Inter Press ServiceDemocracy – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 19 May 2018 21:14:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.6 Indigenous Peoples Recover Native Languages in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/indigenous-peoples-recover-native-languages-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-recover-native-languages-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/indigenous-peoples-recover-native-languages-mexico/#respond Fri, 18 May 2018 09:22:22 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155818 Ángel Santiago is a Mexican teenager who speaks one of the variations of the Zapotec language that exists in the state of Oaxaca, in the southwest of Mexico. Standing next to the presidential candidate who is the favorite for the July elections, he calls for an educational curriculum that “respects our culture and our languages.” […]

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Chile, an Oasis for Haitians that Has Begun to Run Dryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/chile-oasis-haitians-begun-run-dry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chile-oasis-haitians-begun-run-dry http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/chile-oasis-haitians-begun-run-dry/#respond Wed, 16 May 2018 02:11:29 +0000 Orlando Milesi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155779 A wave of Haitian migrants has arrived in Chile in recent years, changing the face of low-income neighbourhoods. But this oasis has begun to dry up, thanks to measures adopted by decree by the new government against the first massive immigration of people of African descent in this South American country. Some 120,000 Haitians were […]

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Salomón Henry, a painter and electrician, has lived for three years in Santiago with his family. He has a five-year residency permit, thanks to a job contract in an exclusive condominium, where he reinstalled the electrical network, among other tasks. In 2014, there were fewer than 1,800 migrants from Haiti; by April of this year there were nearly 120,000, according to official figures. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Salomón Henry, a painter and electrician, has lived for three years in Santiago with his family. He has a five-year residency permit, thanks to a job contract in an exclusive condominium, where he reinstalled the electrical network, among other tasks. In 2014, there were fewer than 1,800 migrants from Haiti; by April of this year there were nearly 120,000, according to official figures. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

By Orlando Milesi
SANTIAGO, May 16 2018 (IPS)

A wave of Haitian migrants has arrived in Chile in recent years, changing the face of low-income neighbourhoods. But this oasis has begun to dry up, thanks to measures adopted by decree by the new government against the first massive immigration of people of African descent in this South American country.

Some 120,000 Haitians were living in Chile in early April, according to official figures, most of them working in low wage jobs in sectors such as construction and cleaning.

These immigrants, with an average age of 30, came with tourist visas, almost all of them since 2014, and stayed to work and build a new life in this long and narrow country wedged between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean, whose dynamic economic growth has made it one of the most attractive destinations for immigrants from the rest of the region in the last five years.

But on Apr. 8, their situation changed radically when the right-wing government of President Sebastián Piñera, in power since Mar. 11, eliminated the temporary visas that allowed them to go from tourists to regular migrants once they obtained a job, and then to be able to bring their families to this country.

Piñera seeks to curb immigration in general – which according to official figures is around one million people in a country of 17.7 million – and of Haitians in particular, with measures which analysts and activists see as discriminatory against the fifth-largest foreign community in Chile, after Peruvians, Colombians, Bolivians and Venezuelans.

From now on, Haitians will have to obtain a tourist visa at the consulate in Port-au-Prince, in order to board a plane bound for Chile. The visa will be valid for 30 days, extendable to 90, and they will not be able to exchange it for a permit allowing them to stay in the country.

By contrast Venezuelans, the other foreign community that has experienced explosive growth, will be able to obtain in Caracas a so-called “democratic visa” valid for one year.

Offsetting the new restrictions, since Apr. 16, all Haitians who arrived before Apr. 8 have begun to be able to regularise their status, in a process that will end in July 2019. Also, starting on Jul. 2, 10,000 additional family reunification visas will be issued over the following year. In total, the government estimates at 300,000 the number of undocumented immigrants in Chile, a minority of whom are Haitians.

 The Migration Office on Fanor Velasco Street, near the La Moneda government palace, in Santiago, is crowded with Haitians and other foreign nationals seeking to regularise their migration status, on Apr. 17, a day after a special process was opened as part of measures decreed by the government to curb immigration, which especially affect Haitians. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS


The Migration Office on Fanor Velasco Street, near the La Moneda government palace, in Santiago, is crowded with Haitians and other foreign nationals seeking to regularise their migration status, on Apr. 17, a day after a special process was opened as part of measures decreed by the government to curb immigration, which especially affect Haitians. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

For Erik Lundi, 37, who arrived in Chile six years ago from Haiti, the plan “is a very good option. It is very reasonable to give legal status to those who are here.”

“But there is a lot of racial discrimination in the new tourist visa. Only in the case of Haitians is it granted for only 30 days, because Venezuelans have the democratic visa. That is very discriminatory. Why are only Haitians given 30 days? It should be the same for everyone,” he told IPS.

Activists for the human rights of migrants told IPS that in Chile Haitian immigrants face a special cocktail of xenophobia mixed with racism, sometimes disguised as criticism of the fact that their languages are Creole or French, not Spanish.

Salomón Henry, a painter and electrician who arrived three years ago after spending time in the Dominican Republic, the country that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, told IPS that “I do not see anything wrong, I see the measures adopted by the government as positive,” while Congress approves a reform of the Migration Law, in force since 1975, one of Piñera’s main campaign promises.

Henry agrees that “Chile is saturated with immigrants and if more continue to arrive, it means more poverty for those who are already here. It’s not because I’m already here, but you have to take action for the greater good of all,” he said.

A history of inefficiency

José Tomás Vicuña, national director of the Jesuit Migrants Service (SJM), doubts the effectiveness of instituting the consular visa for tourism for Haitians and eliminating the temporary one, based on the experience of similar provisions adopted for Dominicans in 2012, during the previous government of Piñera (2010-2014).

“When they started requiring a consular visa, more started to arrive,” the director of Chile’s leading migrant rights organisation told IPS.

On Pingüinos Street, in the populous municipality of Estación Central, one of the two that has the largest number of migrants from Haiti in Santiago, a hairdresser from the Caribbean island nation has established a barber shop where people speak Creole and customers are fellow Haitians. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

On Pingüinos Street, in the populous municipality of Estación Central, one of the two that has the largest number of migrants from Haiti in Santiago, a hairdresser from the Caribbean island nation has established a barber shop where people speak Creole and customers are fellow Haitians. Credit: Orlando Milesi/IPS

The SJM predicts that “the influx (of Haitians) will increase across unauthorised border crossing points. And smuggling networks will also grow,” said Vicuña, who noted that “this happens in many countries when access is severely restricted.”

Luis Eduardo Thayer, a researcher at the Central University School of Social Sciences and until 2017 chair of the National Consultative Council on Migration – an autonomous civil society entity eliminated by the Piñera administration – agrees with that view.

“The Dominicans kept coming because they had family here, they had networks and job opportunities and the conditions in their country of origin were not what they hoped for,” he told IPS.

There were only 6,000 Dominicans in the country when their entrance was restricted, compared to 120,000 Haitians, Thayer said, so “the magnitude of the ‘calling effect’ by the labour market and family ties is much greater in the case of Haitians.”

The 3,000-km Chilean border is described as “porous” by migration officials, making it difficult to control irregular entry.

Thayer ventured that as the Dominicans did, Haitians will use a route known locally as “the hole” or “the gap.”

“They take a plane to Colombia and there they set out on a clandestine route to Chile, assisted by people who know the route and charge them money – in other words, a people smuggling network,” he explained.

The expert said it is “discriminatory” for Haitians to be required to obtain consular visas to come as tourists “just because they are Haitians.” “The government’s argument is that they come here using fraudulent means. But it must be acknowledged that fewer Haitians come here than Venezuelans, Bolivians, Peruvians or Colombians,” he said emphatically.

The Chilean Undersecretary of the Interior, Rodrigo Ubilla, responsible for foreign and immigration policy, denied in a meeting with foreign correspondents that the measures for Haitians are discriminatory and pointed out that they have the special benefit of family reunification visas.

“The community of Haitian citizens numbers around 120,000 and we believe that for practical purposes we have to help their children and spouses to come quickly and without obstacles to this country,” he said.

Stories of those who are already here

The immediate causes of Haitian migration lie in the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 which added devastating effects to the chronic political, economic, social and environmental crisis in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas.

Word of mouth is another major factor.

And José Miguel Torrico, coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), emphasises another long-standing factor. The degradation of Haitian soil “is a major impact factor, since basically the migration we have here is unskilled workers, the rural poor,” he said.

“The immigration that Chile is receiving comes from rural sectors mainly because they have not been able to maintain their standard of living on the lands they farm,” he told IPS in an interview at his regional office in Santiago.

“I came because I saw on the Internet that there are opportunities to work in Chile, and other Haitians who had come here told me about those opportunities,” said Henry.

Every Sunday, on Pingüinos street, there is a street fair where Haitian migrants go to buy clothes, shoes and a variety of products, including some from their own country, and where they eat typical dishes from Haiti, offered at different stands. Credit: Orlando Milesi / IPS

Every Sunday, on Pingüinos street, there is a street fair where Haitian migrants go to buy clothes, shoes and a variety of products, including some from their own country, and where they eat typical dishes from Haiti, offered at different stands. Credit: Orlando Milesi / IPS

During a break at work in a municipality in the foothills in the Chilean capital, Henry explained that he has a work contract and legal residency for five years, and was able to bring his wife and three of his four children. But his case is exceptional.

His youngest daughter was born in Santiago. “My wife was treated like a queen in the hospital and I did not pay a peso”, he said, explaining that the cost was covered by a health fund to which she pays a monthly fee. But undocumented migrants do not have the right to healthcare in Chile.

Accionel Sain Melus, 44, arrived eight years ago from the Dominican Republic (where he lived for 10 years), and works on contract at the Lo Valledor Market, the main vegetable and fruit supply centre in the Chilean capital.

“I have legal residency for five years. The problem is that my wife and daughter were given a temporary visa for one year. I applied and they rejected it. I have all the marriage papers and legalisations. I paid a visa for five years and they sent me a visa for one,” he said.

In his conversation with IPS, at the end of a mass in Creole in the Catholic parish of Santa Cruz, in the municipality of Estación Central, he confided his worries: “This is a difficult time for us…”

Pedro Labrín, the priest of that parish in one of the two municipalities with the largest Haitian communities, where some streets are like a “small Haiti”, explained to IPS that some immigrants from Haiti “have a strong educational background, language skills and technical qualifications.”

But most, he added, “come from the countryside, with very little education, and great difficulties to integrate into the new society because they have fewer social skills and suffer a language barrier.”

Lundi said that “most of them leave their country with the dream of continuing their studies. But migrants here have almost no chance to study,” he said, pointing to the high cost of Chilean universities.

Living with racism and xenophobia

For the parish priest Labrín “the main problem that Haitians face is racism: black people seem interesting as long as they are not next to us. I observe that attitude here… there is a lot of racial resistance,” he said.

In his opinion, “Haitians are stigmatised as carriers of diseases, generators of garbage and domestic violence, as noisy, child abusers, people who speak loudly and are always arguing. Chileans are also angry that they compete with Haitians in terms of access to basic services in healthcare, day care centres, kindergartens and schools.”

Lundi’s experiences have varied: “On the one hand, Chile has been a welcoming country for migrants. On the other hand, Chileans are a bit more violent, more discriminating.”

He accused some sectors of “xenophobia, I do not know if because of their culture they are not used to living with many foreigners, especially black people. They discriminate on the basis of skin colour. That is manifested directly with insults and sometimes psychologically.”

Labrín said that in Estación Central “there is an unethical business to subdivide poor houses to lease them at exorbitant prices.”

“For up to 200,000 pesos (about 333 dollars) they rent miserable rooms with no safety or sanitary conditions. During the visit by Pope Francis (in January 2018), one of these houses where a hundred people were living with just three showers, one of which was not working, and one toilet, was burned,” he complained.

Doubts about the process

For Lundi “the family reunification visa is extremely important because people cannot be happy if they are not with their families. It gives them the opportunity to live together.”

Two girls wearing fancy dresses are presented to the Lord during a special ceremony in an evangelical church, crowded as every Sunday, where the service and other activities are carried out in Creole. The church is close to Pingüinos street, in the Estación Central neighbourhood in Santiago. Credit: Orlando Milesi / IPS

Two girls wearing fancy dresses are presented to the Lord during a special ceremony in an evangelical church, crowded as every Sunday, where the service and other activities are carried out in Creole. The church is close to Pingüinos street, in the Estación Central neighbourhood in Santiago. Credit: Orlando Milesi / IPS

But the academic Thayer said this offer “is demagogic: they are saying we are going to close the border, but we are going to allow them to be with their family… which is a basic human right.”

Meanwhile, Vicuña said it is essential to know “what will be the criteria for granting the visas, because reducing the criteria to only family reunification will fall short of demand.”

“Orderly, safe and regulated migration requires a clear information process, and many measures have been taken here on the fly,” he said.

Thayer broke down another growing social prejudice against Haitians. “The rate of unemployment of migrants is very low, like that of Chileans, from five to six percent,” he said.

“You cannot say that the labour market is overrun because of the arrival of Haitians. What there is, is a problem of integration because of a lack of public policies on housing, education and work,” he said.

Parish priest Labrín called for an emphasis to be put on the contributions made by Haitians: “culture, work, economic assets and children.” “The Chilean birth rate, which causes so much concern in the development pyramid, will be bolstered by the birth of Chilean children to migrant parents,” he said, to illustrate.

First impact: crowded migration offices

In the Migration Office on Fanor Velasco Street, three blocks from the La Moneda government palace, the air was unbreathable on Apr. 17, the day after the new regulations entered into force.

An unrelenting crowd of migrants seeking to get the process done packed the office and its surroundings from dawn, doubling the already heavy daily flow of people, before the new immigration measures adopted by decree went into effect.

Leonel Dorelus, a 32-year-old Haitian, arrived in Chile in Novembers 2017, after living in the Dominican Republic for three years. He lives with a brother-in-law, who arrived earlier, in a municipality on the south side of Santiago, where he works in an evangelical church.

“I would only like to bring my girlfriend,” he told IPS as he waited his turn.

Mark Edouard, 30, comes from the Haitian town of Artibonite. He works as a night-shift doorman, with a contract, and during the day he works at a public market, in the populated district of Puente Alto, 20 km southeast of Santiago.

“I started as an assistant at the same market. At first I lived with other people, but I was not comfortable so I moved and now I live alone,” he said.

Zilus Jeandenel, 28, came to Chile from the rural town of Comine. He lives in the municipality of San Bernardo, in the south of Greater Santiago, with two sisters. He arrived eight months ago and has no job, just like one of his sisters. “It’s hard to get work,” he said, “even though my quality of life is much better here.”

Little Haiti in Santiago

It’s Sunday, and dozens of Haitians are attending mass in the Jesuit parish church of Santa Cruz, on Pinguinos street in the neighbourhood of Nogales, in the municipality of Estación Central in Santiago, where Erik Lundi works. Kitty corner from the church, a Haitian barber attends his fellow countrymen. They all speak Creole and while they wait for their turn they watch a Formula One race on television.

In front of the barbershop is the bus stop where people catch the bus to downtown Santiago or the southern outskirts of the city. The ticket costs the equivalent of one dollar.

Also on Pingüinos, further east, a street market is held, every Sunday, with stands selling clothes and used shoes that customers try on right there. Other stands, some improvised on the sidewalk, sell vegetables, fruit, meat, typical Haitian products and the most sought-after: sacks of beans. Haitian dishes are also offered to sample on the spot.

There are some Chilean vendors, but most are Haitians. All explain, in Creole or Spanish, the prices, in a street market that, as the parishioners explain, is also a social meeting place. Women with small children, pregnant women, young people who greet each other with high fives and a couple made up of a Haitian man and a smiling Chilean woman holding hands, are part of the Sunday landscape on Pingüinos street.

Just two blocks away, there is an evangelical church which, like the Catholic church, also functions as a social centre, where the service is carried out in Creole and is accompanied by live music played on guitars, electric basses and large congo drums.

People dress up for church as an important occasion. The women wear colourful outfits and shoes and the men wear shiny shoes, some white, while almost all of them wear ties. The girls especially stand out with their tulles and elaborate braided hairstyles. This is Haitian life and culture, transplanted to Santiago, in the Andes mountains.

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Gaza: Avoiding a Greater Blood Bathhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/gaza-avoiding-greater-blood-bath/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gaza-avoiding-greater-blood-bath http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/gaza-avoiding-greater-blood-bath/#respond Mon, 14 May 2018 09:07:19 +0000 Jason Cone http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155755 Jason Cone is the executive director of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières in the United States.

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An MSF nurse in Gaza cares for a patient who was shot in the arm. Credit: Laurie Bonnaud/MSF

By Jason Cone
NEW YORK/GAZA, May 14 2018 (IPS)

The exit wounds are fist-size. Bone is pulverized into dust. This is the reality for half of the injured patients received in my organization’s clinics since the launch of the Great Return March in Gaza.

Over the past month, the number of people treated in Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières’ (MSF) clinics in Gaza is more than were treated in all of 2014, when Israel’s Operation Protective Edge was launched in the Gaza Strip.

MSF clinics admitted almost 781 trauma victims between March 30 and May 10—more than one-third of the 1,916 trauma casualties recorded by Gaza’s health ministry. The situation may worsen with the planned move of the US embassy to Jerusalem on May 14 and the approach of May 15, the anniversary of Israel’s founding, regarded by Palestinians as the “Nakba,” or catastrophe.

Medical facilities, including our clinics, are completely overwhelmed and will soon be unable to manage additional wounded. The health system, strained by the ongoing blockade of Gaza, is on the verge of collapse.

Even though there is not a war in Gaza, the injuries sustained by our patients are terribly similar to what we see in conflict zones. We estimate that more than 39 percent of our 554 current trauma patients will require long-term rehabilitation, lasting at least until the end of the year. While the majority of our patients are young men around 20 years old, we have treated 98 children and adolescents under 18.

Ninety-one percent of our trauma patients were shot in the legs, many at close range. Several will be handicapped for life, putting tremendous pressure on the already beleaguered health system, impoverished families, and the whole society.

The ongoing Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip and recent US funding cuts to the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNRWA, exacerbate the dire situation.

Gaza hospitals have emptied inpatient wards to make space for the influx of wounded. Patients with chronic health issues were already struggling from the lack of chemotherapy drugs, kidney dialysis, and diabetes management. Now they have been displaced, and either do not have access to health care or will be forced to turn to expensive private clinics.

Most of our wounded patients say they have nothing to lose, no hope, no jobs, nothing. They tell our staff that they just want to go back and die at protest sites. Some are returning to the demonstrations with casts, on crutches, or with external fixators holding together shattered bones.

The severity of the injuries demonstrates that Israeli forces are resorting to disproportionate force to incapacitate the protesters. The result is unnecessary damage and suffering.

Additionally, the Israeli government doesn’t regularly facilitate access to health care outside of Gaza, which is needed due to the complexity and severity of injuries. According to the World Health Organization, since March 30, of the 27 patients who have applied to be treated outside of Gaza, only 9 have been approved. Failure to transfer these patients will increase pressure on the public health system, and increase the risk of otherwise preventable infection-related amputations.

Lastly, Israel and Egypt need to ease the 10-year blockade of Gaza, which contributes to the ongoing despair and drives people to the fence to protest. Egypt must also open its border with Gaza and permit the flow of humanitarian aid. Israel also must ensure adequate supplies of electricity to the Strip.

Hamas leaders in Gaza must cease encouraging any kind of violence and glorifying “martyrdom.” The Palestinian Authority must also enact an emergency response plan, ensure payment of salaries to health-care personnel, replenish medical and electricity supplies for hospitals, stop restrictive measures against the population, and immediately add inpatient capacity to deal with the surge of wounded expected in the days ahead. The divide between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas is more painful today for the population than ever.

But the Israeli government and Palestinian leaders are not the only ones responsible for recent events. The Trump Administration’s decisions to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and to enact an 83 percent funding cut to UNRWA, have thrown gas on the fire.

Since the US embassy move was announced in December, MSF clinics have seen a massive increase in trauma cases, from just a few per week to more than 20 cases weekly even before the current protests. Today, we are seeing more than 20 cases per day. This is on top of the normal workload, including burn victims from accidents linked to the use of unsafe fuels for home heating and cooking, due to the blockade-related shortages in Gaza.

Electricity and water shortages, along with an ongoing dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian authority, have led hospitals to freeze elective surgeries. The UN’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) estimates that 36 percent of essential medicines and 32 percent of medical supplies are missing as a result of the blockade and lack of funds.

The US government must use its diplomatic influence to ensure a more proportionate use of force by the Israeli government, and make it a priority to restrict the use of live ammunition.

The collapse of all public services heightens the risk of complete disaster in Gaza. Egypt and Jordan should also be prepared to facilitate medical evacuations of patients for long-term care that will likely be unavailable in Gaza. Referrals to the West Bank may also be needed, and these should all be facilitated on the basis of medical need—not political considerations.

While there is plenty of blame to share over the latest violence in Gaza, the focus should be on mitigating human suffering now and preventing wider harm. As the toll of dead and wounded mounts, an entirely avoidable—potentially even deadlier—blood bath may be just days away.

This op-ed can be found online here.

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Excerpt:

Jason Cone is the executive director of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières in the United States.

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Protests Fuel Harassment Faced by Media in Nicaraguahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/protests-fuel-harassment-journalists-nicaragua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protests-fuel-harassment-journalists-nicaragua http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/protests-fuel-harassment-journalists-nicaragua/#respond Fri, 11 May 2018 22:38:39 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155741 Assaults on journalists, persecution of press workers’ unions, direct censorship and smear campaigns are a high cost that freedom of expression has paid in Nicaragua since demonstrations against the government of Daniel Ortega began in April. It is the culmination of “a process of degradation of the practice of journalism and of freedom of expression” […]

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U.S. Signals New Approach to Horn of Africa Allyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/u-s-signals-new-approach-horn-africa-ally/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-signals-new-approach-horn-africa-ally http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/u-s-signals-new-approach-horn-africa-ally/#respond Thu, 10 May 2018 12:13:42 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155699 The April inauguration of Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister came amid much fanfare and raised expectations for the future of true democracy in Ethiopia, while far less publicized though relevant developments in the American capital could also play a significant role in shaping that future. At a relatively youthful and spritely 42 years of age, Abiy […]

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Tewodrose Tirfe, chair of the Amhara Association of America, addresses press and supporters outside Washington’s Capitol Building after passage of House Resolution-128. Behind and to his left is Congressman Chris Smith and behind and to his right is Congressman Mike Coffman, both of whom played key roles in the resolution’s successful passage. Photo courtesy Tewodrose Tirfe/Congressman Mike Coffman’s office.

Tewodrose Tirfe, chair of the Amhara Association of America, addresses press and supporters outside Washington’s Capitol Building after passage of House Resolution-128. Behind and to his left is Congressman Chris Smith and behind and to his right is Congressman Mike Coffman, both of whom played key roles in the resolution’s successful passage. Photo courtesy Tewodrose Tirfe/Congressman Mike Coffman’s office.

By James Jeffrey
WASHINGTON, May 10 2018 (IPS)

The April inauguration of Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister came amid much fanfare and raised expectations for the future of true democracy in Ethiopia, while far less publicized though relevant developments in the American capital could also play a significant role in shaping that future.

At a relatively youthful and spritely 42 years of age, Abiy Ahmed is widely seen as a reformer who can take the necessary steps to calm a nation that has been engulfed in unprecedented levels of political unrest since the end of 2015.“The new resolution by the US House of Representatives is a reminder to the Ethiopian government that should it fail to reform, it can no longer rely on US largesse to contain problems at home.” --Hassen Hussein

Crucially, he heralds from the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), which represents the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, and who have spearheaded protests against the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition party, of which the OPDO is a key member.

After the resignation of previous Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, many warned that if the EPRDF chose a figure from its old guard it might well lead to more, perhaps worse, unrest.

That has been avoided with the party embracing a politician with greater public support, and the first Oromo head of government in Ethiopia has already traveled to several areas of the country, promising to address grievances and strengthen a range of political and civil rights.

But, as everyone knows and agrees on, Abiy faces numerous challenges domestically and externally in bringing stability back to Ethiopia and settling a discontented populace that is the second largest in Africa.

One problem is the state of emergency declared in Ethiopia in February following the last prime minister’s surprise resignation (and which is the second state of emergency after the first ended in August 2017). This could hinder Abiy in moving forward with any reform agenda, because the new prime minister’s hold on the state security apparatus is much reduced than normal during a state of emergency, with a group of military officers referred to as the “Command Post” effectively in control of the mechanism of the state.

Also, the very fact of Abiy’s reluctance to push for the lifting of the state of emergency illustrates, observers say, how the internal dynamics of the EPRDF that played a large part in the undoing of Desalegn are still a force to be reckoned with.

The historical dominance of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the EPRDF continues to wield force and means Ethiopia’s new, apparently reformist, prime minister will need to deal shrewdly with members of the establishment resistant to reform or reconciliation efforts—if Abiy is, in fact, genuinely for reform, that is.

“I like the things [Abiy] has been saying in public—most of the country and many in the opposition at home and abroad resonate with the sentiments expressed in his public statements,” says Alemante Selassie, emeritus professor at the William and Mary Law School in the US.  “Still, I cannot say that I have full confidence in him, because he is a party functionary who rose through the ranks of the EPRDF and probably remains committed to upholding its hegemonic rule for the foreseeable future.”

Nevertheless, whatever the inner workings of the new prime minister’s mind, as an ex-army officer he understands the military-security apparatus and its culture; he has a strong party mandate and public support behind him, and he comes to power at a time when those previously in charge are reviled by the populace, thereby putting him in a unique position to potentially resolve many of the country’s problems.

Furthermore, recent developments in the US Congress may also have a bearing on what happens next. On April 10, the US House of Representatives unanimously adopted House Resolution-128: “Supporting respect for human rights and encouraging inclusive governance in Ethiopia.”

The resolution—uunusually outspoken for US public policy in it criticism of Ethiopia’s government—condemns “the killings of peaceful protesters and excessive use of force by Ethiopian security forces; the detention of journalists, students, activists, and political leaders; and the regime’s abuse of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to stifle political and civil dissent and journalistic freedoms.”

The resolution and its wording deeply angered the Ethiopian government, which even suggested it might cut off security cooperation with the US if the resolution was passed. Ethiopia is viewed by the US as its most important ally in the volatile East African region, and hence receives one of the largest security and humanitarian aid packages among sub-Saharan African countries.

“The passage of HR-128 by the US House of Representatives without any opposition was a historical achievement,” says Tewodrose Tirfe, chair of the Amhara Association of America, a US-based advocacy group for the Amhara, Ethiopia’s second largest ethnic group. “The main difference this time, compared to previous attempts to get legislation through, was Ethiopian-American advocacy organizations working in coordination with human rights groups to bring to the attention of [US state] representatives the humanitarian and political crisis that has been unfolding in Ethiopia, especially the past three years.”

Congressman Chris Smith, Chairman of the House Subcommittee of Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, introduced HR-128, and played a major role, along with Congressman Mike Coffman, in achieving the passage of the resolution.

“Chairman Smith has held more hearings and authored more legislation on Ethiopia then anyone in Congress—he has been a voice for the Ethiopian diaspora for many years,” Tewodrose says. “Congressman Coffman put his political capital on the line for this resolution and helped us overcome every hurdle encountered.”

The vast sum of humanitarian aid and bi-lateral support Ethiopia receives from the US is not at risk—yet.  That said, Tewodrose notes, the Senate is considering a partner bill, which is even stronger in its wording. Senate Resolution 168 calls on the Department of State and USAID “to improve oversight and accountability of United States assistance to Ethiopia and to ensure such assistance reinforces long-term goals for improved governance.”

Essentially, Tewodros explains, this would tie aid to improved governance and more scrutiny of support given, because even though resolutions aren’t laws and are non-binding, if they have strong bipartisan support—like HR-128—coupled with the fact that Congress has the power of oversight, then agencies named in the resolutions would seriously consider implementing the terms of these declarations.

Furthermore, the Amhara Association of America and other advocacy partners are working to introduce binding legislation that would be signed by the president and would become the law directing how the US deals with Ethiopia.

“We believe this is a much easier task now since the Ethiopian diaspora groups are activated and engaged, the policy makers are educated, and we have built strong bipartisan support in Congress,” Tewodrose says.

That said, opposition exists in the Senate to the senate resolution, and there is still some way to go before a new law guiding US foreign policy towards Ethiopia emerges. But any resolution about Ethiopia, such as HR-128, could still have an impact on the actions of the Ethiopian regime and the new prime minister’s reform agenda.

Previously, though the US government was aware of well-documented problems with regards to human rights abuses, lack of democracy promotion and corruption at the highest levels of the Ethiopian state, it didn’t forcefully act to pressure Ethiopia’s government.

But the House resolution signals a shift in that approach. Besides condemning killings, detentions, and abuse of Ethiopia’s Anti-Terror Proclamation, the resolution also makes more ambitious demands of the Ethiopian regime including reforms that would protect the Ethiopian people’s civil liberties and release political prisoners, views that the new prime minister is also believed to share.

“The resolution could give Abiy a freer hand to deal more decisively with those resisting change—so far he has been very conciliatory and accommodating,” says Hassen Hussein an academic and writer based in Minnesota.  “The new resolution by the US House of Representatives is a reminder to the Ethiopian government that should it fail to reform, it can no longer rely on US largesse to contain problems at home.”

While HR-128 is an important development, what further US legislation, if any, follows it, is likely to have the most tangible impact on strengthening—or not—the hand of the new prime minister in persuading those power brokers within the EPRDF who control country’s security apparatus and the intelligence and economic sectors, to participate in negotiations for reform.

“The TPLF has ruled Ethiopia for the last 27 years with the support of the US and the UK,” Alemante says. “If it loses this support— financial, military, diplomatic, etc.— it has very little else to stand on.”

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The Role of Voting in Reviving Democratic Practicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/role-voting-reviving-democratic-practice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=role-voting-reviving-democratic-practice http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/role-voting-reviving-democratic-practice/#comments Mon, 07 May 2018 14:54:26 +0000 Patrick Keuleers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155646 Patrick Keuleers is Director, Governance and Peace Building, UNDP

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Electoral Support Project, UNDP Nepal. Credit: Kundan Das Shrestha/UNDP Nepal

By Patrick Keuleers
UNITED NATIONS, May 7 2018 (IPS)

Since the beginning of the year the world has witnessed 24 national elections in which nearly 100 million people cast their votes. All together in 2018, there will be a total of 68 planned electoral processes in 45 countries ranging from presidential and legislative to local elections. Elections remain one of the key democratic processes through which people express their opinion on the way their country and communities are managed.

But do elections today really represent “the voice” of the people?

From the end of the Cold War until about 2006 the levels of freedom and democracy increased around the world. Since then indices on the quality of democracy have declined year after year. Today, both crisis affected countries and established democracies witness a decline in trust in their democratic institutions and in elected officials in particular; the lack of confidence is especially low among younger generations.

Both established democracies and autocratic regimes suffer from dangerous syndromes of negligence, confidence and disengagement: people assume the system is anchored and that the electoral process will not bring much change to their lives, whether they vote or not.

The electoral ballot, long considered the symbol of liberal democracy, has lost its throne among the democratic institutions, even if, ironically, many authoritarian leaders have come to power via established electoral processes. As a result, voter turnout in most established democracies has been decreasing since the 1980s.

The declining “voting population” demands a reflection on the principle of democratic participation: should voting, as an expression of democratic participation, be voluntary or mandatory? What do the data tell us?
Voter turnout tends to be high (up to 95%) in countries that have mandatory voting (e.g. Belgium, Australia, Singapore, Luxemburg, and Turkey) and it may be lower in countries where voting is voluntary (e.g. the United States or Morocco).

The verdict is however mixed as high voter turnout is also witnessed in polities where voting is not mandatory (e.g. Malta, Sweden, Iceland, New Zealand, Denmark and Germany). It can also be high at the national level while low in some municipalities.

New Zealand for example had a national voter turnout of 77 % in the 2014 elections while voter turnout for the 2016 local elections in the City of Auckland was only 36%.

Those who oppose mandatory voting argue that it violates the right and freedom of the individual to decide whether to participate in a political process or not. Some also think that imposing ill-informed and un-interested citizens to vote is irresponsible.

Those in favor of mandatory voting consider the act of voting a civic obligation that is inherent to the notion of citizenship; paying taxes is mandatory, why should voting not be?

Non-mandatory voting tends to benefit those who have the power and the finances to mobilise larger groups of voters around their ideas. Mandatory voting would increase the representation of disadvantaged groups.

And research also shows that people living in countries where voting is compulsory are politically better informed, either because voters choose to inform themselves or because of comprehensive voter education programmes..

Discussions on the right to democratic participation also raise questions on the voting age. In 2016 the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) issued a report “Rejuvenating democracy, giving voice to youth” that outlines how parliaments and parliamentarians could help rejuvenate democracy.

Lowering the voting age would increase the degree of political participation of young people, and indeed 16 year-olds may already vote in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and in the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. But lowering the voting age alone is not enough, young people don’t want passive voting rights, they demand active political participation.

The average age of parliamentarians, globally, is 53 and only 1.9 per cent of them are under 30 years of age. And in one third of all countries, eligibility to be elected to the national parliament starts only at 25 years of age.

Hence what is needed is a policy of alignment: lowering the voting age while creating opportunities for young people’s representation in political institutions and active involvement in the political process through activisms and advocacy, political party involvement, and election observation.

Technology can also promote participation. But despite the fact that technology is already used at many stages of the electoral process – for voter information, election observation and voter registration – internet voting is still in its infant stages and only used in one country -Estonia.

Having solid control systems to avoid potential digital voter fraud remains a challenge. Importantly also, internet voting will require governments to ensure that those on the deprived side of the digital divide do not get their voting rights stripped because they can’t access the technology that is fundamental to the exercise of these rights.

Hence, until internet voting gains confidence and its integrity is guaranteed, the focus should be on increasing accessibility in time and space.

To conclude, it is time for democratic participation to become a public good again, available to all citizens and respected for its intrinsic worth. For that to happen:

• Politics needs to place the human being back at the centre of the political debate, instead of public and private interests.
• Lowering the voting and eligibility age has to be part of the global youth agenda. It would increase youth political participation and leadership so that young people can effectively exercise their right to contribute to decisions that affect their future.
• The right to vote needs to become again a key principle of democratic participation. Socialisation efforts to promote voting as a civic obligation is one way to achieve that.
• Making voting easier and more accessible can stimulate voter turnout such as by organising elections on a non-working day, extending voting hours, allowing voting on multiple days, voting via mail, ensuring proximity of polling stations and developing the digital means and security protocols to promote on-line voting.

Despite the complexity of the issue, voting remains the most powerful expression of the voice of the people as the custodians of a democratic society. It remains therefore a topic of heated debates and controversies.

The modalities of how people will vote are likely to change dramatically, allowing for a larger group of people to express their opinion, both during elections and after the ballots.

With the right technologies and appropriate education and socialisation, voting may well become the powerful antidote against the current deterioration of politics. Voting does matter and should therefore be considered both a right and a civic obligation.

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Excerpt:

Patrick Keuleers is Director, Governance and Peace Building, UNDP

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Protests, Strikes, Solidarity – France Revisits May ‘68http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/protests-strikes-solidarity-france-revisits-may-68/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protests-strikes-solidarity-france-revisits-may-68 http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/protests-strikes-solidarity-france-revisits-may-68/#respond Sat, 05 May 2018 11:44:19 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155633 “It’s good to be in Paris on a sunny May day and see many universities occupied … and the strikes against neo-liberalism,” declared British Pakistani writer and activist Tariq Ali at an event in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on May 3. “That’s very pleasing.” Ali and the American civil rights icon Angela Davis were […]

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Nanterre conference poster. Credit: SAES

By A. D. McKenzie
NANTERRE, France, May 5 2018 (IPS)

“It’s good to be in Paris on a sunny May day and see many universities occupied … and the strikes against neo-liberalism,” declared British Pakistani writer and activist Tariq Ali at an event in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on May 3. “That’s very pleasing.”

Ali and the American civil rights icon Angela Davis were the speakers at the free public event, “Solidarité et Alliances”, to commemorate 50 years since the massive May 1968 civil unrest, which paralysed the French economy through nation-wide strikes and demonstrations.

As they spoke at a packed theatre, students were blocking buildings at nearby Paris Nanterre University, hence Ali’s comments. Similar action has been taking place at universities in Paris and other cities such as Toulouse and Rennes.

Echoing 1968, France is currently gripped by a series of strikes involving railway employees and other workers, while students are demonstrating against the government’s higher-education reforms that would make admittance to public universities more selective.

American civil rights icon Dr. Angela Davis. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

The students say the changes are contrary to the French tradition of offering all high school graduates a place at public universities and would adversely affect poorer students, who are already underrepresented on campuses. The government’s stance is that reform is necessary to deal with a high drop-out rate and overcrowded institutions.

Rail workers, meanwhile, object to the restructuring of the national railway company, the SNCF. On Labour Day, May 1, street marches in Paris erupted in violence, with masked far-Left “anarchist” agitators burning vehicles and smashing shop windows.

The widespread protests coincide with several conferences and cultural programmes that are reflecting on themes of revolution in remembrance of “May ‘68”.

Davis, for instance, will be back in France next month as the keynote speaker at a conference at Paris Nanterre University titled “Revolution(s)”. The organizers – La Société des Anglicistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur (SAES) – are hoping the campus will by then be accessible to the 400 expected participants.

“Nanterre as a town doesn’t have much of a historical aspect; it’s not like Paris or Bordeaux. The one thing we have here is the university and the ’68 protests,” said Bernard Cros, the main organizer of the meeting and a lecturer in British and Commonwealth studies.

The 1968 student demonstrations actually started at Nanterre, when students occupied an administrative building to protest class discrimination and other societal issues. Subsequent confrontations with the university administration and law enforcement agents led to additional universities and the public joining the protests, and, at the height of the May ’68 movement, more than 10 million workers were on strike in France.

Fifty years later, the current protests at Nanterre began when a group of students occupied a classroom in April to voice disapproval of the government’s reforms. The situation escalated when the university’s president called in the police to remove them, and officers in riot gear descended on the university. That in turn caused others to join the protest in solidarity.

Since then, students have shut down the campus. Visitors can see iron barricades in front of doorways, along with graffiti such as “Make Nanterre great again”, a paraphrasing of the slogan used by Donald Trump during his presidential campaign, and that used by French President Emmanuel Macron to show his support for climate action (“Make our planet great again”).

The conference with Davis may not make the university “great again” but her presence in France generates huge interest among students, faculty and the public.

Cros said that Davis’s name was the “first that came to mind” when Nanterre was chosen as the 2018 site of the annual congress of the SAES – an academic association for those researching and teaching English language, literatures and culture. The university awarded Davis an honorary doctorate in 2014, so she is “already linked” to the institution, he added.

“What is not revolutionary about Angela Davis is what you have to ask,” Cros said in an interview. “Where would the world be without people like her? She put her own safety on the line. It raises questions about what it means to be politically committed. Whether you agree with all her views or not, this is something that attracts support.”

Doorways barricaded at Paris Nanterre University. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

Indeed some 900 people filled the Nanterre-Amandiers Theatre at the May 3 event where Davis and Ali spoke (the event is separate from the coming university conference). As the activists walked onto the stage, there was deafening applause and several young people leapt to their feet with shouts of appreciation.

“I’m not a person who tends to be inspired by nostalgia, but sometimes I find myself wanting that closeness (from 1968) again,” said Davis, in response to a question from one of the evening’s moderators about whether the “historical memory of ‘68” could help the world to imagine a better future.

“I don’t know if you know my story, but I needed some solidarity myself … I take solidarity very seriously,” she said. “If it wasn’t for this, I wouldn’t be here this evening.”

Davis was a member of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, and active in the civil rights movement before and after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King in April 1968. Later, in 1970, guns she had bought were used by a high-school student when he took over a courtroom to demand the freeing of black prisoners including his brother, and left the building with hostages, including the judge.

In a subsequent shootout with police, the perpetrator, two defendants he had freed and the judge were killed, and Davis was arrested following a huge manhunt, and charged with “aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder” of the judge, although she had not been in the courtroom.

She declared her innocence, and sympathisers in the United States and other countries, including France, mobilised to demand her freedom. After being incarcerated for 16 months, she was released on bail and eventually acquitted of the charges in 1972.

During the theatre discussion, Davis described the civil rights struggles in which she had participated, highlighting the gender battles in particular, and pointing out that the U.S. civil rights movement was “very much informed” by what was happening around the world at the time.

For Tariq Ali, the ’68 movement was a time of international solidarity. In contrast, “there is very little solidarity with the Arab countries” at present, he said.

Speaking of conflicts in the Middle East, Ali said: “All these wars create refugees … then you give the refugees a kick in the backside and say ‘we don’t want you’.”

He said that citizens should demand of countries that if they start a war they should “take 100,000” refugees.

Many in the audience reacted with applause to these words. (In another university near Paris -at Saint Denis – migrants have occupied a building for several months, largely with the support of students who’re also demonstrating).

Outside the theatre, the “revolutionary” fervor is continuing. General strikes are expected to last throughout May and June, and the Nanterre students have voted to continue the protests until May 7 for now.

“The university is a very mixed population, and some support the demonstrations while others don’t,” Cros told IPS. “But nearly everyone understands the reasons for the protests. If you tell students: ‘we’re not spending money on you’, what is the message you’re sending them?”

With more than 2 million students in higher education, France ranks 19th among 26 developed countries for the quality of the sector, according to statistics from the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and other observers note that funding for public universities is decreasing. (The government has promised increased financing).

Meanwhile, some students just want to get on with their lives. One third-year student said that while he understood the motivations of his protesting peers, his concern was to take his exams and finish his programme.

“I’ve been preparing for a long time,” he said. “For me personally, all this is tough.”

Follow the writer on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

 

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Time to Get Serious About Peace & Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/time-get-serious-peace-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-get-serious-peace-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/time-get-serious-peace-development/#respond Fri, 04 May 2018 15:14:56 +0000 Jan Eliasson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155629 Jan Eliasson* is Chairman of the Governing Board of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

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Jan Eliasson* is Chairman of the Governing Board of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

By Jan Eliasson
STOCKHOLM, Sweden, May 4 2018 (IPS)

Four months ago UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a “red alert”, noting that instead of progressing towards greater peace, the world had moved in reverse towards deepening conflicts and new dangers: “Global anxieties about nuclear weapons are the highest since the Cold War.

Jan Eliasson

Climate change is moving faster than we are. Inequalities are growing. We see horrific violations of human rights. Nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise.”

Levels of violent conflict have increased sharply since 2010, and conflicts have become increasingly protracted and internationalized, making them longer and deadlier. Due to violence, persecution, disaster, and instability 65.6 million people have been displaced from their homes, the highest level on record.

These figures are troubling and should elicit urgent action – but they also highlight the difficulties of working on truly “sustainable development”. We know that conflict sets back development by decades, and disproportionately and increasingly affects poor people; studies suggest that unless we dramatically change course, by 2030 fully 67 percent of the extreme poor will live in fragile and conflict-affected settings.

But we also know that the only way to prevent the violence of tomorrow is to work on development today or risk leaving more and more people behind.

And the challenges of today are compounding to complicate tomorrow. Demographic trends in Africa, including a decline in child mortality rates combined with relatively high fertility rates, result in a doubling of Africa’s population to 2.5 billion by 2050. While 10-12 million youth enter the workforce each year across Africa, only 3 million formal jobs are created annually.

According to a World Bank survey, 40% of those who join rebel groups do so because of a lack of economic opportunities. Further, it is generally not religious ideology but poverty and marginalization (lack of employment, healthcare, education, security and housing, as well as distrust and lack of respect for government, and its perceived lack of legitimacy) that motivate youth towards violent extremism.

Educating youth, creating employment opportunities, reducing poverty, reforming and improving government systems, rebuilding trust and the state-society relationship takes time. This is the reason that the Sustainable Development Goals, a universal set of 17 goals and 169 targets agreed to guide the agendas of the UN’s member states, are a generational endeavor with a 15-year window.

But because of the time it takes to plan and execute the real reform needed to make progress in achieving peaceful, just and inclusive societies, we cannot wait until 2029 to deliver. If achieved, the goals of the 2030 Development Agenda will transform our world: now is the time for us to direct financing and plan programming for delivery (and course correction) over the next decade.

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we must somehow address the Secretary General’s Red Alert today and avoid twelve more years of red alerts to make sufficient progress in an increasingly complex world. But we must remember, despite the current alarming trends, the world has never been simple.

We have developed tools that enable us to understand how to manage our complex reality. We have accumulated and refined our knowledge about trends and drivers of conflict and peace, developed mechanisms for mediation and diplomacy, peacekeeping where necessary, and, increasingly, the tools to understand complex development environments in fragile and conflict-affected state.

We now know that development is critical to conflict prevention and sustaining peace, and this realization is increasingly reflected in the frameworks we apply to guide our efforts. The overarching framework of “sustaining peace” was introduced in April 2016 through twin resolutions of the UNGA and the Secretary-General, and redefines the approach of the UN, placing new emphasis on the long-term prevention of conflict and addressing its root causes.

The 2030 agenda and sustaining peace together underscore that sustainable and inclusive development, grounded in respect for all human rights, is the world’s best preventive tool against violent conflict and instability.

Thus, as noted recently by Secretary-General Guterres, “investing in sustained peace means investing in basic services, bringing humanitarian and development agencies together, building effective and accountable institutions, protecting human rights, promoting social cohesion and diversity and moving to sustainable energy.”

It isn’t just good practice to plan ahead and invest in development — it is also efficient and economical. Aside from saving and improving human lives, studies suggest that investing USD $2 billion in prevention can generate net savings of $33 billion per year from averted conflict.

Yet delivering peace, justice and inclusion are not as simple as infrastructure projects – in addition to technical expertise, they also require political acumen and flexibility necessary to navigate planning, reform and delivery.

That is why the upcoming Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development, 7-9 May in Stockholm, will convene leading experts, policy-makers, and civil society actors to discuss the core challenges and issues on “the politics of peace”. We want to know what are the real obstacles between us and achieving the SDGs — and how can these be overcome now to achieve our goals by 2030?

Events like the Stockholm Forum on Peace & Development are ways for serious people to take a moment to think today about how to achieve the peace of tomorrow. While humanitarian response, peacekeeping and diplomacy are important parts of our “firefighting” toolkit, we must also be thinking about how we get ahead of this world of perpetually responding to crisis, and of playing the long game of building resilience to shocks, preventing conflict and delivering on the development agenda.

The Forum will bring together a dynamic international group of thinkers and doers in peacebuilding and development to discuss how to so deliver at a time of great uncertainty, but also of opportunity which sees important initiatives to improve our collective response.

As just one example of an effort to better enable the UN to deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and sustaining peace, the Secretary-General has launched an initiative to develop a more tailored, integrated and coherent UN development system that responds to national priorities.

A key element is to reinvigorate the UN’s system of Resident Coordinators, who play a critical role in coordinating the UN’s work on the ground. Independent, impartial and empowered Resident Coordinators will henceforth be the driving force behind the UN’s SDG response and conflict prevention in country, driving system-wide support and holding entities accountable.

It is time for us all to get serious about prevention and Sustaining Peace if we are to achieve the peace envisioned in the SDGs by 2030. Policymakers must focus efforts on prevention, committing additional resources and attention to the highest risk environments. Leaders need to be honest about the risks they face and the needs they have to avoid conflict.

Peace researchers need build the evidence base now to set a baseline of the “peace we have” and give us the tools to assess when we’re making progress by 2023 and 2027 on our way to achieving significantly more peace by 2030.

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously declared that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”; if we want to bend the arc of history toward peace by 2030, we need to get serious now about sustainable development and prevention. The Stockholm Forum is one small part of the global effort to bend that arc.

*Jan Eliasson was Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations from July 2012 to December 2016 and Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs in 2006. He was also President of the 60th session of the UN General Assembly in 2005–06; the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur in 2007–08; the first UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, 1992–94; and participated, 1980–86, in the UN mission mediating in the Iran–Iraq War, which was headed by former Prime Minister Olof Palme of Sweden.

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Excerpt:

Jan Eliasson* is Chairman of the Governing Board of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

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Steady Old Hand of Repression Seeks to Strangle New Media in East Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/steady-old-hand-repression-seeks-strangle-new-media-east-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=steady-old-hand-repression-seeks-strangle-new-media-east-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/steady-old-hand-repression-seeks-strangle-new-media-east-africa/#respond Thu, 03 May 2018 13:48:28 +0000 Teldah Mawarire and Grant Clark http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155606 Teldah Mawarire is an Advocacy and Campaigns Officer with global civil society, CIVICUS. Grant Clark is the organisation’s Senior Media Advisor.

 

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Teldah Mawarire is an Advocacy and Campaigns Officer with global civil society, CIVICUS. Grant Clark is the organisation’s Senior Media Advisor.
 
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

By Teldah Mawarire and Grant Clark
JOHANNESBURG, May 3 2018 (IPS)

In African countries where journalists are targeted with killings and beatings while traditional news outlets have been muzzled by governments and other actors unhappy with criticism, bloggers and social media users have become the new independent media by providing much-needed coverage, commentary and analysis.

Credit: UNESCO

The new frontier for clampdowns on free expression is now social media. The same repressive tactics are being transferred from traditional media as we know it to private citizens who dare share information and news. In East Africa, some administrations, done with decimating independent traditional media, are now moving to crush dissent online in new ways — using economics as the weapon of choice.

In Tanzania, the government of President John Magufuli last month craftily enacted legislation requiring all online publishers, including bloggers and podcasters to pay around US$920 — unaffordable for most of the country’s bloggers — for the privilege of posting content online.

From May 5, just two days after World Press Freedom Day, all online publishers have to register with the authorities and fork out about US$480 for a three-year licence, as well as US$440 every year to operate a blog.

However, bloggers tend to make very little from blogs, posting mostly out of passion and earning little if not nothing from advertising, which is usually the revenue source for this media. So there is precious little to be made from online advertising, which is not a widely used form of advertising in Tanzania. So, the required fees make blogging a very expensive affair.

The Electronic and Postal Communications (Online) Regulations 2018, which came into effect in March, not only imposes the exorbitant fees to post content online but also requires anyone publishing online content to carry out extensive data reporting such as keeping a log of visitors to the platform, information on investors and staff, future plans, among other requirements.

Blogs are also usually solo operations, run with no staff or resources to keep up with these onerous obligations. The law also requires internet café’s to install surveillance cameras and to record and archive activities inside their premises.

The new law defines a blog as “a website containing a writer’s, or group of writer’s own, experiences, observations, opinions including current news … images, video clips and links to other websites”. This basically covers all forms of posts from the personal to public affairs matters and news items.

According to the new law, publishing content that “causes annoyance, threatens harm or evil, encourages or incites crime, or leads to public disorder”, can lead to the license being revoked, a fine of no less than 5million Shillings (about $2 000) or no less than 12 months’ imprisonment or both.

The interpretation of what is “annoying” or “evil” leaves the law wide open to abuse by those in power. For example is a fashion blog commentary on a politician an annoyance? Is questioning the use of public funds an annoyance?

The government’s Communication Ministry spokesman Innocent Mungy defended the law, telling Al Jazeera that it serves to “protect those who were being victims of slurs”. However, the deliberately vague and broad nature of the regulation, and the sweeping powers given to the Tanzanian Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) to keep a register of bloggers, online forums, radio and television online and to take action against non-compliance of the regulations, including ordering the removal of content is a cause for raising red flags for freedom of expression in the country.

There is no doubt that this policy will deal a fatal blow to freedom of expression and an open internet in Tanzania as well as to diversity in the media space.

The new regulations attack fundamental human rights of Tanzanians in two main ways. First it excludes most from being able to express themselves online through the increasingly popular format, blogs. It also discourages internet use by instilling fear in users.

And for the precious few bloggers who might be able to afford the prohibitively expensive fees, the sweeping, ambiguous restrictions give authorities power to declare much of what they say as criminally offensive and liable to prosecution and criminal conviction.

While proponents of the law might also invoke the “curbing the spread of terrorism via social media” argument, it is clear these regulations are beyond threats of terror. Not only are the fees intended to prevent ordinary bloggers and journalists from posting editorial content online, but it severely restricts their freedom of expression as well as the public’s access to information at large.

In a country where the media historically holds strong ties to government interests, and where a sustained campaign of media repression has been underway for years – and intensified since the election of Magufuli in 2015 – blogging has given a voice to many Tanzanians who would not otherwise be heard and has given content to an audience that is searching for it.

The government has wasted no time exploiting the law’s vaguely-worded terms to put online users on notice. Hugely popular rapper, Diamond Platinumz (Nasseb Abdul), was arrested in mid-April for posting an Instagram picture of himself kissing a woman — considered a violation of the regulation’s ban on “indecency”.

The government held public consultations on the proposed policy last year but pushed it through without any changes despite objections from various stakeholders to aspects of the legislation. Three Tanzanian NGOs in March filed a complaint at the East Africa Court of Justice over the law, arguing it violates press freedom.

Ordinary users of blogs are also not spared. For, example, those who post content or comment on Facebook are subject to the same rules meaning even personal political opinions are at risk.

But Tanzania is not alone in this kind of crackdown. Uganda is also drafting its own plan of attack on freedom of speech online. From July this year, users of social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp will have to pay a daily tax of about USD0.05 to reduce what longtime President Yoweri Museveni calls “gossip”. Of Uganda’s 41 million people, more than half are mobile phone subscribers and 17 million use the internet. The policy is currently before parliament after approval by the cabinet.

In neighbouring Rwanda, a 2016 law makes it broadly illegal to cause “annoyance, inconvenience, or needless anxiety” with a digital device.

Worldwide, the CIVICUS Monitor, which tracks threats to civil society, has found that journalists are the biggest group on the receiving end of violations for their work. Citizen journalists, bloggers and general social media users need special attention if the right to access information and freedom of expression are to be protected.

Civil society and traditional media have a duty to diligently highlight these violations and stand in solidarity with those being persecuted and hindered from freely using new forms of media.

The post Steady Old Hand of Repression Seeks to Strangle New Media in East Africa appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Teldah Mawarire is an Advocacy and Campaigns Officer with global civil society, CIVICUS. Grant Clark is the organisation’s Senior Media Advisor.

 

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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African Governments Mark World Press Freedom Day with Crackdown Against Online Journalismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/african-governments-mark-world-press-freedom-day-crackdown-online-journalism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=african-governments-mark-world-press-freedom-day-crackdown-online-journalism http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/african-governments-mark-world-press-freedom-day-crackdown-online-journalism/#respond Thu, 03 May 2018 07:11:02 +0000 Muthoki Mumo and Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155590 Muthoki Mumo/Committee to Protect Journalists* East Africa Correspondent & Jonathan Rozen/CPJ Researcher

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This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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By Muthoki Mumo and Jonathan Rozen
ACCRA, Ghana, May 3 2018 (IPS)

When Uganda in April ordered Internet service providers to shut down all news sites that had not been authorized by the communications regulator (pdf), it was the latest attempt by President Yoweri Museveni’s government to constrict the space for independent media.

The regulator said that only 14 online publishers had met the requirements to remain online, including a USD 20 fee and an interpol clearance certificate (pdf). If the directive is implemented in full, millions of websites would become inaccessible and Ugandans would be thrown into a virtual information blackout.

Uganda is not alone in its ambition to control online journalism.

Across Sub-Saharan Africa, governments are taking aggressive steps to control what their citizens do and say online, justifying their suppression as necessary for public order and morality or security.

Unless this repressive trend is stemmed, Africa’s young but robust and diverse online media will wither. As journalists today meet in Accra, Ghana, to mark World Press Freedom Day, openness of online journalism in Africa hangs in the balance.

In similar fashion to its northern neighbour, the government of Tanzanian president John Magufuli now requires bloggers to register, a privilege that could cost an initial USD 484 and another USD 440 annually. The government will also license those streaming content online, though at a reduced fee.

Tanzania’s steep registration fee is most certainly impossible for many people in a country where gross national income per capita is USD 900. Those who have not applied for registration by May 5 face, upon conviction, a fine of five million Tanzanian shillings (USD 2,200), a prison term of a minimum 12 months, or both.

Registration requirements pose a barrier to entry for those who want to have their voices heard online. Free expression has flourished on the Internet precisely because users are unencumbered by infrastructure, regulatory or financial demands that weigh so heavily on traditional media like newspapers, radio, or television.

Although CPJ advocates for transparency in media ownership, there is fear that governments are collecting this information with the intention of being better able to target critical reporters and outlets.

This intention was laid bare in Tanzania, where the March 2018 Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) regulations would effectively strip Internet users of anonymity that often protects whistleblowers and dissenters. Yet it’s not just registration that is stifling online journalism.

On January 1, 2018, Timothy Elombah, editor-in-chief of Elombah.com, was arrested with his brother, Daniel, at their home, and charged in Abuja under Sections 24 and 26 of Nigeria’s 2015 cybercrime act. Although Daniel was released, Timothy spent 25 days in detention.

During a meeting with the Committee to Protect Journalists in Abuja, Timothy said he believes they were arrested and charged in reprisal for their critical reporting on Nigeria’s government. A court hearing for their case is scheduled for today, May 3.

Nigeria’s cybercrime act and its vaguely worded offenses have been repeatedly used against journalists, according to CPJ research. For example, Section 24 (1-b) criminalizes “grossly offensive” messages sent using a computer and Section 26 (c) may find guilty anyone that “insults publicly through a computer system or network.” These offenses are punishable by imprisonment for up to three years and five years respectively, and/or a multi-million-Naira fine.

Ambiguously defined crimes can also be found in South Africa’s Film and Publications Amendment Bill. In March 2018, South Africa’s National Assembly approved amendments to the Films and Publications Act, also dubbed the Internet Censorship Bill, that would grant authorities wide powers to regulate online media content, including newspapers and social media.

While the government has argued it will protect children from explicit content and fight hate speech and revenge pornography, the South African Freelancers’ Association (SAFREA) has criticised the bill for its “vague definitions and impractical requirements” that would grant the state power to dictate what content can be posted online, crossing the “fine line between protection and censorship”.

South African intentions to control online media are not new. During a June 2017 meeting in Durban, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers expressed concern over South Africa’s cybercrime bill’s “vague language that affords opportunity for repressive implementation, as well as enhanced investigative and surveillance powers for security agents.” If passed into law, both these bills would imperil online journalism in South Africa.

During the Internet Freedom Forum held last month (April) in Abuja, Wakabi Wairagala, the executive director of Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), warned of copy-cat legislation, in which African governments adopt similar versions of the problematic regulations. The crafters of Nigeria’s cybercrime act did not sufficiently consider the negative ramifications for press freedom and free expression online. South Africa’s lawmakers may yet avoid this mistake.

Across Africa, governments have sought to close the internet as an open space for journalism. Ethiopia, Cameroon, Chad, DR Congo, Uganda and Somaliland have shut down Internet access, in whole or in part, to control public debate during elections or public demonstrations. Yet it is during these moments of political tension that citizens most need accurate information to make decisions.

This is not to say that the Internet does not pose governance challenges. Citizens and government have reason to be concerned about disinformation, hate speech, and incitement to violence. It is in this context that responsible journalism remains as important as ever.

But heavy-handed regulation or legislation that unduly curbs press freedom and free expression is not the appropriate response. Instead of silencing dissenting ideas, laws ought to protect the digital rights of citizens and nurture press freedom online.

For example, Nigeria’s National Assembly and Senate have passed the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill. If signed into law by the president, the law would guarantee (pdf) the rights of expression and information online, protect whistleblowers, and limit government censorship to specific, narrowly defined circumstances as mandated by a judge.

The proposed law in Nigeria shows that it is possible for African governments to write regulations and laws that work for, not against, journalists. But unfortunately this bill is the exception to a repressive norm.

(The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide. It defends the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal. www.cpj.org )

The post African Governments Mark World Press Freedom Day with Crackdown Against Online Journalism appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Muthoki Mumo/Committee to Protect Journalists* East Africa Correspondent & Jonathan Rozen/CPJ Researcher

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This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Free Media Under Threat Globallyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/free-media-threat-globally/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-media-threat-globally http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/free-media-threat-globally/#comments Wed, 02 May 2018 16:35:27 +0000 Will Higginbotham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155586 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

By Will Higginbotham
UNITED NATIONS, May 2 2018 (IPS)

Buoyed on by the likes of United States’ President Donald Trump, a growing number of political leaders are encouraging hostility towards news media and journalists across the globe are finding it harder than ever to do their jobs.

This is among the main findings in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) annual World Press Freedom Index which examines 180 countries and their relationship with the media.

Mr. Trump signs the UN Secretary-General’s guest book. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

While launching the report, RSF’s Secretary General Christopher Deloire reflected on the erosion of one of free societies’ most treasured principles: a free press.

“The unleashing of hatred towards journalists is one of the worst threats to democracies. To dispute the legitimacy of journalism today is to play with extremely dangerous political fire,” Deloire said.

U.S. Ranking Drops

According to the report, the U.S. is partly responsible for the downward trend of the media’s image globally.

The report highlights the impact of Trump’s “Fake News” slogan- a reference used to discredit and deny news reports.

“Trump’s ‘fake news’ phenomenon has certainly had a global impact. Leaders of countries both democratic and authoritarian have taken advantage of this language to conflate any critical news coverage with false news coverage or misreporting,” RSF’s North America Director Margaux Ewen told IPS.

Trump’s method of dismissing media has been picked up by a growing number of world leaders, the report found.

“More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but instead as an adversary. Trump himself has called reporters ‘enemies of the people,” Ewen said.

“It’s sad that the U.S. – often seen as a shining beacon of press freedom and democracy is slipping, it’s no longer the gold standard,” she continued.

Unsurprisingly, this year’s report saw the United States drop to number to 45 in the index, down two spots from its 2017 rank.

Europe “Not Perfect”

Whilst European countries Sweden and Norway ranked the freest media environments in the world, the region as a whole had more nations drop down the list than any other.

European nations such as Malta, Slovenia, Czech Republic, and Serbia all fell considerably.

“With the rise of populist politics and strongmen leaders, Europe’s downward trend will likely continue,” the report stated.

In Europe, recent high profile journalist killings – the murder of Daphne Galizina in Malta and the Jan Kuciak in Slovakia – have been attributed to the region’s dip in rankings.

The report highlighted several cases where countries have slid in the ranks due to ‘strongmen’ leaders.

For example, Philippines dipped to 133 on the list largely due to its President, Rodrigo Duterte, who often justifies the killing of journalists.

Last year, four journalists where killed in the country for their work, earning it the reputation of the most dangerous country in Asia for journalists.

Turkey also fell in this year’s ranking to 157. Its president, Recap Tayyip Erdogan has long held the media in contempt.

The country now has more reporters in jail than anywhere else in the world.

Similarly, Eritrea came in at at the bottom of the ranking. The report noted that the media are subject to the whim of President Isaias Afeworki who has overseen a deterioration in human rights and global freedoms.

After questioning the government’s authoritarian tendencies, Swedish-Eritrea journalist Dawit Isaak was arrested in 2001. He has been detained for the past 17 years without ever being brought to a court.

The UN has since called on his release, and RSF recently submitted a report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights with concerns over the state of press freedom in the East African nation.

However, RSF found that press freedom in Africa has improved—though the variation from country to country is still considerable.

Whilst Ewen admitted that there was not many positives to draw from the report, she says a silver lining is the future appointment of United Nations special representative for journalists.

“That will mean that we can immediately coordinate international efforts for the press when a journalist is in danger. That’s something RSF has been leading for the past few years, along with more than 130 supporting NGOs and media outlets,” Ewen told IPS.

“That’s something we can look forward to,” she continued.

The post Free Media Under Threat Globally appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Press Freedom & Enforced Disappearances: Two Sides of the Same Coin in Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/press-freedom-enforced-disappearances-two-sides-coin-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=press-freedom-enforced-disappearances-two-sides-coin-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/press-freedom-enforced-disappearances-two-sides-coin-sri-lanka/#respond Mon, 30 Apr 2018 14:20:52 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155540 Kanya D’Almeida* is a Sri Lankan writer, journalist and editor.

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This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Kanya D’Almeida* is a Sri Lankan writer, journalist and editor.
 
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Apr 30 2018 (IPS)

When Sri Lankan journalist Richard de Zoysa was abducted from his home in Colombo on the night of February 18th, 1990, his family knew there would be dark days ahead. The population was still reeling from one of the bloodiest episodes in the island nation’s history – a government counterinsurgency campaign to crush a Marxist rebellion in southern Sri Lanka, which left between 30,000 and 60,000 people dead at the hands of government death squads.

The late Richard de Zoysa, former IPS UN Bureau Chief in Sri Lanka.

Even more disturbing than the extrajudicial killings was the wave of enforced disappearances that took place between 1988 and 1990: tens of thousands of Sinhalese men and boys suspected of being members or sympathizers of the People’s Liberation Front, or JVP, went missing, never to return.

At the time of his kidnapping, de Zoysa was a stringer for this publication, filing regular reports on the political violence plaguing the country. He was on the verge of accepting the post of Bureau Chief of the agency’s Lisbon-based European desk when the goons came knocking.

For hours that bled into days, his mother, Manorani Saravanamuttu had no idea what had become of him. High-ranking officials assured her that he was alive, in police custody, but refused to give her exact coordinates when she asked to be allowed to bring him some clothing – he had been wearing only a sarong when he was kidnapped – or a meal.

It later transpired that while she was making frantic phone calls and searching for answers, de Zoysa was already dead, shot in the head at point blank range, and his body dumped in the Indian Ocean, a tactic that had become a common feature of the government’s systematic abductions.

A fisherman happened to recognize his face – de Zoysa was also a well-known television personality at the time – when his body washed up on shore in a coastal town just south of the capital. He alerted the authorities who in turn contacted de Zoysa’s mother.

According to a 1991 Washington Post interview with Saravanamuttu, the discovery of her son’s body was a turning point, for her personally, and for the nation as a whole. When she walked out of the inquest a few days after de Zoysa’s abduction, she found herself surrounded by reporters, to whom she made a statement that resonated with countless families across the island: “I am the luckiest mother in Sri Lanka. I got my son’s body back. There are thousands of mothers who never get their children’s bodies back.”

Mothers of the Disappeared

Saravanamuttu’s statement quickly catalyzed a movement known as the Mother’s Front, which had been a long time coming. Perhaps due to her privileged status as a member of the country’s English-speaking elite, she became a kind of totem pole around which women from the poorer, politically marginalized and largely Sinhala-speaking rural belt could gather, and from which they could draw strength. By 1991, according to the Post, the Mother’s Front counted 25,000 registered members.

The movement did not succeed in bringing justice to many of its victims. To this day, not a single person has been convicted for de Zoysa’s murder. Ministers who opposed Saravanamuttu and others’ attempts to seek answers in the murders or disappearances of their loved ones continue to hold positions of power within the government – Ranil Wickremesinghe, who the Post quoted as brushing de Zoysa’s murder off as “suicide or something else”, now serves as the Prime Minister, the second-highest political office in the country.

Amnesty International estimates that since the 1980s, there have been as many as 100,000 enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka.

The Mother’s Front movement did, however, make a crucial contribution to the country’s political landscape, one which continues to have ramifications today: it tied together forever the plight of Sri Lanka’s disappeared with the fate of its journalists and press freedom – or the lack thereof.

Exactly 20 years after de Zoysa was assassinated, another journalist’s disappearance prompted a woman to step into the global spotlight, much as Saravanamuttu did back in the 90s. This journalist’s name is Prageeth Eknaligoda, and he was last seen on January 24th, 2010. He telephoned his wife, Sandhya around 10 p.m. to inform her that he was on his way home from the offices of Lanka eNews (LEN), where he was a renowned columnist and cartoonist. He never arrived.

From local police stations all the way to the United Nations in Geneva, Sandhya has searched for answers as to his whereabouts. It is only in the last two years that some information regarding his abduction and detention by army intelligence personnel has been revealed.

Both Saravanamuttu and Sandhya Eknaligoda have received international recognition for their tireless campaigning. In 1990 de Zoysa’s mother accepted IPS’ press freedom award at the United Nations on her son’s behalf, and last year Sandhya was honored with a 2017 International Woman of Courage Award. But back in Sri Lanka, she faces a government and a public that is at best indifferent, and at worst openly hostile to her continued efforts to find her husband.

A New Front: Tamil Women in the North

Sandhya has also been one of the few women, and one of the lone voices, connecting the issue of press freedom with the movement of families of the disappeared led by Tamil women in Sri Lanka’s northern province, where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) waged a 28-year-long guerilla war against the Government of Sri Lanka for an independent homeland for the country’s Tamil minority.

Since January 2017, hundreds of Tamil civilians have observed continuous, 24-hour roadside protests in five key locations throughout the former warzone – Kilinochchi, Mullaithivu, Trincomalee, Vavuniya and Maruthankerny (Jaffna district) – demanding answers about their disappeared loved ones.

Like the Mother’s Front in the 1990s, this movement too has been several years in the making. When the civil war ended in 2009, some 300,000 Tamil civilians were rounded up and detained in open-air camps, while hundreds of others – particularly men who surrendered to the armed forces – were taken into government custody under suspicion of being members or supporters of the LTTE.

But while the camps have closed and a large number of people reunited with their families, an estimated 20,000 people are still unaccounted for, including those who disappeared in the early years of the conflict, as well as others who have been abducted as recently as 2016 and 2017.

In 2016, Parliament passed a bill to establish an Office of Missing Persons (OMP) tasked with investigating what Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera called “one of the largest caseloads of missing persons in the world.”

However, rights groups like Amnesty International raised concerns about the bill, including the government’s failure to consult affected families throughout the process. This past March, the government passed a bill that would, for the first time in the country’s history, criminalize enforced disappearances.

But these cosmetic measures have failed to yield concrete results.

In an interview with IPS, Ruki Fernando, a Colombo-based activist who has been visiting the protests in the northern province, noted that Tamil families’ decision to spend day after day in the burning sun by the side of polluted, dusty highways and roads is indicative of their lack of faith in government mechanisms like the OMP and the judiciary to bring them relief. He also called attention to the dismal levels of support or solidarity they have received from Sri Lanka’s broader civil society, including from English and Sinhala-language media or women’s groups in the capital.

“It’s not fair that these families – particularly elderly Tamil women who are leading the protests – should have to carry this burden alone. They have already suffered heavily during the war – they starved in bunkers, they didn’t have medication for their injuries, they have lost family members. All these factors have made them physically weak and emotionally vulnerable, yet now they are also shouldering the burden of keeping these protests going.”

He recalls meeting women as old as 70, adding that protestors sometimes don’t have food, and must endure the vagaries of the weather in the arid northern province. Some of the younger women are forced to bring their children with them. And most, if not all of these families, face the additional financial hardship of having lost their primary breadwinner, or losing out on livelihoods in order to participate in the protests for long periods.

“In my memory, such a strong movement led by women, occurring simultaneously in five locations across the North and East, or any region, is unprecedented,” Fernando said. “And yet it has not become a priority for the rest of the country.”

He called Sandhya Eknaligoda’s participation in the protests as a Sinhala Buddhist ally an “exception” to the rule of general indifference, which he chalked up to a combination of political and ideological issues.

“Some people believe these protests are too radical, too politicized, that there should be more cooperation with, and less criticism of, the government,” he explained. But as Fernando himself noted in an article for Groundviews, one of Sri Lanka’s leading citizen journalism websites, Tamil families have met repeatedly with elected officials, including President Maithripala Sirisena, to no avail.

No Closure

Fernando is not the only one to draw attention to Tamil families’ disadvantaged position with regard to both deaths and disappearances.

Another person to make this connection was Lal Wickrematunge, the brother of journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, former editor-in-chief of the Sunday Leader who was murdered in broad daylight in 2010, and whose killers still haven’t been brought to justice.

Lal pointed to the ongoing investigation by the Criminal Investigation Department into military intelligence officers’ involvement in the kidnapping and torture of former deputy editor of The Nation newspaper, Keith Noyahr – and the arrest earlier this month of Major General Amal Karunasekera in connection with multiple attacks on journalists, including Noyahr, and Lasantha Wickrematunge – as a possible avenue of closure for the families.

According to a recent report in the Sunday Observer, “The assault on former Rivira Editor Upali Tennakoon and the abduction of journalist and activist Poddala Jayantha are also linked to the same shadowy military intelligence networks, run at the time by the country’s powerful former Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.”

But Lal Wickrematunge told IPS in a phone interview that while his family, along with international rights groups, are “keenly watching the progress of the investigation, which will determine if the government is serious about law and order”, he is concerned about those who may never receive answers – such as the families of two Tamil journalists who were assassinated in 2006.

Suresh Kumar and Ranjith Kumar were both employees of the Jaffna-based Tamil-language daily Uthayan, whose employees and offices have been attacked multiple times, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Other disappeared Tamil journalists whose cases receive scant attention include Subramanium Ramachandran, who was last seen at an army checkpoint in Jaffna in 2007.

For Fernando, the task of keeping the torch lit for Sri Lanka’s dead and disappeared cannot be laid at the feet of their family members alone – it is a responsibility that the entire country must share.

“What we need first and foremost are independent institutions capable of meting out truth and justice and winning the confidence of the families. And secondly, there is a need for stronger support for victims’ families from civil society – activists and professionals like lawyers, journalists and women’s groups.”

“Pushing for answers about what happened, and demanding prosecutions and convictions requires an exceptional degree of commitment,” he added. “Not everyone has the strength to wage such a battle, on a daily basis, against extremely heavy odds.”

*Kanya D’Almeida was formerly the Race and Justice Reporter for Rewire.News, and has also reported for IPS from the UN, Washington DC, and her native Sri Lanka. She is currently completing an MFA in fiction writing at Columbia University, New York.

The post Press Freedom & Enforced Disappearances: Two Sides of the Same Coin in Sri Lanka appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Kanya D’Almeida* is a Sri Lankan writer, journalist and editor.

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This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

The post Press Freedom & Enforced Disappearances: Two Sides of the Same Coin in Sri Lanka appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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In Beacon of Press Freedom, Dark Spots Persisthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/beacon-press-freedom-dark-spots-persist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beacon-press-freedom-dark-spots-persist http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/beacon-press-freedom-dark-spots-persist/#respond Mon, 30 Apr 2018 00:02:04 +0000 Kwaku Botwe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155524 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Vendors pick up newspapers from a distribution center in Accra, Ghana. Credit: Kwaku Botwe/IPS

Vendors pick up newspapers from a distribution center in Accra, Ghana. Credit: Kwaku Botwe/IPS

By Kwaku Botwe
ACCRA, Apr 30 2018 (IPS)

Ghana is a living contradiction, at least in the arena of freedom of expression, free speech and press freedom.

It is touted as one of the continent’s best atmospheres for media workers and does have a highly free media space, being ranked number one in Africa and number 23 in the World Press Freedom Index 2018 by Reporters Without Borders.

But that only gives half the picture of the culture of freedom of speech, information and the press in the country. Just last month a journalist from one of the country’s top media houses was beaten to near death by the police.

His crime was that he was doing his job as a journalist and had asked a police officer who had been deployed to disperse a demonstrating crowd the name of one of the anti-riot vehicles. That harmless question was enough to provoke the officer, who pounced on the journalist and was later joined by other officers who had no clue what crime the journalist had committed.

Latif Iddrisu suffered facial, neck and rib injuries and has been experiencing intermittent pain since. He was diagnosed with a fractured skull after four X-ray examinations and a CT Scan. The journalist, who has been recovering at home for close to a month now, says he’s been traumatized as he awaits doctors’ final verdict about whether “I will be in a position to work actively again”.

“For now, all that I have been praying for is a good outcome so that I can get back to work and do even much better, much more ground-braking documentaries and impactful investigative stories to help build the nation,” he told IPS.

Latif Iddrisu in the hospital after being assaulted by police. Photo Courtesy of Latif Iddrisu

The vicious attack on Iddrisu was not an isolated incident. It adds to a long list of attacks on journalists by politicians and their supporters as well as ordinary people, with personnel from the security forces, especially the police, leading the onslaught.

Such abuses against journalists are commonplace in the West African sub-region in particular and Africa in general. The Media Foundation for West Africa’s compilation of abuses against journalists in the region gives a very gloomy picture of press freedom culture. In the past 15 months alone, the Foundation has compiled 12 such assaults with a total of 17 journalist victims in Ghana. And these are just the cases that caught the attention of the Foundation.

In the sub-region, the Foundation says it recorded “nine violations in six countries during its monitoring of the freedom of expression environment in February 2018. Five incidents of physical assaults were recorded in four countries – Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Ghana. Mali, Togo and Nigeria recorded one incident each of arrests and detentions, while Benin recorded one incident of suspension of a media house. The violations affected ten journalists, 11 citizens and one media organisation”.

Colonial-era laws persist despite new constitutions

These abuses continue despite the embrace of democracy and the rule of law by all countries in the sub-region. New constitutions guaranteed basic human rights, including freedom of expression and, in many cases, freedom of the press. But many countries still maintain what some have described as colonial-era laws that restrict free press and expression which are inconsistent with their constitutions.

A typical example is the use of criminal defamation laws – laws which criminalise the publication of untrue statements, reports or rumors that are likely to alarm the public – in African countries to harass, detain and imprison journalists, as well as impose hefty fines.

In the sub-region, countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia have long promised to repeal the laws, but this is yet to happen. Liberia, for instance, attracted the world’s attention in 2013 in what is arguably the most infamous libel defamation judgment in West Africa. The Supreme Court on August 20, 2013, sentenced Rodney Sieh, the Managing Editor of the FrontPage Africa newspaper, to 5,000 years in prison after the journalist was unable to pay a fine of 1.5 million dollars in a civil suit for defamation brought by then Minister of Agriculture, Chris Toe.

Of course the jailing of two editors of the Independent Observer within hours of publishing a column comparing Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma’s behaviour to that of a rat also attracted global attention and condemnation. The 10-court-appearance case dragged out for six months (October 2013 to March 2014) and eventually saw the cautioning and discharge of the journalists after they were forced to plead guilty to conspiracy to defame the president as part of a deal to end the case.

Commenting on the case, Reporters Without Borders said, “The government’s policy of harassing the media is a threat to fundamental freedoms. The authorities use criminal defamation and sedition charges to intimidate journalists and then allow the proceedings to drag on in order to keep up the pressure.”

The story could only be worse in countries like Guinea, Mali, Niger and Nigeria which have for a long time remained adamant in refusing to repeal criminal defamation laws.

And this is where Ghana stands tall. The West African country has distinguished itself on the continent and in the sub-region, having repealed its criminal libel law since 2001, beating its colonial master the United Kingdom which repealed its law in 2009. This accolade makes Ghana the only country in the sub-region to have done so with a clear 17-year margin. But even here, journalists and media houses are not out of the doghouse yet.

Ghana enjoys a thriving press and is ranked number one in Africa in terms of media freedom. Credit: Kwaku Botwe/IPS

Politicians, public office holders and businessmen can still press for civil charges, which may bring hefty fines. In February 2014 the General Secretary of the then political party in power, Johnson Asiedu Nketia, was awarded 250,000 dollars in defamation damages (25% of what Ntetia demanded) against the Daily Guide newspaper by an Accra Fast-Track High Court.

It was in respect to a story which alleged that Nketia used his position in government to divert building materials for his personal building project. In spite of this, it is still refreshing to note that no journalist would ever spend a day in prison for what they publish, a fact journalists Kweku Baako and Haruna Atta who were imprisoned in 1998 using the libel law will appreciate.

Lip service to RTI law

Ghana has not been able to consolidate its commitment to free press with a right to information (RTI) law which is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the country’s constitution. This is against the backdrop of several treaties and agreements the country has signed which require that such a law be passed.

In Africa, RTI is guaranteed in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights; African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance; African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption; African Union Youth Charter; among others. For years CSOs, NGOs, academics, journalists have been advocating for an RTI law without success.

Ghana’s RTI bill was drafted and reviewed by government in 2003. Since then parliamentarians have discussed it, referred it, reviewed it and published it – anything but pass it. Interestingly parliamentarians have passed about 300 bills into law since 2003, with one of the latest being the special prosecutor law which was a campaign promise by President Akufo-Addo.

More than 15 African countries, including seven in West Africa, have passed the RTI law since Ghana first drafted its own in 2003. And yet the West African country ranks higher in press freedom among all these countries. The reluctance of politicians to pass the RTI bill has left many to conclude that successive governments dread what the passage of an RTI will mean for their corrupt deals.

The executive director of the Media Foundation for West Africa, Sulemana Braima, says “It is regrettable that we are hosting this global event without the RTI,” adding that “the absence of the law remains one of the darkest spots on our democracy, freedom and human rights credentials.”

Ghana hosts 2018 World Press Freedom Day

When Ghana was selected as the host of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, having beaten India and other prominent countries, there were some who thought the nonexistence of an RTI law was a big blot on an otherwise reputable event. But Ghana is not the first country to host the event on the continent.

It becomes the sixth country to host the event in African and the second in the West African sub-region (Uganda, Namibia, Senegal, Monzambigue, and Tunisia have all hosted the event in the past). It appears what determines a host country is not based solely on press freedom practices.

When Colombia hosted the event in 2007 it was in recognition of the 10th Anniversary of the establishment of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. Cano was a Colombian journalist who was killed by hired assassins in 1986. Since the inception of the Prize in 1997, two African journalists have won it (Christina Anyanwu, Nigeria in 1998 and Geoffrey Nyarota, Zimbabwe in 2002). Tunisia seem to have won the host in 2012 because of the theme: 21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers, New Voices with the Arab Spring as a main focus.

And so with this year’s global theme: Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law, Ghana definitely fits in. Again, going by milestones and anniversaries it looks as if Ghana’s celebration of 25 years of uninterrupted democratic governance and the rule of law (1993 – 2018) has coincided with the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of the World Press Freedom Day. A good reason to celebrate it on Ghanaian soil.

The post In Beacon of Press Freedom, Dark Spots Persist appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Displaced Pashtuns Return to Find Homes “Teeming” with Landmineshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/displaced-pashtuns-return-find-homes-teeming-landmines/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=displaced-pashtuns-return-find-homes-teeming-landmines http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/displaced-pashtuns-return-find-homes-teeming-landmines/#respond Thu, 26 Apr 2018 12:18:30 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155473 “If I’m assured that my home and my village has been de-mined, I’d be the first to return with my family,” says 54-year old Mohammad Mumtaz Khan. Khan lived in the mountainous village of Patwelai in South Waziristan, a rugged territory in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) near the Afghan border, one of the […]

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Manzoor Pashteen, a leader of the the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, addresses a rally in Lahore on April 22, 2018. Credit: Khalid Mahmood/IPS

Manzoor Pashteen, a leader of the the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, addresses a rally in Lahore on April 22, 2018. Credit: Khalid Mahmood/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Apr 26 2018 (IPS)

“If I’m assured that my home and my village has been de-mined, I’d be the first to return with my family,” says 54-year old Mohammad Mumtaz Khan.

Khan lived in the mountainous village of Patwelai in South Waziristan, a rugged territory in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) near the Afghan border, one of the world’s most important geopolitical regions. In 2008, he shifted to Dera Ismail Khan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province with his wife and six children.

They had to leave Patwelai hurriedly, “with just the clothes on our backs”, after the Pakistan army decided to launch a major ground-air offensive to cleanse the entire area of the Taliban.

Mumtaz Khan lost his foot to a landmine in his home. Credit: Khan family

Mumtaz Khan lost his foot to a landmine in his home. Credit: Khan family

Since then, the military carried out a series of intermittent operations across FATA till 2016, when they claimed they had destroyed the Pakistani Taliban’s infrastructure in the country.

That same year, in 2016, the army gave the internally displaced persons (IDPs) — over half a million — a clean chit to return to their homes. Feeling lucky, Khan and a few dozen men decided to visit their village and assess the situation before returning with their families.

It was while he was entering his home through a window that he accidentally stepped on a landmine. “There was a boom and before I could fathom what had happened, I saw my bloodied left foot,” Khan said.

“I am lucky that I got away with a small injury. It may not be so the next time around,” he said, adding that the mountains and valleys are “teeming” with improvised explosive devices (IED) and explosive remnants of war (ERW).

“Despite having cleared the area of militants, it is not possible for many to move about freely as the place remains infested with landmines,” agreed Raza Shah, who heads the Sustainable Peace and Development Organization (SPADO), an active member of the global Control Arms Coalition and International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). Since 2010, SPADO has been blocked from working in FATA.

After the demand by the Pashtuns earlier this year during their long march to Islamabad, the authorities promised they would start de-mining the area.

"Ghost Towns"

The murder of 27-year old Naqeebullah Mehsud, a young Pashtun shopkeeper from South Waziristan living in Karachi, by the police in a "fake encounter" opened up the floodgates of resentment and anger of the Pashtuns at their treatment by the state that has been pent up for decades, spurring what is today known as the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement.

Gohar Mehsud, a journalist from South Waziristan, said it was a sad indictment of the Pakistani leadership that the
Pashtuns had to travel in the thousands to Islamabad to lodge their complaints. "The conversation that took place in whispers among themselves is now out in the open. For far too long they had been too scared to accost or even speak out against the high handedness and atrocities committed by the army officials and the political agent posted in their areas by the federal government," he said.

For the first time, said Mona Naseer, co-founder of the Khor Network of tribal women, the long march movement gave a new face to FATA and showed "there is more to this region than drones, militants and militancy; it's given voice to the miseries faced by the tribespeople," she said. 

Mumtaz Khan, the schoolteacher from the South Waziristan village of Patwelai, recalled when he first re-entered his village, cutting through tall wild grass and wild shrubs, "it was like I had come to a ghost town hounded by wild boar." Khan said the road to the village was broken down and they had to walk a good couple of hours to get to their village.

"Not one house was intact -- either the walls had collapsed or the roof had given way. Our homes had been looted and ransacked. Cupboards and chests opened crockery heartlessly thrown with broken pieces, dust was strewn all over the place," he said, adding that it was painful to see the cruelty and disdain with which their homes had been ransacked. 

The tribesmen say that the military operation has left their land poisoned. "The land has become infertile. The apple tree either does not give fruit and when it does, it is attacked by pests, the walnuts on the walnut trees is much smaller and not as sweeter," Mehsud said.

In addition, he said, many of the IDPs who have returned live in tents outside their homes as the houses are in a collapsed state and unsafe to live in.

The state had promised compensation of Rs 400,000 for homes that had been completely annihilated and Rs 150,000 for those partially damaged, but that is clearly not enough. "It costs Rs 5 to 6 million to build very basic homes!" said Mehsud.

Due to the remoteness of the area, he said, "The policy makers and the top government officials, who can make a difference, never visit the place to find out why the Pashtuns are angry. Even the media is not there to report the ground reality. The local administration and the army officials are their point of contact and whatever they tell them is what they know. The latter rule over the tribesmen as kings!"

But the youth of the area decided they had had enough. Two months in, the movement remains unwavering, as peaceful and stronger as ever with more young people -- students and professionals -- joining in. They even run a Facebook group called "Justice for Pashtuns." Nobel Laureate Malala Yusafzai showed her "solidarity" with group and "appealed to the prime minister, the army and the chief justice of Pakistan to take notice of the "genuine demands" of the people of FATA and Pakhtunkhwa.

Not everyone is convinced, especially since the accidents continue. “It is not just a daunting task, but a painstaking, expensive, and risky one and the government is neither equipped with the technology nor does it have the huge human resources needed to comb the vast area,” said Gohar Mehsud, a journalist from the area who has covered the issues of the FATA extensively.

“The military should have cleared the area of mines before letting the tribes return,” said Mohsin Dawar, one of the people behind the newly formed Pashtun Tahafuz Movement which is day by day gaining strength. He pointed out that among their demands was to ask the military to send more teams of bomb disposal units to comb the area and clear the place.

Recalling his tragedy, Khan narrated that he was carried down the mountain to the main road on his nephew’s back for a good two hours, all while bleeding profusely. Once they reached the road, he was tied onto a motorbike and taken to the nearest health centre where he was administered basic first aid. “All I remember was the excruciating pain I felt throughout the journey that seemed never-ending,” he said.

Meanwhile, another cousin had arranged a car to take him to the nearest hospital in D.I. Khan. All in all, the journey took a good nine hours before he reached the hospital.

His injury, like those faced every day by countless others residing in the area, highlights a problem that this conflict has left behind. It also shows an utter disregard for civilian life. Dawar calls it nothing but “criminal negligence” on the part of the Pakistani army.

According to Mehsud, the bombs may have been laid during the conflict by both the army and the terrorists. He discovered a landmine in his house a couple of years back after his family returned to their village in South Waziristan.

“We have been after the army personnel to send someone to defuse the bomb but so far nothing has been done,” he said. For now they have placed stones around it and continually remind their family members not to step anywhere near it.

According to a SPADO spokesperson, the area along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan is heavily mined. “But that area is also heavily fenced with no civilian access; it is marked too.”

The scattered cases of injuries and casualties have occurred only because the mines may have slipped from their position due to rain. On the other hand, in FATA, the landmines are used as an offensive not a defensive weapon by both the military and the militants and are therefore unmarked. “They are even found inside school compounds, homes, and agriculture fields,” said Shah of SPADO.

“I don’t care who planted these bombs; the military carried out the operation in our territory and I hold them responsible for clearing it,” said Dawar.

Shah agreed that mine clearance was the responsibility of the military corps of engineers. He fails to understand why, if the bomb disposal units were so good and sent on missions abroad to clear mines, why not make their own country safe first.

He added that if the military initiated a full-throttle de-mining, it would be the easiest way to win the hearts and mind of the tribal people. “They will gain confidence that the army is there to protect their children,” he said.

“The army has started to cover some ground in South Waziristan, but it needs to be more proactive and engaged and begin this in earnest in the rest of the agencies,” said Mona Naseer, co-founder of Khor Network of tribal women, who belongs to Orakzai agency where a kid was recently injured by stepping on a mine and fatally injured.

These injuries come with a life-long economic cost. For the last two years, Khan has undertaken cumbersome travel  from D.I. Khan to bigger cities like Peshawar and even down to Rawalpindi, in the Punjab province, from one doctor to another, each giving their own opinions. “I have spent over one million rupees on my leg, but still walk with the help of crutches,” he points out helplessly.

Along with losing his limb, his job, and his home, Khan has lost the purpose of his existence. His life, he said, has changed completely. “I’m now a  cripple, imprisoned at home and dependent on others for help. I cannot ride a motorbike, cannot go to the market, have to ask others to help me in the bathroom…everything that I should be doing myself.” Khan doubted he would ever manage to go back to his village given the rugged mountainous terrain that it is located in. The former school teacher is now limited to tutoring students at home.

Pakistan is not the only country facing a landmine problem. While it is impossible to get an accurate number of the total global area contaminated by landmines due to lack of data, landmine watch groups estimate that there could be 110 million landmines in the ground and an equal number in stockpiles waiting to be planted or destroyed. The cost to remove them all is 50 to 100 billion dollars.

According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines network, more than 4,200 people, of whom 42 per cent are children, fall victim to landmines and ERWs annually in many of the countries affected by war or in post-conflict situations around the world.

A global Mine Ban Treaty known as the Ottawa Convention (which became international law in 1999) has been signed and ratified by 162 countries. It prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines (APLs). Sadly, Pakistan is among the countries (United States, China, India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Russia) that have have not signed the treaty and is among both the producers and users of landmines.

In  2016, the Landmine Monitor report placed India as the third biggest stockpiler of APLs in 2015 after Russia and Pakistan.

Last yearSri Lanka acceded to the Antipersonnel Mine Ban Convention and set a deadline to be free of landmines by 2020. “Sri Lanka’s accession should spur other nations that haven’t joined the landmine treaty to take another look at why they want to be associated with such an obsolete, abhorrent weapon,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines – the group effort behind the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.

But Shah said that unless India agreed to accede, Pakistan will not take the first step. “Perhaps the way to go about it is to bring the issue on the agenda during peace negotiations and when talks around confidence building measures take place between the two countries,” he said.

SPADO is also the official contact point of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC). It openly advocates for the universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Along with FATA, accidents due to landmines are happening in other places in Pakistan. In 2017, according to SPADO, among the 316 injuries and 153 deaths in total, Pakistan-administered Kashmir recorded seven; Balochistan province 171; FATA 230; and KPK 61.

A majority of the injured and dead were men who were found either driving, fetching water, taking livestock for grazing, rescuing others who had stepped on a bomb, passing by etc. Children were usually playing outside when they chanced upon a shiny object, like a “disc-shaped shoe polish box” hidden in the grass which they attempted to pick  up.

“The figures that SPADO has collected  includes only those that were reported in the media and are just the tip of the iceberg,” Shah emphasized.

He said there was an urgent need for a national registry where such a record is kept and a more comprehensive rehabilitation programme is instituted.

“Taking care of the injured and maimed is expensive and long term,” he said, noting that when the victim is a child, for example, he or she will grow and require new prosthetic limbs. “While the army takes care of its own, unfortunately, there are very few institutes where civilians can go and seek help,” he said.

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“Fake News” a Growing New Threat to Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/fake-news-growing-new-threat-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fake-news-growing-new-threat-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/fake-news-growing-new-threat-press-freedom/#respond Thu, 26 Apr 2018 12:01:27 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155477 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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US president Donald Trump addressing the UN General Assembly in September 2017. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 26 2018 (IPS)

When a Malaysian politician of a bygone era was asked about the “leading newspapers” in his country, he shot back: “We don’t have any leading newspapers in our country because all our newspapers are misleading.”

But that comment, perhaps uttered half-jokingly about two decades ago, underwent a reality check recently when the Malaysian government passed legislation to impose prison sentences up to six years in jail if journalists are found guilty of spreading “fake news”.

The bill defines fake news as “any news, information, data and reports which is, or are, wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings, or in any other form, capable of suggesting words or ideas.”

And ever since President Donald Trump repeatedly used the term last year – more so to deny even the most verifiable facts and figures— some of the developing nations have followed in his jackbooted footsteps trying to muzzle the press, primarily on negative stories.

A president in perpetual denial, Trump has been described as a “serial liar” by his former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) James Comey – and some of the lying is meant to denigrate journalists whose stories and exposes are dismissed as “fake news.”

Steven Butler, Asia Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) told IPS: “Many Asian governments – including Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines – have jumped on the “fake news” bandwagon started by President Trump.”

But more broadly, he pointed out, the lack of a strong U.S. voice promoting the basic value press freedom at the heart of the U.S. constitution has emboldened governments – from China to Pakistan.

“Governments that wish to suppress freedom of expression know that the U.S. President will give them a free pass, something they could not count on in the past. Citizens of these countries need to find their own way to struggle for press freedom,” declared Butler.

In early April, India threatened to penalize journalists for spreading “fake news”. But in less than 48 hours the government had second thoughts and annulled the announcement without an explanation.

Norman Solomon. executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder and coordinator of RootsAction.org, told IPS powerful demagogues in many parts of the world hate a free press and want to curb or crush whatever independent media outlets might get in the way of power.

“Trump’s denunciations of “fake news” amount to a new rhetorical wrinkle in centuries-old techniques of blaming the messengers for unwanted news,” he added.

Governments, like large corporations, are in the business of news management, Solomon said, pointing out that “they use powerful megaphones and an array of leverage to gain favorable media coverage and suppress or discredit unfavorable coverage.”

In some societies, he noted, the repression takes the form of threats, raids, prosecution and imprisonment. In more democratic societies, the repression is apt to take the form of “soft power” inducements, economic carrots and sticks, massive public-relations campaigns and nonstop floods of propaganda.

In the midst of all this, journalists constantly face a challenge of pursuing facts and underlying truths no matter where they might lead, he argued.

In some countries, the obstacles induce fear of imprisonment or even death, while in other countries the fears are along the lines of stalled careers and loss of employment, said Solomon, author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death”

In an oped piece titled “Mr. Trump’s War on the Truth”, the New York Times said in early April that when Trump calls every piece of information he does not like “fake news”, he also encourages politicians in other countries, who are not constrained by constitutional free speech protections or independent judiciaries, to more aggressively squelch the press.

“They know that there will be little international condemnation of their actions because one of the most important standard bearers for a free press – the American government—is led by a man trying to discredit the free press.”

Ian Williams, author of “UNtold: The Real Story of the United Nations in Peace and War*, told IPS that to some extent all news is “fake” but some are flakier than others. But there are degrees of objectivity.

“Fake News” is a real problem – more as an accusation that kills serious debate than as a category of news in itself. Ideologues of both right and left use it to block acceptance of inconvenient information. The main stream media (“MSM”) are particularly reviled, he added.

As Pontius Pilate said, “What is truth?”

“I have a hierarchy of veracity. I would rather believe my own lying eyes than any media source! I watched the planes hit the WTC for example. Do I trust the MSM? Not much, and I would examine its content critically.”

In general, Williams said, the MSM is more conspicuous for what it ignores than for its lies, and it often reveals its biases. In particular the American media depends on government sources and is often naively trusting of them although Trump’s behaviour might be altering that.

For all its faults, he said, the MSM has competition and the fear that it might be scooped by rivals. On the other hand that means it has a herd mentality, so it collectively and uncritically bought into the Iraq WMDs and spurious scandal of “Oil for Food”, said Williams, a senior analyst who has written for newspapers and magazines around the world, including the Australian, The Independent, New York Observer, The Financial Times and The Guardian.

“But I would trust them before Fox, Murdoch tabloids and Breitbart, and above all before authoritarian state news agencies where an editor would lose his or her job and possibly head for not toeing the line”.

He pointed out that the BBC sometimes criticises its government. SANA and Russia Today never!

“And I also mistrust “Independent” journalists, who have permission and help to enter totalitarian states so they can tell the “truth” and expose MSM lies, sometimes at government organised press conferences. I scour their work assiduously but vainly for any hint of criticism of their hosts!”

Is the UN reliable?, he asked.

“Largely so, because it is so leaky that when reports are doctored, word leaks out and there are 193 missions checking for bias and rushing in with corrections”, said Williams, a former UN correspondent for The Nation, and author of Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776; The Deserter: Bush’s War on Military Families, Veterans and His Past; The Alms Trade; and The UN For Beginners.

Solomon, of the Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS that in every society, there is a vital need for ongoing truth-telling that can make democracy real as the informed consent of the governed.

Right now, in the United States, Russia and China, and scores of other nations, people at the top of the governmental and economic power structures are eager to gain and maintain the uninformed acquiescence of the ruled.

“No matter how different the social, political and media systems may be, journalists face the challenge of overcoming the overt or tacit censorship efforts by government, corporate owners or wealthy individuals. The imperative goal is to make good on the potential of press freedom,” declared Solomon.

Meanwhile, a Joint Declaration by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, David Kaye, along with his counterparts from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Organization of American States (OAS), and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), reads: “Fake news” has emerged as a global topic of concern and there is a risk that efforts to counter it could lead to censorship, the suppression of critical thinking and other approaches contrary to human rights law.”

“In this Joint Declaration, we identify general principles that should apply to any efforts to deal with these issues,” said a statement released in March.

The Declaration identifies the applicable human rights standards, encourages the promotion of diversity and plurality in the media, and emphasizes the particular roles played by digital intermediaries, as well as journalists and media outlets.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

The post “Fake News” a Growing New Threat to Press Freedom appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Authoritarian Govts Tighten Grip on Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/authoritarian-govts-tighten-grip-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=authoritarian-govts-tighten-grip-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/authoritarian-govts-tighten-grip-press-freedom/#respond Sun, 22 Apr 2018 11:39:30 +0000 Sopho Kharazi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155386 The 25th celebration of World Press Freedom Day will be led by UNESCO and the government of Ghana in Accra on May 2-3. The theme is “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law,” covering the issues of media in respect to the judicial system and transparent political processes. At the same time, […]

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Journalists in Peshawar protest an attack on Dawn News near the Peshawar Press Club in November 2016. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Journalists in Peshawar protest an attack on Dawn News near the Peshawar Press Club in November 2016. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Sopho Kharazi
ROME, Apr 22 2018 (IPS)

The 25th celebration of World Press Freedom Day will be led by UNESCO and the government of Ghana in Accra on May 2-3. The theme is “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law,” covering the issues of media in respect to the judicial system and transparent political processes.

At the same time, the conference will discuss state institutions’ accountability towards their citizens.

• Politicians in democratic states launched or escalated efforts to shape news coverage by delegitimizing media outlets, exerting political influence over public broadcasters, and raising the profile of friendly private outlets.

• Officials in more authoritarian settings such as Turkey, Ethiopia, and Venezuela used political or social unrest as a pretext to intensify crackdowns on independent or opposition-oriented outlets.

• Authorities in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Asia extended restrictive laws to online speech, or simply shut down telecommunications services at crucial moments, such as before elections or during protests.

• Among the countries that suffered the largest declines on the report’s 100-point scale in 2016 were Poland (6 points), Turkey (5), Burundi (5), Hungary (4), Bolivia (4), Serbia (4), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (4).

• The world’s 10 worst-rated countries and territories were Azerbaijan, Crimea, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Turkmenistan

The day takes place in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015, which includes 17 goals for achieving sustainable development for all, including ending inequalities between men and women. Among the goals, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 focuses on promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies.

Peace, justice and strong institutions allow for good governance as well as other sustainable development efforts to thrive, facilitated further by an independent and enabling media environment.

Today, the number of countries with right to information laws is steadily increasing. The international normative framework regarding the safety of journalists, and particularly women journalists, has been significantly bolstered through the adoption of resolutions at the UN General Assembly, Security Council, Human Rights Council and UNESCO, and there is greater recognition of the right to privacy.

Still, according to Freedom House, a free press is accessible to only 13% of the world population and a partly free press to 42% of the world population. The remaining 45% lives in countries where a free press is non-existent (“New Report: Freedom of the Press 2017”). Political and economic transformations of some countries alongside their technological developments place new restrictions on press freedom.

Governments of these countries tend to implement restrictive laws and censorship on freedom of press, usually justifying these actions as a necessary tool for national security against terrorism. Apart from violating the right of freedom of expression, these restrictions place higher risks of violence, harassment and death on journalists.

According to the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, violence and restrictions against media freedom has risen by 14% in the time period of 2012-2017. At the same time, since 2016, media freedom in countries where it was ranked as “good” decreased by 2.3%.

The level of restriction on press freedom has been one of the highest in MENA countries such as Syria. Even though article 43 of Syria’s Constitution guarantees freedom of the press while a 2011 media law bans monopolistic media alongside with “the arrest, questioning, or searching of journalists,” these laws are not practiced in the government-held areas of the country. According to the media law, publication of any information on armed forces and spread of information that might affect national security and provoke “hate crimes” is forbidden in Syria. In case of violating this law, journalists are held accountable and fined with 1 million Syrian pounds ($4,600).

At the same time, despite the fact that article 3 of the media law guarantees freedom of expression as stated in the Syrian Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 4 of the same law declares that the media must practice this freedom with “awareness and responsibility”.

Consequently, this broad wording allows the Syrian government to restrict press freedom in multiple ways and in case of disobedience, punish journalists for anti-state crimes. For instance, in December 2016, the government imprisoned seven Syrian journalists through security-related legislation and used torture to receive their confession.

From the political perspective, Syrian authorities spread propaganda and false information while forcefully restricting publication of news in the government-controlled areas. Distribution of “all printed material” has been led by the General Corporation for the Distribution of Publications, responsible for censorship in Syria. This, alongside the economic problems caused by war, has decreased media diversity in the government-controlled area, leaving only a few dozen print publications which rarely deal with the political issues.

From the economic perspective, most of the print publications are owned by the government-allied businessmen who also control editorial policy. This, on the other hand, intensifies the problem of the non-existent free press in Syria.

However, despite this fact, in the opposition-controlled territory new print and broadcast outlets have emerged, funded by volunteers and some of them based abroad. For instance, the opposition TV channel – Orient TV owned by Ghassan Aboud, an exiled Syrian entrepreneur – broadcasts from Dubai while having correspondents in Syria.

According to Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, “when politicians lambaste the media, it encourages their counterparts abroad to do the same…[undermining] democracy’s status as a model of press freedom.”

The case of Syria demonstrates how the absence of press freedom and an independent judiciary triggers development of authoritarian governments. The “just, effective and independent judiciary” is a base for an effective rule of law which builds a strong democratic system, guaranteeing the right of freedom of information, expression and safety of journalists.

This, on the other hand, provides free press that is compulsory for representing political will and needs of people, and for establishing good governance. Press freedom allows journalists to monitor and report about the on-going events taking place in different sectors of the state. As a result, this makes it possible to hold governments accountable towards their people and helps to accomplish the 2030 agenda of Sustainable Development Goals.

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A Child of War Dedicates Herself to Peacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/child-war-dedicates-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-war-dedicates-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/child-war-dedicates-peace/#comments Tue, 17 Apr 2018 15:22:06 +0000 Mary de Sousa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155315 UNESCO Courier*

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Dalia Al-Najjar, Goodwill Ambassador for Children of Peace. Credit: Vilde Media

By Mary de Sousa
PARIS, Apr 17 2018 (IPS)

“I was so angry, I felt like I wanted to blow up the whole world, but I didn’t. I decided I wouldn’t be pushed to become evil. I would choose peace.”

Dalia Al-Najjar has crammed a great deal into her short life. At 22, the Palestinian refugee has already lived through three wars and has spent every spare moment between siege and ceasefire studying, volunteering, working, blogging, on the daily struggle to live in Gaza – and planning how to change the future.

A good deal of her energy goes into her role as Goodwill Ambassador for Children of Peace, a non-partisan children’s charity dedicated to building trust, friendship and reconciliation between Israeli and Palestinian children, aged 4 to 17, and their communities.

Dalia says she is fuelled by anger and hope, but also that she draws heavily on a family culture that values education. She has consciously used learning as a means to realize her dreams, the greatest of which is to find solutions to violence and hatred.

“My family has always made me aware that education is hugely important,” she said.

Dalia experienced her first siege when she was just 12, followed by two major conflicts.

“I was in ninth grade when the first war started, and everything fell apart. I didn’t understand: why were people killing each other? I thought it would last only a few weeks,” she said.

She continued to study throughout, finally graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the Islamic University of Gaza, her life reduced to the intermittent bursts of electricity in the city.

“In those days I never went to school without watching the news first, and everything depended on the power schedule. So I woke up when there was electricity, or studied by candlelight, which destroyed my eyes. I would often fight with my brother and sister to get the candle.”

“Wars and Peace”, from the Cartooning for Peace international network of editorial cartoonists, supported by UNESCO.

The 2014 war proved a turning point for Dalia. “After the war, my ideas became much clearer. I didn’t want anybody else to have to live like this. I chose to be optimistic, because if not, I don’t live. Not living wasn’t a choice for me,” she said.

Dalia was invited on a short scholarship to the United States, and began a blog and YouTube show. She is also a member of the World Youth Alliance, a New York-based international coalition, which works with young people worldwide to build a culture that nurtures and supports the dignity of the person – through advocacy, education and culture.

But it is Dalia’s work as a Goodwill Ambassador for Children of Peace that has changed her most profoundly.

“It is easy to stay on your own side and demonize the other. Now I have Israeli friends and we realize we have been given different narratives, and we have to find our way through that together, using critical thinking,” she explained.

“Being on one side of a conflict makes it much easier to dehumanize someone than to accept that there is trauma on both sides.”

Now studying for her Master’s degree in Human Resources in Sakarya, Turkey, Dalia has an exciting new project. She attended the Young Sustainable Impact (YSI) conference in Oslo in 2017, as an ‘earthpreneur’ (someone who uses entrepreneurship to work towards a sustainable planet), where she was tasked with proposing a startup that addressed one of the Sustainable Development Goals.

When she learned that more people die as a result of waterborne diseases than from conflict, she co-founded Xyla Water Filtration Technologies. The company aims to commercialize a filter made from plant tissue that costs less than $10 and can provide clean water for a family of seven for a year.

And she has another goal. “I want to be prime minister,” she said, matter-of-factly.

*Available online since March 2006, the UNESCO Courier serves readers around the world in the six official languages of the Organization (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish), and also in Esperanto and Portuguese. A limited number of issues are also produced in print.

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Excerpt:

UNESCO Courier*

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Keeping Power in Check – Media, Justice and the Rule of Lawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/keeping-power-check-media-justice-rule-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=keeping-power-check-media-justice-rule-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/keeping-power-check-media-justice-rule-law/#respond Tue, 17 Apr 2018 14:02:58 +0000 Alison Small http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155311 Alison Small is a communications expert and a former United Nations official.

 
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Newspaper kiosk in Istanbul's Kadiköy district. Credit: Joris Leverink/IPS

By Alison Small
NAPIER, New Zealand, Apr 17 2018 (IPS)

Rarely has the press been as powerful as it is today. Thanks to the advent of social media, the use of which has grown exponentially, the combination of the formal press, newspapers, television and radio is now strengthened, and itself even kept in check by social media. Jo and Joanne citizen have found a voice, not infrequently with the power of a political and social tsunami.

Alison Small

What does this mean for the greater good? Is this helpful to governments to have so much feedback, so quickly?

The role of global policeman has changed from one powerful government or several governments to what used to be called the Fourth Estate, the press frequently on the back of social media.

In many developed and developing countries public opinion has rarely been so vocal, gone are the days of the so called silent masses.

From the Arab spring to the near independence of Catalonia, the plight of Rohingha refugees to name just a few, the negative effects of climate change, the driving force has been the voices of ordinary people, fleshed out by effectively 24-hour analysis by news agencies, newspapers, blogs and just about anyone with access to the internet.

This new role of public opinion is weighty, often meaning that the weight of opinion can condemn before due process has had a chance to examine both sides of an argument.

At this point it is up to the media to step in and to try to analyse with some objectivity the groundswell from so many voices pronouncing on an event or events. It means that only the most determined governments, those determined to censor or limit both traditional and social media, can make laws without the huge onslaught of public opinion holding sway.

We need the media to raise awareness to help governments create, regulate and enforce laws but we also need to ensure that uninformed opinion does not dominate and cause as much if not more harm than is already possible at the government level.

That said, the latest scandal that has hit social media giant Facebook and the abuse of data provided by users, whether voluntary or involuntary, means that the integrity of social media platforms is now heavily in question.

On the other hand, the formal media come into their own at this point as newspaper, TV and radio revel in a blow by blow analysis of the problems facing the governance and security of social media, thus the press versus the informal press creates a degree of self regulation.

Facebook is now obligated by the US and other governments to provide more security to users. Thus even the social media has its own checks and balances. Whether they will be sufficient to self-regulate in the future will depend on how vigilant users are themselves and the ethics of the platform administrators, owners and big business which through advertising keeps social media alive.

The fact remains that despite actual and potential abuses of press freedom to influence voters and the public in general or governments to change policies or address issues, we have effectively gone too far to turn back.

More to the point, with political parties everywhere dependent on their ability to influence voters through their appeal to the media and more lately social media, or for that matter, the public to lobby governments and or the private sector to raise awareness about anything from politics to environmental, social and health issues, we rely on the media to convey information, whether the traditional media or social media platforms.

The real issue is whether or not the media at large has sufficient ability to self-regulate or has it already spiralled out of control in terms of influencing opinion, be it about the evils of unlimited plastic consumption or mass migration, to bringing down governments and major private interests.

We need the media to raise awareness to help governments create, regulate and enforce laws but we also need to ensure that uninformed opinion does not dominate and cause as much if not more harm than is already possible at the government level.

If we limit the power of social media, we are limiting citizens’ rights to make their voices heard and yet in all things a degree of control is needed. Can we therefore trust those who would undertake such controls not to go too far so that social media, as has happened with the traditional media, is not used as a weapon in itself. This is the dilemma that Facebook is confronting, the outcome of that debate will be the ultimate litmus test for scial media, and in a sense for traditional media as well.

The post Keeping Power in Check – Media, Justice and the Rule of Law appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Alison Small is a communications expert and a former United Nations official.

 
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Getting Away with Murder in Slovakiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/getting-away-murder-slovakia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=getting-away-murder-slovakia http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/getting-away-murder-slovakia/#comments Mon, 16 Apr 2018 00:57:17 +0000 Ed Holt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155283 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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World Press Freedom Day: A protester in the Slovak capital, Bratislava holds up a picture of murdered journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in protests across the country in the weeks after the killing, eventually forcing the resignation of the Prime Minister and Interior Minister. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

A protester in the Slovak capital, Bratislava holds up a picture of murdered journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in protests across the country in the weeks after the killing, eventually forcing the resignation of the Prime Minister and Interior Minister. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

By Ed Holt
BRATISLAVA, Apr 16 2018 (IPS)

Sitting in a cafe in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, Zuzana Petkova admits that like many other investigative journalists in the country today, she is scared.

She explains how she and colleagues investigating possible links between the country’s politicians, businessmen and the Italian mafia, have started using special methods to remain as anonymous as possible in their work – encrypting emails, using anonymous communication groups and foregoing bylines, among others.“The rising authoritarianism and illiberalism of countries, such as Poland and Hungary for example, will lead to more censorship and, in the long term, increase the likelihood of violence.” --Ilya Lozovsky

She recalls how just days before she had been walking down a dimly-lit alley when she heard footsteps behind her and turned to see a man in a hooded top walking towards her. Scared, she froze until he had walked past her and she realized he was just a passerby.

Until a few weeks ago, Petkova, a well-known investigative journalist at the Slovak current affairs and news weekly ‘Trend’, would probably not have paid any attention to the footsteps.

A seasoned reporter – “I’ve been through a few things,” she says – she has been taken to court numerous times, had the country’s serious crime squad investigate her, and had anonymous threats made to her in the past. However, she has brushed all these off with little real fear for herself.

But the murder in late February of her some-time colleague Jan Kuciak, and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, both 27, at Kuciak’s home in Velka Maca, 40 miles east of Bratislava, changed things.

Across Central Europe, media watchdogs have pointed to an alarming erosion in press freedom in recent years, highlighting how governments in some countries have used legislation, takeovers and shutdowns of media outlets, criminal libel cases, crippling fines and repeated denigration of media and individual journalists to silence critics.

In Slovakia, investigative journalists had got used to what some dub ‘psychological’ pressure from the government in the form of repeated police hearings and court summonses over articles into corruption, as well as public attacks on their integrity.

But few had really thought that anyone would use physical force to try and stop them doing their work. After Kuciak’s murder, they fear that may no longer be the case.

“None of us ever thought something like this would happen. Doing investigative journalism, there’s always some kind of risk, I knew that. But it’s only now that I, that all of us doing it, are fully aware of it,” she tells IPS.

At the time of his death, Kuciak had been working on a story about the links between the ‘Ndrangheta mafia and people in Smer, the senior party in the governing coalition. In the days after the killing, there was feverish speculation about mafia or political involvement in the murder and that it had been carried out as a clear warning to other journalists.

Investigating police say they are working on the assumption the killing was connected to Kuciak’s work.

But while local journalists have their own varied theories about who may have been behind the murder, they largely agree that years of government hostility towards journalists and public attacks on critical media may have emboldened the killers.

Just after the murder, the Slovak Section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) released a statement saying the killing had been “a dire consequence of the climate engendered by systematic long-term aggressive verbal attacks on journalists by various leading state representatives“.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who was forced to resign in a political crisis in the wake of the murder, had repeatedly insulted and criticised journalists while in office. Just last year he was attacked by international press watchdogs for labelling local journalists “dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes” and only days after Kuciak’s murder publicly insulted one of the dead journalist’s colleagues.

Ilya Lozovsky, Managing Editor of the international investigative reporting platform, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), told IPS the problem of hostile rhetoric against journalists should not be underestimated.

He said: “When a politician publicly mocks or threatens journalists, often other actors will take things into their own hands, without the government having to do anything. Russia is well known for this – various independent actors -(individuals, institutions – will often do something as a ‘gift’ to Putin, without him having to direct anything himself. Journalists and opposition leaders are often killed this way.”

Worryingly, verbal attacks and other intimidation of journalists by politicians are far from uncommon in other parts of Central Europe, especially in countries with governments widely seen as populist, increasingly authoritarian, and corrupt.

In Hungary, critics say that since coming to power in 2010, the government led by populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban has taken a tight grip on the media, using legislation, taxes on independent media and takeovers and forced closures of opposition media outlets to silence critics.

After a political rally last summer at which Orban spoke of the need to “battle” local media outlets which he said were actively working against his party, government-friendly media launched a campaign against individual journalists, publishing lists of reporters who had been critical of the government and denigrating them and their work.

Local journalism associations said the list was reminiscent of the practices under the communist regime.

In Poland, where since the ruling conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) came to power in 2015 the country’s ranking in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index has plummeted from 18 to 54 out of 180, local journalists have spoken of facing unprecedented state pressure.

The PiS has issued reporters with threats of legal action, cut off their access to some officials, taken control of public media, and cut advertising and subscriptions to various news publications. Some Polish journalists also believe they are being spied on by state security agencies.

Meanwhile, Czech President Milos Zeman has never tried to hide his antipathy for journalists. He has sparked controversy with comments likening journalists to animals, jokingly calling for them to be “liquidated” during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and appearing at a press conference last October soon after investigative journalist Daphne Galizia was killed in Malta with a Kalashnikov and the words “for journalists” written on it.

Recent comments accusing public broadcaster CT of bias also infuriated many, prompting thousands of Czechs to join street protests demanding he respect journalists.

The attacks are not, though, simply politicians getting angry with critics, experts say.

Drew Sullivan, Editor at the OCCRP, told IPS: “Populist and nationalist politicians like those who run Slovakia and the Czech Republic do not like journalists acting as watchdogs.

“They’ve learned from [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and others that the best way to deal with them is to publicly blame the journalists, attack them, demean them and try to undermine their credibility.”

Corruption scandals are far from uncommon across the region and the links between government corruption and intimidation of those trying to expose it are clear, says Lozovsky.

“As a government grows more authoritarian and secretive, journalists come under more pressure. At the same time, that government will almost always become less accountable to its people and more corrupt. When it becomes more corrupt, there will be greater entanglement with organized crime, and when a corrupt government has connections with organized crime, that’s when the threat of physical violence against journalists starts to grow.

“Both Jan Kuciak and Daphne Galizia were working on the same theme – the nexus between corrupt politics and organized crime. This is no coincidence. When criminals ‘buy’ politicians, they feel more empowered to intimidate and attack journalists because they feel immune from the consequences. “

And he warned: “The rising authoritarianism and illiberalism of countries, such as Poland and Hungary for example, will lead to more censorship and, in the long term, increase the likelihood of violence.”

In Slovakia, investigative journalists are determined to continue their work, despite having to operate in a new climate of fear. Petkova says some journalists considered walking away from the profession after the killing and while none have left yet, many had considered police protection.

However, issues of trust between journalists and police have complicated matters.

There is a widespread perception among the Slovak public that police and other justice institutions are endemically corrupt. Indeed, the mass protests across the country after Kuciak was killed and which eventually forced Fico out of office were driven in large part by the fact many felt the murder would never be investigated properly as any links between the killers and government would be covered up by politically-nominated senior police chiefs.

After Kuciak was killed, it emerged that he had contacted police over a threat made to him by a local businessman with links to the government. Kuciak had said in a Facebook post months after contacting them that the police never investigated.

And Petkova is adamant that the perception of a corrupt or politically-influenced police executive may have prompted the killers to act. “They probably came to the conclusion that they could get away with anything and that they’d get away with this murder,” she says.

Sullivan questioned what effect this has on local journalists’ willingness to approach police for either protection or giving up information to investigators in sensitive criminal cases.

“Many journalists know that elements of their governments are protecting criminal groups, drug traffickers, arms traffickers and others. Nobody knows who is on whose side. The Slovak government is corrupt and has been corrupt. There are many Eastern European and Balkan criminals operating out of Bratislava and the police do nothing.  [A journalist] cannot feel safe in that environment,” he said.

While a new government has been appointed in Slovakia, journalists hold little hope of any improvement in politicians’ approach to them. The new Prime Minister, Peter Pelligrini, was directly appointed by his predecessor, who will now head the ruling Smer party.

Juraj Porubsky, former Editor in Chief of the Slovak daily Pravda, told IPS: “Will politicians treat journalists better after this? No, why would they?”

Meanwhile, as the investigation into Kuciak’s murder continues, Slovak journalists are sceptical anyone will be brought to justice for the killing.

“I don’t think it will ever be properly investigated,” Petkova says, shaking her head sadly. “I don’t think Jan’s killer will ever be found.”

The post Getting Away with Murder in Slovakia appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Pre-election Tension Threatens Free Speech in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/pre-election-tension-threatens-free-speech-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pre-election-tension-threatens-free-speech-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/pre-election-tension-threatens-free-speech-brazil/#respond Sat, 14 Apr 2018 21:26:57 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155277 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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A bullet hole (right), in one of the buses hit on Mar. 27 by gunfire during a caravan for former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s campaign tour to the south of Brazil, in the tense days before his imprisonment on corruption charges. The caravan suffered attacks and harassment along its journey. Credit: AGPT / Public Photos

A bullet hole (right), in one of the buses hit on Mar. 27 by gunfire during a caravan for former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s campaign tour to the south of Brazil, in the tense days before his imprisonment on corruption charges. The caravan suffered attacks and harassment along its journey. Credit: AGPT / Public Photos

By Mario Osava
RÍO DE JANEIRO, Apr 14 2018 (IPS)

Gunshots, eggs and stones thrown, blocked roads and other forms of aggression against politicians and journalists in recent weeks generated fears that the violence will increase the uncertainty over the October elections in Brazil.

Before going to prison, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was the main target, during the caravan he led through the country’s three southern states, which suffered attacks from adversaries that culminated in gunshots against two buses on Mar. 27, without any injuries.

On the other hand, the demonstrations in support of Lula in the days before he began serving his 12-year sentence on Apr. 7 targeted journalists."The main source of aggressions against journalists since 2013 has been the State, its security forces, as well as the judiciary, with actions that restrict freedom of the press." -- Maria José Braga

In the space of a few days there were “17 cases of attacks, intimidation and curtailment of professional activity,” said the Brazilian Press Association (ABI), in an official note of protest.

The threat to freedom of expression affects journalists and politicians alike, victims of harassment in the months leading up to the official start in August of the electoral campaign for the presidential, parliamentary and regional elections.

“The tendency seen in recent years has been a reduction in violence against journalists,” acknowledged Maria José Braga, president of Brazil’s National Federation of Journalists (Fenaj).

In 2017, there were 99 cases of attacks against journalists, 38.5 percent less than in 2016, when there were 161 acts of violence, according to Fenaj’s annual report on violence against reporters.

In fact, the violence had returned to the levels seen before 2013, when the figure had climbed to 181 attacks, against 81 in the previous year. The outbreak that year coincided with massive protests, throughout the country, against poor urban public services, which turned violent towards the end.

“In 2018 we have a different political scenario, with the country in a de facto state of emergency, in which the judicial branch and part of the media have been taking part, and this may result in an increase in attacks against journalists,” Braga told IPS.

The president of Fenaj shares the view of much of the left, especially of the Workers Party (PT), founded by Lula, and which ruled the country between 2003 and 2016, that the removal of former president Dilma Rousseff two years ago amounted to a coup d’état, with the complicity of judges and the major media outlets.

“Since then, institutions and the rule of law have been subject to threats, including freedom of expression, social movements, society in general, and that is a factor leading to more violence,” said the journalist.

“The main source of aggressions against journalists since 2013 has been the State, its security forces, as well as the judiciary, with actions that restrict freedom of the press,” she said.

A "democratic vigil" held Apr. 11 by supporters of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, near the headquarters of the federal police where he has been imprisoned since Apr. 7, in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba. Some journalists who covered events in defense of the leftist leader, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison on corruption charges, have been victims of assaults. Credit: Ricardo Stuckert / Public Photos

A “democratic vigil” held Apr. 11 by supporters of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, near the headquarters of the federal police where he has been imprisoned since Apr. 7, in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba. Some journalists who covered events in defense of the leftist leader, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison on corruption charges, have been victims of assaults. Credit: Ricardo Stuckert / Public Photos

For years, the police have been the main perpetrator of such violence, accounting for 19.2 percent of the total, Fenaj’s 2017 report says.

Two journalists arrested by the Military Police, one when covering a traffic accident in Campo Grande, capital of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, and another while recording the way agents treated people suspected of harassing a woman in Vitoria, capital of the state of Espírito Santo, are examples mentioned in the report.

The second group of perpetrators of aggression are politicians, sometimes through their aides, and the third are judicial authorities, who use their power to restrict freedom of the press.

“We are now, six months before the elections, at the height of political tension,” which increases the abuses, violence and fears, said Fatima Pacheco Jordão, a sociologist who specialises in public opinion.

“The strong polarisation between the left and the right, aggravated by the great unpopularity of the government of President Michel Temer and the uncertainty with respect to the elections, accentuate the pessimism, but once it is clear who the candidates will be, and the electoral process is on track, the tension and violence will decrease,” Jordão told IPS.

In general terms, “elections contribute to freedom of expression, and reduce censorship in newspapers and newscasts,” she said. But when this is not the case, what happens is that the violence is accentuated and this can prevent the elections themselves, “which is worse for everyone,” she said.

The absence of Lula, who has become legally ineligible after his conviction was upheld on appeal, “reduces the polarisation since he exited the electoral battle at a moment of decline (of his leading role on the political scene), as his PT has been losing electoral strength for years,” she argued.

Supporters of Lula as candidate to president – about 35 percent of respondents according to the polls – “will be divided between several possible candidates, not just from the left,” when it is confirmed that the former president is out of the race, said the sociologist.

For Jordão, this confirms that Lula’s popularity is due more to his personal leadership than to a leftist idea or programme, since he is the poll favorite.

In addition, society in this country of 208 million people has shifted toward more conservative positions, as evidenced by the fact that 60 percent did not approve progressive ideas in recent polls, she said.

A change that, in her opinion, “seems natural in rich countries, such as in Europe, but not in Brazil, where we have so much inequality, violence against women and violations of rights, where the voice of society is outside the parties, which do not address their most pressing demands.”

Violence against politicians and journalists sometimes becomes lethal. One victim who shook the country was Marielle Franco, a city councilor for the leftist Socialism and Freedom Party in Rio de Janeiro, who was shot dead on Mar. 14, near the center of the city.

The apparent motive was her denunciation of crimes committed by police against poor Rio communities, although the investigations have not made progress in clarifying the murder of the emerging political leader.

“Violence tends to happen more in municipal elections than in national or state elections,” said Felipe Borba, who teaches politics at the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro and is the author of a study that identified 79 candidates killed in Brazil from 1998 to 2016.

Of them, a majority of 63 were running for the municipal councils in small cities.

This year’s elections should be less violent because the heads of the executive and legislative branches are chosen at a national and state level, but the situation “is unpredictable, given the polarisation between ideologically opposed currents, which fosters violence,” he told IPS.

“It will depend on the attitude of the more radical candidates, who can fuel animosities,” said Borba, mentioning the case of Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right candidate who ranks second in the polls, where Lula is still favorite even after being imprisoned.

Bolsonaro is a retired army captain who openly defends the 1964-1985 military dictatorship, including its torturers.

That freedom of expression is often a victim of electoral violence, as well as of police repression against political demonstrations, is reflected by the notable increase in attacks suffered by journalists in 2013 and 2016, years of massive street protests in Brazil.

The post Pre-election Tension Threatens Free Speech in Brazil appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

The post Pre-election Tension Threatens Free Speech in Brazil appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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