison], with the searches and the humiliation, with this pregnancy, with Karam and Adam, I wanted to show that rules can be broken” – Bushra Abu Saafi

Freedom ambassadors

Bushra Abu Saafi, is one of around 30 Palestinian women who have conceived babies since 2013 with sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prisons in which their husbands are being held. She was only the second woman in Gaza to do this. Before her, two had tried but only one succeeded.

According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ NGO Addameer, there are currently some 5,750 Palestinian political prisoners being held in Israel. Of these, roughly 5,550 are adult males.

Women whose husbands are serving decades-long sentences do not want to see their dream of starting a family, or increasing its size, taken away by the very same authorities that took away their husbands.

Until recently, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) was highly sceptical that sperm smuggling could be happening at all. Spokesperson Sivan Weizman told the press that tight security made it very unlikely. Recently, though, they have acknowledged that it may be an issue.

The Palestinian National Authority and Hamas, on the other hand, have never shown any doubt and have financially supported women wishing to try this very unconventional method of conceiving.

In May in Gaza, the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners even organised a collective birthday party for the little ‘ambassadors of freedom’, as babies born this way are often called.

Families apart

“It was my husband who suggested we try ‘in vitro fertilisation’ (IVF) treatment with his smuggled sperm,” Bushra Abu Saafi told IPS from her father’s apartment, where she lives with her five children.

The majority of Palestinian households have at least one relative in an Israeli prison. For a people under occupation, political prisoners become part of the collective identity, they are adopted by Palestinians as long lost brothers, sisters, mothers or fathers and are celebrated at Prisoners’ Day marches and recurring demonstrations.

In the private sphere, the prisoners continue to be individuals and occupy prominent places in the home. Their handicrafts are displayed with pride, their photos adorn each room and the vacuum they have left is still palpable.

A flowery picture frame with a photo of her smiling husband Saleh in his twenties sits on a side table in Bushra’s living room. He was arrested at the age of 23, accused of being part of the Islamic Jihad. They had been married for five years and only two of their children have had the privilege of spending some time with him as a family.

When Saleh was imprisoned, Bushra was pregnant with Ahmed. “It hasn’t been easy these past 11 years,” she told IPS.  “We miss him terribly, my son Ahmad especially. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘father’. He tells me ‘when I grow up I want to be like grandad’.”

Smuggling new life out of jail

Entering a fourth pregnancy was something Bushra did not take lightly and her father worried about the extra pressure. “When Saleh proposed this to me from prison, I was sceptical,” she confessed. “My family and I worried about what people would say. Imagine, pregnant with a husband in jail!”

She need not have worried. The advice she was given, like other women undergoing IVF in this way, was to tell everyone in her family and village that her husband’s sperm had been brought out and would be used for insemination. Since then, local media stations have helped spread the story and both Palestinian society and local religious authorities have been highly supportive.

“In the end, my father saw that it was my desire to try for another baby and eventually supported my choice,” Bushra said. It took two months and many tests before she could be ready for the operation.

Although the women do not wish to discuss how the sperm is smuggled past Israeli security and out of prison, it is acknowledged that it may be slipped into the clothes of  unaware children.

While wives talk to imprisoned husbands through glass and over a phone, children are the only ones allowed physical contact at the end of a visit. The clinics performing the operation,  both in Gaza and in the West Bank, report that sperm has arrived in a variety of improvised containers, from sweet wrappers to eye drop bottles.

“The preparation, the waiting, it was all very tough,” said Bushra. “But when the news came that I was pregnant, the pressure was off and we finally celebrated.” The double surprise came later, when she was told that twins were expected.

She describes the steps leading to this pregnancy as being about resistance and overcoming challenges. “After the suffering I am put through with each visit, with the searches and the humiliation, with this pregnancy, with Karam and Adam, I wanted to show that rules can be broken.”

Fertility and non-violent resistance

According to Liv Hansson, a Danish public health specialist who has researched fertility in Palestine, the practice of sperm smuggling only makes associations between fertility and resistance easier to draw.

“In a context such as Palestine, where women are well educated and child mortality is low, a lower fertility rate would be expected according to classic demography,” Hansson told IPS. The fertility rate of 4.1 registered in Palestine between 2011 and 2013, then, must be seen in the light of Israel’s ongoing occupation.

Indeed, fertility has long been considered by Palestinians as part of resistance efforts against Israel’s military occupation. For its part, Israel views high fertility rates in the West Bank and Gaza, and in majority Palestinian areas inside Israel, as a very real threat. Talk of the ‘demographic time-bomb’ – the time when Palestinians will outnumber Jewish Israelis – is very common.

“Former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat famously stated that ‘the wombs of Palestinian women are the greatest weapon of Palestine’,” Hansson told IPS. “Fertility is seen as something of interest not only to the family but to the community, society at large and to politicians too.”

The wait

Bushra and her five children will have to wait three more years to be reunited as a family with Saleh. Since 2012, following the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Shalit, Israel’s Prison Service has been slowly reinstating visiting rights for family and prisoners from Gaza.

Ahmed saw his father two years ago for the first time, Hula six months ago and for the twins, the only meeting so far has been through the photograph on the side table, portraying Saleh as a young man eager to live life.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Women, Peace and Security Agenda Still Hitting Glass Ceilinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 14:31:24 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141798 Liberian National Police Officer Lois Dolo provides security at the third annual commemoration of the Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Liberia. The event was themed “Women Demand Access to Justice”. Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter

Liberian National Police Officer Lois Dolo provides security at the third annual commemoration of the Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Liberia. The event was themed “Women Demand Access to Justice”. Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

This October will mark the 15th anniversary of the adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325. The landmark resolution on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) recognises not only the disproportionate impact armed conflict has on women, but also the lack of women’s involvement in conflict resolution and peace-making.

It calls for the full and equal participation of women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction and urges member states to incorporate a gender perspective in all areas of peace-building and to take measures to protect women from sexual violence in armed conflict.The key challenges in protecting women and children in emergencies, and ensuring women are able to participate in these processes, is not related to knowing what needs to happen. We need a commitment to do it." -- Marcy Hersh

Since its passage, 1325 has been followed by six additional resolutions (1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106 and 2122).

But despite all these commitments on paper, actual implementation of the WPS agenda in the real world continues to lag, according to humanitarian workers and activists.

Data by the U.N. and NATO show that women and girls continue to be disproportionately affected by armed conflict.

Before the Second World War, combatants made up 90 percent of casualties in wars. Today most casualties are civilians, especially women and children. Hence, as formulated in a 2013 NATO review, whereas men wage the war, it is mostly women and children who suffer from it.

Kang Kyung-wha Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who spoke at a recent lecture series on WPS, cited as example the situation of women and girls on the border between Nigeria and Niger, where the average girl is married by 14 and has two children by age 18.

Secondary education for girls is almost non-existent in this area and risks of violence, sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking are particularly high, she said.

“Thus marginalised and disempowered, [these women and girls] are unlikely to play any part in building stable communities and participate in the socio-economic development of their societies and countries,” Kang said.

“Despite 1325 and the successor resolutions…women and girls continue to be routinely excluded from decision-making processes in humanitarian responses as well as in peace-negotiations and peace-building initiatives.”

High expectations are placed on the World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled to take place in May 2016 in Istanbul. Activists hope that the summit will help turn the numerous rhetorical commitments into concrete actions.

Marcy Hersh, Senior Advocacy Officer at Women’s Refugee Commission, who also spoke on the panel, told IPS: “Women and girls are gravely implicated in peace and security issues around the world, and therefore, they must be a part of the processes that will lead to their protection.”

“The key challenges in protecting women and children in emergencies, and ensuring women are able to participate in these processes, is not related to knowing what needs to happen…We need a commitment to do it. We need to see leadership and accountability in the international community for these issues.”

“If humanitarian leadership, through whatever mechanisms, can finally collectively step up to the plate and provoke the behavioral change necessary to ensure humanitarian action works with and for women and girls, we will have undertaken bold, transformative work.”

Another challenge in making the women, peace and security agenda a reality is linked to psychological resistance and rigid adherence to the traditional status quo. Gender-related issues tend to be handled with kid gloves due to “cultural sensitivity”, according to Kang Kyung-wha.

“But you can’t hide behind culture,” Kang said.

Also, women activists continue to face misogyny and skepticism in their communities and at the national level. Christine Ahn, co-founder of the Korea Policy Institute and former Senior Policy Analyst at the Global Fund for Women, told IPS that often enough the involvement of women in peace-keeping processes seems inconceivable to some of the men in power who hold key positions in international relations and foreign policy.

“They are calling us naive, dupes, fatuitous. Criticism is very veiled of course, we are in the 21st century. But even if it is a very subtle way in which our efforts are discounted, it is, in fact, patriarchy in its fullest form.”

Christine Ahn spoke at the second event of the lecture series at the United Nations. She is one of the 30 women who, in May 2015, participated in the Crossing of the De-Militarised Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea as part of a one-week long journey with North and South Korean women.

The project aimed at fostering civil society contacts between women in North and South Korea and promoting peace and reconciliation between the countries.

The symbolic act for peace at one of the world’s most militarised borders can be seen as a practical example of Security Council resolution 1325.

Ahn told IPS: “We will use resolution 1325 when we advocate that both of Korean women are able to meet because under each government’s national security laws they are not allowed to meet with the other – as it is considered meeting with the enemy.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Governments Playing Political Ping-Pong with China’s Uyghurshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/governments-playing-political-ping-pong-with-chinas-uyghurs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=governments-playing-political-ping-pong-with-chinas-uyghurs http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/governments-playing-political-ping-pong-with-chinas-uyghurs/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 16:07:00 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141726 Uyghurs, a minority Muslim group in China, say they have faced years of oppression under Chinese rule. Credit: Gustavo Jeronimo/CC-BY-2.0

Uyghurs, a minority Muslim group in China, say they have faced years of oppression under Chinese rule. Credit: Gustavo Jeronimo/CC-BY-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

Two reports released in quick succession by the international rights group Human Rights Watch have highlighted the plight of China’s minority Uyghur population and shed light on their continuing struggle to find a safe haven elsewhere in the region.

“The international community needs to take a firm stand to guarantee the rights of Uyghur refugees." -- Alim A. Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association
The international watchdog released a statement on Jul. 10 condemning the Thai government for returning 100 Uyghur immigrants to China, claiming that they will face persecution in country.

The Uyghurs have struggled against the control of the Chinese central government for decades, with many of its activists exiled or imprisoned.

Another HRW report released on Jul. 13 revealed the Chinese government’s restrictions on international travel for religious minorities, including the Uyghurs, for “religious study and pilgrimage.”

A fast-track passport application system made available 12 years ago excluded the Uyghurs and other minorities, the report said.

“Chinese authorities should move swiftly to dismantle this blatantly discriminatory passport system,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at HRW in the Jul. 10 statement.

“The restrictions also violate freedom of belief by denying or limiting religious minorities’ ability to participate in pilgrimages outside China,” she added.

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a press statement on Jul. 9 that condemned Thailand for returning the Uyghurs to China. The deportations have sparked protests in front of the Chinese embassy and Thailand’s honorary consulate in Turkey.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is located in western China, more than 3,000 km from the capital Beijing. Also known as East Turkestan, the region is home to ethnic groups that have Turkish descent and speak Turkic languages.

According to the Uyghur American Association, there are over 15 million Uyghurs in the region. Uyghurs are traditionally Muslims.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is located in western China, more than 3,000 km from Beijing. Also known as East Turkestan, the region is home to ethnic groups of Turkish descent that speak Turkic languages. Credit: futureatlas.com/CC-BY-2.0

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is located in western China, more than 3,000 km from Beijing. Also known as East Turkestan, the region is home to ethnic groups of Turkish descent that speak Turkic languages. Credit: futureatlas.com/CC-BY-2.0

Alim A. Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association based in Washington, D.C., said in a statement that the forcible return of Uyghur refugees was a violation of their safety.

“The international community needs to take a firm stand to guarantee the rights of Uyghur refugees,” he said. “As more Uyghurs flee China’s heavy-handed repression in East Turkestan, and Beijing continues to pressure for their return, concerned governments and multilateral agencies must not permit China to disregard international human rights norms.”

In addition to the restrictions imposed on travel for pilgrimage activities, Uyghurs in China are also reported to face various restrictions that prohibit them from observing the religious fast during the holy month of Ramadan, one of the important months for Islamic countries and communities around the world.

According to the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress and several news sites, local Chinese governmental departments published statements on the websites warning students, state employees and party members from fasting, attending religious activities or entering mosques.

The Xinjiang legislature passed a regulation in January that banned the wearing of the burqa, a headscarf donned by Muslim women.

“This is not a new restriction,” Greg Fay, project manager at the Washington, D.C. based Uyghur Human Rights Association, told IPS. “The restrictions have been getting stricter in the past two years.”

Uyghurs have had an uneasy relationship with Beijing ever since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

A spate of violent attacks in the past year resulted in the government’s vow to “fight against separatism, religious extremism and terrorism” during a yearlong, anti-terror crackdown. Arrests doubled in 2014 since the government announced the crackdown, amounting to 27,164 cases.

In March 2014, a knife attack in Kunming, 2,677 km from Beijing, left 30 people dead. Two months later, a bomb was set off in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, which killed 31 people. In July, an attack on police stations, government offices and vehicles in Xinjiang left at least 50 people dead.

Officials blamed Xinjiang separatists for the attacks. Earlier in 2009, a riot in Urumqi killed nearly 140 people and the government shut off Internet access in the province for months.

“My interpretation of what is happening now is the government has put out a policy of opposing extremism,” Sean Roberts, associate professor at George Washington University, told IPS in an interview. “I think for a lot of local level officials they are just identifying Islam as extremism.”

Seytoff said in an opinion piece in Al Jazeera published in June 2014 that even though the Uyghurs occupy an autonomous region, most Han officials, the majority ethnic group in China, still hold political and economic power in the region.

“China ruthlessly suppressed any sign of Uyghur unrest and transferred millions of loyal Chinese settlers into East Turkestan, providing them with jobs, housing, bank loans and economic opportunities denied to Uyghurs,” he said.

“The Uyghur population in East Turkestan, which was nearly 90 percent [of the area’s total population] in 1949, is now only 45 percent, while the Chinese population grew disproportionately due to state-sponsored mass settlement from around six percent in 1953 to the current 40 percent.”

Protestors wave the Uyghur flag outside the White House, demanding rights for the minority population in China. Credit: Malcolm Brown/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Protestors wave the Uyghur flag outside the White House, demanding rights for the minority population in China. Credit: Malcolm Brown/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Many Uyghurs attempt to flee persecution to Turkey and neighboring Asian countries. Turkey has hosted over 1,000 Uyghur refugees since 1949, but neighboring countries such as Cambodia and Thailand have returned a number of Uyghurs to China.

A New York Times article in Dec. 2009 revealed that Cambodia returned 20 Uyghurs who applied for asylum in 2009—and signed an economic cooperation deal with China two days later.

The Chinese deny any form of oppression of the Uyghurs and insist that Cambodia’s act of repatriation was legal.

Other Chinese state news agencies have claimed that, far from prohibiting the celebration of Ramadan, the government has supported locals in their worship by proving food and ensuring peace.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Despite ISIS Ascendancy, U.S. Public Wary of Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/despite-isis-ascendancy-u-s-public-wary-of-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-isis-ascendancy-u-s-public-wary-of-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/despite-isis-ascendancy-u-s-public-wary-of-war/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 13:59:52 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141722 Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

As the Islamic State, known variously as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, consolidates its hold over parts of Iraq and Syria to the degree that it has in many ways become a functioning state, the U.S. public remains divided over any intervention involving ground troops, a new survey shows.

Sixty-three percent said they approve of the U.S. military campaign against ISIS, with just 26 percent disapproving of the campaign, an increase since President Barack Obama’s first ordered airstrikes against militants in Iraq in August 2014 (when 54 percent approved).

However, only 30 percent said the U.S. military campaign against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria is going very well or fairly well, according to the poll conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Forty-nine percent said they would oppose the deployment of ground forces against Islamic militants, with 44 percent in favour.

Although the recent murder of five U.S. service members in Chattanooga, Tennessee was dubbed an “ISIS-inspired attack” by the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, it remains unclear what, if any, connections the gunman may have had to terror groups or what his motivation was.

But U.S. officials say they are worried about the threat of ISIS on U.S. soil. Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey claimed the Islamic State now eclipses al Qaeda, and has influenced a significant but unknown number of Americans through a year-long campaign on social media urging Muslims who can’t travel to the Middle East to “kill where you are.”

“It is a very different model,” Comey said. “By virtue of that model it is currently the threat we are worried about in the homeland most of all. ISIL is buzzing on your hip. That message is being pushed all day long, and if you wanna talk to a terrorist, they’re right there on Twitter, direct-messaging for you to communicate with.”

An estimated 3,400 Westerners have traveled overseas to join ISIS in its quest to establish an Islamist state in Iraq and Syria, according to counterterrorism officials. At least 200 Americans have gone or attempted to travel to Syria, although no one knows how many sympathisers they may have within the United States.

“There are thousands of messages being put out into the ethersphere and they’re just hoping that they land on an individual who’s susceptible to that type of terrorist propaganda,” John Carlin, the assistant attorney general heading the Justice Department’s national-security division, told CNN month.

But according to analyst Emile Nakhleh, writing for IPS last September, “ISIS is primarily a threat to Arab countries, not to the United States and other Western countries.”

“Some Bush-era neo-cons and Republican hawks in the Senate who are clamouring for U.S. military intervention in Syria seem to have forgotten the lessons they should have learned from their disastrous invasion of Iraq over a decade ago. Military action cannot save a society when it’s regressing on a warped trajectory of the Divine – ISIS’ proclaimed goal,” he wrote.

“As long as Arab governments are repressive, illegitimate, sectarian, and incompetent, they will be unable to halt the ISIS offensive. In fact, many of these regimes have themselves to blame for the appeal of ISIS. They have cynically exploited religious sectarianism to stay in power.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Obama Offers Help to Track Billions in Stolen Nigerian Assetshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/obama-offers-help-to-track-billions-in-stolen-nigerian-assets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-offers-help-to-track-billions-in-stolen-nigerian-assets http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/obama-offers-help-to-track-billions-in-stolen-nigerian-assets/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 22:38:07 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141709 By a Global Information Network correspondent
WASHINGTON, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

With a dangerous insurgency spreading within his borders, the visit to Washington this week by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was certainly going to touch on increased military support against Boko Haram.

But it also encompassed a discussion of stolen assets – namely billions of dollars siphoned away by bankers, ministers, and in some cases newly-minted millionaires.

According to the new president, about 150 billion dollars has been stolen in the past decade and held in foreign bank accounts by former corrupt officials. It could have been used on education and healthcare, among other spheres of national life, he said.

Adetolunbo Mumuni, director of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), praised the agenda: “We welcome the commitment by President Obama to assist the Buhari government in tracking down billions of dollars stolen from the country. However, greater efforts are required by the Obama government to follow through its commitment if it is to secure a measure of justice for Nigerian victims of corruption and money laundering.”

The Nigeria-based organisation asked President Obama to “establish a Presidential Advisory Committee and facilitate a Congressional Hearing on stolen assets from Nigeria. These initiatives would be tremendously important in bringing renewed attention to repatriation of stolen assets to Nigeria.”

“Corruption, money laundering and systematic violations of human rights go hand in hand and that is why President Obama should do everything within his power to get to the bottom of the stolen assets from Nigeria kept in the US,” the group said.

According to SERAP, “Recovering stolen assets from the US is a lingering issue that requires justice and fairness especially given the complicity of US banks and other institutions in corruption and money laundering in Nigeria, and the fact that stolen assets have contributed to the growth of US economy. “

Johnnie Carson, a former assistant secretary of state, concurred in the view that Washington should not let security issues overshadow the need for closer trade and investment ties.

“Nigeria is the most important country in Africa,” said Carson, currently an adviser to the U.S. Institute of Peace. Now more than ever, “the relationship with Nigeria should not rest essentially on a security and military-to-military relationship,” he said.

Still, to demonstrate his resolve at purging incompetence in the military, President Buhari last week dismissed his entire military top brass, even as militants launched deadly attacks in Nigeria’s remote northeast and in Cameroon.

This was discussed at a breakfast meeting Monday with Vice President Joe Biden where they compared notes on the terror war. “Victory cannot come from the military option alone,” Biden told the Nigerian leader.

After the high-level meetings with Obama and Biden, Buhari is scheduled to meet with World Bank executives, members of the U.S. Congress and West African diplomats. He is also scheduled to hold a town hall meeting with Nigerians in the DC area.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Remains Barred from Visiting U.S. Prisons Amid Abuse Chargeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-remains-barred-from-visiting-u-s-prisons-amid-abuse-charges/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-remains-barred-from-visiting-u-s-prisons-amid-abuse-charges http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-remains-barred-from-visiting-u-s-prisons-amid-abuse-charges/#comments Wed, 22 Jul 2015 20:23:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141705 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

When U.S. President Barack Obama visited the El Reno Correctional Facility in Oklahoma last week to check on living conditions of prisoners incarcerated there, no one in authority could prevent him from visiting the prison.

There is an extensive body of research on long-term solitary confinement and its damaging effects. Credit: Bigstock

There is an extensive body of research on long-term solitary confinement and its damaging effects. Credit: Bigstock

Obama, the first sitting president to visit a federal penitentiary, said “in too many places, black boys and black men, and Latino boys and Latino men experience being treated different under the law.”

The visit itself was described as “unprecedented” and “historic.”

But the United Nations has not been as lucky as the U.S. president was. Several U.N. officials, armed with mandates from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, have been barred from U.S. penitentiaries which are routinely accused of being steeped in a culture of violence.

Back in 1998, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, was barred from visiting three Michigan prisons to probe sexual misconduct against women prisoners.

Although she had made extensive preparations to interview inmates, Michigan Governor John Engler barred Coomaraswamy on the eve of her proposed visit.

The late Senator Jesse Helms, former chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blocked a proposed prison visit by Bacre Waly Ndiaye, head of the U.N. Human Rights Office in New York, who was planning to observe living conditions in some of the U.S. prisons.

Obama’s visit has prompted the United Nations to give another shot at seeking permission to visit the U.S. prison system.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, and the Chairperson of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Seong-Phil Hong, have jointly called on the U.S. government to facilitate their requests for an official visit to U.S. prisons to advance criminal justice reform.“AI believes this external scrutiny is particularly important in the case of 'super-maximum' security facilities where prisoners are isolated within an already closed environment." -- Tessa Murphy of Amnesty International

“I look forward to working with the U.S. Department of Justice on the special study commissioned by the President on the need to regulate solitary confinement, which affects 80,000 inmates in the United States, in most cases for periods of months and years,” Méndez said early this week.

“The practice of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement inflicts pain and suffering of a psychological nature, which is strictly prohibited by the Convention Against Torture,” he said.

“Reform along such lines will have considerable impact not only in the United States but in many countries around the world,” he noted.

Hong, who leads the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, said a visit to federal and state institutions “will be an excellent opportunity to discuss with authorities the ‘Basic Principles and Guidelines on the right to anyone deprived of their liberty to bring proceedings before a court’, and to promote its use by the civil society.”

The Working Group has already drafted a set of Principles and Guidelines that “will help establish effective mechanisms to ensure judicial oversight over all situations of deprivation of liberty.”

The document will be considered by the Human Rights Council in September.

According to published reports, there have been charges of unhealthy living conditions and physical beatings, specifically against minorities, including African-Americans and Latin Americans, in the U.S. jail system.

Last month, the administration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District announced far reaching reforms, including the proposed appointment of a Federal Monitor to probe continued prisoner abuses in Riker’s Island, described as the second largest jail system in the United States.

Other measures include restrictions on the use of force by prison guards and the installation of surveillance cameras.

Asked whether U.N. Special Rapporteurs (UNSRs) have previously been permitted into U.S. prisons, Tessa Murphy at Amnesty International (AI), told IPS that Juan Mendez hasn’t visited any U.S. supermaximum facility prisons in his role as UNSR.

He has, however, visited Pelican Bay in California as an expert witness in ongoing litigation there.

She also said AI has called on the U.S. State Department to extend an invite repeatedly requested by the UNSR to visit the United States to examine the use of solitary confinement in federal and state facilities, including through on-site visits.

“AI believes this external scrutiny is particularly important in the case of ‘super-maximum’ security facilities where prisoners are isolated within an already closed environment. We continue to call for this access to be provided.”

She pointed out that AI has released several reports calling for access – based on an extensive body of work on long-term solitary confinement and its damaging effects.

Antonio M. Ginatta, Advocacy Director, U.S. Programme at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS it is a momentous time in the United States as it re-examines and moves to reform its criminal justice system.

President Obama himself just spoke to the need for this reform, and specifically highlighted the harms caused by solitary confinement.

“Yet the State Department continues to fail to allow the Special Rapporteur on torture access to U.S. confinement facilities to review their use of solitary confinement. It’s as if they missed the President’s speech,” he said.

Ginatta said an invitation to the Special Rapporteur is years overdue.

“In light of the president’s speech and his visit to the El Reno prison, the U.S. Department of State should change course and immediately extend an unrestricted invitation to Special Rapporteur Mendez and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention,” he declared.

After his prison visit, Obama said: “My goal is that we start seeing some improvements at the federal level and that we’re then able to see states across the country pick up the baton, and there are already some states that leading the way in both sentencing reform as well as prison reform and make sure that we’re seeing what works and build off that.”

Providing details of its meetings with U.S. State Department officials, Amnesty International told IPS that in February it met with Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and Director William Mozdzierz in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs to emphasise the importance of facilitating external scrutiny by the SRT as well as to hand over a petition to the State Department (with over 20,000 signatures, on the same issue.)

AI said SRT Mendez has provided them with a list of prisons he wishes to visit, including in Louisiana, California, Arizona, Pennsylvania, New York, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Secretary Mozdzierz, stressed to AI that the State Department has a strong national interest in ensuring that the United States lives up to international treaty obligations.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby emphasised how committed the U.S. government is in providing access for the SRT.

However, Secretary Mozdzierz emphasised that access to state prisons is dependent on the individual governors and state Attorney Generals being amenable, and there are no mechanisms by which the State Department can ensure a positive response.

He also made it clear that he would stress to state authorities the importance of facilitating the SRT’s requests. Both Directors acknowledged that BOP ADX prison in Colorado was ‘unavailable’ to SRT Mendez.

SRT Mendez, who met with AI prior to the meetings above, asked AI to seek an explanation for the reason that he had been told in correspondence with State Department that federal prisons were “unavailable” to him.

Secretary Mozdzierz confirmed that the reason federal prisons were “unavailable” to the SRT was because of ongoing litigation in ADX; Cunningham V BOP, which has been in a structured settlement process since last year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Ex-Leader of Chad Faces African-Led Court After Years on the Runhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ex-leader-of-chad-faces-african-led-court-after-years-on-the-run/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ex-leader-of-chad-faces-african-led-court-after-years-on-the-run http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ex-leader-of-chad-faces-african-led-court-after-years-on-the-run/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 14:46:27 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141681 A scene from the mission of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) to Chad to inquire into crimes committed by the regime of Hissène Habré in 2001. Credit: FIDH/cc by 2.0

A scene from the mission of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) to Chad to inquire into crimes committed by the regime of Hissène Habré in 2001. Credit: FIDH/cc by 2.0

By a Global Information Network correspondent
DAKAR, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

After years awaiting justice by a court of law, Chadian citizens packed the Palais de Justice in Dakar, Senegal, to catch a glimpse of Hissene Habre, president of the central African nation from 1982-1990 during which time his iron fist rule took between 1,200 and 40,000 lives, according to evidence compiled by Chadian and international rights groups.

Members of victims’ groups, whose efforts to bring Habre to court spanned over two decades, now strained to view this now slight figure dressed in white robes and a traditional white turban to cover most of his face.

The 72-year-old former strongman appeared unrepentant. As the proceedings began, he shouted “Down with imperialism! [The trial] is a farce by rotten Senegalese politicians. African traitors. Valet of America,” setting off a struggle between his supporters and alleged victims. At least half a dozen guards rushed to remove him. A small group of supporters was also removed.

When Mr. Habre refused to return to the courtroom, presiding judge Gberdao Gustave Kam warned he would be forced to attend on Tuesday. Over 100 victims are due to testify at the trial.

“We want to show the Chadian people, and why not all Africans, that no, you cannot govern in terror and criminality,” Souleyman Guengueng, 66, a former accountant who spent more than two years in Habre’s prison, said to Diadie Ba, a Reuters journalist.

“After 25 years, to see him again – it was a very emotional experience,” said Clément Abaifouta, president of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of Hissène Habré, who claims he was forced to dig graves for many of his fellow inmates. “But now I see that I am in the sun and he is in the shade. For us, the victims, this has been an important occasion.“

The tribunal is supported by the African Union but is part of Senegal’s justice system, making it the first time in modern history that one country’s domestic courts have prosecuted the former leader of another country on rights charges.

A successful trial would also make the case that African countries could try their own, rather than have the Western-led International Criminal Court (ICC) be the venue for trials of Africans.

The case against Habre turns on whether he personally ordered the killing and torture of political opponents and ethnic rivals. In 1992, the Chadian Truth Commission accused Habré’s government of up to 40,000 political murders, mostly by his intelligence police, the Documentation and Security Directorate. (DDS)

Human Rights Watch in 2001 unearthed thousands of documents in the abandoned DDS headquarters updating Habre on the status of detainees. A court handwriting expert concluded that margin notes on one document were Habre’s.

“Rarely do we find so much evidence of crimes,” said Reed Brody of HRW. “And these match the testimonies of the victims, day for day, word for word.”

“This is the end of a nightmare,” said Jacqueline Moudeina, the lead lawyer for the victims. “The fact that he is here and listens to victims speak of all the atrocities they suffered is already a great victory.”

Habré denies being responsible for hundreds of deaths.

The trial is expected to last several months.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Museums Taking Stand for Human Rights, Rejecting ‘Neutrality’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/museums-taking-stand-for-human-rights-rejecting-neutrality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=museums-taking-stand-for-human-rights-rejecting-neutrality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/museums-taking-stand-for-human-rights-rejecting-neutrality/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 09:54:39 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141672 A visitor looking at a panel at the International Slavery  Museum in Liverpool, England. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

A visitor looking at a panel at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
LIVERPOOL, England, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

An exhibition on modern-day slavery at the International Slavery Museum in this northern English town is just one example of a museum choosing to focus on human rights, and being “upfront” about it.

“Social justice just doesn’t happen by itself; it’s about activism and people willing to take risks,” says Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum (ISM).

The institution looks at aspects of both historical and contemporary slavery, while being an “international hub for resources on human rights issues”.

It is a member of the Liverpool-based Social Justice Alliance for Museums (SJAM), formed in 2013 and now comprising more than 80 museums worldwide, and it coordinated the founding of the Federation of International Human Rights Museums (FIHRM) in 2010.

Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum. Credit: National Museums Liverpool

Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum. Credit: National Museums Liverpool

The aim of FIHRM is to encourage museums which “engage with sensitive and controversial human rights themes” to work together and share “new thinking and initiatives in a supportive environment”. Both organisations reflect the way that museums are changing, said Fleming.

“Museums are not dispassionate agents,” he told IPS. “They have a role in safeguarding memory. We have to look at the role of museums and see how they can transform lives.”

The International Slavery Museum’s current exhibition, titled “Broken Lives” and running until April 2016, focuses on the victims of global modern-day slavery – half of whom are said to be in India, and most of whom are Dalits, or people formerly known as “untouchables”.

The display “provides a window into the experiences of Dalits and others who are being exploited and abused through modern slavery in India”, say the curators.

“Dalits still experience marginalisation and prejudice, live in extreme poverty and are vulnerable to human trafficking and bonded labour,” they add.

Presented in partnership with the Dalit Freedom Network, the exhibition uses photographs, film, personal testimony and other means to show “stories of hardship” that include sexual servitude and child bondage. It also profiles the activists working to mend “broken lives”.“Museums [in Liverpool, Nantes, Guadeloupe and Bordeaux ] hope that they can play a role in global citizenship, educating the public and encouraging visitors to leave with a different mind-set – about respect for human rights, social justice, diversity, equality, and sustainability”

The display occupies a temporary exposition space at the museum, which has a permanent section devoted to the atrocities of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the legacy of racism.

Along with the Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery in the French city of Nantes and the recently opened Mémorial ACTe in Guadeloupe, the Liverpool museum is one of too few national institutions focused on raising awareness about slavery, observers say.

But it has provided a “vital source of inspiration” to permanent exhibitions on the slave trade in places such as Bordeaux, southwest France, according to the city’s mayor Alain Juppé. Here, the Musée d’Aquitaine hosts a comprehensive division called ‘Bordeaux, Trans-Atlantic Trading and Slavery’ – with detailed, unequivocal information.

These museums hope that they can play a role in global citizenship, educating the public and encouraging visitors to leave with a different mind-set – about respect for human rights, social justice, diversity, equality, and sustainability.

“We try to overtly encourage the public to get involved in the fight for human rights,” Fleming told IPS in an interview. “We’ve often said at the Slavery Museum that we want people to go away fired up with the desire to fight racism.

“You can’t dictate to people what they’re going to think or how they’re going to respond and react,” he continued. “But you can create an atmosphere, and the atmosphere at the Slavery Museum is clearly anti-racist. We hope people will leave thinking: I didn’t know all those terrible things had happened and I’m leaving converted.”

Despite Liverpool’s undeniable history as a major slaving port in the 18th century, not everyone will be affected in the same way, however. There have been swastikas painted on the walls of the museum in the past, as bigots reject the institution’s aims.

“Some people come full of knowledge and full of attitude already, and I don’t imagine that we affect these people. But we’re looking for people in the middle, who might not have thought about this,” Fleming said.

A poster sign for the ‘Broken Lives’ exhibition under way at the International Slavery  Museum in Liverpool. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

A poster sign for the ‘Broken Lives’ exhibition under way at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

He described a visit to the museum by a group of English schoolchildren who initially did not comprehend photographs depicting African youngsters whose hands had been cut off by colonialists.

When they were given explanations about the images, the schoolchildren “switched on to the idea that people can behave abominably, based on nothing but ethnicity,” he said.

Fleming visits social justice exhibitions around the world and gives information about the museum’s work, he said. As a keynote speaker, he recently delivered an address about the role of museums at a conference in Liverpool titled ‘Mobilising Memory: Creating African Atlantic Identities’.

The meeting – organised by the Collegium for African American Research (CAAR) and a new UK-based body called the Institute for Black Atlantic Research – took place at Liverpool Hope University at the end of June.

It began a few days after a white gunman killed nine people inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in the U.S. state of South Carolina.

The murders, among numerous incidents of brutality against African Americans over the past year, sparked a sense of urgency at the conference as well as heightened the discussion about activism – and especially the part that writers, artists and scholars play in preserving and “activating” memory in the struggle for social justice and human rights.

“Artists, and by extension museums, have what some people have called a ‘burden of representation’, and they have to deal with that,” said James Smalls, a professor of art history and museum studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).

“Many times, artists automatically are expected to speak on behalf of their ethnic group or community, and some have chosen to embrace that while others try to be exempt,” he added.

Claire Garcia, a professor at Colorado College, said that for a number of academics “there is no necessary link between scholarship and activism” in what are considered scholarly fields.

Such thinkers make the point that scholarship should be “theoretical” and “universal,” and not political or focused on “the specific plights of one group,” she said. However, this standpoint – “when it is disconnected from the embattled humanity” of some ethnic groups – can create further problems.

The concept of museums standing for “social justice” is controversial as well because the issue is seen differently in various parts of the world. The line between “objectifying and educating” also gives cause for debate.

Fleming said that National Museums Liverpool, for example, would not have put on the contentious show “Exhibit B” – which featured live Black performers in a “human zoo” installation; the work was apparently aimed at condemning racism and slavery but instead drew protests in London, Paris and other cities in 2014.

“Personally I loathe all that stuff, so my vote would be ‘no’ to anything similar,” Fleming told IPS. “And that’s not because it’s controversial and difficult but because it’s degrading and humiliating. There are all sorts of issues with it, and I’ve thought about that quite a lot.”

He and other scholars say that they are deeply conscious of who is doing the “story-telling” of history, and this is an issue that also affects museums.

Several participants at the CAAR conference criticised certain displays at the International Slavery Museum, wondering about the intended audience, and who had selected the exhibits, for instance.

A section that showed famous individuals of African descent seemed superficial in its glossy presentation of people such as American talk-show host Oprah Winfrey and well-known athletes and entertainers.

Fleming said that museums often face disapproval for both going too far and not going “far enough”. But taking a disinterested stand does not seem to be the answer, because “the world is full of ‘faux-neutral’ museums”, he said.

The most relevant and interesting museums can be those that have a “moral compass”, but they need help as they can “do very little by themselves,” Fleming told IPS. The institutions that he directs often work with non-governmental organisations that bring their own expertise and point of view to the exhibitions, he explained.

Apart from slavery, individual museums around the world have focused on the Holocaust, on apartheid, on genocide in countries such as Cambodia, and on the atrocities committed during dictatorships in regions such as Latin America.

“Some countries don’t want museums to change,” said Fleming. “But in Liverpool, we’re not just there for tourism.”

Edited by Phil Harris

The writer can be followed on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale   

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Young Hondurans Lead Unprecedented Anti-Corruption Movementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/young-hondurans-head-unprecedented-anti-corruption-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-hondurans-head-unprecedented-anti-corruption-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/young-hondurans-head-unprecedented-anti-corruption-movement/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 07:02:43 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141669 The rain has not stopped the ever-growing weekly torch marches organised by the Outraged Opposition citizen movement in the capital of Honduras and 50 other cities around the country. The peaceful protests are demanding the creation of an International Commission Against Impunity, to combat corruption and strengthen democracy. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The rain has not stopped the ever-growing weekly torch marches organised by the Outraged Opposition citizen movement in the capital of Honduras and 50 other cities around the country. The peaceful protests are demanding the creation of an International Commission Against Impunity, to combat corruption and strengthen democracy. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
TEGUCIGALPA, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

A Honduran spring is happening, led by young people mobilising over the social networks, who are flooding the streets with weekly torch marches against corruption and impunity.

Since late May, the peaceful movement of young people who declare themselves “indignados” or outraged has broken down the media’s resistance to cover what is happening, and has brought hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets in Tegucigalpa and 50 other cities around the country.

The torch marches are demanding the creation of an international commission to fight corruption and impunity, purge this Central American country’s institutions, and strengthen democracy.

The Oposición Indignada or Outraged Opposition citizen movement is largely made up of middle-class young people upset over the embezzlement of 200 to 300 million dollars in the country’s social security institute (IHSS).“But later, as if by some miracle, everything changed. And now every Friday thousands of us come out together with our torches, peacefully, to call for justice and an end to impunity.” -- Gabriela Blen

According to the investigations, some of the money was used to finance the right-wing National Party (PN), which has governed the country since 2010. The scandal also involved the purchase of equipment at marked-up prices, and of expired medications.

The IHSS scandal is the biggest case of corruption in Honduras in half a century and has caused widespread indignation due to the consequences it has had for the health of Hondurans, who already suffer from the scarcity of medicines in the country’s network of public hospitals.

The fraud and graft in the institution that provides social security and healthcare to both public and prívate-sector employees has severely shaken the government of Juan Orlando Hernández, whose four-year term began in January 2014.

The president ordered the investigations. But he never imagined that the straw that would break the camel’s back would be the use of healthcare funds to finance the campaign that led to his election.

So far, 10 checks totalling 147,000 dollars that went towards his party’s campaign have surfaced. But that figure could increase, if the investigation digs deeply enough, experts say.

Hernández says the party will give the money back, and denies any involvement.

The dozen or so people prosecuted in connection with the scandal include former deputy ministers of health, a former IHSS director and an influential businessman. But the investigators say the list will grow and that powerful governing party figures will soon be implicated.

“What made us come together was the embezzlement, and knowing cases of friends whose relatives died in the social security institute because of the shortage of medications,” Gabriela Blen, a young activist who is one of the founders of Oposición Indignada, told IPS.

“On the social networks we started commenting that young people can’t be so indifferent, and the idea of the torch marches emerged,” she said.

In the last 13 months, the organisation – the Latin American branch of the New York-based Covenant House – documented the murders of 1,076 people between the ages of 13 and 27.

Blen, 27, said that “in the beginning there were just a few of us, only 50 or 100 people who would come out to protest in front of the social security institute building. ‘There go those crazy kids’, they would say.

This country of 8.4 million people is one of the poorest in Latin America: 60 percent of households are poor and 40 percent extremely poor, according to official statistics.

Honduras is also one of the most corrupt countries in the region, along with Venezuela, Paraguay and Nicaragua, according to Transparency international, the global anti-corruption watchdog.

And Honduras is not only plagued by corruption and impunity, but by violence. The homicide rate, 68 per 100,000 population in 2014 according to the Autonomous National University’s Observatory of Violence, makes it one of the most violent countries in the world.

Over 60 percent of the population is young, and according to Casa Alianza, a child advocacy organisation, young people in this country are stigmatised as a result of the violence, much of which is gang-related, while policies aimed at boosting social inclusion are lacking.

“But later, as if by some miracle, everything changed,” she said. “And now every Friday thousands of us come out together with our torches, peacefully, to call for justice and an end to impunity.”

Blen says Honduras has woken up.

Every Friday in Tegucigalpa, and on Saturday or Sunday in another 50 cities, hundreds of thousands of “indignados” or angry, outraged protesters pour onto the streets to demand the creation of an International Commission Against Impunity (CICIH), like the one operating in Guatemala since 2007.

The media, which initially kept silent about the movement, is now covering it, although still in a marginal fashion or to discredit it.

But society is sympathetic towards Oposición Indignada, which has also won recognition from the United Nations and the U.S. embassy.

Members of the movement have met with representatives of the U.N. and the U.S. embassy to ask for support for their demand for the installation of the CICIH.

Eugenio Sosa, an expert on social movements, told IPS that Oposición Indignada has the characteristics of a 21st century social movement.

“These are citizen movements without the classic rigid, hierarchical organisational structure, but with horizontal, fluid chains of command instead. That is why this has gone beyond the country’s political, trade union and social leaderships,” he said.

The sociologist said these movements “emerge around issues, and in this case it’s corruption, particularly in the social security institute. It’s a middle-class movement representing a new generation which is challenging the current political class.”

“Honduras is at an interesting historical juncture,” he said.

The government has ignored the protesters’ demands and has presented its own comprehensive proposal to fight impunity and corruption, without including the creation of the international commission the movement is calling for.

The demonstrators, meanwhile, reject the government’s plan.

Hernández called for a national dialogue but without including the political opposition or the “indignados” movement. Alghough the president said the dialogue would be “inclusive and without preconditions,” only traditional actors from some 30 sectors on good terms with the governing party have been invited so far.

The president also sought support from the U.N. and the Organisation of American States (OAS) to facilitate the dialogue.

The U.N. responded by sending a fact-finding mission which is to issue a report in a few weeks, and the OAS agreed to mediate talks but has not yet appointed facilitators.

During a visit to Honduras on Jul. 8, U.S. State Department special adviser Thomas Shannon called the torch marches a genuine expression of democracy and urged the government to “listen to the people.”

Shannon, who visited the country as part of a tour that also took him to El Salvador and Guatemala, said it would be smart for both the Honduran and the Salvadoran governments to consider setting up international commissions against impunity.

Former attorney general Edmundo Orellana told IPS that the situation is becoming complex because no Honduran president has faced such strong pressure from society.

But the movement – which has demanded that the president resign – says it will not engage in talks with the government until the CICIH is set up.

“And they’re right, because if people in the president’s inner circle are implicated in the social security corruption, what is needed is not talks but impeachment,” said Orellana, the country’s first attorney general, who enjoys great prestige.

Honduras, he said, has been caught up in a serious “crisis of legitimacy” since the 2009 coup that toppled then president Manuel Zelaya. And President Hernández “has lost credibility and popularity, and is really using the state for his own benefit.”

Orellana was referring to Hernández’s tight control over the three branches of the state and over the attorney general’s office itself.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Somali-Based Pirates Down But Not Outhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/somali-based-pirates-down-but-not-out/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=somali-based-pirates-down-but-not-out http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/somali-based-pirates-down-but-not-out/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 21:30:59 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141656 Exercise Milan 2014 for 17 navies of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, organised by Indian Navy, at the Andaman and Nicobar Command of the Indian Armed Forces. Credit: Indian Navy

Exercise Milan 2014 for 17 navies of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, organised by Indian Navy, at the Andaman and Nicobar Command of the Indian Armed Forces. Credit: Indian Navy

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

While the economic cost of Somali piracy has fallen and considerable progress has been made in deterring pirate operations, the latest attacks on Iranian fishing vessels by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean may be another signal that it is too early to cut back international counter-piracy efforts, according to a new report.

The report by Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP), titled “State of Maritime Piracy 2014”, underscores that due to restrictive reporting criteria, small-scale attacks on dhows and vessels are not always included in official piracy records."We still haven’t addressed the root causes of piracy. There are still ungoverned spaces on the coastline. There is still unemployed youth that might be attracted to piracy.” -- Jon Huggins

“[This] may hide a development that the reduced cost is masking – namely that Somali pirates still possess the means and capability – and are waiting for opportunities to strike,” it says.

Conditions conducive to the development of piracy in the first place, such as illegal fishing, poverty, political instability and a lack of economic opportunities, have not been properly addressed yet, according to the analysis.

As reported by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a specialised division of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the number of pirate attacks has been steadily decreasing since Somali piracy peaked with 237 attacks in 2011. While the IMB had reported a total number of 75 attacks in 2012 and only 15 attacks in 2013, the number has fallen further to 12 attacks in 2014.

Even though the actual numbers of attacks, including on dhows and foreign fishing vessels, might be higher, a significant decline in piracy over the course of the past four to five years cannot be denied.

This is due to a variety of factors. Speaking to IPS, Oceans Beyond Piracy Program Director Jon Huggins highlighted in particular the efforts of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS), which have allowed practical solutions to be developed.

Created in January 2009 pursuant to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1851, the CGPCS is an ad hoc international forum bringing together countries, organisations and industry groups to provide support to international counter-piracy efforts in Somalia.

As explained in a report by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) dedicated to lessons learnt from the CGPCS, the CGPCS is a highly unconventional if not unique international governance mechanism due to its open architecture, informality and malleable structure. It was established outside the U.N. system to “ensure that it was as inclusive, apolitical, issue-driven, result-focused, efficient and flexible as possible.”

“The setting up of the Contact Group reveals the limits of existing security institutions in tackling non-traditional threats which are neither state-based nor of a strictly military nature and that therefore require new forms of policy response.”

Commenting on the practical solutions supported by the Contact Group, Jon Huggins identified a combination of four main mechanisms that were required to suppress piracy. He stressed that each of these mechanisms acting alone would not have proven successful.

Thus, as outlined by Huggins, one major reason for the decline in piracy was the military counter-piracy operations carried out by the international community, especially EU NAVFOR ATALANTA, beginning in 2008, and NATO Operation Ocean Shield, beginning in 2009.

However, as incidents of piracy kept going up, these operations were complemented by wide-ranging protection and self-defence measures and improved watch and awareness procedures adopted by the shipping industry. As recorded in the Economic Cost of Piracy report by OBP, these measures amounted to approximately five billion dollars in 2012, which represented around 85 percent of the total amount the international community spent on fighting piracy.

The measures adopted were part of a broader industry-generated mechanism named the “Best Management Practices (BMP) for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy.”

Another major reason for the decrease in piracy, according to Huggins, was the “private maritime security” who enacted standards and procedures for the use of force by Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP) in the maritime domain.

A fourth factor was the steady enforcement of the rule of law through an expanded prison system, including regional prosecution centres in the Seychelles and Kenya and four new prisons in Somalia built under the UNODC Maritime Crime Programme (MCP).

Two weeks ago, the CGPCS convened for its 18th annual session at the United Nations in New York. Participants commended the immense progress over the course of the past four to five years as evidenced by the decline in pirate attacks, but also stressed the need for continued engagement as piracy networks remain intact and 26 persons are still being held hostage by Somali pirates.

“Piracy has been contained but not eradicated,” Maciej Popowski, Deputy Secretary General for the External Action Service (EAS), said at a U.N. press briefing on the CGPCS 18th plenary meeting.

Therefore, he said, a major goal of the CGPCS gathering was to “look beyond the piracy itself” and deal with a whole range of important topics related to maritime security, such as illegal fishing, migration and smuggling of human beings.

Major economic, political and societal challenges persist in Somalia that might cause setbacks or provide a favourable breeding ground for piracy in the future. According to Jon Huggins, it is vital for the international community to “maintain a minimal effort to keep the suppression going” even though this might involve major financial expenses.

“At the height of piracy in Somalia in 2010, the international community spent seven billion dollars on counter-piracy measures. Last year we calculated 2.3 billion. This is the minimum that is required in order to stay – because we still haven’t addressed the root causes of piracy. There are still ungoverned spaces on the coast line. There is still unemployed youth that might be attracted to piracy.”

According to the United Nations Development Programme in Somalia (UNDP Somalia), 67 percent of Somalis aged 14-29 are unemployed. This is particularly worrisome given that over 70 percent of Somalia’s population is under the age of 30. The school enrolment rate is 42 percent, of which only a third are girls.

Hence, extreme poverty and a lack of prospects for the future for the large majority of Somalis constitute persisting security challenges in the country in addition to the unstable political situation and weak governance structures.

Moreover, there are fears of new threats emerging as a result of the enmeshment of pirate groups with jihadist networks. As reported by Foreign Policy, young Somali pirates in Hargeisa and Bosaso are detained in the same prisons as members of the al-Shabab militant group.

“That means there’s a very real risk that impressionable, disillusioned young men could be radicalised,” it warned.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Sahrawi Women Take to the Streetshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/sahrawi-women-take-to-the-streets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sahrawi-women-take-to-the-streets http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/sahrawi-women-take-to-the-streets/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 23:04:59 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141640 (From left to right) Fatima, Aza and Rabab, three Sahrawi women activists, pose from an undisclosed location in Laayoune, the capital of occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

(From left to right) Fatima, Aza and Rabab, three Sahrawi women activists, pose from an undisclosed location in Laayoune, the capital of occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
LAAYOUNE, Occupied Western Sahara, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

Ten women are gathered to discuss how to transmit Sahrawi culture and tradition to the younger generations. As usual, it´s a secret meeting. There is no other way in the capital of Western Sahara.

Rabab Lamin chose the place and the date for this latest meeting of the Forum for the Future of Sahrawi Women, an underground organisation yet seemingly far from being disorganised.

“We set up the committee in 2009 and today we rely on 60 active members, an executive committee of 16 and hundreds of collaborators,” Lamin, the mother of a political prisoner, tells IPS.

“Here you´ll hardly come across any Sahrawi who has not been mistreated by the police, nor a family who has not lost one of their own" – Aza Amidan, sister of a Sahrawi political prisoner
“Our goal is to fight for the fundamental rights of the Sahrawi people through peaceful struggle,” adds the 54 year-old woman, before noting that she was born “when the Spaniards were here.”

This year will mark four decades since Spain pulled out of Western Sahara, its last colony, leaving the territory in the hands of Morocco and Mauritania. While Rabat claims that this vast swathe of land – the size of Britain – is its southernmost province, the United Nations labels it as a “territory under an unfinished process of decolonisation.”

Since the ceasefire signed in 1991 between Morocco and the Polisario Front – the authority that the United Nations recognises as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people – Rabat controls almost the whole territory, including the entire Atlantic coast.

Only a tiny desert strip on the other side of the wall built by Morocco remains under Sahrawi control. That´s where the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) was announced in 1976, a political entity today recognised by 82 countries.

The most immediate consequence of Sahara´s frozen conflict was the displacement of almost the entire Sahrawi people to the desert of Algeria. Those who dared to stay still suffer the consequences of their decision:

“Since the Moroccans took over our land we have only faced brutality,” laments Aza Amidan, the sister of a political prisoner. “We are constantly harassed and beaten; they raid our houses, they arrest our men and women, even kids under 15.

“Here you´ll hardly come across any Sahrawi who has not been mistreated by the police, nor a family who has not lost one of their own,” says Amidan. The 34-year-old activist stresses that the founder and current leader of the Forum, Zukeine Ijdelu, spent 12 years in prison.

Sahrawi women activists who have taken to the streets in Laayoune, capital of occupied Western Sahara, are often forcibly dispersed. Credit: Mohamed Salem

Sahrawi women activists who have taken to the streets in Laayoune, capital of occupied Western Sahara, are often forcibly dispersed. Credit: Mohamed Salem

In a report issued two months ago, Amnesty International labels the practice of torture in Morocco as “endemic” while underlining that Sahrawi political dissidents are among the main targets. The NGO also accused the Moroccan government of “protecting the torturers, and not the tortured.”

Sahrawi activists claim that one of the main tasks of this women´s organisation is to support, “both morally and economically”, those who have suffered prison or their relatives. Amidan gives the details:

“We gather money among the community for those women as they are always the ones who suffer most. Whether it´s them who are arrested or their husbands, it´s them who have to sustain their families.”

Despite several phone calls and e-mails, the Moroccan authorities refused to speak to IPS on these and other human rights violations allegedly committed in Western Sahara.

Assimilation

At 62, Fatima Hamimid is one of the senior veteran activists of the Forum. She says torture is “something that can one can cope with.” But there are other grievances that are seemingly “irreparable”.

“Today’s workshop sought to raise awareness among the new generations over the cultural assimilation we´re being subjected to at the hands of Rabat. Morocco seeks to deny our mere existence by either erasing our history or including it into their own.”

The most eloquent proof of such policies may be the total absence of Hassaniya –the Arabic dialect spoken by Sahrawis – in the education system or the administration.

However, Hamimid also points to other issues such the explicit ban over the Sahrawi traditional tent, the harassment  women wearing their distinctively colourful garb often have to face, or the prohibition of giving names that recall historical Sahrawi dissidents to their children.

“This is yet another reason that drags us to the streets to organise and take part in demonstrations,” notes Hamimid. Peaceful protests, she adds, are another important axis of action of this group.

But it is neither easy nor free of risks. In its World Report 2015, Human Rights Watch denounces that Rabat has “prohibited all public gatherings deemed hostile to Morocco’s contested rule.”

The New York-based NGO also points to the “large numbers of police who blocked access to demonstration venues and often forcibly dispersed Sahrawis seeking to assemble.”

Under such circumstances, Takbar Haddi chose to conduct a hunger strike for 36 days in front of the Moroccan consulate in Gran Canaria (Spain), which ended with her hospitalisation in June.

Haddi is still asking the Moroccan authorities to deliver the body of her son, Mohamed Lamin Haidala, stabbed in February in Laayoune, and that both the circumstances of the crime and the alleged lack of an adequate health assistance be investigated.

The activist´s close relatives in Laayoune told IPS that the family had rejected an economic compensation from Rabat in exchange for their silence.

“Some people think that being free is just not languishing in prison, or not suffering torture,” explains Hamimid, while she serves the last of the three cups of tea marking Sahrawi tradition. “We, Sahrawi women, understand freedom in its full meaning.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Kashmiri Women Suffering a Surge in Gender-Based Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 21:15:55 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141635 A billboard in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir promotes gender equality and protests violence against women. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

A billboard in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir promotes gender equality and protests violence against women. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
SRINAGAR, India, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

Rizwana* had hoped and expected that justice would be served – that the man who raped her would be sufficiently punished for his crime. Months after she suffered at his hands, however, the perpetrator remains at large.

"We receive 1,000 to 1,500 complaints of domestic violence annually." -- Gulshan Akhtar, head of Srinagar’s only women’s police station
Hailing from a poor family in the northwestern part of the Indian administered state of Kashmir, Rizwana worked hard to finish her studies, knowing that if she landed a job it would help ease her family’s financial woes.

When an official in the frontier Kupwara District hired her as an assistant earlier this year, she thought she had struck gold. But she quickly discovered that the man’s support and eagerness to offer her a job was simply a front for ulterior motives.

“After working in the office for just a few days he summoned me to a room on the upper floor and bolted the door. Then he made sexual advances on me. When I objected to his behaviour, he forcibly raped me,” the young graduate told IPS.

Her entire family was traumatised by the experience; Rizwana quit her job and her mother suffered a panic attack that confined her to the hospital for weeks

Rizwana approached the State Women’s Commission (SWC) in Srinagar, the state’s summer capital, and pleaded that the official be terminated from his position and sent to jail.

“But so far nothing has happened,” she said. “While the women’s commission is supporting me, the rapist is yet to be brought to justice as he uses his influence to get away with the crime.”

Militarisation breeds impunity

Anyone who follows the daily headlines in this heavily militarised territory in northern India knows that Rizwana’s case is not unusual. Every year, thousands of women experience sexual or physical abuse, both in and outside their homes, though few come forward to report it.

Women’s rights advocates blame the conflict in Kashmir – which dates back to the 1947 partition of India and has claimed 60,000 lives in six decades – for nursing a culture of impunity that makes women extremely vulnerable to gender-based violence.

In 2007, the Indian government revealed that it had 337,000 army personnel stationed in the region. At the time, this amounted to roughly one soldier for every 18 persons, making Kashmir “the most heavily militarised zone” in the world, according to sociologist Bashir Ahmad Dabla.

In 2013, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on violence against woman stated in her final country report on India that legislative provisions like “the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has mostly resulted in impunity for human rights violations [since] the law protects the armed forces from effective prosecution in non-military courts for human rights violations committed against civilian women among others, and it allows for the overriding of due process rights.”

Noting that impunity for armed forces was “eroding fundamental rights and freedoms […] including dignity and bodily integrity rights for women in Jammu and Kashmir”, the rapporteur called on the Indian government to repeal the Act.

A woman holds up a picture of her son, injured in the conflict. Here in Kashmir, women often bear the brunt of fighting and some have been subjected to rape at the hands of the armed forces. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

A woman holds up a picture of her son, injured in the conflict. Here in Kashmir, women often bear the brunt of fighting and some have been subjected to rape at the hands of the armed forces. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Two years later, her recommendations are yet to be acted upon, with the result that not only armed forces but officials in any capacity feel at liberty to exploit women’s rights and freedoms, often in the form of sexual transgressions.

For instance, IPS recently gained access to a sexual harassment complaint filed by the female staff of the Kashmir Agricultural University with the State Women’s Commission.

Staff filed a joint appeal earlier this month so as to conceal each woman’s individual identity.

It stated: “Being the working ladies at the university, we want to share with you [the] bitter and hard realities we have been facing for the past many years”, adding that the male staff – and one official in particular – routinely harass the women, using their institutional authority to prevent the victims from taking action.

The complainants are demanding “strict punishment” for the culprits according to provisions on sexual harassment in India’s 2013 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act.

Nayeema Ahmad Mehjoor, chairperson of the SWC, told IPS that she acted on the appeal as soon as it was filed, and has already visited the university in order to take up the issue with the necessary authorities.

“They have assured me of initiating a fair probe, and we are expecting a detailed report within a few days,” she stated.

Domestic violence on the rise

These assurances are comforting but hold little weight in a society that routinely puts women’s issues on the backburner, a reality reflected in the low rate of reporting sexual crimes.

The situation is even worse in the domestic sphere, experts say, where spousal or intimate partner violence is on the rise.

Gulshan Akhtar, head of Srinagar’s lone Women’s Police Station, has been a busy officer over the past few years as she struggles to deal with a growing domestic violence caseload.

On a typical day, she receives between seven and 10 cases of domestic disputes involving violence towards the female partner.

“When this police station was established in 1998, it used to receive far fewer complaints compared to what we have been receiving over the past five-year period,” Akhtar told IPS.

“Now we receive 1,000 to 1,500 complaints of domestic violence annually,” she said, adding that the SWC receives an additional 500 complaints on average every year.

Kashmir’s State Women’s Commission (SWC) records roughly 500 cases of domestic violence every year. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Kashmir’s State Women’s Commission (SWC) records roughly 500 cases of domestic violence every year. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

These figures – which are conservative estimates, considering that many women are silent about their suffering – reveal that every single day, over five Kashmiri women endure sexual or physical abuse.

Local news reports indicate that Jammu, the state’s winter capital, tops the list of districts with the highest number of domestic violence cases, recording over 1,200 separate incidents since 2009.

Earlier this year, newspapers quoting officials from the State Home Ministry stated that over 4,000 culprits have been booked in connection with these crimes, but rights groups maintain that prosecution levels are too low to act as a deterrent.

This past May, the women’s rights NGO Ehsaas organised a sit-in at Partap Park in Srinagar to draw attention to a surge in domestic violence.

Academics, journalists and activists gathered to mourn a woman whose husband had burned her to death the month before.

Addressing the crowd, Ehsaas Secretary and Women’s Project Consultant Ezabir Ali said, “It is high time to speak out against this barbaric form of human nature and a send message to the government to act strictly against such acts.”

The sit-in called attention to all the many forms of violence against women – from dowry killings and burnings, and from verbal and emotional abuse to rape. In 2013, according to statistics released by the Crime Branch, Kashmir recorded 378 cases of rape, an increase of 75 cases from the year before. Data for 2014-2015 is still pending.

Conflict leaves women vulnerable

Some experts say the increase in such heinous crimes is due to militarisation and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

A 2014 report by Human Rights Watch noted that “a local court recently ordered the reopening of the investigation into alleged mass rapes in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district in 1991. Residents of the villages allege that soldiers raped women during a cordon and search operation.”

Because of the brutality involved in these incidents, and because the victims included old women and young girls alike, scholars and advocates have claimed that it set a precedent for violence against women, since the perpetrators have yet to be brought to justice.

Others say violence has risen together with women’s shifting socio-economic role in traditional Kashmiri society. With more women leaving the home to work, men feel their financial hold weakening.

“This is causing conflict as many men […] do not feel comfortable with women acquiring a [better] economic status,” author and sociologist Dabla told IPS.

IPS recently met two women at Srinagar’s Rambagh women police station, one of whom had come to lodge a complaint that her husband was forcing her to hand over her monthly earnings, or risk a divorce.

Indeed, surveys and studies undertaken by the women’s NGO Ehsaas reveal that 75 percent of Kashmiri men “felt their masculinity was threatened” if their wives did not obey them.

Activists working to safeguard women and create a more peaceful society overall say that deep and fundamental changes in both the law and social attitudes are necessary to achieve some degree of gender equality and women’s rights.

*Name changed for her protection

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Homosexuality Will Never Be Eliminated. How About Eliminating Homophobia?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-homosexuality-will-never-be-eliminated-how-about-eliminating-homophobia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-homosexuality-will-never-be-eliminated-how-about-eliminating-homophobia http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-homosexuality-will-never-be-eliminated-how-about-eliminating-homophobia/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 19:34:22 +0000 Neela Ghoshal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141631 A Ugandan transgender woman in a town near Kampala, shortly before she fled the country. She left to escape the police harassment and violence she experienced after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. © 2014 Human Rights Watch

A Ugandan transgender woman in a town near Kampala, shortly before she fled the country. She left to escape the police harassment and violence she experienced after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. © 2014 Human Rights Watch

By Neela Ghoshal
NEW YORK, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

A report published in June by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), in collaboration with the Uganda National Academy of Sciences, could help reshape understandings of human sexuality – if African policymakers take the time to consider the report’s findings.

Contrary to widespread belief amongst African lawmakers and ordinary citizens, homosexuality is neither a Western import nor a matter of choice. These are some of the findings the panel of African scientists revealed after reviewing hundreds of studies on same-sex attraction.Same-sex relationships and diverse gender identities exist even where laws are most repressive, and levels of stigma are highest. Criminalising LGBT identities or same-sex conduct simply won’t make LGBT people disappear.

But some African politicians seem too busy fomenting panic around homosexuality to pay attention to the facts, by, for example, spreading false claims that U.S. President Barack Obama is pushing same-sex marriage on Kenya and Nigeria.

Desperate to distract voters from real, unresolved problems, such as poverty, insecurity and corruption, many African politicians like to raise the specter of homosexuality as a mortal danger. In the name of protecting society, “traditional values,” or children, they pass deeply discriminatory laws.

Nigeria, under former president Goodluck Jonathan, slapped 10-year prison sentences on anyone who even “indirectly” demonstrates a “same sex amorous relationship.” In Uganda, before its Anti-Homosexuality Act was struck down on procedural grounds last year, a landlord who didn’t evict a gay or lesbian tenant could have been convicted for maintaining a “brothel.”

For the proponents of these laws, Obama is the latest bogeyman, with one Kenyan politician suggesting that if Obama so much as mentions the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people during his upcoming visit to Kenya, this might tear Kenya’s “social fabric.”

But the panel of well-respected African scientists roundly dismissed claims that homosexuality is imported, finding the prevalence of homosexuality in African countries “no different from other countries in the rest of the world”.

The panel concurred with a previous a finding by Ugandan scientists that “homosexuality existed in Africa way before the coming of the white man.” When these Ugandan scientists presented their report to President Yoweri Museveni in early 2014, he shamelessly ignored their conclusions, claiming their report justified the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The recent report notes that same-sex relationships and diverse gender identities exist even where laws are most repressive, and levels of stigma are highest. Criminalising LGBT identities or same-sex conduct simply won’t make LGBT people disappear.

Likewise, an approach to sexuality and gender that is in line with international human rights law will not open the floodgates to waves of Africans “converting” to homosexuality. Indeed, countries like the Netherlands and Sweden, known to be particularly open to sexual diversity, have no higher rates of homosexuality than any other countries in the world.

The scientists find that “… studies such as this show that young people can be friends with LBGTI youngsters without fearing (or their parents fearing) that they will ‘catch’ same-sex attraction from their friends. Such ‘transmission’ of sexual orientation simply does not happen.”

Nor should policymakers worry that LGBT people are a threat to children. The fear that gays are recruiting and abusing children is often offered to justify cracking down on homosexuality. However, the panel found “no scientific evidence to support the view” that LGBT people are more likely to abuse children than anyone else.

Instead, the panel, having examined studies of child sexual abuse, concluded that “most of the perpetrators are heterosexual men.” Rather than scapegoating homosexuals, the report suggests, governments should identify and hold accountable the real child abusers.

When given an opportunity to speak for themselves, LGBT people often emphasise that they were aware of their sexual or gender identity from an early age. Similarly, heterosexual people often develop romantic feelings toward the opposite sex from early childhood—they don’t “choose” those feelings, nor can they change them.

In examining the scientific literature, the panel says that, “Overall, the surge in recent confirmatory studies,” including those of twins and of similarities in chromosomes across a population group with a particular trait, “have reached the stage where there is no longer any doubt about the existence of a substantial biological basis to sexual orientation.”

If sexuality has a biological basis, the scientists ask – and if there is no evidence that LGBT people “recruit” or otherwise harm children – what could possibly be the justification for punishing people for their sexual orientation or gender identity?

African policymakers should ask themselves the same. And rather than wringing their hands about a US court decision on marriage equality, or tearing their hair out over purely hypothetical comments that Obama may or may not make, they should look at the very real social harms caused by homophobia and transphobia.

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights – which, like the South African and Ugandan scientists who produced the report, can hardly be dismissed as Western – passed a resolution in 2014 condemning widespread violence on the grounds of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

The commissioners expressed “alarm” that “acts of violence, discrimination and other human rights violations continue to be committed on individuals in many parts of Africa because of their actual or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity.” They cited “‘corrective’ rape, physical assaults, torture, murder, arbitrary arrests, detentions, extra-judicial killings and executions, forced disappearances, extortion and blackmail.”

The commission calls on African countries to end all violence and abuse on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The ASSAf report goes a step further in concluding that “As variation in sexual identities and orientations has always been part of a normal society, there can be no justification for attempts to ‘eliminate’ LGBTI from society.”

As the study shows, same sex attraction and gender variance have always existed and nothing will change that, no matter how many repressive laws are passed, how many LGBT people are raped, murdered, imprisoned, expelled from schools or evicted from their homes.

Instead of trying to “eliminate” LGBT people, why not begin taking steps to eliminate violence and discrimination against them?

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Civilian Killings? West Literally Gets Away With Murderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/civilian-killings-west-literally-gets-away-with-murder/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civilian-killings-west-literally-gets-away-with-murder http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/civilian-killings-west-literally-gets-away-with-murder/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 22:03:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141616 Plumes of smoke rise into the evening Afghan sky as Allied air support brings an end to Operation Glacier 4 in February 2007. Operation Glacier 4 was a deliberate action against Taliban Forces in the district of Garmsir by Royal Marines of 42 Commando in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Credit: Sean Clee/OGL license

Plumes of smoke rise into the evening Afghan sky as Allied air support brings an end to Operation Glacier 4 in February 2007. Operation Glacier 4 was a deliberate action against Taliban Forces in the district of Garmsir by Royal Marines of 42 Commando in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Credit: Sean Clee/OGL license

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 16 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations continues to come under heavy fire for singling out mostly non-Western states for human rights violations while ignoring the misdeeds of Western nations or big powers.

As part of its annual ritual, the U.N. Third Committee, which deals with human rights issues, has religiously adopted country-specific resolutions every year, mostly critical of nations like Iran, Syria, Cuba and North Korea for their infractions.“Given the importance of the U.S. to the global system of governance, it is important for this nation not to be exempt from that which it demands from others.” -- Dr Gerald Horne

But none of these resolutions have been adopted unanimously – rather, with an increasing number of abstentions.

Last November, the resolution criticising Syria for human rights violations was adopted by a vote of 125 in favour with 13 against and 47 abstentions; the vote on North Korea was 111 in favour with 19 against and 55 abstentions; and the vote on Iran was 78 to 35 with 69 abstentions.

Still, both the United Nations and its Human Rights Council (HRC) have rarely, if ever, launched an investigation into civilian killings, including of women and children, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen by drone attacks or aerial bombings by the United States and its Western allies.

“They literally get away with murder,” says one Asian diplomat, complaining about the double standards on human rights violations and war crimes.

Currently, the Geneva-based HRC has Commissions of Inquiry or Fact-Finding Missions related to four countries: Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Sri Lanka and Gaza (on the civilian killings by Israel in the conflict back in July last year).

But most of these human rights violations, including political repression, torture or war crimes, are within the territorial borders of these countries.

Dr Gerald Horne, Moores Professor of History and African-American Studies at the University of Houston, told IPS even the recent spate of police shootings in the United States, of mostly unarmed African-Americans, merits a thorough investigation by the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“It is true that U.S. allies will object. However, the U.S. itself has established a precedent by its frequent call for investigations of the internal affairs of U.N. member states,” he said.

Yet, he pointed out, “given the importance of the U.S. to the global system of governance, it is important for this nation not to be exempt from that which it demands from others.”

In recent years, according to published reports, there has been a spate of racially motivated killings by the police or by law enforcement officials, including in Staten Island, New York, Ferguson, Missouri, Brooklyn, New York and in Chicago in the U.S. state of Illinois.

Dr Horne said “given that the U.S. is a nuclear power on hair-trigger alert, it is quite disturbing to see an urban insurrection just miles from the White House in Baltimore – after yet another killing of an unarmed African-American man.”

Arguably, it would not be unfair to suggest that this dire situation too represents a grave threat to international peace and security that the U.N. should ignore at its peril.

“I should add parenthetically that historically the U.S. has required external intervention to resolve nagging internal issues; for example, it is now well recognised that British abolitionists played a major role in forcing the collapse of slavery in the U.S. in the 19th century.”

Today’s outrages in the U.S. demand no less, declared Dr Horne, who has authored more than 30 books, including the premier study of civil unrest in Los Angeles in 1960s, along with several publications on the slave trade.

The issue of political double standards has been vociferously highlighted by Sri Lanka: a country accused of civilian killings at the end of its decades long battle against separatists in its northern province in May 2009.

Addressing the U.N.’s Third Committee last year, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona said current developments in the Human Rights Council suggest that its credibility was gradually eroding as a result of its increasing politicisation.

“A handful of countries had been selected for adverse attention by the Council, while others in similar circumstances were ignored,” he added.

Turning to the Council’s resolution related to his country, he said the text had infringed on the fundamental principles of international law, which required that national mechanisms needed to be exhausted before resorting to international measures, and had challenged its sovereignty and independence.

Asked about the rising civilians killings attributed to U.S. drone attacks, Dr Horne told IPS the legally questionable drone warfare of the U.S. authorities is an unfortunate complement to the repetitive slayings of unarmed African-American men and boys (Tamir Rice in Cleveland had yet to reach his teen years before he was slain on videotape).

Surely, it establishes a dangerous precedent when a U.N. member state – the U.S. – is allowed to slay its own citizens and then slay others abroad, while all the while complaining about the internal affairs of sovereign states worldwide, he argued.

Asked about double standards on human rights violations, Dr Horne said assuredly, there is a double standard in international relations which is quite corrosive of international peace and security.

He said the ancestors of the U.S. authorities kidnapped Africans from the region stretching from Senegal to Angola, with a particular emphasis on the Congo River basin, then rounding the Cape to seize Africans in Madagascar, Mozambique and Zanzibar.

“This crime against humanity weakened all of these U.S. member states and then, to exacerbate the original crime, the descendants of these captive Africans are now slain like wild boar in the woods.”

Sadly, he noted, the international community has been quiet about this outrage which no doubt convinces the U.S. authorities that if they can slay their “own” citizens with impunity, then certainly they can act similarly abroad with drone warfare.

This matter cries out for “humanitarian intervention” by the international community, he declared, in a challenge to the United Nations.

Addressing the opening session of the HRC last March, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein criticised member states for ‘cherry-picking’ human rights – advocating some and openly violating others – perhaps to suit their own national or political interests.

Despite ratifying the U.N. charter reaffirming their faith in fundamental human rights, there are some member states who, “with alarming regularity”, are disregarding and violating human rights, “sometimes to a shocking degree,” he said.

“They pick and choose between rights,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Unrestrained ‘Privatisation of Poverty-Reduction’ Puts Human Rights at Riskhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-unrestrained-privatisation-of-poverty-reduction-puts-human-rights-at-risk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-unrestrained-privatisation-of-poverty-reduction-puts-human-rights-at-risk http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-unrestrained-privatisation-of-poverty-reduction-puts-human-rights-at-risk/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 13:54:44 +0000 Savio Carvalho http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141612

Savio Carvalho is Senior Advisor, Campaigning on International Development and Human Rights, Amnesty International, International Secretariat, London, and has worked for two decades in the Development and Human Rights sector in South and Central Asia, East Africa and Europe.

By Savio Carvalho
LONDON, Jul 16 2015 (IPS)

Corporate lobbyists are unusual guests at development meetings, but when the United Nations held its Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa this week to decide who pays for its new “Sustainable Development Goals”, some governments laid out the red carpet for the private sector.

Photo Courtesy of Amnesty International

Photo Courtesy of Amnesty International

Unfortunately, the conference failed to agree on any mechanism for making sure the role of companies in development is kept transparent and accountable.

Some see giving companies a bigger role in development as a simple win-win. Governments get access to financing to take the pressure off aid budgets and come up with the 2.5 trillion dollars needed to respond to poverty and climate change, while meeting the housing, health, education and infrastructure targets in the post-2015 agenda.

On the other hand, companies get a potential say in policy making and access to juicy public contracts.

But before governments allow companies to shoulder significant responsibility for fighting poverty, climate change and other global challenges, they will have to convince critics who warn that they are putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

While getting companies involved in development has the potential to provide important sources of funding to improve lives, experience equally shows that when companies are not held to account, people and communities can be seriously harmed. If private sector involvement in development is going to pay off for the people who need it and not just corporate shareholders, states have to leave impunity at the door.

Increasing the role of the private sector in the delivery of crucial public services such as water, education and health is fraught with risk. On July 2, the U.N. Human Rights Council warned that without proper regulation the privatisation of education could put the right to education at risk for countless children, especially if it means those children who cannot afford to pay lose out on quality education.

Around the world, Amnesty International has documented too many cases of marginalised communities waiting to see justice done, sometimes for decades, for human rights abuses perpetrated after a multinational company rolled into town. States who seek the involvement of the private sector in advancing development goals without putting effective safeguards in place, forget these cases at their peril.

The more than 570,000 victims of the 1984 Bhopal toxic gas leak, India’s worst industrial disaster, are still waiting for justice more than 30 years later. The firm responsible, Union Carbide, is now owned by U.S.-based Dow Chemical. A Bhopal court is pursuing criminal charges against Dow but the company has failed to even show up to multiple hearings over the last year. Meanwhile, survivors have tried and failed to seek justice in both India and the U.S.

While Union Carbide paid some compensation to those affected under a 1989 settlement agreement with the Indian government, it was wholly inadequate to cover the harm caused and there were serious issues with the way it was paid out to victims. At the time, the Indian government lacked the leverage to effectively hold a powerful global company to account.

Foreign companies operating in countries that are rich in natural resources and poor in regulation can reap huge profits at the expense of vulnerable people.

Earlier this year Amnesty International warned that Canadian and Chinese mining giants have profited from, and in some cases colluded, with  human rights abuses by the Myanmar authorities to exploit one of the country’s most important copper mines, with thousands of people being illegally driven off their lands, serious environmental risks going unchecked, and peaceful protest brutally suppressed.

Far from investigating the abuses, one multinational company involved used an opaque trust fund in the British Virgin Islands to divest its investment, in a manner which possibly breached economic sanctions applicable at the time. Reducing their exposure to the problem, rather than fixing it, has often been the mantra of companies faced by scandalous abuses.

For residents of Niger Delta, the legacy of half a century of oil production in Nigeria is the devastation of their farming and fishing lands. Today the oil spills continue unabated. In Shell’s operations alone, there were 204 spills in 2014. Shell blames sabotage and theft, but old pipelines and badly maintained infrastructure are a major cause of pollution.

This year one local community in Bodo has finally won 80 million dollars in compensation from Shell for the impacts of a massive spill, but only after a lengthy court battle in the UK and years of false claims by the company.

These are cautionary tales world leaders should consider as they plan to entrust the private sector with responsibility for funding and carrying out development projects. In all these cases, corporate political and financial clout created barriers to local communities accessing justice and accountability.

Governments have watched corporate political power grow for decades, often doing their best to get out of its way instead of properly regulating it to ensure that human rights are not violated.

Corporate lobbyists, meanwhile, have done everything possible to ensure that the important international standards addressing these risks remain entirely voluntary.  Voluntary codes of conduct and standards that have no enforcement mechanism ultimately lack the teeth to really change corporate behaviour, and when abuses occur, they can leave victims with little or no hope of remedy.

If private sector involvement in development is going to pay off for the people who need it and not just corporate shareholders, states have to leave impunity at the door. Companies that want to make a profit through work on sustainable development must be required to show they have a clean track record when it comes to human rights.

They must demonstrate that they have internal systems that ensure they do not cause human rights abuses. They must disclose information to communities about any local operations that impact them, as well as any payments they make to the authorities.

Crucially, governments must be ready to hold companies to account when abuses happen. The failure of all but five countries to meet the U.N.’s official aid targets is a crying shame, but if filling the gap by giving the private sector free rein leads to human rights abuses in already vulnerable communities, it will only rub salt in the wounds that sustainable development is supposed to heal.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Fear Stalks Students in Northern Pakistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/fear-stalks-students-in-northern-pakistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fear-stalks-students-in-northern-pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/fear-stalks-students-in-northern-pakistan/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 22:50:30 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai and Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141601 A soldier stands amidst the rubble of the December 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

A soldier stands amidst the rubble of the December 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai and Kanya D'Almeida
PESHAWAR, Pakistan/UNITED NATIONS, Jul 15 2015 (IPS)

It has been seven months since a group of gunmen raided the Army Public School in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, killing 145 people, including 132 students.

“Since he died, there has been complete silence in our home. Nobody wants to speak. Asfand used to crack jokes and spread laughter – now he has left us, there is nothing to say.” -- Shahana Khan, the mother of one of the victims of the Peshawar school shootings in 2014
For the most part, the tragedy has faded off international headlines, but for the families of the victims and survivors, the memory is as fresh as the day it happened.

Speaking to IPS in her home in Peshawar, KP’s capital city and the site of last year’s attack, Shahana Khan cannot stop weeping.

Her 15-year-old son Asfand, a tenth grader at the public school, was one of too many children killed by members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Dec. 16, 2014.

“Since he died, there has been complete silence in our home,” she manages to say through her sadness. “Nobody wants to speak. Asfand used to crack jokes and spread laughter – now he has left us, there is nothing to say.”

The boy’s father, Ajun Khan, chimes in: “He kept our home happy. Without him, we will pass Eid al-Fitr [the religious holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan] in tears.”

His 11-year-old sister and seven-year-old brother share similar sentiments. Like other kids who lived through the tragedy, they have aged beyond their years.

They recount stories of their brother’s jokes and antics, as though momentarily forgetting that he is no longer with them. But then the tears start rolling again.

“I will recite the Holy Quran on his grave, and pray for his blessings,” the little bow vows solemnly.

Neither the kids nor their parents mention the school where the shootings took place, although it re-opened just a month after the incident.

For months, many families were too afraid to return to the scene. Though the students have gradually begun trickling back into their classrooms, fear is everywhere.

This lingering trauma is just one more obstacle standing between the Pakistan government and its ambitious education goals for this South Asian country of 182 million people.

Images of their dead or wounded classmates live on in the memories of students from the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, even seven months after the massacre. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Images of their dead or wounded classmates live on in the memories of students from the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, even seven months after the massacre. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Schools under attack

Throughout the decade of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the U.N.’s landmark poverty-reduction plan launched in 2000, Pakistan has lagged behind most member states.

In March the ministry of federal education and professional training published education statistics for 2013-2014, which revealed that the government was unlikely to meet the target of achieving universal primary education by the end of 2015, despite many pledges and promises on paper.

Pakistan’s education sector is comprised of over 260,000 schools, both public and private, where 1.5 million teachers attend to an estimated 42.9 million students.

But according to the Pakistan Education for All 2015 Review Report, published together with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), there are also 6.7 million out-of-school children in the country, one of the highest rates in the world.

And while 21.4 million primary-school-aged children are currently enrolled in public and private institutions, research suggests that only 66 percent will survive until the fifth grade, and a further 33.2 percent will drop out before completing the primary level.

Experts say that the dismal state of education in the restive northern provinces is largely to blame for these setbacks.

Women hold signs at a rally following the deadly attacks on a public school in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar, which left 132 students dead. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Women hold signs at a rally following the deadly attacks on a public school in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar, which left 132 students dead. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Umar Farooq, an education official for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), told IPS that about 200,000 boys and girls in his region are out of school, largely due to the Taliban’s systematic attack on modern, secular education.

In the past 12 years, the Taliban have destroyed 850 schools, including 500 schools dedicated exclusively to girls, he said.

“FATA has the lowest primary school enrollment rate in the whole country – only 35 percent,” he added.

Prior to the December 2014 public school shooting, a report published by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack listed Pakistan as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a student or teacher, on par with states like Afghanistan, Colombia, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.

Between the review period starting in 2009 and ending in 2012, armed groups in Pakistan attacked some 838 schools, mostly by blowing up buildings.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that 30 students and 20 teachers were killed in those attacks, while 97 students and eight teachers were injured and 138 students and staff kidnapped.

Ishtiaqullah Khan, deputy director of the FATA directorate for education, told IPS that school enrollment and dropout rates have fluctuated according to ebbs and flows in the insurgency.

The period 2007-2013, for instance, when the Taliban was stepping up its activities in the region, saw the dropout rate touching 73 percent.

Citing government records, Khan said that some 550,000 kids in FATA have sat idle over the last decade. The numbers are no better in other provinces in the north.

Back in the summer of 2014, when a government military operation aimed at destroying armed groups drove nearly half a million people from their homes in the North Waziristan Agency, scores of children found their education interrupted as they languished in refugee camps in the city of Bannu, part of the KP province.

A rapid assessment report carried out by the United Nations in July 2014 revealed that 98.7 percent of displaced girls and 97.9 percent of the boys from North Waziristan were not receiving any kind of schooling in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that an already weak primary school enrollment rate of just 37 percent in KP (31 percent for girls and 43 percent for boys) would worsen as a result of the massive displacement, since 80 percent of some 520,000 IDPs were occupying school buildings.

Director of education for KP, Ghulam Sarwar, told IPS the Taliban had destroyed 467 schools in the province in the last decade, and reduced the schooling system to dust in the Swat District where the 2012 shooting of Malala Yousafzai shocked the entire world.

Already traumatized from years of attacks on education, the lingering ghosts of the Dec. 16 tragedy have only added to the burden of students and parents alike.

Girls light candles in memory of those who lost their lives in late 2014, when armed gunmen invaded and opened fire on hundreds of students and teachers in northern Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Girls light candles in memory of those who lost their lives in late 2014, when armed gunmen invaded and opened fire on hundreds of students and teachers in northern Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Overcoming trauma

Khadim Hussain, head of the Peshawar-based Bacha Khan Education Trust, told IPS that the Taliban “thrive on illiteracy”, preying on ignorant sectors of the population to “toe their line”.

For this very reason, he stressed, education in Pakistan is more important now than ever before, as the most sustainable weapon with which to fight militancy.

In October 2014, the Pakistan office for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced that school supplies worth 14.4 million dollars, donated by the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), had been handed over to KP’s education department.

The funds were aimed at improving facilities in over 1,000 schools across KP and FATA, serving 128,000 students.

It was a promising moment – shadowed barely two months later by the daylong siege and massacre at the Army Public School in Peshawar.

With the bloodshed still fresh in everyone’s minds, Hussain’s suggestions are easier said than done.

Fourteen-year-old Jihad Ahmed, who survived the attack, is still afraid to go back to school. A sixth grader named Raees Shah, who saw his best friends die in front of him, has similarly had a hard time concentrating on his studies.

While some want desperately to forgot and move on, others – like ninth-grader Amir Mian – keep the memories of that day burning bright. When the attack began, Mian’s older brother had managed to escape the school premises unscathed, but came back to fetch the younger boy. When he did, he took a bullet and died shortly after.

“We will never forgive his killer,” the teenager told IPS. “We hope that God Almighty will punish his killers on the Day of Judgment.”

Funeral processions for the deceased students and teachers of a terrorist attack in northern Pakistan drew huge crowds of mourners last December. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Funeral processions for the deceased students and teachers of a terrorist attack in northern Pakistan drew huge crowds of mourners last December. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

In a bid to restore the public’s confidence in the education system, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in February signed onto the 15-point plan for a Pakistan Safe Schools Initiative launched by A World At School, a global campaign working to get all school-aged kids into a classroom.

The 15 ‘best practices’ outlined in the agreement include community-based interventions such as involving religious leaders in the promotion of education as a deterrent to terrorist attacks, and improving infrastructure and safety mechanisms like constructing and reinforcing boundary walls.

Currently, only 61 percent of government schools and 27 percent of primary schools in rural areas have boundary walls, while scores of others lack protective razor wire atop their fortifications.

The programme’s donors and supporters hope it serves as a first step towards healing, and, ideally, to a more educated and resilient Pakistan.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Is Climate Change or ISIS the Greater Threat to Humankind?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/is-climate-change-or-isis-the-greater-threat-to-humankind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-climate-change-or-isis-the-greater-threat-to-humankind http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/is-climate-change-or-isis-the-greater-threat-to-humankind/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 21:17:54 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141586 Severe flooding is one of many devastating effects of climate change, as the Caribbean island nation Dominica experienced in 2011. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Severe flooding is one of many devastating effects of climate change, as the Caribbean island nation Dominica experienced in 2011. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

The world at large is apparently divided over what constitutes the biggest single threat to human kind: the devastation caused by climate change or the unbridled terror unleashed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)?
According to a new Pew Research Center survey designed to measure perceptions of international threats, climate change is viewed as the “top concern” by people around the world.

“However, Americans, Europeans and Middle Easterners most frequently cite ISIS as the top threat among international issues,” says the survey.“It's those on the front lines of climate change, and its catastrophic results, who are often the first to recognise the real threat it presents." -- Patricia Lerner of Greenpeace

People in 19 of 40 nations surveyed cite climate change as their biggest worry, making it the most widespread concern of any issue in the survey.

A median of 61 percent of Latin Americans say they are very concerned about climate change, the highest share of any region.

These are among some of the findings of the survey by Pew Research Center, which describes itself as a non-partisan “fact tank,” conducted in 40 countries among 45,435 respondents from March 25 to May 27, 2015

Dr. Michael Dorsey, a member of the Club of Rome and an expert on global governance and sustainability, told IPS: “If publics fear climate change more than terrorism, we might have to re-think collective and regulatory approaches for entities responsible for carbon pollution.

“If we accept the fact that carbon pollution drives both human mortality and morbidity, compromises ecosystems, and threatens society, then institutions and firms that produce carbon pollution, as well as those who opt to finance carbon polluters are akin to those who work with entities engaged in and financing terrorism,” he said.

It should come as no surprise that in some jurisdictions, elected officials are considering laws usually used to fight organised crime against those that deny the unfolding climate crisis, said Dr Dorsey, a visiting professor and lecturer at several universities in Africa and Europe and interim director of energy and environment at the Joint Centre for Political and Economic Studies.

He also said “a U.S. Senator [Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island] has suggested that we use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO Act, against the fossil fuel industry, its trade associations and the conservative policy institutes who openly deny climate change and exacerbate it.”

The survey points out that global economic instability also figures prominently as the top concern in several countries, and it is the second biggest concern in half of those surveyed.

“In contrast, concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme as well as cyberattacks on governments, banks or corporations are limited to a few nations. Tensions between Russia and its neighbours and territorial disputes in Asia largely remain regional concerns,” the survey added.

Patricia Lerner, senior political adviser at Greenpeace International, told IPS it is not surprising that nearly half of the nations surveyed cite climate change as their biggest worry.

“It’s those on the front lines of climate change, and its catastrophic results, who are often the first to recognise the real threat it presents,” she said.

For others, it can seem an invisible threat and they don’t yet recognise it as an existential one that will exacerbate all their other fears, such as over terrorism, international tensions and economic instability, as people are driven from their homes by drought, flood or rising sea levels, she pointed out.

Lerner also said “the deadly cycle of drilling in the Arctic for oil which is burned, creating CO2, which then further melts the Arctic, raising sea-levels and displacing people living on small islands is a clear illustration of the myopia of governments and businesses which are failing to recognise climate change is an issue that threatens all of us – wherever we live.”

Dr. Doreen Stabinsky, professor of global environmental politics at the College of the Atlantic, Maine, told IPS that “noteworthy to me is the heightened concern of Latin American and African countries.”

These regions are on the frontlines of climate change, and the risks there are turning into grim realities of more extreme storms, droughts and falling crop yields, she added.

“One hopes that this heightened concern of the public translates into political resolve on the part of their governments in Paris in December, where those rich countries responsible for these impacts must be convinced to seriously curtail emissions and provide necessary financial support to developing countries to do the same,” said Dr Stabinsky, who is visiting professor of climate change leadership at the Uppsala University in Sweden.

The survey also revealed that people in 14 countries expressed the greatest concern about ISIS.

In Europe, a median of 70 percent expressed serious concerns about the threat ISIS poses, while a majority of Americans (68 percent), Canadians (58 percent) and Lebanese (84 percent) were also very concerned.

Israelis were the only public surveyed to rate Iran as their top concern among the international issues tested. Americans also see Iran’s nuclear programme as a major issue.

Roughly six-in-10 Americans (62 percent) said they are very concerned, making Iran the second-highest-ranked threat of those included in the poll.

Economic instability was a top concern in five countries and the second highest concern in 20 countries. In Russia, 43 percent said they are very concerned about the economy, the highest-ranking concern of any issue tested there.

The threat of cyberattacks on governments, banks or corporations does not resonate as a top-tier worry globally, though there are pockets of anxiety, including the U.S. (59 percent) and South Korea (55 percent).

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Children Increasingly Becoming the Spoils of Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/children-increasingly-becoming-the-spoils-of-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-increasingly-becoming-the-spoils-of-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/children-increasingly-becoming-the-spoils-of-war/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 18:23:11 +0000 Beatriz Ciordia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141575 Former child soldiers enlisted by Al Shabaab are handed over to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after their capture by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Former child soldiers enlisted by Al Shabaab are handed over to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after their capture by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Beatriz Ciordia
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

Whether in Palestine, Ukraine or Somalia, wars result in millions of children threatened by the brutality of armed conflict.

The numbers speak for themselves: more than 300,000 child soldiers are currently exploited in situations of armed conflict and six million children have been severely injured or permanently disabled, according to UNICEF.The past year was one of the worst ever for children affected by armed conflict due the alarming rise in abductions, especially mass abductions, of children and adults in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria and South Sudan.

Likewise, an estimated 20 million children are living as refugees in neighbouring countries or are internally displaced within their own national borders as a result of conflict and human rights violations.

And the U.N. Secretary General’s most recent report, published on June 5, shows that in too many countries, the situation for children is getting worse, not better.

“There is still room at the individual agency level to strengthen safeguards towards prevention of child rights violations,” Dragica Mikavica, advocacy officer of Watchlist, a network of international non-governmental organisations, told IPS.

“For instance, more recently, Watchlist has been lobbying for the U.N.’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to develop a policy that would ban states placed on the Secretary-General’s ‘list of shame’ from contributing troops to peacekeeping forces in other countries,” she added.

Jo Becker, Children’s Rights Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch, agrees that the U.N. could better protect children from armed conflict in several ways.

“When governments or armed groups refuse to agree to such steps and continue abuses, the Security Council could be much more aggressive in imposing targeted sanctions, such as arms embargoes, or travel bans and asset freezes on the leaders of such groups,” she told IPS.

“The SC should also refer such cases to the International Criminal Court for investigation and possible prosecution,” she added.

The past year was one of the worst ever for children affected by armed conflict due the alarming rise in abductions, especially mass abductions, of children and adults in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria and South Sudan.

In addition to kidnappings, thousands of children were killed last year in different parts of the world.

In Iraq, for example, 2014 was the deadliest year for children since the U.N. first started systematically documenting violations against children in 2008, with nearly 700 children killed and almost 1,300 abducted – and these are only the recorded cases.

Likewise, in Palestine, the number of children killed by Israeli forces jumped to 557, more than the number killed in the last two military operations there combined.

In order to step up the fight against this violence, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted on June 18 Resolution 2225, which strengthens the international community’s mobilisation in support of children in armed conflict and condemns their abduction.

The resolution, tabled by Malaysia and sponsored by 56 member states, added abductions as the fifth violation that can trigger a listing of a party to the conflict to the Secretary-General’s “list of shame”.

This list facilitates greater monitoring of abductions and ensures that parties which engage in this particular crime are included on it. Once listed, the U.N. is able to engage the listed parties in negotiating action plans to stop this and other violations from occurring.

The vast majority of these abductions are carried out by non-state groups, including terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram and ISIS, which see mass kidnapping as a shining symbol of success.

Raising the profile of the abduction of children at the highest level – such as in form of a Security Council resolution – also endows child protection actors with greater capacity to advocate for response surrounding this egregious violation.

However, as UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt argues, abduction is often only the first in a series of grave violations, followed by sexual assault and rape, indoctrination, recruitment as child soldiers and murder.

“Each offence blights that child. It robs her of her childhood and threatens her ability to live a full and productive life,” she said in an open debate on Children and Armed Conflict at the Security Council on June 18.

Brandt also stressed the importance of providing critical support to children after their release so they can resume “normal life”.

“These children are victims and must be treated as such. They’re inevitably burdened by physical wounds and psychological scars,” she said.

Raising awareness remains a critical point in the battle against the brutality suffered by children in situations of armed conflict.

Social media has proven a valuable tool for raising the public profile of the atrocities committed against children, especially mass abductions in contexts like Nigeria, Syria and Iraq.

“Social media contributed to internal U.N. debates around abductions of children, as the world could not turn a blind eye on what was happening to children last year,” Mikavica told IPS.

“All of this resulted in concrete actions by the Council at the last Open Debate as seen through trigger expansion,” she added.

However, as Becker told IPS, it’s important to keep in mind that although social media has been exceptionally effective in raising awareness of mass abductions of children by Boko Haram and other armed groups, it’s just a tool, not a substitute for action, which remains the real challenge for the U.N. and other international organisations.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pledges for Humanitarian Aid Fall Far Short of Deliverieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-fall-far-short-of-deliveries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-fall-far-short-of-deliveries http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-fall-far-short-of-deliveries/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 23:01:04 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141566 This little boy was one of hundreds whose schooling was interrupted due to violence in India. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

This little boy was one of hundreds whose schooling was interrupted due to violence in India. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

When international donors pledge millions of dollars either for post-conflict reconstruction or for humanitarian aid, deliveries are rarely on schedule: they are either late, fall far below expectations or not delivered at all.

The under-payment or non-payment of promised aid has affected mostly civilian victims, including war-ravaged women and children in military hotspots such as Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and most recently Yemen.“We found that on average, donors deliver less than half of what they pledged (47 percent). But, even that percentage might overstate the amount that actually arrives in recovering countries." -- Gregory Adams of Oxfam

But it also extends to earthquake-struck countries such as Haiti and Nepal, and at least three African countries devastated by the Ebola virus.

At an international Ebola recovery conference at the United Nations last week, the governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea requested more than 3.2 billion dollars in humanitarian aid to meet their recovery plan budgets. And donors readily pledged to meet the request.

But how much of this will be delivered and when?

At a question and answer press stakeout, Matthew Russell Lee, the hard-driving investigative reporter for Inner City Press (ICP), asked Helen Clark, the Administrator of U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), what steps are being taken to ensure that the announced pledges are in fact paid.

According to Lee, she said UNDP will be contacting the pledgers.

“But will they go public with the non-payers?” he asked, in his blog posting.

Lee told IPS that even amid the troubling lack of follow-through on previous pledges in Haiti, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen, “it does not seem the UNDP has in place any mechanism for reporting on compliance with the Ebola pledges” announced last week.

“If the U.N. system is going to announce such pledges, they should follow up on them,” he said.

On Yemen, he pointed out, while the Saudi-led coalition has been bombing the country, it seems strange to so profusely praise them for a (conditional) aid pledge, especially but not only one that has yet to be paid.

Gregory Adams, Director of Aid Effectiveness at Oxfam International, which has been closely monitoring aid pledges, told IPS that in advance of the Ebola Recovery Conference held last week, Oxfam looked at three past crises to see how well donors followed through on recovery pledges.

“We found that on average, donors deliver less than half of what they pledged (47 percent). But, even that percentage might overstate the amount that actually arrives in recovering countries,” he said.

For example, in Busan, South Korea in 2011, donors pledged they would be publishing timely, accessible and detailed data on where their aid is going by the end of 2015.

But many donors still don’t publish complete information; information is only available for slightly more than half of overall ODA (Official Development Assistance).

As a consequence, said Adams, once aid reaches a recovery country, it is difficult to know exactly how much actually gets where it is most needed.

This lack of transparency makes it hard for communities to participate in planning and recovery efforts, and to hold donors, governments and service providers accountable for results, he noted.

One of the most important lessons of Ebola was that response and recovery efforts must be centered on community needs and incorporate their feedback, Adams said.

“If people do not know where aid is going, they can’t plan, they can’t provide feedback, and they can’t make sure that aid is working,” he declared.

Even Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a special appeal to donors last December when he announced 10 billion dollars in pledges as initial capitalisation for the hefty 100 billion dollar Green Climate Fund (GCF).

Announcing the pledges, he called on “all countries to deliver on their pledges as soon as possible and for more governments to contribute to climate finance.”

Last April, Saudi Arabia announced a 274-million-dollar donation “for humanitarian operations in Yemen” – despite widespread accusations of civilian bombings and violations of international humanitarian law in the ongoing conflict there.

Responding to repeated questions at U.N. press briefings, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters last week: “I think it’s right now in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) phase between the Saudis and the various U.N. agencies to which the money will be allocated.  That process is ongoing.  We hope it concludes soon.  But those discussions are ongoing.”

He said a lot of the larger donors have standing MOUs with the U.N.

“Obviously, this is… I think my recollection this is probably the first time we’re doing it with Saudi Arabia, but I think it takes a little bit more time, but it makes things a lot clearer in the end.”

Asked if there was a conflict of interest given Saudi Arabia is one of the main belligerents in this conflict, Dujarric said: “I wouldn’t say conflict of interest.  We welcome the generous contributions from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and that… we welcome the fact that these contributions will be helped… used by U.N. humanitarian agencies, which are then the… but it… the agencies themselves are then free to use those resources in the way they best see fit to help the Yemeni people.”

Last March, at the third international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, which was hosted by Kuwait, donors pledged 3.8 billion dollars in humanitarian aid. The three major donors were: the European Commission (EC) and its member states (with a contribution of nearly one billion dollars), the United States (507 million dollars) and Kuwait (500 million dollars).

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, including the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Islamic Charity Organisation of Kuwait, jointly pledged about 500 million dollars.

But, so far, there has been no full accounting of the deliveries.

Oxfam’s Adams told IPS in order to make sure that the three countries affected by Ebola can help their people and communities recover, donors need to:

  • publish timely, detailed, and comprehensive information on their aid, consistent with the priorities outlined in the recovery plans of the Governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone;
  • seek to direct aid through local entities wherever possible, including national and local governments and civil society organisations;
  • support strong community engagement and the independent role of civil society in Ebola recovery, so that they can hold donors, governments and service providers accountable for results.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Female Commandos Ready to Take on the Talibanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/female-commandos-ready-to-take-on-the-taliban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=female-commandos-ready-to-take-on-the-taliban http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/female-commandos-ready-to-take-on-the-taliban/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 22:46:25 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141564 One of the women who recently completed a training programme for female counter-terrorism commandos in northern Pakistan accepts a certificate at her graduation ceremony. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

One of the women who recently completed a training programme for female counter-terrorism commandos in northern Pakistan accepts a certificate at her graduation ceremony. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

For years, Robina Shah has dreamed of joining the police force.

Ever since her father, a police constable, was killed in a 2013 Taliban suicide attack in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, she has longed to carry on his legacy.

“We can operate all sorts of weapons and can battle militants anywhere the government chooses to deploy us. We are fearless.” -- 22-year-old Zainab Bibi, a recent graduate of an elite female military academy in northern Pakistan
Such a dream was not easily realised here in the heart of tribal Pakistan, where life for many residents has been suspended between militants and the military since 2001, when extremists fleeing the U.S. invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan began crossing the border and establishing a home base in this mountainous province.

Last year, however, Shah was offered the chance to make her wish a reality when the local government launched a five-month training programme for a small squad of women commandos.

The decision to draft women into KP’s beleaguered armed forces came on the heels of last December’s terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar that left 145 people dead, including 132 students between eight and 18 years of age.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the killing spree, claiming it as an act of retaliation for Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a military offensive launched against militants in North Waziristan in the summer of 2014.

For over a decade the armed forces have very nearly exhausted their options in their dogged attempts to ride the northern provinces of extremist groups. Everything from air raids to ground operations have been tried and failed, with heavy losses on both sides.

“In the last nine years alone,” KP Police Chief Nasir Khan Durrani told IPS, “we have lost over 5,000 policemen [in battles] with the outlawed TTP.”

Shaken by the school massacre last year, the province has stepped up its game against the militants. “We have raised the number of personnel from 70,000 to 90,000, and also become the first province in the country to have female commandos,” he added.

Bringing women into a profession dominated by men is a bold move, not least because militants in the area have made it very clear that a woman’s place is in the home.

But for the local force, it is the next logical step in the fight against extremism: it sends a clear message that women stand on equal footing with their male counterparts, and enables the police to navigate ‘delicate’ situations in counterterrorism field operations, such as inspecting women in potential terrorist compounds, or easily searching the homes of suspected terrorists where female relatives might balk at the arrival of male officers.

Following an intensive training session at an academy in KP’s remote Nowshera District that ended on Jun. 16, the 35 female commandos now stand ready to head out onto the frontlines.

Five grueling months of rising at five am and training until nearly midnight has turned this elite squad into a force to be reckoned with, experts say. Decked out in conservative dress, even in scorching weather, the women learned to handle anti-tank and anti-aircraft launchers.

But even more than their training, their grit springs from years of living under the shadow of militancy in a country that has witnessed some 50,000 terrorist-related deaths in the last decade alone.

Women have often borne the brunt of the conflict, including enduring the Taliban’s systematic attacks on girls’ education and a deadly campaign against women health workers. Furthermore, of the many thousands of people displaced by both government and militant campaigns, women refugees are among the worst impacted by a lack of food, health and sanitary facilities.

“It is a matter of pride to defend our people against aggression,” 22-year-old Zainab Bibi, a recent graduate of the academy, told IPS. “Our people need us to help them stay safe from violence.”

“We can operate all sorts of weapons and can battle militants anywhere the government chooses to deploy us,” she said in a determined voice. “We are fearless.”

Though small in scope, the pilot scheme has inspired officials both in and outside the province to expand its reach.

According to Peshawar-based political analyst Khadim Hussain, the government should consider preparing a “pool of women commandos for the whole country.”

“It’s high time the government gave women more facilities and introduced benefits to draw women to the police force,” he told IPS.

Indeed, education and employment opportunities for women in the province, home to 22 million people, are extremely limited. Women comprise just 40,000 out of 740,000 employees in the health sector, and female doctors number just 600, compared to 6,000 men.

Pakistan’s latest Economic Survey revealed that women are highly overrepresented in the informal sector, performing the bulk of the country’s unpaid domestic labour and engaging in a range of other menial low-paid jobs such as cooking and cleaning.

Meanwhile, their share of professional clerical and administrative posts stands at less than two percent. Experts say these dismal numbers are the combined result of social stigma, religious conservatism and strict familial obligations that keep women bound to their home and out of the job market.

Even those who actively seek work are often disappointed – between 2010 and 2011, for instance, an estimated 200,000 women in KP were unemployed despite expressing a wish to secure a job.

Against this backdrop, the entry of women into the upper echelons of the armed forces represents a monumental step forward for gender equality, and could even spill over into other spheres of life.

Noor Wazir, who ran the military training programme, told IPS that “graduates will be imparting their training to women in other districts and we hope to have hundreds of female commandos in a few years.”

He added that women would not only be stationed on military front-lines, but could easily be deployed at polling stations during elections, in hospitals for additional security or in market places that have long been targets of terrorist attacks, and where women are often loathe to go without a male escort.

Whichever direction the government chooses to take this successful programme, the women involved tell IPS it has been a life-changing experience.

Prior to their graduation in June they had heard whispered doubts as to their ability to complete the taxing course, or withstand the demands of a military lifestyle.

Now, even the skeptical fathers of these young women have come around to the idea that female commandos can handle the task every bit as well as their male counterparts.

Speaking to IPS in an exclusive phone interview, KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak said, “Hats off to the courageous KP policewomen. We salute and praise them. It is highly encouraging that women are ready to cope with the challenges posed by terrorism.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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