Inter Press ServiceDemocracy – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 16 Feb 2018 23:35:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.5 Internet Freedom Rapidly Degrading in Southeast Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/internet-freedom-rapidly-degrading-southeast-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=internet-freedom-rapidly-degrading-southeast-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/internet-freedom-rapidly-degrading-southeast-asia/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 13:46:15 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154339 Researchers recently evaluated 65 countries which represent 87 percent of internet users globally. Half of them experienced a decline of internet freedom. China, Syria and Ethiopia are the least free. Estonia, Iceland and Canada enjoy the most freedom online. The most remarkable evolution comes from Southeast Asia. A few years ago, this was a promising […]

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Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Line, WhatsApp and WeChat are the most popular social media sites in Southeast Asia, but their power to spread free speech is declining. Credit: ITU/R.Farrell

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Line, WhatsApp and WeChat are the most popular social media sites in Southeast Asia, but their power to spread free speech is declining. Credit: ITU/R.Farrell

By Pascal Laureyn
PHNOM PENH, Feb 15 2018 (IPS)

Researchers recently evaluated 65 countries which represent 87 percent of internet users globally. Half of them experienced a decline of internet freedom. China, Syria and Ethiopia are the least free. Estonia, Iceland and Canada enjoy the most freedom online.

The most remarkable evolution comes from Southeast Asia. A few years ago, this was a promising region. The economy was growing, democracy was on the rise. Malaysia had free elections, Indonesia started an anti-corruption campaign and the social rights of Cambodian garment workers were improving."A few years ago, social media were safe havens for activists. But today these media companies are too cooperative with the autocratic regimes." --Ed Legaspi of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance

“Internet helped these movements grow,” says Madeline Earp, Asia research analyst with Freedom House. “All kinds of organisations and media started using internet more and more. That was hopeful.”

Today, democratisation has faltered. A military coup in Thailand and the dissolution of an opposition party in Cambodia are just two examples of autocratic governments resisting change.

Censorship, arrests and violence

According to the report, seven of the eight Southeast Asian countries researched have become less free in the last year.

“Censorship is on the rise and internet freedom is declining,” Earp says. “Myanmar and Cambodia were the biggest disappointments.”

Recently, journalists were arrested in Myanmar. Fake news spreads hate speech and incites violence against Muslims. Today, Myanmar has more journalists in prison then in the last years of the military regime.

In Cambodia, an independent newspaper was shut down. Activists who denounce illegal activities of companies are being arrested. In Thailan,d the strict lese-majeste law is used to silence opponents. The Philippines has a growing number of ‘opinion shapers’ to push pro-government propaganda.

The only country that has improved its score is Malaysia. But Freedom House says that is mostly because of increasing internet use. Repression is not keeping up with the rapid growth. This shows that Malaysia is following a trend in Southeast Asia. The restriction on freedom of speech starts when internet use goes up.

“The Malaysian government has censored news websites. At least one Malaysian has been sentenced for a post on Facebook,” Earp adds.

The Chinese example

Part of the cause is to be found in China. The influential country has the world’s least free internet for three years, according to the Freedom House report. It uses a sophisticated surveillance system, known as the ‘Great Firewall’. An army of supervisors check on the internet use of the Chinese, from messaging apps to traffic cameras.

Undesirable messages are being deleted by Chinese censors. Sometimes that can lead to absurd situations. A newly discovered beetle was named after President Xi Jinping. But messages about this event were deleted because the predatory nature of the beetle could be insulting to the leader.

These practices play an important role in the decline of democracy in Southeast Asia. “Vietnam is copying the techniques of China,” says researcher Madeline Earp. “More bloggers and activists are being arrested because of their social media use.”

Fake news

Not only censorship is an issue. In Southeast Asia, fake news is being used to eliminate opponents or to manipulate public opinion. This is what Ed Legaspi, director of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, explains in The Bulletin.

“Worryingly, many governments have taken advantage of existing mechanisms in social media to spread rumours and combat critical voices,” says Legaspi. “Thailand’s lese majeste law, Malaysian’s sedition act and Indonesia’s blasphemy law have all been used to curtail online speech.”

In Myanmar, inflammatory and racist language against Muslims provokes violent outbreaks regularly. Fake news sites spread rumours about a Buddhist woman who supposedly was raped by a Muslim. This contributed to the violence towards the Rohingya, a Muslim minority. And it helps the army to get support from a large part of the public.

The role of social media cannot be underestimated. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Line, WhatsApp and WeChat are the most popular in Southeast Asia, but their initial power to spread free speech is declining.

“A few years ago, social media were safe havens for activists. But today these media companies are too cooperative with the autocratic regimes,” says Legaspi. “They do nothing to protect their users.”

Manipulated elections

Various countries are organising elections this year. How these governments will deal with these moments of tension will determine the evolution of internet freedom.

Cambodia has elections with no opposition, Malaysia’s polls are heavily manipulated. Not much positive news is expected there. In Indonesia, the regional elections in June will be the first test since a fake news campaign against Jakarta’s once popular governor, Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama. He was convicted of blasphemy and jailed.

The growing knowhow of those in power is being used to improve their fortunes when elections come. Some of them already control internet use and silence activists, a sad evolution in a region that only recently seemed to be making progress.

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Development, Self-Interest & Countries Left Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/development-self-interest-countries-left-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=development-self-interest-countries-left-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/development-self-interest-countries-left-behind/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 13:43:28 +0000 Sarah Bermeo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154300 Sarah Bermeo is Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science; Faculty Affiliate, Duke Center for International Development at Duke University

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Development, Self-Interest & Countries Left Behind - Open drainage ditch, Ankorondrano-Andranomahery, Madagascar. Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

Open drainage ditch, Ankorondrano-Andranomahery, Madagascar. Credit: Lova Rabary-Rakontondravony/IPS

By Sarah Bermeo
DURHAM, North Carolina, Feb 14 2018 (IPS)

The world’s wealthiest countries today promote development abroad in a way that is relatively new. For centuries, some of these countries colonized the developing world. As former colonies gained independence they were caught in the international power struggle of the Cold War, often led by dictators who found it in their interest to serve as pawns in great power proxy conflicts.

Development, Self-Interest & Countries Left Behind

Sarah Bermeo

A serious attention to development occurred mainly after the end of the Cold War. The focus sharpened in the early 2000s, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 drove home the realization that state failure thousands of miles away can have serious repercussions at home. Promoting development became a matter of self-interest for wealthy states.

The self-interest of developed countries affected policy on foreign aid, trade agreements, and even climate finance, as I argue in my new book, Targeted Development. The focus on development as self-interest did not usher in, as Prime Minister Tony Blair would have us believe, an era of enlightened self-interest where “idealism becomes realpolitik.”

Instead, development is promoted disproportionately when and where it serves the interests of wealthy countries. This will likely aid development in targeted states, but a widening gap will emerge as those not targeted are left further behind.

 

FOREIGN AID AND DONOR SELF-INTEREST

The pattern of aid allocation across countries has changed significantly over time. During the Cold War, geopolitical concerns drove more foreign aid to countries that were militarily important or held key positions, such as membership on the United Nations Security Council.

In the post-2001 period, donors focus more on countries from which they expect the biggest spillovers from underdevelopment: those that are poor, proximate, and populous. They also favor countries that send them higher numbers of migrants and imports. The impact of geopolitical concerns has become less significant during this time.

This is consistent with an increased emphasis on development and with focusing efforts in countries where transmission mechanisms—whether due to proximity, movement of people, or movement of goods—are high. Donors also care more about effectiveness in recent years, conditioning the type of foreign aid on the quality of governance in recipient countries.

Targeting foreign aid to areas where potential spillovers to the donor are high is not only the practice of great powers. Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, and Switzerland have all favored more proximate countries in the post-2001 period—when you control for measures of need such as income, disasters, and civil war.

For Australia, Austria, Denmark, France, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden, aid is also associated with bilateral migrant flows. The more a donor imports from a developing country, the higher aid flows are to that country; this is especially true for Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Taken together, the evidence shows that developing countries already connected to aid donors through proximity, migrant networks, and access to markets also receive more foreign aid. Those less connected are not so lucky. Aggregate data for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development donors show declines in aid to the poorest countries even while overall aid levels increase. Aid givers do not seem to favor states where development prospects are especially bad.

 

FOREIGN AID IS JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG

This turn toward development promotion in countries of interest has gone beyond foreign aid. The number of preferential trade agreements between high-income and developing countries has increased markedly in recent decades, often tied explicitly to development promotion (Figure 1).

 

Figure 1: Trade agreements between industrialized and developing countries

 

A good example is the United States with Central America. The George W. Bush administration spent considerable political capital to bring about the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement, which opened up trade for the U.S. with a market roughly the size of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The deal was rationalized in terms of self-interest: Helping Central America and the Caribbean develop would increase security and well-being in the U.S. Large amounts of additional foreign aid were funneled to the signatories to help them benefit from the agreement (Figure 2).

 

Figure 2: US development assistance to CAFTA-DR countries annual average for each period

 

This is not an exception. Generally, a high-income state is more likely to sign a trade agreement with more proximate developing countries and with those that already receive a higher percentage of its aid budget. States excluded from such agreements are doubly disadvantaged:

They do not receive preferential access to the most lucrative markets and must compete on unequal terms with countries that do receive such access. The rise in these preferential agreements is in sharp contrast to the failure of the Doha Round at the World Trade Organization, suggesting that wealthy states are more comfortable opening up trade with developing countries in a targeted—rather than universal—manner.

Patterns of giving to finance climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts are also closely related to traditional foreign aid flows, instead of focusing on areas where climate-related aid might do the most good for mitigation or adaptation.

ANOTHER TRAP?

Poorer countries with connections to wealthier states are likely to benefit from the rising emphasis on development. They are more likely to sign trade agreements and receive additional foreign aid and assistance to tackle climate-related problems.

This is the good news—and it is good—because it is an improvement compared with the times where wealthy nations mainly engaged the developing world through colonialism and Cold War competition. For states not targeted, however, the picture is bleak.

Where migration—and hence remittances—is low, foreign aid will also be low. When foreign aid is low, the chances of being granted preferential access to wealthy country markets is lower too. Where geographic distance is great, economic engagement will lag behind.

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Excerpt:

Sarah Bermeo is Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science; Faculty Affiliate, Duke Center for International Development at Duke University

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Automated Digital Tools Threaten Political Campaigns in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/automated-digital-tools-threaten-political-campaigns-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=automated-digital-tools-threaten-political-campaigns-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/automated-digital-tools-threaten-political-campaigns-latin-america/#respond Tue, 13 Feb 2018 01:37:48 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154285 The use of technological tools in political campaigns has become widespread in Latin America, accompanied by practices that raise concern among academics and social organisations, especially in a year with multiple elections throughout the region. The use of automated programmes – known as “bots” – to create profiles in social networks intended to offset critical […]

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Automated programmes, known as "bots", threaten to smear political campaigns, through massive deceitful messages, which can disrupt the democratic game. Credit: Phys.org

Automated programmes, known as "bots", threaten to smear political campaigns, through massive deceitful messages, which can disrupt the democratic game. Credit: Phys.org

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Feb 13 2018 (IPS)

The use of technological tools in political campaigns has become widespread in Latin America, accompanied by practices that raise concern among academics and social organisations, especially in a year with multiple elections throughout the region.

The use of automated programmes – known as “bots” – to create profiles in social networks intended to offset critical messages, propaganda, the spread of lies and hate campaigns on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are already the digital daily bread in the region.

For Tommaso Gravante, an academic at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in the Sciences and Humanities at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, an emerging concern is detecting fake profiles on social networks using artificial intelligence or machine learning."The main problem is that regulating a discourse means deciding what is a lie and what is not, and that is a problem. In terms of freedom of expression, anything should be said and the limits should be minimal. Election laws must be updated to face the challenges of on-line campaigns, but I'm not sure whether that's a good idea." -- Catalina Botero

“Clearly, this gives the impression that these technologies impoverish the debate with superficial answers. There is a problem in companies that handle ‘big data’, such as Google. They accumulate information, but we do not know how it is managed. Complex algorithms are used. How it is managed is a mystery,” he told IPS.

Gravante was one of the five winners in 2017 of the Seventh Worldwide Competition for Junior Sociologists organised by the International Sociological Association, and is one of the editors of “Technopolitics in Latin America and the Caribbean”, published in 2017.

In 2018, six Latin American countries will hold presidential elections, while others are holding legislative elections or referendums. And technopolitics is part of the electoral landscape in the region.

As the July 1 presidential elections in Mexico approach, the use of social networks is already being seen, and the same is expected for Colombia’s elections in May and Brazil’s elections in October. Voters in Costa Rica, Paraguay and Venezuela will also elect new presidents this year.

“The two-way digital technology (anyone speaks-anyone hears) represents a great advantage for freedom of expression, as it not only enhances the possibility of informing but also of getting informed. But it also shows how the problems of society are appearing in the networks,” Colombian expert Catalina Botero told IPS.

The problem involves the potential reach of a message on the Internet, which also applies to its possible negative effects, said Botero, the current director of the non-governmental Karisma Foundation, which works for human rights in the digital environment, and a former special rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (2008-2014).

The use of social networks and digital media in political campaigns broke onto the scene in the United States in 2008, at the hands of Democrat Barack Obama (2009-2017), who won the presidential elections in November of that year.

Since then, there is a perception that new technologies can determine the tone, and therefore the outcome, of election campaigns.

That belief was consolidated even more with the use of big data and data mining in 2016 by current US President Donald Trump, to build electoral models and tailor messages.

As a result, political parties across the spectrum have sought advice in these fields, while marketing and digital imaging agencies have added those services to their portfolio.

Six out of 10 Latin Americans use a social network, according to a December study carried out for the Spanish newspaper El País by the consultancy firm Latinobarómetro and the Institute for the Integration of Latin America and the Caribbean, a unit of the Inter-American Development Bank.

Map of the 2018 elections in Latin America. Credit: ACE

Map of the 2018 elections in Latin America. Credit: ACE

Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay are the countries most connected to social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter.

In 2015, 43 percent of Latin American households had internet access, according to data from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Costa Rica head the list of the most connected households, while Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador are the least connected.

As several studies have shown, there are already practices in the region to manipulate information and guide political discourse, as has happened in countries such as the United States, Great Britain and Germany.

The 2017 study “Troops, Trolls and Trouble-Makers: A Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation” detected bots in 28 countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Venezuela.

The report, prepared by two researchers from the Computational Propaganda Research Project (COMPROP) of the University of Oxford Internet Institute in Britain, considers that governments and political parties promote these digital hosts, through official institutions or private providers.

Another 2017 analysis, “Computational Propaganda Worldwide”, also published at Oxford, found that bots and other forms of computer propaganda have been present in Brazil.

The study says they were used in the 2014 presidential elections, the 2016 impeachment of former president Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016), and the municipal elections in Rio de Janeiro the same year.

“Highly automated accounts support and attack political figures, debate issues such as corruption and encourage protest movements,” says the report.

In Mexico, another report identified in 2016 the presence of bots in 2014 to block criticism of the government of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto, in power since 2012.

“They want to create trends, but nobody knows how people can appropriate that discourse, although it can be stimulated with some provocations. The only antidote against this is to take to the streets, as a response to these manifestations, get organised neighborhood by neighborhood. The learning process is linked to social needs,” said Gravante.

In this respect, the expert argued that social conflicts enhance “empowerment processes”, in which “there has been impressive progress…In that sense, I am techno-optimistic,” he said.

The 2016 US elections won by Trump offer a preview of what is taking shape in Latin America.

In September 2017, Facebook said it found some 80,000 publications on controversial issues in the U.S. elections, created by Russian-linked agents, which reached more than 126 million people in the United States from June 2015 to May 2017.

Twitter, meanwhile, identified more than 50,000 Twitter accounts linked to Russia, which spread false information during the 2016 presidential elections in the United States.

For Botero, it is worrying how citizens can be involved in political processes that use digital media and the emergence of manipulation through networks, which can determine election results and, ultimately, impoverish democracy.

“WhatsApp chains are impacting the way people are informed and viralizing a lot of information that could be labeled as ‘fake news’. Their impact has not been measured,” she said.

The use of social networks is not regulated in the region, although most governments monitor their use, and in countries such as Costa Rica, Ecuador and Mexico the electoral authority reviews on-line advertising and propaganda.

“The main problem is that regulating a discourse means deciding what is a lie and what is not, and that is a problem. In terms of freedom of expression, anything should be said and the limits should be minimal. Election laws must be updated to face the challenges of on-line campaigns, but I’m not sure whether that’s a good idea,” said Botero.

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Combating Africa’s Inequalitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/combating-africas-inequalities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=combating-africas-inequalities http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/combating-africas-inequalities/#respond Mon, 12 Feb 2018 17:14:53 +0000 Ernest Harsch http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154280 Nelson Mandela, shortly after becoming the first democratically elected president of South Africa, spoke to both his countrymen and women—indeed, for Africans everywhere—when he declared, “We must work together to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth, opportunity and power in our society.” As he spoke those words in 1996, South Africa was just emerging from […]

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A Tanzanian woman walks to the market as a petrol lorry passes by. Credit: Alamy /Wietse Michiels Travel Stock

By Ernest Harsch, Africa Renewal
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 12 2018 (IPS)

Nelson Mandela, shortly after becoming the first democratically elected president of South Africa, spoke to both his countrymen and women—indeed, for Africans everywhere—when he declared, “We must work together to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth, opportunity and power in our society.”

As he spoke those words in 1996, South Africa was just emerging from a racist apartheid past in which non-whites, more than three-quarters of the population, were not only denied the vote but also denied land ownership, skilled jobs, and most basic services.

The country’s poverty rate, after a brief decline, has been on the rebound since 2015. While millions of South Africans have improved their educational and job prospects, overall income inequality in the country remains stubbornly entrenched.

According to a new study by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), South Africa has the highest recorded level of income inequality in the world. And in this, South Africa is not unusual among African nations. Of the 19 most unequal countries in the world, 10 are in Africa, according to the UNDP’s Income Inequality Trends in sub-Saharan Africa, a report released in New York during the opening week of the UN General Assembly this past September.

While many countries in the region, such as Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritius and Rwanda have registered remarkable economic performance over the past decade and a half, lifting millions out of extreme poverty and making schooling and health care available to larger shares of their populations, others have lagged.

One obstacle to higher incomes for all has been the region’s entrenched economic and social inequalities. The contrast between the visible wealth of elites and the daily misery of most ordinary people makes the disparities seem unjust, driving popular anger and contributing to protest and rebellion.

As President Hage Geingob of Namibia—a country that inherited the highest levels of income inequality in Africa when it gained independence from apartheid-era South Africa in 1990—told the UN General Assembly, “As long as the wealth of the country is disproportionately in the hands of a few, we cannot have lasting peace and stability.”

Radical shift

Until recently, income inequality received only sporadic attention from development practitioners and policy makers. Before the 1990s they focused mainly on stimulating economic growth. It eventually became clearer that growing markets alone does not necessarily benefit the poor and that excessive liberalization can in fact hurt them.

When the international community adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, their focus shifted more towards anti-poverty measures and improvements in social well-being.

Poverty subsequently fell in many African countries experiencing economic growth. Yet despite generally robust growth, nearly half the continent’s people still live on less than $1.25 a day.

Studies have shown that where there is less inequality, the benefits of growth reach wider sectors of the population. In more unequal nations, however, the rich garner the biggest share and the poor get little.

That realization underlay the 2015 negotiations over the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The global goals call not only for ending poverty, but also for reducing inequalities within and among nations. The UNDP terms this a “radical shift” intended to address the “last mile of exclusion” that prevents many people from improving their lives.

In analyzing income inequality in Africa, the UNDP report focuses on 29 sub-Saharan countries (which account for 80% of Africa’s population) for which there is adequate data on household consumption. It shows that between 1991 and 2011, 17 of those countries managed to reduce their degree of income inequality. But the remaining dozen registered an increase in income inequality over the same period.

That divergence reflects the historical, economic, social and political factors affecting income inequality in each country.

Countries with higher—and rising—income inequality are mainly in Southern and Central Africa; they have capital-intensive oil and mining sectors with limited employment or are former settler societies that still have large landholdings.

Countries with declining income inequality, most of which are in West Africa, generally started out with lower levels of inequality and have predominantly smallholder agricultural sectors in which many people stand to benefit from improvements in productivity.

Income inequalities in different countries differ by degree, but the more important distinction is the factors that shape them. The root causes of inequality are rarely the same from country to country and may include restricted access to land, capital and markets; inequitable tax systems; excessive vulnerability to unfavourable global markets; rampant corruption; and the patrimonial allocation of public resources.

Although gender inequalities exist in all countries and are particularly severe in Africa, they are generally underestimated in most standard measures, which rely on household income or consumption data. Such estimates tend to assume equal spending powers among all family members.

While some countries have seen efforts to reduce economic disparities, others have been marked by opposition to such efforts by “incumbent elites,” according to researchers cited in the report.

The marginalization of certain geographical regions or the social and political exclusion of minority ethnic and religious groups can bring especially explosive consequences, the new UNDP report says, contributing to unrest and even armed conflict.

No single solution

Because of the complex, multidimensional factors influencing inequality, “There is no one ‘silver bullet’ to address its challenge,” observes Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, UNDP’s assistant administrator and director of its Africa bureau. “Multiple responses are required.”

Africa Renewal, published by the UN’s Department of Information, examines many existing responses to income inequalities, including inequalities in education, those affecting a vulnerable group (albinos), those relating to business leadership, and those affecting Africa’s trade with other regions.

Whatever a country’s specific history and circumstances, a number of measures have proven especially fruitful in reducing inequalities across the region: increasing productivity among small-scale farmers, ensuring women’s access to land, reversing urban favouritism in services and economic opportunities, promoting labour-intensive industries, setting minimum wages, strengthening capacities to keep the wealthy from evading taxes, introducing strong social protection programmes and ending all forms of exclusion.

Ultimately, such efforts are intended to ensure that all Africans are able to live productive and fulfilling lives and to uphold the SDGs’ pledge to “leave no one behind.”

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Ethnic Violence in Ethiopia Stoked by Social Media from U.S.http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/ethnic-violence-ethiopia-stoked-social-media-u-s/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethnic-violence-ethiopia-stoked-social-media-u-s http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/ethnic-violence-ethiopia-stoked-social-media-u-s/#comments Sun, 11 Feb 2018 22:52:04 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154261 In Ethiopia social media is a double-edged sword: capable of filling a sore need for more information but also of pushing the country toward even greater calamity. Thousands of Ethiopians remain displaced after ethnic violence last September drove an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 from their homes in the neighbouring Oromia and Somali regions. From many […]

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Displaced Somali at a camp on the outskirts of the city of Dire Dawa in eastern Ethiopia. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Displaced Somali at a camp on the outskirts of the city of Dire Dawa in eastern Ethiopia. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Feb 11 2018 (IPS)

In Ethiopia social media is a double-edged sword: capable of filling a sore need for more information but also of pushing the country toward even greater calamity.

Thousands of Ethiopians remain displaced after ethnic violence last September drove an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 from their homes in the neighbouring Oromia and Somali regions.“The problem is a lot of things people view as gossip if heard by mouth, when they read about it on social media they take as fact." --Lidetu Ayele, founder of the opposition Ethiopia Democratic Party

From many of the displaced and those assisting them came accusations of the ethnic unrest being leveraged for political ends, suspected perpetrators ranging from powerbrokers at the regional and federal government levels, all the way to the likes of Ethiopian cab drivers coming off shifts in Washington, D.C., in the United States to Tweet ethnic-laced vitriol on their smartphones.

“It’s political and is hidden—this violence is all man-made,” says Abdishakar Adam, a Somali regional zone vice administrator, at a camp housing ethnic Somali who had to flee Oromia. “Federalism isn’t the problem—people are doing what they are being told to do on social media.”

Since 1995, Ethiopia has applied a distinct political model of ethnically based federalism to the country’s heterogeneous masses—about 100 million people speaking more than 80 dialects.

This political model had proved a successful formula for maintaining stability and generating huge economic growth—but both achievements contain crucial flaws.  Authoritarian rule and lack of civil liberties underpin the stability, while economic growth has barely touched millions of poor Ethiopians, instead benefiting a tiny elite in cahoots with the government.

This reality of life in the so-called Federal Democrat Republic of Ethiopia, proclaimed as one of the fastest growing economies in the word, fed resentment and frustrations.

These reached such levels that since protests broke out over the maladministration of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party at the end of 2015 among the Oromo—Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, representing about 35 percent of the population—the turmoil hasn’t stopped.

The unprecedented duration of these protests and their scope—the Amhara began protesting in 2016; together the Oromo and Amhara account for over 65 percent of the country’s population—has rendered the country’s inherent ethnic fault lines more fragile and susceptible.

“The problem is a lot of things people view as gossip if heard by mouth, when they read about it on social media they take as fact,” says Lidetu Ayele, founder of the opposition Ethiopia Democratic Party.

Successive waves of emigration during decades of tumult in Ethiopia have formed a worldwide Ethiopian diaspora of around two million people. The largest communities are in the U.S., with estimates varying from 250,000 people to about one million.

The diaspora, understandably, follow events in Ethiopia very closely. They loathe the current authoritarian government—many overseas Ethiopians fled their homes after suffering at the hands of Ethiopia’s authoritarian government and have enough reasons to wish it ill—and embrace satellite television and the internet to influence the political process at home .

The protests are seen by many as a pathway to bringing down the government, hence a growing diaspora movement of writers, bloggers, journalists and activists shaping the coverage of events back in the motherland.

With limited press freedom and frequent blanket shutdowns of mobile internet and the banning of posting on social media in Ethiopia, these diaspora activists, using their contacts in Ethiopia, have offered sources of news on the protests by flooding Twitter and Facebook with videos and photos disputing what they say are inaccurate accounts of protests pushed out by the mostly state-owned media in Ethiopia, or by muddled foreign correspondents unable to gain sufficient access.

“The diaspora does not create news stories, it reports what is reported to them from back home by protesters and protest organizers operating under tough conditions,” says Hassan Hussein, a Minnesota-based Ethiopian academic and writer. ”If anything their greatest desire is to see calm return to their loved ones left behind.”

Displaced Oromo sheltering on an industrial park on the outskirts of the city of Harar in eastern Ethiopia. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Displaced Oromo sheltering on an industrial park on the outskirts of the city of Harar in eastern Ethiopia. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

But there is another side to diaspora social media coverage. After clashes between police and protestors at the Oromo Irreecha festival in October 2016 left more than 100 people drowned or crushed to death during a stampede, social media sites buzzed with claims that a police helicopter had fired into the panicking crowd—it was circling dropping leaflets wishing participants a happy festival.

Overseas activists called for “five days of rage.” Although it is not clear what effect this call may have had, the following week, foreign-owned factories, government buildings and tourist lodges were attacked across the Oromia region. The government declared a six-month state of emergency.

That was only finally lifted in August of 2017—having been extended at the six-month point—with the government judging the country’s situation stable enough. By Sept. 12, however, a riot in the eastern city of Aweday that left up to 40 dead triggered further ethnic violence and mass displacements.

“They were crossing their arms and shouting ‘Jawar! Jawar!’” 52-year-old Adamali Meagsu says about local Oromo running amok and burning Somali houses in his village.

When Ethiopian runner Feisal Lyles finished the marathon at the 2016 Rio Olympics, he crossed his wrists above his head in a gesture widely adopted through social media to symbolise the Oromo’s struggle against the government, and mimicked throughout Ethiopia and around the world outside Ethiopian embassies.

Jawar Mohammed is a prominent U.S.-based Oromo opposition activist commanding a huge social media following. To many he is an inspiration. To many in Ethiopia—both local and foreign—he’s a highly dangerous figure.

“They live in a secure democracy and are at liberty to say whatever they want to cause mayhem in Ethiopia,” says Sandy Wade, a former European Union diplomat in Addis Ababa during the protests.

Diaspora satellite television channels broadcast from the United States, such as Oromia Media Network and Ethiopian Satellite Television, do produce decent original reporting. But they are one-sided and virulently anti-EPRDF, as are the views and stories their followers propagate on social media.

The cumulative effect should not be estimated in a country as diverse as Ethiopia, where historical grudges exist between main ethic groups.

In Rwanda, radio programs such as Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines spread much of the toxic hatred that fuelled the country’s genocide. Social media appears similarly capable in spreading untruths and ethnic barbs in Ethiopia.

Many of these have an anti-Tigrayan slant due to the firmly held belief that a Tigrayan elite runs the EPRDF and is to blame for all of Ethiopia’s corruption, inequities, ills and wrongs.

“I hope the women who puked #EPRDF members out of their bodies have their wombs filled with cement and buried like dogs with rabbis,” said one Tweet posted online, a relatively common example.

Making up only 6 percent of the country’s population, ordinary Tigrayans are highly vulnerable to ethnic-based agitation.

Amidst the tragedy, rage, intrigue, blocked communications and difficult travel, it is difficult for the likes of journalists, foreign diplomats and the average Ethiopian to understand what is actually going on.

Hence social media can provide an opening for sorting through the noise and confusion. But it can be used for more nefarious means too, especially in a volatile situation like Ethiopia’s when so many are on edge.

As throughout Ethiopia’s turbulent history, it is ordinary Ethiopians—typically poor, eking out lives of subsistence—who are bearing the fallout from Ethiopia’s current political machinations as different interest groups jostle for power, many of them regardless the human cost.

Ethiopia is not unique in that regard. The political elites of many African countries appear to specialize in this modus operandi. But the overbearing influence of Ethiopia’s diaspora may well be unique, and not appreciated until too late.

Ethiopians are quick to smile but just as quick to anger. Colossal resentment and bitterness seethes beneath the country’s surface waiting for an outlet. Swathes of unemployed young men have no hopes or prospects. This has all played out before in other man-made African infernos.

“I thought my husband was going to kill me, he grabbed my hair and started cutting it with a knife,” says a displaced Somali woman kicked out of her home by her Oromo husband. “He told me, ‘This is Oromia, you must leave now’.”

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As Peace Talks Resume, South Sudan Continues Assault on Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/peace-talks-resume-south-sudan-continues-assault-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peace-talks-resume-south-sudan-continues-assault-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/peace-talks-resume-south-sudan-continues-assault-press-freedom/#respond Mon, 05 Feb 2018 15:08:23 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154186 Jonathan Rozen is Africa Research Associate with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and has previously worked in South Africa, Mozambique, and Canada with the Institute for Security Studies.

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A billboard featuring President Salva Kiir, left, and opposition leader Riek Machar, is displayed in Juba in 2016. South Sudan is due to resume peace talks under an agreement that includes calls for an end to harassment of the press. Credit: (AFP/Albert Gonzalez Farran, CDS)

By Jonathan Rozen
NEW YORK, Feb 5 2018 (IPS)

A ceasefire agreement signed on December 21 between the South Sudanese government and opposition forces has revived a 2015 peace process and brought hope that the conflict will not persist into its fifth year.

The agreement includes obligations to “ensure protection of media” and “[c]ease all forms of harassment of the media.” Yet, ahead of another round of talks scheduled for February 5, the government has continued its years’ long campaign of intimidating journalists.

Authorities have imposed bureaucratic red tape; denied journalists access to certain areas and, in some cases, the whole country; threatened reprisal for critical coverage; and created conditions that do not promote accountability and sustainable peace. The result is that international journalists are prevented from covering conditions inside the country and some local journalists self-censor for fear of reprisal, CPJ has found.

The government has defended its actions as a reasonable response to unwarranted criticism. “There are agitators sending negative messages to the social media, to the international community, that Juba is insecure,” Michael Makuei Lueth, South Sudan’s Minister of Information, told CPJ.

In response to remarks by President Salva Kiir on January 1 that called for an end to reports that could hinder the peace process, Makeui added, “Of course, this includes the media, whether it is national or international.”

Over the past year, authorities have shrunk the operating space granted to local and international press. In late October, the South Sudanese Media Regulatory Authority, which oversees the press, suspended three press associations until they applied for operating licenses, Reuters reported. One of the associations, the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS), is still waiting for the body to approve its application and permit it to resume work.

Part of the process of registering for licenses included a requirement for unions to hand over lists of their members, Sapana Abuyi, the regulator’s director general for information and media compliance, told CPJ. Abuyi said that the registration process would not restrict who could work as a journalist in South Sudan. However, multiple journalists and members of South Sudanese civil society told CPJ they are concerned that it may be a further attempt by the government to control the press.

Members of the press are already forced to reapply for accreditation every three to six months, in a process that includes a review of their work, several journalists told CPJ. Abuyi told CPJ that he was not aware that journalists’ work was currently being reviewed, but said there were plans to begin assessing for “certain standards.”

In June, the Nairobi-based Foreign Correspondents’ Association of East Africa called for an end to South Sudan blocking at least 20 international journalists from covering issues inside the country via means including rejecting media accreditation and visa requests. The call came two months after the U.S.-based National Public Radio (NPR) reported that authorities detained its East Africa correspondent, Eyder Peralta.

Authorities held Peralta for four days after he entered the country to seek media credentials to cover the conflict, before ordering him to leave, according to reports. His South Sudanese fixer remained in detention for over a week longer.

Even local journalists are having trouble getting into South Sudan. According to a November 20 letter that the U.N. Panel of Experts on South Sudan wrote to the U.N. Security Council, the country’s National Security Service refused to renew the passport of John Tanza, a South Sudanese journalist who works with Voice of America, over allegations that his reporting was “anti-government.”

Tanza, who covers South Sudan issues from Washington, D.C., told CPJ that authorities still have his passport and that he has, in effect, been “stuck” outside his home country since December 15, 2016.

When asked about Tanza’s case, Abuyi told CPJ, “There should be no reason why [Tanza] should be prevented from coming [home], unless there is something not to do with journalism.”

Journalists’ access within the country is seemingly conditional on favorable reporting.

After authorities in December 2016 arrested and deported Justin Lynch, the American freelancer tweeted that officers had said his reporting was too critical of the government. He told CPJ he believes his status as a foreign journalist afforded him the privilege of deportation.

Authorities also use arbitrary detention and suspension orders to punish journalists already inside the country.

A Juba-based South Sudanese journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid reprisals, told CPJ he has been threatened over his reporting. “Agents came after me … some even wrote on a Facebook page that I should be arrested and dealt with,” the journalist said.

And in July, CPJ documented how South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC) director Adil Faris Mayat spent a week behind bars and was subsequently fired for failing to broadcast President Kiir’s address on the sixth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence. The letter terminating his employment, which was seen by CPJ, referred to Mayat’s actions as “sabotage.”

The websites of at least four media were blocked the same month for publishing what Makuei at the time told CPJ was “subversive” content. Michael Duku, an official with the press rights group Association for Media Development in South Sudan, told CPJ that the sites were likely targeted for their critical coverage of the government.

In early May, South Sudanese presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told Voice of America that the country’s media regulator suspended Al Jazeera English from working in the country after its journalists traveled to rebel-controlled areas without permission or an escort. Al Jazeera English confirmed to CPJ that the suspension was subsequently lifted.

“If there is any country that is to be applauded for being good to journalists, it’s South Sudan,” Ateny said, emphasizing the restriction was imposed out of concern for the safety of journalists and not Al Jazeera English’s coverage of the conflict.

As well as the threat of arrest or being denied access, journalists face danger from crossfire as they cover the civil war. On August 26, American freelance reporter Christopher Allen was killed during fighting between South Sudanese government and rebel forces in Kaya, near the borders with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Allen is the sixth journalist to be killed in connection with their journalism in South Sudan since it gained independence in 2011, according to CPJ research. CPJ is investigating the deaths of another four journalists to determine if their journalism was the reason they were targeted.

The ongoing meetings between South Sudan’s warring parties–formally termed the High Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF)–and their December 21 agreement is already being tested, with fighting continuing in some areas.

On January 27, during a meeting on South Sudan at the African Union Summit, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said he had “never seen a political elite with so little [interest] in the well-being of its own people.” He added that he would support any decisions to ensure accountability for violations of the ceasefire or humanitarian law.

Similarly, Anataban, an independent South Sudanese youth movement named after the Arabic translation of “I’m tired,” called on social media and at an event in Juba for “all citizens of #SouthSudan to actively engage and keep a close watch over the HLRF process.” Its campaign is called #SouthSudanIsWatching.

“We are just emboldening the media to keep the records,” Jon Pen de Ngong, co-founder of Anataban and spokesperson for the South Sudan Civil Society Forum in East Africa, which will be representing civil society at the February talks, told CPJ. “It’s a warning to the warring parties and to the region itself … to whoever is going to play around with our peace … we are watching you.”

Journalists are well positioned to play a crucial role in bolstering accountability in South Sudan. When press freedom is impeded so too are existing, local capacities to sustain peace.

The post As Peace Talks Resume, South Sudan Continues Assault on Press Freedom appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Jonathan Rozen is Africa Research Associate with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and has previously worked in South Africa, Mozambique, and Canada with the Institute for Security Studies.

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Truth & Nothing But the Truth: Impact of Media & Communication on Democratic Participationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/truth-nothing-truth-impact-media-communication-democratic-participation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=truth-nothing-truth-impact-media-communication-democratic-participation http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/02/truth-nothing-truth-impact-media-communication-democratic-participation/#respond Thu, 01 Feb 2018 15:07:25 +0000 Patrick Keuleers and Sarah Lister http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154120 Patrick Keuleers is Director Governance and Peace Building, UNDP & Sarah Lister is Director Oslo Governance Centre, UNDP

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Mobile technology and empowerment. Credit: UNDP

By Patrick Keuleers and Sarah Lister
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 1 2018 (IPS)

In recent years, technological developments and the liberalization of media markets have fueled an explosive change in media and communication, with profound implications for how people are informed, how they interact with each other, and how they participate in public life.

Access to the internet and mobile phones is rising rapidly. While only 13% of the population of Africa subscribe to Facebook, this figure grew 810% in the period 2010-2017. Similar patterns can be seen across other regions, suggesting a significant shift in the way that people are gaining information and engaging with others.

The effects of these developments are unprecedented: from facilitating political engagement beyond election day, to foreign meddling in domestic affairs, to the uncontrolled spreading of misinformation and disinformation that spurs political polarization, even to the corroding of established democratic systems.

A free and independent media plays a central role in a healthy society – providing access to information, holding power to account, and offering platforms for debate and dialogue. As the technology and platforms through which information flows change, we need to think about the effects of these changes and ask ourselves what are the implications of this for peace, inclusive governance and social cohesion?

In many countries, media markets have liberalized, rapid change in ICTs has occurred, and media outlets have proliferated. The potential for media to support hate-speech, inflame conflict and reduce political accountability has also increased.

And while social media has created positive opportunities to network and engage, it has also created a range of new forms of problems, from bullying children and adults in the virtual space, to violations of privacy, stalking and identity theft, and companies increasingly scanning employees’ and applicants’ activities (and opinions) on social media.

Social media executives are aware of the challenge. In 2018, Facebook will hire more than 10,000 people only to work on safety and security.

The proliferation of digital platforms has, in some places, made it more difficult for governments to control people’s access to information, curtail their right to freedom of expression and curb the freedom of the press.

Nonetheless, today two-thirds of the world’s internet users live under regimes of government censorship and internet freedom across the globe declined for a sixth consecutive year in 2016. Topics that are subject to on-line restriction are criticism of authorities, exposure of corruption, public mobilisation, discussion on religion and advocacy for LGBTI issues.

More states use their power to intimidate their critics and as a result, those not subjected to formal state-based censorship may self-censor if the risks seem too great. Even in contexts where there is no censorship, analysts are now noting the pernicious effects on our societies of our increased ability to personalize our media consumption, deliberately reducing the range of information and viewpoints we want to encounter.

Social media have facilitated the rallying of people for a cause, within and across national boundaries, and stimulating mass movements. The #MeToo movement of 2017 spread across countries and languages and sectors, galvanizing millions of women and men to speak out about their experiences of sexual harassment.

Other progressive advocacy campaigns have been more deliberate and organized – such as the “World We Want” social media campaign organized by the UN as part of the negotiations on the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Social media can mobilise thousands of people online, and facilitate organized protest, turning a spontaneous gathering rapidly into a large, organised movement. Social networks played a role in the rapid disintegration of regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and statistics show that during the Arab Spring, the number of users of social networks, especially Facebook, rose dramatically, particularly in those countries where political uprisings took place. As one protester mentioned, “we use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate and YouTube to tell the world”.

Digital and social media are also transforming the conduct of formal politics. They allow politicians to reach millions of people at no cost; and allow political debates to happen in a virtual space without the threat of personal confrontation.

The use of social media, including Twitter, to deliver political messages and comment on domestic as well as global events in real time and without the benefit of editorial control, fact correction or balanced advice has changed the role and nature of political discourse.

New software applications (bots) enable highly repetitive operations (e.g. retweeting the messages of politicians to inflate the number of followers) to create an illusion of popularity and influence public opinion.

While some guidelines for parliamentarians have now been issued by the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), much more needs to be considered in terms of guidance and appropriate behavior in the political sphere.

In summary, the transformations in people’s access to media, information and communication will continue to bring positive and negative consequences for governance. While the speed of information exchange and new ways of communicating can bring democratic, economic and social benefits, they can also lead to or worsen political polarization and social conflict.

It is certainly not evident that in many contexts these changes have led to a more informed society, able to access trustworthy information, balanced views and a plurality of voices and debate.

Free, independent and plural media including social media remain essential for an open and informed society, but whether a more connected world is also becoming a more democratic world remains one of the governance challenges we urgently need to confront.

The post Truth & Nothing But the Truth: Impact of Media & Communication on Democratic Participation appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Patrick Keuleers is Director Governance and Peace Building, UNDP & Sarah Lister is Director Oslo Governance Centre, UNDP

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Why Release of Two Journalists in Ethiopia Does not Signal End to Press Crackdownhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/release-two-journalists-ethiopia-not-signal-end-press-crackdown/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=release-two-journalists-ethiopia-not-signal-end-press-crackdown http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/release-two-journalists-ethiopia-not-signal-end-press-crackdown/#respond Fri, 26 Jan 2018 14:05:31 +0000 Muthoki Mumo and Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154028 Muthoki Mumo/CPJ East Africa Correspondent and Jonathan Rozen/CPJ Africa

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By Muthoki Mumo and Jonathan Rozen
NEW YORK, Jan 26 2018 (IPS)

On January 10, radio journalists Darsema Sori and Khalid Mohammed were released from prison after serving lengthy sentences related to their work at the Ethiopian faith-based station Radio Bilal. Despite their release and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s promise earlier this month to free political prisoners, Ethiopia’s use of imprisonment, harassment, and surveillance means that the country continues to be a hostile environment for journalists.

Darsema, who featured in CPJ’s Free the Press campaign, and Khalid were released after a supreme court ruling late last year reduced their sentences. Mustefa Shifa Suleyman, who acted as one of their lawyers, told CPJ that the journalists should have been released on the day of the court ruling, and that the delay was “not appropriate.”

Like all of the journalists jailed in Ethiopia at the time of CPJ’s 2017 prison census, Darsema and Khlaid were held on anti-state charges. At least three other journalists remain in prison: Zelalem Workagegnehu is serving a five-year, four-month sentence, and Woubshet Taye and Eskinder Nega are serving 14 and 18 years respectively for their journalism, according to CPJ research.

Even those journalists freed pending the outcome of a trial face frustrations from arbitrary court delays. Befekadu Hailu, a member of the Zone 9 blogging collective who was previously jailed for his journalism with eight of his colleagues in 2014, told CPJ that is still awaiting a final verdict related to that case.

Since the prime minister announced that political prisoners would be released, authorities have freed at least 115 people, according to a Reuters report. Yared Hailemariam, executive director of the Swiss-based Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, told CPJ the government had yet to provide any indication on “whether journalists are included” among those who will be freed.

Befekadu told CPJ that releasing political prisoners is only part of the wide-ranging reforms needed to make Ethiopia a friendlier environment for dissenting voices, a sentiment echoed by Human Rights Watch. Befekadu and Yared both told CPJ they believe that the government should urgently review the anti-terror proclamation of 2009, which has been used to silence dissenting voices and to persecute critical journalists. On January 19, the United Nations human rights spokesperson, Liz Throssell also called on Ethiopia to amend anti-terror legislation in line with international standards, and to revise laws that restrict the media, Reuters reported.

As well as legal action, the government has a series of other tools to intimidate and harass critical reporters. A December 2017 report by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, found that since 2016, “a campaign of targeted malware attacks apparently carried out by Ethiopia” was directed at activists and Oromia Media Network (OMN), a U.S.-based media outlet that reports on Ethiopia. Jawar Mohammed, the network’s executive director, said that the attacks began four days before a state of emergency was declared.

“Our contacts were not compromised … we were able to beef up our security,” Jawar told CPJ. “If this is what [Ethiopian authorities] are doing to us here abroad, imagine what they’re doing to journalists in Ethiopia where they control the telecommunications.”

During the state of emergency, in place between October 2016 and August 2017, the government tightened its control over access to information, banning diaspora television and victimizing those associated with these outlets, according to Human Rights Watch.

During this period CPJ found that journalists were slapped with terror charges or harassed while trying to cover unrest, and the government periodically blocked the internet. One privately owned publication, the Addis Standard, stopped printing on account of what it described to Reuters as “impossible” conditions.

Authorities have used internet shutdowns during other politically sensitive periods too, CPJ has found. During protests in 2016, authorities cut access to social media access at least four times in the country’s Oromia region, according to research by digital rights group, Access Now.

These shutdowns continued even after the state of emergency was lifted, with media reports indicating that the government blocked access to social media sites again following protests in mid-December. Mobile data was still inaccessible outside Addis Ababa this month, according to Yared and Atnafu Berhane, another Addis-based Zone 9 blogger.

As well as restricting Ethiopians’ access to information, the shutdowns have hampered journalists’ ability to communicate safely with each other and their sources. Befekadu and another journalist, Belay Manaye, said that because of this, the flow of news from regions outside Addis Ababa is, in effect, blocked.

Other journalists have been targeted directly over their critical commentary on social media.

Zone 9 blogger Mahlet Fantahun told CPJ that while she was covering a trial in November, a judge called her to the defendant’s stand to ask her about her Facebook posts, and warned her against writing critical comments on the social media site.

Mahlet said that in one of the posts the judge referred to, she had shared her opinion of a trial in which the defendants complained about the judge. In the second post, she had shared a Facebook user’s plea for a verdict in another trial. Mahlet said that she has since deactivated her Facebook account.

The post Why Release of Two Journalists in Ethiopia Does not Signal End to Press Crackdown appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Muthoki Mumo/CPJ East Africa Correspondent and Jonathan Rozen/CPJ Africa

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Closure of Ethiopia’s Most Notorious Prison: A Sign of Real Reform or Smokescreen? http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/closure-ethiopias-notorious-prison-sign-real-reform-smokescreen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=closure-ethiopias-notorious-prison-sign-real-reform-smokescreen http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/closure-ethiopias-notorious-prison-sign-real-reform-smokescreen/#respond Fri, 26 Jan 2018 00:01:34 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154023 Ethiopia’s most notorious prison lurks within the capital’s atmospheric Piazza, the city’s old quarter popular for its party scene at the weekend when the neon signs, loud discos and merry abandon at night continue into the early hours of the morning. The troubling contrast is one of many in this land of often painful contradictions. […]

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In early October 2016 a federal policeman stands guard between the Oromo regional flag (left) and Ethiopia’s national flag at the ceremony marking the opening of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway, an apparent boon for the country's strengthening economy that at the same time angers so many Ethiopians who feel their lives are no better off despite all the economic fanfare and proclamations. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

In early October 2016 a federal policeman stands guard between the Oromo regional flag (left) and Ethiopia’s national flag at the ceremony marking the opening of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway, an apparent boon for the country's strengthening economy that at the same time angers so many Ethiopians who feel their lives are no better off despite all the economic fanfare and proclamations. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, Jan 26 2018 (IPS)

Ethiopia’s most notorious prison lurks within the capital’s atmospheric Piazza, the city’s old quarter popular for its party scene at the weekend when the neon signs, loud discos and merry abandon at night continue into the early hours of the morning.

The troubling contrast is one of many in this land of often painful contradictions. The Ethiopian Federal Police Force Central Bureau of Criminal Investigation, more commonly known by its Amharic name of Maekelawi, has for decades been associated with torture and police brutality—a symbol of the dark underside of the authoritarian nature of the so-called Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.The EPRDF has long been criticised for using draconian anti-terrorism charges to detain political prisoners, and then in true Orwellian fashion arguing those charges mean there are no political prisoners in Ethiopia.

But this January 3, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced the government would close the detention centre and release prisoners, including those from political parties.

An unprecedented action by a government not known for compromise rather for its stubborn intransigence to criticism of its oppressive methods, it took most by surprise, resulting in guarded praise from even the government’s staunchest critics such as international human rights organisations.

Since the announcement, though, subsequent proclamations from the government have muddied the issue and led many to question the government’s sincerity amid general confusion on all sides regarding the practicalities and terms of prisoner release.

What most observers seem more sure of is that the episode illustrates the speed and scale of change occurring among the four parties that constitute the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party.

“The decision was a concession to the very strong demand made by the Oromo People Democratic Organisation (OPDP) which governs the Oromia regional state,” says Awol Allo, an Ethiopian lecturer in law at Keele University in the UK, who can’t return to Ethiopia for fear of arrest.

The EPRDF was the brainchild of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a Marxist-Leninist movement that spearheaded the defeat of Ethiopia’s former military dictatorship the Derg to liberate the Tigray region, whose Tigrayan ethnic group constitute only about 6.5 percent of Ethiopia’s more than 100 million population today.

In the final days of Ethiopia’s civil war, the TPLF orchestrated the creation of three satellite parties from other elements of the rebel force: the OPDO, the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM) to ostensibly represent their respective ethnic groups but which enabled the TPLF to consolidate its grip on power after the Derg fell in 1991.

That grip became vice like over the years—the TPLF dominates business and the economy as well as the country’s military and security apparatus—much to the consternation of Ethiopia’s other ethnic groups, especially the Oromo.

Constituting 35 percent of Ethiopia’s population, the Oromo are its largest ethnic group. They also constitute the largest proportion of inmates at Maekelawi and in the rest of country’s federal and regional prisons. This, Allo notes, cannot be explained simply by the numerical size of the Oromo population.

“There is a disproportionate and indiscriminate repression of the Oromo because they are suspected to pose a threat by virtue of their status as the single largest ethnic group in the country,” Allo says.

That perceived threat has only increased in the government’s eyes—as well as among some of the other ethnic minorities in the country such as the Somali—since November of 2015 when Oromos took to the streets at the start of a protest movement that continues to this day.

And since the protesting Oromo were joined by the Amhara in 2016—the two ethnic groups representing 67 percent of the population—the government has had to recognise the depth and scale of anger against it.

Hence it is now trying to appease the groundswell of discontent in the country that poses the greatest threat to the country’s stability—perhaps even the survival of the Ethiopian nation state itself—since 1991; the risk of state failure in Ethiopia saw it ranked 15th out of 178 countries—up from 24th in 2016—in the annual Fragile States Index by the Fund for Peace.

The problem, though, with such mollifying efforts by the government, as with the current announcement, is they usually don’t go the necessary distance.

“The EPRDF has taken responsibility for the political crisis in the country and has apologised for its leadership failures and undemocratic actions,” says Lidetu Ayele, founder of the local opposition Ethiopia Democratic Party. “But it has not accepted the presence of political prisoners in the country. These are contradictory outlooks and a clear manifestation that the ruling party is not ready to make genuine reform.”

The EPRDF has long been criticised—domestically and internationally—for using draconian anti-terrorism charges to detain political prisoners, and then in true Orwellian fashion arguing those charges mean there are no political prisoners in Ethiopia. Human rights groups have estimated political prisoner numbers in the tens of thousands.

The Oromo are proud of their cultural traditions and enjoy opportunities to celebrate that heritage. They also share a common language, Afaan Oromoo, also known as Oromoiffa, which belongs to the Cushitic family, unlike Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, which is Semitic. A different language is only one of many sources of tension the Oromo have within the Ethiopian federation. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

The Oromo are proud of their cultural traditions and enjoy opportunities to celebrate that heritage. They also share a common language, Afaan Oromoo, also known as Oromoiffa, which belongs to the Cushitic family, unlike Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, which is Semitic. A different language is only one of many sources of tension the Oromo have within the Ethiopian federation. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

With the announcement about Maekelawi and the prisoner release, however, it initially appeared the government was making a clear break with the past and acknowledging the existence of political prisoners. But soon afterwards it tried to backtrack, with government spokespersons vacillating about what had been meant by political prisoners.

“The announcement of the release of prisoners is highly symptomatic of the disorganization, if not the cacophony, among the leadership,” says René Lefort, who has been visiting and writing about Ethiopia since the 1974 revolution that ended emperor Haile Selassie’s reign and brought in the Derg military dictatorship that would fall to the EPRDF.

“This decision could have been the most resounding proof of the sincerity of the EPRDF to launch a democratizing process. But as it has been announced in successive versions lacking essential points—who exactly is effected; when will they be freed, and will it be unconditionally or, as in the past, only having apologized—this decision has largely lost the impact it could have had.”

Such political flip-flopping and indications of infighting in the government leave some with little confidence about the significance of the promise to end Maekelawi’s history of torture and ill-treatment, as documented in chilling detail by Human Rights Watch.

“The closure of the torture chamber does not signify anything because the government will undoubtedly continue the same practise at other locations,” says Alemante Selassie, emeritus professor at the William and Mary Law School in the US.

Others are less sceptical of the government’s motives.

“It’s not a smokescreen, it’s been under discussion within the context of the interparty dialogue ever since the parties stated their wish lists of issues at the beginning of 2017,” says Sandy Wade, a former European Union diplomat in Addis Ababa. “It is a necessary step in the run-up to the 2018 and 2020 elections—and for the future of the country—if [the government] wants opposition participation, which they do.”

On Jan. 15, Ethiopian Attorney General Getachew Ambaye gave a briefing saying that charges at a federal level brought against 115 prisoners had been dropped as part of the first phase to release jailed politicians and other convicts.

Although the attorney general did not mention names of prominent political figures imprisoned, on Jan. 17. Merera Gudina, leader of the Oromo Federalist Party arrested in 2016, was released.

The attorney general added that the Southern Ethiopia Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State—a region of more than 58 ethnic groups—had dropped charges against 413 inmates also, and that other regions would follow suit in the next couple of months, with political figures in jail who have been “convicted” of crimes given amnesty.

At the same time, though, it appears the jury remains very much out on whether the government is genuinely committed to democratization and achieving a national consensus in the longer term.

“If they are, this would be a transformative moment for Ethiopia,” Awol says. “Either way, Ethiopia cannot be governed in the same way it has for the last 26 years.”

Which leaves the big—possibly existential—question facing Ethiopia: whether the government can and will come up with the necessary strategy and then implement it successfully in time for the 2018 local and 2020 national elections.

“If the EPRDF wants to rescue itself and the country from total collapse, what we need is genuine and swift political reform that will enable the country to have free and fair elections,” Lidetu says. “Anything less than that will not solve the current political crisis.”

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Argentina Continues to Seek Truth and Justice, Despite the Hurdleshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/argentina-continues-seek-truth-justice-despite-hurdles/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentina-continues-seek-truth-justice-despite-hurdles http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/argentina-continues-seek-truth-justice-despite-hurdles/#respond Sun, 21 Jan 2018 22:56:21 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153964 Thirty-four years after Argentina’s return to democracy, more than 500 cases involving human rights abuses committed during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship are making their way through the courts. This high number not only shows that the process of truth and justice is ongoing, but also reflects the delays and the slow process of justice. Since […]

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Outside the courtroom in the city of Buenos Aires, the relatives of victims of the dictatorship and human rights activists watched on a big screen the late November sentencing in the trial for the crimes committed during the de facto regime at the Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA). In the trial, which lasted five years, 29 people were sentenced to life imprisonment. Credit: Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS)

Outside the courtroom in the city of Buenos Aires, the relatives of victims of the dictatorship and human rights activists watched on a big screen the late November sentencing in the trial for the crimes committed during the de facto regime at the Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA). In the trial, which lasted five years, 29 people were sentenced to life imprisonment. Credit: Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS)

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jan 21 2018 (IPS)

Thirty-four years after Argentina’s return to democracy, more than 500 cases involving human rights abuses committed during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship are making their way through the courts. This high number not only shows that the process of truth and justice is ongoing, but also reflects the delays and the slow process of justice.

Since the human rights trials got underway again in 2003, after amnesty laws were overturned, 200 sentences have been handed down, but 140 of them have been appealed.

This was revealed by a December 2017 report by the Office of the Prosecutor for Crimes against Humanity, which stated that 856 people have been convicted and 110 acquitted.

At the same time, there are another 393 ongoing cases, but 247 are still in the initial stage of investigation of the judicial process, which precedes the oral and public trial.

“The trials for the crimes committed in Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship have been an example for all of humanity, because there has no been no other similar case in the world. And it is very positive that the State is transmitting today the message that the trials are continuing,” Santiago Cantón, former executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), told IPS.Since President Mauricio Macri took office in December 2015, "the dismemberment or cutting of research areas and the emptying of prosecutors’ offices dedicated to these cases has been noted with concern." -- Daniel Feierstein

“However, the delays are serious, because we are talking about defendants who in most cases are over 80 years old,” said Canton, currently Secretary of Human Rights of the province of Buenos Aires, the country’s largest and most populous.

“It is important for everyone for the trials to be completed: so that the accused do not die surrounded by a mantle of doubt, and so that the victims and society as a whole see justice done,” he added.

The dictatorship was responsible for a criminal plan that included the installation of hundreds of clandestine detention, torture and extermination centres throughout the country. According to human rights organisations, 30,000 people were “disappeared” and killed.

After the return to democracy, then president Raúl Alfonsín (1983-1989) promoted the investigation and punishment of crimes. The culminating point was the famous trial of the military junta members, which convicted nine senior armed forces officers.

Thus, in 1985, former General Jorge Videla and former Admiral Emilio Massera, leading figures of the first stage of the dictatorship, the time of the most brutal repression, were sentenced to life in prison.

However, under pressure from the military, Congress passed the so-called Full Stop and Due Obedience laws in 1986 and 1987, which effectively put a stop to prosecution of rights abuses committed during the dictatorship. The circle was closed by then president Carlos Menem (1989-1999), who in 1990 pardoned Videla, Massera and the rest of the imprisoned junta members.

Not until 2001 did a judge declare the two laws unconstitutional, on the argument that crimes against humanity are not subject to amnesties.

That decision marked a watershed, reaffirmed in September 2003, when Congress, at the behest of then President Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), revoked the amnesty laws.

The prosecution of “Dirty War” crimes was then resumed and the last hurdle was removed in 2005, when the Supreme Court ruled that no statute of limitations or pardon applied to crimes against humanity.

“It is very important that since 2003, 200 trials have been carried out, thanks to the effort and commitment of victims and relatives,” said Luz Palmás Zaldúa, a lawyer with the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), the organisation that pushed for the first declaration that the amnesty laws were unconstitutional, in 2001.

Palmás Zaldúa mentioned some trials in particular, such as the one involving Operation Condor, which ended in 2016 with 15 convictions, “in which it was proven that there was a plan of political repression implemented by the dictatorships in the Southern Cone of South America.”

He also highlights the trials involving abuses at the Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA), the dictatorship’s largest detention and torture centre, which ended last November with life sentences for 29 people.

“The so-called death flights, where the founders of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, for example, were thrown (alive) into the River Plate, were proven in those trials,” Palmás Zaldúa told IPS.

The lawyer, however, warned that the process of justice and memory “faces a number of difficulties, which are the responsibility of the three branches of the State.”

CELS was one of the 13 Argentine human rights organisations that denounced, in an October 2017 hearing before the IACHR in Montevideo, that the Argentine government had undermined or dismantled official bodies dedicated to reviewing dictatorship-era documents to provide evidence in the courts.

They also complained that Congress did not put into operation the bicameral commission that was to investigate economic complicities with the dictatorship, created by law in November 2015.

Since President Mauricio Macri took office in December 2015, “the dismemberment or cutting of research areas and the emptying of prosecutors’ offices dedicated to these cases has been noted with concern,” sociologist and researcher Daniel Feierstein told IPS.

In addition, “it would appear that a new judicial climate has been created which has led many courts to easily grant house arrest to those guilty of genocide, significantly increase the number of acquittals, and reject preventive detention at a time when its use is no the rise for less serious crimes,” added Feierstein.

“So the outlook is contradictory, with a process that seems to be ongoing but under changing conditions, which generate great uncertainty,” he said.

The report by the Public Prosecutor’s Office states that of the 2,979 people charged since the cases were resumed in 2003, 1,038 were detained, 1,305 were released, 37 went on the run, and 599 died – 100 after receiving a sentence and 499 while still awaiting sentencing.

A significant fact is that more than half of the prisoners (549) enjoy the benefit of house arrest, which in some cases has aroused strong social condemnation.

“Even if they go home, they are condemned by history, by society and in some cases even by their own families,” stressed Norma Ríos, leader of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights (APDH), in a dialogue with IPS.

“A few years ago, we would never have imagined all this. And perhaps the most important thing is that it has been broadly proven that we were not lying when we denounced the crimes committed by the dictatorship,” she added.

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Davos: a Tale of Two Mountainshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/davos-tale-two-mountains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=davos-tale-two-mountains http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/davos-tale-two-mountains/#respond Thu, 18 Jan 2018 15:58:52 +0000 Ben Phillips http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153934 Ben Phillips is Launch Director, Fight Inequality Alliance.

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As the elite in the world of finance gather in the Swiss luxury town of Davos, rallies are taking place around the world as citizens demand for solutions to rising inequality.

By Ben Phillips
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

As the elite in the world of finance gather in the Swiss luxury town of Davos, rallies are taking place around the world as citizens demand for solutions to rising inequality.

At the same time as the World Economic Forum’s rich and powerful hold forth about fixing the crisis of inequality they created, a new movement called the Fight Inequality Alliance is telling another story that is growing around the world.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaking at the World Economic Forum in 2017. Credit: World Economic Forum/Valeriano Di Domenico

As the world’s 1% gather in the luxury Swiss mountain resort Davos this week, rallies are taking place around the world on mountains of a very different sort – the mountains of garbage and of open pit mines that millions of the most unequal call home.

People will be gathering in events in countries including India, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, United Kingdom, The Gambia, Tunisia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Denmark, Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Mexico to publicly demand an end to inequality.

Worldwide the groups involved include Greenpeace, ActionAid, Oxfam, Asia People’s Movement on Debt and Development, Femnet, Global Alliance for Tax Justice and the International Trade Union Confederation. Events worldwide include a pop concert at a slum next to a garbage mountain in Kenya, a football match in Senegal, a public meal sharing in Denmark, a rally at open-pit an mine in South Africa, a sound truck in Nigeria, and a giant “weighing scales of injustice” in the UK.


Worldwide the groups involved include Greenpeace, ActionAid, Oxfam, Asia People’s Movement on Debt and Development, Femnet, Global Alliance for Tax Justice and the International Trade Union Confederation.

The protesters are demanding an end to the age of greed, and say that the solutions to the inequality crisis will not come from the same elites that caused the problem. People living on the frontlines of inequality are the key to the radical change that is needed, they say.

They are already organising to build their power by joining together in a global Fight Inequality Alliance that unites social movements, women’s rights groups, trade unions, and NGOs in over 30 countries across the world. They are urging the world to hear the solutions to inequality from those who suffer it not those who caused it.

Nester Ndebele, challenging mining the companies widening inequality in South Africa, remarks: “These mining companies claim to bring development but they make a fortune while leaving our land unfarmable, our air dangerously polluted, and our communities ripped apart. Women bear the brunt of this. They claim it is worth it for the energy they provide but the wires go over our homes with no connection. The politicians need to stop listening to the mining companies fancy speeches and hear from us instead.”

Mildred Ngesa, fighting for women’s rights in Kenya, explains why the events are taking place at the same time as, and as a counter to, the elite Davos meeting in Switzerland: “All these rich men at Davos say all these nice things about women’s empowerment but when young women in the places I grew up have no economic security, many have little real choices beyond the red light. We need jobs, housing, and free education and health, not speeches from the same people who push for corporate tax exemptions which take away resources needed to advance equality.”

Campaigners call on governments to curb the murky influence of the super-rich who they blame for the Age of Greed, where billionaires are buying not just yachts but laws. Community groups ideas, which elites don’t mention, include an end to corporate tax breaks, higher taxation on the top 1% to enable quality health and education for all, increases in minimum wages and stronger enforcement, and a limit how many times more a boss can earn than a worker.

“We have rising inequality because the rich are determining what governments should do. Davos can never be the answer because the problem is caused by the influence of the people at Davos. Governments around the world must listen instead to their citizens, and end the Age of Greed. We know that governments will only do that when we organize and unite, so we are coming together as one. The power of the people is greater than the people in power.” says Filipina activist Lidy Nacpil, a co-founder of the international Fight Inequality Alliance.

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Excerpt:

Ben Phillips is Launch Director, Fight Inequality Alliance.

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“The World Has Gone in Reverse”http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/world-gone-reverse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-gone-reverse http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/world-gone-reverse/#comments Thu, 18 Jan 2018 07:06:34 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153922 A year into his position, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that peace remains elusive and that renewed action must be taken in 2018 to set the world on track for a better future. Around the world, challenges such as conflicts and climate change have deepened while new dangers have emerged with the threat […]

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Secretary-General António Guterres briefs the General Assembly on his priorities for 2018. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 18 2018 (IPS)

A year into his position, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that peace remains elusive and that renewed action must be taken in 2018 to set the world on track for a better future.

Around the world, challenges such as conflicts and climate change have deepened while new dangers have emerged with the threat of nuclear catastrophe and the rise in nationalism and xenophobia.

“In fundamental ways, the world has gone in reverse,” said Guterres to the General Assembly.

“At the beginning of 2018, we must recognize the many ways in which the international
community is failing and falling short.”

Among the major concerns is the ongoing and heightened nuclear tensions.

Guterres noted that there are small signs of hope, including North Korea’s participation in the upcoming winter Olympics as well as the reopening of inter-Korean communication channels.

“War is avoidable—what I’m worried is that I’m not yet sure peace is guaranteed, and that is why we are so strongly engaged,” he said.

Despite UN sanctions, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has refused to surrender the country’s development and stockpile of nuclear missiles.

During a meeting in Canada, United States’ officials warned of military action if the Northeast Asian nation does not negotiate.

“It is time to talk, but they have to take the step to say they want to talk,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told foreign ministers.

A recently released nuclear strategy also outlines the U.S. administration’s proposal to expand its nuclear arsenal in response to Russian and Chinese military threats which may only sustain global tensions.

Guterres has also pinpointed migration and refugee protection as priorities for the year.

Though arrivals have dropped, refugees and migrants from Honduras to Myanmar still embark on dangerous journeys in search of economic opportunity or even just safety. However, they are still often met with hostility.

“We need to have mutual respect with all people in the world. In particular, migration is a positive aspect—the respect for migrants and diversity is a fundamental pillar of the UN and it will be a fundamental pillar of the actions of the Secretary-General,” Guterres said.

The UN Global Compact for Migration is set to be adopted later this year after months of negotiations. The U.S. however has since withdrawn from the compact and is seemingly increasingly abandoning its commitments to migrants and refugees.

Most recently, U.S. President Donald Trump allegedly made offensive comments about immigrants from Caribbean and African nations.

The African Group of UN Ambassadors issued a statement condemning the “outrageous, racist, and xenophobic remarks” and demanded an apology.

UN human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville echoed similar sentiments, stating: “There is no other word one can use but racist. You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”

Guterres expressed particular concern about U.S. cuts to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) which has served more than five million registered refugees for almost 70 years.

“UNRWA is providing vital services to the Palestinian refugee population…those services are extremely important not only for the wellbeing of these populations—and there is a serious humanitarian concern here—but also it is an important factor of stability,” he said.

Just a day after the Secretary-General’s briefing, the U.S. administration announced that it will cut over half of its planned funding to the agency.

Former UN Undersecretary-General and current Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland urged the government to reconsider its decision.”

“Cutting aid to innocent refugee children due to political disagreements among well-fed grown men and women is a really bad politicization of humanitarian aid,” he said in a tweet.

In light of the range of challenges, Guterres called for bold leadership in the world.

“We need less hatred, more dialogue, and deeper international cooperation. With unity in 2018, we can make this pivotal year that sets the world on a better course,” he concluded.

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Philippines Most Dangerous Country in Southeast Asia for Journalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/philippines-dangerous-country-southeast-asia-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=philippines-dangerous-country-southeast-asia-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/philippines-dangerous-country-southeast-asia-journalists/#respond Wed, 10 Jan 2018 22:05:14 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153815 It’s not just suspected drug users and dealers at risk of targeted killing in the Philippines. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) reported last week that the Philippines is the most dangerous country in Southeast Asia for journalists. Globally, the island nation came sixth on the list of most murderous countries. Joaquin Brinoes, Rudy Alicaway, […]

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A police commando stands guard as forensics investigators unearth the victims of the Ampatuan massacre. Credit: InterAksyon file photo

A police commando stands guard as forensics investigators unearth the victims of the Ampatuan massacre. Credit: InterAksyon file photo

By Pascal Laureyn
MANILA, Jan 10 2018 (IPS)

It’s not just suspected drug users and dealers at risk of targeted killing in the Philippines. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) reported last week that the Philippines is the most dangerous country in Southeast Asia for journalists. Globally, the island nation came sixth on the list of most murderous countries.

Joaquin Brinoes, Rudy Alicaway, Leodoro Diaz and Crisenciano Ibon Lozada. These are new names to be added to a tragic roster of killed journalists. In August, a gunman shot columnist Crisenciano Ibon in the back and seriously wounded his driver. The police speculate the attack may have been in retaliation for his columns criticizing illegal gambling. He had received many death threats.

Broadcaster Rudy Alicaway and columnist Leodoro Diaz were attacked within two days time. They were both riding motorcycles when gunmen came up behind and shot them dead. Their murders are likely linked to their reports on political corruption, underground gambling and the drug trade. Journalist Joaquin Briones was killed the same way. He was known for his hard-hitting radio program.

There is a fifth killing, not included in the statistics of IFJ. In August, Michael Marasigan, a respected former newspaper editor, was shot dead in a Manila suburb. Rodrigo Duterte’s administration says it is doing all it can to apprehend those responsible. But so far, no arrests have been made.

President Duterte is a vocal critic of the press. Even before he took office, as president-elect, he sent a chilling message to the press corps: “Just because you’re a journalist, you’re not exempted from assassination if you are a son of a bitch,” he said at a press conference. “Free speech won’t save you, my dear.”

Need for independent reporting

The numbers of journalists being killed are dropping in recent years. But there is no room for complacency, says IFJ. Only a year ago, the Philippines was reported to be the second most dangerous country for journalists in the past 25 years. Only Iraq had more deaths. And in the Philippines, the IFJ warned, unprecedented numbers of journalists were jailed or forced to flee, self-censorship was widespread and impunity for the killings, harassment, attacks and threats against independent journalism was running at epidemic levels.

In September, Edito Mapayo, the editor-in-chief of Diaryo Balita, a local newspaper on the Mindanao island, was choked and punched by Surigao del Norte Vice Mayor Francisco Matugas Gonzales. And in August, a government official filed a libel case against ABS-CBN’s broadcast journalist Ted Failon and three members of his staff. They were looking into the “allegedly irregular purchase of secondhand motorcycles for Pope Francis’ visit to Manila in 2014”.

The country is in great need of independent journalists to report on human rights abuses, like the continuing war on drugs and the extended martial law in Mindanao. According to Human Rights Watch, the war on drugs has claimed 12,000 lives since president Rodrigo Duterte decided to purify his people from the evil of cheap drugs. Critics say he doesn’t let the law get in the way of his mission.

Last month, Congress approved Duterte’s request to extend martial law on the southern island of Mindanao until Dec. 31, 2018. UN special rapporteurs Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Cecilia Jimenez-Damary released a statement on Jan. 3 saying  that the Lumads, the non-Muslim indigenous people living on Mindanao, are suffering from the island’s ongoing militarisation.

“Thousands of Lumads have already been forcibly displaced by the conflict and have seen their houses and livelihoods destroyed,” the experts said in their statement. There were also reports indicating that military forces had killed local farmers in early December.

The restive island of Mindanao is also the location of the single deadliest event for journalists in history. The Maguindanao massacre is named after the town where mass graves where found in November 2009. A convoy was on route to file a candidacy for local elections when it was attacked. Fifty-eight people were killed, including at least 34 journalists.

‘End impunity’

“We welcome the reduction for the third year in a row in the loss of life suffered by journalists and media staff during 2017,” says IFJ President Philippe Leruth. “While this represents a downward trend, the levels of violence in journalism remain unacceptably high. We find it most disturbing that governments refuse to tackle the impunity for these crimes targeting journalists. Instead, the patterns don’t change in the most violent countries.”

While Mexico and India are extremely dangerous places for journalists, no region was spared the scourge of violence, including Western democracies. Investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia of Malta paid for her pursuit of the truth with her life. She was killed by a car bomb after she reported on government corruption, nepotism, patronage and allegations of money laundering.

“There is a safety crisis in journalism,” added IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger. “There is a desperate need for a new instrument that finally would make it possible to implement a numerous of existing resolutions on media protection. We urge the adoption of this new convention to sustain other ongoing efforts to further promote the safety of journalists.”

In anticipation of such a guarantee for the safety of journalists, a few brave Philippinos are working hard to maintain an independent press.

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The Data Revolution Should Not Leave Women and Girls Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/data-revolution-not-leave-women-girls-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=data-revolution-not-leave-women-girls-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/data-revolution-not-leave-women-girls-behind/#respond Tue, 09 Jan 2018 16:20:56 +0000 Jemimah Njuki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153800 Jemimah Njuki is an expert on agriculture, food security, and women’s empowerment and works as a senior program specialist with IDRC. She is an Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow.

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Most African farmers are women. Credit: IPS

By Jemimah Njuki
OTTAWA, Canada, Jan 9 2018 (IPS)

If there is one political principle that has been constant throughout the history of human civilization it is the fact that land is power. This is something that is particularly true, and often painfully so, for women who farm in Africa.

Though women in Africa are far more likely to farm than men, they are also much less likely to have secure rights to the land where they cultivate crops and they typically hold smaller plots of inferior quality.

As a researcher who studies the role of gender in agriculture, I want to do my part to address this injustice, because when women have stronger rights to land, their crop yields increase and they have higher incomes and more bargaining power within the household. Research has shown that stronger land rights leads to other benefits such as better child nutrition and improved educational attainment for girls.

But as I delve deeper in to the issue, I frequently encounter another political constant, which is the fact that information is power. And one manifestation of the chronic neglect of women in agriculture is the lack of data that would help illuminate and address their plight.

For example, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has launched the Goal Keepers Initiative, which is making a concerted effort to track progress toward achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Examining the first ever report on the program launched just a few weeks ago, the first thing I did was scroll down to the section on Goal 5, “Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls.” When examining the indicators related to gender, which include tracking the percentage of women who have secure land rights, I kept encountering the phrase, “Insufficient data” in big, bold red capital letters!

Without data, it is impossible to track progress or identify policies and interventions that are achieving gender equality. In order to develop solutions—whether around land rights or the many other challenges women and girls face–we need data that highlights current problems and assesses their impact.

A good example of how sex-specific data fosters progress is in financial inclusion. Sex-specific data gives us information about who is accessing which kind of products, which channels they use and what the gaps are. Being aware of these gaps is essential to overcome them, and this is impossible without data sets for both men and women. In Rwanda, use of sex-specific data has led to the targeting of groups who are excluded from the financial system, raising the financial inclusion index rise from 20 percent in 2008 to 42 percent in 2012.

A report by Data2X, an initiative of the United Nations Foundation, indicates that although close to 80 percent of countries globally regularly produce sex-specific statistics on mortality, labor force participation, and education and training, less than one-third of countries separate statistics by sex on informal employment, entrepreneurship (ownership and management of a firm or business) and unpaid work, or collect data about violence against women. This leads to an incomplete picture of women’s and men’s lives and the gaps that persist between them, which constrains the development of policies and programs to address these gaps.

A key challenge to collecting these data sets is investment. We need financial investments to collect data on the situation of women and girls at different levels –local, national and international. A study carried out by the UN Statistics Division in collaboration with the UN regional commissions in 2012, showed that out of 126 responding countries only 13 percent had a separate budget allocated to specific gender statistics, 47 percent relied on ad-hoc or project funds and the remaining 39 percent had no funds at all.

In 2016, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invested US $80M to improve the collection of sex specific data. In Uganda, the World Bank Living Standards Measurement Study is collaborating with the United Nations Evidence and Data for Gender Equality initiative and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics to collect and analyze asset ownership by different members of households.

It would help to know for example what assets women own so as to develop programs and policies that benefit both men and women and that close persistent gender gaps. At Canada’s International Development Research Centre, we are supporting sex-specific reporting and registration of vital and civil events—including births and deaths to help track progress on such indicators as women’s reproductive health and child mortality.

Globally, there is still no available data on how many women own customary land. One challenge is that the rules, norms, and customs which determine the distribution of land and resources are embedded in various institutions in society—family, kinship, community, markets, and states. For example, when I was visiting Mali in 2012, I attended a village’s community meeting where I witnessed the village chief grant a local women’s group a local deed so they could farm together and raise their incomes. But there was no formal document or record.

Without this data, when land is privatized or formalized, women often lose control of customary land. For example in post-independence Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe, during the land registration and formalization experience, lack of data and consideration of women in customary land rights led to the documentation of land in the name of the head of the household only, often a man. This gave the man authority to use, sell, and control the land, with women losing the customary access and rights that they had previously enjoyed.

International agencies and governments must commit to investing in collecting more data on women and girls. Closing this gender data gap is not only useful for tracking progress of where we are with the SDGs, but it can also point to what interventions are working, and what needs to be done to accelerate progress towards gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

What gets measured matters, and what matters gets measured. Women and girls matter.

The post The Data Revolution Should Not Leave Women and Girls Behind appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Jemimah Njuki is an expert on agriculture, food security, and women’s empowerment and works as a senior program specialist with IDRC. She is an Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow.

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Religion: Between ‘Power’ and ‘Force’http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/religion-power-force/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=religion-power-force http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/religion-power-force/#comments Wed, 03 Jan 2018 07:53:29 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153716 Azza Karam, is Senior Advisor UNFPA; Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion

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Azza Karam. Credit: UN photo

By Azza Karam
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 3 2018 (IPS)

In 1994, Dr. David R. Hawkins wrote a book positing the difference between power and force (Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior – the latest revised version came out in 2014).

Basing his hypothesis on the science of kinetics, Dr. Hawkins made a case for how human consciousness – and the physical body – can tell the difference between power, which is positive, and force, which is not. An example of power over force is illustrated as Gandhi’s non-violent resistance to the force of British colonialism.

Power is slow, steady, and long lasting, whereas force is moving, fast, and tends to both create counter-force, and eventually exhaust itself. Dr. Hawkins’ argument, often labeled as ‘spiritual’, lays the groundwork for how faith, or belief, is a source of power, and, to coin a phrase, it’s all good.

Historically, from the first century’s Lucretius, to 16th Century Machiavelli, to 18th Century’s Voltaire and David Hume, through to modern day Richard Dawkins and others among the New Atheists, it has long been argued, in different ways, that religion —particularly as manifested through religious institutions — is, in Hawkins’ terms, more pertinent to the realm of ‘force’.

And yet, it is still largely towards these religious leaders, and religious institutions, that the international community (now increasingly shepherded by many governments) is looking, as a means to (re)solve a myriad of human development and humanitarian challenges.

These challenges include poverty, migration, environmental degradation, children’s rights, harmful social practices, ‘violent extremism’ (often narrowed down only to the religious variety), and even armed conflict. Religious leaders, and occasionally faith-based organizations, are posited as the panacea to all these, and more.

The notion of partnering with religious actors as one of the means to mobilise communities (socially, economically and even politically), to seek to (re)solve longstanding human development challenges, has evolved significantly inside the United Nations system over the last decade. But the intent of the outreach from largely secular institutions towards religious ones, has changed in the last couple of years.

The rationale for partnership, as argued by the diverse members of the United Nations Interagency Task Force on Partnership with Religious Actors for Sustainable Development (or the UN Task Force on Religion, for short) in 2009, was based on certain facts: that religious NGOs are part of the fabric of each civil society, and therefore bridging between the secular and religious civic space is key to strong advocacy and action for human rights (think the Civil Rights Movement in the USA); that religious institutions are the oldest and most long-standing mechanisms of social service provision (read development including health, education, sanitation, nutrition, etc.); and that some religious leaders are strong influencers (if not gatekeepers) of certain social norms – including especially some of the harmful social practices that hurt girls and women.

Thus, the UN Interagency Task Force developed guidelines for engagement with religious actors, based on a decade of learning, consultations and actual engagement among 17 diverse UN entities and almost 500 faith-based NGOs. These guidelines stipulate, among other aspects, engagement with those who are committed to all human rights. Thus, there is to be no room for cherry-picking, or so-called ‘strategic’ selectivity about which rights to honour, and which to conveniently turn a blind eye to.

When the specific religious actors who are committed to all human rights, are convened, even around one development or humanitarian issue, the ‘power’ in the convening space is palpable, and the discourse can – and does – move hearts and minds. This was evident as far back as 2005 when UNDP started convening Arab faith leaders around the spread of HIV.

Some of the very same religious leaders who held that HIV was a ‘just punishment for sexual promiscuity’, when confronted with the scientific realities of the spread of the disease, and its very human consequences on all ages and all social strata, signed on to a statement which remains one of the most ‘progressive’ (relatively speaking) in religious discourse of the time, and some went so far as to ask for forgiveness from those living with HIV among them.

The ‘power’ of religious actors who are systematically convened together for the human rights of all, at all times, was repeatedly witnessed over the course of several UN initiatives over the years, in different countries, and at the global level. Notably, UNFPA and UNICEF convened religious leaders with other human rights actors, to effect a social transformation as witnessed in a number of communities committed to stopping the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in several sub-Saharan African countries.

The latest event took place as 2017 wound to an end, in December, when the UN Office for the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, after two years of convening religious actors – using the UN systems vetted partners and it’s Guidelines — as gatekeepers against hate speech, responded to a request from some of the religious leaders themselves, to come together from several South Asian countries (including Myanmar, Thailand, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka).

Sharing respective experiences of protecting religious minorities and standing in solidarity with the rights of all, across religions and national boundaries, created a sense of shared purpose, and above all, of possibility, hope – and yes, of power. Not a minor achievement in a time of a great deal of general confusion and sense of instability around, and with, religion.

Can the same be said of convening religious actors who are prepared to uphold a particular set of rights, even at the expense of ignoring other rights, ostensibly for the ‘greater good’? Or are we then, very possibly, inadvertently mobilising the ‘force’ of religion?

The post Religion: Between ‘Power’ and ‘Force’ appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Azza Karam, is Senior Advisor UNFPA; Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion

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Moralist Upsurge in Brazil Revives Censorship of the Artshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/moralist-upsurge-brazil-revives-censorship-arts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=moralist-upsurge-brazil-revives-censorship-arts http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/moralist-upsurge-brazil-revives-censorship-arts/#comments Tue, 02 Jan 2018 15:34:35 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153706 It is not yet an official policy because censorship is not openly accepted by the current authorities, but de facto vetoes on artistic expressions are increasing due to moralistic pressures in Brazil. The offensive affects the artistic world in general, not just the shows or exhibitions that have been directly canceled in recent months. “This […]

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"Criança viada", by Bia Leite, attracted a wave of moralistic attacks on the grounds that it promotes pedophilia. But the author explains that it is a denouncement of violence against children, humiliated as "queers" (viada) if they do not behave as required by the dominant machista culture. Credit: Courtesy of QueerMuseu

"Criança viada", by Bia Leite, attracted a wave of moralistic attacks on the grounds that it promotes pedophilia. But the author explains that it is a denouncement of violence against children, humiliated as "queers" (viada) if they do not behave as required by the dominant machista culture. Credit: Courtesy of QueerMuseu

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 2 2018 (IPS)

It is not yet an official policy because censorship is not openly accepted by the current authorities, but de facto vetoes on artistic expressions are increasing due to moralistic pressures in Brazil.

The offensive affects the artistic world in general, not just the shows or exhibitions that have been directly canceled in recent months.

“This affects all our work, because it dissuades us from fear of reactions and the sponsors will now think ten thousand times before supporting a work of art,” said Nadia Bambirra, an actress, theater director and acting coach.

This exacerbates the problems facing the cultural sector, at a time that is already fraught with difficulties due to declining public funds and an economic crisis causing a decrease in spectators and audience as well as in private financial support, she told IPS."So, what lies ahead is devastating, rather than worrying," because "the world is facing a surge of conservatism, and Latin America is not immune to that phenomenon, as seen in Argentina and Brazil, which are confirming the return of winds that seemed to have faded in the past." -- Eric Nepomuceno

The wave of repression became dramatic since September, when the Santander Cultural Centre canceled the exhibition “QueerMuseu, Cartographies of Difference in Brazilian Art”, a month before it was to end, after accusations of promoting pedophilia and zoophilia and of blasphemy.

The exhibition, made up of 264 paintings, drawings, sculptures and other works by 85 Brazilian artists, was inaugurated on Aug.15 and was scheduled to close on Oct. 8 in Porto Alegre, capital of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.

A campaign on the social networks was driven mainly by the Free Brazil Movement (MBL), which takes radical positions against social rights, such as housing, even though they are enshrined in the constitution, while supporting extreme right candidates in politics.

The Santander Bank decided to cancel the show at its cultural centre because “it was considered offensive by some people and groups” who thought it was “disrespectful toward symbols and beliefs,” according to the bank’s “message to clients” to explain the measure.

Protests by artists, intellectuals and sexual diversity movements accused the Spanish bank of exercising censorship, by yielding to accusations against some works that have already been well-known for decades.

But the protests failed to prevent the exhibition from also being canceled in Rio de Janeiro, where it was set to open in October.

Mayor Marcelo Crivella, bishop of an evangelical Christian church, banned its exhibition at the Museum of Art, a municipal institution that partners with a private foundation, in response to the accusations aimed at the QueerMuseu in Porto Alegre.

“No more censorship!” protested filmmakers and actors at the Festival do Rio, an international film festival held Oct. 5-15. The mobilisation of artistic and cultural media failed to reverse the decision or, so far, to attain a new venue for the exhibition.

The work of art "Crossing Jesus Christ with the goddess Shiva", by Fernando Baril, aroused the ire of people who considered it blasphemous and disrespectful to religions, while the artist explained that it was a mixture of religious figures and objects that represent Western consumerism. Credit: Courtesy of QueerMuseu

The work of art “Crossing Jesus Christ with the goddess Shiva”, by Fernando Baril, aroused the ire of people who considered it blasphemous and disrespectful to religions, while the artist explained that it was a mixture of religious figures and objects that represent Western consumerism. Credit: Courtesy of QueerMuseu

The moralistic outbreak was fueled in the southern metropolis of São Paulo, where the Museum of Modern Art inaugurated its 35th Panorama of Brazilian Art with a performance by a naked artist.

A video showing a girl touching the hand and leg of a man who was lying down triggered a flood of protests, and allegations of pornography and pedophilia.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office is investigating whether there was a violation of Brazil’s Statute on Children and Adolescents by those who disseminated the video, exposing the girl and her mother who took her to the presentation allegedly inappropriate for children.

Actions of intolerance against freedom of artistic expression have proliferated in Brazil this year.

Dancer Maikon Kempinski was arrested for a few hours on Jul. 15 by the police in São Paulo for presenting a performance in which he removed his clothes. Two months later, a play was banned by the judicial authorities in Jundiaí, 60 kilometers from São Paulo, because Jesus Christ was played by a transsexual actress.

The theatre group was able to perform in nearby cities in the following days, drawing a large audience and intense applause, which shows that censorship is from isolated groups. But in late October the play was again banned in Salvador, capital of the northeastern state of Bahía.

The Rio de Janeiro city government, imbued with the evangelical bias of its mayor, continues to obstruct cultural activities, taking care not to fall into widespread, official bans.

“My boyfriend had his painting censored in the ‘short circuit’ visual arts exhibit on sexual diversity,” which could not be held on the scheduled dates in October, said Bruna Belém, a dancer and body arts researcher who is earning a Master’s Degree in Contemporary Art Studies.

The city government secretariat of culture prevented the exhibition in a municipal cultural centre, alleging

Besides, “eight works disappeared and were only returned two weeks later,” Belém told IPS, referring to suspicions of sabotage of the “October for Diversity” programme, which also included plays that were suspended.

"Scenes from the Interior II", painted 23 years ago by Adriana Varejão, one of Brazil’s most respected and award-winning artists, only now drew accusations of inciting zoophilia by critics who only divulged the part containing two people with a goat. The artist explained that she mixed different sexual practices associated withBrazil’s colonisation and slavery. Credit: Courtesy of QueerMuseu

“Scenes from the Interior II”, painted 23 years ago by Adriana Varejão, one of Brazil’s most respected and award-winning artists, only now drew accusations of inciting zoophilia by critics who only divulged the part containing two people with a goat. The artist explained that she mixed different sexual practices associated withBrazil’s colonisation and slavery. Credit: Courtesy of QueerMuseu

“The manipulative capacity” of the government, in this case the municipal government, “has been turned against freedom of expression,” lamented the dancer and activist. “The first ones attacked were the artists who work with their body, performances, photographic displays, theatre, dance,” she said.

To illustrate, she mentioned her dance instructor, who presented a performance that includes nudity in an event after the closure in the Rio de Janeiro Museum of Art. The audience was limited to their peers, excluding the outside spectators they had hoped to reach.

These subterfuges show that the current conservative authorities, especially in the municipalities of Brazil’s largest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, do not dare to directly ban artistic expressions after three decades of re-democratisation of the country, affirming freedom of expression.

“There is resistance,” Belém said.

In light of the “moral patrol”, the tendency is to limit the arts to musical shows and innocuous works of art, abandoning uncomfortable avant-garde pieces of art, Bambirra fears. “But in the midst of that neo-Nazi wave, something surprising, transformative, can emerge in the search for new spaces,” she said hopefully to IPS.

With the current government, headed by Michel Temer as president since May 2016, “the conservative wave was consolidated and extended to all institutions, especially the National Congress and sectors of the Judicial branch,” according to Eric Nepomuceno, a writer and former Secretary of Exchange and Special Projects of the Ministry of Culture.

Temer belongs to the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement party, but is considered a conservative in religious, social and gender issues. The 77-year-old politician is surviving corruption scandals with just three percent popular support, according to the latest polls.

His government depends on the parliamentary support of right-wing parties and specific alliances, such as that of ruralists (landowners) and evangelists who demand conservative measures and laws, such as flexibilisation of labour and environmental regulations, as well as the fight against slave-like labour.

To the episodes of censorship and extremist movements such as the MBL is added “Temer’s government’s contempt for culture, a kind of revenge on the fact that almost all artists and intellectuals reject him,” Nepomuceno told IPS.

“So, what lies ahead is devastating, rather than worrying,” because “the world is facing a surge of conservatism, and Latin America is not immune to that phenomenon, as seen in Argentina and Brazil, which are confirming the return of winds that seemed to have faded in the past,” he concluded.

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Ethiopia’s New Addiction – And What It Says About Media Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/ethiopias-new-addiction-says-media-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopias-new-addiction-says-media-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/ethiopias-new-addiction-says-media-freedom/#respond Thu, 21 Dec 2017 00:01:10 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153649 On a Saturday afternoon in one of Addis Ababa’s khat houses, a group of men and women chew the mildly narcotic plant while gazing mesmerized toward a television featuring a South Korean soldier stripped to his waist and holding a young lady’s hand while proclaiming his undying love—somewhat incongruously—in Amharic. Broadcast exclusively in the lingua […]

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One of KANA TV’s dubbing team in a specially equipped sound-proof studio reading from his Amharic script to dub over a Turkish actor. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

One of KANA TV’s dubbing team in a specially equipped sound-proof studio reading from his Amharic script to dub over a Turkish actor. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, Dec 21 2017 (IPS)

On a Saturday afternoon in one of Addis Ababa’s khat houses, a group of men and women chew the mildly narcotic plant while gazing mesmerized toward a television featuring a South Korean soldier stripped to his waist and holding a young lady’s hand while proclaiming his undying love—somewhat incongruously—in Amharic.

Broadcast exclusively in the lingua franca of Ethiopia—a necessity with 80 dialects across the country—and after decades of drab Ethiopian state-owned television, KANA TV marks a breakthrough in Ethiopian televised entertainment. It may also signal a shift in Ethiopia’s much criticised media environment.The government appears to finally realise that squeezing private media is a mistake and self-defeating, leaving the field open to the likes of social-media activists with their own agendas.

“Kana” translates as something between taste and flavour, and Ethiopia’s estimated 4 million television households have found that this new private satellite TV channel carrying international standard programming very much to their taste. When it first aired, KANA seized a 40-50 percent share of the prime time market.

“It’s a crazy operation,” says co-founder Elias Schulze, the only non-Ethiopian amid the 180 staff. “At the beginning it took up to 50 man hours to dub one hour and we had to produce 200 man hours of content every day.”

So far KANA has dubbed 2,300 hours of foreign content, requiring a highly coordinated operation: research and analysis to select which shows to secure, then negotiations and purchase, followed by translation, casting, acting, syncing, audio editing, video editing, quality control and then scheduling. Finally, everything is uplinked to satellite.

“TV here used to be so boring, all the channels showed mainly news,” says an Addis Ababa resident and television viewer in her early twenties. “But KANA is pure entertainment, and people really like it.”

Ethiopia’s Amhara, the native speakers of Amharic, only constitute about a quarter of Ethiopia’s 100-million population. But before its launch, KANA conducted research that showed 70 percent of the country’s television viewers understood the language to a reasonable level.

That was an improvement on the 50 percent who couldn’t understand the Arabic-language satellite channels that had come to dominate Ethiopian viewing.

“People watched them because they enjoyed the quality and good storylines,” says Hailu Teklehaimanot, a producer and head of communications at KANA, and a former newspaper editor. “So we thought why not make that quality understandable through dubbing, while at the same time, our staff got on-the-job training we could eventually use for original productions.”

About 90 percent of KANA’s current output is dubbed foreign shows. The eventual goal is for half of output to be home-grown productions like KANA’s new Masters at Work series, which showcases the works of Ethiopian singers, poets, fashion designers, photographers and the like.

“There’s a narrative in mainstream media—both local and international—focusing on development or lack of development at the macro level,” Teklehaimanot says. “But there is a different narrative at the micro level in which inspired young people are doing new things.”

One example of this on Masters at Work is photographer Girma Berta, who specialises in taking photos on his mobile phone of simple images such as street kids and street vendors going about daily life.

“The message I want to send out to young people with interests in photography is not to be scared to try new things,” Berta says during his Masters at Work appearance. “Also, I would advise them to use social media properly to share their pictures, because they can show their pictures to the rest of the world easily; I think until we can find the style of photography that defines us, we must search for it ourselves.”

Staff working at KANA TV, and filming of original productions. Photo courtesy KANA TV. 

Staff working at KANA TV. Photo courtesy KANA TV.

Despite such offerings of inspiration, the majority of KANA’s audience watch its shows like viewers anywhere—for entertainment or as escapism from the daily grind.

Others, meanwhile, would rather not watch it at all.

“I don’t let me family watch KANA TV otherwise we’ll never talk to each other when I return from work,” says one taxi driver in Addis Ababa.

Meanwhile, conservative commentators have decried KANA’s foreign soap operas for corrupting Ethiopian culture, while others have similar concerns.

“I believe [the Ethiopian Broadcasting Service] has been doing a far better job than KANA in representing Ethiopia’s indigenous and diaspora [populations],” Addis Ababa-based Mahder Sereke says on Twitter. “Also KANA’s soaps are debasing, not to Ethiopia’s culture but to Ethiopia’s women [through] their false—negatively—gendered depiction.”

EBS is a privately held media company based in the U.S. that targets the global Ethiopian market resulting from successive waves of emigration during decades of tumult in Ethiopia forming a significant Ethiopian diaspora of around two million people. The largest communities are in the U.S., with estimates varying from 250,000 people to about one million.

KANA has also been criticised for undercutting local production and poaching viewers from other TV outlets, thereby actually reducing opportunities for local artists and creative types to illustrate their works.

Meanwhile, some viewer fatigue has seen KANA losing some of its grip on the prime time market. But KANA’s emergence appears to indicate Ethiopian television could be finally changing for the better—albeit not as fast as many would wish.

In the past, Ethiopian government spokespersons haven’t been shy of explaining that media reform shouldn’t be rushed due to Ethiopia’s developmental state.

But now the government appears to finally realise that squeezing private media is a mistake and self-defeating, leaving the field open to the likes of social-media activists with their own agendas.

“The problem is a lot of things people view as gossip if heard by mouth, when they read about it on social media they take as fact,” Lidetu Ayele, founder of the opposition Ethiopia Democratic Party, says of social media’s influence during protests in Ethiopia.

And so, whether out of acknowledgment of the rights of Ethiopians not to be spoon fed state-sponsored propaganda or out of its own self-interest, the Ethiopian government is letting some winds of change finally blow through Ethiopian media.

“We don’t agree with the characterization that Ethiopia’s media landscape is repressed,” says Nazrawi Ghebreselasie, KANA’s managing director and co-founder. “It’s true that the industry in general is in its infancy; however, due to conducive policy environment, we are seeing massive investment going into media.”

Others, however, note that a new entertainment channel like KANA doesn’t connote Ethiopia’s media being unshackled—a fact emphasised by Ethiopian journalists and bloggers arrested for their journalism, often on the basis of terror charges, as highlighted by the international Committee to Protect Journalists.

“Media freedom depends on which yardstick you use,” says Daniel Berhane, a prominent Addis Ababa-based blogger. “The government appears to be relaxing about online and television media, but there are still no opposition newspapers.”

Ethiopia ranked 150th out of 180 countries in the 2017 press freedom index rankings by Reporters Without Borders. The international non-profit organization that promotes and defends freedom of information and the press states that the Ethiopian regime systematically uses the country’s anti-terror law against journalists.

Contrary voices, as a result, often have to come from the likes of ESAT, a popular Ethiopian satellite channel also broadcast from America. It is highly critical of the Ethiopian government and advertises itself as speaking for those who can’t speak in Ethiopia.

But part of KANA’s expanding original production base includes plans for a new news show, hence a whiteboard in the company’s offices covered in green marker pen hashing out its development.

Whether this news platform can be as insightful and demonstrate as much editorial freedom as news channels coming from outside Ethiopia will have to be seen.

But, at the same time, there appears reason for some optimism.

“The [negative] international view of media in Ethiopia is a bit exaggerated,” said Zekarias Sintayehu, editor in chief of Addis Ababa’s Reporter newspaper. “It is not a cakewalk to be journalist in Ethiopia but nobody can deny the prospects of a better media environment in the future.”

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“Only Our Youth Can Save the Planet” – Kumi Naidoohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/youth-can-save-planet-kumi-naidoo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-can-save-planet-kumi-naidoo http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/youth-can-save-planet-kumi-naidoo/#respond Wed, 20 Dec 2017 16:44:46 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153638 “Today’s youth should think of new solutions for old problems like climate change and social injustice.” That’s the strong message of the South African activist Kumi Naidoo. The former executive director of Greenpeace says young people need to be more innovative and visionary, “because the solutions of my generation have failed.” After battling apartheid in […]

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Kumi Naidoo

By Pascal Laureyn
SUVA, Fiji, Dec 20 2017 (IPS)

“Today’s youth should think of new solutions for old problems like climate change and social injustice.”

That’s the strong message of the South African activist Kumi Naidoo. The former executive director of Greenpeace says young people need to be more innovative and visionary, “because the solutions of my generation have failed.”

After battling apartheid in South Africa, Kumi Naidoo led numerous global campaigns to protect
human rights.

Among other organizations, he headed CIVICUS, an alliance for citizen participation. It was at the International Civil Society Week (ICSW), organized by CIVICUS in Fiji in December, that Naidoo spoke out on youth and innovation.

“My advise for young people is: don’t put any faith in the current leaders. They are the biggest bunch of losers you are going to find. Because they are unwilling to accept that they have got us into this mess,” says Naidoo.

“Basically, we are using old solutions that have never worked in the past anyway,” Naidoo contin-ues.

Albert Einstein said: ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting to get different results.’ If humanity continues to do what we always did, we will get what always got: inequality, unsustainability and environmental destruction.”

How can young people steer the planet away from insanity?

“The most valuable role that they can play, is bringing fresh lenses to old problems. And not to be scared to be called romantic, unrealistic or idealistic. The so called realistic solutions to today’s
problems are ineffective.”

“In terms of innovation, I really think that the best solutions in the world – even on a small scale – are coming from young people. For example: Four years ago, a group of young schoolgirls in Zambia designed a generator that could run for five hours on one liter of human urine.”

Can local innovation change the whole world?

“We are obsessed with big infrastructure. We have to break out of that. In Africa, the rural popula-tion is short of energy. Big power plants are not going to help those people. Politics get in the way. And lots of energy gets lost in the transmission process. The solution is simple: small grids. All we need is 20 solar panels and connect them to 50 homes. It can be done quickly, it’s not rocket sci-ence.”

You have been a vocal critic of global bodies like the World Economic Forum. You proposed a system re-design. What do you mean by that?

“We are heading towards irreversible and catastrophical climate change. It’s one of the worst cases of cognitive dissonance. All the facts are telling us we have to change. Over the last 10 years, there has been an increase of 100 percent of extreme weather. But nothing is done. Therefore, I believe that innovation will not come from people who are trained in an old system.”

“I’m inspired by my daughter. She was in her early teens when she said that my generation is con-taminated by decades of bad experiences. She was right. The current generation has run out of fresh ideas. Young people will learn more easily, they are essential to innovation. Like the founders of Google, how old where they?”

What’s your dream for the future?

“That young people could recalibrate our values and convince the world that excessive consump-tion does not lead to happiness. I hope that they take us back to basics: a sense of community, sharing and equity. I hope that young people will be able to take us from an polluting economy to one that is based on green and renewable energy. And that extreme poverty will be completely eradicated.”

“My final message to our youth is: you have to resist the old wisdom that young people are the leaders of tomorrow. If you wait until tomorrow, there might not be a tomorrow to exercise it.”


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are responding to the ef-fects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world met in Suva, Fiji, 4 December through 8 December 2017 for International Civil Society Week.

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New ‘Anti-Hate Law’ Threatens Freedoms in Venezuelahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/new-anti-hate-law-threatens-freedoms-venezuela/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-anti-hate-law-threatens-freedoms-venezuela http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/new-anti-hate-law-threatens-freedoms-venezuela/#respond Wed, 06 Dec 2017 20:51:47 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153371 Hate speech in the media or social networks in Venezuela is now punishable with prison sentences of up to 20 years, according to a new law issued by the government-controlled National Constituent Assembly (ANC). “A laudable objective, such as preventing hate speech that can lead to crimes and other damages, creates new crimes of opinion […]

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By a show of hands, Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly passed on Nov. 8 the new law against hate, which represents a threat to freedom of expression according to organisations that work to defend free speech. Credit: Zurimar Campos / AVN

By a show of hands, Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly passed on Nov. 8 the new law against hate, which represents a threat to freedom of expression according to organisations that work to defend free speech. Credit: Zurimar Campos / AVN

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Dec 6 2017 (IPS)

Hate speech in the media or social networks in Venezuela is now punishable with prison sentences of up to 20 years, according to a new law issued by the government-controlled National Constituent Assembly (ANC).

“A laudable objective, such as preventing hate speech that can lead to crimes and other damages, creates new crimes of opinion and is aimed at controlling content and freedom of expression,” Marianela Balbi, executive director of the Venezuelan chapter of the Lima-based Press and Society Institute (IPyS), told IPS.

The “Constitutional Law against hatred, for peaceful coexistence and tolerance” was approved by the ANC, which is made up exclusively of supporters of the government of Nicolás Maduro. The ANC was elected on Jul. 30, in elections boycotted by the opposition. It is not recognised by many governments, while the single-chamber National Assembly, where the opposition is in the majority, rejects it as unconstitutional.

“We do not call it a law because laws, in accordance with domestic and international human rights law, are made by parliaments – in this country, the National Assembly – to allow debate and participation, which in this case did not happen,” Carlos Correa, of the non-governmental organisation Espacio Público, dedicated to freedom of expression and information, told IPS.

It was President Maduro, in power since 2013 and political heir of the late leader of the Bolivarian revolution, Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), who requested the approval of the law against hatred.

“The time has come, through a broad political process of awareness-raising, to punish the crimes of hate and intolerance, in all their forms of expression, and to put an end to them definitively,” Maduro said when presenting the bill in August.

Tips for context
* Before the law was passed, 14 people were imprisoned in the last three years, some for several months under ongoing judicial proceedings, for sending messages via Twitter, investigated as accessories to crimes committed in the context of opposition demonstrations, human rights organisations point out.

* The Press Workers’ Union reports that in 2010, 49 media outlets were closed in the country, including 46 radio stations. Espacio Público counts 148 closures of media outlets during the governments of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro.

* Espacio Público registers a record number of 887 violations of freedom of expression in the period Jan.-Sept. 2017, 259 percent more than in 2016. The list covers hundreds of intimidations, attacks and threats to press workers, especially in the context of demonstrations, as well as 83 administrative restrictions on media and 157 cases of censorship.

* The Internet connection speed in Venezuela is 1.9 megabytes per second, comparted to a regional average of 4.7, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

* The International Telecommunications Union records a decrease in the population's access to Internet, from 61.9 to 60 percent between 2015 and 2016, and a decrease in mobile phone coverage from 102 to 87 percent between 2012 and 2016.

Former minister of Foreign Affairs and president of the ANC, Delcy Rodríguez, said that a comparative study was carried out with similar laws in Germany and Ecuador, and that in addition to establishing penalties, the Venezuelan law incorporated provisions to promote education in favour of tolerance.

In July, Germany passed a law that orders service providers such as YouTube or Twitter to remove content considered criminal within 24 hours.

In Ecuador, former president Rafael Correa (2007-2017) proposed a “law that regulates acts of hatred and discrimination in social networks,” with possible sanctions against service providers, but the legislature shelved the bill after Lenin Moreno became president in May.

The 25-article law passed by the ANC does not define what it means by “hate”. According to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language hatred is “antipathy and aversion to something or a person to whom one wishes ill.”

“It is serious that this law puts in the hands of a few officials the assessment of what is or is not a hate crime, because the legal instrument lacks a definition,” Alberto Arteaga, former dean of the Central University of Venezuela’s law school, told IPS.

The rapporteur for freedom of expression in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Uruguayan Edison Lanza, warned that “the law against hatred in Venezuela could severely hinder the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and generate a strong intimidation effect incompatible with a democratic society.”

Lanza lamented the establishment of “exorbitant criminal sanctions and powers to censor traditional media and the Internet, that run counter to international standards on freedom of expression.” In his opinion, “the last free space in Venezuela, the social networks, will be censored.”

The law aims to prevent and repress all expressions that “promote war or incite hatred of national, racial, ethnic, religious, political, social, ideological, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and any other nature that constitutes incitement to discrimination, intolerance or violence. ”

Political organisations will have to reform their statutes to expel any members who spread expressions of hatred. The penalty for not following this rule will be the cancellation of the registration of the party considered to have infringed the law.

Any print or audiovisual media outlets that emit messages punishable by law will be subject to fines, closure or termination of their concession, independently of the penalties that may fall individually on those responsible.

Administrators of social networks and online media outlets must withdraw messages that contravene the law within a maximum period of six hours, or they will be sanctioned.

The penalty for spreading messages that instigate hatred, war, discrimination or intolerance can range from 10 to 20 years in prison.

The sanctions will be imposed by courts and by the state National Telecommunications Commission.

In addition, the law creates a Commission for the Promotion and Guarantee of Peaceful Coexistence, which will dictate the measures that the authorities and official agencies and citizens must follow to fulfill the objectives of the law and avoid impunity.

The new 15-member Commission, appointed by the ANC itself, will be made up of representatives of that body, the executive branch, the other branches of government, excluding parliament, and three social organisations that promote coexistence.

Balbi argued that the new law “establishes a very dangerous discretionality, which is unnecessary to protect aspects such as security or the good repute of people, because they already are covered by the Constitution, other laws and international treaties that Venezuela has signed.”

The National Assembly rejected “the supposed law”, because it was produced by a body that it sees as not having the authority to create laws, and because “it constitutes a gross attempt to criminalise and sanction political dissidence, putting at risk plurality, freedom of expression and the right to information.”

But the decisions by the parliament elected in December 2015 are systematically blocked and ignored by the Supreme Court of Justice, the executive branch and other Venezuelan authorities.

Correa said the new law “is aimed towards building a logic of fear. It seeks censorship and self-censorship. It tries to get into people’s feelings, something characteristic of not only authoritarian but of totalitarian regimes.”
The new law, which entered into force on Nov. 8, has not yet been applied to any institution or person.

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Lawmakers Impose Gender Parity in Argentina’s Congress, By Surprisehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/lawmakers-impose-gender-parity-argentinas-congress-surprise/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lawmakers-impose-gender-parity-argentinas-congress-surprise http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/lawmakers-impose-gender-parity-argentinas-congress-surprise/#respond Fri, 01 Dec 2017 01:24:15 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153274 It was an unexpected move by a group of women in the lower house of the Argentine Congress. At one o’clock in the morning, during a long parliamentary session, they demanded the approval of a stalled bill for gender parity in political representation. There was resistance and arguments, but an hour later, the initiative became […]

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A group of women legislators in Argentina’s lower house, who in the early hours of the morning led a surprise vote that resulted in the approval of the law on gender parity in Argentina’s political representation, celebrate their achievement at the end of the historic session. Credit: Chamber of Deputies of Argentina

A group of women legislators in Argentina’s lower house, who in the early hours of the morning led a surprise vote that resulted in the approval of the law on gender parity in Argentina’s political representation, celebrate their achievement at the end of the historic session. Credit: Chamber of Deputies of Argentina

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Dec 1 2017 (IPS)

It was an unexpected move by a group of women in the lower house of the Argentine Congress. At one o’clock in the morning, during a long parliamentary session, they demanded the approval of a stalled bill for gender parity in political representation. There was resistance and arguments, but an hour later, the initiative became law by a large majority.

With votes from all the parties, a historic step was taken for Argentine politics: as of the next legislative elections, in 2019, all the lists of candidates for Congress must necessarily alternate male and female candidates, to ensure equal participation in both houses.

The law also stipulates that women have to make up half of the lists of candidates for national positions of the political parties, although in this case it does not require an alternation of women and men."This is the result of many years of efforts for politics to incorporate the voice and presence of women when it comes to making decisions that impact society as a whole." -- Deputy Victoria Donda

The surprise move in the early hours of the morning on Nov. 23 by female lawmakers revived a stalled bill that was already approved by the Senate 13 months ago, and by a committee in October, but was not scheduled for debate in the lower house this year.

When the session finally ended at almost four o’clock in the morning, the speaker of the lower house, Emilio Monzó of the ruling Cambiemos alliance, asked the euphoric women legislators who had taken part in the mission to take a group photo. And many others joined the picture to demonstrate their support.

“It was an intelligent strategy that cut across party affiliation to revive an issue that kept being put off. Once there was agreement to vote, almost everyone did so in favour of the measure. With what arguments could a lawmaker publicly justify voting against it?” asked Natalia Gherardi, executive director of the Latin American Team for Justice and Gender (ELA).

ELA is one of the many civil society organisations that have been demanding the approval of a gender parity law for more than 10 years, a period of time in which dozens of bills were presented.

Gherardi told IPS that this law “represents a new paradigm of parity democracy, which should not be limited to the legislative branch. Politics must reflect the diversity of society.”

Another stride forward in Latin America

In Latin America, Ecuador has been a path-breaker, after giving constitutional status to gender parity in elective posts in 2008.

Legislators who supported the new law at four o'clock in the morning on Nov. 23, 2017 took a group photo when the historic session in Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies ended, after passing a law that imposes gender parity in political representation. Credit: Chamber of Deputies of Argentina

Legislators who supported the new law at four o’clock in the morning on Nov. 23, 2017 took a group photo when the historic session in Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies ended, after passing a law that imposes gender parity in political representation. Credit: Chamber of Deputies of Argentina

A report on parity democracy in the region, by the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM), within the Organisation of American States (OAS), concluded that the region is the most advanced in the world with respect to laws that protect women’s political participation.

Argentina is the fifth country to regulate parity in parliamentary representation, after Ecuador, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Mexico.

But in total there are 15 countries in Latin America that have legislated on gender parity or have established quotas ranging from 20 to 50 per cent in elective posts.

However, these laws have not always been applied effectively, according to a document from the project “Atenea: Mechanism for the Acceleration of the Political Participation of Women in Latin America and the Caribbean” developed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UN Women and International Idea, aimed at promoting political parity in Latin America.

Argentina is a pioneer in the region, having passed the first female quota law, in 1991, which set a mandatory floor of 30 percent of women on the lists of candidates, “in proportions likely to lead to election.”

However, the report ”Political Parity in Argentina. Advances and Challenges “, presented this year by the Atenea project points out that, although the quota law favoured women’s access to politics, over the years the set quota of 30 percent became “a difficult ceiling to break through.”

Alejandra García, a gender associate at UNDP Argentina, told IPS that women’s political representation in the country “had been stagnant. That is why this new legislative step forward is very positive.”

García maintains that the quota laws “are affirmative action laws and have a temporary nature, while this new law is conceptually different, since it seeks to guarantee parity representation in a definitive way “.

The issue of gender parity in parliaments entered Argentine politics at the beginning of this century, when the regional legislatures of three of the country’s 23 provinces passed gender parity laws: Santiago del Estero, Córdoba and Río Negro.

The matter was revived last year, when four other provinces passed laws (Buenos Aires, Chubut, Salta and Neuquén), while at the national level the Senate approved the bill on gender parity.

It was on Oct. 19, 2016 when the issue of political parity had major repercussions, coinciding with massive marches of women throughout the country against sexist violence, under the slogan “Not one [woman] less”, in response to several femicides or gender-based murders.

However, at the same time, the lower house was discussing an electoral reform bill promoted by the government of President Mauricio Macri, which among other issues included changing the voting system from paper ballot to electronic, but did not include any changes regarding gender issues.

The parity bill now is only waiting to be signed into law by the executive branch, which is taken for granted after it was approved with 57 votes in favour and only two against in the Senate, and 165 positive votes, four negative and two abstentions in the Chamber of Deputies.

“This is the result of many years of efforts for politics to incorporate the voice and presence of women when it comes to making decisions that impact society as a whole,” said Deputy Victoria Donda.

This member of the progressive Free of the South Movement was the one who interrupted the programmed course of the session on the night of Nov. 22, to demand a vote on the gender parity bill, without the need for debate or speeches, which generated a discussion but was quickly accepted.

“The overwhelming vote in favour reflected the progress of the demands for equal rights,” added 40-year-old Donda, who is somewhat of a symbol of Argentine democracy.

This is because she is the daughter of disappeared parents, and was born in the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA), the most infamous of the torture centres run by Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

Donda was stolen at birth by the family of a member of the security forces and regained her true identity in 2003.

Still pending in Argentina with respect to gender parity in politics are the executive and judicial branches.

In 2016, there were just 13.6 percent women in ministerial positions, according to data from Atenea.
At the level of municipal governments, there is only official data from the eastern province of Buenos Aires, the largest and most populous, where only 2.9 percent of mayors are women.

The proportion rises to 31.7 percent in city councils, where the 30 percent quota established by national legislation is applied.

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