Inter Press Service » Crime & Justice http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 01 Feb 2015 16:49:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 People’s Tribunal Hopes Verdict on Mining Abuses Gains Tractionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/peoples-tribunal-hopes-verdict-on-mining-abuses-gains-traction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peoples-tribunal-hopes-verdict-on-mining-abuses-gains-traction http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/peoples-tribunal-hopes-verdict-on-mining-abuses-gains-traction/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 22:24:14 +0000 Leila Lemghalef http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138948 Children exposed to mining industry pollution in Peru. The debate on mining is raging throughout Latin America. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Children exposed to mining industry pollution in Peru. The debate on mining is raging throughout Latin America. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Leila Lemghalef
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 30 2015 (IPS)

A recent case study on Canadian mining abuses in Latin America has woven one more thread of justice into the tapestry of international law.

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) has found five Canadian mining companies and the Canadian government responsible for human rights violations in Latin America, including labour rights violations, environmental destruction, the denial of indigenous self-determination rights, criminalisation of dissent and targeted assassinations."The battle for international justice is absolutely the same as the battle for internal democracy." -- Judge Gianni Tognoni

Gianni Tognoni was one of eight judges in the decision, and has been secretary general of the PPT since its inception in 1979.

In an interview with IPS, he spoke about how the PPT’s claims have previously become part of the international debate.

“And in the experience of the Tribunal, that has been happening in different ways,” he said.

Out of many examples, he cited the case of child slave labour in the apparel industry, which was denounced by the tribunal, and which was “taken up in order to strengthen the controls and the monitoring by NGOs of the conditions that were there”.

The big panorama, he said, shows that “whatever could be done is being done… in order to integrate the tribunal with other forces… in order to formulate in juridically solid terms the claims”.

International processes are rarely rapid, he said, articulating that the judgement on the former Yugoslavia would “appear to be more a kind of judgement on the memory, the same is true for Rwanda”.

He contrasted that to the immediate effectiveness of economic treaties, and also brought up the well-known clash between human rights and transnational corporations, and the latter’s attitude of impunity.

“It’s not possible to have a global society which is progressively responding only to the economic criteria and the economic indicator,” he summed up.

Formally, Canada is expected to uphold the same rights abroad as at home, in accordance with the Maastricht Principle under which public powers are supposed to monitor non-state actors.

“But they simply fail to do that,” Tognoni said.

The 86-page ruling reports that 75 per cent of mining companies worldwide are based in Canada, and that Canadian companies with estimated investments of over 50 billion dollars in Latin America’s mining sector represent 50-70 per cent of mining activities in that region.

“And the verdict in Canada is clearly showing Canada outside is favouring the violation of fundamental human rights,” Tognoni said.

The PPT on the session on Canadian mining delivered the guilty verdict in Montreal on Dec. 10, 2014 – Human Rights Day – in an ongoing investigation until 2016.

So far, it has made recommendations to the Canadian government, the mining companies in question, as well as international agencies and bodies including 22 divisions of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Access to justice is a long-term effort

The PPT’s efforts are long-term ones.

“It is clear that it is important to organize the movement of opposition in order to give a strong also juridical support to the political and social arguments so that it would be clear that the battle for international justice is absolutely the same as the battle for internal democracy. Because the two things are more and more linked.  There are no more countries which are independent from the international scene,” Tognoni said.

PPT sessions “serve to add to that body of work to demonstrate that there is a crying need for instruments that will provide access to justice”, co-organiser of the PPT session on Canadian Mining in Latin America, Daniel Cayley-Daoust, told IPS.

“The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal is not an enforcement kind of initiative, where it does not having legal standing in a concrete way,” he said, explaining that it serves to support for affected communities and to document abuses committed, “in the sense of broadening that debate… to increase the pressure and to add that as kind of further proof to what the abuses are, that are permitted.”

A priority of the PPT is to add “more voice and credibility to something that has been largely ignored by the people who kind of have the power to make the changes”, said Cayley-Daoust.

In 2011, the U.N. Human Rights Council established a Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

Cayley-Daoust expressed concern that the U.N. has come under corporate influence over the last three to four decades, specifically because of its closer relations with corporations.

Rolando Gómez, spokesperson for the U.N. Human Rights Council, told IPS corporations are not immunised.

“There’s not one human rights issue within any setting – a corporation, a city, a country, a community – that would escape the attention of the council,” he said.

“We have seen positive trends of corporations, large and small, taking those issues to heart,” he said.

As for the challenge of political effects – “I think what we’ve been seeing is states are recognising more and more that we have to depoliticise the discussions,” he told IPS.

He emphasised that “the Human Rights Council is not merely about the resolutions adopted, but it’s about the follow-up, the action, it’s about the fact that there’s a setting here in Geneva where issues which often don’t get heard are heard.”

“The extent to which NGOs are active here is unique,” he told IPS, mentioning the participation of human rights victims and civil society, in delivering statements, sitting in on negotiations, and informing discussion going on in the formal setting.

As for whether talk translates into action… that depends on the issue as well as the willingness of states and decision-makers on the ground, said Gómez.

“Justice takes a long time,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Glimmer of Hope for Assangehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/glimmer-of-hope-for-assange/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=glimmer-of-hope-for-assange http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/glimmer-of-hope-for-assange/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 19:17:00 +0000 Gustavo Capdevila http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138943 Julian Assange in one of his rare public appearances in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has been in hiding since June 2012. Credit: Creative Commons

Julian Assange in one of his rare public appearances in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has been in hiding since June 2012. Credit: Creative Commons

By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, Jan 30 2015 (IPS)

There is a window of hope, thanks to a U.N. human rights body, for a solution to the diplomatic asylum of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, holed up in the embassy of Ecuador in London for the past two and a half years.

Authorities in Sweden, which is seeking the Australian journalist’s extradition to face allegations of sexual assault, admitted there is a possibility that measures could be taken to jumpstart the stalled legal proceedings against Assange.

The head of Assange’s legal defence team, former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, told IPS that in relation to this case “we have expressed satisfaction that the Swedish state“ has accepted the proposals of several countries.

The prominent Spanish lawyer and international jurist was referring to proposals set forth by Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador, Slovakia and Uruguay.

The final report by the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), adopted Thursday Jan. 28 in Geneva, Switzerland, contains indications that a possible understanding among the different countries concerned might be on the horizon.

The UPR is a mechanism of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine the human rights performance of all U.N. member states.

The situation of Assange, a journalist, computer programmer and activist born in Australia in 1971, was introduced in Sweden’s UPR by Ecuador, the country that granted him diplomatic asylum in its embassy in London, and by several European and Latin American nations.

The head of the Swedish delegation to the UPR, Annika Söder, state secretary for political affairs at Sweden’s foreign ministry, told IPS that “This is a very complex matter in which the government can only do a few things.”

Söder said that in Sweden, Assange is “suspected of crimes, rape, sexual molestation in accordance with Swedish law. And that’s why the prosecutor in Sweden wants to conduct the primary investigation.

“We are aware of Mr. Assange’s being in the embassy of Ecuador and we hope that there will be ways to deal with the legal process in one way or the other. But it is up to the legal authorities to respond,” she said.

Assange’s legal defence team complains that Sweden’s public prosecutor’s office is delaying the legal proceedings and refuses to question him by telephone, email, video link or in writing.

Garzón noted that parallel to the lack of action by the Swedish prosecutor’s office, there is a secret U.S. legal process against Assange and other members of Wikileaks, the organisation he created in 2006.

“The origin of the U.S. legal proceedings against Assange was the mass publication by Wikileaks of documents, in many cases sensitive ones, which affected the United States,” said Garzón.

Wikileaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and other classified U.S. documents revealed practices by Washington that put it in an awkward position with other governments.

Assange sought refuge in the embassy after exhausting options in British courts to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning related to allegations of rape and sexual molestation, of which he says he is innocent. He has not been charged with a crime in Sweden and is worried that if he is extradited to that country he will be sent to the United States, where he is under investigation for releasing secret government documents.

If the legal process in Sweden begins to move forward, there would be a possibility for him to be able to leave the Ecuadorean embassy, where he took refuge on Jun. 19, 2012, and give up the diplomatic asylum he was granted by the government of Rafael Correa on Aug. 16, 2012.

In the UPR report, Sweden promised to examine recommendations made by other countries and to provide a response before the next U.N. Human Rights Council session, which starts Jun. 15.

Garzón has urged the Swedish government to specify a timeframe for the legal action against Assange, as the delegation from Ecuador recommended in the UPR.

“The Human Rights Committee, another specialised U.N. body, stipulates that precise timeframes must be established for putting a detained person at the disposal of a judge,” he pointed out.

Söder told IPS that Sweden’s legal system does not set any deadline for the prosecutor to complete the pretrial examination phase, as reflected in the Assange case.

Garzón is also asking Sweden to introduce, as soon as possible, “measures to ensure that the legal proceedings are carried out in accordance with standards that guarantee the rights of individuals, concretely the right to effective judicial recourse and legal proceedings without undue delays.”

He also called for the adoption of administrative and judicial measures to make investigations before the courts more effective. With respect to this, he mentioned “the practice of measures of inquiry abroad, in line with international cooperation mechanisms.”

In addition, the international jurist demanded measures to ensure that people deprived of their freedom are provided with legal guarantees in accordance with international standards.

The Swedish delegation agreed to study a recommendation by Argentina to “take concrete measures to ensure that guarantees of non-extradition will be given to any person under the control of the Swedish authorities while they are considered refugees by a third country,” in this case Ecuador.

These should include legislative measures, if necessary.

This is important because Assange is facing the threat that the Swedish or British authorities could accept an extradition request from the United States for charges of espionage, which carry heavy penalties.

In his comments to IPS, Garzón said he was “disappointed” that the Swedish state has not accepted one of Ecuador’s recommendations.

He was referring to the request that Sweden streamline international cooperation mechanisms on the part of the judiciary and the prosecutor’s office in order to ensure the right to effective legal remedy, specifically in cases where the person is protected by the decision to grant asylum or refuge.

It was stressed in the UPR that the right to asylum or refuge is considered a fundamental right, and must be respected and taken into account, making it compatible with the right to legal defence.

The director-general of legal affairs in Sweden’s foreign ministry, Anders Rönquist, argued that there is no international convention on diplomatic asylum.

The only one referring to that issue is the inter-American convention, he said, adding that the International Court of Justice in The Hague does not require recognition of diplomatic asylum.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Missing Students Case Also Highlights Racism in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/missing-students-case-also-highlights-racism-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=missing-students-case-also-highlights-racism-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/missing-students-case-also-highlights-racism-in-mexico/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 20:16:04 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138922 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/missing-students-case-also-highlights-racism-in-mexico/feed/ 0 Conflict-Related Displacement: A Huge Development Challenge for Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/conflict-related-displacement-a-huge-development-challenge-for-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflict-related-displacement-a-huge-development-challenge-for-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/conflict-related-displacement-a-huge-development-challenge-for-india/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 09:19:53 +0000 Priyanka Borpujari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138896 In Serfanguri relief camp in Kokrajhar, several tents were erected, but they were inadequate to properly house the roughly 2,000 people who had arrived there on Dec. 23, 2014. This single tent houses 25 women and children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Serfanguri relief camp in Kokrajhar, several tents were erected, but they were inadequate to properly house the roughly 2,000 people who had arrived there on Dec. 23, 2014. This single tent houses 25 women and children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Priyanka Borpujari
KOKRAJHAR, India, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

The tarpaulin sheet, when stretched and tied to bamboo poles, is about the length and breadth of a large SUV. Yet, about 25 women and children have been sleeping beneath these makeshift shelters at several relief camps across Kokrajhar, a district in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam.

The inhabitants of these camps – about 240,000 of them across three other districts of Assam – fled from their homes after 81 people were killed in what now seems like a well-planned attack.

The Asian Centre for Human Rights says the situation is reaching a full-blown humanitarian crisis, representing one of the largest conflict-related waves of displacement in India.

It has turned a mirror on India’s inability to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and suggests that continued violence across the country will pose a major challenge to meeting the basic development needs of a massive population.

Hunger is constant in the refugee camps, with meagre rations of rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt falling short of most families’ basic needs. Women are forced to walk long distances to fetch firewood for woodstoves. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Hunger is constant in the refugee camps, with meagre rations of rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt falling short of most families’ basic needs. Women are forced to walk long distances to fetch firewood for woodstoves. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Appalling conditions

On the evening of Dec. 23, several villages inhabited by the Adivasi community were allegedly attacked by the armed Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), which has been seeking an independent state for the Bodo people in Assam.

The attacks took place in areas already marked out as Bodoland Territorial Authority Districts (BTAD), governed by the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).

But the Adivasi community that resides here comprises several indigenous groups who came to Assam from central India, back in 150 AD, while hundreds were also forcibly brought to the state by the British to work in tea gardens.

Clashes between the Adivasi and Bodo communities in 1996 and 1998 – during which an estimated 100 to 200 people were killed – still bring up nightmares for those who survived.

This child, a resident of the Serfanguri camp, is suffering from a skin infection. His mother says they are yet to receive medicines from the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

This child, a resident of the Serfanguri camp, is suffering from a skin infection. His mother says they are yet to receive medicines from the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

It explains why the majority of those displaced and taking shelter in some 118 camps are unwilling to return to their homes.

But while the tent cities might seem like a safer option in the short term, conditions here are deplorable, and the government is keen to relocate the temporary refugees to a more permanent location soon.

The relief camp set up at Serfanguri village in Kokrajhar lacks all basic water and sanitation facilities deemed necessary for survival. A single tent in such a camp houses 25 women and children.

“The men sleep in another tent, or stay awake at night in turns, to guard us. It is only because of the cold that we somehow manage to pull through the night in such a crowded space,” explains Maino Soren from Ulghutu village, where four houses were burned to the ground, forcing residents to run for their lives carrying whatever they could on their backs.

Now, she tells IPS, there is a serious lack of basic necessities like blankets to help them weather the winter.

Missing MDG targets

In a country that is home to 1.2 billion people, accounting for 17 percent of the world’s population, recurring violence and subsequent displacement put a huge strain on limited state resources.

Time after time both the local and the central government find themselves confronted with refugee populations that point to gaping holes in the country’s development track record.

With food in limited supply and fish being a staple part of the Assamese diet, it is common to see women and even children fishing in the marshy swamps that line the edge of the refugee camps, no matter how muddy or dirty the water might be. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

With food in limited supply and fish being a staple part of the Assamese diet, it is common to see women and even children fishing in the marshy swamps that line the edge of the refugee camps, no matter how muddy or dirty the water might be. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Outside their hastily erected tents in Kokrajhar, underweight and visibly undernourished children trade biscuits for balls of ‘jaggery’ (palm sugar) and rice.

Girls as young as seven years old carry pots of water on their heads from tube wells to their camps, staggering under the weight of the containers. Others lend a hand to their mothers washing pots and pans.

The scenes testify to India’s stunted progress towards meeting the MDGs, a set of poverty eradication targets set by the United Nations, whose timeframe expires this year.

One of the goals – that India would reduce its portion of underweight children to 26 percent by 2015 – is unlikely to be reached. The most recent available data, gathered in 2005-2006, found the number of underweight children to be 40 percent of the child population.

Similarly, while the District Information System on Education (DISE) data shows that the country has achieved nearly 100 percent primary education for children aged six to ten years, events like the ones in Assam prevent children from continuing education, even if they might be enrolled in schools.

According to Anjuman Ara Begum, a social activist who has studied conditions in relief camps all across the country and contributed to reports by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), “Children from relief camps are allowed to take new admission into nearby public schools, but there is no provision to feed the extra mouths during the mid-day meals. So children drop out from schools altogether and their education is impacted.”

Furthermore, in the Balagaon and Jolaisuri villages, where camps have been set up to provide relief to Adivasi and Bodo people respectively, there were reports of the deaths of a few infants upon arrival.

Most people attributed their deaths to the cold, but it was clear upon visiting the camps that no special nutritional care for lactating mothers and pregnant women was available.

This little boy is one of hundreds whose schooling has been interrupted due to violence. The local administration is attempting to evict refugees from the camps, most of which are housed in school compounds, but little is being done to ensure the educational rights of displaced children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

This little boy is one of hundreds whose schooling has been interrupted due to violence. The local administration is attempting to evict refugees from the camps, most of which are housed in school compounds, but little is being done to ensure the educational rights of displaced children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Bleak forecast for maternal and child health

Such a scenario is not specific to Assam. All over India, violence and conflict seriously compromise maternal and child health, issues that are high on the agenda of the MDGs.

In central and eastern India alone, some 22 million women reside in conflict-prone areas, where access to health facilities is compounded by the presence of armed groups and security personnel.

This is turn complicates India’s efforts to reduce the maternal mortality ratio from 230 deaths per 100,000 live births to its target of 100 deaths per 100,000 births.

It also means that India is likely to miss the target of lowering the infant mortality rate (IMR) by 13 points, and the under-five mortality rate by five points by 2015.

Scenes like this are not uncommon at relief camps inhabited by the Bodo community. Many families have accepted that they will have a long wait before returning to their homes, or before their children resume schooling. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Scenes like this are not uncommon at relief camps inhabited by the Bodo community. Many families have accepted that they will have a long wait before returning to their homes, or before their children resume schooling. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

According to a recent report by Save the Children, ‘State of the World’s Mothers 2014’, India is one of the worst performers in South Asia, reporting the world’s highest number of under-five deaths in 2012, and counting some 1.4 million deaths of under-five children.

Nutrition plays a major role in the mortality rate, a fact that gets thrown into high relief at times of violence and displacement.

IDPs from the latest wave of conflict in Assam are struggling to make do with the minimal provisions offered to them by the state.

“While only rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt are provided, there is no provision for firewood or utensils, and hence the burden of keeping the family alive falls on the woman,” says Begum, adding that women often face multiple hurdles in situations of displacement.

With an average of just four small structures with black tarpaulin sheets erected as toilets in the periphery of relief camps that house hundreds of people, the basic act of relieving oneself becomes a matter of great concern for the women.

“Men can go anywhere, any time, with just a mug of water. But for us women, it means that we have to plan ahead when we have to relieve ourselves,” said one woman at a camp in Lalachor village.

It is a microcosmic reflection of the troubles faced by 636 million people across India who lack access to toilets, despite numerous commitments on paper to improve the sanitation situation in the country.

As the international community moves towards an era of sustainable development, India will need to lay plans for tackling ethnic violence that threatens to destabilize its hard-won development gains.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Teenage Girls in Argentina – Invisible Victims of Femicidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/teenage-girls-in-argentina-invisible-victims-of-femicide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=teenage-girls-in-argentina-invisible-victims-of-femicide http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/teenage-girls-in-argentina-invisible-victims-of-femicide/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 23:11:55 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138894 On average, 21 adolescent girls in Argentina are victims of femicides every year, a growing phenomenon linked to domestic violence on the part of current or ex-boyfriends and husbands. Credit: Juan Moseinco/IPS

On average, 21 adolescent girls in Argentina are victims of femicides every year, a growing phenomenon linked to domestic violence on the part of current or ex-boyfriends and husbands. Credit: Juan Moseinco/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

The murder of a young Argentine girl on a beach in neighbouring Uruguay shook both countries and drew attention to a kind of violence that goes almost unnoticed as a cause of death among Argentine adolescents: femicide.

In most Latin American countries, the lack of broken-down official data on femicides – a term coined to refer to the killing of females because of their gender – makes it difficult to identify the victims by their ages.

But in the case of Argentina, some independent reports, such as one by the local non-governmental organisation La Casa del Encuentro, have begun to make it clear that not only are there more gender-motivated killings, but the number of victims under 18 is increasing.

“Between 2008 and 2014 we saw the number gradually rising, and this has to do with gender violence among young unmarried couples or sexual abuse followed by death,” the NGO’s executive director, Fabiana Túñez, told IPS.

A report by the “Adriana Marisel Zambrano” Observatory on Femicides documented 295 cases in 2013 in Argentina, a country of 42 million. Between 2008 and 2013 there were 1,236 gender-related murders of women, equivalent to one femicide every 35 hours.

Other Latin American countries

In Mexico, a country of 122 million people, the Network for Children’s Rights (REDIM) reported in December that 315 girls and teenage girls were murdered in 2013.

“Cases of violence against women in Mexico have been on the rise,” reported REDIM, which complained about a lack of actions by the government to prevent domestic violence. “Much of the increase is among girls and adolescents who are victims of violence that in many cases ends in femicide.”

In El Salvador, population 6.2 million, the national police registered 261 femicides in the first 11 months of 2014, 28 of them girls or adolescents 17 or younger.

In Panama, meanwhile, with a population of 3.9 million, three out of 10 victims of femicide are minors, according to the office of the public prosecutor.

From 2009 to 2014, 343 women were killed in Panama, and 226 of the murders were classified as femicides.

According to the Observatory, in that six-year period, 124 adolescent girls between the ages of 13 and 18 were victims of femicide – an average of 21 a year – according to statistics gathered from newspaper reports. But the real number could be much higher, because in a number of cases the victim’s age was not reported.

The release of the report coincided with a case that shocked the nation: the murder of 15-year-old Lola Chomnalez, who went missing on Dec. 28 while on vacation in her godmother’s house in a Uruguayan beach town.

“They found the dead body of the Argentine girl who went missing in Uruguay,” feminist activist Verónica Lemi wrote in Facebook under her pseudonym Penélope Popplewell. “They keep killing us and there are still people asking what one of us was doing walking alone on the beach. You hear on TV: the killer saw a pretty young girl and took advantage of the situation.

“If we have to be protected, carry pepper spray or be accompanied just to take a walk on a beach, then women are not free,” she wrote with indignation. “If we act like we have the same rights as men, we increase the risk that we’ll be killed just because we’re women.”

Sometimes the perpetrators stalk their victims on the street: outside of a discotheque, or on their way home from school or university. But in most cases the victims know their killers.

According to Túñez of La Casa del Encuentro, half of all femicides involve sexual abuse followed by murder. The other half are associated with violence among couples, cases that are often referred to by the media as “crimes of passion.”

The local statistics are in line with a global tendency. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that three out of 10 adolescent girls suffer violence at the hands of their boyfriends.

The causes, according to Túñez, are the same as in adults. “The male perpetrator controls, dominates, has jealous fits. And the adolescent girls who are in the first stages of idealising love believe they can change things but they start to get caught up in a big spider web from which they find it impossible to escape later.”

She stressed that it is necessary to raise awareness among adolescent girls to “denaturalise” this kind of behavior.

“It’s not normal for boyfriends to be overly jealous, for girls not to be able to go out on their own, for their boyfriends to control their movements, snoop on their cell-phones, insult them or hit them,” Ada Rico, co-founder of La Casa del Encuentro, told the local media.

On her Facebook page, “Acción Respeto: por una calle sin acoso” (Operation Respect: for harassment-free streets), the 26-year-old Lemi tries to “denaturalise” this “aggressive, sexist culture” whose worst expression is femicide.

“On one hand we have the progress made with respect to women’s rights, but on the other, in terms of idiosyncracies, we are still living in a very ‘machista’ or sexist society in Argentina, where saying something embarrassing to a 15-year-old girl on the street is ok because it means they like you,” the activist told IPS.

“The supposed sexual freedom goes only so far,” she added. “Because every time a girl is abused, the media and commentators say ‘she must have been a little slut’. When a woman exercises her sexual freedom she’s considered a whore.”

Lemi said it is necessary to combat in society “the man-woman relationship where the man is dominant and the woman is submissive, and to counteract the culture of blaming the victim.”

“There is so much violence against women, not just physical, but also in language, at a symbolic level. Violence against women continues to be justified. In that context it is only logical that femicides are committed,” she said.

Natalia Gherardi, executive director of the Latin American Justice and Gender Team (ELA), said the apparent increase in the number of femicides could be linked to greater media coverage.

“There is greater visibility, which is why we hear about more cases and deaths, when it’s too late to turn to the authorities,” she told IPS.

Argentina is among the Latin American countries where the most progress has been made in raising awareness on gender equality and women’s access to education and decision-making positions.

In 2012, the Argentine legislature passed a law that stiffened the penalties for gender violence, although it does not include the category of femicide, as in the case of legislation passed in other countries in the region.

The Argentine law provides for life in prison when the murderer is the victim’s current or ex husband or boyfriend, or when the woman is killed for gender-related reasons.

“Progress has been made in terms of insertion in the labour market, in education…but that in itself is not enough to change the ‘machista’, patriarchal culture,” Gherardi said.

The director of ELA said there were shortcomings in implementation, oversight and evaluation of public policies such as the Comprehensive Sex Education law, which takes gender aspects into account.

“I would like to see political leaders, women and men, engaging in meaningful discussions about the violence, above and beyond grand gestures, when appalling things happen,” Gherardi said.

She stressed the fundamental role played by the media in the fight against sexist violence, and added that there are media outlets and journalists who send out messages “that counteract gender stereotypes and others that perpetuate them, putting women in humiliating roles.”

“There are an enormous number of situations of subtle day-to-day violence, before things reach the stage of beatings or femicide,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Young People in Latin America Face Stigma and Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/young-people-in-latin-america-face-stigma-and-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-people-in-latin-america-face-stigma-and-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/young-people-in-latin-america-face-stigma-and-inequality/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 20:43:39 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138864 Young Chileans in one of the numerous mass protests demanding free quality education in Santiago, the capital of Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Young Chileans in one of the numerous mass protests demanding free quality education in Santiago, the capital of Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

Young people in Latin America now enjoy greater access to education. But in many cases their future is dim due to the lack of opportunities and the siren call of crime in a region where 167 million people are poor, and 71 million live in extreme poverty.

“We are concerned, even alarmed, at the situation facing Latin America’s youth,” Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told IPS.

“We believe young people should be the central focus of the next regional meetings, but with a different vision this time, not just focusing on drugs and violence,” she added.

According to ECLAC figures, one out of four of the 600 million inhabitants of Latin America and the Caribbean is between the ages of 15 and 29.

Despite that, spending on the young is relatively low, especially if you compare the region’s public and private investment on post-secondary education with what is spent in emerging countries of Southeast Asia, or in Europe.“Young people aren’t necessarily the most violent – we have to fight that stigma. Youth should not be identified with violence, with detachment from the institutions. Young people want to work, they want to study, they want opportunities, new utopias, and they have new ideas.” -- Alicia Bárcena

The report, Social Panorama of Latin America 2014, presented Monday Jan. 26 in the Chilean capital, revealed significant advances in educational coverage among Latin America’s young people, but also found that they continue to suffer from higher unemployment rates and lower levels of social protection than adults.

They are also the main victims of homicides in the region, where seven of the 14 most violent countries in the world are located.

The ECLAC report shows that the progress in reducing poverty has slowed down. Poverty continues to affect 28 percent of the population in the region, while extreme poverty grew from 11.3 to 12 percent, based on the 15 countries that provided up-to-date statistics.

However, inequality has been reduced in nearly every country.

There are some 160 million young people in this region of 600 million. And although the population has begun to age, the young will remain a significant proportion of the population over the next few decades.

The report says that “Despite these major attainments in terms of education coverage and lower inequality, there are still large structural divides in capacity-building opportunities between the region’s young people.”

Bárcena said it’s not just about achieving greater social spending on education, housing or health, but also about things that are less tangible but no less important, such as improving participation by young people in the design of public policies.

“Transparency and information have to go farther than what is happening today,” she said.

Although they have greater access to education, inequality is still a problem for young people in the region.

For example, people between the ages of 15 and 29 in the three lowest income quintiles have unemployment rates between 10 and 20 percent, compared to rates of five to seven percent among young people in the two highest income quintiles.

And only 27.5 percent of young wage earners between the ages of 15 and 19 are enrolled in the social security system, compared to 67.7 percent of adults aged 30 to 64.

ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena (centre) with other ECLAC officials at the presentation of the Social Panorama of Latin America 2014 on Jan. 26 in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Carlos Vera/ECLAC

ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena (centre) with other ECLAC officials at the presentation of the Social Panorama of Latin America 2014 on Jan. 26 in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Carlos Vera/ECLAC

“The idea is to advance in social policies that take into account the complete cycle of life and the different priorities that arise throughout a person’s life,” Daniela Trucco, social affairs officer with ECLAC’s Social Development Division, told IPS.

She said the assessment and analysis of public policies in the region should take into account the differences between sub-regions, because Latin America is very diverse.

For example, “the Southern Cone countries are much more advanced, with a much more educated young population that has unemployment problems similar to adults,” she said.

By contrast, “in the countries of Central America young people aren’t even finishing secondary school. A large proportion of adolescents and young people are outside the educational system, and that is where we have the worst problems of violence and gangs.”

Trucco said there are key areas to be addressed among the young, such as education and employment. But although these are the most important, they are not the only ones, she added.

“There is a proportion of young people who don’t fall into these areas, but it’s not because they aren’t doing anything; they’re often employed without pay, for example, in domestic or care work in the home, a very important question for young and adult women,” she said.

The Social Panorama reports that 22 percent of people aged 15 to 29 in Latin America were neither studying nor in paid employment in 2012. Of that proportion, a majority were women engaged in unpaid care and domestic work.

Another essential area to be addressed, besides health, is participation, with the aim of involving young people themselves in the formulation of better public policies targeting that segment of the population.

“We have to think about the issue of participation in a modern, up-to-date manner,” Trucco said.

“There is a great deal of interest in political participation, but not the traditional politics linked to political parties. The question of social networks, and digital inclusion, also has to be considered,” she said.

She stressed the work carried out by ECLAC to combat two kinds of stigmas faced by young people: those who neither work nor study, and the question of youth violence.

And although the main victims of homicide are between the ages of 15 and 44, the stigma of youth violence distorts public policy options, the report says.

“We see that adolescents do participate significantly [in the violence], but young adults do too,” said Trucco. “They are young people not incorporated in other forms of social inclusion, or maybe they are, but with different expectations, and caught up in contexts of violence or inclusion in other groups.”

The expert called for “a change in approach to the problem of violence to figure out how society can overcome it and what alternatives can be offered in terms of development and opportunities.”

A prejudiced approach makes people forget that young people are the principal victims of crime, as shown by the fact that on average, 20 percent of young people in the region say they have been the victims of crimes, four percentage points higher than adults.

The proportion of victims who are young people is higher in the countries with the highest crime rates, such as the seven that are on the list of the world’s 14 most violent countries: Honduras, Venezuela, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica and Colombia, in that order.

Mexico is in the process of joining that list of violent countries, Bárcena said in her interview with IPS.

The head of ECLAC said greater comprehension is needed with respect to violence among the young.

“Young people aren’t necessarily the most violent – we have to fight that stigma. Youth should not be identified with violence, with detachment from the institutions. Young people want to work, they want to study, they want opportunities, new utopias, and they have new ideas,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Not Without Our Daughters: Lambada Women Fight Infanticide and Child Traffickinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/not-without-our-daughters-lambada-women-fight-infanticide-and-child-trafficking/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 08:30:46 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138819 Lambada women, who never went to school, now keep vigil over young girls in the community. When a child stays away from the classroom for too long, they sound the alarm against possible child labour or trafficking. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Lambada women, who never went to school, now keep vigil over young girls in the community. When a child stays away from the classroom for too long, they sound the alarm against possible child labour or trafficking. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
CHANDAMPET, India, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

At 11 years of age, Banawat Gangotri already has four years of work experience as a farm labourer. The child, a member of the nomadic Lambada community from the village of Bugga Thanda in India’s southern Telangana state, plucked cotton and chillies from nine a.m. until 5 p.m. for about a dollar daily.

Every day, her father collected her earnings, and spent it on alcohol.

“If there is nothing to eat and no land to grow food, what options do we have but to send our children out to earn?” -- Khetawat Jamku, a 50-year-old Lambada woman from the south Indian state of Telangana
In mid-January, however, the cycle was broken. Hours before her father took her to Guntur, a chilli-producing district 168 km away, Gangotri was rescued and brought to a residential school in the neighbouring block of Devarakonda, where she is now enrolled in the fourth grade.

A local non-profit called the Gramya Resource Centre for Women (Gramya) runs the school. It also mobilizes the Lambada people against child trafficking, child abuse and infanticide, all frequent occurrences in the community.

The school currently has 65 children like Gangotri – rescued either from child employers or human traffickers.

“I like school,” Gangotri tells IPS. “When I grow up I’ll be a teacher.”

It is a simple dream, but it is more than most girls from her background can hope for: Gangotri’s is one of just 40 villages across the country to have a Child Protection Committee, a 12-member community vigilante group that acts against trafficking and forced child labour.

Trained by Gramya in children and women’s rights, this committee keeps a hawkish eye on school-aged girls in the village. If a child doesn’t attend school for a few weeks, they sound the alarm: a long absence usually means the girl has either been employed, or married off.

Still, some manage to slip away. The day Gangotri was rescued, Banawat Nirosha, a 12-year-old girl from the Mausanngadda village, went missing. Villagers soon find out that her landless farm-worker parents had left to work as chilli pickers in Guntur, taking along Nirosha – an extra pair of earning hands.

Though the parents are expected to return after March, when the chilli-harvesting season is over, there is a possibility that Nirosha could be married off in Guntur, villagers tell IPS.

Curbing the killing and sale of daughters

While stories like these are common, the vigilante group tells IPS that things have significantly improved in the village, where female infanticide and trafficking of young girls was rampant just 20 years ago.

In March 1999, following the rescue of 57 Lambada infants from a trafficking ring in Telangana’s capital city Hyderabad, police investigations revealed that between 1991 and 2000, some 400 babies from the region were bought and sold under the banner of adoption, though activists fear they most likely ended up as labourers, or entered India’s thriving commercial sex trade.

And in a country where three million girl children are thought to be “missing” each year due to sex-selective abortions and infanticide, children from the Lambada community face a double risk.

In an interview with IPS, Hyderabad-based social activist Rukmini Rao, who founded Gramya in 1997, recalls some of the horrors she has faced in her work, including preventing infant twins from being killed by a family already struggling to support four daughters in a village in Telangana.

Stunned, she and a colleague undertook a study, which found the male-female ratio in the village in question to be 835 female children to every 1,000 males.

Today, thanks to rising awareness and strict community vigil, the sex ratio in the district stands at 983, well above India’s national average of 941 girls for every 1,000 boys.

But activists have a long way to go. In a country where 50 percent of the tribal population lives below the poverty line, surviving on less than a dollar a day, preventing Lambada families from killing or selling their children is an uphill battle.

Suma Latha, a coordinator of Gramya with 14 years of experience in training Lambada women as child rights’ activists, tells IPS that expecting mothers often travel to Hyderabad where they sell their day-old infants for a few thousand rupees, later explaining to the village that the child had died at birth.

“The sale is always against the will of the mother, arranged by the father and the mother-in-law,” Latha says, adding that when Gangotri was rescued, her father had offered to “give away” the girl for 15,000 rupees (about 250 dollars).

With their light-skinned complexions and hazel eyes, Lambada children are very much in demand to fill a growing adoption market, with childless couples hailing mostly from the cities willing to pay handsomely for a beautiful baby.

While some of these children may in fact end up in caring homes, others almost certainly fall into the hands of sex traffickers.

“The middle men who buy babies […] are moved by money not morality,” says Lynette Dumble, a Melbourne-based medical scientist who has studied female infanticide across India for over two decades. “So if the sex traffickers are offering more […] the girls will be sold to them.”

Statistics and records gathered by numerous organisations reveal that Hyderabad, the city closest to the Lambada villages, is a growing hub of sex trafficking.

According to B. Prasada Rao, the director-general of police for the state of Andhra Pradesh, which border Telangana, in 2013 the police had arrested 778 traffickers and rescued 558 victims including minors.

Although this represents only a small part of India’s estimated 30-43 billion-dollar child sex trade, it has activists here seriously concerned about young girls in the community.

Sustainable solutions

Keeping vigil is important, but so too are longer-term solutions designed to tackle the problem at its root.

Many Lambada women believe the key lies in education, urging families to take advantage of free schooling and government stipends aimed at boosting female enrolment rates in rural areas.

But this alone will be insufficient to completely stop the practice of infanticide or the sale of children.

Equally important, researchers say, is providing marginalised communities with alternatives.

Government data indicates that 90 percent of India’s tribal population is landless. In the Nalgonda district of Telangana state, where Gangotri’s father scratches out a living on the margins of existence, 87 percent of all tribal communities are landless.

If the land does not yield enough for subsistence, families will inevitably look elsewhere for their livelihoods.

“If there is nothing to eat and no land to grow food, what options do we have but to send our children to earn?” demands Khetawat Jamku, a 50-year-old Lambada woman.

Experts like Rao say that proper implementation of programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Scheme – designed to provide 100 days of work for 147 rupees (about three dollars) a day to the rural poor – could act as an important deterrent to child labour or trafficking.

But such schemes are weighed down by corruption and mismanagement, leaving a gap that NGOs and civil society are forced to fill, through self-help and community mobilization efforts.

Until Lambada women are given equal rights to land, she contends, it will be very difficult to end the cycle of poverty and violence that puts children at grave risk.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Forced Disappearances Are Humanitarian Crisis in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/forced-disappearances-are-humanitarian-crisis-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forced-disappearances-are-humanitarian-crisis-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/forced-disappearances-are-humanitarian-crisis-in-mexico/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 01:51:22 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138792 One of the numerous mass protests in Mexico demanding the reappearance of 23 students who went missing in Iguala. In the photo, young people demonstrate on Nov. 6 in front of the attorney general's office on the Paseo de la Reforma, in the capital. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

One of the numerous mass protests in Mexico demanding the reappearance of 23 students who went missing in Iguala. In the photo, young people demonstrate on Nov. 6 in front of the attorney general's office on the Paseo de la Reforma, in the capital. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

The Mexican government will face close scrutiny from the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances – a phenomenon that made international headlines after 43 students from a rural teachers college were killed in September in Iguala, in a case that has not yet been fully clarified.

Twenty-six human rights organisations have sent the U.N. Committee 12 submissions on the problem of forced disappearance, one of the worst human rights issues facing this Latin American country, where at least 23,000 people are registered as missing, according to official figures that do not specify whether they are victims of forced disappearance.

The submissions, to which IPS had access, say forced disappearances have taken on the magnitude of a humanitarian crisis since December 2006, when then conservative president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) declared the “war on drugs” – a situation that his predecessor, conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto, has not resolved.

The organisations say forced disappearance is not adequately classified as a crime in Mexican law. They also complain about the lack of effective mechanisms and protocols for searching for missing persons and for reparations for direct and indirect victims, the impunity surrounding these crimes, the lack of a unified database of victims, and problems with the investigations.

In addition, they criticise Mexico’s reluctance to accept the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and analyse communications from the victims.

The Committee, made up of 10 independent experts tasked with overseeing compliance with the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, will hold its eight period of sessions Feb. 2-13 in Geneva, Switzerland.

During the sessions, Mexico “will be reviewed in a very critical light, because many recommendations have not been complied with,” said Jacqueline Sáenz of the FUNDAR Centre for Research and Analysis, one of the organisations that sent a report to the U.N. Committee.

The state has failed to implement an adequate public policy, Sáenz, the head of FUNDAR’s human rights and citizen security programme, told IPS. “Its responses have been minimal, more reactive than proactive. The balance is very negative.”

Although forced disappearance was already a serious humanitarian problem, the phenomenon leapt into the global spotlight on Sep. 26, when local police in the town of Iguala, 190 km south of Mexico City in the state of Guerrero, attacked students from the Escuela Normal de Ayotzinapa, a rural teachers’ college, leaving six dead and 25 wounded.

The police also took away 43 students and handed them over to members of “Guerreros Unidos”, one of the drug trafficking organised crime groups involved in turf wars in that area, according to the attorney general’s office.

The investigation found that the bodies of the 43 young people were burnt in a garbage dump on the outskirts of Colula, a town near Iguala, and that their remains were then thrown into a river.

On Dec. 7, prosecutor Jesús Murillo reported that the remains of one of the 43 students had been identified by forensic experts from the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

But on Jan. 20, the university reported that due to “excessive heat” from the fire, the charred remains of the rest of the bodies could not be identified, because of the lack of viable DNA samples.

Mexico’s office on human rights, crime prevention and community service has reported that in this country of 120 million people, 23,271 people have gone missing between 2007 and October 2014.

Although the office does not indicate how many of these people were victims of forced disappearance, its specialised unit in disappeared people only includes 621 on its list for that period, of whom 72 have been found alive and 30 dead.

“It’s important for the (U.N.) Committee to urge the state to specify the magnitude of the problem,” activist Juan Gutiérrez told IPS. “Very specific recommendations were made in reports long ago and the state has not fulfilled them. Public policies and reforms are necessary.”

More than 9,000 people have gone missing since 2013, under the administration of Peña Nieto, “which puts in doubt the effectiveness of policies for safety and prevention of the disappearance of persons,” said Gutiérez, the head of Strategic Human Rights Litigation I(dh)eas, a local NGO.

Forced disappearance has a long history in Mexico. In November 2009 the Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled that the Mexican state was responsible for violating the rights to personal liberty, humane treatment, and life itself of Rosendo Radilla, a community leader in the municipality of Atoyac, who disappeared in 1974.

The Court ordered the Mexican state to conduct a serious investigation into his disappearance and to continue to search for him – none of which has happened.

In its submission to the U.N. Committee, Amnesty International says “the authorities have failed to explain, once again, how many of those people have been victims of abduction or enforced disappearance, and how many of them could be missing due to other reasons. No methodological information has been published, which makes it impossible for civil society organisations to scrutinise the figures.”

It adds that “impunity remains rampant in these cases.”

The rights watchdog notes that at a federal level only six convictions have been achieved, all of them between 2005 and 2009, for crimes committed before 2005.

With respect to the 43 students from Iguala, the attorney general’s office arrested over 40 police officers, presumed drug traffickers, the now former mayor of Iguala, José Abarca, and his wife, who have all been accused of involvement in the attack.

In their alternative report from December 2014, nine organisations said the Iguala case reflected “the current state of forced disappearances” and demonstrated “the ineffectiveness of the Mexican state in searching for missing people and investigating the cases.”

On Jan. 8, in an addendum to their submission to the U.N. Committee, four organisations stressed the “lack of capacity” and “tardy reaction” by the authorities in this case.

“The investigation was not conducted with due diligence. The Mexican state has been incapable of presenting charges and starting trials for the forced disappearance of the students,” says the text, which adds that the case demonstrates that Mexico’s legal framework falls short and that the authorities completely ignore the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

On Nov. 27, Peña Nieto presented 10 measures, including a draft law on torture and forced disappearance and the creation of a national system for searching for missing persons.

But Sáenz said “The roots of the problem are not attacked. Mexico has to make a policy shift. The proposal is inadequate. We hope the Committee’s review will give rise to changes. Mexico has not managed to respond to this crisis.”

Gutiérrez said the new measures “are necessary but not sufficient. The law must be discussed with organisations and relatives of the disappeared.”

The Mexican state has not yet responded to the questions that the Committee sent it in September, ahead of the February review.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.S. May Soon Stand Alone Opposing Children’s Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-may-soon-stand-alone-opposing-childrens-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-may-soon-stand-alone-opposing-childrens-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-may-soon-stand-alone-opposing-childrens-treaty/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 00:48:08 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138787 Children walk during a sandstorm in Gao, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Children walk during a sandstorm in Gao, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

When the East African nation of Somalia, once described as a “lawless state”, ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) early this week, it left two countries in splendid isolation from the rest of the world: South Sudan and the United States.

South Sudan?"The U.S. cannot credibly encourage other nations to embrace human rights for children if it fails to embrace these norms." -- Meg Gardinier

Understandable, say human rights experts, because it was created and joined the United Nations only in July 2011 – and has since taken steps to start the domestic process in ratifying the treaty, probably later this year.

But the United States?

Kul Gautam of Nepal, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, told IPS the United States did sign the CRC back in February 1995 when Ambassador Madeline Albright was the U.S. envoy to the United Nations.

But the U.S. government has never submitted the treaty for ratification by the U.S. Senate, he added (where it needs a two-thirds vote for approval).

Asked if there is ever a chance the United States will ratify the treaty, bearing in mind that a conservative, right-wing Republican Party now wields power on Capitol Hill, Gautam said: “With the current composition of the U.S. Congress, there is no chance for its ratification.”

But still held out hope, adding, “Future ratification is not to be ruled out.”

Somalia became the 195th State Party to the CRC, described as “the most ratified international human rights treaty in history.”

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake applauded Somalia’s ratification of the CRC and said he looks forward to supporting the nationwide effort to translate the rights of the Convention into practical action for every child in that country.

He said by ratifying the Convention, the government of Somalia is making an investment in the wellbeing of its children, and thus in the future of its society.

“The central message of the Convention is that every child deserves a fair start in life,” said Lake. “What can be more important than that?”

The CRC, which was approved by the U.N. General Assembly in 1989 and came into force in 1990, commemorated its 25th anniversary last year.

Asked about U.S. objections, Meg Gardinier, chair of the Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the CRC, told IPS U.S. opposition to ratifying the Convention is largely centered on two arguments.

First, the CRC will undermine the role of parents in raising their children and, second, the U.S. ratification of international human rights treaties will weaken U.S. sovereignty.

Asked about the chances of future ratification, she said, “We are hopeful that the U.S. will eventually ratify the CRC, but it is a question of when?”

When U.S. President Barack Obama was campaigning in 2008, he said, “It is embarrassing that the U.S. is in the company of Somalia, a lawless land. If I become president, I will review this and other human rights treaties.”

But to date, there has been no “review” of the CRC, an important first step before submitting this to the Senate.

Gardinier said the Campaign for U.S. Ratification led an important effort urging the president to send the CRC to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As a result, executives of some 125 national and global organisations signed onto a letter to President Obama pressing this request.

This includes a diverse group of U.S. organisations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, Child Welfare League of America, Covenant House, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and United Methodist Church – all of them supporting U.S. ratification of the CRC.

Ironically, the United States was a leading contributor to the drafting of the treaty and in fact shaped a significant number of provisions.

In total, the United States initiated seven articles, including Article 10 (family reunification), Articles 14 (freedom of religion), 16 (right to privacy), 19 (protection from abuse) 13 (freedom of expression), 15 (freedom of association and assembly) and 25 (review of placement.)

The provisions contained in the CRC are largely consistent with U.S. law, while additional provisions would be implemented through federal and state legislation in a manner and timeframe determined by the U.S. legislative process.

“The U.S. cannot credibly encourage other nations to embrace human rights for children if it fails to embrace these norms,” Gardinier told IPS.

“It is the Campaign’s conviction that the CRC protects children, preserves and strengthens families and is unquestionably improving the lives of children,” she declared.

Contrary to U.S. misgivings, the Convention strongly defends the need for families and the importance of parents, say human rights experts.

The treaty underscores that a strong family is crucial for children and for societies and there is ample language throughout the CRC to support the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents.

In fact, 19 articles of the CRC explicitly recognise the importance of parents and family in the lives of children.

The rights for children in the CRC mirror both the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, at the insistence of the two former administrations – under President Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations – that worked on this treaty.

“They are not meant to set children against parents,” said Gardinier.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Prosecutor’s Death a Test for Argentine Democracyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/prosecutors-death-a-test-for-argentine-democracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=prosecutors-death-a-test-for-argentine-democracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/prosecutors-death-a-test-for-argentine-democracy/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 22:15:38 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138769 “Today we are all Nisman” - demonstrators demand justice for the death of prosecutor Natalio Alberto Nisman in the Plaza de Mayo in front of the presidential palace in Argentina during a Jan. 19 protest convened over the social networks. His murder shook the entire nation. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

“Today we are all Nisman” - demonstrators demand justice for the death of prosecutor Natalio Alberto Nisman in the Plaza de Mayo in front of the presidential palace in Argentina during a Jan. 19 protest convened over the social networks. His murder shook the entire nation. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

The death of a special prosecutor investigating one of the biggest unresolved mysteries in the history of Argentina, the bombing of a Jewish community centre over 20 years ago, has put to the test an immature democracy that is caught up in a web of conspiracy theories and promiscuity between the secret services and those in power.

The victim was Natalio Alberto Nisman, found dead Sunday Jan. 18, the day before he was to present to Congress alleged evidence that President Cristina Fernández had taken part, according to him, in a cover-up of five Iranians suspected of involvement in the Jul. 18, 1994 attack on the AMIA building which left 85 dead and 300 wounded.

The scene of his death – which officials have described as occurring in mysterious circumstances that prompted the need to investigate whether he was pressured to kill himself, under threat – was his apartment in the Puerto Madero neighbourhood in the capital of Argentina.

“This mystery is similar to the story ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ that Edgar Allan Poe published in 1841: doors locked from the inside, no balcony, on the 13th floor of an apartment building not accessible by any other means, the body collapsed on the floor of the bathroom blocking the door…one single shot to the temple and without the intervention of another person,” wrote journalist Horacio Verbitsky in the pro-government newspaper Página 12.

Argentines tend to turn to noir novels to describe their own history.

Among the highest-profile unresolved crimes is the disappearance of the hands of the embalmed corpse of former president Juan Domingo Perón in 1987, blamed on a ritual by the Masonic lodge known as Propaganda Due, or P2; an attempt to deal a blow to the country as it had recently returned to democracy in 1983; or an effort to symbolically destroy the cult surrounding the late leader who governed the country from 1946-1955 and 1973-1974.

But in the current global scenario and not so long after the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, which left 30,000 people “disappeared”, the prosecutor’s death has revived the sensation of vulnerability and “déjà vu”, with ingredients from a modern-day police novel.

“We’re all vulnerable. Today they came for him, tomorrow they’ll come for us,” Rita Vega, a teacher, told IPS while taking part in a Jan. 19 protest in the Plaza de Mayo, the square in front of the presidential palace.

The demonstration was convened over the social networks under the theme “I am Nisman”, inspired by the “I am Charlie” campaign that followed the Jan. 7 attack on the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

“Argentine democracy, which is entering its 32nd year, is solid and peaceful enough to weather blows like the one dealt by the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman,” international analyst Martín Granovsky told IPS.

His death has once more divided Argentine society, between those who from the political opposition blame the centre-left Fernández administration for Nisman’s death and government supporters who say the prosecutor committed suicide because he didn’t have proof to back up his accusations, or was “induced” to kill himself.

Ronald Noble, the head of Interpol until late 2014, refuted Nisman’s accusations (based on wiretaps) that the president and officials close to her had asked for the cancellation of international arrest warrants against five Iranians suspected of involvement in the 1994 attack on AMIA, the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina Jewish community centre.

On Jan. 14, Nisman accused Fernández of a cover-up aimed at “forging closer relations with the Iranian regime and fully reestablishing trade ties to ease Argentina’s severe energy crisis, through a swap of oil for grains.”

Granovsky, the analyst, said “The AMIA case has a basic problem: when Carlos Menem was president (1989-1999), the state did not carry out an in-depth investigation into the bombing in the first few days, and in addition the complicities generated by the security forces’ side business dealings stood in the way of a serious probe.”

The president brought up that hypothesis, in her first statement on Nisman’s death, through Facebook, stressing that it “suggestively” happened just before the start of the trial for the cover-up of the attack, in which Menem, a former intelligence chief and others are implicated.

The head of the lower house of parliament, lawmaker Julián Domínguez of the governing Frente para la Victoria, said “we want to know what event or what mafioso sector prompted Mr. Nisman to take the decision he took.

“We are certain that there are segments of the intelligence community, the last redoubt that democracy has not yet been able to penetrate, seeking to create signs of instability and to pressure judges,” he said.

In December, the government removed Antonio ‘Jaime’ Stiuso as director of operations in the Intelligence Secretariat.

The ties between Stiuso and Nisman were well-known, and according to government leaks it was Stiuso who made the prosecutor come back early from his vacation in Europe in the middle of the judicial break to make his presentation to the legislature on Monday Jan. 19.

Néstor Pitrola, a legislator with the Workers’ Party, which forms part of the opposition Frente de Izquierda (Left Front), pointed out that Nisman was named special prosecutor in the AMIA case by late president Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), Fernández’s predecessor and husband. But “a political shift created an internal war in the justice system and the intelligence services,” he said.

According to Pitrola, the prosecutor’s death revealed the presence of “an intelligence state within the state.

“Three weeks before Nisman made his allegations, the intelligence services were beheaded to the benefit of a new intelligence clique, led by (César) Milani, a repressor during the dictatorship who has been questioned by the justice system,” he said.

Atilio Borón, a former executive secretary of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), said Nisman’s death especially hurts the government, which is the most interested in disproving the prosecutor’s supposed evidence, in a year when both presidential and legislative elections are to be held.

“He was a man who was very mixed up with the services, people you don’t play around with. You don’t fool with the CIA (U.S. Central Intelligence Agency), you don’t play with the Mossad (Israel’s secret service). He took instructions from them; you can see the Wikileaks cables, which have never been refuted,” he said.

Borón also said the international context, “what some call the West’s war against Islam,” should not be ignored.

In that vein, Gustavo Sierra, a journalist with the opposition daily Clarin, referred to “speculations of international intelligence” on the role that Iranian agents or their allies might have played in the prosecutor’s “induced” death, because he might have hurt their interests.

“Could Iranian intelligence have induced Nisman to commit suicide by threatening to kill one of his daughters, who lives in Europe? Did they have compromising information that implicated the prosecutor? Did they manage to make it through the Puerto Madero apartment building’s security barrier using some agent who was able to make it look like a suicide, without being detected?” Sierra wrote.

The plot is too complex, and even the mystery that gave rise to it has never been resolved: who was responsible for the worst attack suffered by Argentina, in a saga that Fernández described as “too long, too heavy, too hard, and above all, very sordid.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Fighting Extremism with Schools, Not Gunshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/fighting-extremism-with-schools-not-guns/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-extremism-with-schools-not-guns http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/fighting-extremism-with-schools-not-guns/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 17:23:15 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138760 The Pakistan Taliban has destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

The Pakistan Taliban has destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

As a wave of outrage, crossing Pakistan’s national borders, continues a month after the Dec. 16 attack on a school in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, some citizens are turning away from collective expressions of anger, and beginning the hard work of building grassroots alternatives to terrorism and militancy.

While many millions of people are lashing out at the Taliban for going on a bloody rampage in a school in the province’s capital, Peshawar, killing 141 people including 132 uniformed children in what is being billed as the group’s single deadliest attack to date, The Citizens Foundation (TFC), a local non-profit, has reacted quite differently.

"With the formidable challenges facing the nation, we passionately believe that only education has the power to enlighten minds, instil citizenship and unleash the potential of every Pakistani." -- Syed Asaad Ayub Ahmad, CEO of The Citizens Foundation (TCF)
Rather than join the chorus calling for stiff penalties for the attackers, it busied itself with a pledge to build 141 Schools for Peace, one in the name of each person who lost their life on that terrible day.

“We dedicate this effort to the children of Pakistan, their right to education and their dreams of a peaceful future,” Syed Asaad Ayub Ahmad, CEO of TCF, said in an email launching the campaign.

“With the formidable challenges facing the nation, we passionately believe that only education has the power to enlighten minds, instil citizenship and unleash the potential of every Pakistani,” he added.

In their war against western, secular education, which the group has denounced as “un-Islamic”, the Pakistan Taliban have destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012, claimed responsibility for the near-fatal shooting of teenaged education advocate Malala Yousafzai and issued numerous edicts against the right of women and girls to receive proper schooling.

In their latest assault on education, nine militants went on an eight-hour-long killing spree, throwing hand grenades into the teeming school premises and firing indiscriminately at any moving target. They claim the attack was a response to the military operation aimed at rooting out the Taliban currently underway in North Waziristan, a tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

While armed groups and government forces answer violence with more of the same, the active citizens who comprise TCF want to shift focus away from bloodshed and onto longer-term solutions for the future of this deeply troubled country.

The charity, which began in 1995, has completed 1,000 school ‘units’, typically a primary or secondary institution capable of accommodating up to 180 pupils, all built from scratch in the most impoverished areas of some 100 towns and cities across Pakistan.

The 7,700 teachers employed by the NGO go through a rigorous training programme before placement, and the organisation maintains a strict 50:50 male-female ratio for the 145,000 students who are now benefitting from a free education, according to TCF Vice President Zia Akhter Abbas.

In a country where 25.02 million school-aged children – of which 13.7 million (55 percent) are girls – do not receive any form of education, experts say TCF’s initiative may well act as a game changer in the years to come, especially given that the government spends just 2.1 percent of its GDP on education.

“Our job is to ensure that wherever we have our schools, there are no out-of-school children, especially girls,” Abbas told IPS. “We believe the change in society will come automatically once these educated and enlightened children grow up into responsible adults.”

Of the 25.02 million school-aged children who are not receiving a proper education, 13.7 million, or 55 percent, are girls. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Of the 25.02 million school-aged children who are not receiving a proper education, 13.7 million, or 55 percent, are girls. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

He added that the schools are designed to “serve as a beacon of light restricting the advance of extremism in our society.”

The project has received widespread support from a broad spectrum of Pakistani society. Twenty-four-year-old Usman Riaz, a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston who recently donated the proceeds of his jam-packed concerts in Karachi to TCF’s efforts, says the Schools for Peace are a “wonderful way to honor the innocent victims”.

But it will take more than one-off charitable donations to make the scheme a reality. It costs about 15 million rupees (148,000 dollars) to build and equip each new school, so the total bill for all 141 institutions stands at some 21 million dollars.

With a track record of building 40-50 schools a year, however, the NGO is confident that it will honor its pledge within three years.

Combating extremism

Besides immortalizing the victims of the Taliban’s attack, experts here say that shifting the focus away from terrorism and onto education will help combat a growing pulse of religious extremism.

The prominent Pakistani educationist and rights activist A.H. Nayyar told IPS that it is crucial for the country to begin educating children who would otherwise be turned into “fodder for extremists”.

In fact, part of the government’s 20-point National Action Plan – agreed upon by all political parties dedicated to completely eradicating terrorism – includes plans to register and regulate all seminaries, known here as madrassas, in a bid to combat extremism at its root.

With thousands of such religious institutions springing up across the country to fill a void in the school systems, policy-makers are concerned about the indoctrination of children at a young age, with distorted interpretations of religious texts and the teaching of intolerance playing a major role in these schools.

Some sources say that between two and three million students are enrolled at the nearly 20,000 madrassas spread across Pakistan; others say this is a conservative estimate.

While there is some talk about bringing these institutions under the umbrella of the public school system, experts like Nayyar believe this will do little to combat the “forcible teaching of […] false and distorted history, excessive emphasis on Islamic teachings to the extent of including them in textbooks of all the subjects, explicit teaching of jihad and militancy, hate material against other nations, peoples of other faiths, etc, [and] excessive glorification of the military and wars.”

Nayyar and other independent scholars have been at the forefront of calling for an overhaul of the public school curriculum, which they believe is at odds with the goals of a modern, progressive nation.

But until policy-makers and politicians jump on the bandwagon, independent efforts like the work of TCF will lead the way.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: After the Terrorist Attacks in Parishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-after-the-terrorist-attacks-in-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-after-the-terrorist-attacks-in-paris http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-after-the-terrorist-attacks-in-paris/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 15:43:24 +0000 Johan Galtung http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138734

Johan Galtung is Professor of Peace Studies and Rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University, and the author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including '50 Years – 100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives' published by TRANSCEND University Press. In this column, he looks behind the Western concept of “freedom of expression” and argues that “there is no argument against humour and satire as such, but there is against verbal violence”.

By Johan Galtung
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 20 2015 (IPS)

What happened in Paris on Jan. 7 – known all over the world – is totally unacceptable and inexcusable.

As inexcusable as 9/11, the coming Western attack and the Islamist retaliation, wherever. As inexcusable as the Western coups and mega-violence on Muslim lands since Iran 1953, massacring people as endowed with personality and identity as the French cartoonists.

But to the West they are not even statistics, they are “military secrets”.

However, the unacceptable is not unexplainable.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

In this tragic saga of West-Islam violence, the way out is to identify the conflict and search for solutions. I wonder how many now pontificating on Paris – a city so deep in our hearts – have taken the trouble to sit down with someone identified with Al Qaeda, and simply ask: “What does the world look like where you would like to live?”

I always get the same answer: “A world where Islam is not trampled upon but respected.”

“Trampled upon” sounds physically violent – but there are two types of direct violence intended to harm, to hurt: physical violence with arm-arms-armies; and verbal violence with words, with symbols, with, for example, cartoons.

The naiveté in blaming the secret police for not having uncovered the brothers on time is crying to the heavens. What happened to Charlie Hebdo was as predictable as the reaction to the 2005 cartoon in Jyllands-Posten, whose cultural editor thought he should save Danish media from the self-censorship he had found in Soviet journalists.

But one thing is political criticism of and in the former USSR, quite another is existential stabbing right in the heart of the basis of existence.“There are two types of direct violence intended to harm, to hurt: physical violence with arm-arms-armies; and verbal violence with words, with symbols, with, for example, cartoons”

Undermine the spiritual existence of others – as Charlie Hebdo did all over the spiritual world – but there may be reactions to that verbal violence. Some of the others deeply hurt by Charlie Hebdo and its cultural autism, sitting in some office and sending poisoned arrows anywhere, may celebrate the atrocity – but inside themselves, not publicly.

The West has one presumably killing argument in favour of verbal violence for spiritual killing: freedom of expression – a wonderful freedom, deeply appreciated by those who have something to express.

And very easily undermined, not by censorship by self or some Other, but by freedom of non-impression, the freedom not to be impressed: let expression happen, let them talk and write, but do not listen and read, make them non-persons. Nevertheless, a major achievement of, by and for the West more than elsewhere.

How simple life would be if that freedom were the only norm governing expression! Say or write anything about others as if they were stones, inanimate objects, unimpressed by oral and written expression. But human beings are not.

Of course, the targets of verbal violence can opt for the freedom of non-impression, shutting themselves off from the perpetrators, neither reading nor listening. Do we really want that, a
society now polarised by cartoons – into those who laugh and enjoy, and those who are hurt, suffering deeply?

We do not, and that is why there are others value, other norms, in the land of expression: consideration, decency, respect for life. We have libel laws asking not only “is it true?” but “is it relevant?” to cut out nastiness in, for example, political “debate”.

We rule out hate speech, propaganda for torture, genocide, war, child pornography. Some people unable to argue about issues insult persons instead; that is why they are often – perhaps not often enough – called to order: stick to the issue!

Many, unable to understand or argue with converts to Islam in France, overstep norms of decency instead.

Islam retaliated, and in Paris overstepped its own rule about doing so mercifully. No Muslim can retaliate with spiritual killing of Judaism-Christianity because both are believed to be the “incomplete message”. Bodies were killed in return for spiritual killing instead.

Incidentally, there is somebody else doing the same: the United States, very attentive to critical words as indicative not only of somebody being anti-American, but even a threat to America, to be eliminated. Could “freedom of expression” also be a tool to lure, smoke them out into the open, make them available for killing by snipers?

How should the Islamic side have handled the issue? The way they tried, and to some extent managed, in Denmark: through dialogue. They should have invited the Charlies to private and public dialogue, explaining their side of the cartoon issue, appealing to a common core of humanity in us all.

There is no argument against humour and satire as such, but there is against verbal violence hitting, hurting, harming others.

The Islamic side should also control better its own recourse to self-defence by violence: only legitimate if declared by appropriate Muslim authority. That the West fails to do so – just look at the enormities of violence unleashed upon Islam since 1953 – is no excuse for Islam to sink down to Western governmental levels, using democracy as a blanket cheque for war.

The two sides have millions, maybe billions, of common people who can easily agree that the key problem is violence by extremist governments and others. The task is to let such voices come forward with concrete ideas. Like the next Charlie online, hiring a Muslim consultant to draw a border between freedom and inconsideration?

This could have saved many lives, in Paris and where the West retaliates. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Aid Freeze Over Energy Controversy a Blow to Tanzanian Economyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/aid-freeze-over-energy-controversy-a-blow-to-tanzanian-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aid-freeze-over-energy-controversy-a-blow-to-tanzanian-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/aid-freeze-over-energy-controversy-a-blow-to-tanzanian-economy/#comments Sun, 18 Jan 2015 13:53:57 +0000 Kizito Makoye http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138693 Engineers working on a 512 km pipeline to scale up the amount of gas transported to Dar es Salaam plants for electricity generation and other industrial supplies. Allegations of corruption in Tanzania’s energy sector are holding up foreign aid disbursement. Credit: Juma Mtanda

Engineers working on a 512 km pipeline to scale up the amount of gas transported to Dar es Salaam plants for electricity generation and other industrial supplies. Allegations of corruption in Tanzania’s energy sector are holding up foreign aid disbursement. Credit: Juma Mtanda

By Kizito Makoye
DAR ES SALAAM, Jan 18 2015 (IPS)

As foreign donors drag their feet on injecting badly needed cash into the government’s coffers, local analysts are increasingly worried that this will affect implementation of key development projects that require donor funding.

Donors – including the United Kingdom, Germany and the World Bank – are withholding 449 million out of 558 million dollars pledged for the 2014/15 budget, pending a satisfactory outcome to investigations over corruption in the energy sector.

Senior government officials have been accused by the Parliament of authorising controversial payments of 122 million dollars to Pan Africa Power Solutions Tanzania Limited (PAP), which claims to have bought a 70 percent share of the Independent Power Tanzania Limited (IPTL) – a private energy company contracted by the government to produce electricity.The government’s inability to wipe out corruption in the energy sector is setting a bad precedent because the country is poised to prosper economically in the wake of massive discoveries of natural gas resources.

“Many infrastructure development projects that require donor funding will probably stall due to this problem,” Benson Bana, a political analyst at Dar es Salaam University, told IPS. “Donors are keen to see their money is spent on intended objectives and government must learn a lesson to ensure that public funds are managed well.”

East Africa’s second largest economy after Kenya  is currently implementing a myriad of projects that require donor funding in the energy and  infrastructure sectors, such as construction of ports, roads and power plants  under a  25.2 billion dollar five-year development plan.

But the government said last year that the impending delay in the disbursement of aid funds may prompt it to shelve some critical projects until the next financial year.

The international Monetary Fund (IMF) has added its voice to the ongoing standoff between Tanzania and foreign donors, saying that further delay in disbursement of aid would certainly affect the country’s economic performance.

“Performance … was satisfactory through June, but has deteriorated since and risks have risen, stemming from delays in disbursements of donor assistance and external non-concessional borrowing, and shortfalls in domestic revenues,” the IMF said in a statement posted on its website in January 2015.

Tanzania is one of the biggest aid recipients in sub-Saharan Africa, with an annual aid inflow in grants and concessional loans ranging from 20 to 30 percent of its budget.

The move by donors to freeze aid over corruption concerns, said the IMF, is a stunning blow to the country’s economy.

“It will be critical to the business environment to address the governance issues raised by the IPTL case, which would also unlock donor assistance,” the IMF said.

The Ministry of Finance has unveiled a 19.6 trillion shilling (11.6 billion dollar) budget with plans to borrow 2.96 trillion shillings from domestic sources and about 800 million dollars from external sources to finance key projects.

“Achieving our revenue target is a matter of life or death; we are very serious in our quest to reduce reliance on foreign aid and we are refining our business environment to attract investments that can yield revenues,” said Finance Minister Saada Mkuya.

Critics told IPS that it is not wise for Tanzania to cling to unpredictable foreign aid to finance its budget after more than 50 years of political independence.

“For a country like ours to keep depending on donors to finance our development is not healthy, there’s no doubt many project will fail to take off because of this standoff,” Humphrey Moshi, an economist and professor at the University of Dar es Salaam, told IPS.

Political observers say that the government’s inability to wipe out corruption in the energy sector is setting a bad precedent because the country is poised to prosper economically in the wake of massive discoveries of natural gas resources.

“Corruption in the energy sector can be reduced by introducing strong accountability systems in the sector,” Zitto Kabwe, the chairman of a parliamentary oversight committee on public accounts, told IPS, adding that “legislations that subject contracts to parliamentary vetting and transparency would really help.”

Latest data from the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation show that Tanzania has estimated reserves of 53.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas off its southern coast.  According to local analysts, these resources are more than enough to put the country on a path of economic development while ending its dependence on aid.

As the government grappled to bridge gaps in its budget, donors last week said  that they would only release the rest of the aid money pledged after seeing appropriate action taken against officials implicated in the so-called “escrow scandal”.

“Budget support development partners in Tanzania take the emerging IPTL case with the utmost seriousness and are carefully monitoring its development  as the case involves  large amounts of public funds,” Sinikka Antila, Finland’s ambassador to Tanzania and chairperson of Tanzania’s donor group, was quoted as saying.

In November last year, parliament called on government to sack senior officials, including the country’s Attorney General and  energy minister who, it said, had played an instrumental role to facilitate the dubious IPTL-PAP deal. The Attorney General, Frederick Werema, has since resigned.

In December, in a desperate bid to win back donor confidence, President Jakaya Kikwete sacked Anna Tibaijuka – a senior cabinet minister holding the land and human settlement development portfolio – for allegedly having received a1.6 billion shilling gift from one of the IPTL’s shareholders contrary to the government’s public leadership code of ethics.

In what appears to be a show of strength, the United States, through its Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), has expressed serious concern about the country’s sluggish pace in controlling corruption and has urged the government to take firm concrete steps to combat corruption as a condition for the approval of future aid.

“Progress in combating corruption is essential to a new MCC compact, as well to an overall improved business climate in Tanzania,” Mark Childress, U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania said in December 2014.

“We are encouraged by the State House’s announcement of December 9 that it will soon address the parliamentary resolutions linked to IPTL, and we urge quick government action, given the impact on several key development issues.”

Tanzania was one of 10 countries discussed by the MCC Board, which met in December to determine the eligibility of countries to begin or continue the compact development process.

If finalised, this would be Tanzania’s second MCC compact. Between 2008 and 2013, the MCC funded a 698 million dollar compact for investment projects in water, roads and electric power throughout Tanzania.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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OPINION: Cuba and the United States – A New Era?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-the-united-states-a-new-era/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuba-and-the-united-states-a-new-era http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuba-and-the-united-states-a-new-era/#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 20:46:05 +0000 Ricardo Alarcon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138683 Ricardo Alarcón, former Cuban foreign minister and president of parliament. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Ricardo Alarcón, former Cuban foreign minister and president of parliament. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ricardo Alarcon
HAVANA, Jan 16 2015 (IPS)

On Dec. 17, by freeing the five Cuban anti-terrorists who spent over 16 years in U.S. prisons, President Barack Obama repaired a longstanding injustice while changing the course of history.

Admitting that the U.S. government’s anti-Cuba policy had failed, reestablishing diplomatic ties, lifting all of the restrictions within his reach, proposing the complete elimination of the embargo and launching a new era in relations with Cuba, all in one single speech, went beyond anyone’s predictions and took everyone by surprise, even the most seasoned analysts.

The hostile policy first adopted by President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961), before the current president was even born, was followed with only slight variations by Republican and Democratic administrations, and codified by the Helms-Burton Act signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

In the first few years the policy was practiced with a high degree of success. In 1959, when the Cuban revolution triumphed, the United States was at the height of its power, exercising indisputable hegemony over a large part of the world, especially the Western Hemisphere, which enabled it to get Cuba kicked out of the Organisation of American States (OAS) and to achieve the near total isolation of this Caribbean island nation, which was left with only the support and aid of the Soviet Union and its partners in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), which grouped the countries of the Warsaw Pact.But normalising relations would suppose, above all, learning to live with differences and abandoning old dreams of domination.

The collapse of real socialism gave rise to hopes among many people that the end of the Cuban revolution was also at hand.

They imagined the advent of a long period of unipolar dominance. Drunk on the victory, they failed to appreciate the deeper meaning of what had happened: the end of the Cold War opened up new possibilities for social struggles and faced capitalism with challenges that were increasingly difficult to tackle.

The fall of the Berlin Wall blinded them from seeing that a social uprising known as the “Caracazo”, which shook Venezuela at the same time, in February 1989, was a sign of the start of a new age in Latin America.

Cuba managed to survive the disappearance of its long-time allies, and its ability to do so was a key factor in the profound transformation of the region. For years it had been clear that the U.S. policy aimed at isolating Cuba had been a failure, and had ended up isolating the United States, as acknowledged by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

A new relationship with Cuba was indispensable for Washington, which needed to rebuild its ties with a region that is no longer its backyard. Achieving that is fundamental now because, despite its power, the United States cannot exercise the comfortable leadership of times that will not return.

But there is still a long way to go before that new relationship can be established. First of all, it is necessary to completely eliminate the economic, trade and financial embargo, as demanded with renewed vigor by major segments of the U.S. business community.

But normalising relations would suppose, above all, learning to live with differences and abandoning old dreams of domination. It would mean respecting the sovereign equality of states, a fundamental principle of the United Nations Charter, which, as history has shown, does not always please the powerful.

With regard to the release of the five Cuban prisoners, all U.S. presidents, without exception, have broadly used the authority granted to them by article 2, section 2, clause 1 of the U.S. constitution. For over two centuries, presidents have had the unlimited power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States.

In the case of “the Cuban Five,” there were ample reasons for executive clemency. In 2005, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the trial as “a perfect storm of prejudice and hostility” and ordered a new trial.

In 2009 the same court threw out the sentences against three of the Cuban Five because they had neither sought nor passed on any military secrets, nor had they endangered U.S. national security.

Both verdicts were unanimous.

With respect to another major charge, “conspiracy to commit murder,” against Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, his accusers admitted that it was impossible to prove such an allegation, and even attempted to drop the charge in May 2001 in a move without precedent, made no less by public prosecutors under then-President George W. Bush (2001-2009).

Hernández had been waiting for five years for a response to one of his many petitions to the Miami court for release, a review of his case, an order for the government to produce the “proof” used to convict him, or for the government to reveal the magnitude and scope of official funding for the colossal media campaign that fed the “perfect storm.”

The court never responded. Nor did the mainstream media say anything about the judicial system’s unusual paralysis. It was obvious that it was a politically motivated case that could only be resolved by a political decision, which only the president could take.

Obama demonstrated wisdom and determination when, instead of simply using his authority to release the prisoners, he bravely confronted the underlying problem. The saga of the “Cuban Five” was the consequence of an aggressive strategy, and the wisest thing was to put an end to both at the same time.

No one can deny the importance of what was announced on Dec. 17. It would be a mistake, however, to ignore that there is still a ways to go, and that it will be necessary to follow that possibly long and tortuous path with resolution and insight.

Edited by Pablo Piacentini/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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Battle Heats Up Over Legalisation of Sex Work in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/battle-heats-up-over-legalisation-of-sex-work-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=battle-heats-up-over-legalisation-of-sex-work-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/battle-heats-up-over-legalisation-of-sex-work-in-india/#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 14:10:38 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138679 The view from a red-light district in India, where some three million sex workers are caught in the middle of a debate on legalisation. Credit: bengarrison/CC-BY-SA-2.0

The view from a red-light district in India, where some three million sex workers are caught in the middle of a debate on legalisation. Credit: bengarrison/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jan 16 2015 (IPS)

Thirty-six-year-old Chameli Devi, a sex worker operating out of New Delhi’s G.B. Road – Asia’s largest red-light district, housing an estimated 12,000 of India’s three million sex workers – is an unhappy woman these days.

A contentious debate over the sex trade in India, following a call for legalisation by the National Commission for Women (NCW) – a state-run body that advises the government on women-related policy matters – has Devi worried.

“In wealthier countries, many women genuinely choose this trade due to better income prospects and opportunities. But in India, every woman who enters this trade has invariably been coerced into it by a trafficker, her family or her husband." -- Sarita, a 43-year-old sex worker in New Delhi
She feels that merely issuing licences or permits to people of her ilk will not lead to the improvement of the unhealthy and, at times, dangerous conditions under which commercialised prostitution functions.

According to U.N. reports, about 70 percent of sex workers in India are abused by their clients and the police. Abuse, say activists, is often under-reported by sex workers due to a lack of knowledge of their basic rights.

“Most of us don’t take to the flesh trade out of choice but are sold by criminal mafias to brothels. The move to regulate our business will only end up giving immunity to the pimps and brothels to buy or sell poor women like us while increasing trafficking of young women and children,” Devi told IPS.

A recent study conducted by the Indian philanthropic non-profit Dasra found that roughly half of trafficking victims are adolescent girls, while the average age of sex workers has dropped from 14-16, to 10-14, “because young girls are believed to have a lower risk of carrying a sexually transmitted disease”.

“Most victims come from rural areas, over 70 percent are illiterate, and almost half reported that their families earned just about one dollar [per day],” the report stated.

Other studies have found that most sex workers in India are form the lower castes, communities that are routinely subjected to violence and exploitation in a highly stratified society.

It is unsurprising, then, that scores of women trapped in the trade remain highly opposed to legalization.

Sarita, 43, another sex worker, feels that while there may be a sound argument for legalisation in richer countries like the USA, or even China, such a system is ill-suited to India.

“In wealthier countries, many women genuinely choose this trade due to better income prospects and opportunities. But in India, every woman who enters this trade has invariably been coerced into it by a trafficker, her family or her husband,” she asserted. “So the dynamics of our society are very different.”

Curbing the flourishing sex trade

A 2014 study, ‘Economics Behind Forced Labour Trafficking’, spearheaded by Indian Nobel Peace Prize-winner Kailash Satyarthi, contains some of the most up-to-date data on the flourishing sex trade.

“The figures are shocking…In India alone, the money generated through [the] sex trade so far stands at a whopping 343 billion dollars. Research confirms that several agencies such as traffickers, brothel owners, money lenders, law enforcement officials, lawyers, judiciary and to a certain level even the victims of CSE (commercial sexual exploitation) eventually receive money for participation,” Satyarthi said in the study.

According to a 2009 United Nations report, sex trafficking is the commonest form of human trafficking in the world, making it the largest slave trade; about 79 percent of all human trafficking is for sex work and it is the fastest growing criminal industry globally.

Countries that have legalised prostitution are not much better off. The Netherlands, which legalised prostitution in 2000, continues to grapple with human traffickers smuggling women into the country’s brothels, point out non-profits working in the area.

With the legalisation debate gaining traction, public opinion in India is also splintered over the issue. Those who favour the move feel that it will whittle down harassment, legal intimidation, entrapment and exploitation of sex workers.

NCW Chairperson Lalitha Kumaramangalam, who set the ball rolling with her suggestion that the trade be brought under state control last month, feels that such a step will ensure better living conditions for women engaged in commercial sex work.

She contends it will reducing trafficking of both girls and women and improve the health conditions of sex workers who are presently forced to serve clients in unhygienic conditions and without condoms, which has caused HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases to spread.

In fact health care experts extend some of the strongest arguments in favour of legalising prostitution, or regulating it. They feel that the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS across the world, especially in Asia and Africa, can be checked by bringing the business under the state umbrella as this will help health workers to better educate those in the trade about condom usage and basic hygiene.

Safer sex work or a massive bureaucracy?

Opponents of legalisation, however, are wary of the consequences of adding layers of regulation to India’s massive bureaucracy. They fear that government intervention could trigger harassment of the very people it seeks to protect.

“Legalising prostitution is legalising the profiteers of the sex-industry and their customers,” Ranjana Kumari, director for the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Social Research, told IPS.

“It means rape of poor, lower-caste women with impunity. Not only that, it will make India a world magnet for sex trafficking and sex tourism.”

Donna M. Hughes, professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island, writes in her essay ‘Prostitution: Causes and Solutions’ that legalisation does not reduce prostitution or trafficking.

“In fact,” she writes, “both activities increase because men can legally buy sex acts, and pimps and brothel keepers can legally sell and profit from them … In the Netherlands, since legalisation, there has been an increase in the use of children in prostitution.”

Activists working with sex workers are also deeply divided over the issue. While Dr S. Jana, who launched the 65,000-strong sex workers’ forum — Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee — based out of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, has supported the legalisation call, others fear that it will further embolden traffickers and the prostitution mafia.

“Indian law and government policies have failed to protect sex workers due to the loopholes in law which makes them vulnerable to abuse. If the trade is legalised, the situation will worsen,” Meena Seshu, a feminist activist and founder of SANGRAM, a voluntary organisation working in the field of HIV control based in Sangli, a city in the western state of Maharashtra, told IPS.

Legalisation, adds the activist, could also scupper attempts by many women’s organisations and NGOs to rehabilitate women and children forced into prostitution.

“The state should formulate policies and schemes for the rehabilitation of sex workers who are coming out of this commercial sexual exploitation. This will offer a better solution to this complex problem,” Seshu contends.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Helpless as Saudi Flogging Flouts Torture Conventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-helpless-as-saudi-flogging-violates-torture-convention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-helpless-as-saudi-flogging-violates-torture-convention http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-helpless-as-saudi-flogging-violates-torture-convention/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 21:16:44 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138673 Raif Badawi.

Raif Badawi.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

Flogging a dead horse, as the old idiom goes, is far removed from flogging a live Saudi blogger.

But the latest cruel punishment meted out by the rigidly conservative and authoritarian regime in Saudi Arabia has triggered widespread condemnation.“His flogging and 10-year sentence are testament to the extreme lengths to which the Saudi Arabian authorities will go in order to crush dissent.” -- Sevag Kechichian of Amnesty International

The strongest criticism came Thursday from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, a former permanent representative of Jordan to the United Nations, who said: “Flogging is, in my view, at the very least, a form of cruel and inhuman punishment.

“Such punishment,” he said, “is prohibited under international human rights law, in particular the Convention against Torture, which Saudi Arabia has ratified.”

The Saudi decision makes a mockery of the international convention, as do other violations, including torture of terrorist suspects by U.S. intelligence agencies.

But the United Nations remains helpless and is unable to hold these countries accountable for violations or punish them for infractions because member states reign supreme in the world body – except when penalised by the Security Council.

The Saudi punishment was meted out to Raif Badawi, who was publicly flogged 50 times last Friday and is reportedly due to be flogged every Friday, the holy Sabbath for Muslims, until his sentence of 1,000 lashes has been fully carried out.

Sevag Kechichian, Amnesty International’s (AI) Saudi Arabia researcher on the case, told IPS, “Raif Badawi is a prisoner of conscience, and he was simply trying to uphold his right to freedom of expression and he is being punished for it in a horrifying manner.

“His flogging and 10-year sentence are testament to the extreme lengths to which the Saudi Arabian authorities will go in order to crush dissent.”

Instead of announcing a second round of brutal floggings, the Saudi Arabian authorities must heed the international outcry over his case and order his immediate and unconditional release, he added.

Amnesty also noted that Saudi Arabia had condemned last week’s attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris as ‘cowardly’.

“The next day, they flogged Raif Badawi for exercising his right to free expression. We need to expose this hypocrisy. We need to embarrass them into action, now.”

Adam Coogle, Middle East Researcher at Human Rights Watch, told IPS the statement by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) correctly labels the flogging punishment as torture and calls on Saudi Arabia to abolish the practice.

“We welcome OHCHR’s press statement but call on him [Zeid] and the United Nations to continue to monitor and publicly criticise Saudi Arabia when they impose harsh and draconian punishments on peaceful activists and dissidents,” he added.

In what was described as an “unusual diplomatic rebuke,” the United States last week lashed out at Saudi Arabia, one of its closest allies in the Middle East, and urged the government to rescind its sentencing and review the case.

The United States strongly opposes laws, including apostasy laws, that restrict the exercise of freedom of expression and religion, and urges all countries to uphold these rights in practice, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki, told reporters.

Javier El-Hage, general counsel of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), told IPS the government of Saudi Arabia is making a mockery of that country’s obligations under the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

He said “the U.N. Committee against Torture should call on Saudi Arabia’s government to immediately cease flogging Mr. Badawi, as that type of punishment constitutes a clear violation of Saudi Arabia’s obligations under the Convention against Torture.”

According to Article 20 of this Convention, he said, the U.N. Committee Against Torture has the power to carry out “ex officio investigations if it receives reliable information that appears to contain well-founded indications that torture is being systematically practiced in the territory of a State Party.”

While they don’t have the coercive power to force Saudi Arabia to stop the flogging, as is the case with most international law obligations, the committee can certainly report on the topic, condemn Saudi Arabia and issue recommendations, he noted.

In a statement released Thursday, Zeid appealed to the King of Saudi Arabia to exercise his power to halt the public flogging by pardoning Badawi, and also to urgently review this type of extraordinarily harsh penalty.

Badawi, an online blogger and activist, was convicted for exercising his right to freedom of opinion and expression on a website he founded called Free Saudi Liberals. He was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, 1,000 lashes and a fine of one million riyals (266,000 dollars).

Badawi’s case was just one of a succession of prosecutions of civil society activists, said the statement.

On Monday, an appeals court upheld the conviction of Badawi’s lawyer and brother-in-law Waleed Abu Al-Khair on charges that include offending the judiciary and founding an unlicensed organisation. Al-Khair’s sentence was extended from 10 to 15 years on appeal.

The U.N. Committee against Torture has repeatedly voiced concerns about states’ use of flogging and have called for its abolition.

Saudi Arabia’s report on its implementation of the Convention is up for review by the Committee against Torture next year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Press Looks at Future After “Charlie”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/press-looks-at-future-after-charlie/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=press-looks-at-future-after-charlie http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/press-looks-at-future-after-charlie/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 17:33:52 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138664 By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

In the wake of last week’s attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead, a heated battle of opinion is being waged in France and several other countries on the issue of freedom of expression and the rights of both media and the public.

On one side are those who say that freedom of expression is an inherent human right and a pillar of democracy, and on the other are representatives of a range of views, including the belief that liberty comes with responsibility for all sectors of society.

“I’m worried when one talks about our being in a state of war,” said John Ralston Saul, the president of the writers group PEN International, who participated in a conference here Jan. 14 on “Journalism after Charlie”, organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“The war against fundamentalists isn’t going to work,” he said, arguing that education about freedom of expression has to start at a young age so that people know that “you have to have a thick skin” to live in a democracy.“Ignorance is the biggest weapon of mass destruction, and if ignorance is the problem, then education is the answer” – Nasser David Khalili, Iranian-born scholar and philanthropist

PEN International, which promotes literature, freedom of expression and speaks out for “writers silenced in their own countries”, has strongly condemned the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, but the organisation is also worried about how politicians are reacting in the aftermath.

It called on governments to “implement their commitments to free expression and to desist from further curtailing free expression through the expansion of surveillance.”

In the Jan. 7 assault, two hooded gunmen gained access to the offices of Charlie Hebdo during an editorial meeting and opened fire, killing cartoonists, other media workers, a visitor and two policemen. The attackers were in turn killed by police two days later, after a huge manhunt in the French capital, where related attacks took place Jan. 8 and 9.

In the other acts, a gunman killed a young female police officer and later held hostages at a kosher supermarket, where police said he murdered four people before he was killed by the security forces.

Charlie Hebdo had been under threat since 2006 when it republished controversial Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad originally published in 2005, and in 2011 its offices were firebombed after an edition that some groups considered offensive and inflammatory.

Several critics accused the magazine of Islamophobia and racism, while the cartoonists defended their right to lampoon subjects that included religious leaders and politicians.

Before the attacks, the magazine’s circulation had been in decline, with readers apparently turned off by the crudeness of the drawings, but the publication is now being given wide moral and financial backing.

More than three million people of different ethnicities and faiths marched in Paris and other cities last Sunday in support of freedom of expression, including some 40 world leaders who joined French government representatives.

Among those marching, however, were officials from many countries active in “restricting freedom of expression”, according to PEN International and other groups. “This includes murders, violence and imprisoned writers on PEN’s Case List. These leaders, when at home, are part of administrations which are serious offenders,” said the organisation.

Saul told IPS that in the last 14 years, PEN International has noted a “shrinking in freedom of expression” in Western countries, “not only of writers and journalists but of citizens”. He said that the main problem for the organisation was impunity.

While everyone condemned the Charlie Hebdo attacks, some participants at the UNESCO conference argued that the media need to act more responsibly, especially as regards the portrayal of minority or marginalised communities.

As the debates took place, the latest edition of the magazine was being distributed, with another cover portraying Muhammad, this time holding a placard saying “Je Suis Charlie” and with the caption “All is forgiven”.

“The media must mediate and refrain from the promoting of stereotypes,” said French senator Bariza Khiari, in a segment of the conference debate titled “Intercultural Dialogue and Fragmented Societies”.

She said that most adherents of Islam were “quietly Muslim”, keeping their religion to themselves while respecting the secular values of the countries where they live. “But we have to recognise the existence and importance of religion as long as religion does not dictate the law,” she argued.

Khiari told IPS that the radicalisation of some French youth was taking place because of their hardships in France and the humiliation they faced on a daily basis. These include Islamophobia, joblessness and stops by the police.

The senator said she hoped that young people as well as the media would reflect on what had happened and draw some lessons that would result in positive advances in the future.

Annick Girardin, the French Secretary of State for Development and Francophonie, said that democracy meant that all newspapers of whatever belief or political learning could publish in France and that people have access to legal avenues. But she acknowledged that there was a failure of integration of everyone into society.

Regarding the protection of journalists, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova told IPS that “now was the time” for the United Nations and particularly UNESCO “not just to reaffirm our commitment to freedom of expression” but to consider other initiatives.

“Something that is probably not so well known to the general public is that we are constantly in contact with governments where these cases (attacks on journalists) have happened in order to remind them of their responsibilities and asking for information on the follow-up measures, and I would say that even if they are not spectacular, we’ve still seen more and more governments who are taking this seriously.”

Alongside journalists and cartoonists, the UNESCO conference included Jewish, Muslim and Christian representatives who called on the state to do more to educate young people about the co-existence of secular and religious values and ways to live together in increasingly diverse societies.

“Ignorance is the biggest weapon of mass destruction, and if ignorance is the problem, then education is the answer,” said Nasser David Khalili, an Iranian-born scholar and philanthropist who lives in London.

One topic overlooked however was the less discernible attacks on journalists, in the form of press conglomeration, cuts in income and a general lack of commitment to quality journalism.

“Freedom of expression has no meaning when you can’t find a job and when media is controlled by big groups,” said a former journalist who left the conference early.

Edited by Phil Harris

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Papal Visit Rekindles Hopes in Former War Zonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/papal-visit-rekindles-hopes-in-former-war-zone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=papal-visit-rekindles-hopes-in-former-war-zone http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/papal-visit-rekindles-hopes-in-former-war-zone/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 17:01:57 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138660 Over 500,000 people gathered at the Madhu Shrine in Sri Lanka’s former conflict zone to hear Pope Francis talk of national reconciliation and healing after two-and-a-half decades of sectarian bloodshed. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Over 500,000 people gathered at the Madhu Shrine in Sri Lanka’s former conflict zone to hear Pope Francis talk of national reconciliation and healing after two-and-a-half decades of sectarian bloodshed. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MADHU, Sri Lanka, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

Jessi Jogeswaran, a 20-year-old woman from Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna district, waited over six hours with 18 friends in the sweltering heat just to get a glimpse of Pope Francis on Jan. 14.

The much-anticipated Papal visit brought well over a million people out into the streets to hear the pontiff’s sermons, first in the capital Colombo and later on in Madhu, a village in Sri Lanka’s northwestern Mannar District.

“If we know what happened to all those who went missing, or what will happen to all those still in prison after the war, we will know that things have changed." -- Ramsiyah Pachchanlam, community empowerment officer with the Vanni Rehabilitation Organisation for the Differently Abled (VAROD)
Young and old alike congregated at designated sites, including those like Jogeswaran who traveled miles to be present for the historic occasion.

The young woman with a disarming smile hides a terrible tale: as an 11-year-old, she endured three years of death and mayhem in her native village of Addankulam in Mannar, caught between advancing government forces and military units of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who at the time controlled a vast swath of land in the north of Sri Lanka.

The six-member family’s flight began in 2007, at the tail-end of the country’s civil conflict, and would last almost two years before, in tattered clothes, they escaped the final bouts of fighting in April 2009.

“The nightmare has not ended, it has become less intense,” Jogeswaran told IPS, sitting in the compound of the Madhu Shrine, a church nestled in the jungle that is home to a statue of the Virgin Mary, which millions around the country believe to be miraculous.

Jogeswaran said that despite the war’s end, thousands of people in the north were still fighting to escape the crutches of abject poverty, recover from the traumatic events of the last days of the war and reunite with relatives lost in the chaos of prolonged battles over a period of 26 years.

“We need peace, both within and without,” she added.

Delivering a short sermon at the shrine, Pope Francis echoed her sentiments.

“No Sri Lankan can forget the tragic events associated with this very place,” he said, referring to the attacks on the church and its use by local residents as a place of refuge during extreme bouts of fighting.

He also acknowledged that the healing process would be hard, and that sustained effort would be required “to forgive, and find peace.”

For scores of people here, however, the wounds are too many to forget. The over 225,000 who were displaced during the war have now returned to a region where some parts boast poverty rates over four times the national average of six percent.

There is an urgent need for some 138,000 houses, amidst a funding shortfall of 300 million dollars. Nearly six years after the war’s end there could be as many as 40,000 missing people, although the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has records of little above 16,000 dating back over two decades.

While the completion of several large infrastructure projects suggested rapid development of the former war zone – including reconstruction of the 252-km-long rail-line connecting the north and south at a cost of 800 million dollars – few can enjoy the perks, with 5.2 percent unemployment in the Northern Province.

A lack of job opportunities is particularly hard on war widows and female-headed households – estimated at between 40,000 and 55,000 – and the nearly 12,000 rehabilitated LTTE combatants, among whom unemployment is a soaring 11 percent.

Untreated trauma, coupled with a lifting of the LTTE’s long-standing ban on the sale and production of liquor, has pushed alcohol dependency to new heights.

With scores of people seeking solace in the bottle, the northern Mullaitivu District recently recorded the second-highest rate of alcohol consumption in the island: some 34.4 percent of the population identify as ‘habitual users of alcohol’.

Finally, despite the war’s end, there has been no progress on power devolution to the Tamil-majority Northern Province, a root cause of the war.

A new political era: A bright future for the North?

The week before the Papal visit, Sri Lanka underwent a seismic change in its political landscape, when long-time President Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated by Maithripala Sirisena, who campaigned with the support of a wide array of political parties including those representing Sinhala extremists and others representing the minority Tamil and Muslim populations.

Jogeswaran, who voted to elect a national leader for the first time at the Jan. 8 poll, told IPS that she felt nervously optimistic that things would change.

“We have a new president, who has promised change, now it is up to him to not deceive the voters,” she said.

Ramsiyah Pachchanlam, community empowerment officer with the Vanni Rehabilitation Organisation for the Differently Abled (VAROD), told IPS the northern population was desperate for things to improve.

“There are new roads, new electricity stations and a new train line, but no new jobs,” Pachchanlam said, commenting on the over three billion dollars worth of infrastructure investments made under the former Rajapaksa administration that has not trickled down to the people.

The Sirisena government has shown some signs that it was much more amenable to the needs of minority Tamils than its predecessor.

In his first week in office, Sirisena replaced the long-standing governor of the Northern Province, G. A. Chandrasiri – a former military officer – with G. S. Pallihakara, a career diplomat.

The appointment of a civilian officer to the post was a key demand of the Northern Provincial Council controlled by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which had previously accused the former governor of stifling the council’s independence by carrying out instructions received directly from Colombo.

Many hope that greater political autonomy will pave the way to resolution of the most burning issues plaguing the people.

“If we know what happened to all those who went missing, or what will happen to all those still in prison after the war, we will know that things have changed,” social worker Pachchanlam said.

It remains to be seen if change will happen on the ground, but for a brief moment, in that jungle shrine, thousands came together in hope and expectation of a brighter future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Electioneering Undermines Fight Against Crime in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/electioneering-undermines-fight-against-crime-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=electioneering-undermines-fight-against-crime-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/electioneering-undermines-fight-against-crime-in-el-salvador/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 13:06:55 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138650 Leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha gang in the prison of Ciudad Barrios, in the Salvadoran department of San Miguel, in 2012. Credit: Tomás Andréu/IPS

Leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha gang in the prison of Ciudad Barrios, in the Salvadoran department of San Miguel, in 2012. Credit: Tomás Andréu/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

The upcoming municipal and legislative elections in March and the hiring of former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani as a kind of anti-crime tzar are not the best equation for bringing down El Salvador’s high murder rate, analysts say.

Hopes that a national council set up by the government to tackle the problem of soaring crime will bring short-term results are waning because the focus on reducing the homicide rate has been overshadowed by the interest in gaining votes, said experts consulted by IPS.

“I am afraid that they are acting more as a result of the pressure generated by the need to win elections than in response to the country’s real need to find a solution to its crime problem,” said Raúl Mijango, one of the two mediators of the truce between gangs in place since March 2012.

On Mar. 1, Salvadorans will go to the polls to elect the 84 members of the country’s single-chamber legislature, as well as the mayors of its 262 municipalities.

In September, the government of left-wing President Salvador Sánchez Cerén created a National Council on Public Security and Citizen Coexistence, as an innovative response to the soaring crime rates, which have mainly been driven up by the gangs.“What Giuliani did in New York is a kind of gringo-style ‘manudurismo' [iron fist-ism], and in El Salvador we shouldn’t be reviving failed initiatives; we need new experiences.” -- Jeannette Aguilar

The main gangs, Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18, have an estimated 60,000 young members in El Salvador’s cities.

A total of 3,912 homicides were committed in 2014 in this impoverished Central American country of 6.2 million people – a 57 percent increase from the previous year, after a significant drop in 2012 and 2013 brought about by the truce between gangs.

The surge in the murder rate meant El Salvador returned to its earlier status as one of the world’s most violent countries, with 63 homicides per 100,000 population, compared to a global average homicide rate of 6.2 per 100,000 population in 2012, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

In March 2012, the main gangs agreed a truce which significantly reduced the number of murders for 15 months. In 2012 the homicide rate fell to 41 per 100,000 inhabitants. But the measure ran up against resistance from a society deeply wounded by the gangs, known here as “maras”.

The truce, which in practice has fallen apart, had the backing of the government of former president Mauricio Funes (2009-2014), which saw it as a mechanism to bring down the homicide rate, but never publicly expressed its actual involvement or support. It preferred instead to say it merely helped “facilitate” the agreement, by allowing imprisoned gang leaders to communicate with their deputies outside of prison.

The need for frank analyses of El Salvador’s problems and decisions to address them have been undermined by near continuous election campaigns, in a country which goes to the polls to vote every three years or less.

Presidential elections, which are held every five years, took place in 2014, and legislative and municipal elections are held every three years.

On Jan. 5, Sánchez Cerén, a former guerrilla commander during the 1980-1992 civil war, foreclosed any possibility of the gangs participating in any way in the debates in the new National Council on Public Security and Citizen Coexistence.

Members of the National Council on Public Security and Citizen Coexistence during a meeting in the presidential house in El Salvador. President Salvador Sánchez Cerén is sitting in the middle. Credit: Government of El Salvador

Members of the National Council on Public Security and Citizen Coexistence during a meeting in the presidential house in El Salvador. President Salvador Sánchez Cerén is sitting in the middle. Credit: Government of El Salvador

Mijango told IPS that the position taken by the president and his party, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) – a former guerrilla group – to reject any participation by the gangs in the Council is purely motivated by electoral concerns, as the majority of the population is furiously opposed to the gangs, according to opinion polls.

To demonstrate that the new position responds to electoral interests, Mijango pointed out that Sánchez Cerén was vice president under Funes and that the FMLN is the party that “facilitated” the truce.

The National Council is made up of a wide range of academic, religious, citizen, business and international cooperation institutions.

The hope is that with input from the different actors, a consensus will be reached around proposals for tackling the country’s violent crime problem.

“In general, the Council is an important platform and will give a boost to national and local programmes and policies,” said Jeannette Aguilar, director of the José Simeón Cañas Central American University Public Opinion Institute.

But Aguilar also insinuated in her dialogue with IPS that she had doubts that the National Council would work, given the failure of similar previous attempts to reach a consensus in other areas, such as the economy.

She cited the case of the Economic and Social Council, made up of trade unionists, members of the business community, political parties and civil society organisations, which failed in its aim to hammer out agreements between labour and business.

It is widely recognised that a large part of the country’s homicides are the result of turf wars between gangs.

The National Council’s Technical Secretariat includes representatives of the United Nations Development Programme, the Organisation of American States and the European Union.

On Jan. 16, the 23rd anniversary of the peace agreement that put an end to 12 years of armed conflict in 1992, the government will announce the first measures arising from the proposals set forth in the National Council.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will be visiting the country at the time to support the government’s anti-crime efforts.

The possibility of reaching agreements in this area has also been undermined by the irritation among some segments of society over the presence of former NY mayor Giuliani, who was hired by the National Association of Private Enterprise (ANEP), a powerful business group that also forms part of the National Council.

Giuliani is credited for the major drop in crime in New York City while he was mayor from 1994 to 2001. His team is set to arrive in the Salvadoran capital in the next two weeks.

ANEP is close to the right-wing National Republican Alliance (ARENA), which governed the country from 1989 to 2009, when the FMLN first won the presidency.

The decision to hire Giuliani to make recommendations to the government in the context of the National Council has triggered controversy.

“What Giuliani did in New York is a kind of gringo-style ‘manudurismo’ [iron fist-ism], and in El Salvador we shouldn’t be reviving failed initiatives; we need new experiences,” Aguilar said.

“Mano dura” is the description of the “zero tolerance” policies against crime adopted by the ARENA governments during their two decades in office, based exclusively on repression. The policies were not successful.

Luis Cardenal, who belongs to one of ANEP’s member organisations, told the local media on Jan. 6 that if the government did not accept the proposals set forth by Giuliani and his team, it would be an indication that “it’s hiding something,” with its National Council initiative.

“ANEP’s stance is blackmail, pure and simple,” Aguilar said.

For his part, Mijango said the business community plans to use Giuliani to boycott the work of the National Council. With the large media outlets on its side, ANEP will try to ensure that media coverage is only given to the former mayor, in order to delegitimise the work of the National Council and the government, with the aim of hurting the FMLN’s performance in the elections.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Boko Haram Insurgents Threaten Cameroon’s Educational Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 18:41:04 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138644 A group of Nigerian refugees rests in the Cameroon town of Mora, in the Far North Region, after fleeing armed attacks by Boko Haram insurgents on Sep. 13, 2014. Credit: UNHCR / D. Mbaoirem

A group of Nigerian refugees rests in the Cameroon town of Mora, in the Far North Region, after fleeing armed attacks by Boko Haram insurgents on Sep. 13, 2014. Credit: UNHCR / D. Mbaoirem

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
MAROUA, Far North Region, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

“I’d quit my job before going to work in a place like that.” That is how a primary school teacher responded when IPS asked him why he had not accepted a job in Cameroon’s Far North region.

James Ngoran is not the only teacher who has refused to move to the embattled area bordering Nigeria where Boko Haram has been massing and launching lightning strike attacks on the isolated region.“I looked at my kids and lovely wife and knew a bullet or bomb could get them at any time. We had to run away to safer environments. " -- Mahamat Abba

“Many teachers posted or transferred to the Far North Region simply don’t take up their posts. They are all afraid for their lives,” Wilson Ngam, an official of the Far North Regional Delegation for Basic Education, tells IPS. He said over 200 trained teachers refused to take up their posts in the region in 2014.

Raids by the Boko Haram insurgents in the Far North Region have created a cycle of fear and uncertainty, making teachers posted here balk at their responsibility, and forcing those on the ground to bribe their way out of “the zone of death.”

Last week, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened Cameroon in a video message on YouTube, warning that the same fate would befall the country as neighbouring Nigeria. He addressed his message directly to Cameroonian President Paul Biya after repeated fighting between militants and troops in the Far North.

Shekau was reported killed in September by Cameroonian troops – a report that later turned out to be untrue.

As the Nigerian sect intensifies attacks on Cameroonian territory, government has been forced to close numerous schools. According to Mounouna Fotso, a senior official in the Cameroon Ministry of Secondary Education, over 130 schools have already been shut down.

Most of the schools are found in the Mayo-Tsanaga, Mayo-Sava and Logone and Chari Divisions-all areas which share a long border with Nigeria, and where the terrorists have continued to launch attacks.

“Government had to temporarily close the schools and relocate the students and teachers. The lives of thousands of students and pupils have been on the line as Boko Haram continues to attack. We can’t put the lives of children at risk,” Fotso said.

“We are losing students each time there is an attack on a village even if it is several kilometres from here,” Christophe Barbah, a schoolmaster in the Far North Region’s Kolofata area, said in a press interview.

The closure of schools and the psychological trauma experienced by teachers and students raises concerns that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on education will be missed in Cameroon’s Far North Region.

Although both government and civil society agree that universal primary education could attained by the end of this year in the country’s south, the 49 percent school enrolment rate in the Far North Region, compared to the national average of 83 percent, according to UNICEF, means a lot of work still needs to be done here.

Mahamat Abba, a resident of Fotocol whose four children used to attend one of the three government schools there, has fled with his entire family to Kouseri on the border with Chad.

“I looked at my kids and lovely wife and knew a bullet or bomb could get them at any time. We had to run away to safer environments. But starting life afresh here is a nightmare, having abandoned everything,” he told IPS.

Alhadji Abakoura, a resident of Amchidé, adds that the area has virtually become a ghost town. “The town had six primary schools and a nursery school. They have all been closed down.”

Overcrowded schools

As students, teachers and parents relocate to safer grounds, pressure is mounting on schools, which have to absorb the additional students with no additional funds.

According to UNICEF figures for Cameroon, school participation for boys topped 90 percent in 2013, while girls lagged behind at 85 percent or less. However, participation has been much lower in the extreme northern region.

According to the Institut National de la Statistique du Cameroon, literacy is below 40 percent in the Far North, 40 to 50 percent in the North, and 60-70 percent in the central north state of Adamawa. The Millennium Development Goal is full primary schooling for both sexes by 2015.

“Many of us are forced to follow lectures from classroom windows since there is practically very limited sitting space inside,” Ahmadou Saidou, a student of Government Secondary School Maroua, tells IPS. He had escaped from Amchidé where a September attack killed two students and a teacher.

Ahmadou said the benches on which three students once sat are now used by double that number.

“It’s an issue of great concern,” Mahamat Ahamat, the regional delegate for basic education, tells IPS.

“In normal circumstances, each classroom should contain a maximum of 60 students. But we are now in a situation where a single classroom hosts over one hundred and thirty students,” he said. “We are redeploying teachers who flee risk zones…we are getting them over to schools where students are fleeing to.

“These attacks are really slowing things down,’ Mahamat said.

Government response to the crisis

The Nigerian-based sect Boko Haram has intensified attacks on Cameroon in recent years, killing both civilians and military personnel and kidnapping nationals and expatriates in exchange for ransoms.

To respond to the crisis, Cameroon has come up with military and legal reforms. A new military region was set up in the country’s Far North Region. According to Defence Minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo’o, “The creation of the 4th Military Region is meant to bring the military closer to the theatre of threats, and to boost the operational means in both human and material resources.”

Military equipment has been supplied by the U.S., Germany and Israel, according to press reports.

Mebe Ngo’oo said Cameroon will recruit 20,000 soldiers over the next two years to step up the fight against the terrorists. Besides the military option, Cameroon has also come up with a legal framework to streamline the fight against terrorism. An anti-terrorism law was passed by Parliament in December, punishing all those guilty of terrorist acts by death.

But opposition political leaders, civil society activists and church leaders have criticised it as anti-democratic and fear it is actually intended to curtail civil liberties.

Edited by Lisa Vives

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