Inter Press Service » Crime & Justice http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 30 Sep 2014 17:30:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Iraq Looking for an ‘Independent’ Sunni Defense Ministerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 13:54:06 +0000 Barbara Slavin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136909 By Barbara Slavin
WASHINGTON, Sep 27 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

By Karlos Zurutuza
KABUL, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sitting next to him, Shahab Shams nods.

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

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

Starting from scratch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Honduran Mothers and Grandmothers Search Far and Wide for Missing Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/honduran-mothers-and-grandmothers-search-far-and-wide-for-missing-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=honduran-mothers-and-grandmothers-search-far-and-wide-for-missing-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/honduran-mothers-and-grandmothers-search-far-and-wide-for-missing-migrants/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 16:04:59 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136721 Rosa Nelly Santos arranges photos of missing Honduran migrants on a sort of shrine to ensure they are not forgotten, at the premises of the Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives in El Progreso. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Rosa Nelly Santos arranges photos of missing Honduran migrants on a sort of shrine to ensure they are not forgotten, at the premises of the Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives in El Progreso. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
EL PROGRESO, Honduras, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

United by grief and anxiety, the grandmothers, mothers and other relatives of people who disappeared on the migration route to the United States formed a committee in this city in northern Honduras to search for their missing loved ones.
Founded in 1999, the Comité de Familiares de Migrantes Desaparecidos de El Progreso (COFAMIPRO – El Progreso Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives) is now one of the most highly regarded migrants’ rights organisations in Honduras.

For the past 14 years, COFAMIPRO has aired a radio programme on Sunday afternoons called “Abriendo Fronteras” (Opening Borders) on Radio Progreso, a station run by the Society of Jesus (a Catholic religious order) in Honduras.

The programme was originally called “Sin Fronteras” (Without Borders), but Rosa Nelly Santos, a member of COFAMIPRO, told IPS that as the committee expanded its activities, “we decided to call it Abriendo Fronteras, because we have indeed opened them. We are listened to by a larger audience than ever before, and not only by migrants but also by governments.”“Every time I heard the rumble of The Beast [the Mexican freight train ridden by migrants] I would shudder because that’s where I discovered how dangerous the migrant route is. For them, the train tracks are their pillow. They sleep on the tracks and when they get on to the roof of the train they wait for it to get going, but some fall asleep from exhaustion and fall off when it moves.” -- Marcia Martínez

The hour-long radio programme fulfills a vital social function. It advises migrants about conditions on the routes, plays the music they request to lift their spirits, and provides a sevice by enabling them to send messages to their relatives in Honduras.

Emeteria Martínez, a founding member of COFIMAPRO, died in 2013 just months after locating one of her daughters , who had been missing for 21 years.

Finding their family members was the driving force that united them, Santos said. “The group was created out of nothing, by discovering that one woman’s grief was the same as another’s. We would meet in the home of one of the group and that’s how we built up courage to go out into the world and search for our relatives,” she said.

Twenty women started the group, and now the leadership group is composed of more than 40 members.

They are unassuming women but they are buoyed by hope, in spite of the pain of not knowing anything about their missing relatives and of facing dreadful tragedies like the Tamaulipas massacre in Mexico. Four years ago, 72 migrants, 21 of whom were Hondurans, were shot at point-blank range by Los Zetas, a Mexican criminal cartel. Their bodies were found on a ranch in the San Fernando district.

The Tamaulipas massacre brought home to Hondurans the suffering involved in migration, over and above the issue of the remittances sent back by those who make it to the United States.

“It was like a defeat for us. You hope that your son or daughter will travel safely on the migrant route and manage to cross the border, but you do not expect him or her to be massacred and shipped back to you in a box. That is really shocking,” said Santos, who together with other members of COFAMIPRO has helped and comforted victims’ relatives.

The women on the Committee are all volunteers who have overcome their fear of the unknown. For over a decade they have taken part in the mothers’ caravans , motorcades organised by the Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano (Mesoamerican Migrant Movement), which in September every year travel the migrant routes, looking for clues to the whereabouts of missing relatives.

The migratory route begins in Guatemala and ends at Mexico’s northern border.

“The first time I went on the caravan, three years ago, I understood the importance of my mother’s work. I learned from her grief and I decided to take a full part in the Committee,” Marcia Martínez, 44, another daughter of the Committee’s deceased founder, told IPS.

“I had no idea of the huge number of mothers and relatives who join the motorcade, nor of the epic nature of the journeys my mother undertook. They cover all the routes used by the migrants, asking about them with placards, looking for answers that sometimes never arrive, or arrive too late. When we find someone we were looking for, the joy is indescribable,” she said.

“Every time I heard the rumble of The Beast [the Mexican freight train ridden by migrants on their way north] I would shudder because that’s where I discovered how dangerous the migrant route is. For them, the train tracks are their pillow. They sleep on the tracks and when they get on to the roof of the train they wait for it to get going, but some fall asleep from exhaustion and fall off when it moves,” Martínez said.

COFAMIPRO’s premises are in a shopping centre in El Progreso, one of Honduras’s five largest cities, in the northern department (province) of Yoro, 242 kilometres from Tegucigalpa. Formerly they were housed in Jesuit property, but thanks to donations they were able to rent their own small locale where people can come for support to find their relatives.

In the years since it was founded it has documented more than 600 cases of disappeared persons, of whom over 150 have been found. They continue to seek the rest, although they believe that many must have died on the way or fallen in the hands of human trafficking networks.

Initially the government would not recognise the Committee, but the success of its work with the Mesoamerican caravans led to its voice being heard. It has presented cases of disappeared migrants to the foreign ministry. In June, the group finally acquired formal legal status.

Their struggle has not been easy. Honduran officials dismissed them as “crazy old women” when, years ago, they organised their own march to Tegucigalpa to demand action for their missing loved ones.

Their response was a song they chanted at the foreign office building. Santos sang it with pride: “People at the foreign office call us liars, but we are decent women and we prove it with deeds; what we are here to demand is completely within our rights.”

Their steady, silent work has yielded fruit. When IPS interviewed a group of these women, they had just saved the life of a Honduran man, a relative of a local official in El Progreso, through their Mexican contacts.

He had been kidnapped by a criminal organisation that extorted more than 3,000 dollars from his family before they approached the Committee, which secured his release through an operation by the Mexican prosecution service.

Five years ago, COFAMIPRO issued a warning about the present migration crisis, but no one listened. According to the group, migrants will continue to flee from unemployment and criminal violence.

In the baking hot city of El Progreso, cases have been known of mothers who left town when criminal gangs told them their children would be forcibly recruited into the criminal organisations when they were old enough, and that in the meantime the gangs would provide money to raise the children and pay for their education.

An estimated one million Hondurans have emigrated to the United States since the 1970s, but the exodus has intensified since 1998. As of April 2014, Washington has intensified its deportations of families with children as well as adults.

The Honduran authorities say that 56,000 people were deported back to the country in the first seven months of this year. Of these, 29,000 arrived from the United States by air and 27,000 from Mexico by land.

Honduras has a population of 8.4 million and a homicide rate of 79 per 100,000 population, according to official figures.

In 2013, migrants contributed 3.2 billion dollars to the Honduran economy in remittances, close to 15 percent of GDP, according to the Central Bank.

In COFAMIPRO’s view, the migratory crisis should spur governments to reform their public policies and refrain from stigmatising and criminalising migrants, because “they are not criminals, they are international workers,” Santos said.

She, at least, has the consolation of having found her missing nephew four years ago.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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For These Asylum Seekers, the Journey Ends Where it Beganhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 07:25:30 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136641 Afghan migrants wait patiently for the smugglers who will take them to Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Afghan migrants wait patiently for the smugglers who will take them to Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ZARANJ, Afghanistan, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

“Of course I’m scared, but what else can I possibly do?” asks Ahmed, a middle-aged man seated on the carpeted floor of a hotel located on the southern edge of Afghanistan. He is bound for Iran, but he still has no idea when or how he’ll cross the border.

In his early 40s, Ahmed looks 15 years older than his real age. He says he has no means of feeding his seven children back in his hometown of Bamiyan, 130 km northwest of Kabul. Being illiterate poses yet another major hurdle to earning money and supporting his family.

“We’re all starving back home,” Ahmed tells IPS from his position on the floor where he will rest until the smugglers finally show up. It won’t be too long now, he says.

"We were going to Tehran but were caught in Iranshahr - 1,500 km southeast of the Persian capital. The police beat us with batons and cables, all over our bodies, before taking us back to the border by bus." -- Abdul Khalil, a 22-year-old Afghan migrant
“They never spend more than two days here,” notes Hassan, the innkeeper, who prefers not to disclose his full name. He is well versed in the details of Ahmed’s impending journey, since he is the one who mediates between his ‘guests’ and the smugglers who – for a sizeable fee – facilitate the trip across the border.

“They’ll be taken in the back of a pickup all the way down to Pakistan. From there they have to walk through the desert for a full day until they reach the Iranian border. Many don’t even make it there,” Hasan tells IPS.

Ahmed is just another customer at another one of many similar establishments scattered around Zaranj’s main square, 800 km southwest of Kabul. This is the capital of Afghanistan’s remote Nimruz province, the only one that shares borders with both Iran and Pakistan.

Also called ‘Map Square’, due to a giant map of Afghanistan hanging atop a huge pedestal, Zaranj is the last stop before a journey, which, in the best-case scenario, will be remembered as a nightmare.

Every day, thousands of Afghans put their lives in the hands of mafias that offer them an escape route from a country still in turmoil 13 years after the U.S. invasion in 2001.

In 2011, some 35 percent of Afghanistan’s population of 30.55 million people lived below the poverty line, a situation that has barely improved today. The official unemployment rate stood at seven percent that same year, but the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that this number could be much higher.

Thus it comes as no surprise that Afghanistan is, after Syria and Russia, the source country for the largest number of asylum seekers worldwide.

A recent report by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) found that in 2013 alone, some 38,700 Afghans requested refugee status, accounting for 6.5 percent of the global total of asylum seekers.

Of the many destinations, Turkey remains by far the most popular, with 8,700 Afghan refugees requesting asylum last year.

Other industrialised countries like Sweden, Austria and Germany also attract a good share of Afghans in search of a better life, but the proximity of Iran, coupled with a shared language, makes it a far more sensible choice.

What many migrants find across the border, however, is a far cry from the warm embrace of a kindly neighbour.

Point “zero”

There are less than two kilometres between Map Square and the official border crossing with Iran. It’s obviously not the way out for Ahmed, but it might well be his route back.

Right next to the bridge over the Helmand River, the “no man’s land” between the two countries, lies “zero” point. It’s the place where all Afghans coming from the other side, either deported or on a voluntary basis, are told to register in.

At five in the evening, their number almost reaches 500.

Afghan migrants walk back home after being deported from Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Afghan migrants walk back home after being deported from Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“Only today we have registered 259 deportees and 211 who came voluntarily,” Mirwais Arab, team leader of the Directorate for Refugees and Returnees at the “zero” point, explains to IPS.

“Among all these we can only address the most immediate needs of 65; we give them food and shelter for the first night and a small amount of money so that they can go back home,” adds the government official.

Given the number restrictions, and the limited assistance available, the majority of migrants keep walking once they have registered in. This is not an occasional drip but a steady stream of exhausted men. The sense of defeat is overwhelming.

Many of them, like the Khalil brothers, aged 21 and 22, are very young. They tell IPS that they reached Iran six days ago, via Pakistan, after a long journey across the desert.

Like many others, they had to pay a high protection fee to a Taliban-affiliated group to ensure they could pass unharmed. Their return journey to Afghanistan was not much easier:

“We were going to Tehran but were caught in Iranshahr – 1,500 km southeast of the Persian capital. The police beat us with batons and cables, all over our bodies, before taking us back to the border by bus,” recalls Abdul, the elder of the two, speaking to IPS on the hard shoulder of the road at Zaranj’s southern entrance.

The Arifis’ story is even more dramatic. After reaching Zaranj from Kunduz, located on the northernmost edge of Afghanistan, they crossed the border illegally. They were five in all, but one of them, a seven-year-old, has not yet made it back.

Fifteen-year-old Ziaud furnishes IPS with the details of his family’s ordeal:

“When we were arrested by the Iranian police, they dragged my brother Mohammed and myself into one car, and my parents into another one. That’s when our little brother disappeared,” says the teenaged migrant.

“My father is going to try to go back today to get him,” he adds, still in a state of shock.

Najibullah Haideri, head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Nimruz, tells IPS that Iran deports an average of 600 men and 200 families on a monthly basis.

Meanwhile, Ahmadullah Noorzai, head of the UNHCR office in Zaranj, tells IPS that the wave of deportations started six years ago.

In a report released in 2013, Human Rights Watch pointed out that Afghans, by far the largest expatriate population in Iran, are subjected to a host of abuses by both state and private actors, which violate Iran’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and endanger some one million Afghans recognised as refugees, as well as scores of others who have fled the war-torn country.

The NGO claimed that “thousands of Afghan nationals, who are in Iran’s prisons for crimes ranging from theft to murder and drug trafficking, are regularly denied the right to access lawyers.”

According to HRW, hundreds of Afghan migrants are believed to have been executed in recent years without any notification to Afghan consular officials.

“Getting a visa to Iran costs about 85,000 Afghanis (around 1,150 euros),” the manager of another hotel in Zaranj, who prefers to remain anonymous, explains to IPS.

“Prices for an illegal entry start at 25,000 (around 330 euros), but it always depends on the final destination. The most expensive are Tehran, Esfahan and Mashad – Iran’s largest cities. Migrants pay only when they reach their final destination so they’ll try again and again until they make it, or until they get killed,” adds the innkeeper.

Just behind him, Hamidullah, 43, and his son Sameem, 17, wait their turn to access a better life. Chances are, they’ll be back at this border crossing before too long.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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‘Breaking Silence’ on the Slave Tradehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/breaking-silence-on-the-slave-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-silence-on-the-slave-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/breaking-silence-on-the-slave-trade/#comments Sun, 14 Sep 2014 10:04:06 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136620 Jazz musician Marcus Miller (left), spokesman for the Slave Route Project, is using music to help educate people about slavery. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Jazz musician Marcus Miller (left), spokesman for the Slave Route Project, is using music to help educate people about slavery. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Sep 14 2014 (IPS)

The Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave opened many people’s eyes to the barbarity of slavery and fuelled some discussion about that period in world history. But the film is just one of the many initiatives to “break the silence” around the 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade and to “shed light” on its lasting historical consequences.

One of these – the Slave Route Project – which observed its 20th anniversary this month in Paris is pushing for greater education about slavery and the slave trade in schools around the world.“People of all kinds suffered from slavery and people of all kinds profited from slavery just like so many people are now profiting from modern-day slavery. Racism is a direct result of this monstrous heritage and we need to increase the dialogue about this” – Ali Moussa Iye, head of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project

According to Ali Moussa Iye, chief of the History and Memory for Dialogue Section of UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, who directs the organisation’s Slave Route Project, “the least the international community can do is to put this history into the textbooks. You can’t deny this history to those who suffered and continue to experience the consequences of slavery.”

The Project is one of the forces behind a permanent memorial to slavery that is being constructed at UN headquarters in New York, scheduled to be completed in March 2015 and meant to honour the millions of victims of the traffic in humans.

UNESCO is also involved in the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024), which is aimed at recognising people of African descent as a distinct group and at “addressing the historical and continuing violations of their rights”. The Decade will officially be launched in January next year.

“The approach is not to build guilt but to achieve reconciliation,” Moussa Iye said in an interview. “We need to know history in a different, more pluralistic way so that we can draw lessons and better understand our societies.”

He is aware that some people will question the point of the various initiatives, preferring to believe that slavery’s legacy has ended, but he said that international organisations can take the lead in urging countries to examine their past acts and the results.

“People of all kinds suffered from slavery and people of all kinds profited from slavery just like so many people are now profiting from modern-day slavery,” he said. “Racism is a direct result of this monstrous heritage and we need to increase the dialogue about this.”

According to UNESCO, the Slave Route Project has put these issues on the international agenda by contributing to the recognition of slavery and the slave trade as crimes against humanity, a declaration made at the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.

Ali Moussa Iye, head of UNESCO's Slave Route Project. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Ali Moussa Iye, head of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

It has also been collecting and preserving archives and oral traditions, supporting the publication of books, and identifying “places of remembrances so that itineraries for memory” can be developed.

For many people of African descent, however, much more needs to be done to raise awareness. Ricki Stevenson, a Paris-based African-American businesswoman who heads a company called Black Paris Tours, focusing on the African Diaspora’s contributions in the French capital, told IPS that there ought to be “national and international conversation about the continued effects of enslavement.”

“We need to break the silence on how racism continues to hurt, not just Black people, but all people in any country that would kill, imprison, deny education and rights to individuals,” she said. “The United States, France, and all of Europe made unimaginable money from the cruel, inhumane kidnapping and enslavement of millions of Africans.

“These nations grew rich, built their cities and economies on the enslavement of Africans, on the forced labour of Black people who were stripped of every basic human right, treated less than animals,” she added. “Today we are learning that the wealth of Wall Street and so many major corporations, insurance companies, shipping companies, banks, private families, even churches, is still tied to slavery.”

Stevenson said she knows that some find it hard to comprehend the legacy of slavery. “I doubt if anyone who has never lived in the United States can understand the overwhelming challenge of ‘breathing while Black’,” she told IPS. “It is a horrible, daily fact of life every Black man, woman, child has faced or will face at some point in their lives.”

In France, meanwhile, the rise of nationalism is leading to a culture of exclusion as well as racism, according to political observers. Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, for example, author of a 2001 law bearing her name that also recognises slavery as a crime against humanity, has been the target of racist depictions on social media and in certain publications.

Speaking at the 20th anniversary ceremony of the Slave Route Project, Taubira described her battle against “hatred” and said that the world’s challenge today is to understand the global forces that divide people for exploitation.

“We cannot accept this kind of inhumanity,” she said, adding that the “anonymous victims” were not just victims but “survivors, creators, artists, cultural, guides … and resistors”, despite the immense violence they suffered.

Some individuals and municipalities in France have worked to highlight the country’s active role in the transatlantic slave trade, through cultural and memorial projects. The northwestern city of Nantes, which achieved vast wealth through slavery in the 18th century, built a memorial to victims in 2012.

Historians say that more than 40 percent of France’s slave trade was conducted through the city’s port, which acted as a transhipment point for some 450,000 Africans forcibly taken to the Americas. But this part of Nantes’ history was kept hidden for years until the move to “break the silence” cumulated in the Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery.

In England, the city of Liverpool has an International Museum of Slavery, and Qatar and Cuba have also set up museums devoted to this history, carrying out partnership projects with UNESCO.

Acclaimed American jazz musician Marcus Miller, spokesman for the Slave Route Project, is also using music to educate people about slavery. Prior to an uplifting performance in Paris with African musicians, Miller said he wanted to focus on the resistance and resilience of the people forced into slavery and those who fought alongside to end the centuries-long atrocity.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Global Commission Urges Decriminalisation of Drug Usehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/global-commission-urges-decriminalisation-of-drug-use/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-commission-urges-decriminalisation-of-drug-use http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/global-commission-urges-decriminalisation-of-drug-use/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 01:02:09 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136563 Coca field in an Amazon jungle village. Credit: Courtesy of Central Asháninka del Río Ene/IPS

Coca field in an Amazon jungle village. Credit: Courtesy of Central Asháninka del Río Ene/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 10 2014 (IPS)

A top-level international panel called Tuesday for a major shift in global drug-control policies from prohibition to decriminalisation and regulation.

In a 43-page report, the Global Commission on Drug Policy denounced what has been known for more than four decades as the “war against drugs” as a failure and argued that new approaches prioritising human rights and health were urgently needed.“There’s no question now that the genie of reform has escaped the prohibitionist bottle.” -- Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance

“In this report, we set out a broad roadmap for getting drugs under control,” wrote former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who chairs the Commission. “We recognize that past approaches premised on a punitive law enforcement paradigm have failed, emphatically so.

“They have resulted in more violence, larger prison populations, and the erosion of governance around the world. …The Global Commission on Drug Policy instead advocates for an approach to drug policy that puts public health, community safety, human rights, and development at the center,” according to Cardoso.

Such an approach would, among other changes, encourage governments to regulate markets in currently illicit drugs, beginning with marijuana, coca leaf, and certain psycho-active drugs; seek alternatives to prison for low-level, non-violent participants in the drug trade; and ensure equitable access to essential medicines, especially opiate-based pain medications, according to the report, “Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies That Work.” It called for a pragmatic approach that would include experimentation and trial and error.

The report’s recommendations, which come as governments prepare for the 2016 U.N. General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, drew a mixed response from the U.S. government which has largely driven international drug policy since former President Richard Nixon first declared a “war on drugs” in 1971.

“We agree that we should use science-based approaches, rely on alternatives to incarceration for non-violent drug offenders, and ensure access to pain medications,” said Cameron Hardesty of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“…However, we disagree that legalisation of drugs will make people healthier and communities safer. Our experience with the tobacco and alcohol industries show that commercialization efforts rely upon increasing, not decreasing use, which in turn increases the harm associated with the use of tobacco and alcohol. In fact, if we take Big Tobacco as prologue, we can predict that that approach is likely to cause an entirely new set of problems,” she said.

Nonetheless, independent analysts said the Commission’s recommendations are likely to substantially advance the growing debate over drug policy if, for no other reason, than its membership is not easily dismissed.

In addition to Cardoso, its 21 members include former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, as well as former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and former Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Paul Volcker.

The report was released at a press conference that featured several of the Commission’s members in New York City Tuesday morning.

“This is a very important report that will provoke more serious discussion and debate,” Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, an influential Washington-based inter-hemispheric think tank, told IPS. “There have already been significant changes at the state level [in the U.S.] and in some countries in Latin America, and this will push things along.”

In 2011, the Commission published its first report in which it also condemned the drug war as a failure and made a series of recommendations designed to “break the taboo” against considering legalisation and regulation of some drugs as alternatives.

Having broken the taboo, the Commission offered political cover for some Latin American leaders, including former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, and Uruguayan President Jose Mujica (whose country last December became the world’s first to regulate the legal production, distribution, and sale of marijuana), to endorse far-reaching reform.

In mid-2013, the Organisation of American States (OAS) also released a report commissioned by the region’s reads of states that included legalisation as a policy alternative and that strongly favoured the view that drugs should be seen increasingly as a public health, rather than a security issue.

Among other measures, it proposed legalising and regulating marijuana production, distribution and sales – a recommendation that has since been adopted by voters in the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington. Nearly half of all U.S. states have legalised cannabis for medical purposes, and 17 states have decriminalised personal possession.

Virtually all observers agree that the drug war has been a signal failure. As prices drop for drugs that are have become purer with each passing year, governments have been spending an estimated 100 billion dollars annually on enforcement measures. The U.N. has estimated the value of global illicit drug trade at over 350 billion dollars.

The Commission offered a number of general recommendations in its report, beginning with a call for a “fundamental re-orientation of policy priorities” that would replace traditional goals and measures — such as amounts of drugs seized, the number of people arrested, prosecuted, and convicted for drug law violations – with “far more important” benchmarks, such as reducing drug-related harms, such as fatal overdoses, HIV infections, crime, violence, human rights abuses, and the power of criminal organisations that profit from the drug trade.

In addition to calling for equitable access to essential medicines, regulating markets for some drugs, and relying on alternatives to incarcerating non-violent, low-level participants in illicit drug markets, such as farmers and carriers, the report called for governments to be “far more strategic” in efforts to reduce the power of criminal organisations.

It noted that militarised “crackdowns” may actually increase criminal violence and public insecurity without actually deterring drug production, trafficking or consumption.

“…(I)n the longer term, drug markets should be responsibly regulated by government authorities. Without legal regulation, control and enforcement, the drug trade will remain in the hands of organised criminals. Ultimately this is a choice between control in the hands of governments or gangsters; there is no third option in which drug markets can be made to disappear,” according to the report.

“The idea behind this report and its timing is to ensure that there can be no repeat of the empty slogans, such as “a drug-free world, we can do it,” which was the theme of the UNGASS on Drugs in 1998, said John Walsh, a drug-policy expert at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

“To avoid a repeat, the idea is to ensure that a genuine debate will be unavoidable. That doesn’t mean that the world’s countries will rally around this new paradigm of legal regulation instead of prohibition, but the hope is that these issues cannot be ignored.”

“There’s no question now that the genie of reform has escaped the prohibitionist bottle,” said Ethan Nadelmann, the veteran director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “The former presidents and other Commission members pull no punches in insisting that national and global drug control policies reject the failed prohibitionist policies of the 20th century in favour of new policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.”

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Hamas Rocket Launches Don’t Explain Israel’s Gaza Destructionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/hamas-rocket-launches-dont-explain-israels-gaza-destruction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hamas-rocket-launches-dont-explain-israels-gaza-destruction http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/hamas-rocket-launches-dont-explain-israels-gaza-destruction/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 18:24:22 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136560 Palestinians collect their belongings from under the rubble of a residential tower, which witnesses said was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Aug. 24. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

Palestinians collect their belongings from under the rubble of a residential tower, which witnesses said was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Aug. 24. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Sep 9 2014 (IPS)

Israel and its supporters abroad have parried accusations of indiscriminate destruction and mass killing of civilians in Gaza by arguing that they were consequences of strikes aimed at protecting Israeli civilians from rockets that were being launched from very near civilian structures.

That defence has already found its way into domestic U.S. politics. A possible contender for the Democratic nomination for president, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, defended her vote for more military aid for Israel during the Israeli assault on Gaza by citing the rocket launch defence.The IDF obviously did not have actual intelligence on each of those homes that had been reduced to rubble. The massive designation of houses as “hideouts” indicates the Israelis believed Palestinian fighters were hiding in some of them.

“[W]hen Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they’re using their civilian population to protect their military assets,” said Warren. “And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself.”

But although some Hamas rockets were launched near homes or other civilian structures, military developments on both sides have rendered that defence of Israeli attacks on civilian targets invalid.

The rocket launchers for Hamas’s homemade Qassam missiles consist of simple tripods that can be removed in seconds, and the extensive Hamas tunnel network has given it underground launching sites as well as storage facilities for its larger, longer-range Grad and M-75 missiles.

On the other side, the Israeli Air Force possesses air-to-ground missiles that are so accurate that they can destroy a very small target without any damage to civilian structure even if it is very close.

A video released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in a report on Hamas’s “illegal use of civilian infrastructure” last month shows an attack – obviously by an Israeli drone — on an underground rocket launcher only a few metres away from a mosque causing no damage whatever to the mosque.

These technological changes take away any justification for flattening civilian buildings even if a rocket launch site is nearby. In fact, however, the evidence now available indicates that Hamas launch sites are not that close to hospitals, schools and mosques.

The IDF sought in mid-July to use the rocket launcher defence to explain the damage to Al Wafa Rehabilitation and Geriatic Hospital in eastern Gaza City from 15 rockets, which forced the staff to evacuate its patients. An IDF spokesman said the military had “no choice” because rockets had been launched from very near the hospital.

Clearly revealing that the rocket launch justification for the attack was a ruse, however, the spokesman revealed to Allison Degler of Mondoweiss that the alleged launch site was 100 metres from the hospital. That would have been far more space than was needed to strike the launch site without any damage to the hospital whatever.

A report released by the IDF Aug. 19 included an aerial view of Al Wafa Hospital with two alleged rocket launching sites marked at locations that appeared to be much farther from the hospital than the 100 metres claimed by the IDF spokesman.

The IDF nevertheless went so far as to declare on Jul. 21, “Hamas fires rockets from Wafa hospital in the Gaza neighborhood of Shujaiya.”

When the IDF destroyed Al Wafa hospital completely by airstrikes on Jul. 23, it abandoned the pretense that the reason was a Hamas rocket launch site. Instead it released a video purporting to show firing at IDF troops from the hospital.

It turned out, however, the video clips of the firing been shot during “Operation Cast Lead” in 2009, not in 2014.

The IDF has continued to suggest that its destruction of public civilian facilities was forced on it by rocket launches from within those facilities. At the end of the “Operation Protective Edge” the IDF spokesman’s office claimed that 597 rockets had been launched from civilian facilities, of which 160 were allegedly fired from schools, 50 from hospitals, and 160 from mosques.

But those figures were by produced only by pretending that launching sites some distance from the facilities in question were on the premises of the facilities.

An IDF “declassified report” released Aug. 19, aimed at showing that civilian facilities were serving as military infrastructure for Hamas, includes no evidence of any rocket launches on the grounds of any civilian facility.

A very blurry 20-second video appears to show a rocket launch from what is identified as “Abu Nur” school. But it, too, is deceptive. A black streak rises from the area of the school for a little more than a second of the video, but for the entire length of the video two voices declare repeatedly that they saw three rockets launched “from within the school”.

Careful viewing of the footage reveals, however, that the apparent launch comes from outside the wall of the three-story school building rather than from within it.

In three other cases of alleged rocket launches from schools, the IDF provides no visual evidence – only large red dots drawn on an aerial view of the schools.

During the “Operation Protective Edge”, the IDF openly targeted mosques, claiming they are military targets, demolishing 73 mosques and partially destroying 205 more.

The Aug. 19 IDF report refers to a “rocket cache and gathering point for militants hidden in a mosque” in Nuseirat. But despite frequent repetitions of the notion that Hamas routinely stores rockets in mosques, the IDF has not produced photographic evidence of rocket storage in a single mosque.

Nor has the IDF made public any video evidence of secondary explosions from the destruction of mosques. In a tacit admission that such evidence is lacking, the report instead cites an instance of a “concealed entrance” to a Hamas tunnel located between a mosque and a school.

The most extensive destruction of civilian structures in “Operation Protective Edge” was the complete leveling of large parts of entire neighbourhoods in the Shujaiya district of Gaza City on Jul. 19. After the United Nations published a map showing the complete destruction of those areas of Shujaiya, the IDF published its own map on Aug. 4 aimed at justifying the destruction.

The map shows that the IDF can’t claim the proximity of Hamas rocket launching sites as the justification for the leveling of many residential blocks in Shujaiya. The Israeli military had identified every home in the devastated neighbourhoods on its map as a “hideout” for Hamas or Islamic Jihad fighters.

The IDF obviously did not have actual intelligence on each of those homes that had been reduced to rubble. The massive designation of houses as “hideouts” indicates the Israelis believed Palestinian fighters were hiding in some of them.

Although the red dots on the IDF map identifying rocket launch sites are too big to estimate accurately the distance between them and the closest houses, only a few such dots appear to be as close as one city block to a house in one of the areas of massive destruction. And all but a few of the homes destroyed are much farther than a block from the alleged launching sites.

An account of the Shujaiya destruction by journalist Mark Perry based on a Jul. 21 U.S. Defence Department report recalls that the IDF fired 7,000 artillery shells at residential areas in the district the night of Jul. 19, including 4,500 shells in the space of just seven hours.

Such massive and indiscriminate destruction of civilian structures is strictly prohibited by the international laws of war. Israeli officials have frequently said the purpose of IDF military operations in both Lebanon and Gaza was to “deter” their adversaries in the future by imposing heavy costs on the civilian population.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. He can be contacted at porter.gareth50@gmail.com

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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LGBT Visibility in Africa Also Brings Backlashhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/lgbt-visibility-in-africa-also-brings-backlash/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lgbt-visibility-in-africa-also-brings-backlash http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/lgbt-visibility-in-africa-also-brings-backlash/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 10:48:52 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136540 Kenyan LGBT rights supporters protest Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law. Credit: Dai Kurokawa/EPA

Kenyan LGBT rights supporters protest Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law. Credit: Dai Kurokawa/EPA

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 9 2014 (IPS)

Eighteen-year-old Gift Makau enjoyed playing and refereeing football games in her neighbourhood in the North West Province of South Africa. She had come out to her parents as a lesbian and had never been heckled by her community, according to her cousin.

On Aug. 15 she was found by her mother in a back alley, where she had been raped, tortured and killed.“Homophobia becomes both a ruse and a distraction from other real substantive issues, whether those are economic or political.” -- HRW's Graeme Reid

Shehnilla Mohamed, Africa director for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGHLRC), said that Gift’s murder was part of a disturbing trend in which gender-nonconforming individuals are targeted for so-called corrective rape.

“Corrective rape is really the attempt of the society to try to punish the person for acting outside the norm,” Mohamed said.

In the past 10 years in South Africa, 31 lesbians have been reported killed as the result of corrective rape, she said.  A charity called Luleki Sizwe estimates that 10 lesbians are raped or gang raped a week in Cape Town alone.

Transgender, gay or effeminate men are also the subject of corrective rape, but they are less likely to be murdered and are less likely to report it.

If this is happening in South Africa, the only mainland African country to allow legal same-sex marriage, what is it like to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) elsewhere on the continent?

“The type of brutality that you see happening to lesbians and to homosexuals in parts of Africa is just beyond comprehension,” Mohamed told IPS. “It’s like your worst horror movie, and even worse than that.”

More than two-thirds of African countries have laws criminalising consensual same-sex acts, according to IGLHRC.

“Overall what we’ve seen is a fairly bleak picture that’s emerging,” said Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT Program at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Africa is seeing “an intensification of the political use of homophobia,” he said.

Nigeria and Uganda made headlines in early 2014 when they signed anti-homosexuality bills that handed out long prison sentences for being homosexual or for refusing to turn in a known homosexual.

On Aug. 1, Uganda’s law was declared unconstitutional on procedural grounds by its supreme court, but Shehnilla Mohamed expects that it will be back on the table again once international attention shifts away.

Long-time African leaders who wish to extend their stay in office often try to whip up anti-homosexuality sentiment.

“Homophobia becomes both a ruse and a distraction from other real substantive issues, whether those are economic or political,” Graeme Reid said.

Chalwe Mwansa, a Zambian activist and IGHLRC fellow, told IPS that in his country, politicians equate cases of pedophilia and incest with homosexuality, fabricating sensational stories to inflame the public. This strategy diverts attention away from problems with unemployment, poverty, health and education.

Some leaders also claim that homosexuality is an un-African, Western imposition. Mohamed believes it is the exact opposite.

Homosexuality “existed in a lot of the African cultures and a lot of the African traditions,” she told IPS. “It was quite an accepted pattern.”

Same-sex relationships did not begin to develop a negative connotation until after colonisation brought Western religion, she said.

In an environment of antipathy, LGBT individuals have few places to turn to for help. The police station is often not a sanctuary for those who have been raped.

Mohamed recently spoke to a transgender man in South Africa who was accosted in the lobby of his block of apartments by a group of men who thought he was a woman. When they found out he was a man they raped and “beat him so badly that he was totally unrecognisable,” she said.

The man ended up contracting HIV/AIDS.

In South Africa, after being raped, a person is supposed to report it to the police and receive a free post-exposure prophylaxis within 72 hours to minimise the risk of transmission. However, this man was too afraid to go into the station, knowing that the police would most likely feel that he had deserved it.

The problem is even worse in countries like Nigeria that have criminalised homosexuality. According to Michael Ighodaro, a fellow at IGLHRC from Nigeria, after its anti-homosexuality bill was passed in January, 90 percent of gay men who were on medications stopped going to clinics to receive them, out of fear that they would be arrested.

Even at home, LGBT individuals in Africa face an uphill struggle. Anti-homosexuality laws do have a current of support throughout society. LGBT people often fear ostracisation by their families, so hide their sexual or gender identity.

The increased prominence of LGBT issues in national debates in Africa in the past decade has inspired a bit of a backlash.

Njeri Gateru, a legal officer at the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission of Kenya, says that Kenya lies in a tricky balance. Society does not actively persecute LGBT individuals if they outwardly conform to sexual and gender norms, but “problems would arise if people marched in the streets or there was an article in the press.”

“We cannot continue to live in a balance where we are muzzled and we are comfortable being muzzled,” Gateru said at a HRW event in New York.

Religion plays a significant role in the lack of acceptance of gender non-conforming groups in Africa.

IGLHRC’s Mohamed said that even “people with master’s degrees, who are highly educated, who work in white collar jobs will say ‘God does not like this.’”

“I think pointing out that LGBTI people are human beings, are God’s creation just like everybody else is really something that we’ll keep on pushing,” she said.

According to Gateru, even when churches open their doors to LGBT groups, they sometimes do it for the wrong reasons.

A year or so ago, a group of Kenyan evangelical leaders announced that they were going to stop turning LGBT individuals away from churches because, in their words, ‘Jesus came for the sinners, not the righteous.’

The churches are “welcoming you to change you or to pray for you so you can change, which is really not what we want,” said Gateru. “But I think it’s a very tiny step.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has repeatedly and consistently criticised discrimination against LGBT groups and condemned new anti-homosexuality laws.

Activist groups welcome the support of prominent religious leaders such as Tutu, and are planning a conference in February to bring together pastors, imams and rabbis to discuss LGBT issues and religion in Africa.

In general, LGBT activist organisations have their work cut out for them.

LGBT advocacy groups “most of the time are working undercover, are working underground, or if they are registered and are working as an NGO, are constantly being harassed by the authorities or by society,” Mohamed said.

IGLHRC was founded in 1990, and helps local LGBT advocacy groups around the world fight for their rights through grant making and work on the ground.

“What we really need is to mainstream homosexual rights, LGBTI rights into the basic human rights discourse,” said Mohamed.

During August’s U.S.-Africa summit in Washington, IGLHRC urged the U.S. to hold African leaders to account.

Depending on the country, the U.S. does have an ability to advance human rights through external pressure. Mohamed speculated that the striking down of Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill just days before the summit was a public relations stunt by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, since he wanted a warm reception by the White House.

Nigeria, the other country to introduce a new law in 2014, is more difficult to influence than Uganda, according to Michael Ighodaro. Because of its oil wealth, the Nigerian government would not care if the United States were to pull funding.

The U.S.-African summit, since it was focused on business, offered an opportunity for LGBT advocacy groups to point out the economic costs of sidelining an entire sector of the population.

Mohamed said that LGBT individuals are often “too scared to apply for certain jobs because of how they would be treated. If they did apply they probably would never get the jobs because of the stigmas attached.”

Despite the difficult journey to come, supporters of LGBT rights in Africa can look back to see that some progress has been made.

HRW’s Reid said that the LGBT movement was practically invisible in Africa just 20 years ago.

“In a sense this very vocal reaction against LGBT visibility can also be seen as a measure of the strength and growth of a movement over the last two decades,” he said.

Things may get a little tougher before they get better, Njeri Gateru told IPS, but “history is on our side.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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OPINION: ISIS Primarily a Threat to Arab Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-isis-primarily-a-threat-to-arab-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-isis-primarily-a-threat-to-arab-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-isis-primarily-a-threat-to-arab-countries/#comments Fri, 05 Sep 2014 18:44:59 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136514

Emile Nakhleh is a research professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Sep 5 2014 (IPS)

Millions of words have been written about the rise, conquests, and savagery of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, and Boko Haram in Nigeria. Both have declared an “Islamic State” in their areas although Boko Haram has not claimed the mantle of a successor to the Prophet Muhammad as ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has done in Greater Syria. The two groups are the latest in a string of terrorist organisations in the past two decades.

American and other Western media have raised the ISIS terror threat to unprecedented levels, and the press have extolled the group’s military prowess, financial acumen, and command of social media propaganda.

The beheadings of U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff are the latest horrible manifestations of the group’s brutality. ISIS is now seen as a serious threat to the U.S. and British homelands and new measures are being taken in both countries to combat the dangers it poses.

The Sunni regimes’ benign neglect of the rapidly spreading Sunni violent ideology and its divisive sectarian policies has allowed ISIS to spread. This does not augur well for its survival. The Saudi brand of intolerant, narrow-minded Wahhabi-Salafi Sunni Islam is not much different from al-Baghdadi’s modern day caliphate.
Although surprised at the rapid growth of ISIS, Western policymakers should not be bewildered by the rise of yet another terrorist group. In the past 20 years, the world has witnessed the emergence of al-Qaeda as a global jihadist group, Jama’a Islamiyya in Southeast Asia, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in North Africa, al-Qaeda in Iraq, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Islamic Fighting Group in Libya, al-Shabab in Somalia, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a few more localised bands of terrorists across the greater Middle East.

In every case, Western countries described the groups as a “gathering threat” and mobilised friendly countries, including autocratic rulers, against the perceived dangers.

Policy and intelligence analysts spent untold hours and travelled thousands of miles tracking the movements of these groups and their leaders, and writing briefs and reports about the nature of the threat.

Most of these analytic reports have focused on “current” issues. Only a meagre effort has been expended on long-term strategic analysis of the context of radical and terrorist groups and their root causes. It’s as if we are doomed to fight yesterday’s wars with no time to look into the context that gives rise to these groups. President Barack Obama’s recent statement that his administration had no strategy to fight the ISIS menace in Syria epitomises this analytical paralysis.

Regional problem

ISIS is primarily a threat to Arab countries, not to the United States and other Western countries. The more Sunni Arab states remain silent in the face of this pseudo-religious vulgarity, the sooner terrorism would be at their door. Arab society under the yoke of extremist Islamism must be addressed from within the region, not by American airstrikes or Western military intervention.

If the Islamic State expands beyond the Levant, it will plunge Arab societies into militancy, bloody conflicts, and depravity devoid of free thought, creativity, and economic prosperity.

The threat that Western societies could potentially face would come not from ISIS but from the hundreds of their young citizens who joined ISIS. These young jihadists, who hail from the U.S., Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Australia, and other countries, have joined ISIS either as “walk-in” volunteers or as a result of ISIS’ sophisticated social media recruiting campaign. They left their seemingly comfortable lives for all kinds of political, psychological, religious, or ideological reasons to fight for a “cause” they are not terribly clear about.

If they survive the fighting, they would return home having been brainwashed against the perceived decadence of Western Christian societies and the imagined “purity” of their faith. Their imported emotional contradictions would drive some of them to relive their jihadist experience in the Levant by committing acts of violence and terrorism against their fellow citizens.

The so-called caliphate, whether in the Levant or West Africa, is a backward perversion of Sunni Islam that opposes modernity in all of its manifestation – interfaith dialogue, women’s education, minority rights, tolerance, and reason. A self-proclaimed successor to the Prophet Muhammad, al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State in the Syrian Desert is violating every principle of Muhammad’s Islamic State in Medina in the 7th century.

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.

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.

If it is true that a young man is not radicalised and does not become a terrorist overnight and if it is true that a terrorist group does not develop in a vacuum, then it’s time to stand back and take a strategic look at the factors that drive ISIS and similar Sunni terrorist groups in the Arab world.

1. Intolerant Doctrine. Some Arab Sunni regimes, including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, continue to preach an intolerant religious Sunni ideology that denigrates not only other faiths but also Shia Islam. Christian religious places and educational institutions cannot operate freely in places like Saudi Arabia.

Much of the anger that has characterised the Islamisation of Muslim societies in recent years has been directed against these institutions. This type of harassment is felt across the region, from Palestine to Saudi Arabia. What makes this reality especially sad is the fact that Christian institutions have been at the forefront of Arab educational renaissance since the 19th century.

The Sunni regimes’ benign neglect of the rapidly spreading Sunni violent ideology and its divisive sectarian policies has allowed ISIS to spread. This does not augur well for its survival. The Saudi brand of intolerant, narrow-minded Wahhabi-Salafi Sunni Islam is not much different from al-Baghdadi’s modern day caliphate.

The Saudis oppose ISIS because of its perceived threat to the regime, but they cannot disavow their theological worldview, which rejects Shia Islam, Christianity, and Judaism and denies women their rightful place as equal citizens. The rapidly spreading ISIS doctrine is making it a bit late for the Saudis and other Sunni regimes to act. Nor will the West be able to bail them out.

2. Arab Autocracy. Sunni Arab dictators have refused their peoples freedoms of speech, organisation, political activism, innovation, and creativity. The three “deficits” of freedom, education, and women’s rights that Arab intellectuals identified in the Arab Human Development Report in 2002 are yet to be meaningfully addressed.

Politics is controlled by the powerful with no room for reason or compromise among the different stakeholders and centres of power in society. Those on top commit all kinds of dastardly deeds to stay in power, and those at the bottom are doomed to remain stuck in the proverbial “bottom one billion.” Regimes do not allow the meaningful separation of powers, checks and balances, and independent judiciaries to properly function. Control, fear, and co-optation remain the preferred tools of Arab dictators.

3. Hypocrisy of “Values.” President Obama has often invoked American values of liberty, human rights, equality, justice, and fairness as the underpinnings of U.S. democracy and of “what makes us who we are.” Yet when Arab publics see Washington steadfastly supporting Arab dictators, who are the antithesis of American “values,” the United States comes across as hypocritical and untrustworthy.

The debates within Islam over whether the faith should return to its 7th century roots, as ISIS’s ruthlessness has shown, or leap into the 21st century modern world, as Turkey has demonstrated, should primarily concern Muslims. They and they alone are the ones to resolve this quandary. ISIS is a violent symptom of this tug of war between intolerant traditionalists and forward-looking reformists. The West should stay out of the debate.

Western security and law enforcement agencies should focus on their own citizens and track their would-be jihadists, but Western military aircraft should stay out of the skies of the Levant.

Edited by Ronald Joshua

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

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Global Summit Urged to Focus on Trillion-Dollar Corruptionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/global-summit-to-focus-on-eradication-of-trillion-dollar-corruption/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-summit-to-focus-on-eradication-of-trillion-dollar-corruption http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/global-summit-to-focus-on-eradication-of-trillion-dollar-corruption/#comments Fri, 05 Sep 2014 18:15:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136512 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 5 2014 (IPS)

New analysis suggests that developing countries are losing a trillion dollars or more each year to tax evasion and corruption facilitated by lax laws in Western countries, raising pressure on global leaders to agree to broad new reforms at an international summit later this year.

These massive losses could be leading to as many as 3.6 million deaths a year, according to the ONE Campaign, an advocacy group that focuses on poverty alleviation in Africa. Recovering just part of this money in Sub-Saharan Africa, the organisation says, could allow for the education of 10 million more children“Whenever corruption is allowed to thrive, it inhibits private investment, reduces economic growth, increases the cost of doing business, and can lead to political instability. But in developing countries, corruption is a killer” – ONE Campaign
 a year, or provide some 165 million additional vaccines.

“Whenever corruption is allowed to thrive, it inhibits private investment, reduces economic growth, increases the cost of doing business, and can lead to political instability. But in developing countries, corruption is a killer,” a report on the findings, released Wednesday, states.

“When governments are deprived of their own resources to invest in health care, food security or essential infrastructure, it costs lives, and the biggest toll is on children.”

The new analysis focuses on a spectrum of money laundering, bribery and tax evasion by criminals as well as government officials. The lost money is not development aid but rather undeclared or siphoned-off business earnings – immense tax avoidance resulting in a decreased base from which governments can fund essential services.

International trade offers a key point of manipulation, the report says, with the extractive industries particularly vulnerable. In Africa alone, exports of natural resources grew by a factor of five in the decade leading up to 2012, offering clear prospects for growth alongside lucrative opportunities for corruption on a mass scale.

“Between 2002 and 2011 we saw an exponential increase in illicit financial flows across the globe,” Joseph Kraus, a transparency expert at the ONE Campaign, told IPS.

“Yet while we’re all familiar with corruption in developing countries, it takes two to tango – that money often ends up in the financial centres of the Global North. Those banks, lawyers and accountants are all essentially facilitators of that corruption, so in order to get at the root of this issue we need to go after the problems there.”

Real opportunity

Advocates including the ONE Campaign are currently stepping up pressure on industrialised countries to institute a series of across-the-board transparency measures. Some are aimed at corruption in developing countries, such as strengthening disclosure laws impacting on the extractives industry and bolstering “open data” standards to allow citizens increased oversight over their governments’ dealings.

Several other reforms would need to be carried out by developed countries, particularly those housing major financial centres such as the United States and United Kingdom. These would include new standards requiring governments to automatically exchange tax information, to mandate the publication of full information on corporate ownership, and to force multinational corporations to report on their earnings on a country-by-country basis.

In certain circles, such demands have been percolating for years. But current circumstances could offer unusual opportunity for such changes.

“In the last two years we’ve seen an acceleration of this agenda,” Kraus says. “Eighteen months ago, no one was talking about phantom firms or anonymous shell companies. But these issues have gained a lot of momentum in a short period of time, and there is real opportunity coming up.”

This new energy has been motivated particularly by concerns in advanced economies over shrinking government budgets in the aftermath of the global economic downturn. Yet developing countries arguably stand to benefit the most from substantive reforms, provided they’re structured accordingly.

Advocates of such changes are now looking ahead to a summit, on Nov 15 and 16 in Australia, of the members of the Group of 20 (G20) world’s largest advanced and emerging economies as well as two major meetings of finance ministers in the run-up to that event.

The G20 represent about two-thirds of the world’s population, 85 percent of global gross domestic product and over 75 percent of global trade.

The members of the G20 are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.

The G20 has taken on a primary role in issues of global financial stability and, more recently, in pushing the automatic exchange of tax information between governments. A new global standard on such exchange could be approved by the G20 ministers in November, among other actions.

“For too long, G20 countries have turned a blind eye to massive financial outflows from developing countries which are channelled through offshore bank accounts and secret companies,” according to John Githongo, an anti-corruption campaigner in Kenya.

“Introducing smart policies could help end this trillion dollar scandal and reap massive benefits for our people at virtually no cost. The G20 should make those changes now.”

Coordinated response

In fact, many G20 countries have instituted some of these reforms on their own. The U.K. government, for instance, has taken unilateral action on publicising information on corporate ownership, while the United States was the first to pass strong transparency requirements for multinational extractives companies.

While such piecemeal national legislation can spur other countries to action, many feel only a comprehensive approach would have a chance at having a substantial impact. Further, many governments have pledged to act on these issues, but have yet to actually follow through.

“Illicit financial flows are a perfect example of a transnational problem, in that you have two legal regimes in which loopholes are being exploited,” Josh Simmons, a policy counsel at Global Financial Integrity, a Washington watchdog group that supplied data for the new ONE Campaign report, told IPS.

“So when an international cooperative body is able to identify these loopholes, they can get member countries to move in sync to address the situation. But if only one country tries to do so, businesses would probably just move elsewhere.”

Others are looking even more broadly than the G20. A paper released last month by researchers with the Center for Global Development, a think tank here, calls for the inclusion of anti-tax-evasion aims in the new global development goals currently being negotiated under the United Nations.

Indeed, even while there could be real movement at the G20 on several of these issues this year, the work on the other end of this equation – in developing countries – remains onerous.

“We need to get developing countries’ tax systems up to speed, strengthen their financial intelligence units and get their anti-laundering laws up to code. And that is proceeding, but much more under the radar given its complexity,” Simmons says.

“Still, that’s where people are actually bearing the brunt of this problem. Tax avoidance in the United States contributes to the national debt, but in developing countries it’s literally causing people to go hungry.”

Edited by Ronald Joshua

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Latin America’s Anti-drug Policies Feed on the Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/latin-americas-anti-drug-policies-feed-on-the-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-americas-anti-drug-policies-feed-on-the-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/latin-americas-anti-drug-policies-feed-on-the-poor/#comments Fri, 05 Sep 2014 00:46:50 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136516 Rosa Julia Leyva, to the left, with other participants in the Drugs and Social Inclusion panel at the Fifth Latin American Conference on Drug Policies, held in San José, Costa Rica. She spent 12 years in prison for smuggling a small stash of heroin in a bag that a friend gave her to carry. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Rosa Julia Leyva, to the left, with other participants in the Drugs and Social Inclusion panel at the Fifth Latin American Conference on Drug Policies, held in San José, Costa Rica. She spent 12 years in prison for smuggling a small stash of heroin in a bag that a friend gave her to carry. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Sep 5 2014 (IPS)

Poor young men, slumdwellers and single mothers are hurt the most by anti-drug policies in Latin America, according to representatives of governments, social organisations and multilateral bodies meeting at the Fifth Latin American Conference on Drug Policies.

During the Sept. 3-4 conference held in San José, Costa Rica, activists, experts and decision-makers from throughout the region demanded reforms of these policies, to ease the pressure on vulnerable groups and shift the focus of law enforcement measures to those who benefit the most from the drug trade.

Today things are backwards – the focus is on “the small fish” rather than “the big fish”, Paul Simons, the executive secretary of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), told IPS.

The proposals set forth during the meeting recommended an overhaul of the legal systems in Latin America, to reduce incarceration and establish sentences proportionate to minor crimes. The participants argued that laws and the justice systems should focus on cracking down on the big interests involved in drug trafficking.

They also recommended that amounts for legal personal possession should be established, along with measures such as the decriminalisation of some drugs or the creation of markets controlled by the state, along the lines of what Uruguay is doing in the case of marijuana.

The current policies give rise to cases like that of Rosa Julia Leyva, an indigenous Mexican woman who now works in the Mexican interior ministry’s National Commission on Security.

Leyva was imprisoned in 1993 for carrying a woven bag with a small package of heroin, which was given to her by a friend who paid her plane ticket in exchange for help with her baggage. It was the first time she had ever left the Petatlán mountains in the southwest state of Guerrero. Until her arrest, she told IPS, she thought she was carrying money or clothes.

At the time, she was the prototype of the women who are constantly thrown into Latin American prisons for drug smuggling: an illiterate 29-year-old, the mother of a five-year-old daughter, sentenced to a quarter century in prison for possession of heroin.“I’m just a poor woman who went through something very difficult. I had nothing to do with drugs and I never could have imagined that they would give me 25 years for drug trafficking. They made out like I was a big drug smuggler and I didn’t even speak Spanish.” --Rosa Julia Leyva


The Organisation of American States (OAS) reports that 70 percent of the female prison population in the region was incarcerated for drug possession.

“I’m just a poor woman who went through something very difficult,” Leyva says. “I had nothing to do with drugs and I never could have imagined that they would give me 25 years for drug trafficking. They made out like I was a big drug smuggler and I didn’t even speak Spanish.”

“I think the law should be more specific in these things,” said Leyva, who also makes crafts. She managed to get her sentence reduced to 13 years, of which she served just over 12. Now she gives theatre classes in Mexican prisons.

In the world’s most unequal region, the prisons are packed full of poor people, while white collar criminals are much less likely to be brought to justice, said experts participating in the “Drugs and Social Inclusion” panel during the conference.

This imbalance and overcrowding of the prisons could change, they said, if the courts and prison systems made the effort.

“We want to see who is brought before the courts, and look into options for people who are not violent and who have committed minor crimes, as consumers, drug mules [who smuggle small quantities] or people who committed the crime to feed themselves and their families,” Simons told IPS.

“They are the small fish, like bus drivers or mules, who smuggle small quantities without any violence in a region full of contrasts,” said the head of CICAD, which forms part of the OAS. “We want to see if there is a way for these people not to be caught up in the prison cycle.”

In a region where 10 of the most unequal countries in the world are located, “drug policies must be reformulated,” said Yoriko Yasukawa, resident coordinator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Costa Rica.

The proportionality of sentences in cases like Leyva’s was a recurrent theme among the experts, who called for a “more just” legal system in line with the real damage caused by people convicted of drug-related crimes.

“Sometimes the punishment is comparable to the penalties for homicide or other serious crimes,” Argentine social worker Graciela Touzé told IPS.

“It is not similar to the damage caused, and the punishment can’t be similar either, although that does not mean that they shouldn’t be held accountable,” added the president of the Intercambios Asociación Civil, an organisation based in Buenos Aires.

Social cost

During the regional conference, speakers were adamant in their criticism of the social costs of repressive anti-drug policies.

Costa Rica’s minister of public security, Celso Gamboa, explained that the people arrested in his country in the first eight months of 2014 included fishermen, flight attendants and drivers who were drawn into drug smuggling by poverty.

“The blows to drug trafficking structures have focused on the most vulnerable parts, which leads us to conclude that much of the fight against drugs in Costa Rica and the rest of Latin America fuels the criminalisation of poverty,” he said.

“The question is: where are the investigations enabling us to reach the white collar structures and those who hold the real power?” said Gamboa, a former prosecutor from the Caribbean province of Limón, where he was involved in hundreds of drug trafficking cases.

Above and beyond the complicated situation in the prisons, civil society organisations insisted that anti-drug policies are marked by inequality. For that reason, activists said, drug consumers and young people are punished more harshly.

But the different proposals for redressing the imbalance sometimes clash.

Gamboa believes in tackling the drug problem with an economics-based approach that goes after the big fish who hold the real money, while Zara Snapp, of the Mexican Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, says the best way to reduce the number of civilian victims of the drug trade is by creating a market in Mexico regulated by the state.

“The inequality does not mean that there isn’t a lot that we can do, because we still have many resources, it’s just that we channel them into the militarisation of the struggle and into law enforcement, rather than towards creating opportunities for the vulnerable populations,” the Mexican activist, who also forms part of the non-governmental Mexican Commission for the Promotion of Human Right, told IPS.

“The only thing that approach does is to create fertile ground for recruitment by organised crime,” she said.

It is poor young men and women who pay the cost. According to the OAS, the prevalence of consumption of “pasta base” or cocaine paste is 1.8 percent overall, but 8.0 percent among young people in poverty.

The stigma surrounding the use of pasta base accentuates their marginalisation and further limits their opportunities, according to the Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Child Trafficking Rampant in Underdeveloped Indian Villageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/child-trafficking-rampant-in-underdeveloped-indian-villages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-trafficking-rampant-in-underdeveloped-indian-villages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/child-trafficking-rampant-in-underdeveloped-indian-villages/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 07:08:51 +0000 K. S. Harikrishnan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136482 NGOs and government data suggests that a child goes missing every eight minutes in India. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

NGOs and government data suggests that a child goes missing every eight minutes in India. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

By K. S. Harikrishnan
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India , Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

In a country where well over half the population lives on less than two dollars a day, it takes a lot to shock people. The sight of desperate families traveling in search of money and food, whole communities defecating in the open, old women performing back-breaking labour, all this is simply part of life in India, home to 1.2 billion people.

But amidst this rampant destitution, some things still raise red flags, or summon collective cries of fury. Child trafficking is one such issue, and it is earning front-page headlines in states where thousands of children are believed to be victims of the illicit trade.

The arrest on Jun. 5 of Shakeel Ahamed, a 40-year-old migrant labourer, by police in the southern state of Kerala, created a national outcry, and reawakened fears of a complex and deep-rooted child trafficking network around the country.

Ahamed’s operation alone was thought to involve over 580 children being illegally moved into Muslim orphanages throughout the state.

“Many families are unable to afford the basic necessities of life, which forces parents to sell their children. Some children are abandoned by families who can’t take care of them. Some run away to escape abuse or unhappy homes. Gangsters and middlemen approach these vulnerable children." -- Justice J B Koshy, chairperson of the Kerala Human Rights Commission
Experts tell IPS that children are also routinely trafficked to and from states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), child trafficking is rampant in underdeveloped villages, where “victims are lured or abducted from their homes and subsequently forced to work against their wish through various means in various establishments, indulge in prostitution or subjected to various types of indignitiesand even killed or incapacitated for the purposes of begging, and trade in human organs.”

Available records show a total of 3,554 crimes related to human trafficking in 2012, compared to 3,517 the previous year. Some 2,848 and 3,400 cases were reported in 2009 and 2010 respectively, as well as 3,029 cases in 2008.

In 2012, former State Home Affairs Minister Jitendra Singh told the upper house of parliament that almost 60,000 children were reported as “missing” in 2011. “Of those,” he added, “more than 22,000 are yet to be located.”

It is not clear how many of these “missing” children are victims of traffickers; a dearth of national data means that experts and advocates are often left guessing at the root causes of the problem.

NGOs and government agencies often cite contradictory figures, but both are agreed that a child goes missing roughly every eight minutes in the country.

Human rights watchdogs say there are many contributing factors to child trafficking in India, including economic deprivation. Indeed, the 2013 Global Hunger Index ranked India 63rd out of 78 countries, adding that 21.3 percent of the population went hungry in 2013. According to the World Bank, 68.3 percent of Indians live on less than two dollars a day.

“Socio-economic backwardness is a key factor in child trafficking,” Justice J B Koshy, former chief justice of the Patna High Court and chairperson of the Kerala Human Rights Commission, told IPS, adding that a political-mafia nexus also fueled the practice in remote parts of the country.

“Many families are unable to afford the basic necessities of life, which forces parents to sell their children,” Koshy stated. “Some children are abandoned by families who can’t take care of them. Some run away to escape abuse or unhappy homes. The gangsters and middlemen approach these vulnerable children. In some cases, good-looking girls are taken away by force.”

An action research study conducted in 2005 by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) found that a majority of trafficking victims belonged to socially deprived sections of society.

It is estimated that half of the children trafficked within India are between the ages of 11 and 14.

Some 32.3 percent of trafficked girls suffer from diseases such as HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other gynaecological problems, according to a 2006 report by ECPAT International.

This is likely due to the fact that most girls are trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation.

A government-commissioned study conducted in 2003, the last time comprehensive data was gathered, estimated that the number of sex workers increased from two million in 1997 to three million in 2003-04, representing a 50-percent rise.

Many of these sex workers are thought to be girls between the ages of 12 and 15.

Sreelekha Nair, a researcher who was worked with the New Delhi-based Centre for Women’s Studies, added that parents coming from poor socio-economic conditions in remote villages sometimes readily hand over their children to middlemen.

Some parents have been found to “sell their children for amounts that are shockingly worthless,” she told IPS, in some cases for as little as 2,000 rupees (about 33 dollars), adding, “law and order agencies cannot often intervene in the private matters of a family.”

Rajnath Singh, home minister of India, told a group of New Delhi-based activists headed by Annie Raja, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women, that a central agency would conduct a probe into the mass trafficking of children from villages in the Gumla district of the eastern state of Jharkhand over the past several years.

The group had brought it to the attention of the minister that thousands of girls were going missing from interior villages in the district every year, while their parents claimed ignorance as to their whereabouts.

Raja told reporters in New Delhi this past Julythat developmental schemes launched by individual states and the central government often fail to reach remote villages, leaving the countryside open to agents attempting to “sneak teenage girls out of villages.”

Experts point out that implementation of the 1986 Immoral Traffic Prevention Act remains weak. Many believe that since the act only refers to trafficking for the purpose of prostitution, it does not provide comprehensive protection for children, nor does it provide a clear definition of the term ‘trafficking’.

Dr. P M Nair, project coordinator of the anti-human trafficking unit of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in New Delhi and former director general of police, said that investigations should focus on recruiters, traffickers and all those who are part of organised crime.

The ‘scene of crime’ in a trafficking case, he said, should not be confined to the place of exploitationbut should also cover places of transit and recruitment.

“Victims of trafficking should never be prosecuted or stigmatised,” he told IPS. “They should be extended all care and attention from the human rights perspective. There is a need for the mandatory involvement of government agencies in the post-rescue process so that appropriate rehabilitation measures are ensured” as quickly as possible, he added.

NGOs like Child Line India Foundation help provide access to legal, medical and counseling services to all trafficked victims in order to restore confidence and self-esteem, but the country lacks a coordinated national policy to deal with the issue at the root level.

Experts have recommended that the state provide education, or gender-sensitive market-driven vocational training to rescued victims, to help them reintegrate into society, but such schemes are yet to become a reality.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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In Azerbaijan, ‘Family Is the First Fear’ of LGBT Communityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/in-azerbaijan-family-is-the-first-fear-of-lgbt-community/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-azerbaijan-family-is-the-first-fear-of-lgbt-community http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/in-azerbaijan-family-is-the-first-fear-of-lgbt-community/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 18:09:15 +0000 EurasiaNet Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136476 By EurasiaNet Correspondents
BAKU, Sep 3 2014 (EurasiaNet)

The 19-year-old Azerbaijani man claims he awoke one morning in mid-August to the sound and feel of gasoline splashing on his body and his mother angrily screaming. Through a sleepy haze, he saw her burning a piece of paper. Suddenly, he alleged, his mother’s intentions became clear; he was about to be burned to death for being homosexual.

The story, recounted to EurasiaNet.org by the man, who calls himself Malik to protect his identity, forms part of a disturbing pattern of abuse and mistreatment of LGBT individuals in this Caspian-Sea country. For now, the government doesn’t appear interested in trying to address the issue — even though the country currently chairs the Committee of Ministers of Europe’s foremost human-rights body, the Council of Europe.Fifty-five-year-old Babi Badalov, an openly gay artist, left Azerbaijan for the United Kingdom eight years ago after his brother threatened to kill him for being homosexual.

Unlike in many Muslim societies, Azerbaijani law does not prohibit homosexuality, bisexuality or transgenderism. However, the level of disapproval that exists in this tightly knit society is high, and that places a heavy burden on LGBT Azerbaijanis, some say.

In Malik’s case, he claims his sister prevented his mother from setting him aflame. He alleges, though, that his mother scratched him to the point of drawing blood. Still in shock and physical pain from the experience, Malik says he lives now at a friend’s place. He claims his mother knew of his homosexuality, though “never admitted that.”

“When she got news about me attending an LGBT seminar in Baku, which was a public event, she realised it is impossible to deny the fact that I am homosexual,” he said. “That was unbearable for her.”

In Azerbaijan’s family-centric culture, disapproval from relatives can often hit hardest. “Family is the first fear of LGBT people,” according to Javid Atilla Nebiyev, director of Nefes LGBT, one of a handful of non-governmental organisations in Baku focusing on LGBT issues. “That is the first, small community where LGBT people experience trouble.”

Fifty-five-year-old Babi Badalov, an openly gay artist, left Azerbaijan for the United Kingdom eight years ago after his brother threatened to kill him for being homosexual. He blames such attitudes on the country’s 71-year Soviet history, when LGBT issues were never addressed.

“It was taboo,” said Badalov, who now lives in France. “People did not even know that there were non-traditional sexual orientations and genders.”

While now Azerbaijanis “have the freedom to know,” he continued, the Soviet past continues to influence present opinions. “Except for some tolerant circles in the capital, Baku, [a non-heterosexual identity] is seen as something extremely abnormal, extremely disgusting.”

Consequently, “for his own safety,” a gay man “constantly” has to think about “what to wear so that he does not look different,” or otherwise attract attention, he claimed. Many Azerbaijanis often presume that men who wear an earring or unusually colourful clothing are homosexual.

Defying such notions, Badalov said he opted for an earring.

One 22-year-old transsexual Azerbaijani can identify with those difficulties. Although born a woman, Leyla, who asked to be identified only by her first name, dresses in men’s clothes and considers herself male. She claims that her family sometimes hides her clothing, keeps her locked indoors and threatens her with death if she does not dress “like a woman.”

A recent university graduate with a degree in education, Leyla says that she nonetheless dresses as a man when she applies for teaching positions. She did not detail how she distinguishes between male and female clothing.

“At job interviews, they expect me to show up as a woman, but instead they see a woman dressed like a man,” she claimed. “I do not know what to answer when they ask why I dress like a man. I am turned down [for jobs] mostly because of that appearance.”

Azerbaijani legislation contains no protections against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, noted activist Nebiyev. He alleged that, as a result, some LGBT Azerbaijanis turn to jobs as “sex workers to earn their living.”

The topic generally is not one for any form of public discussion, including by imams. Allegations of homosexuality, however, have been used as part of smear campaigns against opposition leaders.

Media and human-rights activists have paid relatively little attention to these problems. The Azerbaijani Commissioner for Human Rights’ Office could not be reached for comment on LGBT abuse.

For many, the Jan. 22 suicide of 20-year-old Isa Shahmarli, the head of the LGBT group Azad, illustrated the dangers involved in looking the other way. In a Facebook message before his death, Shahmarli blamed society at large for his suicide.

“He ended his life because society wanted him to do so,” said his former flatmate, Kamila Javadzadeh. “He was all alone, struggling to prove that nothing is wrong about being LGBT. But he failed to convince his own family.”

Yet one 32-year-old lesbian, who declined to give her name, stopped short of calling life in Azerbaijan as a LGBT person “a tragedy.” At least no public calls for violence against LGBT Azerbaijanis have been made, she explained. “But it is not OK at all,” she emphasised. After years of confronting hostility, however, she simply no longer expects tolerance.

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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ISIS Carrying Out Ethnic Cleansing on “Historic Scale”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/isis-carrying-out-ethnic-cleansing-on-historic-scale/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=isis-carrying-out-ethnic-cleansing-on-historic-scale http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/isis-carrying-out-ethnic-cleansing-on-historic-scale/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 00:27:56 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136462 Journalist Steven Sotloff, moments before he was killed, in a screen capture from the video posted by ISIS. Credit: IPS

Journalist Steven Sotloff, moments before he was killed, in a screen capture from the video posted by ISIS. Credit: IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 3 2014 (IPS)

While the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama ponders broader actions against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Amnesty International Tuesday accused the group of carrying out ethnic cleansing in Iraq on a “historic scale.”

In a 26-page report, which was based on on-site investigations and interviews with victims and witnesses of mass executions and abductions, the London-based rights group said the threats to ethnic minorities in the areas under ISIS’s control “demand a swift and robust response … to ensure the protection of vulnerable communities who risk being wiped off the map of Iraq.”

“The group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS) has carried out ethnic cleansing on a historic scale in northern Iraq,” the report said. “Amnesty International has found that the IS has systematically targeted non-Arab and non-Sunni Muslim communities, killing or abducting hundreds, possibly thousands, and forcing more than 830,000 others to flee the areas it has captured since 10 June 2014.”

Amnesty’s report was released as another major international rights organisation, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), charged ISIS with executing between 560 and 770 men – all or most of them Iraqi army soldiers – in Tikrit after it took control of that city on June 11 as part of its stunning drive across northern and central Iraq. The following day, ISIS itself claimed to have executed 1,700 “Shi’a members of the army.”

The new HRW estimate, which was based on testimony from a survivor and analyses of videos and satellite imagery, was triple the death toll HRW had reported at the end of June. The group said the imagery confirmed the existence of three more mass execution sites in and around Tikrit in addition to the two it had reported earlier.

“Another piece of this gruesome puzzle has come into place, with many more executions now confirmed,” said Peter Bouckaert, HRW’s emergencies director. “The barbarity of the Islamic State violates the law and grossly offends the conscience.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council voted Monday to send a fact-finding team to Iraq to investigate possible war crimes by ISIS.

“The reports we have received reveal acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale,” Flavia Pansieri, the deputy high commissioner for human rights, told the Council.

The Amnesty and HRW reports came as ISIS posted a video purporting to show its beheading of a U.S. reporter, Steven Sotloff, who had been kidnapped in August 2013 while he was covering the civil war in Syria for Time magazine and the Christian Science Monitor, among other publications.’

The grisly video, which is certain to add pressure on the Obama administration to expand recent U.S. airstrikes against ISIS to include targets in Syria, as well as in Iraq, followed the release of a video of the beheading by ISIS two weeks ago of another U.S. reporter, James Foley. It also came after an emotional videotaped appeal aired last week by Sotloff’s mother to ISIS’ leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to spare her son.

Sotloff had appeared in the Foley video, with the purported executioner, who is believed to be a British national, warning that Sotloff would be next to be killed unless Obama ceased conducting air strikes against ISIS positions around Mt. Zinjar and convoys approaching Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan.

Obama, however, has since broadened the U.S. target list. Dozens of air strikes have been carried out in coordination with ground attacks by Iraqi special forces, Shi’a militias, and Kurdish peshmerga fighters in a counteroffensive that initially recaptured the giant Mosul dam from ISIS forces and, more recently, reportedly broke the group’s siege of the largely Shi’a Turkomen town of Amerli.

“I’m back, Obama,” the same masked executioner said on the latest video. “I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy toward the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings.”

“We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone,” he added, while standing over yet another unidentified captive who is believed to be a British citizen.

For its part, the White House released a statement noting that it had seen the video and that the intelligence community was working to determine its authenticity. “If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”

Obama, who left Tuesday for the NATO summit in Wales later this week, is expected to urge other members of the alliance to adopt a coordinated strategy of diplomatic, economic, and military pressure against ISIS, which spread from its base in eastern Syria into Iraq’s Al-Anbar province in early 2014 before its sweep down the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys into northern and central Iraq beginning in June.

Among other measures, Washington wants its European allies to adhere to U.S. and British policies against ransom payments to free citizens who are captured by ISIS – a practice that has reportedly become a major source of income for the group.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel are also scheduled to visit key allies in the Middle East next week, especially in the Sunni-led Gulf states, to persuade them to crack down harder against their citizens who fund or otherwise support ISIS, offer greater support to a new government in Baghdad, and possibly contribute direct support for expanded international military efforts against the group.

Like the administration itself, U.S. lawmakers, who return here from their summer recess next week, are divided on how aggressively Washington should take military action against ISIS.

While many Republicans are urging Obama to conduct air strikes – and even deploy ground forces – against the group in Syria, as well as Iraq, many Democrats are concerned that such an escalation could well lead to Washington’s becoming bogged down in yet more Middle Eastern conflicts.

Some key Democrats, however, are becoming more hawkish, a process that is likely to strengthen as a result of Sotloff’s execution.

“Let there be no doubt we must go after ISIS right away because the U.S. is the only one that can put together a coalition to stop this group that’s intent on barbaric cruelty,” said Florida Sen. Bill Nelson Tuesday in announcing legislation that would give Obama legal authority to strike ISIS in Syria.

In its report, Amnesty detailed mass killings last month by ISIS forces of hundreds of non-Sunni Muslim men and boys as young as 12 in the predominantly Yazidi regions in Nineveh Province, as well as the mass abductions of women and children, many of whom, according to the report, are being held in Mosul, Tal ‘Afar, and Bi’aj under pressure to convert to Sunni Islam. Many others remain unaccounted for.

“The Islamic State is carrying out despicable crimes and has transformed rural areas of Sinjar into blood-soaked killing fields in its brutal campaign to obliterate all trade of non-Arabs and non-Sunni Muslims,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty’s senior crisis response adviser currently based in northern Iraq.

In addition to Yezidis, targeted groups include Assyrian Christians, Turkmen Shi’a, Shabak Shi’a, Kakai and Sabean Manaeans, as well as many Arabs and Sunni Muslims who are believed to oppose ISIS, according to the report which also called for Iraq’s government to disband Shi’a militias, some of which are believed to have targeted Sunni communities in the region.

“Instead of aggravating the fighting by either turning a blind eye to sectarian militias or arming Shi’a militias against the Islamic State as the authorities have done so far, Iraq’s government should focus on protecting all civilians regardless of their ethnicity or religion,” according to Rovera.

Edited by Stephanie Wildes

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Criminalisation of Homelessness in U.S. Criticised by United Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/criminalisation-of-homelessness-in-u-s-criticised-by-united-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=criminalisation-of-homelessness-in-u-s-criticised-by-united-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/criminalisation-of-homelessness-in-u-s-criticised-by-united-nations/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 22:41:08 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136460 Men line up to receive food distributed by Coalition for the Homeless volunteers at 35th St, FDR Drive, in New York City. Credit: Zafirah Mohamed Zein/IPS

Men line up to receive food distributed by Coalition for the Homeless volunteers at 35th St, FDR Drive, in New York City. Credit: Zafirah Mohamed Zein/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 2 2014 (IPS)

A United Nations panel reviewing the U.S. record on racial discrimination has expressed unusually pointed concern over a new pattern of laws it warns is criminalising homelessness.

U.S. homelessness has increased substantially in the aftermath of the financial downturn, and with a disproportionate impact on minorities. Yet in many places officials have responded by cracking down on activities such as sleeping or even eating in public, while simultaneously defunding social services.

The new rebuke comes from a panel of experts reviewing the United States’ progress in implementing its obligations under a treaty known as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, commonly referred to as CERD or the race convention.

“The Committee is concerned at the high number of homeless persons, who are disproportionately from racial and ethnic minorities,” the CERD panel stated in a formal report released on Friday, “and at the criminalization of homelessness through laws that prohibit activities such as loitering, camping, begging, and lying in public spaces.”

This was only the second time that the United States’ record on race relations and discriminatory practices, and particularly the federal government’s actions in this regard, have been formally examined against the measuring stick of international law.

The panel not only called on the U.S. government to “abolish” laws and policies that facilitate the criminalisation of homelessness, but also to create incentives that would push authorities to focus on and bolster alternative policy approaches.

The CERD findings were actually the second time this year that new U.S. laws around the criminalisation of homelessness have been criticised at the international level. Similar concerns were expressed by the Human Rights Committee, which warned the cumulative effect was “cruel, inhuman, and degrading”.

“These are human rights experts who have seen human rights abuses all over the globe, but still when they hear about these issues in the United States it boggles their mind,” Eric S. Tars, a senior attorney with the National Law Center on Poverty & Homelessness, told IPS.

The CERD panel underscored these concerns by requesting additional information from the U.S. government before the country’s next such review, in 2017. The other issues so highlighted included racial profiling and gun violence, areas that have typically received far more interest from policymakers and the media.

Questionable progress

The formal review of the United States’ progress on implementing the race convention took place over two days in mid-August, attended by some 30 U.S. officials and dozens of civil society groups. The federal government’s formal report to the committee is available here, while non-government analyses lodged with the commission covering education, housing, gun violence, health care, immigration and other issues, are available here.

Observers say the mere act of the government going before an international body to discuss these issues was important, a sense strengthened by the significant delegation and substantive response offered by the administration of Barack Obama.

“In many ways it undercuts the idea of U.S. exceptionalism – that we don’t have human rights violations here,” Ejim Dike, the executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network, a leading organiser around the CERD review, told IPS following the CERD discussions.

“In fact we have a lot of human rights violations, and our racial past and unfortunate racial present are indications of these concerns. Sometimes the headlines are so reminiscent of what happened during the 1950s and 1960s that it begs the question of how much progress we actually have made.”

Indeed, some metrics of racial discrimination in the United States are currently worse than they were decades ago. An official summary of the review’s discussions between the U.N. experts and civil society groups noted one committee member’s shock “to realize that in spite of several decades of affirmative action in the United States to improve the mixing up of colors and races in schools … segregation was nowadays much worse than it was in the 1970s.”

Likewise, recent years have underscored the significant racial disparities that continue to characterise homelessness in the United States, a discrepancy noted by the U.N. panel. This pattern has continued and has even been strengthened in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

In 2010, for instance, African-Americans were seven times more likely to need emergency housing than whites, according to statistics from the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness, a research organisation. Similar discrepancies can be seen in the case of Hispanics and other minority groups.

This is important because, unlike U.S. domestic law, the race convention prohibits policies that have the effect of being discriminatory, regardless of whether or not they are meant to discriminate.

Banning sleeping, eating

As important as this continued racial pattern is how officials are responding to the new surge in homelessness. Even as the financial downturn in recent years has simultaneously squeezed state budgets and led more people to lose their jobs and homes, the official response has been to strengthen enforcement – to make homelessness more difficult.

Over the past three years, for instance, the number of U.S. cities that have banned sleeping in cars has grown by 119 percent, according to findings released in July. Bans on sleeping or camping in public have likewise risen by 60 percent during that same time.

“These numbers in general are going up and in some cases going up significantly,” the National Law Center’s Tars says. “The only cases in which those numbers are going down is where some cities have removed ordinances banning panhandling and sleeping in certain areas, and instead replaced them with bans that cover the whole city.”

Meanwhile, the financial recession has increased poverty in places where such problems hadn’t previously been visible, in suburban and rural communities. Social services were likely already weak in these areas, and the economy’s broader troubles have led authorities to slash these budgets even further.
“First the communities and governments are cutting resources for homeless shelters and related organisations and saying this isn’t the government’s responsibility. But then some are even making it difficult for charities to deal with the issue – for instance, by punishing people for eating donated food in public,” Tars says.

“In fact, there’s significant evidence that criminalisation is often more expensive and less effective than providing affordable housing.”

Nonetheless, the new focus on austerity budgets in other countries, particularly in the European Union, is seeing governments across the globe increasingly turn to this U.S. model of criminalisation. In June, an Australian researcher noted a new “proliferation” of enforcement-based homelessness laws and policies internationally.

Edited by Stephanie Wildes

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The Age of Survival Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-age-of-survival-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-age-of-survival-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-age-of-survival-migration/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 12:41:53 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136410 A 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant heading to the U.S. Credit: Wilfredo Díaz/IPS

A 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant heading to the U.S. Credit: Wilfredo Díaz/IPS

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

“Survival migration” is not a reality show, but an accurate description of human mobility fuelled by desperation and fear. How despairing are these migrant contingents? Look at the figures of Central American children travelling alone, which are growing.

The painful journeys of children and teenagers from Central America to the United States border sounded alarms this year.While Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and parts of Mexico are like hell on Earth, the Refugee Convention is not easily applicable in these cases, and moves to broaden or amend it have failed so far.

More than 52,000 children —mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador— were detained when they crossed the border without their parents in the last eight months, says the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

While it is an unprecedented crisis, Gervais Appave, special policy adviser to the International Organisation for Migration’s director general, frames it “within a more general global trend”, which could be defined as “survival migration”.

Children travelling from the Horn of Africa to European countries, through Malta and Italy, or seeking to reach Australia by boat from Afghanistan, Iran and Sri Lanka, are just two examples.

The European agency dealing with borders, Frontex, reported an increase in the “phenomenon of unaccompanied minors claiming asylum in the European Union (EU)” during 2009 and 2010.

According to Frontex, the proportion of children migrating alone “in the overall number of irregular migrants that reach the EU is worryingly growing.”

Appave told IPS it is impossible to identify a single cause for the spread of this child migration. But he pointed out there is a “very effective and ruthless smuggling industry”. There is “a psychological process that kicks in if you have a critical mass of people moving. Then others will try to follow because this is seeing as ‘the’ solution to go forth,” he said.

The muscle of smugglers and traffickers is apparent in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. But nobody flees without a powerful reason.

According to a report published in July by the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, 85 percent of the new asylum applications received by the United States in 2012 came from these three countries, while Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize registered a combined 435 percent increase in the number of individual applications from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

A broader definition of refugee

Exactly 30 years ago, with Central America engulfed by civil wars and authoritarian regimes, the Latin American Cartagena Declaration enlarged the international concept of refugee.

This made it possible to include people who had fled their country because their lives, safety or freedom were threatened “by generalised violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violations of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order.” Many Latin American countries adopted this regional concept.

In 2004, the countries adopted an action plan and a regional programme of resettlement. In July this year, governments of Central America and Mexico met in Nicaragua to discuss how to tackle the displacement forced by transnational mafias. The goal to protect vulnerable migrants must rest on the principle of shared responsibility of the involved states, they agreed.

A new Latin American plan on refugeees, asylum and stateless people for the next decade will be adopted in December in a meeting in Brazil to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration.

While in recent weeks there have been fewer children crossing the U.S. southern border, “this phenomenon has been here since years ago,” Adriana Beltrán, WOLA’s senior associate for citizen security, told IPS.

Criminal gangs, mafias and corruption are major drivers, agree Beltrán and José Guadalupe Ruelas, director of Casa Alianza – Honduras, an NGO working to promote children’s rights.

Killings, extrajudicial executions, extortion and fear “have grown dramatically” in Honduras, Ruelas told IPS.

The country has 3.7 million children under 18, and one million do not attend school; half million suffer labour exploitation; 24 out of 100 teenage girls get pregnant; 8,000 boys and girls are homeless, and other 15,000 fled the country this year, according to official statistics.

“Five years ago, there were 43 monthly murders and arbitrary executions of children and under-23 youths,” he said. Now the monthly average is 88, according to Casa Alianza’s Observatorio de Derechos de los Niños, Niñas y Jóvenes.

Moreover, the perception of security is altered. When people in the “colonias” (poor neighbourhoods) see an ambulance, they “immediately presume a murder or a violent death, instead of a life about to be saved or an ill person to be cured,” and if they see a police or a military patrol, “they think there will be heavy fire and deaths.”

These terrified people mistrust state institutions. Only last year, 17,000 families left their homes following gangs’ threats, “and the state could do nothing to prevent it.”

“They are displaced by the war,” Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández said in June.

The 1951 U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol establish that a refugee is a person who fled his or her country due to persecution on the grounds of political opinion, race, nationality or membership to a particular social group.

While Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and parts of Mexico are like hell on Earth, the Convention is not easily applicable in these cases, and moves to broaden or amend it have failed so far. Instead, the 1984 Cartagena Declaration (see sidebar) offers a more flexible refugee definition for the region.

Through a 10-point plan of action, the UNHCR asks governments to include refugee considerations in migration policies, particularly when dealing with children, women and victims of trafficking.

According to a 2008 law, U.S. authorities must screen all cases of children under 18 who crossed the border alone to determine whether they are victims of trafficking or abuse, to provide them with legal representation and ensure due process. But the agencies in charge are overloaded and lack adequate resources.

“Some sectors want to change this law and, despite the fact that there have not been deportations, Washington has not clearly indicated yet which stance will take,” said Ruelas.

With elections set for November, it is highly unlikely the political parties will keep this issue out of the electoral fight, he added.

Beyond the urgency of this refugee crisis, underlying causes are a much more complicated issue.

It is not just violence or poverty, but “incredibly weak criminal justice institutions penetrated by organised crime,” said Beltrán.

Ruelas points out the “wrongful” militarisation of Honduras, which will further erode the state’s ability to control its territory. “Despite more soldiers patrolling the streets, criminals feel free to threaten and murder in the colonias,” he said.

According to Beltrán, the United States’ ad hoc assistance through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) is excessively focused on the “anti-drug fight”, when the region requires more investment in prevention policies, particularly at the local level.

“Washington needs to refocus its policies toward the region, but Central American governments can’t evade their own responsibility,” she added.

Their fiscal revenues, for example, are among the lowest in Latin America, thus undermining their capacity to provide services and respect human rights.

However, the crisis of migrant children is providing a golden opportunity to reexamine all of these larger issues, Ruelas says. “We need a human security, one which regains the public space for the citizens.

“When people control the territory,” he argued, “because the police protect and support them, they gain the chance to rebuild a more peaceful community life.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at dia.cariboni@gmail.com

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The Gambia’s Democratic Space ‘Constricted, Restricted and Shrinking’ Ahead of 2016 Polls http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-gambias-democratic-space-constricted-restricted-and-shrinking-ahead-of-2016-polls/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-gambias-democratic-space-constricted-restricted-and-shrinking-ahead-of-2016-polls http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-gambias-democratic-space-constricted-restricted-and-shrinking-ahead-of-2016-polls/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 09:25:41 +0000 Saikou Jammeh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136381 Opposition supporters at a rally in the Gambia. Activists and local politicians say that ahead of the 2016 presidential elections there has been little tolerance for the opposition. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

Opposition supporters at a rally in the Gambia. Activists and local politicians say that ahead of the 2016 presidential elections there has been little tolerance for the opposition. Credit: Saikou Jammeh/IPS

By Saikou Jammeh
BANJUL, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

With the approach of the Gambia’s 2016 presidential elections, which will see President Yahya Jammeh seek re-election for a fifth, five-year tenure, more than a dozen opposition activists have been arrested, detained and prosecuted in the past eight months.

The leader of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), Ousainou Darboe, told IPS, “the democratic space, instead of being expanded is constricted, restricted and shrinking.”

Just in the past eight months, 15 of Darboe’s party members have appeared before a court of law. Twelve members of the party’s youth wing were arrested in February for “an unlawful gathering” but where later acquitted by the court in March.

“The security forces have been scuttling our efforts by arresting my party supporters and I believe this is done with the full encouragement of the ruling party,” Darboe said.

Ebrima Solo Sandeng, the secretary general of youth wing of the UDP, was also acquitted in March on a charge of giving false information when obtaining a permit from the police to hold a social gathering for his party in Tujerang village, which lies some 40 km from Banjul. According to the state, Sandeng held a political rally instead of a social gathering.  Before his acquittal, Sanneh was originally sentenced in December 2013 to five years in jail after initially being found guilty of sedition.

Lasana Jobarteh, an audio visual expert attending the event, was not as lucky.  Jobarteh, 59, was charged with broadcasting without a license for providing live coverage of the UDP’s political gathering for online Gambian radio stations via skype. In July Jobarteh was found guilty and issued with a fine of 50,000 dalasis (about 1,200 dollars).

“I shocked by the judgment,” Darboe said of Jobarteh’s conviction.

“I don’t want to say more because we’ve filed an appeal. But I just have to repeat that I am thoroughly shocked. You don’t have to have any legal mind to know it’s not right. This is common sense.”

The case of Bai Mass Kah, from the opposition People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) party, is the most recent one.“My party will never boycott the elections. The atmosphere is not a good one but it will not make us abandon our responsibilities. We have to take on the ruling party.” -- Hamat Bah, leader of the opposition National Reconciliation Party

On Sept. 9 Kah will appear before a court in Banjul, the country’s capital, to face judgement on a charge of sedition. Sedition has a broad definition in the Gambia – it means saying anything that tarnishes the image of the country, the government or the president. Kah’s crime was telling a ruling party supporter not to paste a photo of Jammeh on his car.

If convicted, he could be sentenced to two years imprisonment or face a fine of between 50,000 dalasis (about 1,200 dollars) and 250,000 dalasis (about 6,300 dollars), or both.

“The election is not an event but a process and the stage we’re in is very crucial,” political analyst Bakary Touray told IPS.

“If this stage [the pre-election period] is ignored, an unfair election could be declared fair by even international election observers [who are only present to witness the elections themselves and not the run-up process] as we have seen it happen in many elections across Africa.”

However, Touray says the current oppressive political environment is not unfamiliar.

“What we have seen in recent months — the arrest and prosecution — is a tactic by the ruling regime to weaken the opposition. Technically, the election has begun.”

Hamat Bah, leader of the opposition National Reconciliation Party (NRP), told IPS that the current “political landscape is bad.”

“People are being arrested and detained beyond the 72-hour limit and the president is making utterances that violate the constitution. This is not a good situation for the country.”

Besides facing arrest and prosecution, the opposition claimed that they are being denied permits by the police to hold political rallies, which they are required to apply for according to the Public Order Act.

“We wanted to tour the country, meet the people and discuss with them our political agenda. Unfortunately, the Inspector General of Police has for the second time in May refused us a permit,” Bah said.

Bah said the reasons for refusing the permit “were not genuine.”

“In a letter dated Mar. 11, he [the Inspector General of Police] said there were programmes scheduled ahead of our programme, but he did not specify. In our second attempt, he said in a letter dated May 22, they were preoccupied with a women’s advancement forum, which was taking in Banjul, not in Upper River Region where we requested to go to for our rally. Absolutely, they [the reasons for refusal] were baseless.”

Darboe said that after the 2011 presidential elections, which Jammeh won in a landslide, there had been an unequivocal promise from the Independent Electoral Commission to ensure electoral reforms. However, the opposition overwhelmingly boycotted the parliamentary and local government elections in 2012 and 2013, respectively, after their demands for electoral reforms were unmet.

According to Darboe, if the playing field for multi-party elections is not levelled, his party may not participate in the upcoming presidential elections.

“We might as well call it quits. There’ll be no use in contesting an election that will not be fair. You don’t just want to go through the motions of electioneering when in fact [it is a] farce and mock election.”

Bah, the leader of NRP, however, holds a different view. When the opposition boycotted the parliamentary election, he contested. Even though his party managed to win only one seat in the parliamentary elections, and none in the local government election, Bah is undeterred.

“My party will never boycott the elections,” he said. “The atmosphere is not a good one but it will not make us abandon our responsibilities. We have to take on the ruling party.”

Despite their apparent division, the opposition believe that political reforms are needed in Gambia.

“We need a comprehensive electoral reform and the institution that has the moral courage to ensure that the electoral laws as reformed will be implemented,” Darboe said.

“You can reform electoral laws but if you have a rogue institution [implementing them], the usefulness of reform will be questionable. And we need men of integrity to be in charge.”

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Civil Society Condemns Immunity for Sitting African Leaders Accused of Serious Crimeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/civil-society-condemns-immunity-for-sitting-african-leaders-accused-of-serious-crimes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-condemns-immunity-for-sitting-african-leaders-accused-of-serious-crimes http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/civil-society-condemns-immunity-for-sitting-african-leaders-accused-of-serious-crimes/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 20:37:14 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136369 Some of the Kenyans who were forcefully evicted from their homes in Rift Valley during the 2007/2008 post-election violence. They are pictured in a dated photo in a camp in Kiambu Central Kenya. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Some of the Kenyans who were forcefully evicted from their homes in Rift Valley during the 2007/2008 post-election violence. They are pictured in a dated photo in a camp in Kiambu Central Kenya. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Mary Wacu lived in the Rift Valley region for 10 years prior to the 2007/08 post-election violence that rocked Kenya after a disputed general election.

“My husband was shot with a poisoned arrow, and my children hacked to death. Everything was burnt to ashes, I barely escaped with my life,” she tells IPS.

According to human rights organisations, the violence in this East African nation left an estimated 1,500 people dead and resulted in the rape of 3,000 women and the displacement of 300,000 people.

From her shanty in the sprawling Kibera slums, in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, Wacu follows the proceedings of the cases for crimes against humanity levelled against President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto and journalist Joshua Sang at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Netherlands.

But here in Kenya, like many who bore the brunt of the unprecedented violence, justice remains beyond Wacu’s reach. It is a scenario that is all too familiar in Africa’s conflict-prone countries like Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Against this backdrop, civil society organisations (CSOs) in Africa as well as international ones working on the continent, have opposed the recently-adopted Protocol on Amendments to the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights by the African Union (AU) member heads of states in June.

The protocol extends criminal jurisdiction to the African Court, and offers immunity to serving heads of states and all senior government officials during their term of office for serious crimes. The African Court was established by African countries to ensure protection of human and peoples’ rights on the continent.

A source from Malawi attending the just-concluded meeting to promote ratification of AU treaties, which was held in Nairobi by the AU Office of the Legal Counsel on the 25 and 26 of August, explains to IPS that the amendments include an immunity provision for heads of states or governments and certain senior state officials for serious crimes against humanity.

The contentious article 46A categorically states that no charges shall be commenced or continued against any serving AU head of state or government, or anybody acting or entitled to act in such capacity.

“Lifting immunity for sitting officials for serious crimes committed is an assurance to African leaders that they are above the law,” the source says.

AU officials at the meeting, however, refused to comment to IPS on the protocol.

Malawi has taken the lead in mobilising other CSOs across Africa to tell their governments that the immunity provision is a blatant disrespect for human rights.

The source says that with a number of African leaders already under the radar of the ICC, “an immunity provision is offering African leaders the licence to abuse their people. It will further entrench dictatorship since many leaders will be afraid of being indicted when their term ends.”

The civil society community says that the African Court was moving in the right direction, until now.

Edigah Kavulavu, of the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists, tells IPS that the adopted protocol is the first legal instrument to extend a regional court’s authority to criminal jurisdiction “regional courts often deal with human rights issues, which are matters of a civil nature.”

He says that the African Court can now try cases of a criminal nature, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

He points out that the main bone of contention with the protocol is the immunity provision. Article 46A, Kavulavu says, is in breach of the principles that govern human rights.

“Through ICC and other regional courts such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone, these courts complement each other so that they can bridge the impunity gap,” he explains.

James Gondi of the Kenyans For Peace With Truth and Justice, a coalition of over 30 Kenyan and East African legal, human rights, and governance organisations, tells IPS that international criminal law and international justice demand that “those bearing greatest responsibility are often head of states, heads of military and high level elites who plan, finance and coordinate criminal acts [be held to account]. The amendment is meant to serve the interests of these three categories of people.”

The human rights lawyer further says that immunity negates the principles of transparency and accountability, respect for the rule of law and for humanity.

He says that the immunity provision is a display that African leaders are immune to the criminal justice system.

Gondi says that the objective of the criminal justice of which the African Court now has mandate is and should be to “deter future atrocities and to end impunity.”

The lawyer says that the regime of law has developed such that immunity for heads of state is lifted in many national and international laws where crimes committed are so heinous that the law cannot turn a blind eye.

African countries with national laws that rule out immunity for sitting officials for serious crimes include Benin, Kenya, Burkina Faso the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa.

Gondi says that while the general principle of the law is that “we cannot give immunity for crimes against humanity because they are so grave. The law is an issue of politics and politics are defined by impunity and political will.”

Moving forward, Gondi says that there must be a concerted international and regional effort to end impunity and the political will to drive these efforts, “citizens must also demand for accountability from their leaders.”

The Malawi source urged CSOs to lobby, protest and campaign to have their governments reject the adoption and continue with sustained campaigns.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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Israel, Hamas Set to Escape War Crimes Chargeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/israel-hamas-set-to-escape-war-crimes-charges/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-hamas-set-to-escape-war-crimes-charges http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/israel-hamas-set-to-escape-war-crimes-charges/#comments Fri, 22 Aug 2014 21:08:27 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136286 A view of the remains of structures hit by Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip, Aug. 6, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

A view of the remains of structures hit by Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip, Aug. 6, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 22 2014 (IPS)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a rare moment of political candour, lashed out at Israel last week, questioning its “respect for the principles of distinction and proportionality” – particularly in the context of the civilian death toll that kept rising to over 2,000 Palestinians, with more than 75 percent civilians.

“I expect accountability for the innocent lives lost and the damage incurred,” he warned."The impunity of Israel and the United States are a license for every country to violate humanitarian and human rights laws that are fundamental to civilisation." -- Michael Ratner of CCR

That “accountability” has to come only before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague where both Israelis and Hamas militants are liable for war crimes – even though only two civilians died in the Hamas rocket attacks against Israel. But the chances of either one of the warring parties going before the ICC are remote.

Asked about a possible ICC intervention, John Quigley, professor emeritus at Ohio State University, told IPS one should not be asking whether Israel can be brought before the ICC.

“The ICC does nothing against states. It prosecutes individuals. So the question is whether Israelis could be brought before the ICC,” he noted.

One way is a Security Council resolution, said Quigley, author of ‘The Statehood of Palestine: International Law in the Middle East Conflict.’

But according to most U.N. diplomats, any such resolution will be vetoed either by one, or all three Western nations – the United States, Britain and France – who traditionally throw their protective arm around Israel, right or wrong.

Quigley said, “If a state is a party to the Rome Statute, then its nationals can be prosecuted in the ICC.”

Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute that created the ICC.

“However, the ICC has jurisdiction based on the territory where a crime is committed. So if an Israeli commits a crime in a state that is a party, the ICC can prosecute that Israeli,” said Quigley, author of ‘Genocide in Cambodia and The Ruses for the War.’

Beyond that, said Quigley, if a state is not a party but files a declaration conferring jurisdiction on crimes within its territory, then anyone who commits a crime in the territory of that state may be prosecuted.

That is the basis on which the ICC has jurisdiction over Israelis who commit crimes in the territory of Palestine, because Palestine filed such a declaration in 2009, he added.

The obstacle is that the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, says the Palestine declaration was not valid because Palestine was not a state in 2009.

Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS there is a desperate need to hold Israel, its leadership and military officials accountable for the international crimes Israel is committing today in Gaza, and for the crimes it has committed in the past in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel itself.

“Along with Israeli officials, the aiders of abettors of this ongoing criminal conduct should be in the dock as well,” Ratner said.

This, he said, would include especially officials of the U.S. and other countries who, knowing that Israel is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, continue to give it the means for doing so, said Ratner, president of the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.

A story in the London Guardian last week said the ICC was under Western pressure not to open a Gaza war crimes case.

Julian Borger, the Guardian’s diplomatic editor, wrote that in recent days, a potential ICC investigation into the actions of both the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and Hamas in Gaza has become a fraught political battlefield and a key negotiating issue at ceasefire talks in Cairo.

“But the question of whether the ICC could or should mount an investigation has also divided the Hague-based court itself,” he wrote.

An ICC investigation could have a far-reaching impact, he said, pointing out it would not just examine alleged war crimes by the Israeli military, Hamas and other Islamist militants, but also address the issue of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories, for which the Israeli leadership would be responsible.

In an exchange of letters in the last few days, Bolger wrote, lawyers for the Palestinians have insisted that Bensouda has all the legal authority she needs to launch an investigation, based on a Palestinian request in 2009. “However, Bensouda is insisting on a new Palestinian declaration, which would require achieving elusive consensus among political factions such as Hamas, who would face scrutiny themselves alongside the Israeli government.”

Ratner told IPS the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in referring Israel to the U.N. Human Rights Council, said Israel was in deliberate defiance of international law.

“While she also referred Hamas for indiscriminate firing of rockets, that violation pales compared to the massacre Israel has carried out,” Ratner added.

Her condemnation also was aimed at the United States for providing the weaponry Israel is employing in its assault on Gaza.

“The High Commissioner is right: Israel is deliberately violating the laws of war and has boasted of it,” he said.

After the second war in Lebanon in 2006 in which Israel flattened the Dahiya civilian neighbourhood of Beirut, an Israeli general said Israel will use disproportionate force against any village that fires upon Israel, “causing great damage and destruction.”

Ratner said by failing to hold Israel accountable in large part because it is protected by the United States, it is making a mockery of the Geneva Conventions and international law.

“The impunity of Israel and the United States are a license for every country to violate humanitarian and human rights laws that are fundamental to civilisation,” he said.

Ratner argued that the United Sates is too powerful and the chances of an ICC investigation, much less a prosecution, are remote. Even were the court by some miracle to launch an investigation, it would never, because of U.S. pressure, result in a prosecution. But this does not mean Palestinians and their allies should stop trying, said Ratner.

“Every means to expose and hold Israel accountable and demonstrate the bias of our international system is important,” he added. “The effort is clearly terrifying Israel because Israel knows the criminality it is engaged in.”

So, if the ICC is not really a means to hold Israel and the U.S. accountable, then efforts should be doubled to hold Israeli and U.S. officials accountable through universal jurisdiction in every national court of every state, he noted.

Many countries have jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity no matter where committed and even if the perpetrator is not in the country.

“The goal is to make Israel the pariah state it ought to be for committing these crimes, to make its officials unable to move outside the country and to ultimately send a message: Enough! It is saddening at this moment to see horrendous crimes committed hourly and watch the governments of many states stand by or enable,” he added.

“Our hope to hold Israel accountable should be in the outpouring of opposition to these crimes by citizens throughout the world. Ultimately, the courts will need to act,” declared Ratner.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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