Inter Press Service » Democracy http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 29 May 2017 18:23:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.18 Survivors of the El Mozote Massacre Have New Hopes for Justice in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador/#comments Tue, 23 May 2017 21:32:13 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150557 Sofia Romero Pineda, 55, and her grandson hold the few portraits she preserves of some of her family members killed during the military operation which slaughtered some 1,000 inhabitants of El Mozote and neighboring villages in eastern El Salvador. The portraits are of Simeona Vigil, her grandmother; Florentina Pereria, her mother; and Maria Nelly Romero, her sister. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Sofia Romero Pineda, 55, and her grandson hold the few portraits she preserves of some of her family members killed during the military operation which slaughtered some 1,000 inhabitants of El Mozote and neighboring villages in eastern El Salvador. The portraits are of Simeona Vigil, her grandmother; Florentina Pereria, her mother; and Maria Nelly Romero, her sister. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
EL MOZOTE, El Salvador, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Except for a house with its walls riddled with holes made by bursts of machine gun fire, nobody would say that the quiet Salvadoran village of El Mozote was the scene of one of the worst massacres in Latin America, just 35 years ago.

“Many of us who live here are descendants of those who managed to survive the massacre,” 21-year-old university student Nancy García, who is from this village of about 700 people in the rural municipality of Meanguera, in the eastern department of Morazán, told IPS.

Shelved since 1993 in the Salvadoran justice system, the case known as the El Mozote Massacre was reopened in September 2016, providing a historic opportunity to try soldiers and officers accused of killing more than 1,000 inhabitants of this village and neighbouring hamlets.

The reopening of the case was made possible by a July 2016 Supreme Court ruling that declared unconstitutional the 1993 Amnesty Law which prevented the prosecution of those accused of serious human rights violations during the 1980-1992 Salvadoran armed conflict.“I cried when I saw the officers sitting there. I imagined them organising the operation and murdering my family, my parents, my 11-year-old little brother, Adolfo Arturo, my pregnant sister.” -- María Dorila Márquez

One of the survivors of the massacre was 79-year-old Juan Antonio Pereira, who was 35 when the military raided Los Toriles, a hamlet near El Mozote. He remembers the four days of terror, from Dec. 10-13, 1981.

From his hiding place behind some bushes, he said he watched the soldiers order people from their homes at gunpoint, including members of his family, and line them up to shoot them.

“You can’t imagine how sad it is to see your family being killed,” the peasant farmer told IPS. He watched his 35-year-old wife, Natalia Guevara, and their two children – José Mario, 10, and Rosa Cándida, 14 – as they were shot to death.

Investigations to clarify the events were launched in 1990, but the case was amnestied in 1993.

Now, the lawyers from the María Julia Hernández Legal Protection organisation and the Centre for Justice and International Law (Cejil), as well as local residents belonging to the El Mozote Association for the Defence of Human Rights, are working together to find those responsible for the massacre and bring them to justice.

Legal Protection tried to reopen the case in 2006, but the initiative was rejected because the Amnesty Law was still in force.

“This is not about vengeance, or about going against the armed forces, but against some elements that were involved in serious human rights violations. What we want is for this not to remain unpunished,” lawyer Wilfredo Medrano, from Legal Protection, told IPS.

On Mar. 29, a court in San Francisco Gotera, the capital of the department of Morazán, held a hearing to notify seven high-ranking army officers implicated in the massacre of the charges against them, which include murder, rape, deprivation of liberty and acts of terrorism.

Among those officials were Generals Guillermo García, a former minister of defence (1979-1983), and Rafael Flores Lima, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The investigation will be based on much of the documentary and testimonial evidence already collected when the case was first filed in 1990.

According to the testimonies of the survivors of the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador, government troops locked women and children in this now rebuilt small church and murdered them in cold blood. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

According to the testimonies of the survivors of the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador, government troops locked women and children in this now rebuilt small church and murdered them in cold blood. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“I cried when I saw the officers sitting there. I imagined them organising the operation and murdering my family, my parents, my 11-year-old little brother, Adolfo Arturo, my pregnant sister,” 60-year-old María Dorila Márquez, president of the El Mozote Association for the Defence of Human Rights, who was 25 at the time of the massacre, told IPS.

Márquez estimates that 100 of her relatives were murdered.

The military leadership considered the local population collaborators of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas – a claim that is denied by the survivors and family members of the victims.

After the 1992 peace deal that put an end to the war, the FMLN became a political party. It has governed the country since 2009, having won two consecutive presidential elections.

On May 6, the same court notified three other officers, who had not been present at the previous hearing, of the charges against them.

“I feel terrible when I talk about this, I remember my murdered father, I have so much anger… If I were closer to those soldiers I would kick them,” said Santos Jacobo Chicas, 40, a native of the village of Cerro Pando, interviewed by IPS at the end of the hearing.

He and other relatives of several victims attended the court proceedings.

“Whoever gave the orders should pay, should go to prison,” he said.

He recalled how the soldiers of the Atlacatl rapid response battalion, an elite force trained by the United States military, killed his cousin’s two-day-old baby boy.

“They set him on fire,“ he said. It is estimated that more than 400 children were slaughtered during the operation.

For her part, Sofía Romero Pereira, 55, who was 19 in 1981, said that at least 35 relatives of hers were killed, including her father and four of her eight brothers and sisters.

She survived because her father, Daniel Romero, managed to get her and three other sons and daughters out of the village, before the troops entered El Mozote, taking them to the town of San Miguel, in a neighboring department.

But when he returned to get the rest of the family, he was caught in the middle of the military raid and was not able to rescue the rest: Ana María, 16; Jesús, 14; María Nelly, 11; and Elmer, just one year old. Ana María was taken to a nearby hill, where she was raped and later murdered, Romero said.

“They should at least admit that they did it, they should apologise, I would forgive them…what good is prison?” she said.

The lawyers from Legal Protection have also requested reopening the case of Óscar Arnulfo Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while giving mass in the country´s capital.

Meanwhile, the Movement of Victims of Terrorism in El Salvador has asked the Attorney General’s Office to reopen cases of crimes attributed to the guerrillas during the armed conflict.

These include the killings of three US Marines, allegedly executed when their helicopter was shot down by the guerrillas in 1991, while flying over the municipality of Lolotique in the eastern department of San Miguel.

Other cases involve four more Marines, who were shot in a restaurant in San Salvador in 1985, as well as the murders of mayors and other public officials, and of children killed by land-mines placed by the insurgents.

If the petition is accepted, criminal charges would be brought against members of the former guerrilla leadership and officials of the current government, including Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén.
“Generally those who demand justice are leftist victims … and we are the voice of the victims of the war that have been forgotten, not only from the right, but also all of those who have been forgotten,” Fernán Álvarez, a lawyer for the Movement of Victims of Terrorism, told IPS.

The 12-year war in this Central American country, with a current population of 6.3 million people, left about 70,000 dead and 8,000 missing.

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Macron Likely to Diffuse Tensions as Independence Vote Looms in New Caledoniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/macron-likely-to-diffuse-tensions-as-independence-vote-looms-in-new-caledonia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=macron-likely-to-diffuse-tensions-as-independence-vote-looms-in-new-caledonia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/macron-likely-to-diffuse-tensions-as-independence-vote-looms-in-new-caledonia/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 13:06:44 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150518 Emmanuel Macron speaking at LeWeb 2014. After New Caledonia’s second polling, Macron secured a slight majority of 52.57 percent against Le Pen’s 47.43 percent. Credit: Official LeWeb Photos/ CC BY 2.0

Emmanuel Macron speaking at LeWeb 2014. After New Caledonia’s second polling, Macron secured a slight majority of 52.57 percent against Le Pen’s 47.43 percent. Credit: Official LeWeb Photos/ CC BY 2.0

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, May 22 2017 (IPS)

The political future of New Caledonia, a French South Pacific Island territory of 273,000 people, is a profound question mark as a referendum on independence rapidly approaches next year. Equally, how the newly elected French Government, led by Emmanuel Macron, will perform as arbiter of the challenging process in the months ahead is a relative unknown.

Independence aspirations have risen in New Caledonia since the 1980s when violent unrest signalled growing agitation for political change by the indigenous Kanak peoples who comprise about 40 percent of the population. The territory was reinstated on the United Nations Decolonization List in 1986.Less than 1 percent of France’s population lives in the Pacific territories, but the state’s reluctance to severe ties with its overseas territories is due to ideological and strategic factors.

Michael Forrest, Foreign Affairs Secretary for FLNKS (Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front), proclaimed in a November interview with the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) that Kanaks “want to be free and integrated into the political, social and economic environment of the Pacific.”

“It will be a very complex issue to deal with, but I think that Macron will respect the result of the referendum, whatever it is,” Paul Soyez, Adjunct Professor at France’s Paris IV-Sorbonne University and researcher on international relations at the University of Melbourne, Australia, told IPS.

Thirty-nine-year-old Macron, a former investment banker and Economic Minister in the previous socialist government led by François Hollande, won the second round of voting in presidential elections on May 7 against Marine Le Pen, former leader of the National Front. He galvanised popular support for his centrist independent movement, En Marche! (On the Move!), with a strident call for national revival through economic reform and growth, social unity and strengthening of the European Union.

“Macron will maintain the French state’s conciliatory approach to the referendum, like left-wing politicians have done since 1988. His aim will be to secure a calm referendum for the sake of New Caledonia, and for his own sake. I think that his methods can help to avoid violent tensions in New Caledonia next year,” Soyez predicts.

Yet the territory’s political future was not a key campaign issue as a pressing domestic agenda, including high unemployment and concerns about terrorism and immigration, drove candidates’ rhetoric.

And none of the presidential candidates ventured to New Caledonia during campaigning, where voter abstention of 51 percent was very high. But, after the territory’s second polling, Macron secured a slight majority of 52.57 percent against Le Pen’s 47.43 percent. In Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia, 80 percent and 58 percent of voters respectively chose Macron, giving him an overall lead across the French Pacific.

French politicians across the ideological spectrum, including socialist Francois Hollande, centre-right Republican François Fillon, and far-right Marine Le Pen, have stated publicly that, while respecting the referendum process, they prefer that New Caledonia remains part of France.

Less than 1 percent of France’s population lives in the Pacific territories, but the state’s reluctance to severe ties with its overseas territories is due to ideological and strategic factors, according to Soyez.

“Firstly, France constitutes an ‘indivisible’ republic. Therefore, as long as the majority of the population want to remain French, France has the duty to maintain its sovereignty. This is extremely important in the French psyche,” he explained.

As well, “French overseas territories enable France to project its military force all around the world, which is very important when France is leading several operations. France’s presence in the South Pacific provides Paris with the second largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world, many natural resources and influence in its regional institutions.”

Macron also shared his hope for the status quo in an interview with Noumea’s media in May, while advocating that the causes of local grievances be tackled, such as unemployment of 14.9 percent. But Soyez believes that “Macron, like a majority of French citizens, believes that a solution can be found between the status quo and independence, if the local communities want to find a way to compromise.”

While the new President has a long list of domestic issues to progress, disputes over the referendum electoral roll demand resolution as well.

“One of the major challenges for us is to include what we estimate to be between 20,000-25,000 local indigenous Kanak people who are not on the referendum electoral list. This list is the responsibility of the French Government,” Forrest emphasised to local media.

An estimated 84,000 Kanaks and 71,000 non-indigenous citizens are entitled to vote in the referendum.

New Caledonia’s first referendum on Independence was held in 1987, but a major Kanak boycott resulted in a pro-France outcome. Further negotiations with France led to a second referendum being provided for in the 1998 Noumea Accord, which also pledged to address indigenous disparity and the partial devolution of powers.

Two decades later the Kanak population still struggles with hardship and low development outcomes. New Caledonia has a high GDP per capita in the region of 39,391 dollars. But research reveals that the employment gap has changed little since the end of the 1990s. In 2009, the unemployment rate for Kanaks was still high at 26 percent, compared to 7 percent for non-Kanaks.

Anger by indigenous youths during clashes with police near Noumea in recent months is a sign that inequality remains a burning issue.

Yet an opinion poll conducted by New Caledonian television in April points to a loyalist lead with 54 percent of eligible referendum voters opposed to independence, about 25 percent in favour and 21 percent undecided. Concerns about a French ‘exit’ include a possible decline in the economy and living standards. The French government currently injects about 1.1 billion dollars into the island territory every year to fund education and development, social security and the public service.

Another crucial hurdle for the pro-independence lobby is that, after decades of debate about self-determination, there remains a lack of consensus about a vision of nationhood which satisfies people on all sides of the political divide.

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Reflections on 2017 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/reflections-on-2017-world-day-for-cultural-diversity-for-dialogue-and-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reflections-on-2017-world-day-for-cultural-diversity-for-dialogue-and-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/reflections-on-2017-world-day-for-cultural-diversity-for-dialogue-and-development/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 05:38:04 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150497 Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”)]]>

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”)

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, May 22 2017 (IPS)

More than 7 billion people live on this planet spread among 7 continents, 194 states of the United Nations (UN) and numerous other non-self-governing territories. The world is made up of a mosaic of people belonging to different cultural and religious backgrounds. Our planet has been a cultural melting pot since time immemorial.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

According to the UN, the world population is expected to rise to 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion people in 2100. The projected rise of the global population will further reinforce the world’s cultural wealth and the opportunities for dynamic interchange between cultures and civilizations.

The 2017 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development is an important opportunity to advance the goals of the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. This landmark Convention aims to “protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions” and to further enhance cultural diversity around the world.

The 2001 UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity likewise reminds us of the importance of moving “from cultural diversity to cultural pluralism” through social inclusion and cultural empowerment enabling social cohesion to flourish. Harmonious relationships between peoples start with cultural interaction and cultural empathy.

While we place great importance in preserving the diversity of cultures as a common heritage of mankind, we fear that the world is on the brink of entering into a phase of fragmentation and irreconcilable division.

The inflow of migrants to Europe has been used as an excuse to justify the rise of right-wing populism. Migrants are often scapegoated for the failures of societies although their contributions to the economic and social development of societies and to cultural diversity are well documented. Differences related to cultures and to religions are presented as obstacles and as being damaging to modern societies. This has given rise to discrimination, marginalization, bigotry and social exclusion leaving the impression that cultural diversity is a threat, and not a source of richness.

While the flow of migrants and refugees to rich Western countries constitutes a very small one-digit percentage of the population, they are increasingly resented. Yet it has been difficult to increase development assistance resources from rich economies to help stabilize people on the move who are present in countries neighbouring their country of origin. The latter, while much poorer, have welcomed a much higher, double-digit, percentage of migrants and refugees in relation to their own population.

With a view to proposing an alternative solution to enhance cultural diversity and to reversing this trend, I co-chaired a panel debate that was held on 15 March 2017 at the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) on the theme of “Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working Jointly Towards Equal Citizenship Rights.”

During the deliberations, one of the panellists made a salient remark that captured the essence of the debate. It was emphasized that we should never fear “the stranger, in his or her difference, because he or she will be a source of richness.”

Echoing this view, I believe that in modern societies, progress can be ascribed to the celebration of cultural diversity and to the acceptance of the stranger. The driving force behind the success of the United States of America (USA) was the country’s openness towards migrants aspiring to live the American Dream. It allowed building a prosperous society that leveraged the talent of different people regardless of religious or cultural differences.

Embracing cultural diversity, open-mindedness and tolerance enabled the US to become a symbol of success and prosperity.

Taking inspiration from this example, I would like to emphasize that we need to cultivate a climate where cultural diversity is considered a synonym for progress and development. Exclusion and marginalization of people owing to cultural differences do not belong in an open, tolerant and prosperous society.

Hence the need to intensify dialogue between and within societies, civilizations and cultures. We need to learn more about each other, to build mutual bonds and to break down the walls of ignorance that have insulated societies.

The term “the beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people” captures the essence of the 2017 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. Let difference beget not division but an urge to celebrate diversity and pluralism.

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A Grisly Tale of Children Falling Easy Prey to Ruthless Smugglershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/a-grisly-tale-of-children-falling-easy-prey-for-ruthless-smugglers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-grisly-tale-of-children-falling-easy-prey-for-ruthless-smugglers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/a-grisly-tale-of-children-falling-easy-prey-for-ruthless-smugglers/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 05:20:14 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150510 In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, three children look out of the window of a train, which was boarded by refugees primarily from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, at a reception centre for refugees and migrants, in Gevgelija. Credit: UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII

In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, three children look out of the window of a train, which was boarded by refugees primarily from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, at a reception centre for refugees and migrants, in Gevgelija. Credit: UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 22 2017 (IPS)

Don’t read this story if you are a parent or have children relatives. It is the bloodcurdling story of over 300,000 unaccompanied refugee and migrant children who are just a small part of millions of children that are innocent, easy prey for smugglers and human traffickers worldwide.

Among a raft of alarming statistics, a new UN report has just found that children account for around 28 per cent of trafficking victims globally. And that Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America and the Caribbean have the highest share of children among detected trafficking victims, at the rates of 64 and 62 per cent, respectively. “I’m a child, not a criminal, not a threat, not an outcast” – UNICEF

The new report, issued by the UN Children Fund (UNICEF), also informs that the number of children travelling alone has increased five–fold since 2010, warning that many young refugees and migrants are taking highly dangerous routes, often at the mercy of traffickers, to reach their destinations.

At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in the combined years of 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010 and 2011, according to the report A Child is a Child: Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation, which was released on May 18, and presents a global snapshot of refugee and migrant children, the motivations behind their journeys and the risks they face along the way.

“One child moving alone is one too many, and yet today, there are a staggering number of children doing just that – we as adults are failing to protect them,” commented UNICEF deputy executive director Justin Forsyth. “Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution. It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from these predators.”

A migrant gestures from behind the bars of a cell at a detention centre in Libya, Tuesday 31 January. Credit: UNICEF/Romenzi

A migrant gestures from behind the bars of a cell at a detention centre in Libya, Tuesday 31 January. Credit: UNICEF/Romenzi

First and foremost, children need protection, the UN agency reminded, while highlighting the importance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, through which State Parties commit to respect and ensure the rights of “each child within their jurisdiction, without discrimination of any kind.”

One of World’s Deadliest Routes for Children

Few weeks earlier, a senior UNICEF official called the routes from sub-Saharan Africa into Libya and across the sea to Europe one of the “world’s deadliest and most dangerous for children and women,” as the UN agency informed that nearly half of the women and children interviewed after making the voyage were raped.

On this, its report A Deadly Journey for Children: The Central Mediterranean Migrant Route, warned that “refugee and migrant children and women are routinely suffering sexual violence, exploitation, abuse and detention along the Central Mediterranean migration route from North Africa to Italy,”

At the time of the report, which was issued end of February, 256,000 migrants were recorded in Libya, including about 54,000 included women and children. “This is a low count with actual numbers at least three times higher.”

The UN agency believes that at least 181,000 people –including more than 25,800 unaccompanied children –used smugglers in 2016 to try to reach Italy. “At the most dangerous portion– from southern Libya to Sicily – one in every 40 people is killed.”

Raped, Exploited, Left in Debt

Here, Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe, said that the Central Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe is among the world’s deadliest and most dangerous migrant routes for children and women. “The route is mostly controlled by smugglers, traffickers and other people seeking to prey upon desperate children and women who are simply seeking refuge or a better life.”

An abandoned farmhouse with a mattress used by prostitutes in Palermo. “I missed ever being a child,” says [NAME CHANGED] Mary, who was helped by a lawyer after she was trafficked to Italy, aged 17. Credit: © UNICEF/UN062791/Gilbertson VII Photo

An abandoned farmhouse with a mattress used by prostitutes in Palermo. “I missed ever being a child,” says [NAME CHANGED] Mary, who was helped by a lawyer after she was trafficked to Italy, aged 17. Credit: © UNICEF/UN062791/Gilbertson VII Photo


“Nearly half the women and children interviewed had experienced sexual abuse during migration – often multiple times and in multiple locations,” with “widespread and systematic” sexual violence at crossings and checkpoints.

“In addition, about three-quarters of all the children interviewed said that they had “experienced violence, harassment or aggression at the hands of adults” including beatings, verbal and emotional abuse.”

In Western Libya, women were often held in detention centres were they reported “harsh conditions, such as poor nutrition and sanitation, significant overcrowding and a lack of access to health care and legal assistance,” the UN Children Fund informed.

What the Most Powerful Should – and Can Do

Included in the report is a six-point agenda calling for “safe and legal pathways and safeguards to protect migrating children.” UNICEF urged the European Union to adopt this agenda ahead of the Summit of the G7 (the group of the 7 most powerful countries) in Taormina, Italy, on 26-27 May.

The six-point agenda stresses the need to protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence; to end the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating by introducing a range of practical alternatives, and to keep families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status.

It recommends, as well, to keep all refugee and migrant children learning and give them access to health and other quality services; to press for action on the underlying causes of large scale movements of refugees and migrants; and to promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization in countries of transit and destination.

Such commitments would obviously be easy to take and implement by the G7 governments. The point is: will the political leaders of the world’s richest countries consider, seriously, this inhuman tragedy?

Are they aware that the number of children left alone has been soaring? UNICEF –which they created to assist millions of European refugee children, victims of their Wold War II– has just reported that 92 per cent of children who arrived to Italy by sea in 2016 were unaccompanied, up from 75 per cent in 2015.

Do these mandatories know that 75 per cent of children who arrived in Italy—the very same country hosting their Summit—have reported experiences such as being held against their will or being forced to work without pay?

Let alone the case of hundreds of children who are abducted to sell their organs, to be recruited by terrorist organisations as child soldiers, or are exploited in harsh “modern” slavery work.

Will these political leaders mostly talk big finance and big business–including the 20 May US-Saudi Arabia weapons deal amounting to 110 billion dollars? Who knows…they might also have some spare time to read US president Donald Trump’s latest tweets.

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Young People: You Didn’t Vote, And Now You Protest?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/young-people-you-didnt-vote-and-now-you-protest/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-people-you-didnt-vote-and-now-you-protest http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/young-people-you-didnt-vote-and-now-you-protest/#comments Tue, 16 May 2017 11:33:32 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150432 Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.]]>

Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 16 2017 (IPS)

Immediately after the vote on Brexit, thousands of young people marched in the streets of England to show their disagreement over the choice to leave Europe. But polls indicated that had they voted en masse (only 37 percent voted), the result of the referendum would have been the opposite.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

In the political system, it is now taken for granted that youth will largely abstain, and the agenda tends to ignore them more and more. This has created a vicious circle, setting up priorities which do not represent them. Yet, the analysis of the elections after the shattering economic and social crisis of 2008-9 is clear and statistically evident.

The European Parliament conducted research on the European elections of 2014 in the 28 member countries. While the youngest Europeans (18-24) are more positive about the European Union than the oldest (55+), far fewer of them turned out to vote. Turnout was higher among the oldest respondents.

Some 51 percent of the 55+ voted, while only 28 percent did in the 18-24 age group. This is relatively unchanged since the 2009 elections. And young people were more inclined to decide on the day of the elections, or a few days before (28 percent compared with the +55 group).

Already in 2014, 31 percent of the younger group said they never voted, against 19 percent of the 55+ age group. Yet, the younger the age, the more people had the feeling of being Europeans: 70 percent for the 18-24 year-olds, and 59 percent for the 55+ group.

It could be said, of course, that European elections are a special case. But a look at the past national elections in Europe confirms this trend. In the Austrian presidential elections of 2016, youth participation was at 43 percent. In 2010, it was 48 percent.

In the Dutch parliamentarian elections of 2017, the age group 18-24 vote was at 66 percent: it was 70 percent in 2012. In the Italian referendum of December 2016, the youth abstention was 38 percent, against 32 percent of the general population. And in the recent French presidential elections, the data are consistent: 78 percent abstention for the 25-34 age group; 65 percent for the 24-35; a solid 51 percent for the 35-49; and then 44 percent for the 50-64, with only 30 percent for those 65 and over.

In Israel, just 58 percent of under 35s, and just 41 percent of those under 25, voted in 2013, compared with 88 percent of over 55s. In Britain and Poland less than half of under 25s voted in the last general elections, compared with 88 percent of over 55s.

The growing youth abstention has significant implications. Let us take the last American elections that brought Donald Trump to the White House. The so-called Millennials, those of the age group 18-35, now make up 31 percent of the electorate. The Silent Generation (those 71+) are now 12 percent of the voting pool, and Generation X (36-51) makes up about 25 percent of the electorate.

Bernie Sanders’ run was based on 2 million votes from the 19-24 age group – voters who basically abandoned the elections after his loss in the primaries. Young people’s abstention rate, close to 67 percent, made the Millennials equivalent to the Silent Generation, and lost its demographic advantage. Millennials had a favourable view of Sanders at 54 percent, against 37 percent of Clinton. Just 17 percent of young people had a positive view of Trump.

Had only millennials voted, Clinton would have won the election in a landslide, with 473 electoral votes to Trump’s 32.

The first obvious observation is that if the traditional intergenerational rift disappears, we will have little change in politics, as older voters are usually more conservative. And the second obvious observation is that citizens’ participation will progressively shrink, as the young will age.

What is worrying is that we have too many polls on the reasons behind the political disenchantment of young people to think that the political system is unaware. On the contrary, many political analysts think that parties in power don’t mind abstentions in general terms. It shrinks the voters to those who feel connected, whose priorities are clear and simpler to satisfy, as the older generations feel more secure than the younger ones.

And the theme of young people is disappearing in the political debate, or is merely rhetorical. A good example is that the Italian government devoted in 2016 a whopping 20 billion dollars to save four banks, while it dedicated a total of 2 billion dollars to create jobs for young people, in a country which has close to 40 percent youth unemployment.

For youth, the message is clear: finance is more important than their future. So they do not vote, and they are less and less a factor in the political system.

Spending on education and research are the first victims (together with health) when austerity hits. The results are evident. In Australia (where 25 percent of the young people said that “it does not matter what kind of government we have”), those over 65 pay no tax on income under 24,508 dollars. Younger workers start paying taxes at 15,080 dollars.

In rich countries the world over, people over 65 have subsidies and special discounts, such as on the cinema and other activities. Not the young people…. But when somebody with a message for the young comes into the picture, participation changes. In Canada, just 37 percent of the 18-24s voted in the election of 2008, against 39 percent in 2011. But when Justin Trudeau campaigned on a message of hope in 2015, youth participation rose sharply to 57 percent.

What is a real cause of concern for democracy, as an institution based on the waning concept of popular participation, is that young people are not at all apolitical. In fact, they are very aware of priorities like climate change, gender equality, social justice, common goods, and other concepts, much more than the older generation. At least 10 percent of young people volunteer in social groups and civil society, against 3 percent of the older generations.

They feel much more connected to the causes of humanity, have fewer racial biases, believe more in international institutions, and are more interested in international affairs. A good example is Chile. In 2010 general abstention was 13.1 percent. In 2013 it went to 58 percent. Youth abstention was 71 percent. If young people would vote, they could change the results.

Simply, they have given up on political institutions as corrupt, inefficient, and disconnected from their lives. A report last year found that 72 percent of Americans born before the Second World War thought it was “essential” to live in a country that was governed democratically. Less than a third of those born in the 1980s agreed.

We must note that the decline of participation in elections is a worldwide phenomenon, not just among young people, but also the general population. The last elections at the writing of this article were in the Bahamas; only 50 percent of the population went to vote. In Slovenia abstention is now at 57.6 percent, in Mali 54.2 percent, in Serbia 53.7 percent, in Portugal 53.5 percent, in Lesotho 53.4 percent, in Lithuania 52.6 percent, in Colombia 52.1 percent, in Bulgaria 51.8 percent, in Switzerland 50.9 percent…and this in regions as different as Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia…the crisis of political participation goes from the cradle of the parliamentarian system (Great Britain), 24 percent abstention, in 1964, to 34.2 in 2010 to Italy (7.1 percent in 2063, and in 2013 24.8 percent).

There is a general consensus among analysts that the damages of globalization and the discrediting of political parties are the major causes for the decline in participation. Yet the winners never take into account the reasons of the losers. The victory of Macron in the last French elections was well-received in Germany, but as soon as the new president started to speak about the need to strengthen Europe, for instance by creating a European finance minister, the immediate reaction was: Germany is not going to place one cent of its well-earned surplus with Europe to the service of other countries: those who spend their money on women and drinks and now expect solidarity form the North of Europe (the Dutch President of Eurofin, Jeroen Dijsselbloem).

How long it will it take to get the winners inside the European Union to understand that the political crisis is a global one, and must be addressed urgently? Voter turnout has been dropping precipitously in Germany, from over 82 percent in 1998 to only 70.8 percent in 2009. As at the last election, this year the number of non-voters is expected to surpass the number of voters in favor of the most successful party.

Manfred Güllner, the head of the Forsa polling institute, warns of a non-voter record. “There is reason to fear that fewer than 70 percent of eligible voters will go to the polls,” he says. If the non-voters were included on a conventional TV graphic, they would have the highest bar in the chart. They should actually be touted as the true winners of the election — if it weren’t for the fact that this also represents a defeat for democracy.

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Punishment for Human Rights Abusers Is Irrevocable Achievement for Argentine Societyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/punishment-for-human-rights-abusers-is-irrevocable-achievement-for-argentine-society/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=punishment-for-human-rights-abusers-is-irrevocable-achievement-for-argentine-society http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/punishment-for-human-rights-abusers-is-irrevocable-achievement-for-argentine-society/#comments Fri, 12 May 2017 22:27:50 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150403 Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires on May 10 to protest a Supreme Court ruling that made it possible to reduce the prison sentences of dictatorship-era human rights abusers – a verdict neutralised by a new law passed by Congress on May 10. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires on May 10 to protest a Supreme Court ruling that made it possible to reduce the prison sentences of dictatorship-era human rights abusers – a verdict neutralised by a new law passed by Congress on May 10. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, May 12 2017 (IPS)

What at first was terrible news that outraged a large proportion of Argentine society, who see the conviction and imprisonment of dictatorship-era human rights violators as an irrevocable achievement for democracy, became a cause for celebration a week later.

An unexpected ruling handed down by the Supreme Court on May 3 initially opened the door to hundreds of members of the military and civilians in prison for crimes against humanity committed during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship to seek a reduction of their sentences, which would in some cases even allow them to immediately be released.

However, the wave of outrage that arose in human rights groups spread in the following days throughout society, leading to changes that came about at a dizzying pace that made it unlikely for the court ruling, which applied to one particular case, to be used as a precedent for other human rights abusers to obtain a reduction in their sentences.“I don’t recall in the history of Argentina any other time that Congress has reacted so quickly to a legal ruling. And I am convinced that the entire justice system is going to rebel against this Supreme Court ruling.” -- Andrés Gil

“It won’t go any farther than this. In the Argentine justice system, the Supreme Court’s decisions are not binding on lower courts. After the strong social repulsion and after all political sectors spoke out against the early release of human rights violators, this will end with Muiña,” Jorge Rizo, chairman of the Buenos Aires Bar Association, told IPS.

It was the case of Luis Muiña, a civilian in prison for his participation in kidnappings and torture in 1976, that sparked the massive protest demonstrations held over the past week.

In a divided ruling, the Supreme Court decided to apply the “two for one” law that compensates for time spent in pre-sentence custody, to reduce Muiña’s 13-year sentence to the nine years he has already served.

But exactly a week later, on May 10, Congress passed a law supported by all political sectors which established that the two-for-one law was not applicable in cases involving genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity.

A few hours later, hundreds of thousands of people filled the Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires, reminiscent of the biggest rallies in the country’s history.

Many wore white headscarves, a symbol of the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights groups, who in April celebrated the 40th anniversary of their first march in the Plaza de Mayo square to demand that their “disappeared” sons and daughters be returned to them.

According to human rights organisations, 30,000 people were killed or “disappeared” by the regime.

A big banner on the stage read: “Never again! No freedom for human rights abusers”. The main speaker at the massive rally was Estela de Carlotto, the longtime head of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who have so far found 122 of their grandchildren, stolen by the dictatorship and raised under false identities.

“Just like with the Nazis, wherever they go we will go after them,” Carlotto chanted along with the crowd estimated by the organisers at 400,000 people.

“Fortunately, society has taken a firm stance,” said the activist, adding that the quick action by Congress “fills us with hope and gratitude.”

“Never again! No freedom for human rights abusers”, read a big banner in the massive rally where hundreds of thousands of Argentinians, wearing white headscarves representing the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights group, demanded full punishment for dictatorship-era human right violators. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

“Never again! No freedom for human rights abusers”, read a big banner in the massive rally where hundreds of thousands of Argentinians, wearing white headscarves representing the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights group, demanded full punishment for dictatorship-era human right violators. Credit: Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo

In the demonstration there was in the air a strong rejection of the government of conservative President Mauricio Macri, even though it did not play any role in the trial. Many protesters held signs linking the president to the Court’s decision, a connection also insinuated in Twitter by former president Cristina Fernández (2007-2015), who at the moment was traveling through Europe.

The government had a somewhat unclear response to the Supreme Court ruling. It initially left the response exclusively in the hands of Human Rights Secretary Claudio Avruj who, although responsible for this area, is not a high-ranking official. Perhaps over-cautiously, he urged people to be “respectful of the verdict.”

But as the negative repercussions grew, the government began to reject the ruling, through more important figures. And once Congress passed the law, Macri himself congratulated the lawmakers, and said he was opposed to “any tool that favours impunity, and especially when this tool is applied to crimes against humanity.”

The Supreme Court ruling was divided, three-to-two. The majority was made up of Elena Highton, Horacio Rosatti and Carlos Rosenkrantz – the latter two named to the Court last year on Macri’s recommendation.

The two-for-one law, which stated that every day spent in pre-sentence custody counted for two days after two years had been served, was designed to help Argentina address the large proportion of people in prison who have not yet been tried and sentenced. But the 1994 law was repealed in 2001 as it had failed to achieve its aim.

But the three Supreme Court justices argued that the most beneficial law for the accused must be applied in penal law, even in cases involving crimes against humanity.

“The sentence, technically, goes against international law,” said Gastón Chillier, executive director of the Social and Legal Studies Centre (CELS), a human rights organisation created during the dictatorship.

“The law which was passed promptly by Congress is a result of the cross-cutting nature of the reaction against the ruling. From now on, the justice system will have to be very autistic to ignore the rejection that the sentence generated,” Chillier told IPS.

One of the founders of CELS, lawyer Marcelo Parrilli, filed criminal charges accusing the three magistrates of prevarication, or knowingly handing down a decision contrary to the law.

Soon after, federal prosecutor Guillermo Marijuán considered that there were grounds to launch a judicial investigation. And the Front for Victory (FPV) political faction headed by former president Fernández sought to impeach Highton, Rosatti and Rosenkrantz.

But it did not all end there, since a well-known constitutionalist lawyer, Andrés Gil, asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to order Argentina to abstain from reducing the sentences of those convicted of human rights violations.

Gil told IPS: “I don’t recall in the history of Argentina any other time that Congress has reacted so quickly to a legal ruling. And I am convinced that the entire justice system is going to rebel against this Supreme Court ruling.”

“Those who signed that decision did not realise that the trial and punishment of those responsible for human rights abuses during the last dictatorship now form part of the heritage of the Argentine people,” he added.

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Indonesia’s Trial and Verdict by Omissionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/indonesias-trial-and-verdict-by-omission/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indonesias-trial-and-verdict-by-omission http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/indonesias-trial-and-verdict-by-omission/#comments Fri, 12 May 2017 12:42:13 +0000 Warief Djajanto Basorie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150396 The author is a manager and instructor at Dr. Soetomo Press Institute , Jakarta since 1991.]]>

The author is a manager and instructor at Dr. Soetomo Press Institute , Jakarta since 1991.

By Warief Djajanto Basorie
JAKARTA, May 12 2017 (IPS)

Remove one word in the narrative. You hit your target with a two-year jail sentence.

Governor of Jakarta Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, widely know as Ahok, was the target. After a six-month trial, the North Jakarta District Court on May 9 sentenced him to two years in jail with immediate imprisonment for defamation of religion. It was a double blow within a month.

On April 19 Ahok lost his bid for reelection as governor of this metropolis of 10 million people to former education minister Anies Baswedan.

Ahok’s change in fortune occurred on Sept 27 2016. Surveys up to then showed Ahok was a shoe-in to win reelection. He had garnered one-million-plus signatures of support from eligible voters in Indonesia’s capital, collected by a non-party volunteers group. His popularity was on a high for his clean government stance and success in delivering services. And the Jakarta race is centrally crucial.

The importance of the Jakarta governorship is that it’s a proven path to the presidency. The proof is in President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo who was previously Jakarta’s governor 2012-2014. As Jokowi did not complete his five- year governorship, Ahok as his deputy, succeeded Jokowi as governor.

On that clear Tuesday morning, Sept 27, Governor Ahok travelled to Pramuka Island in the Thousand islands group off the coast of North Jakarta. The trip was to celebrate a karapu fish harvest but the event turned to be a pre-campaign delivery.

Indonesia is a Muslim-majority nation of 250 million people. Ahok is of Chinese descent and a Christian, a double minority. Apparently Ahok did not perceive the consequences when he cited a verse in the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book, in light of the coming gubernatorial campaign.

“You know, perhaps in the back of your mind, you feel you can’t vote for me. Because you were fooled to use Al Maidah (verse) 51 …,” Ahok remarked off-the-cuff of opposing politicians who might use Islam’s holy scripture against him.

Al Maida (The Table Spread) , the fifth surah (chapter) in the Qur’an, has 120 ayat or verses. The verse in question is verse 51.

In essence Al Maida verse 51 calls on the faithful not to accept a non-Muslim as their leader.

On Oct 6 a Jakarta academic reviewed Ahok’s statement in video and concluded Ahok has committed blasphemy. Communication studies scholar Buni Yani uploaded a clip of the video and its transcript on his Facebook account. It stirred a storm.

“All of you (Muslim voters) were fooled by Al Maidah (verse) 51 …”. This is the quote in Buni Yani’s transcript.

The difference with the original quote is that Buni Yani’s transcript does not have the word “use” (pakai in Indonesian). At a talk show on TV One Oct 11, the academic confessed he erred in transcribing the remarks the Jakarta governor made.

Buni admitted he excluded the word “use” because he asserted he did not wear a headset to listen to the statement of Governor Basuki. But the damage has been done.

Buni’s 31-second video clip with provocative commentary can be described as a “post-truth” message where the narrative appeals to emotion disconnected from facts. The talking point continues eventhough the message is found to be misleading.

Oxford Dictionaries on Nov 15 has declared “post-truth” as its 2016 international word of the year, reflecting what it called a “highly-charged” political 12 months.

Buni Yani’s belated admission of verbal exclusion in his posted video could not repair the damage and restrain what was to come. Nor the public apology Ahok made in gatherings and on television over his misconceived Sept 27 remarks.

The omission of a single word was one element that drove a sea of white-clad mostly men on Nov 4 to flood the multi-lane streets off Jakarta’s Monas Square. The Square in Central Jakarta separates Freedom Palace, the president’s residence to its north, and City Hall, the governor’s office to its south.

Led by the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and other hardline groups, the mass rally demanded Ahok’s arrest and criminal prosecution for defaming Islam.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo read out a midnight statement slamming the street violence and damage before the palace gates that ensued that night. He stated “political actors” were behind the mayhem that caused one death.

On Nov 16 the chief for criminal investigation of the National Police, three-star Police Commissioner General Ari Dono Sukmanto, declared Ahok a suspect in an alleged act of blasphemy. This followed intense investigation culminating in a 10-hour case screening that heard testimony Nov 15.

On Dec 2 another huge rally took place. Like the one before, it was held on a Friday to create a great mass after noon public prayers at the capital’s mosques.

On Dec 13 Ahok went to his first of 22 hearings of his blasphemy trial.

On May 9 2017 Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, chief of the five-judge panel, read out the court’s verdict. Ahok is found guilty of violating Article 156a of the Criminal Code on defaming a religion. The sentence is two years with immediate imprisonment.

The bench’s decision goes beyond the prosecutors’ demand for a year in jail with a 2-year probation. Ahok appealed.

The convicted governor was quickly bundled to the Cipinang Prison in East Jakarta. Later in the evening Ahok was transferred to the police mobile brigade compound in Depok, south of Jakarta, “for safety,” the Cipinang warden said.

Th court’s verdict triggered an outcry of grief among Ahok supporters. They gathered in front of the courthouse, the prison, City Hall and on Wednesday night May 10, they held a candle-lit vigil at Proclamation Park, central Jakarta, where Indonesia’s first president Soekarno declared Indonesia’s independence Aug 17 1945. Similar vigils assembled in Manado and Waingapu, Christian majority centers in Eastern Indonesia.

“#Save Ahok” and “#Free Ahok” were the twitter hash tags. Many of the supporters at City Hall were red-clad women. Some in red and white, the national colors. Men wore the plaited colored shirts of Ahok’s campaign.

Ahok opponents approved the verdict. In front of the court venue, wearing white garb, they cried out in triumph and knelt on the ground in gratitude.

President Jokowi called for all to respect the legal process.

“I request all parties to respect the legal process, the verdict that was read out, and also to respect the steps taken by Mr Basuki Tjahaja Purnama,” Jokowi stated.

Defence lawyer I Wayan Sudarta didn’t mince words. He told The Jakarta Post the verdict was politically driven and unacceptable.

Ahok lost votes because of the trial. The rumor mill was rife of moves to mess with the president.

Further to Jokowi’s midnight statement Nov 4 on the activity of “political actors”, Coordinating Minister for Politcal, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto announced May 8, the day before the Ahok verdict, that the government seeks to ban by legal means the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, an organization that calls for an Islamic caliphate.

HTI’s disbandment is justified as its existence is against the Constitution and Indonesia’s state ideology, Pancasila (The Five Tenets), State Intelligence Chief Budi Gunawan stated.

Indeed, the legal process and the political dynamics in Indonesia comes under scrutiny. The big raucous demonstrations outside the court house and the mass rallies demanding Ahok’s conviction contrasting against the pro-Ahok vigils raise the spectre of social unrest, if not disunity.

Interfaith leaders in Indonesia’s have repeatedly called for tolerance to safeguard the sanctity of the national credo, Bhinekka Tunggal Ika, unity in diversity.

This is a testing time for Indonesia where minorities in religion like the Ahmadis and Syiahs face discrimination as well as LGBTs. Papua in the Eastern end of Indonesia is another issue where a movement seeks separation.

As Indonesian citizens, they want equal rights under the Constitution to express their case. Article 28E(3) of the Constitution states: “Every person shall have the right to the freedom of association and expression of opinion.”

All sections in the nation have a stake to make Indonesia a truly peaceful, just and inclusive society, to paraphrase the theme of World Press Freedom Day 2017 that Jakarta hosted early May.

To ward off any communal conflict that could arise from the Ahok case, one voice of moderation comes from a Muslim cleric in Depok, 20 km south of Jakarta. On the Sunday before the Ahok verdict, in a post-morning prayer sermon, he stated that those who bring up Al Maideh verse 51 must also acknowledge the message in verse 8 of the same chapter.

“Let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice.” The cleric explained Muslims must treat people of other faiths with justice.

The statements and views expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of IPS.

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African Migrants Bought and Sold Openly in ‘Slave Markets’ in Libyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/african-migrants-bought-and-sold-openly-in-slave-markets-in-libya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=african-migrants-bought-and-sold-openly-in-slave-markets-in-libya http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/african-migrants-bought-and-sold-openly-in-slave-markets-in-libya/#comments Tue, 09 May 2017 13:32:17 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150360 A shot of the living conditions inside a detention centre in Libya. Credit: UN Migration Agency (IOM)

A shot of the living conditions inside a detention centre in Libya. Credit: UN Migration Agency (IOM)

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 9 2017 (IPS)

Hundreds of migrants along North African migration routes are being bought and sold openly in modern day ‘slave markets’ in Libya, survivors have told the United Nations migration agency, which warned that these reports “can be added to a long list of outrages” in the country. The International Criminal Court is now considering investigating.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) had already sounded the alarm after its staff in Niger and Libya documented over the past weekend shocking testimonies of trafficking victims from several African nations, including Nigeria, Ghana and the Gambia. They described ‘slave markets’ tormenting hundreds of young African men bound for Libya.

Operations Officers with IOM’s office in Niger reported on the rescue of a Senegalese migrant who this week was returning to his home after being held captive for months, IOM had on April 11 reported.

According to the young man’s testimony, the UN agency added, while trying to travel north through the Sahara, he arrived in Agadez, Niger, where he was told he would have to pay about 320 dollars to continue North, towards Libya.

A trafficker provided him with accommodation until the day of his departure, which was to be by pick-up truck, IOM said. But when his pick-up reached Sabha in south-western Libya, the driver insisted that he hadn’t been paid by the trafficker, and that he was transporting the migrants to a parking area where the young man witnessed a slave market taking place.

“Sub-Saharan migrants were being sold and bought by Libyans, with the support of Ghanaians and Nigerians who work for them,” IOM Niger staff reported.

A young South Sudanese refugee looks out of a truck before being transported to the Imvepi settlement at the Imvepi Reception Centre, Arua District, in northern Uganda. Credit: UNHCR/David Azia

A young South Sudanese refugee looks out of a truck before being transported to the Imvepi settlement at the Imvepi Reception Centre, Arua District, in northern Uganda. Credit: UNHCR/David Azia

A ‘Long List of Outrages’

“The latest reports of ‘slave markets’ for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages [in Libya],” said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s head of operation and emergencies. “The situation is dire. The more IOM engages inside Libya, the more we learn that it is a vale of tears for all too many migrants.”

Abdiker added that in recent months IOM staff in Libya had gained access to several detention centres, where they are trying to improve conditions.

“What we know is that migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers face systematic malnutrition, sexual abuse and even murder. Last year we learned 14 migrants died in a single month in one of those locations, just from disease and malnutrition. We are hearing about mass graves in the desert.”

So far this year, he said, the Libyan Coast Guard and others have found 171 bodies washed up on Mediterranean shores, from migrant voyages that foundered off shore. The Coast Guard has also rescued thousands more, he added.

Sold in Squares or Garages

“Migrants who go to Libya while trying to get to Europe have no idea of the torture archipelago that awaits them just over the border,” said Leonard Doyle, chief IOM spokesperson in Geneva. “There they become commodities to be bought, sold and discarded when they have no more value.”

Many describe being sold “in squares or garages” by locals in the South-Western Libyan town of Sabha, or by the drivers who trafficked them across the Sahara desert.

Risking their lives to reach Europe from North Africa, a boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. Credit: UNHCR/A. D'Amato

Risking their lives to reach Europe from North Africa, a boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. Credit: UNHCR/A. D’Amato

“To get the message out across Africa about the dangers, we are recording the testimonies of migrants who have suffered and are spreading them across social media and on local FM radio. Tragically, the most credible messengers are migrants returning home with IOM help. Too often they are broken, brutalised and have been abused, often sexually. Their voices carry more weight than anyone else’s,” added Doyle.

So far, the number of Mediterranean migrant arrivals this year approaches 50,000, with 1,309 deaths, according to the UN migration agency.

IOM rose from the ashes of World War Two 65 years ago. In the battle-scarred continent of Europe, no government alone could help survivors who wanted no more than an opportunity to resume their lives in freedom and with dignity. The first incarnation of IOM was created to resettle refugees during this post-war period.

International Criminal Court May Investigate

In view of these reports, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 8 May told the United Nations Security Council that her office is considering launching an investigation into alleged migrant-related crimes in Libya, including human trafficking.

“My office continues to collect and analyse information relating to serious and widespread crimes allegedly committed against migrants attempting to transit through Libya,” said Fatou Bensouda during a Security Council meeting on the North African country’s situation.

“I’m similarly dismayed by credible accounts that Libya has become a marketplace for the trafficking of human beings,” she added, noting that her office “is carefully examining the feasibility” of opening an investigation into migrant-related crimes in Libya should the Court’s jurisdictional requirements be met.

‘Horrendous Abuses’ at the Hands of Smugglers

Meanwhile, one person out of every 35 trying to cross the inland sea between northern Africa and Italy in 2017 has died out in the deep waters of the Mediterranean, the United Nations refugee agency on 8 May reported, calling for “credible alternatives to these dangerous crossings for people in need of international protection.”

“Saving lives must be the top priority for all and, in light of the recent increase in arrivals, I urge further efforts to rescue people along this dangerous route,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi.

The Central Mediterranean – with smugglers trafficking people from the shores of Libya to Italy – has proven to be particularly deadly. Out on the open sea, approximately 1,150 people have either disappeared or lost their lives in 2017.

In response to the recent stories reported to UNHCR’s teams by survivors, Grandi said that he is “profoundly shocked by the violence used by some smugglers.”

As the “Central Mediterranean route continues to be particularly dangerous this year, also for 2016 the UN recorded more deaths at sea than ever before.

The main causes of shipwrecks, according to UNHCR, are the increasing numbers of passengers on board vessels used by traffickers, the worsening quality of vessels and the increasing use of rubber boats instead of wooden ones.

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Equal Rights in Education: The Case of Bahrain, Colombia, Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/equal-rights-in-education-the-case-of-bahrain-colombia-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=equal-rights-in-education-the-case-of-bahrain-colombia-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/equal-rights-in-education-the-case-of-bahrain-colombia-sri-lanka/#comments Tue, 09 May 2017 08:40:47 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150349 The experts panel aims at broadening the discussion on human rights and global citizenship education to encompass the promotion of equal and inclusive citizenship rights through education within national societies. Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron/IPS

The experts panel aims at broadening the discussion on human rights and global citizenship education to encompass the promotion of equal and inclusive citizenship rights through education within national societies. Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron/IPS

By IPS World Desk
ROME/GENEVA, May 9 2017 (IPS)

The role of education in enhancing equality of citizenship rights and diversity within communities affected by inter-communal civil strife will be top on the agenda of a meeting in Geneva on May 12.

Experts with extensive knowledge in the field of education, particularly in post-conflict situations and reconciliation in community settings, will take part in this event, which will focus on three case studies – Bahrain, Colombia, and Sri Lanka –

"We need to further explore the transformative power of education in building societies based on the principles of peace, tolerance and social harmony." Idriss Jazairy, executive director of the Geneva Centre
The meeting is organised by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (GCHRAGD) –known as the Geneva Centre– in cooperation with the UNESCO Liaison Office in Geneva, the International Bureau of Education – UNESCO, and the Permanent Mission of Bahrain to the United Nations Office in Geneva.

The panel discussion, entitled “Human rights: Enhancing equal citizenship rights in education”, is aimed at reviewing the role of education in strengthening equality of citizenship rights and diversity within communities affected by inter-communal civil strife.

The purpose of the panel debate will be to analyse the impact of training to promote equal citizenship as part of human rights in school curricula and teaching methodologies with the broader aim of promoting a culture of peace and developing healthy, inclusive and fair societies.

The experts panel aims at broadening the discussion on human rights and global citizenship education to encompass the promotion of equal and inclusive citizenship rights through education within national societies.

According to the panel organisers, enhancing equal and inclusive citizenship rights fits against the backdrop of education on human rights and global citizenship, echoing at the domestic level the same ideals of a more tolerant, cohesive, and peace-driven world.

On this, the executive director of the Geneva Centre, Idriss Jazairy, said that the “panel debate is a timely opportunity to discuss the role of education in promoting and in enhancing at the domestic level equal and inclusive citizenship rights.

Education has the potential of playing an important role in strengthening inter-ethnic and inter-religious cooperation in societies permeated by conflict and violence, Jazairy added. “We need to further explore the transformative power of education in building societies based on the principles of peace, tolerance and social harmony.”

The Geneva Centre is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation dedicated to the advancement of human rights through consultation and training with youth, civil society and governments.

It acts as a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilisational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

The Centre conducts independent research and provides insights about human rights in the Arab region and to examining multiple viewpoints on human rights issues, with special focus on systematic rights weaknesses in the Middle East and North Africa region.

 

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Time to Find ‘Magic Formula’ to Stop Hatreds – Baku Forumhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/time-to-find-magic-formula-to-stop-hatreds-baku-forum/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-find-magic-formula-to-stop-hatreds-baku-forum http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/time-to-find-magic-formula-to-stop-hatreds-baku-forum/#comments Mon, 08 May 2017 05:59:21 +0000 Rahul Kumar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150334 Night-time view of Baku, Azerbaijan. Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Azerbaijan

Night-time view of Baku, Azerbaijan. Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Azerbaijan

By Rahul Kumar
BAKU, Azerbaijan, May 8 2017 (IPS)

It is time to find that “magic formula” that will encourage people to stop conflicts, the rise of violent extremism and hatreds, and live together in peace, urged a United Nations senior official at the end of a UN-backed conference on intercultural dialogue in Baku, Azerbaijan.

In her closing remarks at end of the 4th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue, the head of the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Irina Bokova expressed hope and optimism that the world is “on the right path” towards building “inclusive and resilient” societies. “Act now to stamp out extremism and build peace in the minds of men and women” – UNESCO chief

More than 500 delegates, experts, academics, business and civil society leaders from 120 countries took part in this year’s Forum, held in Baku (5-6 May) under the theme ‘Advancing Intercultural Dialogue – New avenues for human security, peace and sustainable development‘, which was co-organised along with UNESCO and the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), among others.

Bokova also called on participants to act now to stamp out extremism and “build peace in the minds of men and women,” echoing the UNESCO’s own timeless message about the need to make the most of the opportunities to bolster peaceful coexistence provided by our globalised world of increasing interconnections and diversity.

“I think we all feel a certain sense of urgency, that we have to act […] the world is very fragile, and peace is very fragile.”

Irina Bokova

Irina Bokova

Bokova praised president Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan for his “longstanding leadership in promoting intercultural dialogue” as well as the tireless engagement of the First Lady, Mehriban Aliyeva, as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Oral and Musical Traditions.

Azerbaijan has a long history on the ‘Silk Road’ ancient trade route, as a centre for exchange, scholarship and art. Baku’s Walled City is also inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Too Early to Cry Victory

A flurry of debates, panel discussions, exhibits and concerts held by renowned artists working to bring people of different walks of life closer together.

Preventing terrorism in cyberspace, educating girls to combat violent extremism, and changing people’s negative perception of migrants in cities were some of the topics broached at the Forum.

The agenda also included such topics as the role of faith, religions, human security, sport, education, art, sustainable development, preventing violent extremism, and business in building trust and cooperation among cultures and civilisations.

Reflecting on the outcome of the Baku Forum, Maher Nasser, Acting UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, said it is too early to “cry victory” or dismiss the event as a failure because that can only be determined by what will follow.

“The discussions that I have seen bring back the importance of dialogue and using culture as a way to connect and to connect societies – sometimes within the same country. How culture bring us together as humans. We may see things differently, but there are also, sometimes, things that can bring us together. Culture and art are important elements of that,” he explained.

Nasser also highlighted the important connection between tourism and culture. “Tourism today is one the top employers around the world… Tourism depends on stability. No one wants to go to a region in conflict, unless you are war reporter. So tourism has a vested interested in promoting peace.”

Diversity, Dialogue, Mutual Understanding

Hosted by Azerbaijan, the Baku Forum was organised also with the participation of the UN World Tourism Organization, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Council of Europe, the Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization and the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe.

For his part, Nassir Abdulaziz Al Nassir, UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), said that military actions and security measures cannot be the only response to the world’s challenges.

“The interconnected nature of today’s crises requires us to connect our own efforts for peace and security, sustainable development and human rights, not just in words, but in practice,” he said.

“The challenge now is to make corresponding changes to our culture, strategy, structures and operations. We must commit to achieve human security and sustainable development, in partnership with regional organizations, mobilizing the entire range of those with influence, from religious authorities to civil society and the business community, he added, adding that women and youth must also be brought to the table.

The Baku Process has become a successful platform to promote “peaceful and inclusive societies” around the world. Since its inception, Al-Nasser said, the Forum has encouraged and enabled people and communities worldwide to take concrete measures to support diversity, dialogue and mutual understanding amongst nations.

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In France, ‘Us and Them’ Amid Electionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/in-france-us-and-them-amid-elections/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-france-us-and-them-amid-elections http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/in-france-us-and-them-amid-elections/#comments Sat, 06 May 2017 10:55:07 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150325 A scene from the exhibition in Paris at the Musée de l’Homme: “How do we categorise others?” Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

A scene from the exhibition in Paris at the Musée de l’Homme: “How do we categorise others?” Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, May 6 2017 (IPS)

Launched in the run-up to the French presidential elections, a daring exhibition in Paris is sparking dialogue about the origins and nature of racism, both in Europe and elsewhere.

Titled “Nous et les Autres: Des Préjugés aux Racisme” (Us and Them: From Prejudice to Racism), the exhibition’s aim is clear: to have visitors emerge with a changed perspective — especially in a climate of divisive politics that have created tensions ahead of the second and final round of the presidential elections on Sunday, May 7."It makes no scientific sense to attribute a moral value to differences among people.” --Evelyne Heyer

“We hope that visitors will leave different from how they entered,” says Bruno David, president of France’s National Museum of Natural History and of its anthropology branch the Musée de l’Homme, which is hosting the exhibition.

“That’s the objective. What we’re doing is in the tradition of the museum, a humanist tradition, asking questions of society,” he adds.

Many residents of France are in fact wondering how the country reached its current stage, with an extreme-right candidate again making it to the second round of French presidential elections.

Marine Le Pen, the former leader of the National Front party (she has temporarily stepped down from leading the party during the elections), won 21.5 percent of the votes in the first round, placing after independent candidate Emmanuel Macron (24 percent), and beating the candidates of the formerly mainstream conservative and socialist parties, François Fillon and Benoît Hamon.

Polls predict that Le Pen will lose in the second round — like her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002 – and that Macron will be president. But she is still expected to garner around 40 percent of the vote, with her anti-immigration and anti-globalisation platform.

Xenophobia and using cultural differences to promote hatred and discrimination have especially caused concern among institutions with a commitment to human rights and equality, as the museum says it is.

“The first network of the Resistance [during World War II] was born here,” David said in an interview at the museum, which opened in 1937 and is located in the landmark buildings of the Trocadéro area, overlooking the Eiffel Tower. (An infamous visitor to the site was Adolf Hitler in 1940.)

“The exhibition is in line with our principles. It is not militant, because we’re a museum and our approach is scientific, but it is fairly courageous, especially during this time,” David told IPS.

Using photos, film, sculptures and installations in an interactive manner, the exhibition highlights how “differences” have been used throughout history to “imprison individuals in readymade representations and to divide them into categories”.

It stresses that “as soon as these ‘differences’ are organized into a hierarchy and essentialized, racism is alive and thrives.”

The curators have organized the display into three parts, focusing on the processes of categorization, on the historical development of institutional racism and on the current political and intellectual environment.

“It is natural to categorize,” says Evelyne Heyer, co-curator of the exhibition and a professor of genetic anthropology. “But it’s the moral value that we give to differences that determine if we’re racist or not. It makes no scientific sense to attribute a moral value to differences among people.”

Heyer says that based on genetic study, humans have fewer differences among them than breeds of dogs, for example, and that the “categorisation of race is inappropriate to describe diversity”.

The exhibition attempts to give scientific answers to questions such as “if there are no races, why does human skin colour vary,” and it presents information tracing the origins of mankind to the African continent.

Apart from the scientific aspect, the curators have put much emphasis on the historical and international facets of “racialization”, focusing for instance on Nazi Germany and the “exaltation of racial purity”; the treatment of the indigenous Ainu people in Japan; the divisions between Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda; and segregation in South Africa and the United States.

During the opening night, as people crowded in front of a screen showing footage of civil rights struggles in the United States, a Paris-based African American artist commented, “I remember that so well.”

When a French spectator responded, “But you don’t look that old”, the artist stated firmly: “I am. I was there,” and so a conversation began.

The curators are hoping that the exhibition will engender long-term dialogue across political divides, but in the end the conversation might only continue among the already converted, say some skeptics, who also wonder about the display’s target audience: who exactly is “us” or “them”?

Still, for anyone wanting to learn more about the consequences of racism and discrimination, the exhibition presents a range of statistics.

It provides information, for instance, about the lack of access to employment for certain “groups” in France (job applicants with North African-sounding names often don’t receive responses to letters), as well as figures showing that the population most subjected to racism in the country are the Roma.

“Racism is difficult to measure, but many studies have been done on access to employment and on people’s views of those they consider different,” says historian and co-curator Carole Reynard-Paligot. “We want people to see these statistics and to ask questions.”

She said that she and her colleagues also wished to show the move from individuals’ racism to state racism, to examine how this developed and the part that colonization and slavery have played.

Throughout the exhibition, which runs until Jan. 8, 2018, the museum is organizing lectures, film screenings and other events. From May 10 to July 10, it is presenting works by photographers from French territories, Brazil, Africa and the United States in a show titled “Impressions Mémorielles”. This is to commemorate the French national day (May 10) of remembrance of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.

Meanwhile, other museums are also taking steps to counter the anti-immigration mindset. The Paris-based Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration (National Museum of the History of Immigration) has invited the population to visit its “Ciao Italia!” exhibition, either “before or after” they vote on Sunday.

This museum, which like the Musée de l’Homme has been controversial in the past because of its “colonialist” displays, says the Sunday free access will be an opportunity to learn about the story of Italian immigration to France from 1860 to 1960.

It will also be a chance to “discover … the numerous contributions of immigrants to French society”, the museum adds.

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Mega-Projects Have Magnified Corruption in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/mega-projects-have-magnified-corruption-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mega-projects-have-magnified-corruption-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/mega-projects-have-magnified-corruption-in-brazil/#comments Sat, 06 May 2017 02:44:24 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150322 Former Brazilian presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff take part in an Apr. 29 demonstration in defence of the shipbuilding industrial hub in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, one of the oil projects in Brazil on the verge of bankruptcy, due to the crisis plaguing the state-run oil company Petrobras due to the corruption scandal and the drop in oil prices. Credit: Stuckert/Lula Institute

Former Brazilian presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff take part in an Apr. 29 demonstration in defence of the shipbuilding industrial hub in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, one of the oil projects in Brazil on the verge of bankruptcy, due to the crisis plaguing the state-run oil company Petrobras due to the corruption scandal and the drop in oil prices. Credit: Stuckert/Lula Institute

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 6 2017 (IPS)

It cannot be categorically stated that corruption has increased in the country in recent years, because there is no objective information from earlier periods to compare with, according to Manoel Galdino, executive director of Transparency Brazil.

But recent revelations give the impression of a drastic increase in corruption, involving unprecedented amounts of money, nearly the entire political leadership of the country, and numerous state-run and private companies.

The Odebrecht conglomerate, led by Brazil’s biggest construction company, admitted to having paid 3.39 billion dollars in bribes to politicians between 2006 and 2014.

And that is only part of the scandal. More than 30 companies, including other large construction firms, are allegedly involved in the embezzlement of funds from the state oil company Petrobras, the initial focus of the “Lava Jato” (Carwash) investigation launched by the Public Prosecutor’s office, which has been exposing Brazil’s systemic corruption over the last three years.

The proliferation of mega-projects in the energy and transport sectors since 2005 coincides with the apparent rise in illegal dealings, with the collusion of politicians and business executives to maintain shared monopolies of power and excessive profits.

The 2006 discovery of huge oil deposits under a thick layer of salt in the Atlantic Ocean, known as the “pre-salt” reserves, sparked a surge of mega-projects, such as two big refineries and dozens of shipyards to produce drillships, oil platforms and other oil industry equipment.

Those projects came on top of petrochemical complexes that had already been projected.

In the following years, two big hydropower plants began being built on the Madeira River, and in 2011 the construction of another huge plant, Belo Monte, got underway on the Xingu River. This turned the Amazon region into a major supplier of energy for the rest of the country.

Three railroads, over 1,500-km-long each, ports all along the coast and others on the riverbanks were added to highways in the process of being paved or expanded to reduce the country’s deficit of transport infrastructure.

“Mega-projects always have a big potential for corruption. In Brazil we have always had a lot of corruption, which has now become more visible, thanks to the activity of oversight bodies and the media,” Roberto Livanu, president of the independent I Do Not Accept Corruption Institute, told IPS.

“But we cannot say that there is more corruption now than before, there is no way of measuring the magnitude, amounts and people involved,” said Livanu, who also works with the prosecution in the judicial proceedings.

Because of the very nature of the crime, “we only have subjective perceptions created by the visibility of the cases, which is now increased by the involvement of people in power, attracting much more interest from the press,” he said.

Besides, due to their complexity, mega-projects tend to fail – 65 per cent of them fail in at least one of four main aspects: cost, deadlines, objective and quality – says Edward Merrow, head of the U.S. consultancy Independent Project Analysis (IPA), in his book “Industrial MegaProjects”.

This complexity, he says, also contributes to corruption, at least in countries such as Brazil, with multiple opportunities for fraud presented by the thousands of contracts signed with suppliers of goods, services and financing, and regulatory and tax authorities.

On Apr. 24 the Senate passed a law penalising abuse of authority, with the aim of avoiding the need for further probes like “Lava Jato”, which is investigating one-third of the members of the Senate on corruption charges. Credit: Lula Marques/AGPT

On Apr. 24 the Senate passed a law penalising abuse of authority, with the aim of avoiding the need for further probes like “Lava Jato”, which is investigating one-third of the members of the Senate on corruption charges. Credit: Lula Marques/AGPT

“It is likely that with the greater circulation of money, in a growing economy, with major investments, corruption may have increased in Brazil, but it is not possible to confirm it,” said Galdino, from Transparency Brazil.

This is because we don’t know the proportion that corruption represented in the past with respect to GDP, because there was no research that made it possible to obtain the results available today, he explained.

“Supervisory bodies have made a lot of progress in the past 15 to 20 years and this is what led to the Lava Jato operation,” also underpinned by a mobilised civil society, Galdino said.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office was strengthened and its investigations began to be carried out together with specialised judicial bodies, the Federal Police, tax authorities and financial oversight bodies, since corruption flourishes along with money laundering, he said.

The plea bargains that encourage cooperation with the justice system in exchange for reduced sentences were a key instrument for the success of Lava Jato, with 155 such agreements reached with people under investigation.

The law allowing for plea bargains was passed in 2013, in response to popular protests that shook cities across Brazil in June that year, said Galdino, the head of Transparency Brazil, a non-governmental organisation whose aim is to improve institutions through monitoring and public debate.

“Until the 1990s the focus was on combatting administrative irregularities, but this approach did not lead to jail sentences for anyone,” he compared, citing as an example the case of lawmaker Paulo Maluf, a symbol of corruption ever since he was elected governor of the southern state of São Paulo (1979-1982), but who was convicted abroad, not in Brazil.

However, there are studies that show an increase in corruption when there is an abundance of public resources, as well as greater tolerance of those engaging in corruption during times of prosperity.

A ten per cent rise in transfers of resources from the central government to small municipalities increased by 16 per cent the serious cases of corruption in the city governments in questions, according to a study by Brazilian economist Fernanda Brollo, a professor at the British University of Warwick, together with four Italian colleagues.

The study was based on figures from 1,202 municipalities with a population of less than 5,940, during two periods of government between 2001 and 2008. The mayors who benefitted from the increased funds were re-elected in a greater proportion than the rest, despite the corruption.

“He steals but he gets things done” was the informal slogan of a former São Paulo politician, Adhemar de Barros, who governed that state during several periods between 1938 and 1966. In 1950 he was so popular that he was seen as a strong candidate to the presidency of Brazil, but he did not run.

Building large works, such as highways, hospitals and power plants has always been a source of popularity, as well as, according to popular suspicion, illicit wealth.

The proliferation of mega-projects during the governments of leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), with dozens of works involving investments of over one billion dollars, in some cases over 10 billion dollars, with huge cost overruns, appears to confirm their direct relation with an increase in diverted resources.

Lava Jato initially investigated the oil business. But the corruption affected other projects in varied sectors, such as hydroelectric plants, the Angra-3 nuclear plant (under construction), railways and stadiums built or upgraded for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, according to that and other investigations carried out by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

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How to Counter Violent Extremism, Youth Radicalisation – Baku Forumhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/how-to-counter-violent-extremism-youth-radicalisation-baku-forum/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-to-counter-violent-extremism-youth-radicalisation-baku-forum http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/how-to-counter-violent-extremism-youth-radicalisation-baku-forum/#comments Fri, 05 May 2017 14:54:35 +0000 Rahul Kumar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150319 Baku Forum to promote sustainable development and human security through dialogue. Credit: UNESCO

Baku Forum to promote sustainable development and human security through dialogue. Credit: UNESCO

By Rahul Kumar
BAKU, Azerbaijan, May 5 2017 (IPS)

The integration of migrants in cities, countering the rise of violent extremism, as well as youth radicalisation on the Internet have been some of the key issues discussed at a United Nations forum in Baku, Azerbaijan.

The Fourth World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue (May 5 – 6) hosted by Azerbaijan under the theme ‘Advancing Intercultural Dialogue – New avenues for human security,peace and sustainable development’ examined effective responses to challenges facing human security, including massive migration, violent extremism and conflicts.“Inclusive societies cannot exist without the full participation of youth” -- Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser (UNAOC)

The focus has primarily been put on the role of faith, religions, migration, human security, sport, education, art, sustainable development, violent extremism, business in building trust and cooperation among cultures and civilizations.

According to the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), the Forum provides a platform to discuss the way forward to build societies based on genuine respect for everyone’s rights including freedom of belief, equal opportunities, and good governance as well as an inclusive framework of tolerance and respect for diversity.

Organised in partnership with UNAOC, the Council of Europe, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the North-South Center of the Council of Europe, and UNESCO, the Forum brought together heads of government and ministers, representatives of inter-governmental organisations, the private sector, policy-makers, cultural professionals, journalists and civil society activists.

‘The World Has Become a Very Complicated Place’

Nadia Al-Nashif, UNESCO Assistant Director General for Social and Human Sciences, said the Baku Forum has a “very strong vision and resonates deeply with UNESCO’s mandate to build peace in the minds of men and women.”

Night time view of Baku, Azerbaijan. Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Azerbaijan

Night time view of Baku, Azerbaijan. Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Azerbaijan


“The world has become a very complicated place,” she noted. “We are looking at huge innovations in technology but at the same time, we are facing increased tensions, a result of the lack of general trust that stems from how much insecurity there is in the world.”

Al-Nashif said the UN intercultural dialogue is a platform for people to debate the notion of coexistence and what that means in regards to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that seeks to “promote norms for social justice, advocate for social inclusion, integration, acceptance, and not just tolerance but empathy.”

Ahead of the Forum, the network of the UNESCO Silk Road Online Platform met at the Baku Congress Centre to examine progress made in its 2016-2018 Action Plan.

The Youth Vision

As part of the preparations for the Baku Forum, about 150 youth representatives from around the world gathered at the UN Alliance of Civilizations’ 7th Global Forum (See: BAKU: youth chart vision of inclusive society at UN forum) in Baku, Azerbaijan, 25-27 April 2016.

Young people of all walks of life, from an Internet technology intern to a dentist, have been working to define future narratives to counter potentially compelling discourse of those who seek to divide society.

“People are disconnected because they don’t know each other’s experiences,” Rashida M. Namulondo, a storyteller and actress from Uganda, told communities, and platforms of action, told the UN News Centre during the pre-opening event of the UNAOC’s Global Forum, Baku April 2016.

Namulondo operates an online platform through which people can share each other’s experiences. “It is important that we tell our stories and listen to other people’s stories,” she said, emphasizing the power of storytelling to heal people’s hearts.

Lou Louis Koboji Loboka, a medical lab scientist in South Sudan, was also among the 150 participants at the youth event, titled ‘Living Together in Inclusive Societies: Narratives of Tomorrow.’

Having been displaced to a neighbouring country, he returned home to start a health-training venture. “A lot of youths are not educated, and therefore are messing up the country as I speak,” he said.

Ranim Asfahani, of Syria, said she chose to join the thematic group on youth and children because her organization engages with youth and children. Her one-word message is “peace.”

Shuhei Sakoguchi, a student at Soka University in Japan and a Buddhist, said he joined the thematic group on interfaith because every religion has good principles.

For Minh Anh Thu, of Viet Nam, said she was inspired by many peers who engage in innovative intercultural projects, and this youth event was an opportunity to think about community development and investment in youth in her country.

Inclusive Societies

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser

Addressing the youth to the Global Forum, UNAOC High Representative Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser highlighted their ability to transform the world for the better.

“For the Alliance, inclusive societies cannot exist without the full participation of youth,” he said, stressing that UNAOC’s youth-focused activities and programming are built on the principle that young people are the primary agents of change – not just in the future – but in the present as well.

Al-Nasser, of Qatar, who held the presidency of the UN General Assembly for its 2011/2012 session and now heads up the UNAOC as the Secretary-General’s High Representative, said that the recent rise of violent extremism and terrorism worldwide only strengthened his work and mandate.

Growing Migratory Flows Threatening Peace, Security

Given this situation, UNAOC’s work must be more visible than ever, he stressed, noting that his priorities also include addressing issues related to the growing migratory flows that are threatening international peace and security, and the spread of negative narratives, such as hate speech on social media.

According to UNESCO, a boom in the world’s population (more than 7 billion in 2017), the power of technology, more salient human mobility, and the increased flow of goods and ideas across borders have brought cultures much closer together in the 21st century in ways unimaginable only a few decades ago.

“But as some doors have opened, others have closed in particular in the minds of women, men and children living with increased and more complex manifestations of diversity. This has strengthened prejudice, intolerance, racism, xenophobia, discrimination, radicalization and violent extremism.”

The Forum gives added impetus to the UN International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022), for which UNESCO is the lead agency within the UN.

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Reflections on World Press Freedom Dayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/2017-world-press-freedom-day-message-by-dr-hanif-hassan-ali-al-qassim-chairman-of-the-geneva-centre-for-human-rights-advancement-and-global-dialogue/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=2017-world-press-freedom-day-message-by-dr-hanif-hassan-ali-al-qassim-chairman-of-the-geneva-centre-for-human-rights-advancement-and-global-dialogue http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/2017-world-press-freedom-day-message-by-dr-hanif-hassan-ali-al-qassim-chairman-of-the-geneva-centre-for-human-rights-advancement-and-global-dialogue/#comments Wed, 03 May 2017 06:54:15 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150261 The author is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue]]>

The author is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, May 3 2017 (IPS)

This year’s theme for the 2017 World Press Freedom DayCritical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies” is one of the most important days honouring press freedom.

Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

Inevitably, the impact of media has the power to transform societies through enlightenment and active citizenry.

Observers occasionally refer to the media as the fourth estate owing to its influential role to further enhancing the plurality of opinions and ideas.

A free press is indispensable for facilitating good governance and transparency. It strengthens the accountability of governments as citizens can critically assess the activities of incumbents through information provided by the media.

Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights defends freedom of expression and the right to information. It enables press freedom to become a reality:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Some cite as a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad that “the ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr.”

However, significant challenges lay ahead limiting the freedom of the press.

Firstly, journalists have had at times to pay a high toll for the expression of truth as they see it.

Thus according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 1,200 journalists have been killed since 1992.

Among these victims, 65% were murdered, 22% perished owing to crossfire and combat, whereas 12% lost their lives owing to dangerous assignments.

Many of those murders remain unresolved and the perpetrators are rarely brought to justice as “complete impunity” prevails in 86% of the cases.

The 2016 World Press Freedom report issued by Reporters Without Borders suggests that violent extremism has put significant constraints on the ability of the press to operate freely and carry out their duties.

The conflicts in Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Syria, the report underlines, have enabled insurgents to “create black holes for reporting.”

Journalists have the right to work free from the threat of violence and of fear in their capacity as transmitters of information to the public.

Their lives should not be put at stake for merely putting Article 19 of the 1948 Universal Declaration into practice.

Secondly, the accountability of media needs to be strengthened so that it represents the public’s interests.

After the so-called “War on Terror”, hate speech and online bigotry have rapidly been on the rise targeting specifically religious minorities.

This has been followed by a misconceived conflation between terrorism, Islam and the Arab identity, which has given rise to marginalization, bigotry and discrimination.

At the same time losses of lives as a result of violence or military action may be reported selectively thus implying unacceptable differences in the value of human lives according to where the losses occur.

During the Geneva Centre’s panel debate on 15 March on the theme of “Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working Jointly Towards Equal Citizenship Rights” that was held at the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG), it was suggested by the panellists to better harness the power of media by promoting positive stories about religion and culture.

It was also proposed that we, as global citizens, should never fear the stranger as differences enrichen our societies.

I believe that media can play a more influential role in addressing prevailing misconceptions and misunderstandings that exist between people.

Journalists need to refrain from the use of contemporary phobic language triggering social exclusion and religious intolerance.

Incitements to hatred, violence and bigotry should be condemned as it exacerbates religious divisions within communities.

The spread of fake news and fabricated stories in social media contradict the goals of freedom of opinion or of expression.

A return to the founding principles of press freedom and journalism – accountability, transparency and independence of news media – is the first step to stop the flow of misinformation that is on the rise.

When the Emir Abd el Qader el Jazairy – the founder of contemporary Algeria – visited a printing press in Paris in 1852, he made the following observation on the power of the press:

What comes out of it resembles a drop of water coming from the sky: if it falls into the half-opened shell, it produces the pearl; if it falls into the mouth of the viper, it produces venom.”

Media has a “moral and social responsibility” in “combating discrimination and in promoting intercultural understanding (…)” as stipulated in Principle 9 of the Camden Principles on Freedom of Expression and Equality.

By reversing the trend of offering simplistic and misconceived generalizations not grounded in reality, media could become a catalyst for social inclusion by implanting a culture of peace, harmony and tolerance.

This would be in line with the objectives laid out in the 2002 “Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” and in UN HRC Resolution 16/18 entitled “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief.”

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Journalist Killings in Sri Lanka Predicated on a Deadly Ironyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/journalist-killings-in-sri-lanka-predicated-on-a-deadly-irony/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalist-killings-in-sri-lanka-predicated-on-a-deadly-irony http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/journalist-killings-in-sri-lanka-predicated-on-a-deadly-irony/#comments Tue, 02 May 2017 15:02:27 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150251

This article is part of special IPS coverage of World Press Freedom Day.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 2 2017 (IPS)

The widespread belief in the politically-motivated killings of journalists in Sri Lanka is predicated on a deadly irony: the hidden hand has always been visible, but the fingerprints have gone missing.

Lasantha Wickrematunge, the Sri Lankan journalist killed in 2009.

Lasantha Wickrematunge, the Sri Lankan journalist killed in 2009.

The two most widely publicized killings relate to IPS UN Bureau Chief in Colombo, Richard de Zoysa, 30, in February 1990, and the Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge, 51, in January 2009.

But both murders remain unsolved—due primarily to political coverups — despite several leads pointing to the killers.

As fate would have it, the politician who apparently ordered the killing of de Zoysa, and the police officer who executed that order both died in a suicide bomb blast in 1993, three years after de Zoysa’s murder.

But the rest of the conspirators are still on the loose and fugitives from justice.

And as the United Nations commemorated World Press Freedom Day, there were reports last week that one of the suspects in the Wickrematunge killing– far from being investigated or prosecuted — had been elevated to the rank of a diplomat and posted to a Sri Lanka embassy in an Asian capital years ago.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), which has an arresting headline on its website titled “Sri Lanka: Where Journalists are Killed with Impunity,” lists the killings of 25 Sri Lankan journalists since 1992, with 19 where “motives were confirmed” and six with “motives unconfirmed.”

David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on ‘the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression’, called on governments “to investigate and hold accountable all those responsible for attacks on journalists.”

In a statement released May 2, he said: “This past year has seen repeated attacks on journalists, leaving many dead or injured. Often terrorist groups carry out such attacks to silence opposition, secularists or atheists.”

Too often, he pointed out, threats are not met with effective protection by law enforcement or, in their aftermath, genuine investigation and prosecution.

“States need to make accountability a priority,” he declared.

In an interview with IPS, Sonali Samarasinghe, Minister Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations, confirmed that both high profile killings in Sri Lanka were meant to silence press criticism of political higher-ups.

Speaking strictly as a former journalist and widow of Lasantha Wickrematunge, she said “the authorities at the time wanted to silence Lasantha and cripple two newspapers — The Sunday Leader of which he was Editor-in-Chief and I was Consultant Editor– and The Morning Leader of which I was Editor in Chief.”

In Richard de Zoysa’s case, Samarasinghe said, he was the first Sri Lankan journalist to pay the ultimate price for his journalism.

Like Lasantha, Richard was beloved during his life, and like Lasantha, he has, since his death, become an icon in the media industry in Sri Lanka. Richard was a man of extraordinary talent and range who wrote haunting poetry and powerful plays, she noted.

There is no doubt in my mind that his killing was politically motivated as well, said Samarasinghe, a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, an Edward R. Murrow Fellow in Washington DC, and an International Journalist-in-Residence at the Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York.

Excerpts from the interview:

IPS: Since Lasantha’s killing, has there been any credible investigation to track down his killer or killers? Why has there been no trial or conviction for 8 long years?

SAMARASINGHE: Before January 2015, there had been virtually no serious investigation into this crime. There seems to have been a deliberate cover-up and stonewalling of the case. Such emblematic cases are not properly investigated for several reasons; among them, to hide the truth, to perpetuate a fear psychosis in the people and to create chaos. These assassinations affect not only the families of the victims but society as a whole. A break down in the rule of law and a lack of freedom of information leads to social divisiveness and generates mistrust between groups and in the institutions of the State. They send messages of fear, despondency and submission – and slavish/divisive societies are easier to manipulate.

However, since the change in administration in 2015, a special Criminal Investigations Team was established and there have been concrete steps taken not only in Lasantha’s case but in the cases of other journalists who were beaten, threatened or who disappeared during the previous administration. Lasantha’s body was exhumed late last year as part of this new investigation. These are extremely gut-wrenching circumstances and for me very difficult to endure as his wife. However, for the sake of the greater good and for the purposes of a thorough independent investigation, we have to go through this.

The proper conclusion of these investigations are important in order to re-establish Good Governance and the Rule of Law in our country, and halt the cyclical recurrence of violence in various forms. This is why the present administration has said it is deeply committed to these democratic principles.

IPS: How safe is the political environment for journalists now — as compared with 1990 or 2009?

SAMARASINGHE: As a nation that had suffered a dark period under the yoke of terrorism and an accompanying culture of impunity, this administration has demonstrated in several concrete ways that it is actively conscious of the value of a nation built on the principles of democracy and the Rule of Law. The cornerstone of any democracy is freedom of information. Without this there can be no meaningful advancement of peace, development or human rights. Among others, the proper handling of Lasantha’s case will become the symbol of a restored and renewed democracy where once again, the people of our country will have faith in our judiciary, and in our system of Justice. This is a slow and steady process.

Clearly the current administration has taken several steps in the right direction. For instance after years of civil society activism the Right to Information Act was signed into law in August 2016 and came into force on February 4, 2017. The government unanimously enacted the Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crimes and Witnesses Act. A Permanent Office for Missing Persons (OMP) has been established. These are all structures and mechanisms that serve to rebuild trust in the state. I would say that today we have an administration that understands the value of an independent fourth estate and the serious perils of lapdog journalism.

QUESTION: With the increasing attacks on journalists worldwide, is there a role for the UN to stem this onslaught?

SAMARASINGHE: There is definitely a leadership role for the United Nations. From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Article 19 which states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” to the unanimously adopted Sustainable Development Goals – particularly Goal 16, to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels” we see that member states fully realize the UN’s critical role in this regard.

Target 10 of Goal 16 recognizes that public access to information and fundamental freedoms are indispensable conditions to sustainable development. It reads, “Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.”

IPS: Are most UN member states paying only lip service to the cause of press freedom?

SAMARASINGHE
: In the final analysis, it is the responsibility of individual member states to implement nationally the international agreements and UN resolutions in accordance with their own domestic laws and cultures and to establish Rule of Law and end impunity. The two indicators set by the United Nations Statistical Commission for tracking progress in the achievement of target 10 are pertinent as they relate (a) to the number of verified cases of killing, kidnapping, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention and torture of journalists, associated media personnel, trade unionists and human rights advocates, and (b) to the number of countries that adopt and implement constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information. Therefore SDG 16 is significant in mainstreaming safety of journalists in the international development agenda and for tracking progress in individual countries.

IPS: Do you think the UN should at least name and shame these countries where journalists are constantly in danger of losing their lives in the line of duty?

SAMARASINGHE: There is in fact a UN plan of action for the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity, with UNESCO taking the lead in developing and implementing the plan. This plan includes a number of actions including standard-setting, policy-making, monitoring, reporting, building capacity and awareness-raising.

And yet, according to the UN itself every five days a journalist is killed in pursuit of a story. So yes, clearly the international community must be more proactive in addressing this issue. The numbers from civil society are staggering as well, with the Committee to Protect Journalists reporting that some 370 journalists were murdered between 2004 and 2013 in direct retaliation for their work, with 48 journalists killed in 2016 and 8 already killed in 2017.

However there are several soft approaches that the UN already explores, and awareness-raising through commemorative events or International Days (including World Press Freedom Day) is one. These soft approaches, if constant, can be very effective in shining a light on national situations, transporting incidents to the international stage and affording activists and family members an international platform to make their case.

IPS: Is there any role for journalists themselves to take up the fight at home or, more importantly, internationally?

One way to do this is to highlight or give prominence to the journalists who have been victimized in their own countries. For example, as an exiled journalist at the time, I was invited to speak at international events organized by UN agencies. During this period, I was also given the opportunity to speak at various other international venues, including on Capitol Hill, at the National Press Club, Universities and was also invited to serve as key note speaker at special events, including to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr Day. This kind of exposure helps keep the issues alive on the international stage.

Furthermore, UNESCO has the annual UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize awarded on 3 May that honors a person, organization or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of press freedom. Lasantha was awarded this prize in 2009. He became only the second journalist to be honoured posthumously since this prize was created, and a testimony to the risk many journalists run in the pursuit of their calling. Again, this award, and the buzz it created, became a megaphone opportunity to highlight not only Lasantha’s case, but also the plight of all journalists persecuted everywhere for their work.

And in 2009 Mr Ban Ki Moon the then UN Secretary General highlighted Lasantha’s assassination during his remarks on Press Freedom Day. The world’s top diplomat giving prominence to Lasantha’s case was an important step in the right direction. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SNVeGGe0TU. Other UN agencies and diplomats expressed concern as well quite publicly, and these statements sent a message that the international community was watching. But yes, given the horrific numbers, it is important that the international community remains ever vigilant.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Repression 2.0: An Updated Global Censorshiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/repression-2-0-an-updated-global-censorship/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=repression-2-0-an-updated-global-censorship http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/repression-2-0-an-updated-global-censorship/#comments Tue, 02 May 2017 04:46:59 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150232 In Minnesota, supporters gather at a rally for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in November 2016. Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

In Minnesota, supporters gather at a rally for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in November 2016. Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 2 2017 (IPS)

Censorship tactics have become more complex, posing new challenges for journalists and non-journalists alike, a new report finds.

In its annual “Attacks on the Press” report, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has documented a range of censorship cases from around the world and revealed a new world of media repression.

“[Censorship] is definitely becoming more sophisticated and complex and is occurring at a variety of levels,” CPJ’s Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch told IPS.

CPJ’s Executive Director described these new strategies as “repression 2.0” in the report, stating; “Repression 2.0 is an update on the worst old-style tactics, from state censorship to the imprisonment of critics, with new information technologies including smartphones and social media producing a softening around the edges.”

At the end of 2016, there were almost 260 journalists in jail, the most CPJ has ever documented.

Turkey is the world’s leading jailer of journalists with over 145 imprisoned journalists, more than China, Egypt, and Iran combined.

The country’s media crackdown deepened following the July 15, 2016 coup attempt and the subsequent imposition of a state of emergency which the Turkish government allegedly used to shut down over 50 newspapers, 30 TV channels, and three news agencies.

The government also reportedly used anti-terror laws to imprison journalists, including the chief editor of Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet Can Dündar who was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of disclosing state secrets, espionage, and aiding a terrorist group. Most recently, life sentences are being sought for 30 people with ties to Zaman newspaper, which is associated with Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen whom the government accuses of organising the coup attempt. The newspaper has since been under government control.

In Kenya, authorities are increasingly using a new mechanism to control the media: money.

“As revenues drain away from traditional media due to the inroads of digital technologies, the use of financial-induced self-censorship, or ‘fiscing’, can also ensure that journalists are more ‘reasonable’ in their reporting,” said journalist Alan Rusbridger in the report.

“Murder is messy. Money is tidy,” he continues.

However, the control of information is not unique to developing countries, said Rasch.

In the U.S., President Donald Trump has raised anti-media hostility to levels “previously unseen on a national scale,” said journalist Alan Huffman in the report.

President Trump has consistently described some media organizations as “fake news,” most recently reiterating the claim that media fabricate stories during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). “They have no sources, they just make them up when there are none,” he told attendees.

Trump’s rhetoric often emboldened his supporters who would boo journalists. Huffman described one case in the report where a Trump supporter wore a T-shirt that suggested the use of lynching, stating: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED.”

The president has also restricted and even denied access for reporters perceived as unfriendly, including those from Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post, and the Washington Post, and has threatened to change libel laws to make it easier to sue journalists and news agencies.

In one chapter, Christian Amanpour noted the similarities in such “poisonous” trends in the U.S. and around the world.

“The same dynamic has infected powerful segments of the American media, as it has in Egypt, Turkey, and Russia, where journalists have been pushed into political partisan corners, delegitimized, and accused of being enemies of the state. Journalism itself has become weaponized. We cannot allow that to happen,” she stated.

In Ecuador, the government has allegedly used social media as a way to suppress journalists.

After tweeting that Ecuador’s former Vice-President Lenin Moreno had not paid income taxes, journalist Bernardo Abad’s twitter account had been blocked for violating its terms of service. By the end of the week, nine accounts had been temporarily suspended after also tweeting about Moreno’s taxes.

Radsch told IPS that with the internet and social media, there are now “more outlets for repression and threats.”

China has taken this to the next level, making plans to link journalists’ online posts to their finances.

Under the country’s proposed social credit plan, journalists who write or speak critically of the government could face personal financial consequences including decreased credit score or a denied loan. Such censorship goes beyond the business as usual tactics of shutting down reporters’ social media accounts to affecting journalists’ daily activities.

Rasch highlighted the need to advocate for an open internet and the rights of journalists.

“[We must] remember the importance of the press that continues to help us make sense of all the information that we are bombarded with all the time,” she told IPS.

She also recommended journalists adopt secure communication practices in order to maintain their privacy and their sources’ privacy.

Most importantly, journalists must stand strong and commit to fact-based reporting.

“This is the best and most important way to fight back against the new censorship,” said Simon.

“Journalists cannot allow themselves to feel demoralized. They need to pursue their calling and to seek the truth with integrity, honestly believe that the setbacks, while real, are temporary,” he concluded.

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Protection of Journalists Fails in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/protection-of-journalists-fails-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protection-of-journalists-fails-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/protection-of-journalists-fails-in-latin-america/#comments Sat, 29 Apr 2017 23:26:45 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150224 Mexican photographer Rubén Espinosa places a plaque in honour of Regina Martínez, on Apr. 28, 2015, in the central square of Xalapa, the capital of the southern state of Veracruz, to commemorate the third anniversary of the journalist’s murder. On July 2015, Espinosa was also killed. Credit: Roger López/IPS

Mexican photographer Rubén Espinosa places a plaque in honour of Regina Martínez, on Apr. 28, 2015, in the central square of Xalapa, the capital of the southern state of Veracruz, to commemorate the third anniversary of the journalist’s murder. On July 2015, Espinosa was also killed. Credit: Roger López/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Apr 29 2017 (IPS)

Mexican journalist Cecilio Pineda Brito covered drug trafficking issues in a region of the southern state of Guerrero where criminal groups are extremely powerful.

In September 2015 he survived an attempt on his life, and because he was deemed at “very high risk” he became a beneficiary of the federal mechanism for protection for human right defenders and journalists created in December 2012.

The protection measures he was assigned consisted basically of police patrols. They offered him a place in a shelter in Mexico City, but he refused.

In October 2016, the protection measures were cancelled; five months later, Pineda Brito became the first journalist murdered in 2017 in the most dangerous country for reporters in Latin America.“In addition to Mexico, Honduras, Brazil and Colombia, the situation in Paraguay and Venezuela, in particular, reflects the deterioration of freedom of expression in the region.” -- Ricardo González

Pineda Brito’s Mar. 2 murder was followed by six weeks of terror in which three more journalists were killed and two others survived after being shot, in different parts of this country of 127 million people.

The highest-profile murder was that of Miroslava Breach, on Mar. 26, a veteran journalist who covered political news for the La Jornada newspaper in the northern state of Chihuahua along the U.S. border.

But Pineda Brito’s killing reflected the inefficacy of institutional mechanisms for protecting journalists in the region.

“Last year it became clear that the state’s protection model exported from Colombia to Mexico and recently to Honduras had failed,” said Ricardo González, Security and Protection Officer of the London-based international organisation Article 19, which defends freedom of expression.

“The cases of journalists murdered in Mexico, who were under the protection of different state mechanisms, as well as the Freedom of the Press Foundation’s refusal to take part in the assessment of cases under the Colombian mechanism are things that should be of concern,” he told IPS.

For González, the lack of a functioning justice system and redress makes the model “ineffective, apart from financially unsustainable.”

The numbers in Mexico prove him right: according to Article 19’s latest report, of the 427 assaults on the media and journalists registered in 2016, 99.7 per cent went unpunished.

Meanwhile, the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression has only managed to secure a conviction in three cases.

Most of the attacks were against journalists who work for small media outlets outside the country’s capital, and at least half of them were committed by state agents.

The federal protection mechanism currently protects 509 people – 244 journalists and 265 human right defenders).

But even though the dangers are growing rather than decreasing, the government and the legislature cancelled the funds available for protection, and since January the mechanism has been operating with the remnants of a trust fund whose 9.5 million dollars in reserves will run out in September.

According to Article 19, violence against the press is still one of the main challenges faced in Latin America, and something to be reflected on when World Press Freedom Day is celebrated on May 3.

“In addition to Mexico, Honduras, Brazil and Colombia, the situation in Paraguay and Venezuela, in particular, reflects the deterioration of freedom of expression in the region,” said González.

Map of the World Press Freedom Index, released Apr. 26 by Reporters Without Borders, where Cuba (173rd of 180 countries) and Mexico (147th) are the worst positioned in Latin America, while Uruguay (25th) and Chile (33rd) top the regional ranking.  Credit: RWB

Map of the World Press Freedom Index, released Apr. 26 by Reporters Without Borders, where Cuba (173rd of 180 countries) and Mexico (147th) are the worst positioned in Latin America, while Uruguay (25th) and Chile (33rd) top the regional ranking. Credit: RWB

In the same vein, the 2017 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday Apr. 26 warns about the political and economic instability seen in several countries of Latin America, where journalists who investigate questions that affect the interests of political leaders or organised crime are attacked, persecuted and murdered.

“RWB regrets the pernicious and continuous deterioration of the situation of freedom of expression in Latin America,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of the RWB Latin America desk, presenting the Index.

“In the face of a multifaceted threat, journalists often have to practice self-censorship, and even go into exile, to survive. This is absolutely unacceptable in democratic countries,” he added.

The RWB report underscores the case of Nicaragua, the country that experienced the largest drop in the index because since the controversial re-election of President Daniel Ortega, the independent and opposition press has suffered numerous cases of censorship, intimidation, harassment and arbitrary arrests. The country fell 17 spots, to 92nd among the 180 countries studied.

The report also describes Mexico as another worrisome case: in 15 years it dropped from 75th to 147th on the Index, putting it next to Syria and Afghanistan. Mexico is still torn apart by corruption and the violence of organised crime, says RWB.

In fact, it is the second worst ranked Latin American country, after Cuba, which is 173rd, after dropping two spots.

At a regional level, the countries best-positioned in the ranking are Uruguay (25th, after falling five), Chile (33rd, after dropping two) and Argentina (50th, after going up four).

Increasingly sophisticated means of control

Despite the threats and risks, independent journalism is making progress in the region. In 2016, the organisation Sembramedia created the first directory of native digital media in Latin America which has listed more than 500 independent platforms.

But at the same time, the means of control of the independent press are getting more sophisticated, said González.

Legal, labour and online harassment, as well as indirect censorship through the control of state advertising are tools that governments and political and economic groups use ever more frequently around the region.

In Mexico, the most emblematic case is that of journalist Carmen Aristegui, who was fired together with her investigative journalism team from the MVS radio station after publishing an investigation about corruption implicating President Enrique Peña Nieto.

But there are even more unbelievable cases, such as a judge’s order for psychological tests for political scientist Sergio Aguayo, after he published well-substantiated information about massacres in the Mexican state of Coahuila, connected to former governor Humberto Moreira.

The organisation FUNDAR Centre for Analysis and Research has documented that this country’s central government and 32 state governments spend an average of 800 million dollars a year on official advertising and announcements in the media.

Another Mexican organisation committed to the defence of digital rights, R3D, reported that various regional governments have bought programmes from Hacking Team, an Italian cybersecurity firm that sells intrusion and surveillance capabilities to governments and companies on websites, social networks and email services.

According to R3D, online intimidation and monitoring have increased in Mexico during the Peña Nieto administration.

This pattern repeats itself in other Latin American countries, where attacks are increasing and presenting new challenges.

“In the last year, we have seen how the risks of violence which in the past were limited to questions such as drug trafficking are now faced by those who cover issues related to migration and human trafficking, the environment or community defense of lands against the extractive industries,” said González.

Another flashpoint is the coverage of border issues. “Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States has had quite a negative effect in terms of freedom of the press, both domestically and internationally, in the entire region,” he said.

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Climate-Smart Agriculture – From Tanzania to Vietnamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/climate-smart-agriculture-from-tanzania-to-vietnam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-smart-agriculture-from-tanzania-to-vietnam http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/climate-smart-agriculture-from-tanzania-to-vietnam/#comments Fri, 28 Apr 2017 16:52:53 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150208 Farmers clear weeds from a trench, which retains water and prevents soil erosion during rains, as part of the FAO project to strengthen capacity of farms for climate change in Kiroka, Tanzania. Credit: FAO

Farmers clear weeds from a trench, which retains water and prevents soil erosion during rains, as part of the FAO project to strengthen capacity of farms for climate change in Kiroka, Tanzania. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Apr 28 2017 (IPS)

As part of efforts to move towards “climate-smart” agriculture, several countries have shared In a meeting in Rome new experiences on how to produce food in ways that help farmers cope with the impacts of climate change and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture.

The exchange took place at a special 26 April side-event during a session of the UN Food and Agriculture OrganizationFAO’s executive Council.

While countries are embarking on the implementation of the Nationally Determined Contributions –the actions nations are taking under the Paris Agreement– the event provided an opportunity to learn from countries that have championed climate-smart agriculture in different regions, FAO informed.

Climate-smart agriculture is an approach aimed at transforming food systems. It involves pursuing sustainable productivity increases while implementing climate adaptation strategies and reducing greenhouse gas emissions where possible, to achieve food security in the face of increasing climate change.

Tanzania

In Tanzania, the UN specialised body reports, estimated loss in the agriculture sector due to climate change is about 200 million dollars per year.

To tackle this problem the government has brought the climate agenda in line with agriculture development and food security policies, and climate change considerations are now mainstreamed into national development planning and budget allocations, it added.

Tanzania also intends to invest more in research on climate-smart agriculture to inform decision-making and involve private partners to catalyse additional investment in the sector.

The national policy focus in Tanzania has hence shifted towards building resilience of agricultural and food production systems in the face of climate change and fostering adoption of climate smart agriculture, particularly among vulnerable, smallholder farmers, according to FAO.

For example, rice-farming techniques that use less water were introduced several years ago in five Tanzanian regions –Morogoro, Iringa, Lake Zone, Shinyanga and Mbeya– are used now by around 30 per cent of all rice producers in those areas.

The farmers have already seen their yields increase while using less water resources – which is particularly important for these drought-prone areas – and are eager to switch to new varieties of rice seeds.

Conservation agriculture practices, implemented in the Lake Zone, have also shown their efficiency, the UN agency said.

These have included the use of improved seed varieties of cassava, maize, sorghum and cotton, which are tolerant to droughts and water scarcity, and the use of organic fertilizers such as manure to increase soil fertility. As a result, the productivity in the areas practicing conservation agriculture has increased by about four times compared to the traditionally cultivated areas.

National researchers have also developed special breeds of high-yielding dairy cows and introduced them to livestock farmers in the field enabling them to cut down the number of cattle while increasing their income. This in turn has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions in livestock production and prevent grazing damage to crops.

Vietnam

In Vietnam, about 700 000 hectares of rice and other food crops were heavily damaged by climate-induced natural disasters in 2016. As a result, rice production fell by 800 000 tons, and about 1.1 million people in affected areas were put at a greater risk of food insecurity.

To reverse the dire situation, numerous climate change adaptation and disaster-risk management measures have been implemented at national, subnational and local levels.

For example, rice cultivation area in several Central provinces has been converted to other crops such as fruit trees and grapes, which require less water for raising and can serve as an alternative source of income for farmers. When weather permits, the land can be easily switched back to rice production.

On sloping land areas of Vietnam’s Northern mountainous regions and Central provinces, annual food crops are intercropped with forests, fruit or industrial trees, reported FAO.

Such agro-forestry systems help farmers diversify their income, control soil erosion, and improve ecosystems and the environment. In addition, they help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon.

Integrating crops or forests with aquaculture is also widely practiced in Vietnam. For example, the ecological shrimp-mangrove forests in the country’s coastal provinces provide sustainable livelihoods for vulnerable coastal communities while protecting natural resources.

“Furthermore, organic farming products can fetch premium prices due to the high food safety standards employed in their production. With more than 180 000 hectares of the shrimp-mangrove forests having been cultivated to date, farmers are receiving a stable income of 1 600 dollars per hectare per year. Meanwhile, the coastal protection value is estimated at about 800 dollars per hectare per year.”

In household pig production, livestock farmers are being encouraged to use bio-digesters, which allow them to convert wastes into biogas used for daily cooking and lighting. They also create nutrient-rich slurry for fertilizing paddy rice fields. More than 35 000 bio-digesters have already been installed, which resulted in a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

During the FAO-hosted event, the participants also highlighted the importance of embedding climate-smart agriculture in national policies and programmes, and promoting climate-smart practices in the field through trainings and farmer field schools in various ecological zones.

They also stressed the need to provide accurate climate information to farmers, and investing in evidence-based research on climate-smart agriculture.

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The UN Needs to Bring Parliamentarians on Boardhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/the-un-needs-to-bring-parliamentarians-on-board/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-un-needs-to-bring-parliamentarians-on-board http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/the-un-needs-to-bring-parliamentarians-on-board/#comments Fri, 28 Apr 2017 16:24:49 +0000 Andreas Bummel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150205 Andreas Bummel is the Director of ‘Democracy Without Borders’ and Coordinator of the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly]]> Evo Morales Ayma (shown on screens), President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

Evo Morales Ayma (shown on screens), President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

By Andreas Bummel
BERLIN, Apr 28 2017 (IPS)

In pursuit of the Agenda 2030 the UN is playing an increasingly important role. Its Charter was declared in the name of “We, the Peoples.“ Elected representatives, however, who are interested in the affairs of the UN and its entities will discover that there are hardly any arrangements in place that would allow them to be involved.

In 1992, governments agreed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro that public participation in decision-making is important and defined nine major groups that should be engaged, including, for example, indigenous peoples, local authorities, business and industry, women or non-governmental organizations.

In consequence, many UN entities and UN-driven negotiations such as the climate talks give those groups an opportunity to be included. It’s one of many symptoms for the neglect of parliamentarians in intergovernmental affairs that they are not among them.

In 2004 the Panel on UN-Civil Society Relations suggested the creation of an Elected Representatives Liaison Unit at the UN but nothing happend.

In any case, much more is needed. It is no longer acceptable that UN decision-making primarily, if not exclusively, represents only the executive branch of national governments. It is now widely recognized that representative parliaments are an indispensable element of good and democratic governance.

Why should this insight not apply to the UN as well?

There has been a growing trend towards stronger interaction of parliamentarians across national borders. Today, there are more than 100 international parliamentary institutions such as Parliamentarians for Global Action, the OECD Global Parliamentary Network or the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The oldest of them is the Inter-Parliamentary Union that was created more than a century ago in 1889.

The group of formal parliamentary organs is the most developed. Examples are the European Union’s European Parliament or the African Union‘s Pan-African Parliament. In the UN system, however, no such body exists.

Although the IPU and other networks have slowly managed to establish a relationship with the UN, their formal status and political influence in the world organization are marginal at best.

The UN and its General Assembly, the most universal body in the international order, must seriously begin to add a parliamentary dimension to its formal structure.

A group of lawmakers and representatives of civil society organizations, encouraged by former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, concluded ten years ago that there needs to be a parliamentary organ formally embedded into the UN’s structure, a UN Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA).

To advance this goal, they launched the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly as an informal international platform that brings together all like-minded forces, and coordinates their efforts at all levels.

No question, a UNPA is a complex undertaking which necessarily means that there are differing opinions if it comes to details. Nonetheless, the campaign’s international appeal, a political statement that is endorsed by all campaign supporters, has proven to create focus and unity.

Since its publication in 2007, around 1,500 members of parliament signed the document, in addition to thousands of other individuals from over 150 countries, among them innumerous distinguished personalities from public administration, science, civil society and culture.

Since the campaign’s launch pro-UNPA resolutions were adopted, for instance, by the Canadian House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, the Pan-African Parliament, the Latin-American Parliament, the Senate of Argentina, the Chamber of Deputies of Argentina, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the Parliament of Mercosur. The foreign ministers of Malta and Italy voiced support.

Through a UNPA, elected representatives who are directly accountable to their constituents would be able to play a role in the world organization. They could provide oversight of international decision-making and serve as a link between the world’s citizens, civil society, and the UN.

The assembly would allow for participation of parliamentarians who do not belong to governing parties. Giving the opposition a voice at the world level could strengthen democratic forces in countries in transition. The assembly could provide additional international accountability and oversight for government action on the Sustainable Development Goals.

A UNPA can provide innovative means of multi stakeholder inclusion in the UN’s work through public hearings, leveraging its convening capacity, or co-option of independent experts, rapporteurs, investigative bodies or advisory members in addition to collaborating with civil society organizations.

The campaign’s policy is that a UNPA could be of a hybrid nature, composed of members who are either sitting members of national or regional parliaments or directly elected for this purpose.

Starting as an advisory body, it should be incrementally provided with genuine rights of information, participation and control vis-à-vis the UN and the organizations of the UN system, including the international financial institutions and the World Trade Organization. A UNPA could provide the UN and the wider system of global governance with unprecedented democratic legitimacy.

In a first step the campaign advocates the establishment of a UNPA by means which do not require a change of the UN’s Charter, which is either by a decision of the UN General Assembly according to Article 22 of the UN’s Charter, or by a new international treaty.

Along similar lines, two years ago the Commission on Global Security, Justice, and Governance, which is co-chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Nigerian Foreign Minister Ibrahim Gambari, recommended the creation of a UN Parliamentary Network as a step towards “the creation of a standing, formally constituted UN second chamber.”

It is crucial to recognize that in our times democratic deliberation, participation and decision-making can no longer be confined to the nation-state. If we want to save and strengthen democracy, we cannot ignore the interconnections between national and global democratization.

As the late Boutros Boutros Ghali said: “We need to promote the democratization of globalization, before globalization destroys the foundations of national and international democracy. The establishment of a Parliamentary Assembly at the United Nations has become an indispensable step to achieve democratic control of globalization.”

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20 Million People Could ‘Starve to Death’ in Next Six Monthshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/20-million-people-could-starve-to-death-in-next-six-months/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=20-million-people-could-starve-to-death-in-next-six-months http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/20-million-people-could-starve-to-death-in-next-six-months/#comments Fri, 28 Apr 2017 15:49:49 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150200 A livestock owner in Yemen tends her goats. Livestock production fell by more than 35 per cent in 2016 compared to the pre-crisis period. Credit: FAO

A livestock owner in Yemen tends her goats. Livestock production fell by more than 35 per cent in 2016 compared to the pre-crisis period. Credit: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 28 2017 (IPS)

Urgent action is needed to save the lives of people facing famine in North Eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, the UN leading food and agriculture agency’s chief on April 28 warned. “If nothing is done, some 20 million people could starve to death in the next six months.”

“Famine does not just kill people, it contributes to social instability and also perpetuates a cycle of poverty and aid dependency that endures for decades,” the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) the Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva added.

At a media briefing ahead of the conclusive session of the this UN specialised agency’s executive arm—the FAO Council, he launched a new appeal for voluntary contributions, that are “of vital importance to FAO, now more than ever.”

“I will be always committed to finding more savings and promoting more efficiency, as I have done over the last five years. But I have already cut to the bone. There is no more fat left.”

On this, Graziano da Silva emphasised the need to work with everyone on the basis of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development –“Leaving No One Behind”, in order to save all the affected people.

He also announced that agreement will be signed among FAO and the other two Rome-based UN agencies: the International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) on how to tackle the current famine in those 4 countries– Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

The FAO Council, which has met in FAO-headquarters in Rome on 24 – 28 April, convenes between sessions of the main Conference to provide advice and oversight related to programmatic and budgetary matters.

The Council’s 49 elected members have been briefed on the extent of the hunger crises, and the steps required to preventing catastrophe.

Making Funds Go Further

The organisation’s executive body has also approved FAO‘s Programme of Work and Budget 2018-2019, which prioritises areas where FAO can deliver the greatest impact to member countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including climate change mitigation and adaptation, sustainable agriculture production, water scarcity management, and building the resilience of poor family farmers.

Famine has officially been declared by the South Sudanese government for some parts of the country. Credit: FAO

Famine has officially been declared by the South Sudanese government for some parts of the country. Credit: FAO

Food and agriculture are central to the sustainable development agenda, and FAO’s work is projected to contribute to the achievement of 40 targets across 15 of the 17 goals.

Ahead of the FAO Council’s meeting, Graziano da Silva had on 25 April stated in Geneva that a combination of food assistance and food production assistance is the only way to avoid famine in conflict-ridden Yemen where two-thirds of the population –17 million people– are suffering from severe food insecurity.

“As the conflict continues, food security and nutrition will also continue to deteriorate,” he stressed in his address to a United Nations High-Level Pledging conference for Yemen organised in Geneva and co-hosted by the governments of Switzerland and Sweden.

“To put these figures into perspective, we are talking about the double of Switzerland’s population being unable to meet their basic daily food needs.”

He stressed how livelihoods support, especially for agriculture and fishing, must be an integral part of the international community’s response to the crisis in Yemen.

Over 17 Million Yemenis, Acutely Food Insecure

More than 17 million people around Yemen’s rugged landscape are acutely food insecure, and the figure is likely to increase as the on-going conflict continues to erode the ability to grow, import, distribute and pay for food, Graziano da Silva wrote on IPS.

“More than 7 million people are on the verge of famine, while the rest are marginally meeting the minimum day-to-day nutritional needs thanks to external humanitarian and livelihoods support. Large-scale famine is a real risk that will cast an awful shadow for generations to come.”

According to Graziano da Silva, only a political solution can end the suffering in Yemen, as there can be no food security without peace. And the longer the delay to draft an adequately funded recovery plan, the more expensive the burden will be in terms of resources and human livelihood.

In 2016, agriculture production in Yemen and the area under cultivation shrank by 38 per cent due to the lack of inputs and investments. Livestock production fell by 35 per cent.

“Agricultural assistance in a humanitarian crisis can no longer be an afterthought,” the FAO Director-General said. “We need to seize every opportunity to support communities in Yemen to continue producing food, even under difficult circumstances.”

In Geneva, Graziano da Silva met Yemen’s Prime Minister Ahmed Obaid Bin Daghr, for talks on FAO’s support to the country to deliver emergency livelihood assistance and kick-start food production, especially when resources pledged to tackle the crisis are concretely made available.

The Geneva pledging conference on April 25 mobilised half of the 2,1 billion dollars urgently required to rescue the starving Yemeni population.

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