Inter Press Service » Crime & Justice http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sun, 01 May 2016 23:28:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Compensation Hard to Ensurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/compensation-hard-to-ensure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=compensation-hard-to-ensure http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/compensation-hard-to-ensure/#comments Sat, 30 Apr 2016 10:54:07 +0000 Shakhawat Liton http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144914 By Shakhawat Liton
Apr 30 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The dead do not feel anything, but those who survive do. The horrendous experience of the insensitive test after rape. The courtroom insults during trial because a draconian law permits the accused to question the victim’s character. The families suffer no less humiliation as they wait for justice. While nations around the world have overhauled relevant laws with provisions that shield the rape victims, ours still favour the offender instead. Isn’t it time we were a little more sensitive towards the victims of a crime now regarded as a crime against society? In the wake of Tonu murder after suspected rape, The Daily Star tries to shed some light on all these aspects.
Today, we run the third and final instalment of the three-part series.

rape_4__She was gang raped by railway employees at the railway rest room in Kolkata while travelling in India on February 26, 1998.

The incident triggered outrage. Maitree, a network of 42 women’s groups and NGOs in Kolkata, moved to Kolkata High Court seeking compensation for the 27-year old Shefali Begum (name changed to protect her identity).

The Kolkata HC in 1999 gave her 1 million rupees compensation for the humiliation she had undergone. But the Railway Board, which was asked to pay the compensation, challenged the order in the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court in January 2000 upheld the HC verdict and said: “Even those who are not citizens of this country and come merely as tourists will be entitled to the protection of their lives in accordance with the constitutional provisions.”

When the apex court ordered for the compensation, the criminal case against the rapists was still on in the lower court.

The judgement was very significant because such a huge amount was never given to a rape victim in India and that too awarded to a foreigner.

In numerous cases, Indian High Courts in different states and the Supreme Court have ordered the state governments concerned to pay compensations to rape victims for their failure to protect their dignity.

In India, the compensation process is independent of the trial process.

In Bangladesh the situation is different than that of countries like the UK and the USA. The government of Bangladesh does not need to pay compensation to a rape victim for its failure to protect the victim’s fundamental rights as a woman.

“As far as I know, there is no such case in which the government has compensated the rape victim,” said advocate Fahmida Akhtar, case manger of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association, an organisation that works for women who have been victims of sexual violence and abuse.

Asked, ZI Khan Panna, a Supreme Court lawyer, says they do not need to pray to the court seeking compensation from the state in sexual violence case as the offenders are made to pay compensation, if necessary.

“The court certainly will order the state to compensate the victims if the situation arises,” he told The Daily Star.

Advocate Fahmida Akhtar says special tribunals dealing with offences against women and children, in some cases, have ordered the accused to compensate their victims.

“But the path to the compensation is long, as the accused filed appeals with the higher courts against the tribunal’s orders. Disposal of the appeals takes a long time,” she told The Daily Star.

Eminent jurist Shahdeen Malik says many countries compensate rape victims. Bangladesh should also take responsibility for compensating the rape victims, he added.

“Jurisprudence in this regard should evolve,” he told The Daily Star referring to the practice in India.

The Supreme Court, in the State vs. Md. Moinul Haque and Others case in 2000, emphasised the need for compensating the victims for their rehabilitation.

It, however, observed that victims of rape should be compensated by giving them half of the property of the rapists should be given to the victims to rehabilitate them.

At present, the Woman and Child Oppression Prevention Act 2000 empowers tribunals set up under this law to hold trial of the sexual crimes against women and children for compensating the victims.

As per the law says, the tribunal may imposes any monetary fine on convicted persons and order the district collector to sell the confiscate the convicted person’s movable and immovable assets and sell them on auction. Then the collector will deposit the money to with the tribunal that will award the money to the victim as compensation.

But the completion of the process may take a long time if the convicted person files an files appeal.

So, there is no scope for a sex crime victim to get any compensation before the conclusion of her case.

PRACTICE IN OTHER COUNTRIES

A rape victim in UK is entitled to get compensation from the government. To provide the compensations to blameless victims of violent crimes including rape, the government has set up Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority–CICA.

People who have been physically or mentally injured can apply to the CICA for compensation ranging from £1,000 to £500,000.

A victim of sexual assault or rape has a right to claim compensation. The CICA in its official website says rape is a horrendous experience to endure and it can have a life long physical and psychological effect on the victim – although compensation will never put things right or reverse what has happened it can still come as invaluable financial help for treatment and counselling should you need it. Claiming compensation can help a rape victim gain back control and closure, it states.

In the United States, rape is generally prosecuted as a crime at the state level. U.S. The principal victim compensation programs for rape victims are found at the state level. However, the most significant victim compensation programs at the state level are funded by the federal Crime Victims Fund, which was established by the federal Victims of Crime Act of 1984.

A rape victim in Hong Kong is also entitled to get compensation from the state under the Criminal and Law Enforcement Injuries Compensation Scheme.

Under the Crime Victim Protection Act, a rape victim in Taiwan, a rape victim and victims of sexual assault crimes and family members of deceased victims get compensation.

INDIAN JUDICIARY SET EXAMPLES

In March, 2014, India’s Supreme Court has ordered the West Bengal government to pay 5 lakh rupees to a tribal woman who was gang-raped in January on orders of village elders.

The judges said the state had failed to protect the victim’s fundamental rights as a woman.

“No compensation can be adequate nor can it be of any respite for the victim but as the State has failed in protecting such serious violation of a victim’s fundamental right, the State is duty bound to provide compensation, which may help in the victim’s rehabilitation,” it stated.

In the Llatest case, in February this year, the Supreme Court directed all states and Union Territories to formulate a uniform scheme to provide compensation to the victims or dependents who have suffered loss as a result of such crime.

“Indisputable, no amount of money can restore the dignity and confidence that the accused took away from the victim. No amount of money can erase the trauma and grief the victim suffers. But this aid can be crucial in the aftermath of the crime,” said a SC bench headed by Justice MY Eqbal.

In this case, the court ordered the Chhattishgarh government to grant a compensation of Rs 8,000 per month compensation to an 18- year old blind girl who was subjected to sexual violence.

The SC also refused to stay the orders of Chhattishgarh High Court in which the convict was sentenced to seven years of rigorous imprisonment.

The trial court awarded him the accused seven year a jail sentence of seven years for raping a 18-year-old the blind and illiterate girl on the false promise of marriage. The order was upheld by the Chhattishgarh High Court.

The apex court said the states should consider and formulate programmes for such victims in the light of the scheme framed in Goa which provides compensation of up to Rs 10 lakh.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Media Ethicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/media-ethics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=media-ethics http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/media-ethics/#comments Sat, 30 Apr 2016 10:50:24 +0000 Asfiya Aziz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144919 By Asfiya Aziz
Apr 30 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

When young Bisma died in a traffic jam en route to Civil Hospital in Karachi last December, there was a media frenzy. To onlookers it looked like frenzy, devoid of principles – a burgeoning show of power by the media, the right to information overshadowing all other rights. Lately, media debate on similar issues often cross the same boundaries. The gap between what a decent society expects from their media, and what media is able to provide, appears to be widening under the myriad pressures of business and political interests.

Media organisations` business models often appear to determine to what extent basic journalistic skills of accuracy, objectivity and timeliness are stretched or strained.

Step-by-step codes of ethics are often seen as `stifling` and `inadequate` for the mercurial field of 24-hour news reporting. Regardless of business pressures, one must recognise that there is little distinction between the media`s and an individual`s responsibilities.

Both share the same societal responsibilities, and must also share a mutual understanding of ethics. A principle-based approach, therefore, may be a viable alternative framework for journalists to practise in the line of duty. Perhaps we might borrow from other fields to develop an ethics code for journalism.

Bioethics is a subject that devises standards of behaviour when dealing with living beings. One of many theories in this field is Principlism, articulated by T.L. Beauchamp and J.F. Childress in The Principles of Biomedical Ethics. The principles put forward in this book, and currently most practised, include: respect (for individual autonomy); justice; beneficence; and non-maleficence.

For practical purposes, these are rephrased as: be respectful; be fair; be kind (do good); and do no harm. Like medicine, journalism also requires constant (often quick) judgement calls to be made, and therefore needs to develop a set of principles to apply to daily situations.

Analysing the unfortunate case of Bisma from a bioethical standpoint leads us to some interesting observations. The core principles stated here were (in some form) already at work but there still remains a need to formalise such principles, to inculcate them into journalists` decision-making processes.

That day, the principle of `respect` for an individual was absent despite the intention to adhere to it. While the media protested the lack of respect for an average person`s life, they were themselves disrespectful by being invasive; evident in the coverage of her body, and her father`s distress on being pressed to comment seconds after his child had passed away.

Later, commentary shifted to speculations on the family`s economic conditions, some newscasters affecting pity when describing their modest dwelling. They disrespected mourners, zooming in on women struggling to hide their faces from the media glare. The right to information and freedom of the press are poor defences when in conflict with vulnerable parties` rights to respect, privacy and choice.

The principle of `justice` was present, as this story became newsworthy due to a perceived lack of justice and accountability. Whether the media was fair to all parties is, however, a moot point. The coverage drew attention to the state of reporters` skills of maintaining objectivity and taking all parties` positions into account. As surfaced later, some doctors and the administration of Civil Hospital denied there was any obstruction to the hospital that day. Their position was hardly part of the day`s coverage. As journalists demand justice for the people, they still need to remain judicious or `be fair` in their own decision-making. One can also argue that central to the media campaign was the principle of `beneficence`; the media advocating for the individual in particular and the public at large, suffering at the hands of perceived VIP cul-ture. `Non-maleficence` (or `do no harm`) is often a tricky principle to negotiate. The incident had escalated into a full-scale media frenzy forcing the provincial government to do damage control at a time when they were already receiving flak on other issues of governance. The question of media`s intent arises: were they doing this for the benefit of the victim and the public, or to do harm to the government and those VIPs involved? Objective analysis is an essential skill for a journalist if analysis points towards a party`s negligence or incompetence, the journalist bears a responsibility to expose such misdemeanours. However, this still remains a judgement call, which must be guided by the principle of non-maleficence and by examining one`s intent, to determine the limits of reporting.

Perhaps if journalists were to test and adapt bioethical principles in their own practices, and media organisations could reach consensus on the most ef fective and relevant principles in the field, journalism in Pakistan may finally adopt a code of ethics which practitioners could own and uphold.• The writer is a joumalist with a special interest in bioethics.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Opinion: Illicit Financial Flowshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/opinion-illicit-financial-flows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-illicit-financial-flows http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/opinion-illicit-financial-flows/#comments Fri, 29 Apr 2016 14:34:23 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144905 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. ]]>

Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Apr 29 2016 (IPS)

International capital flows are now more than 60 times the value of trade flows. The Bank of International Settlements (BIS) is now of the view that large international financial transactions do not facilitate trade, and that excessive financial ‘elasticity’ was the cause of recent financial crises.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Illicit financial flows involve financial movements from one country to another, especially when funds are illegally earned, transferred, and/or utilized. Some examples include:
• A cartel using trade-based money laundering techniques to mix legal money, say from the sale of used cars, with illegal money, e.g., from drug sales;
• An importer using trade mis-invoicing to evade customs duties, VAT, or income taxes;
• A corrupt public official or family members using an anonymous shell company to transfer dirty money to bank accounts elsewhere;
• An illegal trafficker carrying cash across the border and depositing it in a foreign bank; or
• A terrorist financier wiring money to an operative abroad.

Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimated that in 2013, US$1.1 trillion left developing countries in illicit financial outflows. Its methodology is considered to be quite conservative, as it does not pick up movements of bulk cash, mispricing of services, or most money laundering.

Beyond the direct economic impact of such massive haemorrhage, illicit financial flows hurt government revenues and society at large. They also facilitate transnational organized crime, foster corruption, undermine governance and decrease tax revenues.

Where Does The Money Flow To?
Most illicit financial outflows from developing countries ultimately end up in banks in countries like the US and the UK, as well as in tax havens like Switzerland, the Cayman Islands or Singapore. GFI estimates that about 45 per cent of illicit flows end up in offshore financial centres and 55 per cent in developed countries. University of California, Berkeley Professor Gabriel Zucman has estimated that 6 to 8 per cent of global wealth is offshore, mostly not reported to tax authorities.

GFI’s December 2015 report found that developing and emerging economies had lost US$7.8 trillion in illicit financial flows over the ten-year period of 2004-2013, with illicit outflows increasing by an average of 6.5 per cent yearly. Over the decade, an average of 83.4 per cent of illicit financial outflows were due to fraudulent trade mis-invoicing, involving intentional misreporting by transnational companies of the value, quantity or composition of goods on customs declaration forms and invoices, usually for tax evasion. Illicit capital outflows often involve tax evasion, crime, corruption and other illicit activities.

How Low Can You Go?
In the 1960s, there was a popular dance called the ‘limbo rock’, with the winner leaning back as much as possible to get under the bar. Many of today’s financial centres are involved in a similar game to attract customers by offering low tax rates and banking secrecy. This has, in turn, forced many governments to lower direct taxes not only on income, but also on wealth. From the early 1980s, this was dignified by US President Ronald Reagan’s embrace of Professor Arthur Laffer’s curve which claimed higher savings, investments and growth with less taxes.

With the decline of government revenue from direct taxes, especially income tax, many governments were forced to cut spending, often by reducing public services, raising user-fees and privatizing state-owned enterprises. Beyond a point, there was little room left for further cuts, and governments had to raise revenue. This typically came from indirect taxes, especially on consumption, as trade taxes were discouraged to promote trade liberalization. Many countries have since adopted value added taxation (VAT), long promoted, in recent decades, by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others as the superior form of taxation: after all, once the system is in place, raising rates is relatively easy.

A progressive tax system would seek to ensure that those with more ability to do so, pay proportionately more tax than those with less ability to do so. Instead, tax systems have become increasingly regressive, with the growing middle class bearing the main burden of taxes. Meanwhile, tax competition among developing countries has not only reduced tax revenue, but also made direct taxation less progressive, while the growth of VAT has made the overall impact of taxation more regressive as the rich pay proportionately less tax with all the loopholes available to them, both nationally and abroad. Overall tax incidence in many developing countries has not only long been regressive, but has also become more regressive over time, especially since the 1980s.

Although there are many reasons for income inequality, hidden untaxed wealth has undoubtedly also increased wealth and income inequality at the national and international level.

(End)

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Can the UN Security Council Stop Hospitals Being Targets in War?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/can-the-un-security-council-stop-hospitals-being-targets-in-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-the-un-security-council-stop-hospitals-being-targets-in-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/can-the-un-security-council-stop-hospitals-being-targets-in-war/#comments Fri, 29 Apr 2016 13:41:36 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144901 The Agency Headquarters Hospital (AHH) in Bajaur Agency, shortly after a Taliban suicide bomb attack in 2013. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

The Agency Headquarters Hospital (AHH) in Bajaur Agency, shortly after a Taliban suicide bomb attack in 2013. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands
Apr 29 2016 (IPS)

Hospitals, health care workers and patients in war zones are supposed to be protected under international humanitarian law yet recent attacks from Syria to Afghanistan suggest that they have become targets.

The seeming lack of respect for the sanctity of health care in war zones has prompted UN Security Council members in New York to consider a new resolution designed to find new ways to halt these attacks.

The Security Council is expected to vote on the resolution on May 3, just days after Al Quds Hospital in Aleppo, Syria was bombed. Twenty seven staff and patients were killed in the airstrike on the hospital on Wednesday night, Dr Hatem, the director of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo told The Syria Campaign.

Among the victims was Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz, who Dr Hatem described as “the city’s most qualified paediatrician.”

Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria told journalists in Geneva Wednesday that Dr Maaz was the last paediatric doctor left in Aleppo, although IPS understands there is another paediatrician in the Aleppo countryside.

Dr Hatem said that Dr Maaz used to work at the children’s hospital during the day and attend to emergencies at the Al Quds hospital at night time.

“Dr Maaz stayed in Aleppo, the most dangerous city in the world, because of his devotion to his patients,” said Dr Hatem.

Dr Hatem said that “hospitals are often targeted by government and Russian air forces.”

“When the bombing intensifies, the medical staff run down to the ground floor of the hospital carrying the babies’ incubators in order to protect them,” he said.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia will be expected to vote on the proposed new resolution reinforcing the protection of hospitals, doctors and patients in war zones.

“When the bombing intensifies, the medical staff run down to the ground floor of the hospital carrying the babies’ incubators in order to protect them.” -- Dr Hatem, director of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo.

Another Security Council Member accused of bombing a hospital, the United States, is expected to release its report Friday of its own investigation into the attack on the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan on Oct. 3 2015.

MSF say that 42 people we killed in the sustained bombing of the hospital, including 24 patients and 18 staff.

Roman Oyarzun Marchesi, permanent representative of Spain to the UN said that the “the wake up call (for the Security Council resolution) came from organisations such as Medecins Sans Frontieres who are forced to stay out of certain areas or countries due to the lack of protection on the ground.”

“Attacks against the provision of health care are becoming so frequent that humanitarian actors face serious limitations to do their jobs,” said Marchesi at an event held to discuss the proposed resolution at the International Peace Institute earlier this month.

The event brought together representatives from the medical community with the five Security Council members drafting the resolution, Egypt, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, and Uruguay.

Speaking on behalf of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), whose hospitals have come under frequent attacks in recent months and years, Jason Cone, Executive Director of MSF America called for greater accountability.

“As of today suspected perpetrators get away with self-investigating and there’s no independent follow-up of attacks,” said Cone.

“It is a critical moment for member states to reaffirm the sanctity of the medical act in armed conflict,” he said.

The current situation does not reflect the respect given to health care in war from the earliest stages of the Geneva conventions, Stéphane Ojeda, Deputy Permanent Observer to the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross told the meeting.

“The protection of the wounded and sick has been at the heart of International Humanitarian Law since the start,” said Ojeda.

“Indeed the wounded and sick and the medical personnel taking care of them were the first categories of protected persons under international humanitarian law because in the 1864 first Geneva Convention,” he said.

The principle that health care personnel should not be punished for caring for the wounded and sick also needs to be respected, said Ojeda.

“If you start questioning this that’s a whole pillar of humanity starting to collapse,” he said.

Cone also added to Ojeda’s calls for the duties of doctors in caring for the wounded and sick to be respected.

“We can not accept any criminalisation of the medical act, any resolution should reinforce and strengthen protection for medical ethics,” he said.

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A long, Insulting Walk to Justice for Rape Victims in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/a-long-insulting-walk-to-justice-for-rape-victims-in-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-long-insulting-walk-to-justice-for-rape-victims-in-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/a-long-insulting-walk-to-justice-for-rape-victims-in-bangladesh/#comments Fri, 29 Apr 2016 12:32:39 +0000 Tamanna Khan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144899 Raped, they drown in humiliation while seeking punishment to culprits ]]>

Raped, they drown in humiliation while seeking punishment to culprits

By Tamanna Khan
Apr 29 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The dead do not feel anything, but those who survive do. The horrendous experience of the insensitive two-finger test after rape. The courtroom insults during trial because a draconian law permits the accused to question the victim’s character. The families suffer no less humiliation as they wait for justice. While nations around the world have overhauled relevant laws with provisions that shield the rape victims, ours still favour the offender instead. Isn’t it time we were a little more sensitive towards the victims of a crime now regarded as a crime against society? In the wake of Tonu murder after suspected rape, The Daily Star tries to shed some light on all these aspects.
Today, the first two instalments of a three-part series.

rape_4__Her dark-circled, deep-set eyes gave her a hollow look. The eyes were full of fear and mistrust.

The girl gave sideways glances as she hesitantly walked into the office of the One-stop-Crisis Centre (OCC) at Dhaka Medical College Hospital last month. She looked afraid, and when she noticed a man sitting in the room, she immediately cringed.

She is a rape victim.

For about a week after her rescue, she hardly spoke, OCC officials recall.

Her trauma and fear is shared by another rape survivor, a married woman, who was rescued from a sex racket in India last year.

“It’s not easy to tell even your closest family members what has happened to you,” the woman told The Daily Star recently. Humiliation and shame initially prevented her from telling her husband about the sexual assault when he found her in a shelter home in India months after her rescue. Her husband later came to know about it from others.

But Joya (not her real name), a teen girl, did not need to tell anyone anything. When she was found lying unconscious beside a road by her cousin four years ago, the marks on her body said it all.

“My cousin took me to a hospital. I hardly remember anything as my mind was all confused,” she told this correspondent recently by telephone from a shelter home run by Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA).

The Daily Star is withholding all the victims’ names.

In 2012, Joya was abducted by her stalker who “confined and raped her at gunpoint”. Later, her unconscious body was dumped by a road. When her family tried to seek justice, the alleged rapist and his cronies attacked her house and killed her father.

In between long pauses and painful sighs, she described the difficult path she had been walking to get justice. The first blow came at the police station where there were no women’s cells or woman law enforcers.

“I felt very afraid. I couldn’t trust any one of them. They were all men,” she described her feelings at the police station.

“I didn’t want to talk, I felt groggy… screams went through my head and my heart wrenched. I kept on wondering why no one could hear my cries or see my tears.”

Then came the time for medical examination — the two-finger test — and the girl, now 16, had no idea about its insensitive nature.

For the test, doctors use their index or middle finger to check the condition of the hymen and also to look for injuries on the vaginal wall.

So when a female doctor proceeded to do the test, the girl put up resistance at first. But eventually she had to give in because, as her aunt told her, there was no other way to get justice.

Adding to her ordeal, she had to narrate the sexual assault in details repeatedly not just to the police but also to journalists against her will.

“I felt very bad, embarrassed and hurt. But I told myself I needed to do this for justice,” said the girl, who is now in class nine.

Four years on, the hearing of her case has not started yet.

But for those who have gone through the trial, the court proceedings have been a nightmare: character assassination, insensitive and even vulgar questions, cross-examinations for hours are in the defence lawyers’ arsenal to further traumatise the victim.

Fahmida Akhter Rinky, a lawyer for BNWLA dealing with rape cases at the lower court for six years, spoke about the torment a nine-year-old girl went through during a trial recently.

“The child was only about four years old when she was raped. So the judge was careful and talked with the girl softly but the defence lawyer was shouting at her and accusing her of lying about how she was raped,” said Rinky.

This is despite the medical examination documents and other evidence clearly showing that the girl was raped.

“The child was so embarrassed and ashamed that she shrunk in fear,” said Rinky.

The girl recoiled from the humiliation in the courtroom full of people and kept on looking at Rinky.

“I felt so bad that she had to go through that,” said the lawyer.

Often, defence counsels “decidedly” choose a line of questioning aimed at maligning the victim in efforts to make the crime look like the victim’s fault, said Laily Maksuda Akhter, director of Legal Aid Unit of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad.

To save themselves from all this, especially the two-finger test which law activists vehemently oppose, many rape victims do not report the assault to the police.

“Many victims get so traumatised that they do not want to go through the forensic examination. Children in particular scream, because they fear they would get hurt again,” said Tahmina Haque, psychological counsellor at the OCC.

However, according to Bilkis Begum, coordinator of the OCC, there is no alternative to the two-finger test for women older than nine years. “It is part of any gynecological examination. Injuries cannot be detected without it.”

In many countries, including the UK and the US, doctors use the specula, a medical tool, for the test instead of fingers.

But the main problem lies in the report itself, said Ishita Dutta, project facilitator, SHOKHI, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST). “It is not for the doctors to determine if a victim has been raped or not. But that is what they write down in the reports.”

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Violence Against Women Journalists Threatens Media Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/violence-against-women-journalists-threatens-media-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-against-women-journalists-threatens-media-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/violence-against-women-journalists-threatens-media-freedom/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 19:38:18 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144892 A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

For women journalists, violence and intimidation don’t just happen in conflict zones, they are every day experiences.

“You don’t even have to be in a conflict zone to be violated anymore,” New York Times reporter and author of the Taliban Shuffle Kim Barker said Wednesday at the launch of a new book documenting the daily violence and harassment which women journalists experience.

After writing an opinion-editorial on her experience of sexual harassment in the field, Barker said that an online commenter called her “fat” and “unattractive” and told her that “nobody would want to rape you.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) chose to focus its 2016 edition of the Attacks on the Press book series on the gender-based online harassment, sexual violence and physical assault experienced by women journalists, because of the impact of this violence on press freedom.

“In societies where women have to fight to have control over their own bodies, have to fight to reassert their right in the public space—being a woman journalist is almost a form of activism,” said Egyptian broadcast journalist Rawya Rageh who also spoke at the launch.

Much of the abuse takes place online where attackers can hide behind the anonymity of online comments.

“Our words, our will, can prevent the silencing of voices, the violation of our freedom of expression…and we, as journalists, have a huge responsibility in this regard." -- Jineth Bedoya Lima.

According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of Internet users have experienced some form of online harassment. Though men are also subject to harassment, online abuse towards women tends to be more severe, including sexual harassment and threats of violence.

For example, one journalist reported to the The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) that a troll had threatened to “human flesh hunt” her.

Alessandria Masi, a Middle East correspondent for the International Business Times, recalled the comments she received in an essay in CPJ’s book: “I have been hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army for writing an article that was critical of Syrian President Bashar Assad and asked how many people I have to have sexual relations with to get my article published.”

Online abuse is a symptom of deep-seated and pervasive sexism, many note. University of Maryland Law Professor and Author of “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace” Danielle Keats Citron stated that online gender harassment “reinforce(s) gendered stereotypes” where men are perceived as dominant in the workplace while women are sexual objects who have no place in online spaces.

But the threats do not just stay online, they also often manifest in the real world.

Deputy Editor of a Colombian Newspaper Jineth Bedoya Lima was kidnapped and raped in 2000 after exposing an underground network of arms trafficking in the country.

In 2012, after reporting on the dangers of female genital mutilation, Liberian journalist Mae Azongo received death threats including that she will be caught and cut if she does not “shut up.” She was forced to go into hiding with her nine-year-old daughter.

A year later, Libyan journalist Khawlija al-Amami was shot at by gunmen who pulled up to her car. Though she survived, she later received a text message warning her to “stop your journalism” or be killed.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) journalists also face similar threats, CPJ added. Most recently, Xulhaz Mannan, editor of Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, was hacked to death in his home.

However, many do not report their cases.

“It was almost like this dirty little secret, you didn’t talk about it…because you had to seem like you were just like one of the guys,” Barker said. She pointed to Lara Logan’s case as the dividing point.

While covering the Egyptian Revolution for CBS, Logan was violently sexually assaulted by a mob of men. During an interview on “60 Minutes,” she described how she was pulled away from her crew, her clothes ripped off, beaten with sticks and raped.

When asked why she spoke out, Logan said that she wanted to break the silence “on what all of us have experienced but never talk about.”

One key reason that many journalists do not speak out is the fear of being pulled out of reporting because of their gender or sexual orientation.

“It’s a catch-22,” said Rageh to participants. “I don’t want to reinforce this idea of who I am or what I am is going to curtail my ability to cover the story, but of course there’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” she continued.

CPJ’s Vice Chair and Executive Editor of the Associated Press Kathleen Carroll noted that the threat of sexual violence has long kept women out of the field of journalism. But there are ways to handle such threats that do not lead to the exclusion of women, she said.

Carroll stated that good tools and training should be provided to journalists, both women and men alike. IWMF established a gender-specific security training, preparing women to be in hostile environments. This includes role-play scenarios, risk assessments and communication plans.

Effective, knowledgeable and compassionate leaders are also needed in news agencies in order to help staff minimize threats, Carroll added.

Panelists urged for reform, noting that women are needed in the field.

“The more women you have out there covering those stories, the more those stories get told,” Barker said.

In an essay, Lima also reflected on the importance of women’s voices, stating: “Our words, our will, can prevent the silencing of voices, the violation of our freedom of expression…and we, as journalists, have a huge responsibility in this regard. Our words can stir a fight or bury the hope of change forever.”

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How We Can Keep Press Freedom from Withering Away?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/how-we-can-keep-press-freedom-from-withering-away/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-we-can-keep-press-freedom-from-withering-away http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/how-we-can-keep-press-freedom-from-withering-away/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 18:37:05 +0000 Farhana Haque Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144887

While a free press means that a journalist has rights, it does not mean that she or he is right.

This article forms part of a series by IPS for World Press Freedom Day, May 3.]]>


While a free press means that a journalist has rights, it does not mean that she or he is right.

This article forms part of a series by IPS for World Press Freedom Day, May 3.

By Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, Inter Press Service
ROME, Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

Media freedoms appear increasingly under siege around the world, with concerning signs that achieving middle-income status is no guarantee for an independent political watchdog in the form of the press.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Farhana Haque Rahman

The news is constant and disheartening.

The death this week of a LGBT magazine editor in Bangladesh shows that around the world, those who speak up are too often themselves tragically silenced.

In Mexico, journalists are knocked off – by criminal gangs, or maybe by colluding public authorities – and only rarely is their death punished. The fact that the government has a special prosecutor for such crimes does not seem to have any impact.

In South Africa, a new bill on national security allows for whistle blowers to be jailed for decades – the first legislation since the end of apartheid that curtails a freedom many once fought for.

The arrest of newspaper editors in Turkey is alarming. In Tunisia, the media’s main enemy is no longer tyranny in the form of a dictator, the new constitution tried to make defamation and libel – often flexible categories – punishable by fines only, but those the government often insist on use the penal code. A pending bill that would criminalize “denigration” of security forces.

Security threats, not always well-defined, are increasingly cited to promote further restrictions – in France, Belgium and beyond. The U.S. Senate has proposed requiring Internet companies to report “terrorist activity” and a UN Security Council committee recently called for Internet platforms to be liable for hosting content posted by extremists – even though the Islamic State alone posts an estimated 90,000 posts a day and has been known to taunt the social media platforms they use for trying to stop them.

Proposed Internet regulations are not just about terrorism or alleged civil war. They can be used to muffle news about deadly industrial accidents, government corruption and more. China wants to forbid foreign ownership of online media.

Censorship can use commercial pressure. Many feel the reason a major Kenyan daily sacked its editor was out of fear criticism of the government would lead to an advertising boycott and the risk of bankruptcy. The recent purchase of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post by Alibaba’s founder, widely seen as close to Beijing, will be watched closely.

Looser defamation laws – proposed in the U.S. by a presidential candidate – have a long history of being used to silence people through long Kafka-esque judicial action.

One of the stranger cases – yet no less symptomatic of the trend – was the Indian government’s firing of an educational newspaper’s editor for having published a story suggesting that iron is an important nutritional element and can be obtained from beef or veal – a taboo food according to the ideological Hinduism championed by the current ruling party.

What to do?

There is a broadly-agreed narrative that claims a free and independent press is an essential part of any genuine democracy. It has long been held that while there may be stages along the way for developing countries, upholding media freedom is a strong sign of commitment that bodes well for improved governance across the board and thus better human welfare for all.

I have not heard one coherent argument claiming that this is no longer the case. Political leaders should be pressured to state publicly that they do not believe in media freedom’s merits – which few will do – rather than hide behind vague security threats that often sound like the rumour mill that preceded the guillotines of the French Revolution. This can work, as shown last year when international pressure led President Joko Widodo of Indonesia to force a senior minister to drop new rules curtailing the rights of foreign journalists in the country.

Public pressure on governments to make sure legislative threats to the press are reversed and threats against media freedom properly policed are essential. A Swedish law that makes it illegal for a reporter to reveal an anonymous source warrants consideration for emulation. And this highlights how journalists themselves must help achieve the goal.

Self-regulation can work, as Scandinavian countries show. Independent press councils can serve as a powerful forum – ideally enhanced with a public code of ethics that all parties can invoke – both for journalists themselves and readers and other stakeholders who may complain about their work.

After all, while a free press means that a journalist has rights, it does not mean that she or he is right.

To prove effective, a whole ecosystem must be set up. Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act is now several centuries old, and the country has a constitutional principle requiring that all public records be available to the public. It is true that the experience of the Nordic countries is historically linked to the absence of feudalism, but it is an implicit goal of all democracy to overcome such legacies, so setting up institutions that mutually reinforce the free flow of information is part of any sustainable development in the interest of all – and not a perk upon arrival.

Digital publishing has, to be sure, raised thorny questions, notably about whether expressions that insult cultural sensitivities – whatever they may be – contribute to the culture a free press needs and is meant to foster. Opinions may vary on where appropriate limits may lie. But all authorities – precisely because they hold power – should accept the principle that the free press exists to hold them accountable, and that suppressing journalists will not bolster their power but ultimately erode it.

(End)

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Democracy Under Constructionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/democracy-under-construction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=democracy-under-construction http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/democracy-under-construction/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 15:49:45 +0000 Amitava Kar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144883 Cartoon: The New York Times

Cartoon: The New York Times

By Amitava Kar
Apr 28 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society,” said Mark Twain. In fewer places than Myanmar has the saying held truer where clothed men—uniformed to be more precise—have had all the influence for more than 50 years.

That’s changing with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy winning a decisive majority in the November 2015 elections. She is sending a clear message to the generals: civilians are going to call the shots from now on and she will be in charge.

Barred from becoming president by the military-drafted 2008 constitution “for the good of the mother country”, she assumed three key positions in the government to fortify her leadership—“State Counsellor”, foreign minister and minister in the president’s office. The combination of jobs will allow her to oversee the president’s office, shape foreign policy and coordinate decision-making between the executive branch and the parliament.

Things have started moving. As “State Counsellor”, she bypassed the military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs and used legal processes to release students who had been jailed last year for protesting the new education reform law. In her first meeting as foreign minister with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, she made it clear that Beijing would have to pursue its interests in Myanmar with her rather than through the Army, as had been the case in the past.

Military members of the parliament denounced the moves as “democratic bullying”. At a parade last month, Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, reminded citizens that “the Army ensures the stability of the country” and “has to be present in a leading role in national politics”. The four-star general, despite reaching the retirement age of 60, will see his term extended for another five years, according to Wall Street Journal. He is in no hurry for the Army to step back from politics.

Suu Kyi cannot send the generals, who kept her under house arrest for 15 years, back to the barracks overnight. They still control three important ministries—home affairs, defence and border affairs. The first allows them to control the state’s administrative apparatus, right down to the grassroots level. Through these centres of power, it dominates the National Defence and Security Council which can dissolve parliament and impose martial law. Amending the constitution remains impossible as it requires a majority exceeding 75 percent in the parliament. Since the army has 25 percent seats reserved by law, it holds a perpetual veto.

The task ahead is daunting. In most key human development indicators, her country sits at the bottom of the pit in Southeast Asia. The new government inherits high inflation, large budget and current-account deficits, an unstable exchange rate and institutions ossified by decades of corruption and authoritarian rule. FDI rose to over USD 8 billion during the last fiscal year, but much of that money remains concentrated in the country’s jade, oil and gas industries—tied to former generals. And as the country opens up further, it is the urban “elites” and big corporations under the control of armed forces that are likely to benefit most from increased liquidity while people in rural and ethnically segregated live in extreme poverty, without basic physical or financial infrastructure.

Other priorities include reaching lasting peace with ethnic minorities along the country’s borders some of whom have been fighting the central government for decades and put an end to laws that have been used to stifle dissent. Most important of all is to redress the vicious persecution of hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingyas who have been made stateless by a 1982 law and have been languishing in squalid camps or confined to their villages while thousands more have fled the country, many into the hands of human traffickers. Suu Kyi has to find a way to quash the Anti-Islamic sentiment violently stirred-up among the near 70 percent Bamar population in part by the 969 movement initiated by radical Buddhist monk Wirathu.

Myanmar’s new government will also have to tackle land rights: confusing and poorly enforced laws leave rural farmers vulnerable to confiscation. The NLD’s election manifesto promised land reform, but it is easier promised than delivered as it will have to confront the still-powerful Army on the matter.

As of right now, Myanmar has the world’s goodwill and potential abounds. Washington wants to seize the opportunity to pull the Army away from China’s ambit and towards itself at a time when it is looking for new partners in the Indo-Pacific region to bolster its “pivot” strategy. The country has abundant natural resources and is wedged between the massive markets of China, India and Southeast Asia. A lot of expatriate Burmese are returning home, bringing in ideas, enthusiasm and skills with them. Foreign investment, especially in telecoms and energy, is pouring in. Many believe it can reclaim its title as the world’s leading rice exporter.

The low-hanging fruits of Suu Kyi’s victory have been picked. Further change will rest on deeper, structural changes that will take much longer. “People expect that the NLD will solve all their problems,” said Bo Bo Oo, an MP who spent 20 years in jail for supplying medicine to students. “But it will take at least ten years before we see real change.”

The writer is a member of the editorial team of The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Pakistani Deporteeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/pakistani-deportees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistani-deportees http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/pakistani-deportees/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 15:34:01 +0000 Arif Azad http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144882 By Arif Azad
Apr 28 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

In March 2016, the EU signed a far-reaching deal with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants into their union, which has spiked since September 2015. The hastily crafted deal, criticised by the UN for its disregard for human rights safeguards, requires Turkey to accept all migrants currently stranded in Greece, in return for visa-free travel for Turkish citizens to the EU, and a hefty sum of six billion euros.

Earlier, the EU had expanded its monetary and expert support to Greece to ease its burden of hosting migrants. As part of this new deal, Greece has begun expelling migrants to Turkey, which in turn has begun housing refugees on its soil, and is preparing to expel most non-Syrian refugees. As a consequence of this policy, Pakistani migrants in Greece are at the front of the expulsion queue.

On April 4, Greece shipped around 200 migrants to Turkey, including 111 Pakistanis.

Ninety-seven deportees (mostly Pakistanis) were also expelled via land route, according to Greek police. Given the Turkish parliament`s position on the status of Pakistani migrants, our government must be prepared to receive and repatriate a new wave of migrants returning to their (apparent) home country.

This issue has been brewing for years and has been on the policy radar of EU officials who have quietly intimated the Pakistani government of the possibility of impending deportations from their territory. Last December, our government returned over 30 out of 50 deportees who arrived in Pakistan due to lack of proper documentation, the interior ministry claiming that the EU is dumping non-Pakistani deportees on our soil. The EU`s migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, visited to resolve the issue. Yet the crisis has worsened.

The issue of Pakistani migrants in Greece, mostly without papers according to Greek authorities, has been in the spotlight since the Greek financial crisis. Greece has attracted Pakistan migrants since the 1970s; in one study by the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, Pakistani migrants number 40,000-50,000, although of ficial figures put the number at 15,478. The estimated 40,000-50,000 include migrants without residency documents.

Irrespective of their status, the Pakistani migrant community constitutes the largest Asian community in Greece; they have suffered the worst racist abuse and attacks in recent years, as documented in reports by various human rights groups.

The atmosphere of hostility has resulted in a huge spike in administrative expulsions by the Greek government, which peaked at 5,135 in 2012, according to Greek police.This is a huge jump from 2011, where the figure stood at 1,293 administrative expulsions.

Another category of voluntary returns includes another 6,445 migrants, according to combined figures of the International Organisation of Migration and the Greek police. Again, this represents a massive spike from 715 in 2011. Worryingly, before the deportation itself, most of these Pakistani migrants are detained in detention centres in degrading conditions. In some of these, the migrants have taken to hunger strikes to protest their conditions.

Yet this huge number of forced and voluntary repatriation has barely raised any policy ripples in Pakistan. With the new draconian EU-Turkey deal being hastily put into effect with little regard for human rights safeguards, the number of Pakistani deportees is set to rise exponentially especially given Pakistan`s agreement with Turkey to take back all the deportees and repatriate them. Yet this is not the only stream of depor-tees coming Pakistan`s way; the EU, too, is oiling up its deportation machinery.

Given growing hostility to newly arriving migrants in Europe, EU immigration policies are stiffening. One of the policy responses to the migrant issue involves voluntary or forced repatriation of failed applicants, to ease domestic opposition to growing migrant populations.

That means the rate ofasylum refusal is set to grow across the EU, resulting in a greater drive towards deportation and repatriation. With an acceptance rate of 10-50pc for Pakistani applicants, the refused applicants will be put on a fast-track deportation schedule. This will swell the already growing concourse of Pakistan deportees, bringing with it its own set of rehabilitation challenges.

Yet it seems that the Pakistani government is not fully tuned into the scale of the crisis which is slowly brewing in foreign lands but heading for its borders. The response requires energetic planning to address a range of rehabilitation, policy and human rights challenges. Not much is forthcoming on this front. The sooner this multifaceted challenge is faced head-on, the better it is for the desperate and exhausted deportees.

The writer is a development consultant and policy analyst.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Times of Violence and Resistance for Latin American Journalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/times-of-violence-and-resistance-for-latin-american-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=times-of-violence-and-resistance-for-latin-american-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/times-of-violence-and-resistance-for-latin-american-journalists/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 22:15:37 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144856 Demonstrators in a protest held to commemorate murdered reporter Regina Martínez at the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City. Mexico accounted for 14 of the 43 journalists killed in Latin America in 2015. Credit: Lucía Vergara/IPS

Demonstrators in a protest held to commemorate murdered reporter Regina Martínez at the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City. Mexico accounted for 14 of the 43 journalists killed in Latin America in 2015. Credit: Lucía Vergara/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Apr 27 2016 (IPS)

Mexico is the most dangerous country in Latin America for journalists. In 2015 it accounted for one-third of all murders of reporters in the region, and four more journalists have been added to the list so far this year.

The latest, Francisco Pacheco Beltrán, was shot dead outside his home in the southern state of Guerrero on Monday Apr. 25. Pacheco Beltrán regularly covered crime and violence, which have been on the rise in connection with organised crime and drug trafficking. He worked for several local media outlets in Mexico’s poorest state, which is also one of the most violent.

His murder adds one more chapter to the history of terror for the press in Mexico in this new century, which has not only included the killings of 92 journalists, but also a phenomenon that is almost unheard-of in democratic countries around the world: 23 journalists have been forcibly disappeared in the last 12 years, an average of two a year.

And every 22 hours, a journalist is attacked in Mexico, according to the latest report by the Britain-based anti-censorship group Article 19.

“Violence against the press in Mexico is systematic and widespread,” said the former director of the organisation’s Mexico branch, Darío Ramírez, on the last International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, celebrated each Nov. 2.

But violence and impunity are not the only problems faced by journalists in Mexico and the rest of the region.

Ricardo González, Article 19’s global protection programme officer, told IPS that freedom of the press in Latin America faces three principal challenges: prevention, protection and the fight against impunity; the de-concentration of media ownership; and improving the working conditions of journalists.

“For us, the red zones are Mexico, Honduras and Brazil,” González said.

According to the Federation of Latin American Journalists (FEPALC), 43 journalists were killed in the region in 2015, including 14 in Mexico (besides two that were forcibly disappeared). Mexico is followed by Honduras (10), Brazil (eight), Colombia (five) and Guatemala (three).

Brazil’s National Federation of Journalists reported a 60 percent rise in journalists killed between 2014 and 2015. The highest-profile case was the murder of investigative reporter Evany José Metzker, whose decapitated body was found in May 2015.

Honduras and Mexico have a similar problem: the violence against journalists is compounded by a culture of impunity.

Honduran journalists protest an official secrets law that undermines their work. By means of laws and other mechanisms, some governments in Latin America have restricted access to information, the theme of World Press Freedom Day this year. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Honduran journalists protest an official secrets law that undermines their work. By means of laws and other mechanisms, some governments in Latin America have restricted access to information, the theme of World Press Freedom Day this year. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“In the first half of 2015, the Commission registered a worrying number of unclarified murders of communicators and media workers,” says the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) annual report on Honduras.

Not just murders

But violence is not the only threat faced by the media in Honduras. One of the Central American country’s leading newspapers, Diario Tiempo, which stood out for its defence of democracy during the 2009 coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya, was recently shut down.

The closure of the newspaper is linked to the downfall of one of the most powerful families in the country: the family of banking magnate Jaime Rosenthal, who is accused by the U.S. Treasury Department of laundering money for drug traffickers.

The freezing of the accounts of businesses in the family’s Grupo Continental conglomerate, as a result of that accusation, led to the closure of the newspaper, announced in October. As a result, the government was accused of taking disproportionate measures against the outspoken publication.

In a public letter, Rosenthal said “the circumstances that led to this suspension are very serious with regard to freedom of speech, social communication and democracy in our country, to the extreme that this is an atypical case in the Western world.”

A newspaper with a similar name, in Argentina, is an example of the other side of the coin in the region. On Monday Apr. 25, journalists from Tiempo Argentina, a Buenos Aires daily that closed down in late 2015, relaunched the publication, this time as a weekly.

Under the slogan “the owners of our own words”, the Tiempo Argentino reporters got their jobs back by forming a cooperative, similar to the format used by factory workers to get bankrupt companies operating again after Argentina’s severe 2001-2002 economic crisis.

“It’s really good to see that the more people organise, the more the competition between companies is overcome,” Cecilia González, a correspondent for the Notimex agency in the countries of Latin America’s Southern Cone region, told IPS from Buenos Aires.

But González said that in Argentina there are plenty of problems as well, and few positive answers like Tiempo Argentino. One of the big problems was President Mauricio Macri’s modification by decree of a law pushed through by his leftist predecessor in 2015 that outlawed monopolies by media companies.

On Apr. 18, Macri, who took office in December, told the IACHR that he would draft a new law with input from civil society. But reporters in Argentina are sceptical.

“Besides the more than 300 media outlets owned by the Grupo Clarín and which it will avoid losing, another monopoly is being built in the shadows, associated with La Nación, and they plan to get hold of the entire chain of magazines,” the Orsai magazine wrote.

But for the IACHR and its special rapporteur for freedom of expression, conservative governments are not the only ones causing problems.

In Ecuador, to cite one example involving a left-leaning administration, President Rafael Correa, in office since 2007, used the strength of the state to sue executives of the El Universo newspaper – Carlos, César and Nicolás Pérez – and its then editorial page editor, Emilio Palacio.

The president sought 80 million dollars in damages and three years in prison for libel after an editorial by Palacio alleged that he ordered police to open fire on a hospital full of civilians during a September 2010 police rebellion.

In December 2015, the IACHR accepted a petition accusing the government of the alleged violation of legal safeguards and freedom of thought and expression, and requesting legal protection.

Correa also took aim against one of Latin America’s best-known cartoonists. In 2014 a cartoon by Xavier Bonilla – who goes by the pen name Bonil – that depicted a raid by police and public prosecutors on the home of a political opposition leader enraged Correa, who launched a campaign against the cartoonist.

“Ecuadoreans should reject lies and liars, especially if the liars are cowards and haters of the government disguised as clever, funny caricaturists,” was one of the president’s outbursts against Bonilla.

As journalists in the region get ready for World Press Freedom Day, celebrated May 3, there are signs of resistance in some countries, although the climate is not the best for media workers.

One example is Veracruz, the Mexican state that has been in the international headlines for the alarming number of reporters who have been assaulted or killed.

On Apr. 28, the fourth anniversary of the murder of Regina Martínez, a correspondent for the local weekly Proceso, journalists belonging to the Colectivo Voz Alterna, who have battled hard in defence of the right to inform, in the midst of a climate of terror, will place a plaque in her honour in the central square of the state capital.

“We cannot forget, and we cannot just do nothing,” Vera Cruz reporter Norma Trujillo told IPS. Similar sentiments are voiced by reporters working in dangerous conditions around the region.
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Organised Civil Society Increasingly Hemmed In by Global Eliteshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/organised-civil-society-increasingly-hemmed-in-by-global-elites-say-activists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=organised-civil-society-increasingly-hemmed-in-by-global-elites-say-activists http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/organised-civil-society-increasingly-hemmed-in-by-global-elites-say-activists/#comments Tue, 26 Apr 2016 22:55:43 +0000 Constanza Vieira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144845 Tunisian 2015 Peace Prize-winner Ali Zeddini (left), next to Sri Lankan activist Danny Sriskandarajah, secretary general of Civicus, and two other participants in the International Civil Society Week, hosted by Bogotá from Apr. 25-28, with the participation of 900 activists from more than 100 countries. Credit: Constanza Vieira/IPS

Tunisian 2015 Peace Prize-winner Ali Zeddini (left), next to Sri Lankan activist Danny Sriskandarajah, secretary general of Civicus, and two other participants in the International Civil Society Week, hosted by Bogotá from Apr. 25-28, with the participation of 900 activists from more than 100 countries. Credit: Constanza Vieira/IPS

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTA, Apr 26 2016 (IPS)

Collusion, according to the dictionary, means “secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others.” That is what the world’s political and economic elites engage in, according to Danny Sriskandarajah, secretary general of the international civil society alliance CIVICUS.

The reason for this is that they are afraid of dissent, the activist from Sri Lanka said Monday, Apr. 25, the first day of the International Civil Society Week 2016 which has drawn 900 civil society delegates from all continents to the Colombian capital.

This is the first time the biannual CIVICUS event is being held in Latin America.

In Sriskandarajah’s view, this is the reason that protests by young people in every region of the world are cracked down on by the police, often brutally.

He also said this is why civil society organisations are facing a global crisis, with governments that seek to impose their policies.

To do so, more governments are making overseas funding of civil society organisations illegal, while at the same time stepping up state surveillance of their online activities, due to fear of the power of civil society and the social networks to mobilise citizens to protest.

To this is added intimidation and repression which, in many cases, are curbing people’s ability to fight for a broad range of human rights.

Fundamental freedoms are under attack, said organisers and delegates.

CIVICUS tracks threats to basic freedoms of speech, expression and association in over 100 countries. In 2015, it counted 156 murders of human rights defenders worldwide.

Last year, half of the rights violations documented by CIVICUS happened in Latin America, where human rights defenders were the main targets. The most dangerous country was Colombia.

During more than three years of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas, over 500 community organisers and activists have been murdered in Colombia, especially small farmers and rural leaders seeking to reclaim land belonging to their families and communities, as well as human rights activists supporting their struggle.

The global crackdown on activism has continued in 2016. Two high-profile cases were the murders of Honduran human rights activist Berta Cáceres and South African community leader Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe.

Sriskandarajah said “We need to find new ways to defend activists and hold governments to account for these violations as well as the progress they must make in the fight against poverty, inequality and climate change.”

These and other central ideas form part of the Apr. 25-28 international week in Bogotá, whose hashtag is #ICSW2016. The week will culminate in the CIVICUS World Assembly on Friday Apr. 29.

The organisers were expecting 500 delegates at ICSW2016, but 900, from nearly 100 different countries, showed up. They were received by the host organisation, the Colombian Confederation of NGOs, created in 1989 as an umbrella group for non-governmental organisations fighting for economic, social and cultural rights.

Participants have been inspired by the presence of 2015 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Ali Zeddini of the Tunisian Human Rights League, one of the four organisations that joined forces to guide Tunisia’s spontaneous 2010-2011 Jasmine Revolution during the power vacuum left by dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (1987-January 2011) after he fled the North African country.

The Tunisian movement was finally successful in bringing about a transition to democracy, with a new constitution that establishes, in articles that cannot even be rewritten by another constituent assembly, that Tunisia is a civil state based on the people’s will, not the will of God. It also guarantees freedom of belief, conscience and religious practice.

The ICSW2016 will review mechanisms that hold governments accountable for murders of activists and other human rights violations. The delegates will also assess the progress made in the fight against poverty, inequality and adaptation to climate change.

Other participants are José Ugaz of Peru, the chair of Transparency International, and South African activist Kumi Naidoo, former head of Greenpeace and current director of the Africa Civil Society Centre.

The participating organisations include the Community of Democracies, Global Philanthropy Project, Article 19, the International Centre for Non-Profit Law, Amnesty International, the International Land Coalition, Abong – the Brazilian Association of NGOS, Transparency International and ACT Alliance.

One of this week’s workshops will address recent trends in the use of technology to empower and mobilise citizens.

One example is DataShift, a social data platform and Civicus initiative “that builds the capacity and confidence of civil society organisations to produce and use citizen‑generated data.”

A Youth Assembly was held Sunday Apr. 24 ahead of the ICSW2016. The delegates discussed solutions to youth poverty and inequality, as well as adaptation to climate change.

IPS spoke to Jhoanna Cifuentes, a Colombian with a degree in biology who is an activist with Red+Vos, a young people’s network. She is taking part in the ICSW2016 in representation of the Colombian Youth Climate Movement (MCJC).

The MCJC was created in 2014 to participate in the annual climate conferences. That year’s edition was held in Peru.

“We realised there was no space for young Colombians to come together and make their voices heard,” Cifuentes said. “We didn’t know each other, we all worked with different focuses. Our 10 groups organised and joined forces.”

The experience showed her that these civil society meetings are a chance to meet and network with people involved in similar activism. Because, she said, “Our work can’t just be limited to the local level, we have to have a wider influence.”

The Youth Assembly put out a statement on priority issues for young people, such as inclusion, gender and the environment. “But in order for these questions not to remain just on paper, it is the duty of each one of us to develop these initiatives and concerns in the organisations we work with,” Cifuentes said.

“I think a meeting like this one serves that purpose: to share information and make contacts in order to form networks, to work together in the future,” she added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Accountability Moveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/accountability-moves/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=accountability-moves http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/accountability-moves/#comments Mon, 25 Apr 2016 16:52:30 +0000 Huma Yusuf http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144821 By Huma Yusuf
Apr 25 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Behold Pakistan`s latest sporting craze: the game of accountability one-upmanship.

One Sharif called for `across-the-board accountability` and was reported to have removed a number of military officers on corruption charges; the other Sharif vowed to resign from his prime ministerial post if investigations into the leaked Panama Papers prove wrongdoing on the part of his family.

Opposition parties are gradually coordinating calls for the Supreme Court to establish a credible inquiry commission. If one is set up as the PM has suggested, one can expect the courts to take the lead in summoning politiclans from across the spectrum to account for their sins. Multidirectional corruption allegations used to be a sign in Pakistan of coups to come. There`s a throwback to this in Jamaat-iIslami leader Sirajul Haq`s decision to label corruption as `economic terrorism`. The word choice may appear to imply that the solution lies in military intervention.

The military set the stage of the JI chief`s coinage by linking the fight against corruption with winning the battle against terrorism, shifting the focus away from the violent ideologies of extremist groups to the venality of the political class.

This shift has already materialised in Sindh where paramilitary operations aimed at rooting out terrorist groups instead targeted PPP and MQM members suspected of engaging in corrupt activities, including involvement in organised crime and terrorism.

But Pakistan is meant to have outgrown its coup phase. Why would the military need to move in that direction when it has already consolidated power over the government and judiciary under the auspices of the National Action Plan and the Protection of Pakistan Act? Military courts and apex committees provide the security establishment with covert sway over the civilian sphere, saving it the trouble of overt rule. So why the renewed interest in accountability? Some of it may have to do with the evolving internal and regional security situation. While fending off corruption allegations, politicians have little time left to push back against establishment strategies in the region or mobilise civilian lawenforcement agencies to carry out counterterrorism operations, thereby winning back some oversight over domestic security.

As the fighting stage of Zarb-i-Azb draws to a close, the natural and sensible progression would be for the military to cede control to civilian authorities and empower the government to implement anti-terrorism regulation and deradicalisation initiatives.

A spotlight on the corruption of government institutions and the police in particular would boost an argument in favour of indefinite involvement by the security establishment. It would also prevent disagreementssuch as the recent one over counterterrorism operations in Punjab from gaining traction.

More broadly, the country is preparing to reap the benefits of the improved security situation through economic revival, starting with foreign investment under the auspices of CPEC. Increased accountability pressure at this juncture will help ensure that planned mega projects are not delayed or sullied by concerns about kickbacks or other corruption.

But all players in this game must remain cautious. The taint of corruption is indiscriminate and hard to wipe off. The military is already facing questions about its reticence regarding the removal of some officers allegedly involved in corrupt activities as well as reports that they continue to receive pensions and other benefits. Mounting corruption allegations are known to be a deterrent for effective governance and project implementation.

The fear of being retroactively investigated on corruption charges makes officials tasked with implementing projects reluctant to sign off on any decision. Ironically, political gamesaimed at taking control of projects may ultimately lead to slower implementation as corruption allegations fly in all directions.

This does not mean that Pakistan`s institutions civilian and military alike should not be pushed to increase transparency and accountability. Genuine anti-cor-ruption efforts are urgently required, not least to end the vicious political cycle of accusations and counter-accusations so that everyone can get on with good governance. But to truly effect change, anti-corruption initiatives will have to move beyond targeting individuals to improving institutions. Judicial inquiries may help weed out a few individuals who have engaged in heinous corruption. But they will not fix the system that enshrines a lack of transparency.

The time has come to talk about policies and institutional reforms that would genuinely lead to greater accountability financial disclosure systems; transparency around budget allocations and spending for all institutions, including the military; opening the accounts of all government-linked corporate entities for scrutiny; improving corporate governance requirements; better regulating asset declarations; and more.

Without a systemic approach, an anti-corruption drive will be little more than a game with no winners.

The writer is a freelance joumalist. huma.yusuf@gmail.com

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Cold-Blooded Lechery and Hushed Silence!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/cold-blooded-lechery-and-hushed-silence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cold-blooded-lechery-and-hushed-silence http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/cold-blooded-lechery-and-hushed-silence/#comments Mon, 25 Apr 2016 06:31:20 +0000 Shah Husain Imam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144812 By Shah Husain Imam
Apr 25 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The photograph of a toddler in a Chinese street, published on an online portal, waving a steel pipe at an urban management force working to clear up pavements would itself have made news. But there was so much more to it with the infant actually shouting: ‘Don’t touch my grandma, go away’, to the appreciating, if somewhat amused, glance of onlookers.

toddler_It highlighted a child’s courage, his concern and love for a near and dear one standing up to a goliath-like adversary to defend his grandmother’s dignity against a perceived use of force.

Where a toddler could bravely resist what in his eyes looked like an imposition on his grandmother, you have a mob of grownups at Hatia in Noakhali and Sonagazi in Feni as silent, abetting bystanders to the reported stripping of two women of their clothes in broad daylight and being tortured mercilessly.

The victims are Shahana, 32, of Hatia and Wahida Khatun, 68, of Sonagazi in Feni a beneficiary of Adarshagram Ashrayan project at Chardarbesh union. The first woman failing to pay ‘subscription’ (toll) to Hatia pourashava was disrobed in public and beaten black and blue, allegedly by local thana dalal (collaborator) and Jubo League cadre Shahjahan. Her husband too, was detained briefly, for not complying with their extortionist demands. At one stage, when Shahana was carrying three and a half lakh taka out of sale proceeds from a plot of land, her purse and necklace would be snatched away.

When the video was put online it went viral and the police registered the case four days after the incident. And they said Shahjahan was not a thana dalal and that the police was getting a move on to arrest him.

The second victim Wahida Khatun’s fault, was to cultivate some vegetables in front of her room allotted under a shelter project. She was stripped, tied with her clothes to a tree by a goon named Sabuj, 38, in broad daylight.

Let’s pinpoint the core issues of such rabid-dog-like behaviour assaulting the dignity of women. Far from being macho, it represents the worst abomination of a woman’s person. And, are they not our mothers, sisters and daughters? This has happened in the rural outback where the reach of the law’s long arm stops short or is laid back or compromised by patently unequal power relations in the countryside. Why would that be so when the urban-rural line is fast disappearing through women’s empowerment in the garment sector, their local government representation and the women workers overseas sending in money to their relatives at home?

Here is an issue with trafficking behind which is a push factor of young women’s sense of insecurity in the country making them look for jobs abroad. And they sometimes land from the frying pan to the fire. Also, they become vulnerable to illegal trafficking such as the recovery of 250 women from the India-Bangladesh border has recently pointed to.

Hated as the women’s tormentors are the onlookers of atrocious scenes are equally to blame. The community did not raise a single finger or voice of protest, little realising that a single grunt of protest could have broken into a crescendo of resistance against the rowdies, freezing them on their tracks. Instead, they were watching as though a circus, leery-eyed at the baring of the women’s body. Rampant exposure to pornography and the culture of video-recording induced incidents for blackmailing are having all sorts of unsavoury consequences. This is why even governments in the liberal West are working to find remedies to a breakdown of old world family and social values.

Why must a majority be so afraid of a tiny minority of the wickedest? To explain this in terms of the thugs living off scare-mongering, notorious credentials, impunities from offences committed earlier on as though they are beyond and above law, is being pedestrian. For it amounts to abdication of the government’s responsibility and authority on the one hand and that of the community at large on the other.

In one of the human chains seeking justice to Tonu after a full month of simulated mystery surrounding her case, a placard read jarringly but insightfully “When alive we are a ‘commodity’ and when raped and murdered we become sisters”.

This sarcastic line is a razor-sharp pointer to a societal hypocrisy. We are casual with the living, dropping all our guards but chest-beating in delirium about the brutal end of a woman. To compound the burden of our unfinished agenda, a new brutality keeps kicking up the previous one into the long grass.

Let it not be lost on us that the sensitisation campaigns are mistimed in the aftermath, rather in the prelude to a pernicious occurrence when we would be in with a chance of preempting it. An infinitely less costly option that. In spite of the vociferous aftermath do we see any remission in the phallic fever?

There are two ways to be ahead of the problems: One, we have special units or task forces comprising law enforcers particularly women police, teachers, religious leaders, politicians, local body and NGO representatives to attend to the brewing and emerging issues of women’s or any vulnerable groups’ safety and security. The second option that could be a silver bullet is setting up communication help lines to hear out problems and arranging timely law enforcement intervention. The community policing by young Turks, with a small retainer allowance, could do the rest of the magic.

The writer is an Associate Editor, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Panorama of Perfidy in the Panama Papershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/panorama-of-perfidy-in-the-panama-papers-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panorama-of-perfidy-in-the-panama-papers-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/panorama-of-perfidy-in-the-panama-papers-2/#comments Sat, 23 Apr 2016 06:47:31 +0000 Mohammad Badrul Ahsan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144787 panama_papers_0__

By Mohammad Badrul Ahsan
Apr 23 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Ever since the Panama Papers hit the fan, the leak has been working like a series of introductions at a high-profile gathering. It’s putting a bunch of names to a bunch of faces, men and women leading a double life because of their money. It also shows that these folks have something in common with the squirrels. The rodents hide their nuts, and they hide their assets.

Don’t forget that the squirrel hoarding has a purpose for it. The animals collect and store nuts so that they will have food to last through the winter. But their thriftiness has social benefits. The nuts they bury result in trees growing in many new places.

What’s the purpose of hiding money? The simple truth is that anything that can’t be revealed is concealed. And two things are simultaneously concealed when it comes to money. Money and its source are like fire and smoke. If one is visible, the other can’t vanish.

Thus the overriding purpose of creating the shadow network of shell companies and tax havens is to create a conduit for dirty money. Offshore banking, as it appears now, is a huge Mephistophelean enterprise to provide forward linkage to kleptocracy. Capitalism needs it to accommodate greed for the same reason nuclear plants look for disposal sites to dump radioactive waste.

But it’s shocking to see how the world has been shocked by the scandal. Politicians were stealing. Dealers were dealing. Wheelers were wheeling. Banks were billing. And all that time those who know knew already that all of those things were happening. Yet the reaction of the world has been as if it was expected that all these seismic waves shouldn’t have shaken the ground.

Whether capitalism invented hypocrisy or hypocrisy invented capitalism calls for a separate discussion. But these two wheels balance the bi-cycle of modern life relentlessly pedaling itself to create more wealth. And if the president of this country and the prime minister of that country have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar, it only confirms how a runaway system has been running.

It belies the basic principle of double entry bookkeeping. Take the example of the billions of taka that evaporated in this country after stock market manipulation, bank swindling and other forms of embezzlement. While we know how much has been debited, who knows where all that money has been credited? Who knows how much of that missing money has washed up on which shores?

Not to say the Panama Papers can track that missing money for us, but the scandal should shake us out of our pretentious slumber. Some of the stolen money exists around us, flaunted in the lifestyle of crooks and thieves hiding behind their fabulous masks. That flaunting has a hierarchy of its own starting with the baseline perps. Office clerks, police constables and linemen for various utility services like to have their palms greased in their quest for a solvent life.

Then it gradually goes up the totem pole of greed, climbing from necessity to luxury like mercury does in barometer. At the top of the pecking order are those who aren’t satisfied with extravagance alone. They want to steal enough to guarantee the same high life for their future generations.

Thus Panama, the Cayman Islands, the Virgin Islands and similar destinations are sanctuaries for sick money like leper colonies are for lepers. These are the places where capitalism hides its excesses outside national boundaries devoted to the care of dubious money like orphanages are to illegitimate children. These are the exotic places where toxic money takes vacation to get away from the monotony of scrutiny and suspicion at home.

In the ultimate analysis though, these tax havens are boutique shops compared to department stores for financial irregularities. How about those countries which, on the whole, are allowing foreign citizens to invest money in their economies and buy second homes? What about the Swiss banks which until recently refused to divulge the names of people who kept black money in their accounts? What about other places like Beirut, the Bahamas, Uruguay and Lichtenstein, which have taken the Swiss model to heart? Even in the United States, places like Delaware and Nevada have loose regulations and low taxes so that people can hide their activities and assets behind a corporate façade.

The Panama Papers are going to do no more than summer cleaning. It will prepare the ground for new names, new law firms and new destinations for newly stolen money, perhaps to precipitate another scandal umpteen years later. The wave of indignations triggered by the scandal is keeping us busy upstream, while nothing changes at source.

Capitalism and hypocrisy are intimately built on each other. That relationship persists because we’re hopelessly reluctant to tell the face from the façade.

The writer is the Editor of weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.
Email: badrul151@yahoo.com

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Opinion: Panama, Secrecy and Tax Havenshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/opinion-panama-secrecy-and-tax-havens-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-panama-secrecy-and-tax-havens-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/opinion-panama-secrecy-and-tax-havens-2/#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 14:12:15 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144777 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. ]]>

Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Apr 22 2016 (IPS)

Unlike Wikileaks’ exposes, the recent Panama revelations were quite selective, targeted, edited and carefully managed. Most observers attribute this to the political agendas of its mainly American funders. Nevertheless, the revelations have highlighted some problems associated with illicit financial flows, as well as tax evasion and avoidance, including the role of enabling governments, legislation, legal and accounting firms as well as shell companies.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

The political tremors generated by the edited release of 1.1 million documents were swift. Nobody expected Iceland’s prime minister to resign in less than 48 hours, or that the British prime minister would publicly admit that he had benefited from the hidden wealth earned from an opaque offshore company of his late father.

Panama Papers
The Panama documents are from the law firm Mossack Fonseca, which has worked with some of the world’s biggest banks — including HSBC, Société Générale, Credit Suisse, UBS and Commerzbank — to set up 210,000 legal entities, often to circumvent tax and law enforcement authorities worldwide. Just one law firm in Panama is still the tip of a massive iceberg hidden from public view as many such firms in other locations provide similar services.
High net-worth individuals and corporations thus secure a far greater ability to evade taxes by paying tax advisers, lawyers and accountants. Not surprisingly, Mossack Fonseca insists it has never been accused or charged in connection with criminal wrongdoing, only underscoring that Panama’s financial regulators, police, judiciary and political system are part of the system. Similarly, many clients of such firms claim that they have not violated national and international regulations.

‘Offshore’ Tax Havens
Total global wealth was estimated by a 2012 Tax Justice Network (TJN) USA report at US$231 trillion in mid-2011, roughly 3.5 times global GDP of US$65 trillion in 2011. It conservatively estimated that US$21 to US$32 trillion of hidden and stolen wealth has been stashed secretly, ‘virtually tax-free’, in more than 80 secret jurisdictions, with two thirds in the European Union, and a third in UK-linked sites.

After the Panama Papers leak, Oxfam revealed that the top 50 US companies have stashed US$1.38 trillion offshore to minimize US tax exposure. The 50 companies are estimated to have earned some US$4 trillion in profits across the world between 2008 and 2014, but have only paid 26.5 per cent of that in US tax.
More so now than ever before, the term ‘offshore’ for tax havens refers less to physical locations than to virtual ones, often involving “networks of legal and quasi-legal entities and arrangements”. Private banking ‘money managers’ provide all needed services to facilitate such practices, making fortunes for themselves in doing so. Thousands of shell banks and insurers, 3.5 million paper companies, more than half the world’s registered commercial ships over 100 tons, and tens of thousands of ‘shell’ subsidiaries of giant global banks, accounting firms and various other companies operate from such locations.

Reforming Tax Havens?

In recent years, the global tax-haven landscape has shifted under increased public scrutiny. The OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) club of rich nations has been developing a global transparency initiative but Panama is refusing to participate seriously, with the OECD tax chief calling it a jurisdiction “that welcomes crooks and money launderers”.
To get on the OECD’s list of approved jurisdictions, almost 100 countries and other jurisdictions have imposed minimal disclosure requirements. Hence, subject to certain conditions, the Swiss government allows information-sharing about illegal or unauthorized deposits with other countries. Consequently, the flows have moved to new destinations.

Panama, US exceptions
Only a handful of nations have declined to sign on. After all, many countries and institutions actively enable—and profit handsomely from—the theft of massive funds from developing countries. The most prominent is the US. Rothschild, the centuries-old European financial institution, is now moving the fortunes of wealthy foreign clients out of offshore havens subject to the new international disclosure requirements, to Rothschild-run trusts in Nevada, which are exempt. As Panama is another, a large number of accounts have been moving there as well from other signatory tax havens.

The US does not accept a lot of international standards, and can get away with it because of its economic and political clout, but is probably the only country that can continue to do that. To its own advantage, the US has taken steps to keep track of American assets abroad, but not of foreign assets in the US. In his 5 April speech, following the US Treasury’s crackdown on corporate tax ‘inversions’, US President Obama criticized ‘poorly designed’ laws for allowing illicit money transfers worldwide, and noted that “Tax avoidance is a big, global problem…a lot of it is legal, but that’s exactly the problem”.

Following the Panama revelations, most Western government leaders have pledged tough action against tax evasion and avoidance, especially from developing country locations. But since they receive most of the funds in the tax havens in the world, the OECD has limited its efforts. Hence, these same governments have blocked efforts to give the UN a stronger mandate to advance international cooperation on taxation. Meanwhile, as major users of such facilities, many developing country leaders have been conspicuously silent in the face of recent revelations of what they have long enabled and practiced.

What Can Be Done?
Does it really matter that tax avoidance schemes are legal? Just because they are not illegal does not mean it is not a form of abuse, cheating and corruption. To tackle the corruption at the heart of the global financial system, tax havens need to be shut down, not reformed. ‘On-shoring’ such funds, without prohibiting legitimate investments abroad, will ensure that future investment income will be subject to tax.

If not compromised by influential interests benefiting from such flows, responsible governments should support international tax cooperation efforts under UN auspices and enact policies to:
• Detect and deter cross-border tax evasion;
• Improve transparency of transnational corporations;
• Curtail trade mis-invoicing;
• Strengthen anti-money laundering laws and enforcement; and
• Eliminate anonymous shell companies.

(End)

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Laws Criminalizing Drug Possession Can Cause More Harmhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/laws-criminalizing-drug-possession-can-cause-more-harm/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=laws-criminalizing-drug-possession-can-cause-more-harm http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/laws-criminalizing-drug-possession-can-cause-more-harm/#comments Thu, 21 Apr 2016 10:40:56 +0000 Tenu Avafia and Rebecca Schleifer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144749 Tenu Avafia is a policy adviser on law, human rights and treatment access issues in the HIV, Health and Development Group at the United Nations Development Programme

Rebecca Schleifer is a consultant at the United Nations Development Programme working on HIV, drug policies, disability and sexual rights issues.]]>

Tenu Avafia is a policy adviser on law, human rights and treatment access issues in the HIV, Health and Development Group at the United Nations Development Programme

Rebecca Schleifer is a consultant at the United Nations Development Programme working on HIV, drug policies, disability and sexual rights issues.

By Tenu Avafia and Rebecca Schleifer
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 21 2016 (IPS)

In many countries, a criminal record, even for a minor offense can have serious implications. Being convicted of a criminal offence renders one ineligible for certain jobs, social grants or benefits or from even being able to exercise one’s right to vote. It can also severely limit the ability to travel to certain countries and can result in the loss of custody of minor children. As prison conditions are often poor and health care services limited, a custodial sentence can have implications on the health outcomes of individuals.

Laws criminalizing drug possession for personal use and other non-violent, low-level drug offences drive people away from harm reduction services, placing them at increased risk of HIV, Hepatitis C, Tuberculosis and death by overdose. Prison sentences for women may result in the incarceration of their infants and young children, who stay with them for all or part of their sentence.

Another area where the shortcoming of many drug control policies is evident is that of controlled medicines. Overly restrictive drug control regulations and practices, have effectively excluded 5.5 billion people – or approximately 75 percent of the world’s population – from access to essential medicines like morphine to treat pain.

Many countries are exploring or initiating law and policy reforms with the aim of giving greater prominence to the Sustainable Development Goals as adopted by UN Members States in September 2015 or as enshrined in numerous human rights treaties. Some of these reforms will address the social harms of traditional drug policies on the poor and most marginalized. These include providing alternatives to arrest and incarceration for minor drug offences, harm reduction programmes, decriminalization of drug users and small farmers and increased access to pain medication.

One such example is the case of Jamaica, which decriminalized the possession and use of small amounts of cannabis and legalized its cultivation and consumption for religious, medicinal and research purposes. Jamaica also reformed its legislation to permit expungement of convictions for the personal possession or use of small quantities of cannabis. These decisions were prompted, in part, by concerns about the serious harmful consequences of criminalization on the long term prospects of young men who otherwise would be ensnared in a legal system that could undermine access to for example decent employment and economic growth as envisioned by Sustainable Development Goal Eight.

Jamaica’s reforms recognize that the connection between drugs and crime is not so straightforward. They put people first and in turn promote its citizens human development. The implications of this measure, together with others described in a recent discussion paper released by UNDP will be important as more countries look to make evidence informed, development sensitive changes to drug policy.

(End)

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Fighting the Chotoo Ganghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/fighting-the-chotoo-gang/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-the-chotoo-gang http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/fighting-the-chotoo-gang/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 21:36:42 +0000 Zahid Hussain http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144734 By Zahid Hussain
Apr 20 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

A group of notorious gangsters has apparently brought the Punjab police toitsknees.A2,200-strong police force has retreated after losing several men since the operation against the Chotoo gang in the southern Punjab district of Rajanpur began earlier this month. The army is now being dragged into yet another law and order issue that the civilian agencies should have been able to deal with.

For years, the riverine area straddling three provinces has become a haven for criminals outside the government`s writ. Now, hundreds of troops backed by helicopter gunships are in pursuit of the outlaws in these `badlands`. The Chotoo gang saga that has dominated the media over the past week, overshadowing even the `Panamagate` scandal, is not just about the failure of the civilian law-enforcement agencies; it highlights the much greater predicament of shrinking governance space that goes beyond the lawless tribal regions.

There are many badlands across the country where the authority of the state is either non-existent or has become irrelevant, allowing criminal gangs and militant outfits to operate with impunity.

Army operations do not provide a long-term solution to this growing problem. The issue is not just the elimination of one criminal gang or militant outfit from a particular region, but how to restore the government`s authority. There is certainly no clear thinking on this critical issue.

For long, the Punjab government has been in a state of denial over lawlessness and the rising influence of sectarian and militant groups in south Punjab. The Chotoo gang has not emerged overnight. It seems highly improbable that a former police informer who heads a consortium of criminal gangs would be operating without the patronage of some local `influential`, which is quite common in such cases.

Interestingly, all police actions in the past ended in a deal with the gangs, thereby allowing the criminals greater space. In 2013, the gang attacked a police check post and abducted eight police officers. They were set free eight days later after the government released Chotoo`s detained relatives and agreed to give them safe passage.

It is quite intriguing how the criminals got access to sophisticated weapons that were used against the police this time, resulting in losses for the force. The gang is now engaging troops in fierce gun battles. It may be true that the heavily forested terrain has made the task of the police and the local administration much more difficult, but that cannot be used as an excuse for their failure. There are numerous other criminal gangs operating in south Punjab defying the claims of `all is well` in the country`s most powerful province.

Apparently, it was pressure from the military that finally pushed the provincial administration into action. But there is no indication yet of any crackdown on religious extremist groups, many of whom are believed to be closely connected with criminal gangs. There is a close nexus between crime and militancy and the problem of shrinking government authority cannot be effectively resolved without a coherent strategy. But neither the Punjab provincial administration nor the federal government is willing to come out from its state of denial to confront the problem effectively.

Over the past year, the issue of cracking down on extremist groups has been a major source of tension between the civil and military leadership. The tension mounted further following last month`s bombing of a public park in Lahore that killed dozens of people, mostly women and children. The military`s seemingly unilateral decision to launch a province wide crackdown on extremist groups brought tensions to a head.

Apparently, the situation has been defused after the provincial government agreed to the army`s demand, but the issue remains a major irritant. The provincial government claims that it is civilian agencies that are leading the actions with the backing of the army. But the decision to call in the army in Rajanpur exposes the limited capacity of civil law-enforcement agencies in dealing even with criminal groups, let alone organised militant and extremist outfits.

The army should be able to take out the Chotoo gang from the riverine area, but it would not be the end of the problem. With shrinking governance, some other gang may emerge once the army withdraws. Moreover, the problem is not limited to Rajanpur.

The absence of effective governance has created a vacuum that is often filled by militant groups. The most recent example is of Jamaatud Dawa holding so-called Sharia courts in Lahore and other parts of Punjab. The group, which is also on the terror watch list, is said to have now suspended those courts, but it is an example that could be emulated by other extremist groups if the slide continues.

Governance issues in other provinces particularly in Sindh and Balochistan seem far worse. As a result, the role of the army in internal security matters in those provinces has become more significant.

The Rangers are virtually running Karachi as civilian law-enforcement agencies have receded. Many parts of Pakistan`s biggest city and economic jugular had become no-go areas before the Rangers-led operation brought back some degree of normality.

While fully backing the Rangers` operation in Karachi, the federal government is reluctant to give the same powers to paramilitary forces in Punjab.

But with the army now fully engaged in the operation against the Chotoo gang, it will be extremely difficult for both the federal and Punjab governments to resist pressure from the military.

The operation against the Chotoo gang has laid bare the slide in the capacity of the civilian law-enforcement agencies to deal with armed outlaws. It has increased the dependence of the civil administration on the army. That may further stretch the army, which is already engaged in fighting insurgency in the northwest and Balochistan.•

The writer is an author and journalist.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Deep Discord at United Nations over Global Drug Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/deep-discord-at-united-nations-over-global-drug-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deep-discord-at-united-nations-over-global-drug-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/deep-discord-at-united-nations-over-global-drug-policy/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 14:41:27 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144722 A youth smokes diamba (marijuana) at a gang base in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

A youth smokes diamba (marijuana) at a gang base in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 20 2016 (IPS)

International drug conventions ultimately aim to ensure the health and welfare of humankind, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said here Tuesday at the opening of a special three-day session on drugs known as UNGASS.

Convened by the 193-member UN General Assembly, the meeting brought together government officials, UN agencies and civil society organisations to review the current international drug control regime.

In his address, Eliasson noted the sensitivity of the subject but urged for collaboration and action.

“It is…important that we listen to each other and learn from each others’ experiences, not least of how the well-being of people is affected,” he stated.

“We must base our decisions on research, data and scientific evidence. And we must not shy away from new ideas and approaches – even if these sometimes may challenge traditional assumptions,” Eliasson added.

However, the ongoing discussions reflect a deep discord regarding drug policy within the international community. UNGASS, which was due to be held in 2019, was advanced to 2016 at the request of the leaders of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico, countries that have been at the frontline of drug-related violence.

Ahead of UNGASS, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos remarked on the failure of war on drugs in an opinion editorial for the Guardian.

“Vested with the moral authority of leading the nation that has carried the heaviest burden in the global war on drugs, I can tell you without hesitation that the time has come for the world to transit into a different approach in its drug policy,” he wrote.

“This is not a call for legalisation of drugs. It is a call for recognition that between total war and legalisation there exists a broad range of options worth exploring,” President Santos added.

Since the 1961 UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs, states have focused on the criminalisation and eradication of drugs. However, evidence has shown that this approach has not only failed to reduce the production and consumption of drugs, but it has also negatively impacted human rights, health and development around the world.

In Colombia, production of the world’s supply of coca leaves stood at less than 10 percent up to the 1980s. However, following the United States-led war on drugs in Peru and Bolivia, which funded crop eradication programs and anti-narcotics policing, cocaine production was pushed northward into Colombia. By 2000, the country cultivated an estimated 90 percent of the world’s coca leaves.

Despite US-funded anti-narcotics operations in Colombia in the 1990s, drug-fuelled violence spiked and contributed to the Western hemisphere’s longest war. Approximately 220,000 civilians were killed and more than five million were displaced during the Colombian armed conflict.

Meanwhile, Colombia continues to be a major coca and cocaine producing country.

Public health concerns also arose from the use of glyphosate in aerial spraying campaigns which were conducted for over two decades to eradicate coca crops. In 2015, the World Health Organisation warned that the herbicide could cause cancer.

In the U.S. itself, the criminalisation of drugs has led to unprecedented levels of incarceration. The north American nation currently has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, many of whom have been imprisoned for drug offences.

Mass incarceration and drug-policing disproportionately impacts African American communities.

Though Whites use drugs five times more than African Americans, African Americans are sent to prison for drug offences at 10 times the rate of White drug users, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

This has produced social costs that do not stop until long after prison sentences end, if at all.

A nation-wide study found that the majority of formerly incarcerated individuals were unable to access employment, education and housing. Approximately 67 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals in the study were still unemployed or underemployed five years after their release.

Many families also lose income and struggle to meet basic needs when a family member is incarcerated and unable to earn wages. In the same study, nearly 2 in 3 families with an incarcerated member were unable to meet their family’s basic needs, and 70 percent of those families include children. This perpetuates a vicious cycle of poverty and further incarceration with little if any change in drug consumption and production nationally.

The U.S. has begun to address the issue, implementing changes in its criminal justice system. During the National Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta in March 2016, President Barrack Obama highlighted the need to change drug approaches.

“For too long we’ve viewed drug addiction through the lens of criminal justice,” Obama said at the conference.

“The most important thing to do is reduce demand. And the only way to do that is to provide treatment – to see it as a public health problem and not a criminal problem,” he continued.

In the last two years, Obama has commuted 248 sentences of non-violent drug offenders who were harshly sentenced as a result of the war on drugs. The U.S. Justice Department also plans to release 6000 drug offenders following a drug law reform which reduced punishment for federal drug offences.

The UNGASS has incorporated some of these perspectives, experiences and evidence in its newly and unanimously adopted outcome document which aims to more effectively address the world drug problem.

In the document, the General Assembly has called for alternative measures to conviction and proportionate sentencing for drug-related offences. It also highlights the need to increase access to health services and treatment and address root causes including poverty.

However, many have already criticised the session and outcome document as being insufficient to effectively address the global drug issue.

Global Drug Policy Observatory’s (GDPO) Senior Research Officer Julia Buxton told IPS of her disappointment stating: “The outcome document is shameful – a hapless fudge…it goes against science, reason, evidence, best practice and lessons learned in decades of failed efforts,” she concluded.

She added that the outcome of meeting would move towards not only evidence-based approaches, but also harm reduction based approaches.

Harm reduction includes a set of strategies utilising a social justice lens to reduce negative health consequences associated with drug use.

“It demonstrates how fundamentally out of touch many national bureaucracies and governments are with the urgency of change and tragically, will condemn another generation to violence, disease, overdose, stigmatisation and rights abuses,” she concluded.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), approximately 27 million people are problem drug users. As of 2015, there has been little change in the production, use, and health consequences of illicit drugs.

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No Easy Outcomes in Brazil’s Political Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/no-easy-outcomes-in-brazils-political-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-easy-outcomes-in-brazils-political-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/no-easy-outcomes-in-brazils-political-crisis/#comments Mon, 18 Apr 2016 23:00:48 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144679 Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, her back to the camera, receives a hug on Monday Apr. 18 by one of the minority of lower house legislators who voted against her impeachment the day before. Credit: Roberto Stuckert/PR

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, her back to the camera, receives a hug on Monday Apr. 18 by one of the minority of lower house legislators who voted against her impeachment the day before. Credit: Roberto Stuckert/PR

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 18 2016 (IPS)

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff would appear to be, as she herself recently said, “a card out of the deck” of those in power, after the crushing defeat she suffered Sunday Apr. 17 in the lower house of Congress, which voted to impeach her. But Brazil’s political crisis is so complex that the final outcome is not a given.

A total of 367 legislators – 71.5 percent, or 25 more than the two-thirds majority needed – voted to impeach her and she now faces a vote in the Senate. Because the makeup of the Senate is similar to that of the Chamber of Deputies, the president’s fate is apparently sealed.

However, the climate of tension in Brazil has brought new surprises almost every week since last year. And the impeachment trial could drag on for over six months, passing through different stages and procedures, under the shadow of storms like the corruption scandal that threatens more than 300 politicians.

The Senate will have about three weeks to decide whether to go ahead with putting the left-wing president on trial for alleged irregularities in last year’s federal budget.

Since the decision only requires a simple majority of 41 out of 81 senators, the assumption is that the impeachment will move forward. The vote will be based on an assessment of the case by a special 21-senator commission that will have 10 working days to turn in its report.

In the next few weeks, Rousseff – whose first term started on Jan. 1, 2011 – will remain in the presidency. But she will have to step aside for 180 days if the Senate votes in favour of a formal impeachment trial. After that, another special commission will investigate, listen to the defence, and draw up a proposal to find her guilty or absolve her.

The trial by the 81 senators would be presided over by the president of the Supreme Court.

Rousseff would be banned from public office for eight years if two-thirds of the senators – 54 – found her guilty. She would be acquitted if she managed to obtain 28 votes in favour, including abstentions and absences.

There are multiple factors that could modify the script as well as the final outcome.

Demonstrators supporting the removal of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff celebrate Sunday Apr. 17 outside the lower house of Congress in Brasilia after it voted to impeach her. “Chao querida” (Bye-bye dear) reads one of the signs. Credit: Fábio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ Agência Brasil

Demonstrators supporting the removal of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff celebrate Sunday Apr. 17 outside the lower house of Congress in Brasilia after it voted to impeach her. “Tchau, querida” (Bye-bye dear) reads one of the signs. Credit: Fábio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ Agência Brasil

The lawmakers pushing for impeachment, who will take power if Rousseff is removed, have all been implicated by the Operação Lava Jato or Operation Car Wash investigation into corruption and could lose their seats as a result of a trial in the Supreme Court, where sitting politicians are tried.

Facing the greatest threat is the speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, who played a decisive role by speeding things up in the initial phase of the proceedings against Rousseff.

But that role has generated resistance against the impeachment. Cunha, accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes to secure contracts with state oil giant Petrobras, and reported to have illegal bank accounts in Switzerland, is seen as the biggest symbol of corruption, even by some of those who back the president’s removal.

Many members of the Chamber of Deputies took advantage of the moment to accuse Cunha of being a thief or corrupt, when they announced their vote on Sunday. Even some of those who voted in favour of impeachment made an attempt to mark their distance from the speaker of the house.

Deputy Jarbas Vasconcelos, for example, accused Cunha of “casting a stain over” the proceedings and the lower house.

Both of them belong to the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), an ally of the government until last month. If Rousseff is suspended, the party will lead the government and both houses of Congress.

Vice-president Michel Temer, who will become president if Rousseff – reelected to her second term in October 2014 – is impeached, and the president of the Senate, Renán Calheiros, have been signaled as benefiting from the corruption orchestrated by Petrobras, as they both agreed to cooperate with the justice system in exchange for a reduction in any eventual sentence.

The charges and the information provided in the investigation will tend to focus on these three politicians – the vice president and the heads of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate – as they are in line to replace the president.

Rousseff’s supporters stress that she is an exception among the leading protagonists in this battle for power, as the only one who is not facing corruption charges.

Supporters of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff displayed intense disappointment on Sunday Apr. 17 outside the lower house of Congress in Brasilia as the voting reflected an overwhelming majority in favour of impeachment. Credit: Fábio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ Agência Brasil

Supporters of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff displayed intense disappointment on Sunday Apr. 17 outside the lower house of Congress in Brasilia as the voting reflected an overwhelming majority in favour of impeachment. Credit: Fábio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ Agência Brasil

However, she is isolated now because the left-wing ruling Workers Party’s (PT) image has been battered by accusations that it has diverted public funds since it first came to power in 2003 under former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

New charges and lines of investigation by Operation Car Wash, led by the public prosecutor’s office and the federal police, could modify the political landscape, as has happened in the last few months when it investigated favours allegedly received by Lula from leading construction companies that have carried out large-scale oil industry and hydropower projects.

Another source of uncertainty is the current Superior Electoral Court investigation into the 2014 campaign funds that could invalidate the victory by Rousseff and Temer due to the alleged use of illegal donations coming from bribes from Petrobras contractor companies.

If the 2014 elections outcome is challenged, new elections will be held. But experts believe that this ruling will not come until 2017, and in that case it would be Congress that would elect the new president and vice president who would complete the current term until 2018.

The economic crisis, meanwhile, is only expected to get worse, because an interim government would find it hard to adopt the unpopular measures that economists, and Temer himself, see as indispensable for fighting the recession, such as a fiscal adjustment plan.

A truce is also possible, but it would be hard to accommodate the interests of the nearly two dozen parties in the lower house that helped approve the move to impeach Rousseff. The broad majority that was achieved was due to small and medium-sized parties that joined together with the large opposition parties when the president’s defeat began to look likely.

The big fuel for political decisions lately in Brazil has been the prospect of gaining a share of the power.

The corrosion of the new coalition that would take power will be inevitable, due to internal divisions, the recession and subsequent rise in unemployment, new findings by the corruption investigation and demonstrations by Rousseff’s supporters, which will clearly rise in intensity.

The media, which the left accuses of being biased against Rousseff, Lula and the PT, will likely focus their negative news stories on the new holders of power, accentuating the erosion.

The defence of the president, led by Attorney General José Eduardo Cardozo, disparaged the lower house decision on the impeachment, calling it “purely political” and noting that Rousseff is not facing serious accusations but minor charges which, he said, have “absolutely no background or basis.”

Cardozo argued that this is possible in a parliamentary system, but not in Brazil’s presidentialist system. The proceedings have been criticised as unconstitutional, since Rousseff is not accused of any concrete crime, and a president can’t be impeached only for political reasons, he argued.

These arguments are not likely to modify the Senate’s eventual decision, given the president’s isolation, but they could strengthen the movement against her removal.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The Panama Papers: A Global Report Cardhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/the-panama-papers-a-global-report-card/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-panama-papers-a-global-report-card http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/the-panama-papers-a-global-report-card/#comments Mon, 11 Apr 2016 14:59:10 +0000 Maddie Felts http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144555 Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Maddie Felts
ROME, Apr 11 2016 (IPS)

On Sunday, 3 April, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released an unprecedented leak of documents exposing the secretive financial dealings of some of the world’s richest and most powerful. Few countries are safe from the findings; twelve current or former heads of state are implicated among 143 politicians, their relatives and associates for using offshore tax havens.

The Panama Papers have revealed the real victims in our global financial system, and they aren’t the prime minister’s buddies. Economic inequality continues to undermine progress and social cohesion. Oxfam calculated that in 2015, a mere 62 individuals held as much wealth as the world’s poorest 3.6 billion people. To combat income inequality, the World Economic Forum has identified solutions including improved education, reformed tax policies, redistribution, social welfare policies, and workforce development. These solutions are very much attainable and increasingly crucial to billions worldwide.

To bridge the dichotomy between the haves and have-nots, the global elite must settle some long-overdue debts to society. The Tax Justice Network estimates that the world’s richest hold between 21 and 32 trillion dollars of untaxed assets. The startling extent of world leaders involved in the Panama Papers leak reflects the scope of corruption in national and local governments.

These trillions of dollars stolen by politicians or shielded from taxation (or sometimes both) mean less funding for roads, schools, and public healthcare. Not only are the rich becoming richer; the poor also remain systematically oppressed.

When the state cannot or will not provide basic needs to its most vulnerable populations, crime can flourish. Criminal groups serve as the primary provider of social services and therefore become so deeply entrenched in communities that they earn the trust of the people and infiltrate local government. Underpaid government officials are more easily lured into corruption since their underfunded state cannot provide what bribery can. The World Bank estimates over $1 trillion are paid in bribes each year. We can no longer afford to ignore corruption that makes up an estimated 5% of annual GDP – roughly $2.6 trillion, almost twenty times greater than the $134.8 billion spent on official development assistance.

The audience reading this article may not consist of the 62 richest of the rich, but access to an education, the Internet, and free press is more than billions of people will ever receive. We must acknowledge and defend journalism that can expose gross injustice and inequality. We cannot take for granted the freedoms and opportunities available to us. And we must fight for what we all do not yet have but deserve, beginning with “honesty, transparency and integrity from our leaders,” which compelled Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a protester in Iceland, to call for change.

Jónsdóttir is not alone in her discontent. Protests continue in Iceland, even after the Prime Minister stepped down two days after the Papers revealed his involvement in offshore investment with claims on Iceland’s failed banks. South Africans continue to protest the dealings of their political leaders and their families – and now that the leak revealed Jacob Zuma’s nephew’s involvement in oil contracts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the protests will likely continue. Those who hold the freedom to peaceful protest must fight for transparency for the billions whose voices are not heard.

A political event characterized by discontent, the upcoming United States presidential election should be viewed from a new perspective informed by the Panama Papers. Candidates have sought to distance themselves from Washington and its institutional entanglements. Voters must begin to demand that candidates distance themselves from dubious campaign financing. The United States campaign finance system provides loopholes in which corporations and foundations can hide millions of dollars, not completely unlike the offshore tax systems that hide billions of dollars for political and business leaders worldwide.

Even in a nation as wealthy as the United States, 15% of the population lives below the poverty line. The cost of social services that are often called unfeasible seem small in the face of the trillions of dollars tucked away through tax evasion. Though no American politician has yet been implicated in the Panama Papers, at the least, the leak provides a much-needed lens to voters as they reevaluate the American economic and political system.

For those of us without a billion dollars in our pocket, we hold a priceless tool: our voices. We must speak out, through the press and through the electoral process, to ensure transparency in our governments. The Panama Papers serve as a global report card, and far too many of our political leaders and institutions are failing. Let this information inspire us all to relentlessly advocate for just and transparent political processes everywhere.

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